Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Homily for 1 Feb 2017

1 Feb 2017

So you’re watching TV, but your favorite show keeps getting interrupted by commercials.  It sounds like a good time to go to the kitchen and see what’s in the refrigerator, or maybe you just take the remote and see what else is on.  And Jesus got a similar response in his day.  For some people, Jesus was like a commercial, and whenever he came around they just sort of tuned him out.

Even today, we might do that on occasion.  We might feel him saying, “Come, spend some time with me in prayer.”  Of course, extra time for prayer is pretty hard to come by.  Or maybe he’s trying to tell us something through our conscience, but we’re not in the mood for some deep self-reflection just then.  On occasion, we tune Jesus out.

But, you know, the thing about commercials is that they’re always going to be there—you can count on it.  And the good news is that Jesus is always going to be there—we can count on that.  He’ll keep knocking on the door of our hearts—quietly, forever—until we stop “changing the channels” to see what else is on, and actually sit and consider what he’s trying to sell us.

Of course, what he’s offering is himself.  He’s offering eternal friendship.  He’s offering healing and wisdom.  He’s offering happiness and satisfaction.  All at the low, low price of us saying “yes” to him.  Like so many commercials, Jesus is going to keep interrupting life.  Let’s just remember every now and then to stop and see what Jesus is trying to give us.  It might be just what we were looking for.   

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Homily for 29 Jan 2017

29 Jan 2017
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Jesus is a pretty radical teacher.  He digs down deep to get at the root of things.  That’s where he works: down in the roots.  And he keeps those roots—the roots of our life—alive and growing by making sure they get enough light and fresh air.  When Jesus opens his mouth and teaches, that’s what comes out: the Light of Truth and the Breath of the Holy Spirit. 

And the effect, I suppose, is like when you take a hoe and turn over the dirt; everything gets jostled around and it looks messier than when you started.  But that’s what you have to do make things grow.  When Jesus teaches, he’s like that hoe which is both sharp and hard, and very necessary.  Jesus is a pretty radical teacher.

One of his “lessons,” which we call the Beatitudes, is especially radical.  Those eight teachings are really meant to upset the way the world thinks and believes.  Of course, we’ve gotten used to them after a couple thousand years, and they tend to lose their edge.  So let’s try another translation from the ancient Greek.  How about this . . .

Enviable are those who are bent over and destitute in spirit; theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.  Enviable are those who mourn and lament; they will receive counsel and comfort.  Enviable are those who are strong, but act with reserve; they will inherit the Kingdom.  Enviable are those who ache for and desire God’s approval above all else; they will be satisfied.  Enviable are those who are merciful; they will receive mercy in return.

Enviable are those who are undivided in mind and heart; they will see God as he is.  Enviable are those who do what it takes to make peace; they will be called the image of God on earth.  Enviable are those who are hunted down because they do what is right in God’s mind; theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

Enviable are you when they curse you and hunt you down and, with a lying tongue, speak every evil against you because you have tried to be my disciple.  Welcome all of this, jumping for joy!  For you will be compensated richly in heaven.  For, in just the same way, they hunted down the prophets who came before you.

These teachings of the Lord are hard, very hard.  I mean, who wants to be destitute in spirit?  Who enjoys mourning and lamenting what we’ve lost?  Who wants to hold back and not live up to his or her potential?  Who wants to be hunted down and have others “bear false witness against” us?  And, yet, Jesus says that those who experience these things on account of their devotion to him are to be envied; those people are “blessed” and “lucky.”

It’s easy to see why those early Christians were regarded as a bunch of lunatics.  Even for us, today, what Jesus says in the Beatitudes is still a little . . . strange.  But maybe that’s because Jesus is a radical teacher; he’s getting at our roots.  He’s getting at our understandings of how the world works and he’s saying, “No, this is how it’s supposed to be.  Go this way.”  Remember, this is the One who said, “I am the Way . . . Go this way.”

And the way he’s pushing us to go is the way of weakness.  All the Beatitudes go back to the idea of weakness.  After all, who are the weak?  They’re the destitute; they’re those who are overcome by grief; those who hold back; those who think that popularity is less important than God’s approval.  The weak are those who are merciful, instead of vengeful; who are a servant to God; who strive for peace and not for domination.  The weak are those who are hunted down, who are beaten down by lies and hatred.  The weak are those who imitate Christ; who let the opposition overtake him on the Cross.

