Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Homily for 11 April 2018


11 April 2018

We celebrate the Eucharist in order to give thanks to God.  We thank him because, as we hear in the Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that everyone…might have eternal life.”  We thank God for his love for us.

We also thank God for those who went through great danger to bring us the good news of God’s love.  There are the Apostles, in our first reading, who were put in prison and then set free by an angel.  But instead of using the opportunity to run away and be safe, they went right back into the lion’s den and kept preaching. 

Then there is Saint Stanislaus, whose memorial we celebrate today.  He had wealth and security, but gave it all to the poor and became a parish priest.  He was known for his skills in spiritual direction and became a reluctant bishop.  And he preached against sinful living, which the king at the time didn’t like.  So Stanislaus was murdered while celebrating the Mass, in 1079.

We give thanks to God for his love.  And we give thanks for those in our past and in our present who reassure of God’s love for us, who bring us the good news of God’s very great love.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Homily for 10 April 2018


10 April 2018

“The wind blows where it wills,” Jesus says.  The interesting thing, though, is that the wind is not the air.  The air is already there; it’s a physical thing; we know “where it comes from and where it goes.”  But the wind, well that’s the force that moves the air.  And, spiritually speaking, we don’t know “where it comes from or where it goes.” 

And the point is that we’re like the air, and the Holy Spirit is like the wind that makes the air move.  Our basic calling in life is to be carried along by the Holy Spirit.  That’s part of the meaning in what Jesus says about being “born from above;” being “brought forth” on the winds of Heaven.  Of course, being carried along by that wind could be enjoyable, or scary even.

When we say, “Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit…Lord, help me to be your presence in the world today…Lord, show me the right thing to do,” whenever we try to let God take the lead, we never quite know where we’re going to end up.  We don’t know where the Holy Spirit is going to carry us off to.  It might be into a greater experience of life.  It might be down a path that really challenges us.  It might be toward an experience of the Cross.  Who knows.  Who knows where the wind will carry us off to.  We certainly don’t know.

But we do have some idea; after all, Jesus has gone before us.  We know where he’s at.  And where he’s at is where the Holy Spirit comes from and goes back to.  And so, sooner or later, if we let ourselves be carried along by the winds of the Holy Spirit, we’ll end up in a really good place: in heaven, with all the angels and the saints, with all our loved ones who’ve gone before us, all together in one place, loving God and being loved by him; happily, eternally.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Homily for 5 April 2018


5 April 2018
(School Mass)

Jesus doesn’t lie.  When he says something is going to happen, it does; like his resurrection.  Before he died on the Cross, Jesus told everybody he was going to rise from the dead.  And he did.  So why were the Apostles all scared and amazed when he came to them?  Well, because they didn’t believe him.  They didn’t believe him.  And that’s okay, because eventually they did believe. 

And that’s the important thing...they eventually believed him.  And that’s how it is with us, too.  We hear Jesus say things all the time, right?  For example, we go to confession and we hear the priest say, “Your sins are forgiven.”  But do we believe him?  Or we hear Jesus say, “Be not afraid, I am with you always.”  But do we believe him?  Or what about at the Mass when Jesus says, “This is my Body, given up for you.”  Do we believe him?

And I would bet the answer is: “Well, sometimes I believe him.  Sometimes I do.  But, sometimes I’m not sure.”  So we’re not all that different from those Apostles, right?, who were sitting there and then, oh my gosh, there’s Jesus standing there risen from the dead!

But then Jesus said, “Touch my hands and my feet.  Give me some food to eat, so you can I really am here.”  Jesus had to prove it to his Apostles that he wasn’t a liar, that he was trustworthy.  And did that so the Apostles could then go out and prove to others that Jesus told the truth.  And that’s why we have the Church and her bishops, and the priests and deacons, and the pope.  It’s why we have all the saints and all the angels.  The whole Church exists to show the world that Jesus is trustworthy; that what he says is true—even resurrection from the dead.

So if we find ourselves maybe a little doubtful in our faith, that’s okay.  But then we want to be sure to listen even closer to what the Church says about Jesus.  And if we’re really strong in our faith, well, that’s good.  But then we have to be sure to share our faith, and to teach others—very gently—that what Jesus says is true, and that he can be trusted.

