Saturday, October 21, 2017

Homily for 22 Oct 2017

22 Oct 2017
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Chances are, most of us have some money in our pockets; maybe a dollar bill, maybe some change.  And on it are various symbols of our country.  On the dollar bill, for example, there’s the year of our founding, 1776.  There’s the shield with thirteen stripes, signifying the original thirteen states, and then a horizontal bar that connects them, signifying the Federal Government.  There’s the image of George Washington, and then it says who the money belongs to: the Federal Reserve.

But the interesting thing about our American money is that it isn’t just about the country; it also expresses something about God, and the place of God in the fabric of the country.  For example, on the back of the dollar bill, there’s the pyramid—and the all-seeing Eye of God atop it.  And above and below the Eye are two phrases in Latin: “Annuit Coeptis” and “Novus Ordo Seclorum.” 

“Annuit Coeptis” is something like a prayer, asking God to “support this new undertaking;” the formation of a new country.  And “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means “a new order for the ages;” the beginning of the new “American Era.”  A new country had been formed, but it was not to be a country devoid of God; instead, God was its founder and overseer, its guide and judge.  But, in case we miss the Latin and the Eye of God, there’s the very straightforward: “In God We Trust.”

The money we carry in our pockets represents the blending of two worlds: the world of business, money, taxes, regulations, property, and so on; and the world of God.  And our money portrays those two worlds in the right order: God first, and then society.  If Jesus were to look at our American money, he probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.  Our money itself gives to God “what belongs to God;” namely, our trust and the security of our lives.  And it gives to “Caesar” what belongs to “Caesar;” it is “legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

And this blending of these two worlds is one of the life-long activities we engage in as Catholics.  We live in the world—the world of business, money, property, and so on; but we don’t belong to that world.  God is first; we belong to him.  Our citizenship in heaven comes first, and then our citizenship in the world.  And to do that requires some really intentional living on our part.

Last week we talked a little bit about the Post-Modern Era, and the challenges of being a Catholic in this era.  And the first challenge is to keep “the world” and God in their proper balance.  And one of the few places we’re going to find support for doing that is the Church.  Our situation really isn’t that different from when St. Paul was traveling to Greece, helping to form the Church.

His first letter to the Thessalonians we heard from today was written only twelve to fifteen years after the Resurrection.  The Church was as new as a little baby, and it needed a lot of careful nurturing; that’s what Saint Paul was doing on his visits and in his letters.  He was building up the Church in the world, one little community at a time.  And Paul’s activities were vital; the only place those first Christians could find support was among themselves.  The community of faith came first—it had to, and then their life out in the world came second.  They weren’t “Christian Thessalonians,” they were “Thessalonian Christians.” 

We look at ourselves today, and we see that we’re both Christians and Americans, at the same time.  But which comes first?  Where’s our primary allegiance?  To country, or to God?  That’s a question those Thessalonians had to deal with on a daily basis.  And they only had each other as a reminder that God comes first; the life of faith, hope, and love comes first.  Their Christian life shaped how they lived in the world.

The word Saint Paul uses in his letter to describe the community, the Church is “ekklésia.”  It refers, literally, to those who are “called out from” the world by God.  It refers to those who are “assembled” by God, who “stand apart from” the world as a people who have chosen to put God and faith first.  That’s the Church, the “ekklésia.”  And even up to today that’s how we understand ourselves.

In this Post-Modern Era, which tries to abolish God from all areas of life, it’s especially vital that we remember we’re part of the “ekklésia.”  Not only is God not banished from all areas of our life, God is at the center of our life, both as individuals and as a community.  We’re about as anti-Post-Modern as you can get.  But that’s our place in the world today—to be the “ekklésia,” to be a community of faith.

When we go to work or school, and we’re tempted to get involved with the latest gossip, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember, “Oh yeah, gossip goes against the values of my community.”  When it’s the weekend, and we just want to relax or travel, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember, “Oh yeah, we need to go to Church, too; it’s the Sabbath.”

When it comes to election time, or local and national politics are on our minds, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember that, “There is no perfect politician; nobody champions the Catholic faith exactly.”  And when we get into disputes with others in the community, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember, “Oh yeah, this is a brother or sister in Christ; I need to treat them with honesty, with charity and mercy.”

