Monday, February 27, 2017

Homily for 28 Feb 2017

28 Feb 2017

It never fails that, at Christmas and Easter, the churches are packed.  Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and, again, we would expect the churches to be rather full.  And that’s fine; it’s good to see that many people remember what the heart of these seasons are, and they come to church to celebrate that.

However, the challenge for those who go to church all the time is to not think they’re better just because they go to church all the time.  We hear a lot in our readings today about sacrifice and offerings, following the law of God.  We Catholics even carry those sentiments on through our centuries of ritualistic tradition.  And they’re really rather beautiful traditions and rituals. 

The challenge, however, is to keep the ritual real and to offer a sacrifice acceptable to the Lord.  Sirach describes some of how that might look.  He says, “To refrain from evil pleases the Lord, and to avoid injustice is an atonement.”  Well, those are sacrifices: to refrain from evil and to avoid injustice—except those sacrifices are made within the heart.

Sirach also talks about having a generous spirit and a cheerful disposition in our giving.  Again, those are sacrifices made within the heart.  They aren’t necessarily things we see with our eyes in the course of our rituals.  But God sees them.  God sees our rituals; but he also sees into the heart and he knows what’s there.  He knows if we give the Sign of Peace, but yet in our heart we would wish ill on others.  He knows if we receive the Eucharist, but yet in our words and actions we live contrary to what the Eucharist stands for.

It’s a very great privilege to be called to worship God.  But the privilege is never a reason to boast.  For at the moment we boast in ourselves and our fidelity to our rituals and traditions, we empty our rituals and traditions of their meaning, and we become self-righteous.  And that’s the last thing we want to do, or to be.

Again, it’s a very great privilege to be called to worship God.  May we never lose sight of that; may we enjoy our life in God and a pure gift from God.  And when Easter and Christmas and Ash Wednesday come around, and the churches get filled, may our prayer be simply a prayer of thanks that God has called all these brothers and sisters to his altar.  A sacrifice of praise; a sacrifice of thanks from the heart.  That is a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. 


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Homily for 26 Feb 2017

26 Feb 2017
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  But this isn’t a commandment Jesus gives us; he’s not saying “You will not serve both God and mammon.”  He’s saying, “You are unable—it’s not possible—to serve both God and mammon.” 

Imagine walking along a path and you come to a fork in the road.  Now, you can straddle both paths for just a little bit, but pretty soon you’re going to have to choose one or the other.  If you want to keep moving forward, you have to pick one or the other.  “You cannot serve both God and mammon;” it’s not possible.  And if we try, we just end up dividing ourselves—in mind and spirit.

And this is something we experience when we really want to follow God but, at the same time, we want keep enjoying what we enjoy, even if it isn’t exactly what God has in mind for us.  And there’s a whole laundry list of things we could talk about: gossip, self-pity, addictions, gluttony, pride (and a lot more).  We know we shouldn’t do those things, or go down those paths; we know that they go against our Christian values of: charity, neighborliness, self-control, humility, and so on.  But we still keep at least a toe on those paths, don’t we.

And so, we can end up like Saint Paul who says, “I can will [and desire] what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” [Rom 7:19].  Paul could be a very divided man within himself.  And so can we, if we try to serve both God and mammon.

In the Mass, right after the Our Father, we pray that “we might be safe from all distress.”  And it’s the same prayer Jesus has for us in the gospel.  He says, in so many words, “Don’t worry about anything; don’t get anxious about this or that.  Don’t be overcome by distress.”  The word St. Matthew uses here for worry and anxiety is μεριμνᾶτε (merimnátay).  It’s an ancient Greek word that means to be “divided into parts,” to be pulled apart. 

And so, when we pray that “we might be safe from all distress,” we’re praying that we not be pulled apart . . . by trying to serve both God and mammon.  We’re praying that God keep us focused on the heart of the matter; that he keep us focused on who we are and what we’re about as Catholic Christians.  We’re praying that God keep us from getting distracted.

And we know that we humans can get distracted.  This seems to be what the little reading from Isaiah gets at.  God asks, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?”  And what we’re supposed to say is “Yes.”  It happens sometimes; just listen to the news.  But Isaiah continues, “Even should she forget, I [God] will never forget you.”  We humans get distracted from what’s important and true and good, but God is never distracted. 

