Saturday, July 29, 2017

Homily for 30 July 2017

30 July 2017
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Every now and then we step back and evaluate our life.  Some of us do that when our birthday comes around, or maybe it’s an anniversary.  Maybe it’s when someone we know passes away.  Or sometimes it’s just when we can “feel it in our bones” that something in life has to change.  Whenever it happens, and however it happens, it’s just something that we do: we step back and see if our life is on track.

And that usually involves some sort of reflection on our priorities—you know: What’s important in life?  What are our guiding principles?  What do we believe is ultimately important for eternity and for everyday life?  Here, as a people of faith it seems like a good idea to reflect on this at this particular time of year, with our new council members starting soon, parish planning and discussions happening, with our youth coming back from the Steubenville Conference in St. Louis and all “on fire” with their faith. 

This seems like a good time of the year to step back and see where our priorities are: Is our life of faith on track?  And it just so happens that the idea of “priorities” is also a common thread in all our Scripture readings today. 

We hear that Solomon’s priorities were focused on God: relying on God, asking for wisdom and understanding so that he could be a genuine instrument of God to his people.  And then the parables of Jesus these past three weeks have been trying to steer our priorities toward the “kingdom of heaven.”  He’s interested in helping us to buy into the idea that the kingdom of God is a priority.  Of course, we already do—otherwise we wouldn’t be here. 

The psalm talks about the “commands of God,” and how they bring light and understanding.  People who can really sing that psalm—in their hearts, anyway—see God’s leadership and his being the Good Shepherd as a priority.  And then there’s St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he says that “all things work for the good for those who love God.”  In other words, he’s saying: “Keep God as a priority, and all of life—even the challenges—can be a source for good.”

So I could make this homily really, really short today as just say what we already know: God is important, faith is important, they need to be a priority if we’re interested in living a good life.  And we can always—myself included—we can always be better about keeping God more front and center in life.  

So I could end there.  You know, we already know that God should be a priority.  After all, he’s God.  And that’s why the Church exists: We’re a people who value God as the beginning and fulfillment of our life.  We know that.  We put our faith into practice; we love God.  But the question is: How can we do it more, how can we do it better?  And that’s a question of making our priorities real and not theoretical; letting God actually change us and guide us—always for the better, always into a deeper experience of life.

And this challenge of making our priorities actual is at the heart of all our discussions in the parish about where we’re going.  It’s behind the question of our buildings.  It’s behind the questions about money and finances.  It’s behind our questions about what it means to be “united.”  When it comes to vocations, it’s a question of priorities.  We changed the name of our faith formation program from “Religious Education” to “Discipleship Formation” because it’s a matter of priorities; we’re not just teaching kids facts about God and faith—we’re hopefully leading them to encounter the living God as the priority in their life, and to be his disciples.

Everything we do as a people of faith is a question of priorities: What are they, and are they in a good order?

This past week I got an email from someone who was passing along what she had heard from someone else—that Father listens a lot, but he doesn’t hear.  Let me translate that for you: “Father listens a lot, but he’s doing what we want him to do.”  The only reason I can translate that is because I have that mindset, too, sometimes.  I say to myself: “It’d be so much easier if people would do what I want…And if they don’t do it, then they’re not listening to me.”  Right?  I imagine a good number of us have that thought go through our head sometimes.

It’s a question of priorities.  I’m here to do God’s will, and to help restore right relationship between God and his people.  That’s my priority.  Of course, sometimes—too many times—other things take priorities.  There are lots of things in the parish to distract us from doing God’s work.  It’s kind of ironic, actually.

Or there’s the question of what it means to be “united.”  I’ve heard that: In order for us to be united we all have to be at one altar, not three different ones.  Now, on the one hand, it’s true.  The altar is a symbol of Christ, and there’s only one Christ.  And, really, that’s what we hope for in heaven: the entire community of the angels, saints, and holy ones gathered around (and within) the one God, enjoying an eternal feast of divine love and life.  So there’s something to the idea of the “one altar” being that which unites us.

But, of course, that’s the vision of heaven.  And God hasn’t ushered in that reality yet.  Instead, he’s given us his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is our point of unity—the living Son of God.  And he is present in every place, all around the world, at this very moment.  What makes us “united” is the Spirit of Christ within us, the “living stones” in the Temple of his Body.