Jesus is teaching us to take the path of weakness.  And that is radically different than what we’re used to.  After all, we’re not brought up to be weak; we’re brought up to be strong in all ways—in mind, body, and spirit.  But Jesus says, “No, be weak.  The weak are those to be envied.  The weak are blessed.”

And they’re blessed because they receive the help of Almighty God; they receive God’s comfort and wisdom; they will be fulfilled by a satisfaction that can’t be found on earth; they will be treated with mercy and they will see God face-to-face.  The prize that awaits the weak is God himself—today and forever.  Whereas the prize that awaits the strong and the proud is whatever accolades they can win from other people; none of which lasts.

Jesus teaches us to take a more radical path.  In a way, he wants us to be a bunch of lunatics, as far as others are concerned.  And taking that path can seem a little too much, or even undesirable.  But Christ expects that kind of reaction; after all, he didn’t come to help those who don’t need it, but those who do need help. 

And so, he might ask, “What’s at least one area of life where you can let go and just let God take it over?”  Is there an area of life where you’re trying to be too strong?  Maybe it’s trying to overcome an addiction.  Maybe it’s in trying to deal with a family situation by yourself.  Maybe it’s in trying to be too much the disciplinarian at home that you forget to be merciful, too.  Where do you need to be weaker in life, so that you can be stronger? 

Jesus went up the side of the mountain and he taught, in so many words, “Blessed are the weak; blessed are those who suffer to follow me.  How enviable and lucky they are!”  It sounds a little strange but, you know, only those who try the path of weakness know if it’s true.  Only those who are weak know if the Beatitudes are true.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Homily for 27 Jan 2017

27 Jan 2017

“Slow and steady wins the race,” said the tortoise to the hare, “slow and steady.”  And when it comes to faith, we’d say, “Trust and endurance wins the race.  Trust and endurance.”

The Kingdom of God is like a seed growing in the ground.  It doesn’t all come up at once, but it grows very slowly, almost imperceptibly . . . but it does come up, one little bit at a time.  Of course, if you’re worried about tomorrow and what it’ll bring, or are too busy hopping from one place to the next, with never enough time to stop and be still, it’ll seem like the fruits of faith will never come.

But trust and endurance wins the race.  They open our eyes to see the little bits of the Kingdom coming to be.  In the race we call a “life of faith,” the only thing that will get us to the finish line—to the Kingdom of God—is faith: trusting faith and enduring faith.   

“Slow and steady wins the race,” said the tortoise to the hare, “slow and steady.”  And when it comes to faith, we’d say, “Trust and endurance wins the race.  Trust and endurance.”

Homily for 26 Jan 2017

26 Jan 2017
(School Mass)
After our First Reading we said, “Thanks be to God.”  And then we sang, “Alleluia,” which means “Praise God [Yahweh].”  And after the Gospel Reading we said, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”  We give praise and thanks to God because God has spoken to us. 

In the psalm today, we heard about the “marvelous deeds,” the marvelous actions and things that God has done.  And Jesus says that those things are like a lamp, they’re like a light for us.  If you ever go into a dark room and you’re trying to find the light switch, and then you find it and turn the light on, it’s a relief—because you can see where you’re going!

Well, it’s the same when God does marvelous things for us; they give a reason to be thankful and to praise God.  And that’s why after the First Reading, and before and after the Gospel Reading, we say things like: “Thanks be to God,” and “Alleluia” and “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”  God has spoken to us, he’s shone light on us, and our response to be thankful and to give praise.

And that’s something we can do outside of Mass, too.  For example, when it’s a beautiful day outside, we can say, “Alleluia, Praise God!”  Or when somebody does something for us, we can say, “Thanks be to God!”  (We already say Thank You to the person, but we can say Thank You to God, too.)  Or when we realize how much God loves each and every one of us, we can say, “Praise to you, Jesus!”

God does many, many wonderful things for us.  And what else can say, but, “Thanks be to God.  Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ! And Alleluia!”  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Homily for 25 Jan 2017

25 Jan 2017
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

If Saul of Tarsus were alive today, we would call him a terrorist: hunting down Christians and persecuting them, all in the name of God.  It’s strange, then, to consider that he ended up being one of our most revered Saints, St. Paul.  On this Feast of the Conversation of Saint Paul, we commemorate how God captured and transformed the zeal in Paul’s heart for the good.

But there’s still the lingering history of Paul; after all, he was a persecutor of Christians, and a fervent one at that.  Imagine if some terrorist today suddenly “saw the Light” and had a total conversion to Christ: would we be willing to accept him (or her)?  That’s a tough one, for sure.  Or maybe a less extreme example would be helpful: What if someone who’s always just been a pain in the neck actually did something nice?  Could we see the goodness of the present situation, without letting the past get in the way?  That’s a tough one.