God is very single-minded in his love of all creation, of which we are a part.  Even when we start to worry about this or that, and we turn from God to find reassurance and life in other things—even while we’re doing that, God is still looking at us; God is still focused on what and whom he loves.  He just wishes that we would stay focused on him in the same way, and be at peace within ourselves.

We heard it so beautifully in the psalm: “Only in God is my soul at rest; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.”  That’s the voice of someone who doesn’t try to straddle both paths in a fork in the road, but who goes down the one path of simply trusting God.  That person, who is not distracted, is not worried about the ups and downs of life, or what tomorrow holds.  That person is at peace within him- or herself—and is also the most alive and free.

And that’s the direction we want to go; we want to go down that path of being “not distracted,” but focused on the heart of the matter.  Now, ironically, in the church we worry about a lot of things.  We worry about death, and life, and the future, and the sins of our past.  We get anxious about: money, budgets, worship, politics, fewer and fewer priests, and so on.  We worry a lot.  But all that worry and anxiety and distress only distracts us from what’s important; namely, God.

Prayer is at the heart of our Christian life, not a revenue and expense report.  Love of neighbor is at the heart of our Christian life, not “who said what to whom, and what side of an issue they’re on.”  God’s plans are at the heart of our Christian life, and not my own. 

You know, when we compare our own church (here in the US) to so many megachurches that are all over the place, a major difference is that at the heart of the megachurch is the desire to encounter God; whereas at the heart of our church life, too often there’s just an ongoing argument over church politics or finances, or whatever.  God is in the heart of our church, for sure, but so is a lot of other stuff that shouldn’t be there.  We worry a lot.  We worry too much.  And all that anxiety and distress doesn’t leave much room for God.

Jesus was right when he said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon—you cannot give all your attention to God and all your attention to other things at the same time.”  We have to choose.  And it’s a choice we make every day, even every hour of the day.  It’s a choice to let God be the foundation, and the highpoint, and the peace within our life.  But it’s always a choice—to go down the path of worry and anxiety and distress, or the path of simply trusting God and being at peace and free. 

You cannot serve both God and mammon.  Regardless of the choice we make today, we can always make a better one tomorrow.  No need to worry about that. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Homily for 24 Feb 2017

24 Feb 2017

Jesus says (in the Gospel of John 15:15), “I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  Jesus shares himself with us completely: his wisdom, his compassion, his words of truth, his unconditional love and acceptance.  He’s totally honest with us about the reality of the cross in our lives, but also about what waits on the other side of the cross: heaven.

Jesus is a truest of friends to us.  And, as we hear in Sirach this morning, “A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.”  The friendship of Jesus is beyond price.  But, again, as Sirach tells us, “He who fears God (who pays attention to God) behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.”  In other words, friendship with the Lord goes both ways.

Jesus shares himself with each of us.  He is the truest of friends to us.  But, do we share ourselves with him?  Do we tell him our joys and struggles?  Do we walk with him by our side and in our hearts?  Are we open and honest with him?  Jesus came down from heaven to lift us up: are we letting him do that for us? 

Jesus is the best of friends to us.  The question always is, however, can we be a better friend to Jesus?  And, if so, how?  Jesus is a friend to us.  Are we a friend to Jesus?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Homily for 23 Feb 2017

23 Feb 2017
(School Mass)

Jesus says to “keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.”  And when he says “salt” he means just regular salt—like what we put on our food.  And the reason he says this is because, a long time ago, when people would sit down and eat a meal together, the salt they used all came from the same bowl.  They would “pass the salt” around.  And so, sharing the salt was a symbol of their friendship with each other.

That’s why Jesus says to “keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.”  And, you know, this is basically what happens here at Mass and with the Eucharist.  Now, we don’t pass a bowl of salt around.  But, we do pass
something else around—the Body and the Blood of Christ. 

And there’s only one Christ.  He’s the one “thing” we all share.  Just think about it: When communion is done, there’s a little bit of Jesus inside each of us.  And so, when you look at your friend or your neighbor, or even somebody here you don’t know, you can say, “That person has Jesus inside them—the same Jesus who’s inside of me.”

And that affects how we treat each other because then we see each other as friends, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus said, basically, to “share a bowl of salt with each other and you will have peace.”  And we would also say, “Keep Jesus in yourselves, see Jesus in each other, share Jesus with others, and you will have peace with one another.”    

