Friday, March 31, 2017

Homily for 31 Mar 2017

31 Mar 2017

It’s a risky thing to say what needs to be said.  But sometimes you just have to do it.  And that’s the situation Jesus was in, there in Judea. 

The tension was getting pretty thick—not so much between Jesus and the people, but between differing views of the truth.  The Jewish leaders thought they knew the truth about Jesus and God.  The people had mixed understandings of who Jesus was.  And then there was Jesus who is Truth.  And so it was bound to happen (and Jesus knew it) that there would be a major conflict.    

And we can relate to that.  We each have a conscience; we know what is basically right and good.  And it trips our conscience—it bothers us—when we see that basic rightness and goodness being trampled on.  Our souls bristle a little bit when we see injustice, when we’re talking with somebody who’s just a little too arrogant, or proud, or condescending or judgmental of others. 

Now, when Jesus couldn’t take it anymore, as we heard, he “cried out.”  The truth had to be spoken.  It couldn’t be held back.  Jesus took the risk, and we know how his adversaries reacted.  And it’s the same risk we take whenever we feel the need to speak the truth, and to restore goodness and right.  Of course, the risk is that we’ll be crucified for it—maybe not literally, but certainly in other ways.    

It’s a risky thing to say what needs to be said.  But sometimes you have to do it, knowing full well that you could be crucified for doing it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Homily for 30 Mar 2017

30 Mar 2017
(School Mass)

God sends many people into our lives.  And, in one way or another, they’re meant to help us.  That’s why God sends them to us. 

Now, in Scripture, we hear about Moses and the prophets.  They were all sent by God to help the people become better.  And then, finally, God sent his Son Jesus to say to the people, “Come this way!  Follow me!” 

Now, in our life today, God still sends people into our lives because he wants us to have as much help as we can have.  And so, we have: our parents and grandparents; we have teachers and coaches; God gives us friends and neighbors; he gives us priests and deacons, monks and nuns, bishops and popes.

God sends many people into our lives.  And, in one way or another, they’re meant to help us.  That’s why God sends them to us.  Most importantly, though, he still sends his Son Jesus to us.  By the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist, Jesus is still here, right here with each of us.  And he’s here because he wants to help us.

The trick is to let him help us . . . because Jesus is the best brother, the best coach, the best friend we have.  It’s good to let Jesus help us.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Homily for 29 Mar 2017

29 Mar 2017

There are lots of ways we get from Point A to Point B: we get in the car, we take a plane, we go by train, or on a bike, or we just use our feet and walk.  But if our destination is more spiritual—if our destination is life (life in abundance now and forever)—then there’s really just the one way to get there: the Son of God.

Jesus is our car or truck.  Jesus is our plane; he’s our train or bicycle.  Jesus is our feet.  If we’re trying to get from Point A to Point B—if we’re trying to go from life on earth to an even better life—then Jesus is how we get there.  Just as he and the Father are one, so we want to be one with Jesus.  And so, we hitch a ride with him . . . and he’s happy to give us a lift, to where we’re going.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Homily for 26 Mar 2017

26 March 2017
4th Sunday in Lent, Year A

It’s a perennial question: Why does God allow sickness and suffering?  We know that God doesn’t create misery and pain, but we also know that God hasn’t used his power to eradicate it from our lives.  He allows sickness and suffering to affect us.  The question is: Why?

In the ancient world, the Jews thought that sickness was a direct result of sin.  If you did something wrong, your punishment might include some sort of physical or mental suffering.  The ancient Greeks viewed misery and pain as a sign that you’d offended one of the gods.  Even today, this view of things can be found: the idea that sin and sickness are directly related.

But, from a Christian perspective, there’s no connection like that.  Of course, if we eat too much and commit the sin of gluttony, we’re likely to suffer the pains of a stomach ache.  But that’s not quite the same thing as saying that sickness and suffering is the punishment for sin.  A stomach ache is more like a natural consequence of over-eating, not a punishment for over-eating.

From the Christian perspective, there is sickness and suffering in the world that has no relation whatsoever to sin.  It’s simply there.  The man born blind is an example.  Jesus says very simply that “neither he nor his parents sinned;” and yet, he was afflicted with blindness even as a newborn.  But God allowed this, as Jesus says, “so that the works of God might be made visible through him;” through the man born blind.