But such people in our lives we like to call “opportunities for holiness.”  When Jesus told Ananias to go meet up with Saul, Ananias basically said in reply, “Are you crazy?!”  He wasn’t too thrilled with the idea, but he went anyway in obedience to the Lord.  And in meeting Saul to be his guide, Ananias had an opportunity to practice God’s brand of charity and forgiveness; he had an opportunity to grow in holiness.  And he took it.  He even went so far as to call Saul, “my brother.”

The Conversion of Saint Paul was a very great act of God.  And every time someone’s heart is turned to the Lord, it’s something to celebrate.  May we have charity enough in our hearts to forgive the past, and to celebrate with those who are on the path of conversion.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Homily for 22 Jan 2017

22 Jan 2017
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Growing up, my family moved a few times. And sometimes when we’d move from one house to the next, there would some things left on the curb. It was stuff that we’d collected, and we just didn’t need it. And so, each time the family moved, it was sort of like a fresh start. We kept everything that was important, and parted with (most) everything that wasn’t.

And I mention this because something similar happens when we encounter the power of the gospel (whether or not we want to go along with it).  When Jesus starts tugging at our minds or pushing buttons in our hearts, it’s like Mom and Dad saying, “Kids, we’re thinking of moving to a new house.”  And you start deciding what you want to take with you, and what needs to be left behind on the curb.

But, you know, not everything that’s left there on the curb is junk.  Some of it’s pretty good stuff, and you hate to get rid of it.  And so, getting ready to move—whether it’s to a new house, or stepping out in faith to follow the Lord—getting ready to move and make a change isn’t always easy.  It isn’t like when Jesus called Peter, James, and John; they just left everything and followed him.  It isn’t like that with us.

Being asked to move—whether that’s in a spiritual sense or in a literal sense—reveals a weakness in us.  It reveals our (sometimes) inability to let go.  It’s like trying to move a plant from one spot in the garden to another, and you dig it up—only to find how thick and tangled the roots are.  And it’s a challenge to get that plant to “let go” so you can move it.  Again, when we’re asked to move (either spiritually or in some other sense), more often than not, we discover we have connections that we really don’t want to let go of.  We have a lot of good “stuff” that we don’t want to just throw out on the curb.

Now, when St. Paul wrote his letter to the community in Corinth, he was basically helping them to sort through the stuff they didn’t want to let go of.  He’d been told that many people in the city were saying: “I belong to Paul;” or “I belong to Apollos;” or “I belong to Cephas;” or “I belong to Christ.”  They each had their own ideas of what was right, and who was the best spiritual leader to follow. 

That’s what St. Paul found out in the Lord’s garden—he found roots, lots of them; he found attachments to ways of thinking and believing.  He found a people who had heard the gospel, and were starting to move, spiritually, but then they got stuck and couldn’t move any further.  And you know what they say about history: It repeats itself.  The story of the Corinthians sounds a lot like ours today.

And this isn’t just about where we worship.  This isn’t just about saying, “I belong to . . .” fill in the blank: “I belong to Askeaton;” or “I belong to Greenleaf;” or “I belong to Wrightstown.”  There’s more to it than that.  This is about ways of thinking and believing; this is about how we view the world and the church.  It’s about who we let influence us and shepherd us.

After almost eight years, we still hear about Fr. S----- and Fr. K-----.  We still hear about how things were before the God-awful merger happened.  We still hear about old grudges and wounds and arguments which some refuse to let go of—even after decades.  “I belong to Paul; I belong to Apollos; I belong to my Mass time; I belong to my way of doing things . . . and no merger is going to make me change that.”

This is what we find when we start digging up parish communities and try to shuffle them around.  We find roots—lots of them.  This is what we find when we start going through our belongings in preparation for a move.  We find beliefs, alliances, feuds, unforgiveness—some of which are too “valuable” to just put out on the curb.  Of course, you know, there are plenty of people among us—just like the Corinthians—who say, “I belong to Christ.”  And it’s a pretty good number who do say that, thanks be to God. 

But St. Paul’s challenge—and every spiritual leader’s challenge—is to get all the people to say, “I belong to Christ.  I’ve heard the gospel; I’m putting the stuff (sometimes the garbage) I don’t need on the curb, and I’m going to move with him.”  That’s St. Paul’s challenge. And, really, that’s a pretty high expectation.  But it’s an expectation that comes with our baptism.  It means saying that, ultimately, “I do belong to Christ and his ways,” more or less.  “I am a Christian; the Lord is my light and my salvation.  I belong to him, not to me.”

