Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Homily for 31 Oct 2017

31 Oct 2017

“The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us.”  Saint Paul sounds pretty confident about this future “glory.”  And he should be.  After all, he encountered Christ, the King of Glory, who died after suffering the Cross...but rose again and came to him.  Saint Paul had every reason to speak confidently about this future glory that awaits us.  In fact, this is how we Christians understand “hope.” 

Now to Jesus’ listeners, there was no doubt that a mustard seed would grow into a huge plant; there was no doubt that yeast would make dough rise.  And that’s how it is with the Kingdom and the glory of Heaven.  There’s absolutely no doubt that it will come, and that it will be a good and glorious thing when it does.  But this isn’t a matter of faith; it’s a matter of hope.

We Christians are a people of hope, but not just any kind of hope.  We live with “sure and certain” hope.  Even if we don’t know all the details of “the glory to be revealed for us,” there’s no doubt that it will come.  We are “sure and certain” about that.  And we have this confident hope because, like St Paul, we have also encountered Christ.

He’s revealed his glory to us by speaking his divine Word in Scripture, he shares his glory with us in the Eucharist, he lives within us and raises our spirits by the gift of his Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the ages.”  And he is.  He is trustworthy.  If there is glory to come, we believe him.  Our faith in him leads to hope—a confident hope.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Homily for 27 Oct 2017

27 Oct 2017

When Jesus came and lived among people, it was like he was putting a mirror in front of them.  When we look at him, we should see ourselves.  Jesus is our standard.  Often times, though, when we look in the mirror we see a person who falls short of that standard.  And that’s what St Paul saw.

When he looked at himself, he saw his own goodness, but he could also see his sins and weakness.  But his response wasn’t to get down on himself.  Instead, he says, “Thanks be to God.”  Thanks be to God we have our conscience.  Thanks be to God for the gifts of humility and self honesty.  Thanks be to God that he is merciful and loving; in spite of our sins and failings, he still adores his children. 

And that’s different from how other people can sometimes treat us.  How often have we made a mistake, only to have it used against us?  Hence, Jesus’ warning in the gospel today about who we let be our judges.  Others may use our sins against us; God never does. 

St Paul was a sinner, and he knew it.  But he also knew he was loved by God.  God judged him—and he judges us—worthy of his divine affection.  We look at ourselves and we see our own goodness.  We also see our sins, but we don’t dwell on them.  Instead, we dwell on that other image in the mirror, the image of Jesus.  And, like St Paul, we thank God that “while we are yet sinners, he loves us.” 

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.”  Thanks be to God, our loving and merciful judge.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Homily for 24 Oct 2017

24 Oct 2017

“Obedience” has a negative sound to it.  But, really, the word means “to listen;” to listen attentively, and even to have a respectful conversation.  It isn’t about “do or die;” it’s more like: “Be quiet, listen, I have something important to show you.”  And, of course, that’s what God asks of us—to be quieter inside, so we can listen to him...attentively.

It sounds so simple, and yet it is a challenge.  How many of us have thoughts running through our head all day long (it seems)?  How many of us, if something is bothering us, will just let it sit inside us and keep us from being at peace?  And then there’s so much of our culture which expects us to be busy, busy, busy.  It’s a challenge to be quiet in our minds and in our hearts.  But if we want to hear what God has to tell us, it’s a challenge we take up.

The first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is: “Listen...listen, my child, to the precepts of your master Teacher.”  That really is the start of the spiritual life—listening attentively, learning to be quiet inside so we can hear God’s whisperings.  And he whispers sweet things to his friends, sometimes challenging things, but always, always good things.

The next time we go to pray, maybe start with our psalm from today: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.  Here I am, Lord.”  And then be quiet.  Listen.  Let God do the talking.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Homily for 22 Oct 2017

22 Oct 2017
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Chances are, most of us have some money in our pockets; maybe a dollar bill, maybe some change.  And on it are various symbols of our country.  On the dollar bill, for example, there’s the year of our founding, 1776.  There’s the shield with thirteen stripes, signifying the original thirteen states, and then a horizontal bar that connects them, signifying the Federal Government.  There’s the image of George Washington, and then it says who the money belongs to: the Federal Reserve.

But the interesting thing about our American money is that it isn’t just about the country; it also expresses something about God, and the place of God in the fabric of the country.  For example, on the back of the dollar bill, there’s the pyramid—and the all-seeing Eye of God atop it.  And above and below the Eye are two phrases in Latin: “Annuit Coeptis” and “Novus Ordo Seclorum.” 