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Homily for 22 Feb 2017

22 Feb 2017
Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

From its beginnings, the Church has been a hierarchy.  Christ is Head and Shepherd, of course.  But, still, to some people he gives the responsibility of being a shepherd, teacher, and guide for others.  It’s a distinguishing mark of the Church: that there’s always somebody else who is responsible for us; somebody else who’s always keeping watch over the flock.

In Peter’s letter from today, he gives some advice and counsel to his fellow shepherds.  He cautions them against being distracted from their task.  He reminds them not to “lord it over those assigned” to them but, instead, to be an example.  And, finally, he encourages them to be ever mindful of Christ the chief Shepherd.

No matter who we are and what our role is in the Church—whether it’s as a shepherd or as one of the sheep—there’s always somebody “over us,” somebody trying to guide us to Christ.  And we need to pray for those people: priests, bishops, the pope.  We need to keep them in prayer, hoping that Christ will shepherd them, and that they will allow themselves to be shepherded by Christ, so that, in turn, they will shepherd the flock along the right path.

There’ll always be some shepherd looking out for us.  But we can also look out for our shepherds, and keep them and their ministry in prayer.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Homily for 21 Feb 2017

21 Feb 2017

Once again, the gospel—the “good news”—leaves a bad aftertaste.  First, he tells his disciples that he’s going to be eventually killed.  And then he highlights, again, the importance of welcoming the lowly and, indeed, becoming one of them.  The gospel oftentimes flies right in the face of what we think is important.  And so, sometimes it’s hard to see the “good news” in the good news.

But the deeper direction Jesus is trying to take us is the direction of commitment.  This past weekend, we heard about how the Christian commitment to love is what sets us apart in the world; the commitment makes us holy, and God’s brand of love is what moves the world in a positive direction.  And so, the “good news” behind the bad aftertaste in today’s gospel is that Jesus is encouraging us to be loving people—ahead of everything else.  And the good news is that our God knows we can do it.  Our God has faith in us . . . if we have faith in him.

And to be loving is hard work sometimes.  It means that, sometimes, somebody else’s wants and needs are more important than our own.  It means that, sometimes, we need to set aside our own cleverness so that God can do his thing.  It means looking into a neighbor’s eyes, into a stranger’s eyes, and simply welcoming him or her; being curious about those around us, and letting their love mold and shape us. 

To actually be loving is hard work and, let’s face it, it can be scary.  That’s the bad aftertaste of the gospel.  Love has a price.  But the price is worth it because, in the end, the only thing we’ll be left with—for all eternity—is love.  And that is good news.   

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Homily for 19 Feb 2017

19 Feb 2017
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

If you were to ask a random person to describe the Catholic Church, chances are they’d mention things like: the pope and bishops, the rules, the rituals, the rules, and they might make a face or something like that.  When people hear about the “Church,” they oftentimes think of the institution first.  And everything else is secondary, things like: the community of believers, and the gospel, and love.

And that’s actually rather tragic, because love is what we’re all about (or, at least, it’s what we’re supposed to be all about).  Love should be the Church’s defining characteristic.  If you were to ask a random person to describe the Catholic Church, the first thing that should come to mind for them is, “Ah, that’s those people who know how to love.  From the pope to the bishop to all the faithful, that’s those people who know what love is.”  Of course, in reality, that’s probably the last thing you’d hear someone say.

That’s not to say there aren’t loving Catholics around; there are lots of them around—wonder people; people who visit the sick, who try to encourage others when they’re going through a tough time; people who are humble, who are ready to listen and learn and be awed by the world around them; people who are forgiving, who are slow to anger, who are kind and merciful, like the Lord.

And there are perhaps just as many Catholics who would rather not be loving, for whatever reasons.  The Church really is a mixed bag.  But that’s who Jesus calls to be our neighbors, isn’t it.  He calls everybody to himself: sinners and saints, people getting on the right track, people falling off the wagon, people who are loving, people who are less than loving.  When God gives that commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he’s telling us to love everybody in the mix, not just the ones we like.

At Easter time when I’m eating Jelly Beans, when I’m done there’s usually a little bunch of black ones left sitting there—because I don’t like the way they taste.  Well, if humanity is like that bag of Jelly Beans, Jesus would say, “Make sure there’s not a pile of black ones left.  Eat ‘em all, not just the ones you like.”