As much as sickness and suffering is an affliction, it’s also a setting or a situation in which God can work.  And that seems to be why God allows sickness and suffering.  After all, it’s why Jesus suffered in the desert, and at the hands of his opponents, and on the Cross.  God can work through anything, even misery and pain, sickness and suffering.

But it would be a mistake to think that healing is the only way God works.  Now, the man born blind was healed and sight was given to him.  But Jesus didn’t heal everybody when he walked the face of the earth.  No doubt, there were lots of other people who were afflicted in body, mind, or soul, but who were not touched by Jesus or healed by him.  I’m sure we all know situations where someone has been seriously ill but, in spite of prayers, the person doesn’t get any better.

Now, it goes without saying that it’s good to pray for healing, and we should pray for that.  But the “works” God is doing may not be the kind we’re looking for.  A consistent theme in our readings today is the idea that God sees differently than people do.  People look for one thing, while God looks for another. 

Take David as an example.  Now, being the youngest and also a shepherd, David should’ve been the last one chosen to be an instrument of God.  But God doesn’t work that way.  As the Prophet Samuel says, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”  We could take the man born blind as another example.  God chose an outcast of society to be his instrument; he chose the weak to help the strong.

And so, when we face sickness and suffering, it’s good to pray for healing, but it’s also good to pray that “God’s will be done,” however God is working.  In our story today, God was at work more than just in the man born blind.  He was also at work in the Pharisees, in the man’s neighbors, and in his parents.

With the man’s neighbors, their disbelief in healing was exposed.  But because that was brought to light, they eventually came to believe.  Their own faith was strengthened.

With the Pharisees, their misguided devotion to their understanding of the law was exposed.  Their inability to see God’s goodness at work was also exposed.  But they remained in their darkness.  God used the suffering of the blind man to expose the far deeper sickness within the Pharisees.

And with the man’s parents, their lack of courage and faith was exposed.  Perhaps they went home ashamed; we don’t know.  But we know they didn’t stand behind Jesus or their son. 

God uses sickness and suffering not only as an occasion for healing, but also as a time to expose what needs to be brought to light.  For example, when someone is diagnosed with a serious illness or disease, a lot is revealed: our fears, our worries, our renewed appreciation for life.  By those things being revealed, God is at work. 

Suffering is an occasion for our faith’s “rubber to hit the road.”  It’s something that reveals our human frailty and forces us to reevaluate our priorities and beliefs.  Sickness makes us appreciate life, even more than we already may.  And those aren’t bad things.  In the end, they’re actually good.  That seems to be why God allows sickness and suffering in our lives.

No matter what troubles us—whether in body, or in mind, or in spirit—it can all be an occasion for God to do his work.  What God does may not be what we have in mind, but nonetheless God is at work.  Of that we can be certain.  The task is to see what God is doing in our times of sickness and suffering, our times of trial and angst, and to let him lead the way.

The wonderful thing God did for the man born blind wasn’t that he gave him sight; it’s that God gave him faith.  He was blind, but then he saw.  After a lifetime of blindness, suffering, and patience, the man came to see Jesus.  And that’s what we hope for too; for ourselves and for one another.       

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Homily for 24 Mar 2017

24 Mar 2017

We hear it all through Lent, the call to return to the Lord our God, to put God first on our list of priorities.  And, really, that’s a pretty radical thing to do.  Not just because it’s counter-cultural, but because it requires a real shift in our own personal way of living in the world.  If we actually “return to the Lord our God,” and “love God will all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” then life is going to be different—in some pretty basic ways.

For instance, for married couples, it might mean praying together sometime—making sure that God is a part of the relationship.  And that could be a totally new thing for a couple to do; to pray the rosary together every now and then, or to pray some other devotional.  Returning the Lord our God means that life will be different, in some basic ways.

Or, when we think about the church and what it means to love God above all things, well, maybe that means we need to reevaluate our priorities and where we spend our time, money, and energy.  Or, maybe as individuals, returning to the Lord means we get ourselves on a new routine of daily prayer.  And that all requires a real change in everyday life.

But, then again, that’s what Lent is about.  That’s what Christian living is about in general: reorienting our life so God is more central—not just in theory, but in practice.  And so, it’s good to consider: What changes in life might God be asking you to make, to reflect your new life in him?  And, whatever that change is, a good first step is to turn to God and say, “God, help me to make this change I know I need to make.  God, help me.”        