Our identity as a people who’ve been “called out” and “assembled”—by God, doesn’t mean we stop living in the world.  Obviously, we still live in the world.  But we do it a particular way, with particular values and hopes, with a particular kind of love. 

One of the key phrases to come out of the Second Vatican Council was “full, conscious and active participation.”  And it’s used in reference to the liturgy, in particular the Mass.  But we have to stop and ask: “What are we supposed to be participating in?  What exactly are we supposed be doing here?”  But the answer isn’t so much about what we are doing; instead, it’s more about what God is doing.

Why are we here?  Because God has summoned us here.  God has “called us out from” the world, and brought us to himself.  This is a gathering of the “ekklésia.”  And we participate in what God is doing by getting in our cars and coming here.  God “gathers a people to himself,” and we let ourselves be “called out” and gathered by him.

And then God gives himself to us in Scripture and in the Eucharist.  God is at work, trying to make us even more a people grounded in faith, and in hope and love.  God is doing the work here at Mass, and we participate by letting ourselves be influenced and shaped by what we receive.  God is the potter and we participate by being the clay.  But it doesn’t end there.

The “ekklésia,” the Church, is made by God to be a force for good in the world.  At the heart of our life is love of God, and love for one another.  But our interior life as the “ekklésia” spills over into a love of the world, and a desire to see the world become always a better place.  And that sounds very idyllic and nice.  But, as the lives of the martyrs and many of the saints remind us, the “ekklésia” is often met with resistance in the world.

When Jesus went around and preached, there were a lot of people who fell at his feet.  But there were many more who “tried to entrap” him.  Jesus was subversive; he went against anything in culture which was unjust or untrue, anything which was in direct opposition to the values of God’s Kingdom.  He had lots of friends; he had lots of enemies.  He still has lots of friends, and lots of enemies.  And that’s because the “ekklésia,” the community of faith, continues his work in the world even today.

The “full, conscious and active participation” we’re supposed to be involved in doesn’t end when we sing the closing song at Mass.  The liturgy—the work that God is doing—goes on out in the world.  And we participate in that by being the community of faith out in the world; in the workplace, in school, on the roadways, on the sports field.  Wherever we are, there should be the “ekklésia:” the subversive, culture-challenging, slightly rebellious community of faith. 

The writer G.K. Chestertons put it exactly when he says, “We do not want a church that will move with the world.  We want a church that will move the world.”  We do not want a church that will move with the world.  We want a church that will move the world.  We want God to be the foundation and the ultimate guide of everything we do, whether on earth or in heaven.

The designers of our dollar bill got it right: “Annuit Coeptis.”  May God bless our country; may he bless the “ekklésia,” the Church.  May he bless and keep us all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Homily for 20 Oct 2017

20 Oct 2017

The Scriptures today issue a call to integrity; a call to be whole, to have our insides and outsides integrated into one—to be a person whose heart, mind, and actions are all on the same page.  It’s basically the idea of being honest and true; to be a person of integrity.  And this can certainly be a challenge.

On the one hand, we have our interior life.  We have our own personal desires, wants, and needs.  We have our own opinions and understandings of things.  We each have our own personalities, our own values, our own relationships with God, and so on.

But, on the other hand, we have our exterior life.  We have the commandments of God, the teachings of Christ and his Church, and other guidelines.  We have the influence of the culture around us; the influence of others’ values and desires.  We have all the prayers we learned along the way: the Our Father, the Rosary, the responses at Mass, and so on.

The challenge, it so often seems, is how to balance these two: the interior life and the exterior life.  And which one is takes priority?  Is my interior life supposed to be guided by my exterior life?  Or is my exterior life supposed to be guided and shaped by my interior life?  The answer, it seems, is: Both.

Sometimes we have to listen to our interior conscience; that becomes a priority.  Sometimes we need to follow more the voice of the Church, and let that voice shape our conscience.  Sometimes—most of the time, we have to be true to our personality, and to the person God has made us to be.  Other times—sometimes, however, we have to let our personality be shaped by the needs of living with other people: whether that’s marriage, or friendship, or at work.

And the “key” to balancing this is humility, and turning to God for help.  Even if we make poor choices in life, and we’re not quite living a life of integrity, as long as we’re honestly, humbly trying, all will be well.  And that’s because at the root of who we are is a people who humbly, honestly, and faithfully rely on the help of God.