“Annuit Coeptis” is something like a prayer, asking God to “support this new undertaking;” the formation of a new country.  And “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means “a new order for the ages;” the beginning of the new “American Era.”  A new country had been formed, but it was not to be a country devoid of God; instead, God was its founder and overseer, its guide and judge.  But, in case we miss the Latin and the Eye of God, there’s the very straightforward: “In God We Trust.”

The money we carry in our pockets represents the blending of two worlds: the world of business, money, taxes, regulations, property, and so on; and the world of God.  And our money portrays those two worlds in the right order: God first, and then society.  If Jesus were to look at our American money, he probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.  Our money itself gives to God “what belongs to God;” namely, our trust and the security of our lives.  And it gives to “Caesar” what belongs to “Caesar;” it is “legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

And this blending of these two worlds is one of the life-long activities we engage in as Catholics.  We live in the world—the world of business, money, property, and so on; but we don’t belong to that world.  God is first; we belong to him.  Our citizenship in heaven comes first, and then our citizenship in the world.  And to do that requires some really intentional living on our part.

Last week we talked a little bit about the Post-Modern Era, and the challenges of being a Catholic in this era.  And the first challenge is to keep “the world” and God in their proper balance.  And one of the few places we’re going to find support for doing that is the Church.  Our situation really isn’t that different from when St. Paul was traveling to Greece, helping to form the Church.

His first letter to the Thessalonians we heard from today was written only twelve to fifteen years after the Resurrection.  The Church was as new as a little baby, and it needed a lot of careful nurturing; that’s what Saint Paul was doing on his visits and in his letters.  He was building up the Church in the world, one little community at a time.  And Paul’s activities were vital; the only place those first Christians could find support was among themselves.  The community of faith came first—it had to, and then their life out in the world came second.  They weren’t “Christian Thessalonians,” they were “Thessalonian Christians.” 

We look at ourselves today, and we see that we’re both Christians and Americans, at the same time.  But which comes first?  Where’s our primary allegiance?  To country, or to God?  That’s a question those Thessalonians had to deal with on a daily basis.  And they only had each other as a reminder that God comes first; the life of faith, hope, and love comes first.  Their Christian life shaped how they lived in the world.

The word Saint Paul uses in his letter to describe the community, the Church is “ekklésia.”  It refers, literally, to those who are “called out from” the world by God.  It refers to those who are “assembled” by God, who “stand apart from” the world as a people who have chosen to put God and faith first.  That’s the Church, the “ekklésia.”  And even up to today that’s how we understand ourselves.

In this Post-Modern Era, which tries to abolish God from all areas of life, it’s especially vital that we remember we’re part of the “ekklésia.”  Not only is God not banished from all areas of our life, God is at the center of our life, both as individuals and as a community.  We’re about as anti-Post-Modern as you can get.  But that’s our place in the world today—to be the “ekklésia,” to be a community of faith.

When we go to work or school, and we’re tempted to get involved with the latest gossip, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember, “Oh yeah, gossip goes against the values of my community.”  When it’s the weekend, and we just want to relax or travel, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember, “Oh yeah, we need to go to Church, too; it’s the Sabbath.”

When it comes to election time, or local and national politics are on our minds, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember that, “There is no perfect politician; nobody champions the Catholic faith exactly.”  And when we get into disputes with others in the community, our identity as the “ekklésia” kicks in and we remember, “Oh yeah, this is a brother or sister in Christ; I need to treat them with honesty, with charity and mercy.”

Our identity as a people who’ve been “called out” and “assembled”—by God, doesn’t mean we stop living in the world.  Obviously, we still live in the world.  But we do it a particular way, with particular values and hopes, with a particular kind of love. 

One of the key phrases to come out of the Second Vatican Council was “full, conscious and active participation.”  And it’s used in reference to the liturgy, in particular the Mass.  But we have to stop and ask: “What are we supposed to be participating in?  What exactly are we supposed be doing here?”  But the answer isn’t so much about what we are doing; instead, it’s more about what God is doing.

Why are we here?  Because God has summoned us here.  God has “called us out from” the world, and brought us to himself.  This is a gathering of the “ekklésia.”  And we participate in what God is doing by getting in our cars and coming here.  God “gathers a people to himself,” and we let ourselves be “called out” and gathered by him.

