Saturday, December 23, 2017

Homily for 23 Dec 2017

23 Dec 2017
4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

We’re right in the middle of the holiday season.  And this time of the year is characterized by people getting together.  You know, we make a special effort to invite friends and family over, even if it’s just for a short visit.  And, of course, we accept others’ invitations as well.  It’s a time for renewing connections.  And we make those connections gathered around a turkey at Thanksgiving, around the Christmas tree on the 25th of December, and then around the clock as it strikes midnight on January 1st.  And, of course, there’s a little bit of gathering around the television to watch football, too.

And all these gatherings take some preparation: going shopping, decorating the house...preparing a place for people to gather.  You know, it would kind of silly to invite somebody over, and then not to prepare for them to come over.  “Come on over for Thanksgiving, we’d love to have you!”  And then they get to your place...and there’s no food.  “Come on over for Christmas, we’d love to have you!”  And then they get to your place...and you’re not even there; you’re at somebody else’s house!  That would be kind of silly.  It would defeat the point of making an invitation.

The holiday season—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years—is so much about renewing our connections with others.  And it takes some work and preparation to make those connections happen.

Within the stories of Scripture, we see the long-awaited coming of the Messiah.  The people had been waiting and waiting for him to “come over.”  They very much wanted to connect with him, and to welcome him into their lives.  But, you know, their preparations weren’t the best.  I mean, God told them how to “prepare a place” for him, but they didn’t always follow through with it.

It’d be like somebody saying, “Ok, in order to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need: a turkey, cranberries, potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and some gravy.”  But, then, instead of getting all that, you just get green beans and potatoes.  Well, there’s more to it than just beans and potatoes.  You haven’t really prepared for the guest come over and have Thanksgiving dinner.

So God told his people how to “prepare a place” for the Messiah—he gave them the “menu”—but they didn’t quite get everything.  And so, they were unprepared.  But then along came Mary; a young girl between twelve and fourteen years old, who was “betrothed to a man named Joseph.”  Only now God had done the preparations.  God was bringing himself and humanity together—he was “coming over for a get together,” but this time he had done the preparations.

He prepared Mary by having her immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother, Anne.  And then when the Archangel Gabriel came to her, Mary was able to say, from her purity of faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”  That complete openness to God was the perfect preparation for the “coming of the Guest.”  It was the most perfect invitation to God.  In effect, Mary had said, “Come on over, God.  The house is ready.  My soul is laid open to you.  I’m home, the lights are on, and the door is wide open.”  And she had support, too, which was really important. 

And that all sounds very idyllic, but at that time in ancient Israel, it was a very dangerous thing for a young woman to be unwed and pregnant.  From the Book of Deuteronomy the law said: “If a man marries a girl who is claimed to be a virgin, and then finds that she is not, ‘they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death’” (22:20).  So, Mary’s preparation for the Lord’s coming wasn’t necessarily a happy thing: she risked execution for it.  But, God had prepared for that as well...he gave Joseph to be Mary’s husband.

Joseph was also a man with purity of faith.  And so, when Gabriel told him what the deal was, he trusted God’s word and welcomed Mary (and God’s plan) into his home.  And, then, long before that, God had destined Joseph to be of “the house of David” which, as we know, was the ancestral line the Messiah would come from.  So God himself made the preparations so the Messiah could come.

Since that first Christmas, however, when Jesus came to the house of Mary and Joseph, God has asked each of us to prepare a place at the table for his Son.  And this is what Advent has been all about.  We’ve sent the invitation to Jesus.  We’ve prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”  “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” Even in our private prayers we may have said things like, “Jesus, help me; Lord, show me the way; Lord, be my peace, be my happiness.”  We’ve sent the invitation to Jesus many times.  We’ve asked him to “come over and get together.”

But what kind of preparations have we done to welcome him, into our homes, into our hearts?  Have we “laid our souls open to him; are we at home, with our lights on, and the door wide open,” like our Blessed Mother had?  If not, don’t worry; Jesus only comes to those who’ve opened their hearts and homes to him.  And, for most of us, that’s a project we’ll always be working on. 

And so, don’t worry.  Even after Christmas, it’ll still be Advent—in our hearts, as we continue our lifelong work of “preparing the way of the Lord.”