And God has inspired Christians for the past two thousand years to built altars here, there, and everywhere, so that Christ can come to his people here, there, and everywhere.  Christ himself is the Unifer, not matter where in the world we are.  Over in Kaukauna they have altars.  Down in Oshkosh they have altars, too.  In California there are altars, in Mexico, in Africa, in Rome there are altars.  Millions of altars all around the world.  But it’s the same Christ who is present at each one.  He is the Unifer; the golden thread that keeps them all together.  Again, it’s a matter of priorities: Is the living Spirit of Christ the priority, or is the physical symbol of Christ, the altar, the priority?

Everything we do as a people of faith is a question of priorities: What are they, and are they in good order?

Take the sports field for example.  Good sportsmanship is a priority.  Athletic ability and determination are priorities.  Being a supportive teammate is a priority.  Respecting the rules of the game is a priority.  And they all reflect, to one degree or another, the greater priority of doing what is right.  Sports are an opportunity to practice those Godly virtues of: justice, patience, charity, goodwill.  They’re an opportunity to keep physically and mentally fit, intentionally respecting God’s gift of the body and mind.

There are several priorities in sports.  But they’re grounded in that deeper priority of being a disciple of what’s right and just.

Or say you’re out in the work force.  Well, commitment to the task is a priority.  Having skills and honing those skills is a priority.  Doing quality work is a priority, and not taking a paycheck for shoddy effort.  Investing your time and energy into the work is a priority.  Again, they’re all a reflection of that deeper priority within us to love God and “love his commands,” as the psalm says today.

If we’re struggling with something at home, in the parish, at school, at work, out in the fields…it’s always an admirable thing to stop and pray: “God, what am I doing?  I have no idea what I’m doing, Lord, so help me.”  Just like Solomon prayed: “Lord, I don’t know how to lead these people.  You have to help me.”  (That’s the basic prayer of any parish priest.)  And then get on with life, and let God do his thing—in his time and in his way.

In our minds, we know that God is a priority for us.  We know that faith and Church are priorities for us.  The challenge is to make it real; to let the Holy Spirit actually change us and guide us.  And that’s not easy.  In fact, it’s the hardest (and most deeply joyful) work we human beings will ever do—to rediscover God as “the one thing necessary” in life, and to let the Spirit and the priorities of God influence our spirit and our priorities.

So I could’ve ended the homily earlier, but not really.  That’s because it’s one thing to know that God is our light and our salvation.  It’s another thing, however, to live our priorities; and to stop every now and then and ask: Are my priorities where they should be?  Do I really “love the commands of the Lord,” as we sang today, or are they just words?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Homily for 27 July 2017

27 July 2017

Conversion of heart and mind is not easy.  And, let’s face it, sometimes it doesn’t sound all that attractive either.  Maybe that’s why Jesus quotes Isaiah: “They will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they...understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them.”  He knows that what he offers humanity is a hard path—a joyful path, for sure: a path of love, peace, wisdom, mercy, and so on, but nonetheless, a hard path to follow.

Jesus knows that people don’t always want to get that close to him, for fear that he’ll require them (us) to change some of our ways, some of our habits.  Sometimes, conversion is about as attractive as the idea of going on a diet, or starting an exercise program, or realizing that it’s cleaning day at home and you’re not really in the mood.  Conversion to the ways of Jesus takes work; it takes commitment and it requires at least some change in the way we live.  And so, conversion is hard thing to sell, even to the crowds who follow Jesus around.

And so, God puts mentors in our lives to inspire us along the path of personal conversion.  God gave Moses to the ancient Israelites; also Joshua, David, Solomon, the prophets, and so on.  God gives us also the Apostles, saints from around the world, modern-day saints, friends and neighbors.  God puts holy men and women into our lives to help inspire down the path of conversion.

And so, it’s good to consider: What mentors has God put into my own life?  Who has he given me to be a source of inspiration?  Maybe a spiritual writer or a saint, a coworker or a family member.  Conversion of heart and mind is not easy; God knows it’s better not to go it alone.  Who has God put into our lives as companions on the journey?—the journey down the sometimes difficult path of conversion.

Homily for 26 July 2017

26 July 2017

Today we celebrate the memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary.  And this seems to be a case of “holiness by association.”  We don’t really know that much about Joachim and Anne—we’re not even entirely sure if those were their names.  We only know for certain that they were the mother and father of Saint Mary.