A life of integrity begins and ends with our reliance on God.  If we can rely on him, everything else will fall into place; we’ll be living a life of integrity.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Homily for 15 Oct 2017

15 Oct 2017
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

It’s never happened before in Christianity.  2,000-plus years and it’s the first time this trend is appearing: people are angry and resentful at having been baptized as an infant.  It usually comes out around Confirmation time; utter contempt for the faith and the Church—as if to say, “How dare you do something against my free will.  How dare you try to raise me to have values and responsibilities.”   

Of course, that could just be teenage rebelliousness.  If it is, it’s pretty extreme—to have such a visceral reaction to having been baptized.

But it goes beyond that: we see it happening with adults, too.  Just turn on the television, go browse the internet.  Our world culture is not only not interested in Christian values and what the Church has to say, it’s actually hostile to the gospel message of faith, hope, and love.  It’s flat out rejected.  Christianity has always been more or less controversial.  But the reasons for its rejection today are something entirely new—and, quite honestly, we’re still trying to figure out what to do.

We look at the statistics and we see declining Mass attendance, the mass exodus of youth from the Church, constant financial struggles, struggles to get volunteers, and so on.  The life of the Church is waning, dramatically.  And, of course, our usual response is to try to liven things up: peppier music at Mass, a more engaging Mass where the priest is supposed to entertain the audience, more fun events, we gotta cater to the youth and keep them happy, and fundraiser after fundraiser after fundraiser to keep the money coming in.

Or, even more radically, some people start thinking: we have to change our teachings, they’re too stiff and we’re losing customers; the Church has to start loosening up and ordain married men and women, or we’re going to run out of priests; and we have to lighten up on our expectations that people are actually going to Christ-centered—they’re good people, nice people, they work hard and that’s good enough.

I imagine we’ve all heard at least some of those sentiments from time to time.  And, for sure, the Church needs to be attuned to culture so we can speak the gospel in a way that it’ll be received.  But today it seems that, no matter how the gospel is presented, it doesn’t strike the right chord; it doesn’t resonate the way it should.  Could it be that faith, hope, and love are...passé, archaic, and on the way out?

We see some of this in the gospel today.  The King invites all these people to his son’s wedding, but there are many who refuse to go.  It’s not so much that they reject the invitation; it’s just that they have other priorities, other things to do, and going to a wedding isn’t one of them.  And I suppose if the King kept on inviting them, and inviting them, and inviting them, they might get a little irritated and go after the King.

Maybe that’s where we are today in our culture.  The wedding feast is like the Kingdom of God, the life of the Church, the life of faith, hope, and love.  And people have been invited to share in that for ages.  But now the invitation is received with either indifference, or hostility—even within her own walls.

That little guy in the gospel who didn’t have his wedding garment on...he’s one of those.  He was invited in to the feast, and he sort of wandered in.  But he was never really interested enough to put on his garment, which is a symbol for faith.  He was in the community of faith (the Church), but he had no faith—and he wasn’t interested in having it, either.

Now, as we heard, Jesus spoke his parable to the chief priests and the elders of the people.  He saw them as being like that little guy without his wedding garment.  They didn’t have any real faith.  And that affected the whole community; it affected the mood of the wedding feast.  But, in a way, Jesus also addresses the parable to us—but more so as a question, as something to ponder.

At our baptism, the priest or deacon said to each of us: “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.”  That’s the “wedding garment” in the gospel: our having been “clothed in Christ;” wrapped in a life of faith, kept safe in a life of hope, and clothed warmly in a life of love and charity. 

Here we are: a little portion of the global Church, a community of believers, a community of the faithful.  But we’re made to ask: Do I have real faith?  And if I don’t, do I really want it?  Do I still have my baptismal garment, my wedding garment on?  And that can be a tough thing to ponder because saying “yes” to faith means also saying “no” to anything that goes against that faith and the community of the faithful.  And there are pretty significant things out there that we have to say “no” to—in order to say “yes” to faith, hope, and love.

I’ve mentioned in past homilies that we live today in the Post-Modern Era.  We’re in a time that’s characterized by skepticism, doubt, disbelief, and radical individualism.  The motto today is: “The only truth is my truth—and even that I’m not so sure of.”  This is an era of fragmentation, where there are no universal truths, there are no objective standards, “there’s nothing outside of what I think is important.”

