Saturday, June 24, 2017

Homily for 25 June 2017

25 June 2017
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“Fear no one,” Jesus says; “be not afraid.”  And those can be comforting words, for sure.  Sometimes Jesus speaks as a shepherd to his frightened sheep.  He offers reassurance when we need it, and when we ask for it.  But in the gospel of Matthew today there’s a different tone in his words.  “Fear no one,” Jesus says.  He’s getting his band of disciples ready to go out and continue his work, and he knew it would be a rough road at times.  And so, today, Jesus speaks more like a commander leading his army into a conflict: “Fear no one.”

In other words, he says, “Don’t stand down to anyone; be my disciple in good times and in bad, whether the going is easy or rough, whether it’s convenient or inconvenient.  Stand firm, and do not back down.”  If we thought that being a Christian just meant saying our prayers and going to church once a week, we’re missing something; we have to stand up for what we believe, every day, every time our faith is put to the test.  “Fear no one; stand firm,” the Lord says.

I suppose we could think of how the Sacrament of Confirmation used to be celebrated, where the bishop would give the confirmand a little slap on the cheek.  We can interpret that gesture in at least a couple of different ways.  One is that that little slap (or light touch) on the cheek was a sign of affection, the way God may put his hand on the cheek of one he cares for.  The other interpretation is that that little slap was a reminder that being a disciple of Christ means “standing firm” in the face of struggles.  (We could certainly say that both interpretations are true, at the same time.)

Today, that little slap on the cheek has been replaced by a shake of the hands.  Again, a handshake can be a sign of friendship and welcome; it can also be a sign that “seals the deal,” one that says, “okay, now go and do what you’ve agreed to do in the name of Christ.”  It’s this second interpretation that Scripture focuses on today: the idea of “standing firm,” and “remaining strong when faith is tested.”  “Fear no one,” Jesus says.  And he says it as a final “command” to his disciples as they—as we—head out into the world. 

But before we go off and start converting the world for the love of God, we have to dig a little deeper into that word, “fear.”  When Jesus says, “Fear no one,” what does he mean?  The word, “fear,” means, basically, to “step back,” or to “withdraw from.”  And that makes sense.  I mean, if we’re afraid of something, we don’t usually get closer to it—we move away from it.  And so, to “fear” something means to “take a step back” from that thing.  But, really, to “fear” something isn’t necessarily good or bad; it depends on what we’re stepping back from.

Now, Scripture tells us several times to “fear the Lord.”  Psalm 111 is even enthusiastic about the idea of fear when it says that “to fear the Lord is the first stage of wisdom.”  If you want to be wise, then fear the Lord.  And that’s right.  We don’t put ourselves on the same level as God (that’s what Lucifer did); we “take a step back,” we get humble, and acknowledge that God is God, and not us.  And so, to “fear the Lord” is a good thing; a very good thing.

But then there’s the kind of “fear of God” which isn’t so healthy.  And that’s kind which makes us, literally, afraid of God.  And that’s not at all what God wants.  God doesn’t want us to be afraid; he wants us to be respectful of him, and to revere him as the all-knowing, all-loving, and endlessly merciful God that he is.  And so, “fear,” in and of itself is neither good nor bad; it depends on what we’re fearing, it depends on what we’re “stepping back from.”

When Jesus gives that command to “fear no one,” he’s saying, “Don’t stand down to anyone when it comes to your faith in me.”  And so, really, what he seems to be getting at is the basic question: “Whom do you serve?”  Because whomever we serve is the one we fear.  Whomever we serve is the one we fear.  And whoever that person is makes all the difference, as to whether we fear them out of respect, or whether we fear them out of simply being afraid.

Now, there a lot of sayings that support where Jesus is going here.  There’s the phrase, “a fair weather friend,” meaning, a friend who’s only a friend as long as things are going well; but as soon as life gets a little tough, they’re gone.  And there’s the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” meaning, when life gets rough, it’s the dedicated ones who stick around and see it through.  It’s that question again, “Whom do you serve?  Do you serve the demands of Christian living, or do you serve the expectations of others, or your own self-interests?”