Homily for 23 Mar 2017

23 Mar 2017

(School Mass)

In the gospel we hear Jesus talking about the devil.  And, you know, the devil hates a lot of things.  He doesn’t like it when we come to church.  He doesn’t like it when we forgive others.  He doesn’t like it when we’re friends with each other.  And the reason why he hates all that is because of what Jesus was getting at.

Jesus was trying to say that when we stick together, we’re stronger.  But when we separate and become divided, that’s when we’re weaker.  And the devil can’t hurt us as much if we stick together.  About 600 years before Jesus was born, there was a little story written by a Greek man called Aesop.  And the story goes like this:

“A man had several children who were always fighting and arguing with one another.  And no matter hard he tried, he could not get them to live together in harmony.  And so, he told them to get a bundle of sticks and tie them together.  He invited each one to break that bundle of sticks across their knee.  They all tried it.  But none could do it.

“Then the man untied the bundle and handed them the sticks one by one, and then they had no trouble at all in breaking them.  ‘There, my children,’ said he, ‘united you will be strong against those who would harm you.  But if you quarrel and separate, your weakness will make it very easy for your enemy to attack you.’”

The devil hates it when we’re tied together as brothers and sisters in Christ, because our friendship in Christ is what makes us strong.  So let’s be sure to always do our best to love God and to love our neighbors.  The peace of Christ is what makes us strong—together. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Homily for 19 Mar 2017

19 March 2017
3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A

The possession of knowledge is often a sign of power.  Knowledge gives power; it gives the ability to get ahead, to rise above.  It’s why we put such emphasis on education, going to college, or becoming a skilled worker.  Those who possess knowledge possess a certain kind of power. 

And it’s a power that’s used in many ways, even to squash an opponent.  Of course, we’ll oftentimes see that happen during election season; the candidates each digging up dirt (that is, knowledge) about the other in order to undercut their opponent’s appeal to voters.  In many ways, to have knowledge is to have power.

Now, during this season of Lent a major theme is, of course, repentance.  We focus more on the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the idea of making our sins known to God.  But the gospel story today about the Samaritan woman and Jesus tells us something: it makes it very clear that God already knows everything about us.  The Samaritan woman had never met Jesus before, and yet, he knew all about the details of her life.

And so, when we go to confession, everything we say—God already knows.  In fact, he knows it even before we know it.  And how we react to that depends, I suppose, on how we think about others having “insider” knowledge about us.  You know, part of the discomfort of going to confession is that all those things about ourselves we’d like to keep unknown and hidden...well, they become known.  And it can be even more uncomfortable to realize that God already knows; we can’t keep anything hidden from God.

One of the images we find in Christian churches is the “eye of God.”  At our Askeaton church, the image is right in the middle of the rose window up by the loft.  There’s a triangle (as a symbol of the Holy Trinity) with an eye in it—an unblinking, steady eye which looks on us, and which notices everything.  We can’t keep anything hidden from God.  And that can be unsettling because, among other reasons like shame or embarrassment for our sins, it means that God has the ultimate power, not us.  God is omniscient; God is all-knowing.  And knowledge is power.

But even if that is unsettling, even if going to confession is a nerve-racking thing, it doesn’t need to be...because God is not like a mud-slinging politician; God is not someone who uses knowledge as a hammer.  Instead, God loves us.  And he “proves his love for us in that while we still sinners Christ died for us” [Romans 5:8].  If for no other reason, we keep the crucifixion of Christ front and center in our lives as a reminder of God’s love for us.

Consider also that Jesus came to a Samaritan woman and met with her alone.  Now, Jews didn’t mix with Samaritans, certainly not with a Samaritan woman, and certainly not alone.  And that’s why the disciples were “amazed” that he was talking with her.  But Jesus wasn’t just any Jew.  He made a judgment about the Samaritan woman, and the judgment was that she was worthy of God’s love—she and every other “outsider.”  That’s why he sent St. Paul to preach to the Gentiles.  God’s love is not reserved for these people or those people: God loves everybody, and he died, with love, for everybody.

And so, when we think about the “eye of God,” and how he gazes on us—unblinking and steady—we have to remember that the One who sees all and knows everything about us, is also the only One who loves each one of us to death.  Knowledge is power; God is powerful.  But God uses his knowledge of us for our good.