It’s easy to see why the Church and faith are on such a decline today: just about everything we stand for, everything we see as true is contrary to the Post-Modern Era.  We believe in this grand, overarching story called “salvation;” we believe in the past, the present, and the future.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t; there’s just today, the present moment, and that’s it.    

We believe in there’s meet to life than meets the eye.  We believe in the spirit, the soul; we believe in life-after-death; we believe in God’s presence, and in his working in everyday life.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t; there is no God, it’s just a bunch of baloney; and when we die, we die, that’s it.

We believe in universal concepts, what we call “archetypes.”  It’s what allows us to look at a forest of pine trees and say, “There’s a forest of pine trees.”  Archetypes allow us to look at a bunch of people and say, “There’s a bunch of people.”  But the Post-Modern Era doesn’t believe in archetypes.  It looks at a forest and says, “No, that’s not a bunch of trees; that’s a bunch of individual things that have no relation to one another whatsoever.”  The Post-Modern Era looks at a bunch of people and says, “That’s not a bunch of people; that’s a bunch of individual things that have no relation at all to one another.  The fact that they look similar and act and sound the same doesn’t mean anything.  There’s no connection between them at all.”  That’s how the Post-Modern Era can look at a fetus in the womb and say, “That’s not a human being.”

We believe in logic, we believe in patterns.  We believe in the importance of thought and rationality, using our brains, common sense.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t.  Even if a truth is staring a Post-Modern person in the face, they can still deny it—even it’s a nonsensical, irrational, insane thing to do. 

A life of faith implies the existence of something bigger than myself.  A life of hope, and a life of love and charity imply the same thing.  We believe in something much bigger than ourselves.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t.  It’s little wonder, then, why the Church and faith are in such troubled times right now. 

But the remedy isn’t to give in, and to doubt the importance of what we believe.  And the remedy isn’t to dig in our heels and stubbornly refuse to “get with it.”  The remedy is to be simply faithful...to God, to one another, to the community of the faithful.  The remedy is to live with a confident hope in the promises of Christ, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The remedy is to be a person who has real love, charity, compassion, and mercy at our core.

In short, the remedy is to simply (and really) be who we profess to be: the Church.  We should expect that our way of life will continue to be looked down upon—even by people within the community.  We should, we can, expect that; this is the Post-Modern Era.  And the winds of this era we’re living in right now are pretty strong. 

It’s like we’re at home, in the evening, and there’s a storm outside.  The winds are blowing, rattling the windows, howling through the cracks.  The thunder is shaking the dishes in the cupboard.  And the rain is pounding down on the roof, making quite a noise.  But there we are at home, not alone but together, enjoying each other’s company, singing the praises of God around the roaring fire of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a feast going on!  The Lord is providing “rich food and choice wines.”  He’s wiping away tears and sadness.  We’re in the house of the Good Shepherd, where he “refreshes the soul,” and “gives courage;” where “my cup overflows,” and “only goodness and kindness follow me.”  The “fattened cattle” are served in a feast of abundance.  Our God puts on a great celebration.  And the faithful are the ones who are enjoying it—even as the Post-Modern storm rages outside.

We pray for those caught out in the storm; we hope God will keep them safe as best he can.  And, at the same time, the faithful simply enjoy being the faithful, the Church, the house of God on earth.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Homily for 6 Oct 2017

6 Oct 2017

Some people know they’re sinners, and others need to be told they’re sinners.  That’s basically what’s happening in our readings this morning.  Admitting our sins—and the importance of being able to do that—is the main idea.  And it’s the main idea because God can only do his thing with those who know they need him.

Jesus is not only the Bridegroom of our souls, he’s also the Divine Physician.  God loves us, yes.  But he sent his Son also to heal us, to heal our wounded souls.  And, like any doctor, he can’t do his thing if the patient refuses to believe that he or she is sick.

This is why Jesus is so hard on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  It’s why he’s so hard on the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees—and we’ll see more of that in this weekend’s readings.  Jesus tries to get people to realize how much they need him; how much they need the grace of God.  And that’s why sometimes he’s pretty blunt in calling a spade a spade.

Jesus came to call sinners; he came to heal them and to love them.  How lucky we are to know we’re sinners.  It’s to us that the grace of God comes.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Homily for 5 Oct 2017

5 Oct 2017
(School Mass)

When I was little, we were always told: “Don’t talk to strangers.”  And that’s right—we want to be careful about talking to strangers.  It’s a good rule to remember.