“Fear no one,” Jesus says.  To put it another way, he’s saying, “Serve me. I am the Lord; serve no one but me.  Fear no one, but me.”  And that can be either an easy or a hard thing to do.

For example, let’s say it’s Sunday morning.  You’ve slept in because it’s Sunday, and you’re planning on going to the later Mass.  But then a friend calls up and says, “Hey, you want to go do something,” there’s your discipleship in Christ being tested.  You could say to the friend, “Well, I was going to go to church; can we do it another time?”  Of course, you might be afraid to lose a friend by putting church first, or maybe this is somebody who’s outspoken about the uselessness of going to church, and you don’t want to get into an argument, and so . . . then what do you do?

I suppose you could just not answer the phone in the first place.  Or, you could just stand firm, be not afraid, and say, “I can’t go this morning.  I need to go to Mass.”  Again, it’s that question: “Whom do you serve?”  “Whom do you fear?”  Because whomever we fear (whether in a good or a bad way) is the one we’re going to serve.  Whomever we “take a step back from” is the one we let have control of our lives. 

For teenagers this is especially true (and I would bet that many of us have unresolved fears from adolescence which still influence us).  As a teenager, the worst thing is to be on the outside; to be the oddball, and to be rejected by your peers.  And so, it’s pretty common among youth for them to sacrifice themselves for the sake of fitting in.  What do they fear?  Rejection—from their peers.  Being alone—among their peers.  Having their peers look down on them.  Not being loved—by their peers.

Teens are less concerned with fitting in with their parents, and are more concerned with fitting in with their peers.  And they’re only sometimes concerned with fitting in with the community of faith, and its beliefs and practices.  The great fear is not rejection by the Church, or even by family.  The great fear is rejection by their peers.  And, as adults that fear can certainly continue on, if we haven’t learned, as Jesus says, to “fear no one.”

It’s a risk to do what Jesus says.  Now, he’s not asking us to be recklessly fearless, to go around and be an evangelizing maniac.  He’s simply asking us—commanding us—to stand firm, to be solid, to be unafraid to believe what we believe, regardless of what comes our way.  He’s asking us to be people of integrity.

“Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.”  If we say “yes” to the Lord; if we believe that the Lord is our Savior; if we believe that God and faith are fundamentally important, well, then, just live life out of that conviction.  Own the faith, and “fear no one.”  

I experience this almost every day as a priest.  When I go out to a restaurant with parishioners, and I’m wearing my collar, it’s hard for people not to know that I’m a priest, and that I represent the Church.  Now, I’m not going there to make a statement; I’m just going out to have dinner.  I’m just living my priestly life.  But with my collar on, I have to remind myself, “Fear no one, fear no one.”  I’m not really big on conflict.  But I can’t let my fear of conflict get in the way of whom I am as a priest.

The other example from my own life is, of course, in the governance of the parish.  I can’t do what I do if I’m constantly afraid of what “this group of people” or “that person” or “this person” is going to think of me.  I can’t be a priest if I’m “standing down” to what others think of me, or back peddling to appease others.  As a priest, I have to serve the Lord alone.  And, as a people of faith—as a priestly people—he is the One we all serve.  That’s why, together, we call him the Lord.

Sometimes that means being unpopular, like Jeremiah and so many of the Prophets, and the Apostles, and many of the Saints.  Letting our “yes” to God mean “yes” doesn’t always win us friends.  But it does get us the right friends, true friends, faithful friends who’ll be there through thick and thin. 

“Fear no one,” Jesus says to his disciples. “Fear no one, stand firm in what I’ve taught you.”  We know there’s a price to be Christ’s disciples.  But, still, the Lord says, “Fear no one.  Be not afraid.  And, remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age.  Fear no one.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

Homily for 23 June 2017

23 June 2017
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

St. John tells us that “God is love.”  But this isn’t just any love; it’s a kind of love that only comes from the realm of the divine, from God.  The other types of love are reflections of God, too: filial love, erotic love, spousal love, and true friendship.  Those are forms of love as we human beings know it; and they’re all good.  But the kind of love we celebrate today on this solemnity is a very different kind of love.