If we go to confession and we’re really nervous or ashamed, God sees that.  He already knows our sins, but he also knows that we’re nervous, or ashamed, or embarrassed.  God knows that and he treats us gently.  Of course, there’s that other guy in the confessional, the priest.  But, you know, as the person who is supposed to be Christ the Shepherd, Christ the Bridegroom to the flock, he should treat us with compassion and gentleness, too.  Because, of course, he’s not only a priest, he’s also a sinner who knows from his own experience what it’s like to be nervous, or ashamed, or embarrassed going into the confessional.

Knowledge is power, but God uses that power for our good.  The priest uses that power for the good when he offers advice and gives a penance that’s supposed to help us get on a better track. But, you know, it isn’t only God who has the power of knowledge—we do, too.  Way back when, in ancient Greece, Aristotle said, “Know thyself.”  Know thyself, examine thyself, get to know all about yourself.  Because the more we know about ourselves, the more power we have to shape our life as disciples of Christ.

The reaction of the Samaritan woman to Jesus is interesting.  Jesus tells her all about herself—he puts himself in a position of power—and she’s all the more intrigued because of it.  She doesn’t run away from Jesus.  She stays right there and wants to know more.  In fact, she even starts to tell Jesus a little bit about himself—that he’s a prophet.  The Samaritan woman knows that knowledge is power; she wants to know more about herself and about Jesus because, somehow, knowledge isn’t just about power, it’s also the key to life.

Knowledge, truth, honesty, awareness—they’re all keys to life.  And they’re powerful keys.  Knowledge opens up a whole world of possibilities for us, whether it’s knowledge of our sins and failings, knowledge of our strengths and abilities, knowledge of God, knowledge of others.  The power of knowledge, especially self-knowledge, is that it’s like turning the light on in a dark room.  Knowledge helps us to see where we are, and where we want to go.

Thanks be to God that he makes known to us our sins.  And thanks be to God that we’re aware of our failings and mistakes.  With that kind of knowledge, life can only get better.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Homily for 17 Mar 2017

17 Mar 2017

Joseph’s brothers had intended to kill him, but instead they sold him for twenty pieces silver to make some quick money.  And, yet, our psalm today proclaims, “Remember the marvels the Lord has done!”  It’s hard to see exactly what marvelous things God was doing there in the story of Joseph and his brothers.

Of course, we might say the same thing about events in our own lives.  We run into financial difficulties, or a family member becomes very ill, or some other trial comes our way.  And we wonder: “Where is God in all this?”  And our psalm today still can sound out of place: “Remember the marvels the Lord has done!”  But what marvelous things is God doing as we suffer the trials of life?

In the psalm, though, we eventually come to see exactly what God was doing.  He inspired Joseph’s masters to let him go.  And those same slave drivers propelled Joseph to take a leadership role in the community.  And Joseph turned the fortunes of all around for the better.  Joseph needed to be taken away as a slave, so that he could be released into that community, and bring them God.  That’s the marvelous thing the Lord was doing.  He hadn’t abandoned Joseph at all.

And God does not abandon us either.  In the trials of our lives, God is still there.  God is still doing his “marvelous” things.  But we usually can’t see it until God is done doing what he’s doing.  And so, what’s left for us but to have faith that God is, indeed, at work in the present, in the trials we face today.  And then, someday, we can look back at see more clearly that, yes, God was at work.  The Lord did do marvelous things for me.

But that takes faith, and it takes time.  May God increase within us those gifts of faith and patience, because without them we’ll never be able to see the marvelous things the Lord is doing.     

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Homily for 16 Mar 2017

16 Mar 2017
(School Mass)
That description in the gospel sounds kind of familiar: The rich man, dressed in purple, eating a sumptuous meal with fine linens.  After all, that’s what we have here at Mass . . . our color for Lent is purple, the altar has fine linens on it, and we’re feasting on the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation—the Body and Blood of Christ.  You can’t get more sumptuous than that!  We’re not all that different from the rich man, are we?

But, you know, the rich man didn’t end up in a very good place.  And the problem wasn’t that he was rich.  The problem was that he didn’t share what he had.  And so, when we think about this feast that we get to share in every time we come to Mass, we have to remember that the Body and Blood of Christ are given to us to be shared. 

Jesus shares himself with us, but we’re not supposed to just keep him to ourselves.  We’re supposed to share him—most especially with those who need him.  We’re supposed to share the riches of God with others.  And the most valuable and precious thing God gives us is his love, his friendship, his mercy.  When we realize just how much our God loves us, we realize how rich we really are.  And that’s what Jesus wants us to share with others.