And then God gives himself to us in Scripture and in the Eucharist.  God is at work, trying to make us even more a people grounded in faith, and in hope and love.  God is doing the work here at Mass, and we participate by letting ourselves be influenced and shaped by what we receive.  God is the potter and we participate by being the clay.  But it doesn’t end there.

The “ekklésia,” the Church, is made by God to be a force for good in the world.  At the heart of our life is love of God, and love for one another.  But our interior life as the “ekklésia” spills over into a love of the world, and a desire to see the world become always a better place.  And that sounds very idyllic and nice.  But, as the lives of the martyrs and many of the saints remind us, the “ekklésia” is often met with resistance in the world.

When Jesus went around and preached, there were a lot of people who fell at his feet.  But there were many more who “tried to entrap” him.  Jesus was subversive; he went against anything in culture which was unjust or untrue, anything which was in direct opposition to the values of God’s Kingdom.  He had lots of friends; he had lots of enemies.  He still has lots of friends, and lots of enemies.  And that’s because the “ekklésia,” the community of faith, continues his work in the world even today.

The “full, conscious and active participation” we’re supposed to be involved in doesn’t end when we sing the closing song at Mass.  The liturgy—the work that God is doing—goes on out in the world.  And we participate in that by being the community of faith out in the world; in the workplace, in school, on the roadways, on the sports field.  Wherever we are, there should be the “ekklésia:” the subversive, culture-challenging, slightly rebellious community of faith. 

The writer G.K. Chestertons put it exactly when he says, “We do not want a church that will move with the world.  We want a church that will move the world.”  We do not want a church that will move with the world.  We want a church that will move the world.  We want God to be the foundation and the ultimate guide of everything we do, whether on earth or in heaven.

The designers of our dollar bill got it right: “Annuit Coeptis.”  May God bless our country; may he bless the “ekklésia,” the Church.  May he bless and keep us all.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Homily for 20 Oct 2017

20 Oct 2017

The Scriptures today issue a call to integrity; a call to be whole, to have our insides and outsides integrated into one—to be a person whose heart, mind, and actions are all on the same page.  It’s basically the idea of being honest and true; to be a person of integrity.  And this can certainly be a challenge.

On the one hand, we have our interior life.  We have our own personal desires, wants, and needs.  We have our own opinions and understandings of things.  We each have our own personalities, our own values, our own relationships with God, and so on.

But, on the other hand, we have our exterior life.  We have the commandments of God, the teachings of Christ and his Church, and other guidelines.  We have the influence of the culture around us; the influence of others’ values and desires.  We have all the prayers we learned along the way: the Our Father, the Rosary, the responses at Mass, and so on.

The challenge, it so often seems, is how to balance these two: the interior life and the exterior life.  And which one is takes priority?  Is my interior life supposed to be guided by my exterior life?  Or is my exterior life supposed to be guided and shaped by my interior life?  The answer, it seems, is: Both.

Sometimes we have to listen to our interior conscience; that becomes a priority.  Sometimes we need to follow more the voice of the Church, and let that voice shape our conscience.  Sometimes—most of the time, we have to be true to our personality, and to the person God has made us to be.  Other times—sometimes, however, we have to let our personality be shaped by the needs of living with other people: whether that’s marriage, or friendship, or at work.

And the “key” to balancing this is humility, and turning to God for help.  Even if we make poor choices in life, and we’re not quite living a life of integrity, as long as we’re honestly, humbly trying, all will be well.  And that’s because at the root of who we are is a people who humbly, honestly, and faithfully rely on the help of God.

A life of integrity begins and ends with our reliance on God.  If we can rely on him, everything else will fall into place; we’ll be living a life of integrity.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Homily for 15 Oct 2017

15 Oct 2017
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

It’s never happened before in Christianity.  2,000-plus years and it’s the first time this trend is appearing: people are angry and resentful at having been baptized as an infant.  It usually comes out around Confirmation time; utter contempt for the faith and the Church—as if to say, “How dare you do something against my free will.  How dare you try to raise me to have values and responsibilities.”   

Of course, that could just be teenage rebelliousness.  If it is, it’s pretty extreme—to have such a visceral reaction to having been baptized.

But it goes beyond that: we see it happening with adults, too.  Just turn on the television, go browse the internet.  Our world culture is not only not interested in Christian values and what the Church has to say, it’s actually hostile to the gospel message of faith, hope, and love.  It’s flat out rejected.  Christianity has always been more or less controversial.  But the reasons for its rejection today are something entirely new—and, quite honestly, we’re still trying to figure out what to do.