Today we celebrate the love we know as “charity.”  In Greek, the word is agápe [ah-GAH-pay].  And it means, literally, “to prefer,” or “to have a preference for.”  And that sounds basic enough.  But “charity,” or agápe, is a total preference for whatever is good for the other; it’s complete selflessness, it’s complete gift (with no strings attached), it’s joy in seeing someone else’s needs being met, regardless of what I want.  And that kind of love is entirely divine.

The love that gushes out of the Sacred Heart of Jesus isn’t a sentimental love; rather, it’s perfect charity, perfect preference for the good of the other.  That’s why Jesus could die on the Cross.  He died for us; he also died for the Father, because he preferred the Father’s will to his own.  And he preferred to love his enemies and his fair-weather friends because that’s what was good for them.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus is perfect charity.

And, really, that’s what we come here to worship.  We come to the altar where the perfect charity of God is poured out for us.  He hands over his Flesh and Blood to us, he speaks his words from Scripture—purely for our benefit.  And that kind of love asks only one thing in return: more love. 

The response to charity is charity.  We come here to renew our love for God, to renew our preference for God and his ways.  That’s the primary (if not the only) reason we come to the altar—to offer ourselves to God and say, “God, whatever you want, I will trust you.  Whenever I am burdened or weary, I will turn to you and find peace.  Whenever I am lost, I will prefer your way over mine, and be okay.  When life is going well, I will offer you thanks and praise.” 

The response to charity is charity.  God gives and we receive.  We give and God receives.  No strings attached, no fears, no judgment; just perfect self-gift in love for the other.  That how our God works.  God is love.  What a blessing it is to live with God, now and forever.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Homily for 16 June 2017

16 June 2017

“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels.”  That line brings to mind images of pottery—clay, ceramic, porcelain.  Whatever they are, they’re fragile vessels; in some respects, they have a natural weakness, and they break easily.  And so, it’s intriguing as to why God would put the treasure of himself inside earthen vessels—inside us—who are weak and easily broken.

And it seems that we’re meant to be broken; we’re meant to be weak, because that’s how God is revealed.  I think of a piggy bank—one those decorative porcelain ones.  If you want to get the money out, you have to break the bank.  Otherwise, all the “glory” stays inside.  The piggy bank has to be breakable in order to get the good stuff out.

And so it’s a good thing to admit our weakness, to be humble and say things like, “I don’t know everything.  There’s always more to learn.”  And that’s good because it allows the spirit of curiosity and interest, the spirit of sharing and dialogue to happen—and that’s all a reflection of God the Holy Trinity; the Father who shares himself with the Son, and the Son who shares himself with the Father in the curiosity and dialogue which is the Holy Spirit. 

It’s good to be weak, to be an “earthen vessel,” not only because God can be revealed through us, but God can also come into us as well—earthen vessels are very porous, just like our souls are made to be porous.  When we’re weak, we can see that in the gospel today, Jesus isn’t changing the law; he’s digging deeper into the law, revealing to us more of what underlies God’s commandments. 

Being an “earthen vessel” has its drawbacks, too.  For instance, it prevents us from holding too tightly onto anything—our life, our tradition, our hopes for the future.  Death is a constant reminder of how weak we really are.  Of course, God doesn’t necessarily see that as a drawback.  In fact, he sees it as a plus; after all, he made us, the earthen vessels that we are.  He made us to be weak and easily broken, so that we would have to rely on him.  God is the rock; he is the pillar of strength; he is our salvation—not us. 

It’s good to be weak and fragile.  It’s a reminder that we’re not made to go it alone; we’re not made to handle all the world’s problems ourselves.  It’s a reminder that God made us for himself; we belong to him who loves us.  It’s good to be weak and fragile.   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Homily for 15 June 2017

15 June 2017

“Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”  What Jesus says here sounds like a condemnation, or at least a threat—but not really.  He’s simply taking a particular decision somebody might make and carrying it out to its natural conclusion.  Basically, Jesus is just pointing out the fact that: “If you choose to do this, this is how it’s going to turn out.”