There are lots of people around who don’t know that they’re loved.  Maybe it’s a classmate.  Maybe it’s a friend, or somebody in the family.  Well, they need to know that they’re loved and that they belong.  It’s maybe the greatest gift we can share with others: the gift of God’s love—the riches of God’s sacrificial love.

God shares himself with us here at the altar.  He gives us a sumptuous feast.  Let’s just make sure that we don’t keep it all to ourselves.  Let’s be sure to share God’s love, especially with those who really need it.   

Homily for 15 Mar 2017

15 Mar 2017

Being a disciple of Christ isn’t always clear-cut.  Sometimes it’s like driving in a thick fog, on roads we’re unfamiliar with.  And so, life might feel a little slower; we might feel less confident; we might even be afraid.  And sometimes it seems like the fog just keeps getting thicker and thicker, instead of clearer.

When the Prophet Jeremiah was being threatened, and his enemies were closing in around him, he wasn’t doing anything wrong.  It wasn’t because he somehow strayed from the path of God.  In fact, it was for the opposite reason: he was doing his best to stay true to God—that’s why he found himself in his predicament.

And when Jesus talks about the chalice—the chalice of suffering—he’s simply reiterating the experience of so many people who’ve followed God.  To be a disciple of Christ isn’t always clear-cut.  And it’s made foggier anytime we feel the weight of the “trial” that comes with doing the right thing.  After all, we expect that being a friend of Jesus is going to be a happy experience.  And, indeed, it sometimes is.  But there’s also that chalice of suffering we drink.

Of course, the temptation is to think that when the bad times come we must be doing something wrong; we must not be true enough to Jesus.  In reality, though, it could be just the opposite.  The disciples of Christ have good times with him, certainly.  And they also have rough times.  The challenge is to stay the course through both the good and the bad.

Being a disciple of Christ isn’t always clear-cut; the path isn’t always obvious.  But it is there.  And our daily prayers help us stay connected to the path, to Jesus who is the Way.     

Monday, March 13, 2017

Homily for 14 Mar 2017

14 March 2017

The truth is kind of a tricky thing to handle.  On the one hand, who doesn’t like to be right?  It feels good to be convinced about the truth of something.  It’s an empowering thing to know that “I’m right;” that “I am a voice for what is true.”  It feels great to be an instrument of the truth.  But, on the other hand, it can be a blow to the ego to be on the receiving end of the truth. 

And so, the truth is kind of a tricky thing to handle.  We have to share it with others, and yet, we also have to be willing to receive it from others.  And that’s where we might cringe a little bit because, of course, it means that if somebody else is right, then they have the upper hand; they’re in the position of power and judgment.  And where does that leave us, but in the weaker position.  When somebody else has the truth, it means they’re in the position of power—not us. 

And that’s not all bad.  I mean, when we’re sick and we go to the doctor, we certainly hope that the doctor knows more than us.  And we certainly hope that they’ll use the power of knowledge, the power of truth, to help us.  And so, it’s not all bad that other people know more than us.  In fact, it’s a great thing when others share the truth with us—because the truth should always be helpful.

In the psalm today, God says, “"When you do these [sins], shall I be deaf to it? Or do you think that I am like yourself?  I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.”  God puts a mirror in front of each of us and says, “Look at yourself.  See what I see—both the good and the bad.”  God puts the truth of our sins and failings right in our face—not to be mean or judgmental, but to be helpful. 

It’s like when the doctor says, “You need to cut down on those saturated fats, or you going to end up with heart disease.”  The doctor is saying it for our own good.  And God tells us the truth about ourselves for our own good.  God is showing us precisely what it is that we can work on to be a better Christian, a better human being.  It’s one of the ways that God is merciful to us: he tells us the truth about ourselves, whether or not we want to hear it. 

Of course, the trick is to be humble and say a prayer of thanks to God—because every time the truth is shared with us we become more knowledgeable; we grow and become wiser.  The truth is kind of a tricky thing to handle.  We have to share it with others, and yet, we also have to be willing to receive it from others.  Thanks be to God for sharing the truth, however it comes to us: in prayer, in our conscience, through the Church, through our neighbors.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Homily for 10 Mar 2017

10 Mar 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the school office, and the secretary was sorting through old student records from the 1930s or so.  And, of course, they’re required to keep them because that’s part of somebody’s “permanent record.”  The record is always there.  That C-minus that little Henry got there in 1932 is just going to be there—forever.  It’s a permanent record.