When Jesus says something is going to happen, it does—even rising from the dead.  Do you believe him?  Jesus, help us when we doubt you.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Homily for 25 Mar 2018


25 Mar 2018
Palm Sunday

A week from now we’ll be celebrating Easter, and we’re getting for that: deciding what to make for Easter dinner, who’s coming over.  Just yesterday I was at the store and bought some jelly beans.  Easter is coming and we’re looking forward to it.

But, of course, Easter does not stand alone.  The holiday exists in relation to the Passion and the Cross of our Lord.  At Easter, we celebrate that Christ died for our sins, of course.  But we also celebrate the revelation of the Tree of Life.

Remember back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve were expelled.  Well, they (and all of humanity) were cut off from the Tree of Life in the center of the garden.  They couldn’t get to it; they didn’t have any way to access Paradise.  But...with the Resurrection, the wooden Cross is revealed as the Tree of Life.  The Cross is our access to Paradise!

At Easter celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, but with that we also rejoice that the door to Paradise has been shown to us!  In his resurrection, Jesus points back to the Cross and says, “That’s the Way!  If you want to be with me in Paradise, go that Way!”    

And that’s why each year we hear the Passion.  It’s why we carry the Cross in our processions.  It’s why on Good Friday we venerate the Cross; we kiss it and bow to it; we touch it; we reverence it—the Cross, the doorway to Paradise.  It’s why in Catholic churches we surround ourselves with the Stations of the Cross.

The Cross is everything to us.  Next Sunday as we’re celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, let’s be sure to also celebrate what the resurrection reveals to us—it reveals the Cross, it validates selfless love as the door to Paradise. 

Paradise is opened again to humanity.  And the Cross is the doorway.  Thanks be to God for the Cross.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Homily for 23 Mar 2018


23 Mar 2018

“To err is human; to forgive, divine” (Alexander Pope, 1711).  For a long time, since at least the beginning of the Church, we’ve recognized that who we are and what we do is blend of both human and divine.  We’re entirely human, but...we also have some divinity within us—not only in a figurative and poetic, but in a literal sense.

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  To stumble and fall is human; to get up and humbly keep going, divine.  To be weak is human; to accept the help of another, divine.  To compete is human; to practice good sportsmanship, divine.  To make mistakes is human; to learn and grow, divine.  We’re entirely human, but we have some divinity within us, too. 

And the more that divine part of us grows, the more we experience what we call “resurrected life.”  The resurrection isn’t just for when we die, it’s for today, too.  You know, at the heart of our God—literally in his very core, is Love itself: love, selfless sharing, companionship, compassion, vulnerability, trust...love.  And love is really at the core of who we are and what we do.  At our core, as humans, is divinity. 

And that’s really an astounding thing...we’re humans, and yet, we have something of the divine life built into us.  We’re human, but perhaps not entirely.  We’re also—at least, a little bit—like God, too.  And our prayer is that we “come to share in the divinity of Christ,” more and more each day, “as he humbled himself to share in our humanity.” 

May we come to share in the divinity of Christ, as he humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Homily for 22 Mar 2018


22 Mar 2018
(School Mass)

If God were standing right in front of you…would you recognize him?  That’s a good question.  You know, last week I asked how many of you were Christians.  And everybody raised their hands.  Well, being a “Christian” is the same as saying, “I follow Christ.  I belong to Christ.”  And we do that as part of the Church—the community of believers all around the world, the “Catholic” Church.

So, we’re followers of Christ, disciples of Christ, but…if he were standing right of us, would we recognize him?  You know, it’s hard to be a Christian if we can’t recognize Christ.  It would be like saying, “I’m a basketball player, but I don’t really know the rules of the game.”  It’s one thing to know how to dribble and how put the ball through the hoop.  That’s good, but if I’m going to call myself a basketball “player,” then I also need to know the rules of the game.

If we’re going to call ourselves “Christian,” then we have to know Christ, because he’s the one we say we’re following.

So, if Jesus were standing right in front of us…would we recognize him?  What would we look for?  Well, somebody who’s truthful and honest.  Somebody who is kind, somebody who loves life and has an uplifting spirit.  Somebody who’s courageous and tells you the truth, even if it means you might not like them because of it.  There are lots of ways to recognize Jesus.  We could spend all day talking about that (but you have to go to school, so we won’t).