And so, we have to assume that if the child they raised became the Mother of God, then they themselves must have been extraordinary in holiness.  The only “proof” of that is the holiness of their child, our Blessed Mother.  There’s the expression: “A tree is known by its fruits.”  And, in this case, “the parents are known through their child.”

As we consider that we ourselves are children of God, how we act, what we say, what we do all has a reflection on God.  People can know God through us; sometimes that’s the only way they encounter God—through our actions and words.  That’s why there can’t be any “cranky Christians,” or merciless Christians; because that would give others the wrong idea of who God is.

The parent is known through the child; God is known to others through his children.  May we do God proud in how we live our lives.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Homily for 25 July 2017

25 July 2017
Feast of St. James the Apostle

“Everything is indeed for you,” St. Paul writes.  Everything that he and the Apostles endured was “for you,” for us.  St. James the Apostle learned from the Lord, he experience the Transfiguration firsthand, he was brought deeper into the Garden of Gethsemane by the Lord, he traveled to other countries in his missionary work to spread the Gospel, and he was eventually beheaded.  He’s also said to have appeared in various battles, riding atop a horse to help defeat the enemies of Christ.

“Everything is indeed for you,” St. James could have said, just as much as St. Paul said it.  James took the Lord’s example to heart when he said, “The Son of Man came to serve, not to be served.”  The Gospel, the “good news” today, it seems, is that there are still people around who are striving (and even dying) to show us the way of Christ.

Whether those are teachers of the faith like our popes or bishops, or the examples of the modern-day Christian martyrs in the Middle East, or the random person who shows an act of Christian kindness and mercy, the good news is that there are still people around today who can say, “Everything is indeed for you.” 

And, of course, we have the Eucharist, that perpetual reminder from God that everything—everything—is indeed given for us.  In the face of that, what else can we say but, “Thank you.”  What else can we do but offer a sacrifice of praise.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Homily for 23 July 2017

23 July 2017
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”  We hear that at the start of every Mass.  And it’s basically a reminder that what we’re in search of, what we’re hoping for as Christians, is rather hidden.  We hear a lot about the “kingdom of heaven” in Scripture today.  But that kingdom isn’t going to just jump out at us; we have to be attentive and look for it.

And so, we acknowledge our sins.  We acknowledge that, no, we don’t give as much effort as we should in being attentive to the kingdom of heaven.  We acknowledge that, yes, we substitute other things for the kingdom of heaven; things that are easier to attain, things that are more obvious and pleasurable.  We acknowledge our sins, and admit that the kingdom of heaven takes effort to find, because so much of it is hidden.

Heaven isn’t going to just hit us in the face.  After all, what we celebrate are “sacred mysteries.”  That doesn’t mean that heaven can’t be known; it just means that God has to reveal it to us.  And he does.  But God speaks in a very quiet voice.  And he’s speaking about things which we’re only vaguely aware of, which makes it doubly difficult to understand him.

And that’s why at the start of every Mass we “acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”  We get quiet again, and focused again, so we can go deeper into what God wants to show us: the sacred and hidden kingdom of heaven, here in the Mass, and out in everyday life.

All of our readings today come back to this idea of “hiddenness.”  For instance, the weeds that are sown in with the wheat aren’t just any weeds; they’re zizania (or tares) which are almost identical to wheat.  They grow hidden among the wheat, and vice versa, the wheat grows hidden among the weeds.   

And then there’s the mustard plant seed, the smallest of all seeds.  It’s so small that it’s easily overlooked and underestimated.  It sort of falls into the category of being “hidden.”  Then we have the yeast which is mixed in with the flour.  It becomes “hidden” within the bread dough, and it can’t be removed.

In the Book of Wisdom, we hear about God and his “might” or power.  But we also hear how God uses his power not to be “big,” but to be “small;” to be lenient and merciful, and kind.  Just like Jesus being born in the manger, God could act with boldness, but he chooses to act quietly, subtly, and with “hiddenness.”

And then, finally, in the letter of Paul to the Romans, he speaks of the longings of the human heart; longings for the kingdom of heaven which generally lie hidden within us; longings which can’t be put into words but which we nonetheless feel in moments of quiet restlessness.

All of our readings today come back to this idea of “hiddenness.”  But that’s so often where the kingdom of heaven is.  It’s in the mysterious, the hidden, the overlooked and understated.  We would say the kingdom of heaven is revealed in the ordinariness of life, in the smallness of life, in the day-to-day activities of life.  The trick is to not let the day-to-day become an end in and of itself.  When that happens, we could be on the edge of the kingdom of heaven, and yet completely miss it.

“Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries;”—emphasis on that word “prepare.”  If we’re going to go digging for buried treasure, we need the right tools.  And the first tool we need is a healthy appreciation of the hiddenness of what we’re looking for.  Again, the kingdom isn’t going to hit us in the face; it’s much more subtle than that.

Take the parables that Jesus speaks today: we see that the kingdom of heaven is characterized by such things as: goodness (the man sowed “good” seeds); it’s characterized by community (the man had helpers), but there’s a hierarchy within the community (after all, the helpers call him “Master” and we are talking about a “king”-dom).  In the kingdom of heaven there’s: truth, clemency, wisdom and patience, trust, justice, security and belonging. 

From the parable of the mustard seed and yeast, we see that the kingdom of heaven is characterized by potential (that’s what the seed symbolizes), but potential which is always coming into being.  In other words, heaven is a place of overabundance.  It’s a hearty way of life, one which is home to the “birds of the sky,” or to put it more poetically, the kingdom is home to “creatures of the heavens.”

And, like yeast, the kingdom of heaven is a powerful agent for change and growth.  And once it’s mixed in with life, it’s there to stay.  The kingdom of heaven is permanent.  And lastly from the parables, we see that the kingdom of heaven is more than is imaginable.  What we experience of the kingdom now is like the size of a mustard seed.  But the size differential between the mustard seed and the mustard plant is a symbol of how much greater heaven is in its fullness, than what we can experience of it now.  In other words, there’s a warning of a sort, not to underestimate the potential of the kingdom of heaven.

When you think about it, all these characteristics of the kingdom of heaven are actually pretty ordinary: goodness, community, hierarchy, truth, wisdom, mercy, security, belonging, and so on.  The kingdom of heaven is “hidden in place sight.”  But that’s where preparedness and faith come in.  “Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

With faith and preparedness, we begin to see the ordinariness of life as what it is: little bits of the kingdom of heaven revealing itself to us.  For instance, when we experience kindness, there’s a little bit of heaven.  Now, we can either brush it off, or just be too busy to notice it.  But we’ll have missed an invitation from God to go deeper.  And by “going deeper,” we mean acknowledging that kindness, thanking God for it, and just simply enjoying it for a moment.

Or what about when we realize that a truth has been spoken to us.  Maybe it’s a truth we don’t want to hear.  Again, we can either brush it off, or just ignore it.  But we’ll have overlooked the kindness and mercy of God who wants to help.  And a little bit of the kingdom of heaven will have passed us by.  Again, the kingdom is subtle and understated.  But even if we miss it, or rather, “when” we miss it—because we’re going to miss it from time to time—the kingdom of heaven keeps revealing itself to us.  Like Jesus, heaven will gently, but persistently knock on the door of our hearts and minds.

The other day, I learned that someone had been knocking on the door at the rectory.  But I was in another room, and they knocked very quietly, so I didn’t hear it.  When heaven knocks, let’s hope that we’re attentive enough, that we’re quiet enough, to notice it, and let it in.  All those little moments of experiencing goodness, kindness, mercy, justice, companionship, truth, and so on; all those little, quiet, almost hidden moments are actually very important.  It’s heaven, it’s God asking, “Can I come and stay with you today?”

And that’s what we have here in the Mass.  The signs and symbols of the kingdom of heaven are more obvious than out in daily life.  But they’re still rather ordinary and understated.

Bread and wine?; they’re pretty ordinary.  Even after they’re consecrated, they still look and taste like bread and wine.  The Sign of Peace?; it looks like a bunch of people shaking hands.  The readings from Scripture?: they’re pretty ordinary words printed on ordinary paper, spoken by your neighbor; it’s all pretty usual on the outside.  And so, it’s also pretty easy to overlook those little bits of the kingdom of heaven right in front of us.

The Eucharist, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ given to us as food from the heavenly realm.  The Sign of Peace, an image of the peace among the Communion of Angels and Saints in the kingdom of heaven.  And the Word of God spoken to us, the very same, living Word that from before time began was with God and brought all things into being in heaven and on earth. 

But it takes awareness and faith to see and to appreciate the subtle presence of the kingdom of heaven among us.  Jesus said, “I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.”  He came to open up the gates of heaven to us.  And, truly, heaven does come to us.  But it’s as small as a mustard seed; easy to overlook and underestimate.  It’s hidden among the wheat and the weeds.  It’s powerful and permanent, like yeast; even though it’s in with the mix. 