Thankfully, however, God does not keep a permanent record on us.  He says, “If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, none of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him.”  God does not “mark our guilt;” he’s not interested in using our sins and mistakes as ammunition against us.  God does not keep a permanent record on us.

Nonetheless, however, there is a record; it may not be permanent, but God isn’t blind to our sins.  He can see what we do—both the good and the bad; he’s like Santa Claus, I suppose—“making a list and checking it twice.”  But God writes his list in pencil.  The “record” that God has in his mind can be easily erased and forgotten.  And so, there’s a record, but it’s not at all permanent.

In fact, it’s completely erased, torn up, and thrown away any time we say, “Yea, I did that; I committed that sin.  I shouldn’t have, but I did.  And I intend to get on a different track.”  And when we take just one step onto that different path, our record is gone.  It doesn’t linger in God’s mind as a “permanent record.”  It’s just simply gone. 

We’re the ones who remember our sins.  But God doesn’t.  And that’s a reason to come to the altar of God and offer a sacrifice of thanks.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Homily for 9 Mar 2017

9 Mar 2017
(School Mass)
Jesus gives us the “Golden Rule” today: Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.  And it’s called the “Golden Rule” because it’s so valuable to remember.  However we want others to treat us, we have to make sure we’re treating that way first.

If we want our friends to pay attention to us, well, we have to make sure we’re at least paying attention to them first, and wondering about who they are, and what their likes and dislikes are.  If we want our parents to respect us, we have to make sure we’re respecting them first.  If we want our neighbors to accept us for who we are, we have to make sure we’re accepting them first for who they are.

Now, sometimes that works.  And sometimes it doesn’t.  I mean, you can be nice to someone, and they can still treat you badly.  So what do you?  Well, you be patient with them, you don’t be mean to them, you tell them the truth—because that’s how we’d want others to treat us if we were the ones acting badly.

But, with God, the “Golden Rule” always works.  If we want God to pay attention to us, we first have to pay attention to God—and God will pay attention to us.  If we want God to forgive us, well, we have to be sure to forgive others first—and God will forgive us.  If we want God to talk to us, first we have to talk to God—and God will respond.

So, be sure to remember the “Golden Rule:” Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.  It’s the most valuable lesson Jesus teaches us.  And it’s a lesson we’re reminded of each time we celebrate the Eucharist.  God wants us to give ourselves to him, and so first, he gave himself to us. 

God himself follows the “Golden Rule.”  God has done to us what he would have us do to him.  He has loved us.  And that’s all he asks in return: that we love him.       

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Homily for 8 Mar 2017

8 Mar 2017

There’s Jesus and then there’s Jesus.  There’s the Catholic Jesus, and the Protestant Jesus.  There’s the fire-and-brimstone Jesus, and the big teddy bear Jesus.  There’s nice Jesus, there’s Jesus the mean judge.  There’s Jesus and then there’s Jesus.  And how people perceive Jesus determines if they’re going to listen to him or not.

Now, the Ninevites heard Jonah come and tell them to repent—which they did.  But the Ninevites and Jonah were enemies.  The prophet God had sent to the Ninevites was their enemy; Jonah didn’t really care at all about them, and he seems to have made them repent through fear.  The Ninevites didn’t see Jonah as an instrument of God, but they nonetheless changed their ways.

And so, there’s Jesus and then there’s Jesus.  For some people, Jesus is a pain in the neck; he’s a party-pooper who only cares about making people miserable with all his rules and his talk of repentance.  But for some people, Jesus is the love of their life; he’s the life of the party who loves everyone with an absolute love, especially when we repent.  And those are two very different Jesuses.  The problem is: God sent only one Son to be the Prophet of prophets to humanity.   

And so it boils down to a question of perception.  Those who perceive Jesus as an enemy to everything that’s fun and good aren’t going to listen to him (of course).  But they might repent anyway out of fear of God.  To those people, Jesus is little more than Jonah was to the Ninevites.  But those who perceive Jesus as a friend, as a champion of everything that’s good and true, will listen to him.  And they’ll repent out of love for God, not in fear.