Imagine for a second, picture in your mind, someone who just annoys you; someone who just gets under your skin, and gives you about as much happiness as the thought of going to the dentist for a root canal.  Put that person in your mind for just a second . . . Now there’s your black Jelly Bean!  That’s the one God is talking about when he says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love can be a beautiful thing.  It can also be a major pain.  But what sets us Christians apart is that we go right into that pain and we love those who are the hardest to love.  All humans have the capacity to love; after all, we’re all made in the image of God who is love.  But we Christians pledge to actually do it; to intentionally love others as best we can, following the example of Christ. 

That’s what sets us apart in the world; it’s what makes us holy.  To be holy is to be set apart; to be distinct.  The items we use here at Mass—the Chalice, the Paten, the vestments, the buildings, the music—they’re all holy.  They’re set apart, and used only for Mass.  And we come here to Mass for several reasons, one of which is to be made holy.  When we leave Mass, we should be a little different than when we came in.  We should leave here more committed to our Christian calling, the call (and the command) to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That commitment to love—even when love is a pain—is what makes us a holy people.  The commitment to love sets us apart.

And the commitment is worth it.  Life is so much better when there’s peace, when you can work through difficulties, come to a resolution, and then get on with living again.  And that’s what most people want: We just want to live.  We don’t every day to be a trial and a burden and a headache; we just want to live and be free.  Happily, God wants the same thing for us; after all, Jesus came so that we “might have life, life in abundance.”  He came to set us free.

And life and freedom start with that basic Christian commitment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Of course, the challenge is to make that love a reality and not just a nice idea.  And that is a challenge, for sure.  But Saint Paul offers us some help with that.

He writes, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  Every believing Christian, from the pope to the most obscure sinner, is a temple of the Holy Spirit of God.  And not only that: every person is a creation of God.  That black Jelly Bean?  He or she is a temple of God; God is within that person really and truly.  That’s reason enough to love that person.

Saint Paul continues, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”  When Jesus got out his whip and cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem, he was a little perturbed.  God does not like his temple to be treated with disrespect; he demands that our lives be characterized by love.  He didn’t say, “Well, if you’re feeling generous and things are going your way, then why don’t you try to love your neighbor.”  No, he says pretty plainly, “You shall—you will—love your neighbor as yourself.”  You will respect my temples—your neighbor and yourself who are my dwelling places.

Saint Paul cautions against choosing sides and picking favorites.  He writes, “Let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”  Our neighbors—and, really, everything that is—is part of us.  It’s as we talked about in the homily last weekend: our lives are necessarily intertwined with everybody else’s. 

For instance, if we hold a grudge, we’re only hurting ourselves.  It’s often said that when we hold a grudge, it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.  Grudges and resentments only cheat us from experiencing life and freedom.  And while we’re being held down by our own unforgiveness and mercilessness, our neighbors are unable to get to know us.  It’s hard to get to know somebody in prison because . . . they’re in prison.

Saint Paul is basically saying that, in order to be fully alive as human beings, we have to be open to our neighbors and the world around us.  We have to love it all, because it’s all part of us.  It just comes with the territory of being the one Body of Christ, the Church.  And it goes for families and friends, too.  It goes for our country as well.  Our lives are necessarily intertwined, and so, we rise and fall together.  If love is our basic philosophy, we’ll be just fine.  But if we’re unable to love—especially the black Jelly Beans in our lives—well, then it’s going to be tough road. 

Saint Paul is basically saying, “Don’t pick and choose who you’re going to love, because whenever you love your neighbor (if your neighbor rejects that love) you will be a more complete person, you will have more freedom and life, you will be a more authentic Christian for having loved.”

And so, we love our neighbors because they are temples of God—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  We love our neighbors because they’re part of us; we share the same life.  And we love our neighbors because that’s what Christ does.  If we’re going to call ourselves followers of Christ, then loving our neighbors is not an option.  Love of neighbor must be our defining characteristic.

If you were to ask someone to describe you, what would they say?  Would they know you as a loving person? a forgiving person? a generous person? someone who is quick to listen and slow to judge?   Would they see the Spirit of God dwelling within you?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Homily for 17 Feb 2017

17 Feb 2017

“The Lord frustrates the plans of the people.”  We heard that in the psalm; we see it in the story of the Tower of Babel; and it comes through when Jesus talks about taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and following him.  The Lord frustrates the plans of the people; he tries to get into between us and what it is that we desire.