If Jesus were standing right in front of us—right in front of you and me—would we recognize him?  What would you be looking for?  That’s a good question.  And it’s a question we’ll spend our whole lives trying to answer: Jesus, who are you?  Help me to see you and to hear you…more clearly…every day.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Homily for 18 Mar 2018


18 March 2018
5th Sunday of Lent, Year B

So you came into church today and noticed, “Hey, something is different.”  And, of course, you see our statues are covered in purple cloth.  Something is different.  And what’s changed is: where we are in the season of Lent.  We’re a week away from Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week.  Very soon Lent will come to an end.  But before we get to Easter, we go deeper into the spirit of this season, and we begin to focus more on the Passion.

We see more purple, that reminder of penitence.  We cover our statues as a way to fast from images.  We become more intent on prayer and works of charity, almsgiving, and such.  Before the light of Easter comes, things get a little darker.  They get more intense, more subdued, and more focused on the mysteries of our faith we’ll be celebrating next week.  And at the heart of those mysteries is the Passion.

So, yes, something is different.  We’ve turned the corner, and the Passion is coming into view—not only Christ’s Passion, but our own.

Over the past five weeks we’ve prayed more, we’ve fasted, we’ve given alms.  And we’ll keep doing that.  And those are all disciplines which help us redirect our passions.  God has made us to be passionate creatures.  He’s made us capable of being moved in our souls by the force of intense emotions and feelings.  And, in that, he’s made us like himself. 

We call Jesus’ Passion his “passion” because he fulfilled perfectly this idea of being “moved,” to the point that his life was swept up into this thing he was passionate about; namely, the Kingdom of God, the Will of God, and salvation.  If you think of somebody who really “gets into” what his or her interests and talents are, that’s what we mean by “passion.”  They give their lives over to that thing.  They’re passionate about the thing they have a passion for.

And our Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is meant to redirect our passions toward what God is passionate about.  The Lord is passionate about: human dignity, justice, life, mercy, beauty, truth, and so on.  Lent is about redirecting our passions (or at least, broadening our passions) to include what God is passionate about.

Lent seems to boil down to Jesus asking us: Can you have passion in your heart for what I am passionate about?  After five weeks of Lent, something is different.  We’re entering into a time of more intense personal reflection: Am I becoming passionate (at least, a little more) about what the Lord is passionate about?  Am I beginning to let his Passion become my passion, too?  And that’s a deep question for reflection here in the last couple of weeks of Lent.

Something is different.  And it’s reflected in Scripture, and in the language we hear.

The Letter to the Hebrews talks about how Jesus learned “obedience” through what he “suffered.”  Obedience and suffering: those are two intense words for us.  Number one, we treasure our individual liberty, and so the idea of obedience isn’t something we swallow very well (even with a “spoonful of sugar,” it doesn’t go down well).  And number two, most of us don’t like to feel pain or distress; and so we keep that idea of suffering at arm’s length.  “Obedience” and “suffering” are two ideas that trip the passionate side of us, and we say, “No.  No, I’m not going there.”

But, you know, Scripture wasn’t written in English.  It was written in Greek and Hebrew. 

The word “obey” is from the Latin “obedíre,” which means basically “to listen to” someone.  And the Greek in Scripture is “hupa-kónay,” which means “to respond to someone who’s speaking.”  “Obedience” doesn’t mean “do what I say or die.”  That’s not obedience; that’s tyranny.  Obedience begins with trust; it begins with a relationship.  A person who “obeys” says, “I trust you.  I trust you, and I trust that what you say is good, and so I’m gonna do it.”  To be obedient is to be passionate about our God who is...trustworthy.  Obedience is about a partnership with God, and that’s something we can be passionate about.

And the word “suffer” is from the Latin “sufferíre,” which literally means “to hold up something from underneath,” to “sustain” something.  Just think of trying to change a light fixture on the ceiling; you have to hold that thing up there while you connect the wirings and get it attached to the ceiling.”  Well, you’re “suffering” that light fixture...you’re holding it up.  In the Scriptures, the Greek word here is “pás-koh,” which sounds a lot like “paschal”...as in the paschal lamb and the paschal mysteries. 