As we consider people in our families, at work, and friends who seem reluctant to follow Jesus in faith, it’s worthwhile to consider: How do they perceive Jesus?  Because, you know, there’s Jesus and then there’s Jesus.  And who we perceive Jesus to be makes all the difference: the difference between repenting in fear of God, or repenting out of love for God.

There’s Jesus and then there’s Jesus.  The question is: Which Jesus do we follow, and which Jesus do we share with others?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Homily for 5 Mar 2017

5 Mar 2017
1st Sunday of Lent, Year A

We pray to God all the time: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  And, certainly, God does not tempt us.  He doesn’t play around with us and make us fall away from him.  God does not “lead us into temptation.”  But he does lead us into trials.  Even Jesus, his own Son, was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tested and tried.

But when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we’re praying that the tests and trials God gives to us won’t be too much for us to handle.  We’re praying that the trials we face will be constructive, rather than destructive.  And we’re also praying that, in the end, the influence of evil will not win us over.  We pray that God will “deliver us from evil,” and make us to find rest in him alone.  We’re praying that when the test is over, our fidelity to God will be proven.

The images of battle come to mind.  Consider the words of our own national anthem: “O say can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

By the dawn’s early light, the morning after the battle, the flag was still there.  The trial of war did not overcome it.  Or think about the Gettysburg Address of President Lincoln: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation . . . Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . . .We here highly resolve . . . that this nation, under God . . . shall not perish from the earth.”  And it did not. 

Whenever times of trial and testing come our way, it’s always telling to see what remains after the test is over.  Whether it’s the flag, or the country, or our fidelity to God, something is going to win out in the end.  Something’s going to remain standing “by the dawn’s early light.”  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray.  In the end, our prayer is that our fidelity to God is what will remain standing when the fight is over.

When Jesus was tested by the devil out in the desert, it was a test of his character.  The devil asked him, “If you are the Son of God . . .”  That was the test.  It wasn’t a test to see if he could change stones into bread, or to see if God would come and save him.  It was a test of his fidelity to God the Father. 

However, his fidelity to the Father is what defines Jesus; Jesus is the Faithful One, he is the Anointed One, the Beloved of the Father.  Jesus’ fidelity to God the Father defines who he is.  And so, the devil was testing not only his character, but his very identity: he was either the faithful Son of God, or he wasn’t. 

When God tests us, he’s testing our fidelity to him.  He’s testing our identity as his sons and daughters.  God doesn’t have to prove his fidelity to us—if the Cross isn’t proof enough, then nothing will convince us.  God doesn’t have to prove his fidelity to us; we have to prove our fidelity to him.  We have to prove that we are who we say we are: sons and daughters of Almighty God, and followers of Christ.

And, of course, we set aside this season of Lent to focus on that task.  We go deeper into those trials of life that either prove or disprove our identity as Christians.  And a lot of these trials and battles happen within ourselves; within our heart, our mind, and our conscience.

For instance, you might be thinking, “I should give more to the poor; I should be more involved with social justice.”  And that’s fine and good.  But there’s a test that might be hidden within that thought.  There might be—there doesn’t have to be, but there might be—a little voice that says, “This is the height of Christian living; this is what it really means to be a Christian, to help the poor and feed the hungry.”

But the test question is: “Is that true?”  Obviously, helping the poor is high on our list of priorities.  But is it really the top priority?  Is it the height of Christian living, or is something else?  It’s a test of our basic identity.  Are we someone who is simply doing the work of God?  Or are we a lover of God himself?  Of course, we’re both.  But which comes first?  Which takes priority and gives us our identity?  That’s something for our conscience to wrestle with.

But the answer to that test is: Love the poor, but make sure you love God first.  After all, Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.  He is the end-all, be-all of who and what we are.

Another example of this testing God puts before us happens in the wider Church.  You know, sometime in the last half of the 20th Century, the Church became a business.  The work and ministry of the priest moved from the Altar to the office desk.  And parish life became less a matter of prayer and discernment, and more based in statistics, trends, and business models. 

Of course, there’s nothing especially wrong with learning from the business world.  And there’s nothing wrong with incorporating some of those models into the way the Church operates.  In some respects, we even borrow some structures from civil government in the way the Church operates: things like councils and townhall meetings.

But there’s a test hidden within all that.  The test is when we hear that little voice which says, “It’s better to trust in facts, figures, and projections, rather than in faith and hope.  I mean, with the right information and data, and good marketing that reaches all age groups, the parish could just blow everybody away.  Faith sounds good but, you know, it’s hard to really quantify that; it’s hard to pin that down.  You gotta go with something sure, with something solid; something that you can depend on.”