Friday, December 22, 2017

Homily for 22 Dec 2017

22 Dec 2017

“My heart exalts in the Lord, my Savior.”  As we talked about last Sunday, this is the song of the Bride of Christ, the Church.  And we hear it today in Scripture from both Hannah and our Blessed Mother.  “My heart exalts in the Lord, my Savior.”

It’s at the heart of our church year… It’s the basis of our hope in this season of Advent.  It’s the cause of our joy in Christmas.  It’s the song we renew every season of Lent.  And it’s our great longing at Easter: to be with the Lord in resurrected life, singing forever, “My heart exalts in the Lord, my Savior.”

And, no matter what comes our way in life, that song within us is what carries us through.  From death to life, through darkness to light, from anxiety to peace, from hurt to forgiveness…”My heart exalts in the Lord, my Savior.”  That song is at the center of our lives as Catholics, as neighbors and friends, as the Church in the world.

May God make that song always fresh within us; may we always and forever exalt in the Lord, our Savior, our Rising Sun through endless days.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Homily for 21 Dec 2017

21 Dec 2017
(School Mass)

First, let me say what a wonderful job you all did yesterday at the Christmas Program!  It was a great performance, and you obviously put a lot of work into it.  So you can be very proud of yourselves.  And, you know, that’s only because the music and the story were great, it’s also because you were sharing Jesus with other people.

Everybody had a part to play in the Christmas Program; and everybody has a part to play in sharing Jesus with others.  Some parts are big, some parts are small—but each one of them is important.  It makes me think of the story of how Jesus came to be born; there are lots of characters!: Mary, Joseph, the Archangel Gabriel, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist (even the unborn have a role to play), the Prophet Isaiah, shepherds, the choirs of angels, King Herod, the sheep, the cows, the owls…pretty much all of creation!

When it comes to sharing Jesus, we all have a part to play—doesn’t matter how young or old we are.  Some of us are quiet, and we like to think a lot.  Some of us are really loud, and we like to talk a lot.  Some of us are creative and artists; some are good at sports and showing good sportsmanship.  Some of us are really good at showing kindness to others; and some of us are really good at just being in awe of God’s wonders and being an example to others. 

We all have a part to play in sharing Jesus with others.  We all have a part to play in making the Christmas story come true—not just on Christmas Day, but on every day of the year!  And whenever we share Jesus with others, we know he’s very proud of us. 

So the Christmas Program is over for this year…but sharing Jesus with others?  Well, that never ends.  And we each have a part to play in making sure that Christmas never ends.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Homily for 20 Dec 2017

20 Dec 2017

“May it be done to me according to your word.”  If there’s a “key” to the Kingdom of God, it might very well be that phrase: May it be done to me, Lord, according to your word.  But I don’t know if it’s so much a key to the Kingdom, as it is a key to our own heart and soul.  It’s a key that opens us up to receive the Kingdom, to receive the coming of the Lord.

Our “O Antiphon” for today is “O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!”  And that “key” has already been handed to us, just as it was given to St. Mary in her immaculate conception: that ability to say from our heart: “May it be done to me according to your word.  Thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done on earth and it is in heaven.”  It’s a key we each have in our pocket. 

We have the key to the Kingdom within us.  We just have to use it, and then let the Kingdom unfold as it will—in God’s time, and in his way.    

Homily for 19 Dec 2017

19 Dec 2017

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun” (Eccl. 3:1).  We often hear that at funerals to express an acceptance that, in the end, everything happens in God’s time.

Now, in our readings today we hear about the mothers of Samson and John the Baptist, both of whom were called “barren.”  And, at the time, it was seen as a sign her not having been graced by God that a woman hadn’t borne children.  But, then again, everything happens in God’s time.  And so, perhaps it was too quick of a judgment to call the women “barren.”  God had something in store for them (and the whole world), and it eventually came to fruition…in God’s time.

As we wind down our season of Advent this year, and we reflect on our prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” it might be tempting to see that prayer as being unanswered.  For some of us, this is our seventieth or eightieth Advent.  When is the Lord going to come?  In his own time.  The challenge is to not judge prematurely and say, “The Lord isn’t coming.”

Of course, we can apply that same idea to so many of our prayers and hopes that seem to be…unanswered.  God answers prayers…but in his time, and in his way.  There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun.  And God is trustworthy.  So we shouldn’t ever give up hope.

Even if we’re tempted to call our life “barren,” or our hopes and prayers “forgotten,” we know they aren’t.  Everything happens in good time; everything happens in God’s time.  We needn’t be afraid or hopeless.

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 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.