“Pas-koh” means “to feel heavy emotion.”  It means to feel heavy emotion, to bear the weight of something—and this in important, it’s an emotion or a weight that’s either bad or good.  We think of suffering and we think of something bad, something painful.  But that’s not necessarily what suffering is. 

Any parent or grandparent who has carried the heavy weight of seeing their kids or grandkids leave their faith knows what suffering is.  But it’s not a bad suffering; it’s a good suffering.  And the weight is the weight of having a caring heart, a loving heart.  When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, “soon to be destroyed for its lack of faith,” he suffered.  But what he was holding up was his own immense Sacred Heart, which fewer and fewer people seemed to care about.  He suffered because he loved.

And so, suffering isn’t about enduring needless, pointless pain.  It’s about being passionate about love: love of God, love of neighbor, and an intense emotional desire to see the Kingdom of God be a reality.  And that kind of suffering is something we can be passionate about, as Jesus is.

“Obedience” and “suffering” aren’t words we like to hear.  But if we understand them, we see that they’re ways we can make the Lord’s passions our own as well.  Again, after five weeks of Lent, something is different.  We’re entering into a time of more intense personal reflection: Am I becoming passionate (at least, a little more) about what the Lord is passionate about?  Am I beginning to let his Passion become my passion, too?

This weekend, our soon-to-be First Communicants will be handing out loaves of blessed bread.  But, more to the point, they’ll be “sharing” that food with others.  It could be seen as a form of almsgiving: giving to others from what we have.  And almsgiving is a way we share in the passion the Lord has for charity, neighborliness, and selfless giving. 

Also, this weekend we’ll celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  The Church teaches that those who are sick in any sort of way serve as reminders to all of us to be passionate about the things of God; to be people of hope, even in the face of illness; to be people of faith; to be people of great love who comfort and console one another.  The Lord is passionate about these things: faith, hope, and love; he’s passionate about those things which endure forever, beyond bodily illness or health.

Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, care for the sick, neighborliness...they’re all things we get involved in because they remind us to be passionate about the things the Lord himself is passionate about.

But, it’s important to clarify something here.  The Lord isn’t asking us to stop living our lives and to substitute his in its place.  The Lord doesn’t want us to annihilate ourselves and our passions.  That would be totally contrary to what the Lord is all about!  No, the Lord is asking us to keep being passionate about the things we’re passionate about (our hobbies, our skills, our talents), but...also to be just a little bit more passionate about what his passions are.

We have to turn to the original Greek Scriptures to understand that.  When Jesus talks about “loving” or “hating” our life in this world, we hear them as very black-and-white terms.  But that’s not what Jesus means.  According to St. John, he says, “ὁ μισῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν κόσμῳ τούτῳ [ho misón tayn psukáyn owtú en kósmo túto].”  Our life here on earth and our life in heaven aren’t opposed to one another; they exist side-by-side. 

And Jesus says, “Love your life here on earth; it is my gift to you.  But love the life of heaven just a little bit more.  Be passionate, but be just a little bit more passionate about God and his vision of the Kingdom.”  Our patroness, Saint Clare, said the same thing.  She said: “Hold everything...’hold’ everything, but with a light grasp.”

Be passionate.  But, especially, be passionate about our Lord, who is passionate about us.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Homily for 16 Mar 2018


16 Mar 2018

The situation between Jesus and “the Jews” gets tenser as we move toward Holy Week.  And, with that, the Scriptures can become less and less relatable.  It’s as though we step back and we become just somebody in the crowd; somebody who’s standing by, watching things unfold between Jesus and “the Jews,” but we’re not really a part of it. 

And so, it can be hard to get either guidance or reassurance from the Scriptures.  It can be hard to see the “good news” in the gospel, and to even see the gospel as relevant; after all, none of us is running the risk of being crucified.  But there is “good news” in the gospel, and it is relevant.

And the good news is that Jesus (and the Book of Wisdom) gives us a foreshadow of what we can expect if we’re trying to be like him, if we’re trying to take the “high road” and be good disciples of the Lord.  That’s the good news: that foreshadow.