But what about all those people we do know?  Like your classmates and friends, or even some people you recognize from coming to church, even if you don’t know their name?  Well, of course, those people we can talk to.  And not only that, we should even try to be a friend.

Now, here at St. Clare we have a “no-bully” rule, right?  We don’t let anybody treat others badly.  And that’s because Jesus gave us a rule about that, didn’t he?  He said, “Love your neighbors as yourself.”  And we can’t do that if we’re calling other people names, or fighting with them, or just not being nice to them. 

But part of loving our neighbors is also welcoming them.  In the gospel today, Jesus talks about the importance of what we call “hospitality.”  You know, if you have a friend sleep over, you probably try to make them feel welcome, right?  Well that’s “hospitality.”

So we have a “no-bully” rule here at school, but we also have another rule from Jesus that’s just as important.  He says, “Welcome others and treat them well.”  Welcome others and treat them well.  And that’s because we’re not strangers; we’re brothers and sisters in Christ.

Don’t be a bully, and welcome others and treat them well.  Those are two very good rules to remember.        

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Homily for 24 Sep 2017

24 Sep 2017
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Most of us have something we’d like to change about ourselves.  Maybe we’d like to be taller or shorter, or thinner.  Maybe we wish we could be more outspoken or quicker on our feet.  Who knows—there are lots of ways we could be different than what we are.  There are a lot of different scenarios of life we could think about: “I want to have that person’s life;” or “I wish I could be more like so-and-so.”

It can take the more negative form, too, you know: “Why does that person get the perfect body and the perfect house?  What’s so special about that person that they have everything, and I have to struggle?”  Of course, that leads us into the gospel today: “These last ones worked only one hour, and you’ve made them equal to us, who bore the whole day’s burden and the heat—that’s unfair!”

We’re hard-wired, it seems, to compare ourselves to others.  It’s in our nature to be competitive.  And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Actually it can be a very good thing. 

When we’re baptized into the life of Christ, we’re asked to compare our own life to Christ’s life—not that we’re trying to be the Son of God, but we are trying to imitate him, his values and his particular way of loving God and loving others.  Saint Paul says as much when he says, “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.” 

And then we have the Two Great Commandments to compare ourselves against, as well as the Beatitudes.  Our Blessed Mother serves as an example for us, as do all the saints.  For children, their parents and teachers serve as models.  As a musician, I might look to a particular artist for inspiration and guidance. 

And so, comparing ourselves to others and being competitive isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It can actually inspire us to be better ourselves.  And that’s a good reason to think about those things we’d like to change about ourselves.  Personal growth, and becoming the person we’re made to be is a very good thing.

Of course, there’s a negative side as well.  And that can take the form of jealousy, envy, or pride, or even self-hatred.  For example, some people struggle with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia.  The desire to have the ideal body weight or the ideal body shape pushes them over the edge.  Even if a woman is all skin and bones, she’ll still see herself as overweight; she can’t see what’s there.  Her comparison to a societal norm blinds her to reality.

Or there are people who are convinced that the world is against them, and so they see everything that happens as a strike against them; people are intentionally trying to slight them and to push them down.  And so, they might see others’ success as rightfully belonging to them.  That’s the basis of class warfare: the division between the “haves” and the “have nots.”  Reality, however, could be very different.  There are injustices in the world, for sure.  But the world isn’t one, big cesspool of inequality and unfairness.  

Closer to home, we could think of any parish merger.  It’s been eight years for us, and there’s still a certain “sibling rivalry” present.  There’s still a mindset here and there that compares and contrasts: “How are they being treated, and how are we being treated?” 

The negative in all these examples—and in the parable from the gospel today—is that attention isn’t focused enough on the right thing.  The parable of the prodigal son comes to mind.  The older brother was furious that his father would give a celebration for his younger brother.  He said to his father, “Look!  All these years I’ve been slaving away for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”  To which the father answered, “My son, everything I have is yours.”

Everything the father had always belonged to his older son.  Just because the son wasn’t wise enough to enjoy it, doesn’t mean his father should be stingy in sharing it with others.  That older son should’ve been relishing in everything he had from his father, so that when his younger brother came home, he would’ve wanted him to share in it just as much as he had.  Instead of being focused on his own blessings, he was focused on his younger brother’s. 