“If you choose not to be reconciled with your brothers and sisters, and you take your grievance to other humans for judgment on the matter, the result is going to be worse than if you had just reconciled with your brother or sister in the first place.”  Humans judge each other much more harshly than God ever would.  But the choice is yours, Jesus says. 

Every day, and every moment of every day, God gives us the freedom to make choices.  As Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19): “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.”  So choose (keeping in mind that every choice has its result).  And St. Paul gives some guidance on this.  He says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” there is life. 

In other words, if you want to choose life and blessings, then turn to the Spirit of God; let the Holy Spirit be our guide in the ways of God: reconciliation, kindness, and humility.  But if you want to choose death and a cursed life, then just follow the ways of the world; the ways of unforgiveness, judgment, pride, and so on. 

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse,” God says.  And all of heaven says, “Choose life!  Be a friend of God!”  But, of course, the choice is ours.  Every day, the choice is ours, and it has to be made. 

Again, as St. Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom;” there is life.  We’re here at the start of yet another new day.  And, as always, God puts before us the choice: to live as his friends, his disciples, with his Spirit in us, lifting us up; or to live as merely his acquaintances, with some other spirit guiding us, dragging us down. 

We’re here at the start of another new day.  And God turns to us, waiting.  So, are we going to go with him, into life and freedom today?  Or not?  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Homily for 13 June 2017

13 June 2017

According to scientists, salt cannot really lose its taste.  Apparently, it’s a very stable chemical compound, and so it never loses its ability to flavor things.  But, there is a way that its taste can be lessened, and that’s by diluting it.  And maybe this is a reason why Jesus uses the image of salt to describe his disciples.  They (we) can become diluted and lose our ability to “flavor” the world with the gospel.

St. Paul gets at this in his letter to the Corinthians.  He writes, “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you . . . was not "yes" and "no," but "yes" has been in him.”  In Jesus, there is no waffling, no being diluted; he is devoted to God the Father, and that’s how he lived his life in the flesh—total commitment to his loving Father. 

Later on in the Gospel of Matthew, we hear, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no” (5:37).  In other words, Jesus gives us a commandment: “Do not be diluted; do not lose your flavor.  Let your ‘yes’ to me mean ‘yes.’”  That commitment to the Lord and his ways of love, mercy, hope, truth, and so on, is what we have to offer the world. 

That commitment to the Lord is a flavor the world always needs.  Without it, both the world and we become sort of . . . dry and tasteless.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Homily for 11 June 2017

11 June 2017
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Summer isn’t officially here, but the weather certainly is.  It’s not like winter, where you just want to stay inside with a cup of hot chocolate.  Now it’s the season to get outside, to go on vacation, and just have some fun.  School is out, summer sports are going, and high school grads are looking forward to new adventures and the life ahead of them.  It’s the season of life; getting out and enjoying the thrill of being alive.

And so, it can be kind of a downer to hear our Scriptures today, and how “the Lord commanded” Moses, and Moses begged him to “pardon our wickedness and sins;” the Lord who reigns over us on his “throne upon the cherubim.”  And there is the warning from St. Paul to “mend your ways” and, finally, St. John who says, “Whoever does not believe has already been condemned.”  Commands, begging forgiveness, condemnation . . . those are all words we want to hear right at the start of summer, aren’t they?

On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate (among other things) the relationship between God and humanity.  To be “holy” means to be “set apart from,” to be “higher than,” to be “distinguished from.”  And so, when we talk about the “Most” Holy Trinity we’re talking about God being so removed from us, so set apart, so much higher than us.  God is the Most Holy one, so very different from us. 

And that distance is only magnified by these words of Scripture today; how the Lord “commands,” how he sits on his “throne,” how he holds the power to “judge,” and how he is “in the temple of his holy glory.”  For some people, that kind of talk about God can simply be oppressive—like a hot, muggy day that just drains your energy. 