Of course, anyone who’s been a parent knows exactly what God is up to.  He’s not trying to be mean; he’s not trying to discourage his children.  He’s trying to keep his beloved children on the right path.  He’s trying to ensure that we will actually be happy and fulfilled, and safe.

“The Lord frustrates the plans of the people.”  He tries to get into between us and what it is that we desire—not always, but sometimes.  He only does that when our desires and plans will turn out badly for us.  And we trust his Wisdom to make that call.  And when he does, what else can we say but, “Thanks be to God” that he steps in.  Thanks be to God that he loves us enough to put his foot down and say, “No."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Homily for 16 Feb 2017

16 Feb 2017
(School Mass)

We hear today the famous story about Noah and the rainbow in the sky.  When it rains, and God showers down his blessings on us, there’s the rainbow in the sky.  And the rainbow is a reminder of the promise God made; the promise to love all of creation and all people everywhere.  That promise is what we call a covenant.  And a covenant is something that binds two people together; it’s like spiritual glue. 

Now, when a husband and wife get married, they put a ring on each other’s fingers.  Well, those rings are a sign of the spiritual covenant they have with each other.  The rings tell them (and everybody else) that, “I made a promise to love my spouse for the rest of my life.”  So, rings are the sign of a promise; especially, the promise to love.

And God gives us other signs too, besides the rainbow, as reminders of the covenant between him and us.  Holy water is a sign.  It’s a reminder of our baptism, when God became an eternal friend to each one of us.  And we dip our fingers into the holy water and make the Sign of the Cross.  Well, the Cross is another sign of the promise between God and us—that God would love us, and we would love God.

And the biggest sign we have of God’s covenant with us is the Eucharist—the Body and Blood of Jesus.  It’s the ultimate sign of God’s promise that he will love us always.  It’s even more beautiful than the rainbow in the sky.  And, you know, one of the most beautiful things we can do is to receive the Eucharist, and to say in our hearts, “I promise to love you too, God.”        

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Homily for 15 Feb 2017

15 Feb 2017

When the blind man was brought to Jesus, he was hoping to be able to see again.  And so, Jesus touched him and put saliva onto his eyes.  But it only sort of worked; he could see, but not in the way he was hoping.  You might even say his vision was worse.  But it happens that way sometimes.

Imagine driving your car and you realize how dirty the windshield is.  So, you spray a little washer fluid on there and turn the wipers on.  Well, the first thing that happens is that all the dirt gets smeared; your windshield turns into a bunch of dirty streaks, and it’s even harder to see. 

When we bring Jesus into our life and ask him to help us and guide us, our life might turn a little messy.  It doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t working; on the contrary, it’s a sign that God is at work.  The test, however, is to be patient and trust that things will work out.

The blind man could see after Jesus touched him, but only in blurry sort of way.  And so, Jesus touched him again, and then the man could see clearly.  When you spray washer fluid on your windshield, it takes a few swipes of wiper blades to go from dirty, to smeared and streaky, to clear.  And when we’re trying to work through tough times in our life, things generally get messy first, and then resolution and clarity come.

If we’re praying for divine help, but life gets messier, it doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t working.  On the contrary, it can be sign that God is very much at work.  The test, however, is to be patient and trust that things will work out.  The blind man saw clearly.  The windshield becomes clean.  And life gets better—if we just trust God to do what he does.    

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Homily for 14 Feb 2017

14 Feb 2017

Sometimes it happens that when people get older they lose their independence.  Maybe they’re not supposed to drive a car anymore.  Maybe they need a caretaker to come in and help.  Maybe they even need help with bathing and eating.  And that can be a frustrating thing, especially for someone who really treasures their independence, their ability to “do it myself.”

But this is where Jesus is trying to take each of us.  He’s trying to bring his people to an understanding that, ultimately, we have to depend on God; we can’t do it all by ourselves.  That’s the “leaven of the Pharisees” Jesus talks about: the idea that my salvation is dependent on me; that my security and peace is entirely dependent on what I do.

When the disciples realized they’d only brought one loaf of bread into the boat, that’s when Jesus cautioned them.  He didn’t want them to start thinking that their survival (or failure) depended on their ability to remember to bring enough bread along.  They had Jesus with them.  All they had to do was stop worrying and let Jesus handle it, and they would be fine.