That was the problem in the parable in today’s gospel as well.  The worker wasn’t focused on his own wage; he was focused on the other’s wage.  Instead of focusing on what someone else has, why don’t I focus on the blessings that are mine?  Why am I not happy with them?  Why is the grass always greener on the other side?

Comparing ourselves with others can be a good and fruitful thing to do.  It can also be disastrous.  It depends on what our motivation is.  And it depends on how balanced it is with the spirit of gratitude and cooperation.

St. Paul gives us the image of the “many parts of the one body.”  He writes, “There should be no division in the body, but its members should have mutual concern for one another.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).  If a neighbor gets a new job, can I be happy for that person, while at the same time being thankful for my own job?  If a classmate plays an excellent game of football, can I congratulate that person, while at the same time not wishing it was me getting all the accolades? 

Scripture today gives us an enormous challenge.  It asks us to be happy, to be grateful, and to consider ourselves blessed for all that we have and all that we are...regardless of what others have.  It sounds so simple.  But it’s tough to do. 

And maybe it’s helpful to think about God’s motives for doing what he does.  Again, from the parable today, we see: that God is generous (Mt 20:15); that he is concerned for what is just and right (Mt 20:4); and that he wants to involve as many people as possible in his work.  Why does God shower down his blessings in the way he does?  Because he is generous, because he is wise, and he wants everyone to share his life—not one person, not this group or that group, but everyone.

We have an enormous challenge: to be happy, to be grateful, and to consider ourselves blessed...regardless of what others have.  May we love ourselves as God loves us so that, in turn, we can love others and be happy for them, too.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Homily for 22 Sep 2017

22 Sep 2017

Jesus didn’t really care.  He was rather indifferent and uninterested; he didn’t care…about other’s opinions of him, that is.  It must’ve been an odd sight for people to see Jesus walking around with his band of sinners-turned-Apostles, and then with all those women, too.  But Jesus didn’t care—all of them were his disciples and he loved each of them, and they adored him.

In the spiritual life it’s called “holy indifference.”  God’s care for us, and our love for him become so rewarding that our life begins to revolve around love—not necessarily a sentimental love, but a love that looks like adoration, admiration, and commitment.  And what others think of that becomes irrelevant.  It’s a “holy indifference” to what others think.

God loves us, his sons and daughters.  And we adore him.  May God give us the grace to be…uninterested… in what others think of that. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Homily for 21 Sep 2017

21 Sep 2017
Feast of Saint Matthew
(School Mass)

Saint Matthew was an important person.  He knew Jesus personally, and he shared his faith with many, many people.  And we still read from his gospel thousands of years later.  Saint Matthew is a very important person for us.

And there are a lot of other saints, too.  But, you know, quite a few of them we’ve probably never heard of; saints like: Saint Athwulf of Thorney, or Saint Erconwald of London, or Saint Enda of Aran.  But just because we haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they’re not important.  They each have a part to play in God’s kingdom.

It doesn’t matter if we’re popular or not.  The important thing is that we’re faithful to God, and that we are who God made us to be.  We each have a part to play—and only you can play that part.

Now the other day, my little pinky finger was saying, “I’m tired of being the little finger.  In fact, I don’t want to be a finger anymore at all; I want to be an eye—an eye is much more important than being just a little finger.” 

And I said, “Well, Pinky, if you stop being my little finger, how am I going to count up to 10?  How am I going to balance my hand when I’m writing?  And what about your neighbor, the ring finger—what’s he going to do without his little buddy next to him?”

And Pinky said to me, “You’re right.  An eye is important, but so am I, even though people don’t notice me too much.”  And ever since, he’s been happy to be my little pinky finger.

God put each of us into the world for a reason.  We each have a part to play—whether it’s a big part or a little part.  The important thing is to say, “God, what do you want me to do today?”  And then do it with happiness and peace in our heart.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Homily for 20 Sep 2017

20 Sep 2017

There’s a risk in being a devout Christian.  And the risk is that we’re going to look like a fool—not to God, or to ourselves, but to others. 

After all, God’s wisdom sometimes goes against the grain.  God’s law of love and forgiveness oftentimes goes against popular conventions.  The rituals and prayers that enhance our worship can be criticized as hopelessly out of touch.  There are lots of reasons why others may see us playing the role of “the fool.”