It all sounds good, but where’s the fidelity to God?  Where’s the sacrifice of a humble, contrite heart?  Where’s friendship with God?  In fact, where’s God?  Somewhere along the line, the Church became a business.  It became a place where, if you’re not satisfied, you go to the powers that be and you lobby for what you want, like they do in civil government.  And if that doesn’t work, you go to the gossip mill and try to influence people that way.  The Church became a place where some people think that money is what makes the Church rise and fall.  And so, some people trust in the power of money to make a difference. 

Somewhere along the line, the Church became a business; it became just another public organization, where fidelity to statistics and fidelity to power have too often crowded out basic fidelity to God.  And our youth are aware of that.  They’re looking for God; they’re not looking for a power struggle.  They’re not waiting to be bowled over by the latest marketing scheme; they’re waiting to be bowled over by God.

It remains to be seen, of course, how that test in the Church will turn out.  But it’s safe to say that we’ll either be the Church, the community of the faithful ones, or we’ll just be another failed business.

God allows us to be tested.  But, as Saint Paul says, he doesn’t allow us to be tested beyond our abilities.  God knows we’re weak, and that we’re liable to stumble and fall.  But that’s why he allows us to be tested.  The tests in life force us to ask those most basic questions: “Who or what am I faithful to?  Who am I?  Am I a child of God, a faithful one of God—or am I not?”

We pray that God help us to make the right choices.  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  And then, “by the dawn’s early light,” may our fidelity to God be proven.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Homily for 3 Mar 2017

3 Mar 2017

The idea of fasting comes from how we experience sorrow and mourning.  When a loved one passes away, our grief might be such that we “lose our appetite” for a while.  Or when life is going badly, we might feel the same.  The idea of not wanting to eat is tied to our experience of sorrow and mourning.  And so our Lenten practice of fasting is about taking our human experiences and ritualizing them. 

We fast because, in our sins, we’ve stepped away from God.  And that’s a reason to feel sorrow and to mourn.  It’s a reason for us to “lose our appetite” for a while.

But, as the Prophet Isaiah reminds us, fasting isn’t only about not eating; fasting is also about not stepping away from God, and reversing course.  And so, fasting means: “releasing those bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry,” and so on.

As we continue on this Lent, it’s good to consider: How have I stepped away from being Christ-like, and how can I change that?  In our thoughts, our actions, our words—how have we stepped away from being Christ-like, and how can we reverse our course?  After all, that’s the point of fasting: to get us on a better path, the path which leads to Easter.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Homily for 2 Mar 2017

2 Mar 2017
(School Mass)
Jesus says some pretty hard words today: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself.  Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.”  In other words, if we’re going to call ourselves Christians, we have to be willing to give up everything.  And that’s a very hard thing to accept.  In fact, we usually fight against it.

Remember the story of the “rich young man”?  He came to Jesus and asked, “What do I need to do to have the fullness of life (what we call “eternal life)?”  And Jesus said, “Go sell what you have, and give the rest away, and then come follow me.”  But the rich young man couldn’t do it.  He just couldn’t let go of what he thought was valuable, and so he went away sad. 

And a lot of times that’s like us.  We want to follow Jesus, we want to be a good disciple, we want to be like the saints and be really strong in our faith.  But then Jesus says something like, “You don’t need that new video game; put it down and come pray with me.”  Or he might say, “You could give people a break and be nicer to them; so go love your enemies like I asked you to.”  And sometimes those are hard things Jesus asks of us.

Maybe that’s why he says, “If anyone wishes to be a Christian, he must take up his cross daily.”  The cross is all those things which are hard to do, but which are the right thing to do.  Sometimes the cross means doing your homework.  Sometimes the cross means forgiving someone, or admitting that you were wrong.  Sometimes the cross means going to a person you trust and saying, “I need help.”  Those are hard things to do, but they’re the right things to do—even if they aren’t really what we want to do.

But that’s part of being a good Christian, and it’s part of Lent: being willing to say, “I don’t always know what’s best for me . . . but God does.”  The challenge is to put God first, and us second.  It’s hard work, but it’s good work.  May God give us the strength and courage to trust him more, and to do what is right and good, even if it’s not what we want.