We look at the statistics and we see declining Mass attendance, the mass exodus of youth from the Church, constant financial struggles, struggles to get volunteers, and so on.  The life of the Church is waning, dramatically.  And, of course, our usual response is to try to liven things up: peppier music at Mass, a more engaging Mass where the priest is supposed to entertain the audience, more fun events, we gotta cater to the youth and keep them happy, and fundraiser after fundraiser after fundraiser to keep the money coming in.

Or, even more radically, some people start thinking: we have to change our teachings, they’re too stiff and we’re losing customers; the Church has to start loosening up and ordain married men and women, or we’re going to run out of priests; and we have to lighten up on our expectations that people are actually going to Christ-centered—they’re good people, nice people, they work hard and that’s good enough.

I imagine we’ve all heard at least some of those sentiments from time to time.  And, for sure, the Church needs to be attuned to culture so we can speak the gospel in a way that it’ll be received.  But today it seems that, no matter how the gospel is presented, it doesn’t strike the right chord; it doesn’t resonate the way it should.  Could it be that faith, hope, and love are...passé, archaic, and on the way out?

We see some of this in the gospel today.  The King invites all these people to his son’s wedding, but there are many who refuse to go.  It’s not so much that they reject the invitation; it’s just that they have other priorities, other things to do, and going to a wedding isn’t one of them.  And I suppose if the King kept on inviting them, and inviting them, and inviting them, they might get a little irritated and go after the King.

Maybe that’s where we are today in our culture.  The wedding feast is like the Kingdom of God, the life of the Church, the life of faith, hope, and love.  And people have been invited to share in that for ages.  But now the invitation is received with either indifference, or hostility—even within her own walls.

That little guy in the gospel who didn’t have his wedding garment on...he’s one of those.  He was invited in to the feast, and he sort of wandered in.  But he was never really interested enough to put on his garment, which is a symbol for faith.  He was in the community of faith (the Church), but he had no faith—and he wasn’t interested in having it, either.

Now, as we heard, Jesus spoke his parable to the chief priests and the elders of the people.  He saw them as being like that little guy without his wedding garment.  They didn’t have any real faith.  And that affected the whole community; it affected the mood of the wedding feast.  But, in a way, Jesus also addresses the parable to us—but more so as a question, as something to ponder.

At our baptism, the priest or deacon said to each of us: “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.”  That’s the “wedding garment” in the gospel: our having been “clothed in Christ;” wrapped in a life of faith, kept safe in a life of hope, and clothed warmly in a life of love and charity. 

Here we are: a little portion of the global Church, a community of believers, a community of the faithful.  But we’re made to ask: Do I have real faith?  And if I don’t, do I really want it?  Do I still have my baptismal garment, my wedding garment on?  And that can be a tough thing to ponder because saying “yes” to faith means also saying “no” to anything that goes against that faith and the community of the faithful.  And there are pretty significant things out there that we have to say “no” to—in order to say “yes” to faith, hope, and love.

I’ve mentioned in past homilies that we live today in the Post-Modern Era.  We’re in a time that’s characterized by skepticism, doubt, disbelief, and radical individualism.  The motto today is: “The only truth is my truth—and even that I’m not so sure of.”  This is an era of fragmentation, where there are no universal truths, there are no objective standards, “there’s nothing outside of what I think is important.”

It’s easy to see why the Church and faith are on such a decline today: just about everything we stand for, everything we see as true is contrary to the Post-Modern Era.  We believe in this grand, overarching story called “salvation;” we believe in the past, the present, and the future.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t; there’s just today, the present moment, and that’s it.    

We believe in there’s meet to life than meets the eye.  We believe in the spirit, the soul; we believe in life-after-death; we believe in God’s presence, and in his working in everyday life.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t; there is no God, it’s just a bunch of baloney; and when we die, we die, that’s it.

We believe in universal concepts, what we call “archetypes.”  It’s what allows us to look at a forest of pine trees and say, “There’s a forest of pine trees.”  Archetypes allow us to look at a bunch of people and say, “There’s a bunch of people.”  But the Post-Modern Era doesn’t believe in archetypes.  It looks at a forest and says, “No, that’s not a bunch of trees; that’s a bunch of individual things that have no relation to one another whatsoever.”  The Post-Modern Era looks at a bunch of people and says, “That’s not a bunch of people; that’s a bunch of individual things that have no relation at all to one another.  The fact that they look similar and act and sound the same doesn’t mean anything.  There’s no connection between them at all.”  That’s how the Post-Modern Era can look at a fetus in the womb and say, “That’s not a human being.”