Now, there are some in the wider church who will hear that—who will hear the basic call of baptism to put Christ first; they’ll hear that and be immediately . . . suspicious.  It’s just the opposite reaction that the Apostles had when Jesus called them.  And this isn’t hesitation and timidity, which many of us experience in trying to follow God.  This is . . . suspicion: “What’s Father getting at when he’s talking about ‘belonging to Jesus’?  What’s the hidden agenda?”

Well, here we’ve run into a big root, haven’t we?  And we’ve gotten a little too close to some personal belief which is perhaps more valuable to a person than Christ himself.  The suspicion—the fear—is that that “thing” or that “root” is going to be taken away if I say, “I belong to Christ.” 

“What’s Father getting at when he’s talking about ‘belonging to Jesus’?  What’s the hidden agenda?  Is he trying to steer us away from our churches so the diocese can close them?  Is he trying to use Jesus as an excuse not to address real concerns like . . . those other people in the parish who are just terrible?  What’s he getting at?  What’s he trying to take away from me with all this ‘I belong to Jesus’ talk?”

Unfortunately, that suspicion and fear and lack of belonging to Christ has caused some pretty bad things to happen.  When the previous pastor announced at Mass that he was leaving, and some people actually applauded and cheered—what a shocking and appalling thing to do.  When Mass times were changed seven months ago, and some said, “We’ll hit ‘em in the pocketbook,” until we get what we want—what an awful thing to hold in one’s heart.

“I belong to . . . Fr. S----; I belong to my Mass time; I belong to the power of money; I belong to me.”  And what can we do for those brothers and sisters of ours except pray for them?  (And we must do that.  We must pray for one another that our fidelity to Christ is first and foremost.  Without him, without our light and salvation, we’ll be lost forever.)  And what can we feel about our brothers and sisters other than sadness that they’re unable to say “I belong to Christ?”  What else can we feel but pity that they do not trust anyone, not even Jesus himself.

They’re like somebody who’s just sitting on the curb with their stuff.  The moving van is packed up and ready to go, Jesus is calling, but they just can’t let go.  They refuse to go.   

For the rest of us, however, we move on with Christ and with one another.  Even in the midst of differences, and even though we’re not necessarily close friends with one another, we nonetheless move together because we belong to the one Christ; we belong to the one Body of Christ, wherever we are, no matter which Mass we go to, regardless of our sins and mistakes.  We move on as a people who each can say—more or less, “I belong to Christ.”

I belong to Christ.  He is my light and my salvation.  Of whom should I be afraid?  What do I have to lose?   

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Homily for 19 Jan 2017

19 Jan 2017
(School Mass)
People from all over were coming to Jesus.  They had heard he was doing wonderful things, like: healing people, curing them of their diseases, making demons go away, and just making life better.  And they didn’t just want to see Jesus; they wanted to touch him.  They realized that with Jesus around, life would be a lot better.

But, you know, later on when Jesus was accused and arrested, and crucified, none of those people were around.  They had all abandoned him.  They didn’t want to have anything to do with him.  And that’s because they only wanted Jesus when he was making life better; as soon as being a disciple of Jesus became hard, they all scattered.  They wanted Jesus—but only when it was good for them.

Now, for a couple thousand years, billions of people from all over the world have come to Jesus.  We do it all the time, too.  We come to Jesus in prayer; we come to him in confession; we come to Jesus here at the Mass.  And sometimes what Jesus gives us makes us feel really good.  And sometimes what he gives us feels more like medicine that we don’t really want.

The trick is to keep coming to Jesus, no matter how he makes us feel.  Because then it’s not about what Jesus can do for us . . . it’s about what we can do for Jesus.  It’s about showing Jesus that we love him, no matter what.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Homily for 18 Jan 2017

18 Jan 2017

Jesus was both angered and grieved by the Pharisees.  We might even say that he was shocked by their behavior, by their coldness of heart.  And he was troubled deeply by how they had interpreted the law of God.  He was angered and immensely saddened—not because he hated the Pharisees, but because he loved them and hated to see his own children go down the path of destruction.

I suppose it’s like any parent or grandparent who sometimes looks at their children and can’t believe what they do (or don’t do), like: not going to church, giving up on God and the faith, doing things which are harmful to them.  What are you left to do but be angered and grieved by that. 