“The Jews” grumbled against Jesus; they tried to discredit him; they attacked his character; they were jealous of him; they couldn’t stand the sight of him.  Now, if we try to share the gospel of love and forgiveness and so on, we might ruffle some feathers.  But getting others annoyed with you isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Having your children annoyed with you because you keep reminding them (gently) about the faith you brought up in; having others be jealous of you because you try to take that high road and follow the ways of God; having others think you’re nuts because you actually try to live your faith...none of those things are necessarily a bad thing.

It depends on how we’re practicing our faith.  You know, we don’t want to be “snooty” in taking the high road...we just want to be genuine in trying to follow Christ and his ways.  So, assuming we’re being genuine and humble in how we live our faith, having others annoyed at you, or jealous of you, can be a good thing.  It can be a good...sign.

It can be a sign that we’re actually sharing in the life of our Lord.  It can be a sign that we’re actually carrying our cross.  And that can be a wonderfully reassuring thing; to know that our life is becoming intermingled with his.      

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Homily for 15 Mar 2018


15 Mar 2018
(School Mass)

How many of us here are Christians?  How many of us here are Christian and you follow Jesus in the Catholic way of life?  Go ahead and raise your hands, that’s fine.  I have my hand up.  Okay, good.  There’s lots of Christians here today.  Now Jesus says, “Prove it.”  Prove it.

And that’s an important thing to be able to do.  Otherwise, how do people know that we really are friends of Jesus?  The only way they really know is when we prove it.  Now, in the Bible this is called “giving testimony.”  And we hear about that in the gospel today.

Jesus talks about how John the Baptist “testified” to the truth.  And Jesus talks about himself, too, and how everything he does “testifies” that he was sent by God, and that he is God.  When somebody goes to court and they “testify,” they’re trying to “prove” that something is true or not.  

So we call ourselves Christians; we say that we’re friends and followers of Jesus.  And that’s good.  But then Jesus says, “Prove it.  Prove that what you’re saying is true;” that, yes, I am a Christian.  And that’s not too hard.  In fact, Jesus himself tells us how we can prove it.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told his Apostles: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  This is how all will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.  Our love for one another is what proves that we’re Christian. 

So if you treat somebody badly, you ask for forgiveness.  You say, “I’m sorry.”  And that other person is supposed to say, “I forgive you.”  We fix our relationships and we make them stronger.  That’s a way we prove that we’re Christian: by admitting our mistakes, and being forgiving.  That’s a way we love one another.

Another way is when we encourage others.  You know, it’s very easy to criticize others and to make them feel bad.  And so, we want to encourage one another.  That’s harder to do, sometimes; especially if somebody has done something wrong and you have to tell them.  But even that’s a way we build others up; so they can see their mistakes and, hopefully, get better.  And so, we want to encourage one another, and to build each other up in a spirit of goodwill and friendship.  That’s another way that we can prove we’re Christian.

Jesus says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  And so, if you’re a Christian, be sure to love one another.  Love one another a little bit more each day.  Because love is how we prove that we’re Christians. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Homily for 9 Mar 2018


9 Mar 2018

Jesus confirms what the scribe says: To love God and to your love neighbor as yourself “is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  It’s worth more than the actions associated with ritual. 

Now, Jesus doesn’t say burnt offerings and sacrifices are worthless.  But he does put love ahead of those ritual actions.  And that’s because, as we know, a person can’t overlook love of God and neighbor and then come to Mass and profess to be a person who follows Christ.  For our ritual worship to be an act of integrity, our life outside of Mass needs to be characterized through and through by love.

And I’m preaching to the choir here this morning.  But there are others in the world—fellow Catholics, who forget the essential connection between love and ritual; who treat others very badly and yet come to receive Communion, who share the Sign of Peace, who put on a good show.  But, of course, God is not impressed.

We pray for those people...and for ourselves as well.  May our worship of God who is Love impact our lives outside of Mass.  May we live with Christian integrity, and then come to the altar of God to worship...with integrity.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Homily for 8 Mar 2018


8 Mar 2018
(School Mass)

[Open hymnal to #137] At the end of Mass here on Thursdays we place the Body of Christ on top of the altar.  And we do that so people can spend some quiet time with the Lord; so people can just be with the Lord for a little bit.  And when we do that we sing that song, “O Saving Victim.”  