And that’s a shame because our Scriptures today can also be pretty uplifting.  Like when we hear, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, rich in kindness and fidelity;” and St. Paul’s call to “rejoice,” to “encourage one another,” and “be at peace;” and the promise that “the God of love and peace will be with you.”  And then, finally, there’s that most favorite line (John 3:16), “God so loved the world.”

Now those words seem more fitting here at the start of summer, when we just want to get out and enjoy being alive!  They’re not oppressive words; they’re uplifting and even inspiring.  They encourage us to get out and enjoy the blessings of life.  In some ways, they make it feel like God isn’t so removed from us, that God is with us, and that he knows exactly what our desires are, and that we just want to live, and live freely.

Again, we celebrate today (among other things) the relationship between God and humanity.  But it’s a complicated relationship, maybe like between teenagers and their parents.  Teenagers just want to live and experience life, but sometimes parents just get in the way, you know.  Or, maybe not parents, but teachers or coaches, or anybody who is a higher authority. 

Our relationship with God can be complicated because, on the one hand, he is the Law-Giver.  He is the one who gives us the Commandments, who is the ultimate authority, the Author and Maker of everything that is, including each one of us.  God is very definitely far different than we are; he is the “Most Holy” One.  And, yet, on the other hand, he calls us his “friends,” his “sons and daughters,” his “brothers and sisters.”  He even became one of us at Christmastime, and still puts himself into our hands here at the altar.

Our relationship with God can be complicated.  But, really, everything that God does for us, and everything that God is to us, is geared toward one and the same goal: life.  Whether it’s a command, or a guilty conscience, or a spiritual pat on the back, or a tender “kiss of peace” from God, everything he does is meant to help us “have life, life in abundance.”

As we stand here at the start of summer, and we’re beginning to take a break from school, or work, or we’re just looking forward to vacations and enjoying life, it’s good to remember that God comes to us precisely for that same purpose: so that we might enjoy life—not superficially, but deeply and forever.

Blessed be God who leads us from his heavenly throne, and also walks with us as the closest of friends, in the pathways and seasons of life. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Homily for 8 June 2017

8 June 2017

The scribe asked Jesus about only one commandment, the “first” of all the commandments.  But Jesus spoke about two of them: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.  And maybe, by doing that, the Lord is saying that the two are inseparable.  There is a “first” and a “second” commandment, but they necessarily go together. 

We can’t profess to love God, and yet hate our neighbor in the same breath (because there is no hate within God).  And, in a similar way, we can’t really love our neighbor without first loving God (because God shows us how to love rightly).  And so, we can say to the Lord what the scribe did: “Well said, teacher.  You are right” in keeping these two commandments together as one.

Now we just have to keep them together in our own lives, today.  It takes practice, of course.  And we’ll spend our whole lives trying to keep those two commandments together: love of God and love of neighbor.  But the more we can do it, the more we’ll hear Jesus say to us, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Homily for 7 June 2017

7 June 2017

There’s quite a bit of tension in the stories of Tobit and Sarah.  And it looks like they’re both at their wit’s end.  So they turn to God in prayer, and God gives them a little nudge in a better direction.

I suppose we could imagine a little toddler who’s learning how to walk—and how to get into everything.  Of course, mom or dad is somewhere nearby.  And when the little toddler is about to get into something they just kind of turn the kid in another direction.  They don’t stop the kid from exploring, but they nudge when they need to.  And that’s a reflection of how God works.

God didn’t pick Tobit and Sarah up out of their situations.  Instead, he brought other people and new dynamics into their lives to get them onto a better path.  And then, in the gospel, when Jesus is speaking with the Sadducees, he interjects the truth.  He says, “You are greatly misled.”  He’s trying to nudge them along a different way.