But that’s the risk of being a person devoted to Christ and his Church.  Whether or not it’s a big risk is a personal question.  It depends on whose opinion we value more: someone else’s or God’s.  St. John Vianney said, “Don’t try to please everyone.  Try to please God, the angels, and the saints; they are your public.”

We might be fools in the eyes of others for believing what we believe.  But it doesn’t matter much.  In God’s eyes we’re precious and dearly loved.  That’s what matters.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Homily for 19 Sep 2017

19 Sep 2017

Jesus did a great thing: he brought the widow’s son back to life.  But he didn’t do that for the man’s sake; actually, he did it out of pity for the widow.  He did it for her sake.

And we know the Lord blesses each of us in many ways.  But maybe the blessings aren’t always intended to make our own life better.  Maybe he blesses us...so somebody else can benefit.

It’s good to remember the good things God has done for us.  And it’s just as good (and maybe even necessary) to share those blessings with others—not just because it’s the “nice thing to do,” but because maybe God is trying to use us as merely an instrument of his peace and blessings.

It’s a great thing to be blessed by the Lord.  May we pass those blessings on, especially to those who need a little help from their neighbor, and from God.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Homily for 17 Sep 2017

17 Sep 2017
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

When does nighttime end and the day begin?  Or when daylight end and the night begin?  It’s hard to tell.  If you go outside early in the morning and wait for the sun to rise, it’s just a gradual thing.  The darkness of night slowly transforms into the light of day.  And at sunset, just the opposite happens.  The light of days slowly slips away into the dark of night.

We tend to see day and night as distinct—and they certainly are.  But exactly where one ends and the other begins...that’s hard to tell.  And this very blurry line between the two is similar to how we view the life of heaven and the life of earth.  Heaven and earth are distinct, for sure.  And, yet, where one ends and where the other begins isn’t always easy to tell.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is death.  Death is a pretty easy way to tell where the boundary is.  There isn’t much of a blurred line there between earth and heaven.  And we can certainly grant that.  But, of course, there’s more to life on earth than life in the body.  And there’s more to life in heaven than simply life in the spirit.  Death is certainly a sign of something, but it isn’t necessarily the dividing line between earth and heaven.

The rising sun isn’t suddenly “risen.”  And the setting sun isn’t here one second and gone the next.  In the same way, life on earth doesn’t suddenly end.  And the life of heaven doesn’t suddenly begin.  The line between the two—if there even is a line—is pretty blurred; they flow into and out of each other pretty freely. 

And this can be a real challenge for us to accept in the 21st Century; even for us who profess faith in God, the Maker of “all things visible and invisible.”  When we hear about wars and terrorism; when we experience mercilessness from other people; when God seems to be deaf to our prayers, it can be a challenge to believe that the life of heaven is somehow part of our life on earth.  There’re enough “unheavenly” things around us to make us doubt that.

Our Scripture passages today focus on one particular area of heavenly life: the area of forgiveness.  The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is similar to when your debts are forgiven...simply because the king himself is kind and merciful.  Forgiveness is part and parcel of heavenly life.  So, too, are mercy and kindness.  If I forgive, the life of heaven is already, at least partially, within me.  And if I am forgiven (and I let myself be forgiven), the life of heaven has touched and enriched me.

And the idea here is that the “kingdom of heaven” doesn’t begin when we die; the pearly gates aren’t opened when we breathe our last.  The gates are open now.  One aspect of heavenly life—forgiveness—is something we can live right now.  The “rising sun” of heaven is already beginning to shine; we don’t have to wait to be a forgiving person, we can do that now, today.  We don’t have to wait to experience that part of heaven.

Now, in the Book of Sirach, we don’t hear anything about heaven.  We hear about the importance of forgiveness, but he doesn’t mention heaven.  Instead, he says: “Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin.”  And what he’s saying is simply: Know where you’re going, and live your life accordingly.  For Sirach (and many others at the time), the notion of a life after death was not widely believed; Sirach himself didn’t believe in any sort of general resurrection. 

When he saw death, he saw only “death and decay,” not heaven or life.  And so, we can only take his wisdom so far.  But he does get at something important when he says, in so many words: Know where you’re going, and live your life accordingly.  If we desire heaven, if we want to live that life, then begin living it today.  And we know we can because, again, the gates of heaven are open now; the grace of God, the life of God, the love of God is given for us to share in now, today.