The kingdom of heaven is subtle, almost hidden.  But it’s here.  If you listen closely, and look with faith, you’ll see it.  It’s here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Homily for 21 July 2017

21 July 2017

We hear in the psalm that: “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.”  It’s an odd pairing, the words “precious” and “death.”  But here’s where the cross is important to remember.  God is not sadistic; he’s not mean or cruel.  He simply takes delight in those who are true to him, who are faithful to him, no matter what comes their way.

For the Lord Jesus, his fidelity to the Father led him to the cross.  The cross wasn’t necessarily precious to the Lord, but rather, his insurmountable love of the Father was precious. 

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we see death in three ways.  Of course, there’s the obvious physical death.  But there’s also spiritual death (where someone rejects God entirely and refuses to live with faith, hope, and charity).  And then there’s self-giving, other-centered, selfless love.  That’s the third kind of death: putting my own desires at the service of God’s desires; letting God be number one in my life, being faithful to his good Will.

“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones;” emphasis on the word “faithful.”  Fidelity is precious to the Lord.  And fidelity requires us to practice self-sacrificial love; that is, “death.”  Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the . . . fidelity and selfless love . . . of his faithful ones.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Homily for 20 July 2017

20 July 2017

The psalm today inspires us to “recall the wondrous deeds” the Lord has done.  And, of course, the temptation there is to focus on what the Lord has done for “me.”  But, really, as a people—as a community—of faith, we look beyond ourselves to get a bigger picture of all the “wondrous deeds” the Lord has done.

We can look at the story of Moses, and how God chose him to free the Israelites from misery in Egypt.  We can look at how God led his people through the desert, and purified their hearts and minds to lead them into the promised land.

Or we can do what the psalm does—we can remember the covenant God made with all humanity.  He did that with Noah (remember the rainbow), and with Abraham, and with David.  Of course, that very same covenant was renewed through the Passion of Christ.  It’s a “wondrous deed” that God, the Ancient One, the Creator of all that is wanted to be in a covenantal relationship with human beings; with each one of us individually.

We can look at our neighbors who prosper, or our friends and family who are blessed with children and grandchildren.  And then there are all the many gifts God bestows on people: artists and musicians, writers and poets, engineers and laborers, mothers and fathers, and so on and so on.  And, of course, we can look at the created world and see an overabundance of God’s handiwork.

The psalm today inspires us to “recall the wondrous deeds” the Lord has done—not just for “me,” but all around.  Happily, whenever someone else is blessed, so, too, are we, because we’re all members of the one Body.  And when one member of the Body is blessed, the entire Body is blessed.  And so, thanks be to God especially for the wondrous deed of having called each of us to be a part of the one Body, the community of the faithful, the Church. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Homily for 19 July 2017

19 July 2017

Moses went to see the burning bush.  But he didn’t go over there looking for God; he just went over to look at a bush.  He went out of curiosity—you know, it’s not every day that you see a bush on fire, and the flame isn’t burning up anything.  So he went over to check it out.  And that’s when he stumbled upon God.

Moses took a few steps toward the seemingly impossible, toward the mysterious, and that’s when he encountered God.

Of course, we live in an age where humans like to think we have the universe figured out.  We don’t often hear about the mysteries of the universe, or the mysteries of the world, or the mysteries of faith.  And that’s too bad, because our growth in faith almost depends on a healthy appreciation of the mysterious, the unknown, and the curiosities of life.

Jesus praised the Father because “although [he had] hidden these things from the wise and the learned, [he had] revealed them to the childlike.”  Moses was being like a little child when he went to check out that burning bush.  And if we want to encounter God, a good place to start seems to be remember what it’s like to be a child—a curious child.

We look at birth, we look at death, and we wonder: What’s going on there?  How does that work?  We hear the words of Scripture and might say: Huh?  I don’t get it.  We come to the altar and we’re told this is part of the heavenly banquet that we’re sharing in.  The wise may say, “I don’t think so.”  But the childlike say, “Tell me more.”