We can’t do everything ourselves, and that’s not a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a very good thing to just let God take care of us.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Homily for 12 Feb 2017

12 Feb 2017
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’”  In other words: If you want to get to heaven, don’t behave like the scribes and the Pharisees.  But, of course, what if you don’t want to get to heaven?  What if the kingdom of heaven isn’t even on your wish list?  Well, then, I suppose you can do whatever you want.

When Jesus spoke those words to his disciples, it was a different time.  People believed in God (or in many gods).  They had a sense that they were part of something bigger than themselves; they had a more cosmic understanding of reality.  And there was no life other than a life of faith.  Now, that’s not to say it was a perfect time in human history; it absolutely was not.  But the essentials were there: belief, community, and a sense that they were going somewhere.

And so, Jesus could talk about “the kingdom of heaven,” and people were on board with him.  He didn’t have to say “if” you want to get to heaven.  He was already speaking their language.  But today in the 21st Century it’s a different story.

In 1972, a Dutch priest, Fr. Henri Nouwen, wrote a little book called “The Wounded Healer.”  And in it he describes his experience of a young man named Peter.  He writes:  “As we talk, it becomes clear that Peter feels as if the many boundaries that give structure to life are becoming increasingly vague.  His life seems a drifting over which he has no control.  He does not know whom he can trust and whom not, what he shall do and what not, why to say ‘yes’ to one and ‘no’ to another.

“It seems that Peter has become a prisoner of the now, caught in the present without meaningful connections with his past or future.  He finds no answers to questions about why he lives and where he is heading.  Peter does not look forward to the fulfillment of a great desire, nor does he expect that something great or important is going to happen.  He looks into empty space and is sure of only one thing: If there is anything worthwhile in life it must be here and now.”

And Peter’s story is increasingly common; to the point that it almost characterizes what it means to be a person of the 21st Century.  And this is a reason why, when Jesus starts talking about “the kingdom of heaven,” the eyes glaze over and people stop listening.  For many people, heaven is sheer fantasy; it has no basis in reality.  And it has nothing to do with “my life here and now.”  Heaven is quite irrelevant, and so, why would I care about what it takes to get there?

It’s a fascinating problem we face today as a church and as a society: If the goal of human life is just a fiction, well, then who cares about rules?  Who needs God’s commandments, even the most basic ones: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself?  And if there isn’t any real goal to human life, if heaven is just imaginary and there is actually only the here and now, well, then the past is irrelevant too.  There’s no point to tradition; in fact, tradition itself is a foreign concept.

If the only reality is “my life here and now,” then everything else is just nonsensical.  But, you know, as a church, a lot of our focus is on the “everything else.”  We focus on: the kingdom of heaven, eternity, tradition, passing on what we have received, the law of God, God’s glory, mercy and forgiveness, love . . . . A lot of what we’re trying to “sell,” 21st Century Man doesn’t really want.

For many people, the Catholic Christian faith is like a commercial on TV: they just turn it off, or walk away.  They’re not interested in heaven; the kingdom of God has nothing to offer them.  It’s a fascinating problem we face today: If the goal of human life is just a fiction, well, then who needs God?  What’s the point of faith?  And who needs what the church has to offer?

Maybe those are questions we can relate to; maybe we have those sentiments from time to time.  Or maybe those questions sound like someone we know; someone who just thinks that faith and God and all that have nothing to do with reality.  The story is very different today than it was when Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Today, Jesus would almost have to say, “If you believe in the kingdom of heaven, and if you want your life to head in that direction, then your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.”  And that’s a major shift because now, today, the essentials aren’t always front and center—the essentials of: having faith and a sense of mystery; accepting the fact that my life is interwoven with everybody else’s life; and looking both backward and forward to see that life is a journey, that there is an overarching story to life, and that we’re definitely going somewhere.

And those essentials—belief, community, and a sense that we’re going somewhere—aren’t just basic to the Christian faith; they’re basic to human life.  If we want to really live “my life here and now,” then we have to branch out.  If I really want to live, then: I have to belief, I have to be a part of community (in my own unique way), and I have to see my life as part of the bigger human and divine story—a story which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The essentials are just that—they’re essential.

And that’s the great challenge of our age: to reclaim the human spirit; a spirit with wide open eyes and insatiable curiosity; a spirit that finds belonging with others and is not isolated; a spirit that longs to see endless happiness, fulfillment, and completion.  That’s the great challenge of our times, in the church, in our society, and within ourselves: to reclaim the human spirit.  So that heaven will never be a question of “if,” but a question of “when, where, how, and with whom.”    