“Know where you’re going, and live your life accordingly,” Sirach says, as do many of the saints of our Tradition.  If you google “heaven,” you’ll probably see tons of images of clouds; blue sky and clouds, with sunlight; maybe a brilliant staircase and a few people around gazing toward the holy city sparkling in gold.”  It’s presented as a place, and as a place which has little resemblance to our life on earth.  In short, heaven is presented as a foreign land; a place we have no connection to.

And so, even if we know we should want to “go to heaven,” it can be hard to get all that excited about it.  It’s like living in your home for decades; you’re comfortable, life is good, the weather is great; there’s no reason to live.  And then somebody comes and says, “Ok, it’s time to move.  Don’t worry, you’re going to a fantastic place; it’ll be great.”  My response would be like, “Why?  I’m doing fine here.  ‘There’s no place like home,’ as Dorothy would say.”  And I’ve heard more than a few teenagers say, “You know, heaven doesn’t look all that exciting to me.  I mean, what’s so thrilling about sitting on a cloud forever?  Maybe that would be heaven for a meteorologist, but not me.”

For some people, maybe for a lot of people, the idea of “knowing where you’re going, and living your life accordingly” isn’t very motivational—because heaven itself doesn’t appear to be all that compelling.  The vision of what God has in mind for his sons and daughters looks kind of...flat.  Of course, it isn’t true, but that’s the popular conception.

If we want to have a clue of what heaven is like, a good person to start with is God himself—Jesus.  He is “the visible image of the invisible God;” the God whose life is at the heart of what we call “heaven.”  Jesus gives us a view into heaven; he opens its gates to us.

Jesus is...endlessly forgiving.  That’s what his remark about “seventy-seven times” means.  In heaven there are no grudges, no resentments, no ill will, no hard feelings.  There are no wounds to be nursed, or self-pity to indulge in.  Instead, there’s forgiveness; forgiveness and mercy.  When I think of the confessional rooms, it sometimes strikes me how the door to the confessional is like a “door to heaven.”  On the other side is God’s complete forgiveness, and his unfailing friendship.

Jesus is also...an instrument of truth and wisdom.  A biblical scholar once remarked that “whenever you uncover a bit of truth, you uncover a bit of God.”  We could also say “you uncover a bit of heaven.”  In heaven there are no secrets, there is no ignorance; nothing is hidden away, no one is deprived of the knowledge of things.  And we know that truth only comes to those who are humble and curious, so we can also say that in heaven there isn’t any pride; there is no competition—but just the thrill of “soaking it all in.”  

In Scripture, Jesus is revealed as the Bridegroom.  And from the first pages of Genesis to the last pages of Revelation, a recurring theme is that of marriage: the beauty of union, the beauty of fidelity and companionship.  We hear it so often in Scripture: heaven is the “wedding supper of the Lamb.”  Heaven is a feast, a gathering, a celebration of belonging and, again, reconciliation and wholeness.  In heaven there are no outsiders, there are no cliques.  There isn’t any “them and us;” instead it’s “us and God.”

Heaven is goodness, truth, and beauty.  It’s the experience of harmony, where each person plays off the other in a divine music directed by God.

Heaven isn’t so much a place, as it is an experience of life.  Heaven is a way of living life.  And whenever we live that life, we are living the life of heaven—even if we do it imperfectly.  When we forgive and are forgiven, we are experiencing heaven.  When we’re thrilled with love and friendship; when we’re vulnerable with another person we trust; when we accept and love someone else unconditionally, we are experiencing heavenly life.

When we’re struck by the beauty of the day, or we’re captivated in awe at a thunderstorm, we are experiencing heaven.  When we learn in school; when we’re honing our skills and figuring out how the world works; when we’re wondering about God and sharing our life with him in the quiet of prayer, we are experiencing heavenly life.

The life of heaven doesn’t begin when we die.  It happens today, every time we “let God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  And God’s will is: forgiveness, mercy, beauty, truth, goodness, friendship, kindness, knowledge, charity, and so much more.  It might sound a lot like our life on earth.  But, then again, there’s a blurry line between heaven and earth, just like the dark of night and the light of day.   

Heaven isn’t just a future life; it’s also our present life.  We don’t have to wait to experience it.  We don’t have to wait to live it.