Blessed are the pure of heart, the curious and childlike of heart: for they will see God.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Homily for 14 July 2017

14 July 2017

Suffering is so often a part of life.  We see it in our readings today.  Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers at a young age.  And both he and his father, Jacob/Israel, suffered the pains of loss and separation.  Jesus today instructs his apostles very bluntly that they will end up suffering in their efforts to spread the gospel.  And the saint we remember today, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, suffered with smallpox; she suffered under the demands that she get married; she suffered the loss of her parents; she suffered ridicule when she converted to the Catholic faith.

And, of course, we know about suffering as well.  We have our physical aches and pains, our emotional aches and pains.  We suffer when loved ones are ill, and when they pass on.  We suffer other things more mundane, like heat and humidity and bad weather for the crops.  We suffer the injustice of our neighbors, perhaps.

Suffering is so often a part of life.  But it doesn’t mean that God has left us.  It doesn’t mean that God is not almighty, or that he is not the good and gracious God that he is.  Perhaps suffering is just a reminder that we’re not in heaven yet.  Maybe suffering is something that’s meant to keep us from getting too comfortable now, so that we don’t forget about what where we’re going, and what we hope for in the end.

As we know very well, suffering can be a spring board to holiness.  It’s why we put our heroes on pedestals: people who fought in wars and undercut evil in the world; people who suffered in the arena of politics for the good of others; people who took one for the team, for the sake of others and even ourselves.  It’s why we admire the saints who suffered, and yet still triumphed.  It’s why we venerate the Cross and celebrate the Resurrection in the same breath.  Suffering can be a spring board to holiness.

Suffering in and of itself is just suffering.  But suffering with hope can be redemptive.  And so, as much as suffering is a part of life, hope must also be a part of life.  Suffering challenges our spirit of hope, and hope keeps our suffering in check.  Together, however, they take us to where we want to go: to heaven, to the breast of God, where there is no suffering, but only life in abundance, and the fulfillment of our hopes and all our longings. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Homily for 13 July 2017

13 July 2017

Love of neighbor is a basic commandment; it runs throughout Scripture.  And by “neighbor” we don’t necessarily mean people we know.  More often than not Scripture views a “neighbor” as someone we don’t know.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we hear: “Do not forget to show love to strangers, for by doing so some have unknowingly entertained angels” (13:2).  In the Book of Leviticus we hear: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as a native-born among you” (19:34).  The Book of Exodus says: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (22:21).  Psalm 146: “The Lord protects the stranger” (vs 9).

And, of course, there is the Great Commandment of the Lord to love our neighbors as though they’re ourselves.  There’s the story of the Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, Jesus’ reaching out to those who were sick, wounded, forgotten, or despised.

Love of neighbor is a basic commandment; it runs throughout Scripture.  It’s in our readings today about Joseph and his brothers, and Jesus’ having sent out his apostles.  Only here, Scripture talks more about the consequences of being inhospitable.

As we know, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery.  He was their own flesh-and-blood, and they weren’t exactly hospitable to him.  But when the truth came, Joseph was merciful to them—even though his first concern was for his father’s well-being, not his brothers’.  And then there were the apostles, sent not to foreign lands, but to their own people; to their own flesh-and-blood.  Only the consequence here of being inhospitable was to be something worse than what had happened to Sodom and Gomorrah; not much mercy involved there.

Of course, none of us loves our neighbors perfectly.  But the intention is what matters.  If our intention is to love our neighbors, to be hospitable to those we meet, even if we do that imperfectly there’s no doubt that God will overlook the failings because he sees the intention in our heart.  That’s why Joseph’s brothers were shown mercy; they weren’t bad people, they were still learning.

Love of neighbor is a basic commandment; however, it can be a tough one to follow.  But as long as we’re trying, and we have that intention in our heart, everything will be okay—for us, and for the strangers and angels among us.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Homily for 12 July 2017

12 July 2017

Jesus gave his Twelve apostles “authority over unclean spirits;” even to Judas Iscariot he gave that authority.  Judas himself had the God-given power to drive demons away, to “cure every disease and every illness.”  But, from what we know of him and his activities, it doesn’t appear that Judas ever used that power. 

It’s similar to the parable of the talents.  God gives to each of us certain gifts and strengths.  And by virtue of our having been baptized, and our sharing in the Eucharist, he also gives us a certain “authority” over evil, despair, hopelessness, and sin.  God puts the tools for living well right into our hands.  He simply asks that we use them, and not let them go to waste.