But, you know, Jesus doesn’t keep silent.  He’s pretty straightforward with the Pharisees; he doesn’t mince words.  And he does what’s right, even if it’s not well-received.  Jesus isn’t afraid to upset the applecart when it needs to be upset.  And, in that, we can look to the Lord not only with love and affection, but also with admiration.

Like a trusted teacher, he shows us how to relate to others who are self-righteous, self-serving, and (sadly) self-destructive.  We relate to them with honesty (even blunt honesty) and with unconditional love and concern, while standing firm in what’s right and just.  And sometimes—a lot of times—that’s not very fun. 

Sometimes having the heart of Christ is simply a pain; it makes us angry and terribly sad.  But that’s the price of having a softened heart; that’s the price of sacrificial love.  But it’s a price we gladly pay and, really, we can’t afford not to pay that price.    

Monday, January 16, 2017

Homily for 17 Jan 2017

17 Jan 2017

“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”  That’s like saying “The law and tradition were made for man, not man for the law and tradition.”  In other words, religious practice is supposed to be a help to humanity, and humanity was not made to be a slave to religious practice. 

And so, it’s easy to why the Pharisees got so bent out of shape: they were slaves to their law and tradition—and happily so.  And then along comes Jesus and says, “You’re doing it wrong!”  Jesus gives more weight to the spirit of the Third Commandment (to keep holy the sabbath) than the letter of the law.  That’s why his disciples were out there picking grain on the sabbath—if they’d followed the letter of the law (that is, the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law), they would’ve starved.  And that’s not what God wants.

Sometimes in the confessional I’ll hear that someone missed Mass on Sunday because they were sick, or because they were traveling and tried to find a Mass somewhere, but couldn’t.  And I ask, “Did you spend any time in prayer that day?”  Because that’s what the Lord’s Day is meant for: to take time out of our busy week to get reoriented again to God; to spend some time with him, to worship him and give thanks.  That’s what our “Sunday obligation” is.  Our obligation isn’t to keep a pew warm for an hour; our obligation is to engage God in the act of worship.  Our obligation is to rest in God.

Law and tradition aren’t given to us as shackles, as a form into which we must fit.  Instead, they’re handed to us as trustworthy guides along the way of holiness.  They’re instruments of the Holy Spirit.  And they should help us get in sync with God.  And that’s why Jesus says so clearly, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” 

It’s not about the letter of the law; it’s about the spirit of the law.  Or, as Jesus would say, “The law is the spirit.  Follow the spirit, and you’ll be following the law.”           

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Homily for 15 Jan 2017

15 January 2017

It’s amazing when you think about what it took for us to have faith.  It isn’t just family or inspiring people who’ve brought us to where we are.  A lot happened before we were ever born to bring us to faith. 

We can think of our ancestors who settled in the area, who kept the flame of faith alive in their homes, in their log cabins, in the way they conducted business, and so on.  We can go further back than that to the founding of the country, and those first Catholics who were the vast minority of the population.  And, before that happened, there were the Conquistadores who set out from Spain to bring the faith to the New World (not always in peaceful ways).

And there are all the missionary saints who spread the Gospel all over Europe and Asia: St. Patrick, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Boniface, and many others.  There were monarchs and emperors who championed the faith: Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s, St. King Edward the Confessor in the early 1000s, Emperor Charlemagne in the year 800, Emperor Constantine in the year 312.

And there are all those little churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Colossae that St. Paul wrote letters to, encouraging them to live the faith well.  And, of course, there are the Apostles who heard that initial word from Jesus to go and be “a light to the nations.” 

It’s really amazing when you think about what it took for us, here, to have faith and to know about Jesus.  It took a lot of human effort, a lot of suffering, a lot of joy, a lot of fighting and dying, and a lot of peace and conviction in people’s hearts to bring us faith.  Of course, the Holy Spirit had a little something to do with it, too.

All of heaven and earth conspire to give us faith.  Everything divine and most things human are bent on giving us faith.  But our faith isn’t the end product of all those efforts; we’re not the end of the line.  Instead, we’re meant to be caught up in this passing-along-of-the-faith that’s been going on since the dawning of time.  We’re a link in the chain.  We’re a stepping stone for faith to travel through from one age to the next.  

It’s as the Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah, “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.”  And there’s a nice interplay between the image of God’s glory and the image of being a light to the nations.  Somehow, God’s glory shining in us and through us is that light to the nations.