We believe in logic, we believe in patterns.  We believe in the importance of thought and rationality, using our brains, common sense.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t.  Even if a truth is staring a Post-Modern person in the face, they can still deny it—even it’s a nonsensical, irrational, insane thing to do. 

A life of faith implies the existence of something bigger than myself.  A life of hope, and a life of love and charity imply the same thing.  We believe in something much bigger than ourselves.  The Post-Modern Era doesn’t.  It’s little wonder, then, why the Church and faith are in such troubled times right now. 

But the remedy isn’t to give in, and to doubt the importance of what we believe.  And the remedy isn’t to dig in our heels and stubbornly refuse to “get with it.”  The remedy is to be simply faithful...to God, to one another, to the community of the faithful.  The remedy is to live with a confident hope in the promises of Christ, and in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The remedy is to be a person who has real love, charity, compassion, and mercy at our core.

In short, the remedy is to simply (and really) be who we profess to be: the Church.  We should expect that our way of life will continue to be looked down upon—even by people within the community.  We should, we can, expect that; this is the Post-Modern Era.  And the winds of this era we’re living in right now are pretty strong. 

It’s like we’re at home, in the evening, and there’s a storm outside.  The winds are blowing, rattling the windows, howling through the cracks.  The thunder is shaking the dishes in the cupboard.  And the rain is pounding down on the roof, making quite a noise.  But there we are at home, not alone but together, enjoying each other’s company, singing the praises of God around the roaring fire of the Holy Spirit.

There’s a feast going on!  The Lord is providing “rich food and choice wines.”  He’s wiping away tears and sadness.  We’re in the house of the Good Shepherd, where he “refreshes the soul,” and “gives courage;” where “my cup overflows,” and “only goodness and kindness follow me.”  The “fattened cattle” are served in a feast of abundance.  Our God puts on a great celebration.  And the faithful are the ones who are enjoying it—even as the Post-Modern storm rages outside.

We pray for those caught out in the storm; we hope God will keep them safe as best he can.  And, at the same time, the faithful simply enjoy being the faithful, the Church, the house of God on earth.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Homily for 6 Oct 2017

6 Oct 2017

Some people know they’re sinners, and others need to be told they’re sinners.  That’s basically what’s happening in our readings this morning.  Admitting our sins—and the importance of being able to do that—is the main idea.  And it’s the main idea because God can only do his thing with those who know they need him.

Jesus is not only the Bridegroom of our souls, he’s also the Divine Physician.  God loves us, yes.  But he sent his Son also to heal us, to heal our wounded souls.  And, like any doctor, he can’t do his thing if the patient refuses to believe that he or she is sick.

This is why Jesus is so hard on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum.  It’s why he’s so hard on the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees—and we’ll see more of that in this weekend’s readings.  Jesus tries to get people to realize how much they need him; how much they need the grace of God.  And that’s why sometimes he’s pretty blunt in calling a spade a spade.

Jesus came to call sinners; he came to heal them and to love them.  How lucky we are to know we’re sinners.  It’s to us that the grace of God comes.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Homily for 5 Oct 2017

5 Oct 2017
(School Mass)

When I was little, we were always told: “Don’t talk to strangers.”  And that’s right—we want to be careful about talking to strangers.  It’s a good rule to remember.

But what about all those people we do know?  Like your classmates and friends, or even some people you recognize from coming to church, even if you don’t know their name?  Well, of course, those people we can talk to.  And not only that, we should even try to be a friend.

Now, here at St. Clare we have a “no-bully” rule, right?  We don’t let anybody treat others badly.  And that’s because Jesus gave us a rule about that, didn’t he?  He said, “Love your neighbors as yourself.”  And we can’t do that if we’re calling other people names, or fighting with them, or just not being nice to them. 

But part of loving our neighbors is also welcoming them.  In the gospel today, Jesus talks about the importance of what we call “hospitality.”  You know, if you have a friend sleep over, you probably try to make them feel welcome, right?  Well that’s “hospitality.”

So we have a “no-bully” rule here at school, but we also have another rule from Jesus that’s just as important.  He says, “Welcome others and treat them well.”  Welcome others and treat them well.  And that’s because we’re not strangers; we’re brothers and sisters in Christ.

Don’t be a bully, and welcome others and treat them well.  Those are two very good rules to remember.