Now, you see the English words, and underneath that there are other words, too.  And there’ve been a lot of students who’ve asked, “What’s that other language there?  Can we sing that too?”  And the answer is, “Yes, we can,” and the language is called Latin.  In fact, did you know that almost all our prayers here at Mass are in Latin?  They are...it’s just that they’re translated into English so we can better understand what we’re saying. 

But that brings up an important question: Why would we sing in a language we don’t understand?  We already have a translation in English...let’s just use that.

And the answer is that: Latin does not change.  Latin doesn’t change.  Words in Latin always mean the same thing; their meanings never change through time.  But that’s very different than English.  The English language is always changing; how we use words changes, our vocabulary changes, and even the meanings of words change through time.  That’s why the Church has to retranslate its prayers every now and then: Latin doesn’t change, but English does.

So if we were to pray in Latin, it’s not because it’s a “holier” language, or because it’s better...it’s because Latin stays the same.  Even though we might not entirely understand it, we do know that it’s stable and consistent, and we can learn to understand what it means.

The cool thing, though, is that that’s how we think about God, isn’t it?  God is unchanging.  God is very stable and faithful; he’s very consistent in who he is.  And we’ll spend the rest of our lives trying to understand him and his ways more and more.  So, it’s okay to pray in a language we don’t entirely understand because, you know, the God we’re praying to is a God we don’t entirely understand either.

So let’s look at this hymn…
     ["a" is pronounced "ah"
      "e" is pronounced "aye"
      "i" is pronounced "ee"
      "o" is pronounced "oh"
      "u" is pronounced "oo"]

O salutaris Hostia,
O   saving   Victim

Quae      caeli        pandis    ostium:
Who   of heaven    opens       gate              

          O saving Victim, who opens wide
          the gate of heaven:

Bella         premunt      hostilia,
Conflict   presses on    enemies

Da     robur,      fer      auxilium.
Give strength,  send       aid                       

          Conflict presses on by our enemies,
          give us your strength, send your help.

Uni          trinoque    Domino
(To) one   threefold     Lord

Sit sempiterna gloria,
be    forever    glory/praise                         

          To the One-in-Three Lord
          be glory and praise forever,

Qui   vitam    sine    termino
who   life    without   end

Nobis       donet     in    patria.   Amen.                 
to us      he give     in  homeland                

          Who gives to us life without end
          in our homeland.  Amen.


There’s something mysterious about singing in Latin.  But that also helps us to remember that there’s something mysterious and wonderful about our God; he loves us and helps us in ways we can’t always understand.  And it’s okay to not understand.  It keeps us humble, and makes us trust the Lord and say to him, “Da robur, fer auxilium”...give us your strength, send us your help...we need you Lord because we don’t always understand.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Homily for 7 Mar 2018


7 Mar 2018

One of the hard things about driving in the snow is that you can’t always see the lines on the road.  Especially out in the country where you know there’s a ditch along the road, that white line along the edge is very important.  When those lines on the road get obscured, it can make driving a little difficult.

And that’s similar to how it is when God’s law gets obscured in our life.  If we forget that law to love God, well, we might end up doing some off-road traveling.  Or if we forget that law to love our neighbor as ourselves, we might end crossing lines that put us on a collision course—if we don’t make some corrections.

When God’s law gets obscured, it can make our life’s travels more difficult.  And so, it’s good to get out the driver’s manual every now and then and review.  It’s good to sit down with God and remember, “Oh yes, love of God and love of neighbor...gotta remember that.”  Make God keep us safe in our life travels, and bring us home safe.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Homily for 4 Mar 2018


4 Mar 2018
3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Jesus cleansing the Temple can be difficult because it’s an image of him we don’t usually think of.  We think of Jesus, we think of that guy who said: “Love one another; forgive those who trespass against you; love your neighbor; if somebody strikes you, turn the other cheek and let ‘em hit the other side, too.”  We think of Jesus as a gentle person, a person who radiates peace, a person who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  And he certainly is that kind of person, but…