But “glory” and “light” are maybe too poetic or too abstract to sink your teeth into.  They’re words which we hear all the time, but what do they mean?  In the 2nd Century, St. Irenaeus said that, “The glory of God is Man fully alive, and the life of Man is the vision of God.”  In other words—as St. John Paul II puts it, “The life of the Christian is essentially knowing [God] and being known [by God].”  The glory of God is the human person in complete union with him.

Imagine, if you can on this cold winter day, a field of sunflowers (or even a single sunflower).  As the sun rises in the east, goes across the sky, and sets in the west, that flower’s blossom moves with the sun.  We might say that the glory of God is right there in the sunflower: a created thing being in perfect union with its Creator (i.e., the sun).  That’s an image of “glory:” being in sync with God.

In another image, Jesus says that flowers in the field give more glory to God than Solomon in all his splendor [Lk 12:27].  And they give glory because “they do not labor or work;” instead, they are simply content to be what God has created them to be.  Their “glory” is in the fact that they say to God, “Here I am, Lord; your will for me is my delight.”  That’s another image of “glory:” someone who really trusts God and simply is what he or she is.

“The glory of God is Man fully alive, and the life of Man is the vision of God,” St.Irenaeus says.  We’re glorious—not because we have the best, or because we’re the most successful or the most excited and outgoing; we’re glorious when we live our faith—when we’re like the sunflower or the flowers in the field who go along each day with faith, trust, and an open ear to what God has to say. 

It’s as the psalmist says, “Sacrifice and offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.  To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart.”  The glory of God is a person who refers to God as “my God;” not just God, but “my God.”  He is mine . . . and I am his. 

And, you know, when we have that kind of openness of mind and heart, God doesn’t suck life out of us.  This isn’t “death by obedience;” instead, it’s “life by obedience,” life by being in sync with God.  God gradually puts life into us—all those things that are so important, and so valuable to us human beings.  Things like: calmness in our soul; giving others the benefit of the doubt; a basic mindset of gratitude and curiosity about the world around us; a desire to love and be loved; a desire to go after what’s good for us, and to run from whatever is bad for us.

The more we let the life of God guide the way we live life, the more we’ll be a light to others; because the life of God is like a light in the darkness.  If you’ve had a bad day, or you’re depressed or discouraged, life can seem “dark.”  But then you encounter a person, or a piece of music or art, or an activity that is life-giving, the darkness sort of goes away.  And it goes away because the “light of God” has somehow shone through that person, or music, or activity, and it’s chased the darkness away.

And what we end up there is a little image of how faith is passed along.  It’s passed along through an encounter with the Light of Christ, and encounter with the Glory of God.  Through all those umpteen generations of believers from Noah, through John the Baptist and the Apostles, and through inspiring people in our lives today—through all that time what’s been passed along is faith.  And it’s been passed along by people who’ve been a light and an inspiration to others—most often through a simple, humble witness of what it means to be a person of faith.

When people encounter us, who do they encounter?  What do they encounter?  Do people encounter a “sunflower” in our soul?  In our dealings with others, how do we act?  What do we say?  What motivates us?  Do they see and hear Jesus through us?  The answers to those questions help us to see if we really are a people of faith, passing along the faith.

We come to the altar of God to gives thanks, most especially for the gift of faith that’s been handed onto us.  And as we go from here to “glorify the Lord by our lives,” let’s consider at least one way that we can each do that better.  When people encounter us, who and what do they encounter?  Is it the light and glory of God, or is it something else? 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Homily for 13 Jan 2017

13 Jan 2017

It's clear from Scripture (and experience) that faith and healing go hand in hand.  Jesus is able to heal people because of their faith.  He's even able to heal people through the faith of their friends or companions.  We have an example today in the healing of the paralytic.  Another is the healing of the centurion's servant, and also the healing of Jairus' daughter in Mark.

Faith in Jesus leads to healing; and, more broadly speaking, faith opens the way for Jesus to bring us to himself.  But St Mark makes an interesting comment when he writes that Jesus "saw their faith."  He saw the faith of those who lowered the paralytic through the roof.  From that we understand that the kind of faith God gives us isn't just a private faith; it's meant to be exercised; it's meant to be "seen," and "evident."

And, really, faith moves us to do a lot of concrete things.  It moves us to show up for Mass and to be actively engaged in what we're doing here.  Faith moves us to lay our prayers before him, with confidence that he hears and answers them.  Faith moves us to be patient when we'd rather not.  It moves us to be charitable and forgiving.  Faith moves us to speak freely about God and to share with others why we believe what we believe.  