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Homily for 10 Feb 2017

10 Feb 2017

You’d think with as much good that Jesus does, he would want people to know about it.  But he doesn’t (at least, in the Gospel of Mark).  Jesus prefers to keep a low profile.  He doesn’t want people going off and telling others what he did for them. 

Jesus doesn’t want his reputation to precede him; because he knows that if it does, someone may be expecting one thing from him, while he’s trying to do something else for that person.  And we know what happens when others—especially God—let us down: people lose faith.  And Jesus doesn’t want that; he doesn’t want people to lose faith in him, just because he didn’t deliver what someone was expecting him to deliver.

I’m sure we all know someone who left the church or left the faith simply because their expectations were not met.  It’s a very real thing.  And so, Jesus’ concerns are not unreasonable.  Jesus is able to help us and others, but only if we let him do what he does . . . on his terms; without any expectations.

Someone said, “If you don’t expect anything, then everything is a gift.”  And that seems to be the attitude Jesus would like us to have toward him: an attitude of just letting Jesus be Jesus, and letting him do what he does, as he does it, whenever and however he does it.  With that attitude, everything from God will be a surprise, everything will be a gift, everything will be a reason to give thanks.     

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Homily for 9 Feb 2017

9 Feb 2017

Whenever I’m eating at the rectory, my little dog is always right there.  He just sits there and waits for me to share some of my food.  He’s very patient.  Sometimes he whines a little bit.  But, for the most part, he’s just very patient and very attentive to what I’m doing.  And this is the image we have to keep in mind when we see what Jesus is doing in the gospel.

When he’s talking about “dogs,” what he’s actually talking about are “puppies.”  He’s talking about puppies that people had around the house—like we have today: puppies and kittens and other little animals that are like companions to us.  And that’s how Jesus saw the woman who had come to him; she was like a little puppy, sitting by the table, waiting for Jesus to share with her.

Of course, we know what happened—Jesus shared with her.  And, you know, every time my little dog is waiting for me to share with him, I give him something.

When Jesus looks out at the whole world, he really notices people who are like little puppies; people who are very attentive to him, who are patient, and who really want to have a little bit of what he has.  Jesus loves little puppies.  And he loves everybody who just wants to sit by him and be loved.     

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Homily for 8 Feb 2017

8 Feb 2017

The great sin of Adam and Eve wasn’t that they ate the apple; it’s that they didn’t listen to God.  Jesus says, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”  And so, the apple wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that what came out of the heart of Adam and Eve was disobedience.  Disobedience was their great sin.  That’s what “defiled” them; not the apple.

But, of course, not everything that comes out from within a person is bad.  There’s a lot of good that comes out, too.  Forgiveness comes from within.  So does humility, honesty and openness with God.  They all come from within a person—and they’re all redemptive; they all bring us closer to God. 

Now, we all sin and make mistakes.  There’s a streak of disobedience toward God in all of us.  And we accept that.  But where we go from there makes all the difference. 

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they only compounded their sin by hiding from him.  It would’ve been better if they’d just replaced their disobedience with openness and sorrow.  It would’ve been a lot better if they’d just stood there, with the apple in hand, and been upfront with God, instead of hiding. 

And there’s a lesson in there that we can take from our “first parents,” the lesson being: when we sin, just admit it to God.  Our sins come from within.  But, so too, does honesty and repentance.  As St. James says, “Good deeds cover a multitude of sins.”  And many times the best “deed” that can come out of us is to simply say to God, “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.” 

And he does.  Always.   

Homily for 7 Feb 2017

7 Feb 2017

Ritual is very important to the Catholic faith.  But ritual has both light and dark sides to it. 

On the light side of things, ritual is helpful in that it almost forces us to pay attention to God.  We come here, we sit down, and we hear the words of Sacred Scripture because we need to.  There are fundamental life lessons in those ancient texts which we’re still trying to get right.  And then we celebrate the Eucharist, as Christians have done for thousands of years.  And we do it because that’s what the bride (the Church) and the bridegroom (Jesus) do: they give themselves to one another in self-sacrificing love. 

The ritual of the Mass helps us to more truly the Bride of Christ before God, and the Body of Christ out in the world.     