It’s as if God has given us each a bucket of seeds, and he’s said, “Now, go make good things happen.”  Well, we wouldn’t want them to go to rot, so we put those seeds to good use.  In a similar way, God gives us the power and the ability—for example—to trust him.  But if we never use that power, we’ll never know what it’s like to be a disciple of the Lord.  We’ll never know what real hope and love are.  And we’ll never be able to convince others that faith in God is a good thing.

Our own personal growth and the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven depend a lot on us using the gifts and the powers God has given us.  We’re not God, of course.  But, we do have a part to play in his vision.  Each of the apostles had a role to play in the Kingdom.  And so, we have to ask: What’s my role?  What’s your role?  We each have one. 

God gives a mission to each one of us.  May he give us the wisdom to know what it is, and the strength to do it—for our good, the good of others, and for his glory.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Homily for 9 July 2017

9 July 2017
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord.  And he’s speaking to those who labor to the point of exhaustion, whether physically or mentally.  He’s speaking to those who are not just burdened, but heavily burdened and weighed down.  It’s very possible he could be speaking to us.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 18.1% of the U.S. adult population deals with anxiety in some form or another.  That’s about 40 million people.  They also report that 25.1% of teens (13-18 year olds) deal with anxiety in some form or another.  Of course, anxiety is a part of life that comes and goes, and sometimes it’s even a good thing.  But for these adults and teens, anxiety is burden beyond the average; it’s a labor that exhausts both body and mind.

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord.  Maybe he’s speaking to those of us who are exhausted by the heavy weight of anxiety.

Or what about those of us who have a fear of death and dying.  Back in Victorian times, death was more commonly accepted as a part of life.  Of course, at that time, people didn’t always live as long as we do today; infant mortality rates were quite high—anywhere from 15 to 50%, depending on living conditions.  And people saw mourning as a process, with rituals and customs, and there was no rush to get through it.  That’s all very different from today.

Today, we live in an age of youth, vitality, health, and vibrancy.  And death is a threat to all of that.  Old age is a threat, sickness and frailty are a threat, funerals and mourning are a threat.  How many of us are burdened by the realization that, someday, death will catch up to us. 

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord.  Maybe he’s speaking to those of us who are exhausted over our fear of death, and our efforts to deny it.

And then, lastly, what about those of us who are worn down by the seemingly endless discussions and debates about church buildings and Mass times.  It takes a lot of energy to fight any battle, and that’s no less the case when it comes to tension over parish-related questions.  Of course, some people thrive on that tension; but that’s for another homily.

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord.  Maybe he’s speaking to those of us who labor within the dynamics of any human community; in this case, the parish.  But it could also be the family, or at work, or at school.

This invitation from the Lord to come to him is truly “good news,” especially today when so many of us labor and are burdened to the point of physical or mental exhaustion.  Whether that’s because of anxiety, or fear, or the desire that life would be more clear cut and simple, the Lord’s invitation is like a cool drink on a hot summer day; it’s like collapsing on your bed after a long day.  “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord.

But, you know, the thing about our anxiety and fears and frustrated desires is that they’re just going to be there until something in life changes.  An afternoon nap can be refreshing, but unless we take care of what makes us tired in the first place, we’re going to have to keep taking those naps; we’re always going to be just a little bit too burdened.  And that’s why Jesus goes on to say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”

Whatever labors and burdens we carry around, Jesus doesn’t want to just speaking soothing words to us; he also wants to help us actually lighten our load.  And so, he invites us to “learn from him.”  We can find comfort and rest in Jesus himself, but we’ll have a deeper transformation if we take on the character of Jesus, and become like him

Jesus is, as we heard, “meek and humble of heart.”  And that’s what he wants to teach us: how to be meek and humble of heart ourselves, because apparently that’s the remedy for those of us who labor and are burdened.

Our reading today from the Prophet Zechariah is pretty instructive on this.  He points out that the Messiah was to come in on a donkey, an animal whose whole purpose is to work; it’s a working animal.  It was also viewed in ancient times as an animal of peace; an animal that’s mild, gentle, and dignified, with a calm sense of confidence.  But then Zechariah contrasts the donkey with the horse, an animal whose purpose, at the time, was focused on war and aggression; it’s an animal for battle.

But, if you notice, Zechariah writes that the Messiah (riding on a donkey) will “banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.”  In a world where the expectation is that people will be strong and fierce, aggressive and warlike, like a horse, Jesus comes along and says, “No, be like a donkey, an animal that’s more like me: meek and humble of heart.”