Our faith is something than can be seen and is evident.  And Jesus is looking to see our faith, because it's a sign to him that we want him to be in our life.  And it's a sign to him that we want to be part of his life.  And what is his life, but a life of healing and wholeness.

It's easy to see then why faith and healing go hand in hand.  Faith is the doorway.  Healing is what's on the other side.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Homily for 12 Jan 2017

12 Jan 2017
(School Mass)
My little dog, Elliott, loves to go outside.  Every time I get back to the rectory, he wants to go outside.  And sometimes he gets so excited that he won’t sit still.  And I have to say, “Elliott, if you don’t sit still, I’m not going to be able to put your leash on you, and we’re not going to get outside.”  And sometimes he listens to me, and sometimes he doesn’t.

But eventually he figures out that he has to listen to me and sit still so we can go outside.  And that’s kind of how it is between us and Jesus: Jesus wants to help us, but he can’t do it if we don’t listen to him.

In the gospel, the leper came to Jesus, and Jesus healed him.  But then Jesus told him, “Don’t tell anybody what I did for you.  Keep that a secret.”  But the man didn’t listen to Jesus, and he went around telling everybody what Jesus did for him.  And, you know, he was probably really excited and really happy about what Jesus did for him . . . but still, Jesus asked him to keep it a secret.  He didn’t listen to Jesus, and so Jesus had to leave the area.  And because of that, Jesus couldn’t help others like he wanted to.

And so, it’s really important for us to listen to Jesus.  If we listen to him, he can help us; and he can help a lot of other people, too.  But only if we listen to him.

And we hear him speak to us in a lot of ways, most especially in our conscience.  When we have a sense that something is right or wrong, it’s good to listen to that little voice in our soul.  That’s our conscience speaking—that’s God speaking in us.  And God speaks to us in other ways, too: through parents and teachers, through the pope and bishops, and wherever we hear the truth, and wherever we experience love and acceptance.

It’s really important for us to listen to Jesus.  If we listen to him, he can help us; and he can help a lot of other people, too.  But only if we listen to him.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Homily for 11 Jan 2017

11 Jan 2017

We often times look at the Saints as people we can relate to.  And, of course, we should do that.  We look at St. Francis of Assisi, and we see how he turned his life around.  We look at St. Augustine, who made many mistakes in his earlier years before getting on a better path.  We can relate to the human failings of the Saints—they’re not that different from us. 

But Jesus is a little different.  I mean, he never sinned.  And so, it’s maybe hard to relate to someone who is perfect.  And yet, Jesus was tested just like we are.  He was tempted by the devil in the desert.  He was poked and prodded by his adversaries.  He suffered the loss of friends; he came face-to-face with the ailments that afflict us in body, mind, and spirit.  Jesus was tested just like we are.  And so, we can relate to Jesus whenever we’re tested.

As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “Because he himself was tested . . . he is able to help those who are being tested.”  And that’s good news for us.  Our God isn’t one who stands off at a distance from us; he became one of us, and he still comes to us in Flesh and Blood, to share in our humanness, in our trials and troubles. 

Because he himself was tested, he is able to help those who are being tested.  He’s able to help, and he does help—if we turn to him in faith and say, “Jesus, help me.” 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Homily for 10 Jan 2017

10 Jan 2017

Whoever said, “No pain, no gain,” was onto something.  Exercise takes work.  Being a good person takes work.  Following the Lord takes work.  And sometimes it’s just painful. 

For instance, getting humble and admitting that someone else might be right can be painful.  Or doing the right thing, even when it’s not popular, can be painful.  Admitting our mistakes and imperfections can be painful.  But without that kind of pain, we’re not going to gain anything. 

If we wish to gain heaven, if we wish to follow the Lord, then there’s some pain involved.  But it’s simply the pain of letting God cleanse us and make us whole again.  And so, it’s a good pain—this thing called Christian living, and repentance, and conversion of heart.

Whoever said, “No pain, no gain,” was onto something.  And what they were onto was the path of holiness. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Homily for 8 Jan 2017

8 Jan 2017
The Epiphany of the Lord

In 1966 a Broadway musical came out called “Mame.”  It starred Angela Lansbury, and was set in 1929, right at the start of the Great Depression.  Everybody’s spirits were down, of course, because of the Stock Market crash, and so they started to sing this upbeat song called “We Need a Little Christmas.”

“Haul out the holly; Put up the tree before my spirit falls again. Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now. For we need a little Christmas right this very minute, candles in the window, carols at the spinet.  Yes, we need a little Christmas right this very minute.  For I've grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older, and I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder, need a little Christmas now.”