God is certainly almighty, but he so often he exercises his might by nudging, by suggesting, by opening doors to other paths.  We just have to aware enough to see it, and humble enough to just go with it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Homily for 6 June 2017

6 June 2017

Being a sinner isn’t a problem with the Lord.  Being a lier—not a problem.  Being arrogant or vain—not a problem.  Having an addiction—not a problem.  The Lord can work with all that, as long as we can admit to ourselves that we do those things, and struggle with our sinfulness.  Being a sinner isn’t a problem for the Lord.

In fact, the Lord loves sinners.  He loves the honest, humble sinner.  He loves hypocrites, too; except that they’re usually a harder nut to crack—because they don’t know that they’re sinners.  And so the Lord gets a little tougher on them.

He has to say things like, “Hey, you’re being a jerk.  I love you, but you’re being a jerk right now.  Knock it off.”  And that’s always an enjoyable thing to hear the Lord say to us.  It isn’t fun to be a hypocrite, to say that we’re a good and holy Catholic, and then to go do or say something that proves just the contrary.

It would be much better—and much more fruitful and relaxing—to just be honest and say, “I’m a good person, loved by the Lord—but, boy, do I make mistakes sometimes.”  And when we’re honest like that, the Lord loves us all the more.  The Lord loves and embraces the honest sinner. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Homily for 4 June 2017

4 June 2017
Solemnity of Pentecost

The priest had a peculiar habit.  Whenever there was a baptism planned for during Mass, he’d take the bottle of Holy Oil, a baptismal candle, and a white cloth and put them on a table right outside the church doors.  And then, just before Mass, he’d carefully take the items and place them by the baptismal font.  Anytime there was going to be a baptism during Mass, he’d do that little ritual.

One little girl asked her parents why he did that, and they told her, “He’s just letting the wind of the Holy Spirit bless them before he brings them inside to use them.”  And that was a lovely answer they gave.  But then, one Sunday morning, a parishioner asked the priest himself.  He said, “Father, why do you do that?  Why do put that stuff outside the door?”  And the priest replied, “Oh! Well, that’s so when people go by church, they can decide if they want to stay or keep driving.”

On this Solemnity of Pentecost, we celebrate how the Holy Spirit came upon a very small group of Apostles and disciples, and transformed them into a rapidly growing Church.  In the Acts of the Apostles (2:42,47) we hear a little bit about the life of the Church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

It’s kind of an idyllic image of the Church, but as we know, there was also a lot of strife and hardship in the Church as she struggled to grow.  Even within that early Church there was some disagreement—we only have to look at Peter and Paul to see the occasional disagreements.  But, you know, in spite of that, they were a tight-knit group.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

Regardless of what happens in the life of the Church, those core values are always there—all inspired by the Holy Spirit.  And so, what does that little story about the priest and his peculiar habit reveal, but that some of those core values have . . . weakened, or disappeared.  Or maybe they still need to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Whichever it is, we know that some of the core values of the Church—the Holy Spirit-inspired Church, are not as strong as they could be, or should be.

The question about having baptisms during Mass is intriguing because it brings front-and-center the bigger question: What does it mean to be “the Church”?  What was the effect of that first Pentecost, and what is its continuing effect? 

We could look at the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Those are some of the effects of Pentecost; those are part of what it means to be “the Church,” a people who are gifted with: wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage; a people who have in their souls: knowledge, reverence, and wonder and awe in God’s presence.  That’s part of what it means to be “the Church.”

Of course, we can also look at the fruits of the Holy Spirit manifested at Pentecost and in the life of believers; things like: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness; qualities such as: generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.  The men and women who make up “the Church” exhibit those sort of fruits of the Holy Spirit.  That’s an effect of Pentecost.

There are some other effects, too.  In our Profession of Faith, our Creed we profess a belief in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”  Those are four “defining characteristics” of the Church. 

The Church is “one.”  The Holy Spirit binds all believers into a single body, a body with many parts but, nonetheless, a single body.  And not only here on earth, but also in heaven.  The Church is the “communion of saints,” the community of all the people of God.

The Church is “holy.”  It’s not just another group of people; it’s a group of people who are consecrated to God, living a particular way of life, living a particular set of core values inspired by the Spirit of God.  And it’s a pretty big group, too!