But the dark side of ritual is that it can so easily become mindless repetition.  And ritual can, in some ways, become a god unto itself—and we risk becoming worshipers of the ritual, instead of the God beyond the ritual.  And that’s the slippery pit that the Pharisees and scribes fell into.  They loved the law of God more than God himself.  And the Sadducees loved the ritual of the Temple more than the God in the Temple.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with ritual.  But it depends on how we approach it.  Is ritual a jumping off point to go deeper into the mystery of God; to go deeper into authentic Christian living out in the world?  Or is ritual simply a stone upon we stand still, and go nowhere? 

Ritual is very important to the Catholic faith.  But ritual has both light and dark sides to it.  May God help us to worship him through our rituals, and above and beyond them as well.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Homily for 3 Feb 2017

3 Feb 2017
Memorial of St. Blaise

Jesus isn’t the only who proclaimed the Good News of God’s Kingdom.  A lot of others did that, too.  And some of them even died for their unwavering belief in Jesus Christ.  They’re part of this huge family of believers we know as the Church.  And today we remember one of our brothers in the faith; we remember Saint Blaise.

He was born around the year 280A.D. and is believed to have been something like a doctor; he apparently had a knack for treating people with throat problems.  And then, at some point, he had an encounter with God and he changed his life into a life of prayer; he became a “doctor of the soul,” and many people went looking for him to be healed of their illnesses.  He eventually became a bishop.

But then, in the year 316, Christians began to be persecuted in the area where he was (in what is today eastern Turkey).  And so, he was arrested.  Then, one story has it, that as he was being taken to prison, he came across a woman whose little son was choking on a fish bone.  Blaise was able to cure the boy just by touching him.  And the people who’d arrested Blaise were amazed, but they still demanded that he renounce his faith.  He wouldn’t, and so they beat and tortured him, and then beheaded him.     

St. Blaise proclaimed the Good News of God’s Kingdom, and he never denied his belief that Jesus is the Son of God.  He was a powerful person back in the 4th Century, and he’s still a powerful person today.  He’s part of that big family of believers we call the Church.  And even after 1600 years, we still ask our brother, St. Blaise, to help us.

That’s why we have the Blessing of Throats today.  On this day when we celebrate St. Blaise’s martyrdom, we ask him to pray a powerful prayer to God for all those who need healing in their throats, and who need healing in general.  Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God heal us of whatever ails us; may the Kingdom of God come to us.  St. Blaise, our brother, pray for us. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Homily for 2 Feb 2017

2 Feb 2017
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
(School Mass)
The Temple was very important to the Jewish people.  It was a big stone building, surrounded by walls and other buildings.  It was like a little city.  But at the center of the “city” was the Temple; it was the place where the Jewish people went to meet God.  God was in the Temple.

But then, after Christ came along and died and rose, and ascended into Heaven, a new Temple was built.  But this one wasn’t made of stone—instead, the Apostles and the rest of Christ’s disciples became the new Temple.  They became a living Temple.  They became the “place” where people were supposed to meet God.  God was still in the Temple, but it was a different kind of Temple—the Temple had become the Church.

And so, when people meet “the Church,” hopefully they’re also meeting God; because God lives inside (and outside) the Church.  But when we talk about the “Church,” we’re talking mainly about the community of believers, but also about the buildings we come to worship in.  When we talk about the “Church,” we can be talking about both our church buildings and us—brothers and sisters who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

But, you know, the Church—the Temple—isn’t as important for a lot of people as it used to be.  And so we have to make an extra effort to be the face of God to other people.  When we talk to other people, we want to try to talk like Jesus would talk to them.  Or when somebody needs helps, we want to try to be like Jesus and offer our help.  Or when a friend or someone has done something really good, we want to try to support them like Jesus does. 

When people meet us, our task is to do our best to make sure they meet God through us.  All of us who believe in Jesus are his Church; we are his Temple.  When others meet us, hopefully they’re meeting God, too.  It’s a great responsibility.  But it’s also a great thing to share the Light of Christ with others.

And, you know, we have that Light of Christ in us.  It was given to each of us at our baptism—that lit candle.  And that Light grows brighter every time we come to Mass, every time we turn to Jesus.  The deeper our friendship with Christ grows, the brighter the Light of Christ shines through us.  And that’s our hope—that when people see us, they’ll see the Light of Christ. 

When people come across the Church—the Temple of God—we hope they see the Light of Christ . . . and be glad.