There’s also a fiery side to Jesus—not a “dark” side, but a fiery side.  And it’s a side we see whenever he comes up against hypocrisy.  Now, we know Jesus loves sinners; he is very patient and very gentle with sinners.  But we have to clarify…those are sinners who admit that they are sinners, who know how to say those simple words, “I’m sorry,” whose hearts are soft enough to be touched by God, and changed by the Lord.  Jesus loves those sinners, and is eternally patient and gentle with them.  But…

Jesus has a fiery streak in him when it comes to hypocrites, when he comes upon somebody who professes to be a person of faith, but who has such a hardened heart, who is so puffed up with self-righteousness that they cannot be touched by the love of God, nor can they love others or even themselves.  Jesus loves the hypocrite, but with a very, very different kind of love.  Jesus is gentle with the gentle, and very hard with the hard-hearted.  And that’s what we see in the cleansing of the Temple. 

Jesus is angry.  He’s being very hard, because…he’s ticked-off, he’s upset, and irritated.  He has what we call “righteous anger.”  Jesus’ buttons have been pushed, and he’s had it.  He hasn’t lost patience; he’s just unleashing his full fury of divine love which makes him shout, “Get those things outta here!  They have no business being here!  Get’em out!”  Jesus is more than angry at how some of his people act; how they treat each other; how they’ve completely corrupted what it means to be a good Jew.  And he’s ticked off.

We don’t often think of Jesus that way.  But we should.  Jesus is a nice guy, for sure.  But he also has zero tolerance for hypocrisy and hard-heartenedness among his people.  There’s no room for it—not way back then, not today, not ever.  And he’s not afraid to tell people that.  If some of his people are going to behave less-than-human and refuse to have a change of heart, then he’s just going to get out his whip and he’s going to treat them as the animals that they are.  It’s harsh, it’s truthful, it’s loving, but sometimes, that’s what it takes to get through to people. 

It’s sad.  But, sometimes, Jesus has to cleanse the Temple: out of love, and for the salvation of his people.  Imagine a wolf finding its way into the flock.  Do you think the shepherd’s going to tolerate it?  No!  He’s going to go after it!  He’s going to scream at it and chase it out!  “Get outta here!”  It’s a danger to the flock, and that shepherd gets angry out of love for the flock.  Again, it’s sad.  But, sometimes, it has to happen for the good of the whole.

It’s an image of Jesus we don’t usually think about.  But…he is the one who says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out….get rid of it.”  Don’t let the whole flock be destroyed because of one infected sheep.  Don’t let the Church go down the drain because of a bunch of hard-hearted hypocrites. 

And all this talk should make us feel uncomfortable.  And here’s an image to help understand why…

From the Wizard of Oz, Almira Gulch has come to Auntie Em and Uncle Henry’s house to take Toto away.  And Auntie Em says, “Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn’t mean that you have the power to run the rest of us.  For twenty-three years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you!  And now…well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!” 

“Being a Christian woman, I can’t say it.”  Well…why not?  Why can’t Auntie Em tell Almira Gulch what’s on her heart?  Apparently, being a Christian (at least, in the 30s and 40s) meant being silent and not speaking up.  It meant not upsetting the apple cart.  It meant being nice and neighborly, no matter the cost.  And we still carry that idea today of what it means to be a good Catholic.  But Jesus would disagree. 

Yes, we’re supposed to exercise those virtues of: self-control and patience, charity and understanding, and being non-judgmental.  We’re supposed to be all those things.  They’re part and parcel of what it means to be a “good Catholic.”  But…not at the expense of our duty to shape the world around us; not at the expense of our duty to speak the truth where it needs to be said.  Being a loving Christian doesn’t mean being nice; it means being loving.  And sometimes love and the truth are hard—and that depends on how hard or soft the heart is.

Jesus is gentle to the soft-hearted.  And he is hard on the hard-hearted.  He responds to us according to the way our heart is.  And in the cleansing in the Temple he gives us an example to follow.  And, not only that, he gives us permission to have that “righteous anger” within us, and to speak the truth where it needs to be spoken…with great love.