The Church is “catholic” (little “c”).  We heard how “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”  The Church is huge!  It’s also incredibly diverse—that’s what the word “catholic” means; it means “according to the whole,” or “encompassing the whole of everything.”  The Church is in every country of the world; the gospel is spoken in countless languages.  There’s room in the Church for everybody, from the best of saints to the worst of sinners, and everybody in between.  The Church is “catholic.”  It’s one of our defining characteristics, inspired at Pentecost by the Holy Spirit.

And, lastly, the Church is “apostolic,” in two ways.  The Church is “sent out,” the Church is “apostolic.”  At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit compelled the community of believers to step out from behind their closed door and preach Christ to the world.  The Church is missionary, it’s apostolic; it’s “sent out.”

But the Church is also “apostolic” in that it’s built on the foundation of the Apostles.  Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, Jude, Simon, and Matthias—and Paul, as well.  Their writings and actions aren’t trivial to us; they’re fundamental.  They’re kind of like those who wrote the US Constitution.  What they say is foundational; they’re our chief shepherds, aside from Christ himself.  It’s why we take seriously the guidance of our bishops and popes, who are successors to the Apostles.    

These are all effects of that first Pentecost: a church that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in character.  When you think about all these (and more) that the Holy Spirit does in creating and sustaining “the Church,” you can see why the question of having baptisms during Mass is a great question.

Why do we have baptisms during Mass?  Because the bishops have said so.  They write (in the Rite of Baptism): “On Sunday, baptism may be celebrated even during Mass, so that the entire community may be present and the relationship between Baptism and Eucharist may be clearly seen.”  It’s actually pretty simple.  And it doesn’t matter if we agree or not.  We’re an apostolic Church, and so we give more weight to the bishops’ thoughts on this, rather than to our own. 

Why do we have baptisms during Mass?  Because “day by day the Lord adds to their number those who are being saved.”  The Church is catholic, and welcomes everybody and anybody to follow the ways of the Lord.  And, as the Rite of Baptism says, “The Christian community welcomes [these people] with great joy.” 

Why do we have baptisms during Mass?   Because the Church is one.  Baptism is “the door to the Church.”  And the Church is holy.  We’re not just another group of people; we’re a group of people consecrated to the Lord through baptism, confirmation, and eucharist.  Baptism reminds us all exactly to whom we have dedicated our lives.  It reminds us why we’re at the altar of God, celebrating the Eucharist in the first place.

There’s a whole bunch of reasons why we celebrate baptism during Mass.  And they all go back to that first Pentecost, when that little community of believers was transformed into the Church.  The Holy Spirit inspired them to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.  And they became one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. 

We baptize during Mass, in the context of the Eucharist and with the Church present because, well, it’s just something the Church does.  It’s one of our core values: to see and to celebrate the growth of the Church; to welcome into our lives all those many people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Homily for 2 June 2017

2 June 2017

As disciples of Christ, what Jesus says to Peter can certainly be applied to us; the call to self-denial and being good caretakers of our brothers and sisters.  If we’re going to actually be followers and students of the Lord, then what Jesus says to Peter applies to us as well.  And yet, at the same time, there’s a difference. 

And the difference is that before we’re sent to be Christ for others, others were sent to be Christ for us first.  As much as the Lord Jesus is our Teacher, the Apostles are, too; especially Peter.  In the gospel today we don’t see the commissioning of a fellow sheep in the flock; we see the formation of another shepherd for the flock.  There’s the difference.

We’re certainly called by the Lord to go out and bring his grace to others.  But even before that we’re called to receive his grace ourselves, from those he has sent to us.  It’s good every now and then to recall those men and women who have been shepherds for us.  Of course, there’s our bishop and the pope.  There are also giants in the world of spirituality: St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, St. Francis, our Blessed Mother.

Many people gave their lives to the Lord so they could lead us to him.  As we gather at the altar today to offer a sacrifice of thanks to God, we can also give thanks for all those shepherds who’ve shown us the way to the altar in the first place.