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” says the Lord.  And that’s a key phrase: “Learn from me;” learn to be meek and humble, and your labors and burdens will be lightened.  Of course, being meek and humble aren’t really values of our society today.  They kind of go against what we so often hear is important; things like vitality, health, vibrancy, and strength.

But to be meek is to be strong.  To be meek is to be vital and healthy, and even vibrant—but in a quiet, self-assured sort of way.  To be meek is to be at peace with oneself, to be self-confident without worrying if we’re matching up to somebody else’s expectations. 

When you think about it, how much of our “labors and burdens” are about trying to be who and what other people expect us to be?  How much of our “labors and burdens” come from us trying to be something or someone that we are not?  I think of teens, especially, here, but adults aren’t immune from the pressures to be like everybody else.  It’s much less work to just accept our personal strengths and weakness as what they are, and go with that.

To be meek is to be strong, and vital and healthy, and even vibrant—but in a quiet, self-assured sort of way.  Just think of all the anxiety and fear that could be done away with if we just accepted who we are, and accepted the reality of life and death, so that we could just get on with living.  Jesus never said to go out and be in competition with everybody.  He never said go out and scramble to be the best, or to win the acclaim and the esteem of others.  No, he just said, “Be like me, be meek and humble of heart.”  That’s all.  Be like a donkey that just quietly goes about its work, at peace within itself.

And with meekness goes that humbleness of heart.  Again, humility isn’t something our world values too much today.  Instead we hear the message—the expectation—to be entirely self-reliant, strong, and always galloping toward success after success, win after win.  But it’s hard to be at peace, it’s hard to be at rest, when we’re in a constant state of trying to outdo someone else, or when we feel it’s our personal mission to see our vision of the church come to be.  It takes a lot of energy to keep that up, and it keeps us in a constant state of agitation. 

To be humble of heart is to put God first, and to give our neighbors the benefit of the doubt and love them.  To be humble of heart means I don’t have to everything; it’s an admission that I can’t do everything.  I need other people, and other people have something valuable to offer me.  And so, like meekness, to be humble of heart is to be quietly strong, inwardly strong and at rest.

Now, this advice from Jesus our Teacher about being meek and humble isn’t all that popular.  But he’s not going to change it to make it popular, because he’s not in competition with what others think.  He himself is meek and humble of heart; his teaching is what it is, whether or not we follow it.  If we find ourselves to be “labored and heavily burdened,” it’s worth it to “learn from the Lord” another way of life, the ways of quiet self-assuredness and greater dependence on God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

After all, that’s the way of the Spirit.  As St. Paul says, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”  The Spirit of Christ is meekness and humility.  And if that Spirit is part of us, then we can let go of our labors and burdens, and discover life again.

We can let go of what others think of us, and all that gives us anxiety.  We can let go of our fears about death and dying.  We can let go of having our thoughts dominated by buildings and Mass times.  If the Spirit of Christ is part of us, then we can let go of our labors and burdens, and discover life again.

“Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest,” says the Lord.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.”  What a beautiful gospel passage that is, and what “good news” that is for us who need to hear it.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Homily for 7 July 2017

7 July 2017

Not too many people like to go to the doctor.  Unless it’s just a regular checkup, if we’re at the doctor’s office it probably means that something isn’t right.  And, I suppose, as we sit here in church, it’s kind of like we’re sitting in the doctor’s office.  Only the doctor we’re coming to see is the best.

I mean, he has a way of telling us that we’re “sick,” but somehow it’s not depressing, but reassuring.  We’re sin-sick people, and we know it; thanks be to God.  It’s good to know the truth about ourselves; it’s good that Jesus reveals our weaknesses to us.  But, more importantly, he reveals the truth that we’re each lovable and acceptable to God. 

Jesus is the best of the best, when it comes to doctors.  He examines us, and tells us the truth about ourselves, and it’s wonderful to hear what he has to say.  He’s the kind of doctor we want to come back to again and again.  Other people “out there” may focus only on our faults and failures.  God sees all that in us, of course.  He knows full well that we’re imperfect sinners.  But God focuses more deeply on the reality that we’re his beloved sons and daughters in Christ.  That is most important to him. 

Here, as we sit in the divine doctor’s office, Jesus gives us the medicines of love and mercy.  He knows that’s what we need.  Thanks be to God we’re sitting in the doctor’s office.  It’s so very healing to know we’re in a place where there’s always a place for us at the table.