And it seems so often that that’s what we need, too.  We need a little Christmas.  Or, rather, we need a little Epiphany.  Epiphany is the revelation, the manifestation of God’s grace and glory.  The word ‘epiphany’ means literally to show or make known.  And God’s grace was shown to the Magi by the guiding star in the night sky.  To the shepherds, too, God revealed his glory by the angels coming to them.  It’s what they needed to be lifted up and set on a good course.

I think of athletes or artists, or parents or woodworkers, or anybody who’s ever asked someone else for guidance on what to do or how to do something.  And whoever that coach is, whoever that teacher or friend or mentor is, well, they’re like a little Epiphany; they give direction, they nudge, they bring clarity and encouragement to go on.  And we certainly need that from time to time: we need a little Epiphany.

Of course, the Epiphany we get isn’t always what we’re looking for.  And sometimes it’s actually the opposite of what we’re looking for.  When the Magi came to King Herod, Herod was not at all happy with that little Epiphany he got—the Epiphany that a newborn King of the Jews was somewhere on the scene.  For us Catholics, the Crucifixion is a major Epiphany; it’s the most significant way that God reveals his grace and glory; but at the same time it’s a bloody mess! . . . who wants that?

It’s kind of like Christmas morning as a little kid, and you open that one gift of . . . socks and underwear.  I mean, I know others want you to be warm and clean as a child, but . . . socks and underwear?  Of course, then you grow up and realize that, yes, they are a gift from someone who loves you and wants you to be warm and clean and taken care of.  So, yes, socks and underwear can be a little Epiphany of God’s love and care, even if they weren’t exactly what we were expecting as a kid.

Regardless, though, that little Epiphany is given to us: to accept or reject, to question or wonder about.  When St. Paul wrote his letters, he was taking the Epiphany—the revelation he received from God—and he was sharing that with others.  As he says, “You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit.”  St. Paul just kind of lays God’s message out there, and then lets his readers (or hearers) work with it.  Today, in Ephesians, he puts out there the Epiphany that God welcomes all people.  And that’s something that the Jews of the time really had to struggle with, because they’d only ever known themselves to be God’s chosen people; not the Gentiles.

The Church today is increasingly polarized between: progressives and traditionalists, the youth and the elderly, those who like upbeat worship and those who like a more subdued worship, and so on and so on.  But God continues to reveal himself to the Church through little Epiphanies, and we’re left to work through them.  For instance, the Epiphany that Christians are called by God to love one another.  Or the Epiphany of the moral truths by which we’re called to live.  Or the Epiphany, the revelation, that there are many parts of the one Body, and they’re all necessary to the whole Church.  Little Epiphanies are given to us: to accept or reject, to question or wonder about.

But, however we take those little revelations from God, we can be sure that they’re meant to help us to where we’re going.  “We Three Kings of Orient are / Bearing gifts we traverse afar. / Field and fountain, moor and mountain, / Following yonder star. / O star of wonder, star of night, / Star of royal beauty bright, / Westward leading, still proceeding, / Guide us to thy perfect light.”  Epiphany is a time to remember that we’re a pilgrim Church; we’re a traveling Church; here is not our final destination.  We’re going somewhere, with the Light of Truth, the Light of Wisdom, the Light of Peace and Forgiveness and Mercy leading the way.

Sometimes in the winter, when it’s nighttime and snowing, and you’re driving on the road, it’s very hard to see the road—especially out in the country.  But along the edge of the road there’s that solid white line.  And if you’ve ever sort of lost where the road begins and ends, but then you see that white line, it’s a huge relief.  That line is such a big help to see where you are on the road.  And, however we take all those little revelations from God, we can be sure they’re there to help us know where we’re going.

And where we’re going is someplace that’s still an unfulfilled prophecy.  Our reading from Isaiah today talks about the splendor of the Holy City Jerusalem, and how the glory of the Lord shines upon it.  People from all over coming streaming to it; the hearts of all nations are converted to the Lord and want to be a part of this city we know as the Church.  Of course, that hasn’t happened yet.  People come to the Church, but they also leave.  People hate the Church, people love the Church.  The community of those who are actually faithful to God is still growing.  We’re still growing. 

Our life as the universal Church, our life as a parish, our life as individuals and families is a work-in-progress.  Or, rather, it’s a prophecy-in-progress.  And what brings it to fulfillment is whenever we pay attention to all those little Epiphanies—those little signs of God’s grace.

We’re on a journey of faith and life.  The Epiphany of God will get us to where we're going.