When I was in seminary, we were always encouraged to do what’s called “fraternal correction.”  You see a fellow seminarian doing something stupid, saying something un-Christian, acting uncharitably, and you call ‘em on it.  You go up to him and say, “Hey, I noticed you were telling an off-color joke back there.  Do you think that’s appropriate for somebody training to be a priest?”  It’s not necessarily an accusatory thing; it’s just holding a mirror up to somebody so they can see what you see.  It’s Jesus doing a little bit of “Temple cleansing.”  And if they’re soft-heartened they’ll “get it.” 

But fraternal correction is a hard thing to do.  Partly because we all have a little bit of Auntie Em in us, and we don’t want to upset the apple cart (even though it might be a good idea); and partly because we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of what that other person might do, or say, or think.  We’re afraid of retaliation.  And so, we do nothing, and say nothing.  We turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to what’s going on. 

But Jesus says, “No!  Call ‘em on it.”  “If that other person is an avowed Christian, a fellow Catholic who has promised to live a certain way of life—namely, love of God and love of neighbor, then hold that person to that standard…not your standard, by my standard,” Jesus says.  Call ‘em on it…in a way that’s appropriate to who that person is.

A soft-hearted person doesn’t need much to make corrections in his or her life; they’re supple-hearted, they move with the Spirit of God, and happily so.  A person who has a tendency to get a crusty heart might need a slightly firmer nudge every now and then.  But a person who refuses to practice the faith they profess, who is a hard-hearted hypocrite…well, that person might just well need an honest-to-goodness “Temple cleansing.”  And those are the hard ones to confront.  But confront them we must.

When he was arrested and stood before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “If my kingdom belonged to this world, my helpers [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”  As “helpers of Jesus,” are we fighting for him?  Not with swords and violence and political revolution, and all that…but with the truth (spoken with love) to those who need to hear it?  Are we fighting for the values he has tried to teach us?

Saint Paul says, “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and their hardness of heart.  That is not the way you learned Christ!” (Eph 4:17-20).  Saint Paul called those early Christians on the carpet for not practicing the faith the professed; for not living up to their call to be other christs in the world.  Saint Paul fought for the values Christ tried to pass on.  Do we do the same?

If we hear a fellow Catholic spreading gossip, do we go up to that person and say, “Hey!  Are you Catholic?  Because you’re not acting like one right now.  We don’t gossip…so either shut up, or move on!  There’s no room in the Church for that!”  Would we ever say that to somebody who really needs to hear it?  Because, you know, it’s true…there is no room in the Church for gossip.  The Church cannot afford to have that kind of poison in its ranks.  As Jesus would say, “Get it outta here!  That doesn’t belong here!  This is the Church!  Get it outta here!”

If we hear a fellow Catholic say something like, “I’m not giving the parish one penny unless I get what I want,” do we go up to that person and say, “Hey!  Are you Catholic?  Because you’re not acting like one right now.  Since when is being a disciple of Christ about getting what I want?!  Since when it is a righteous thing to be stingy just because you can’t what you want?!”  Would we ever say that to somebody who really needs to hear it?  Because, you know, it’s true…there is no room in the Church for that kind of attitude.  The Church cannot afford that kind of selfish hard-heartedness in its ranks.  As Jesus would say, “Get it outta here!  That doesn’t belong here!  This is the Church!  Get it outta here!”

And we could go on and on.  There are plenty of wonderful sinners in the Church, whose hearts are supple and soft, who know who to love and be loved in return.  And Jesus is gentle and loves them to pieces.  But there are also plenty of hard-hearted hypocrites in the Church who need to be kicked in the pants…figuratively speaking.  And Jesus needs people to do that—where it’s needed. 

The kingdom of God depends on the faithful “fighting for” the values that Christ has instilled in his Church.  The kingdom depends on the faithful not being like Auntie Em.  There’s always the risk that those hard-hearted people who need the truth spoken to them with love will retaliate; you may become the latest news in the gossip circuit; you may become the target of their hatred; you may become pressed by them until your life becomes miserable.  But that’s the Cross.  And it needs to be embraced—the kingdom of our Lord depends on it, the life and the future of the Church depends on it.

And the effect of this “Temple cleansing” we’re asked to be a part of is that the Church itself will become more intentional in its beliefs and values and practices.  The Church will be more clearly defined as a community that takes love seriously…  The Church can no longer afford to be soft when it comes to hypocrites in her ranks.  The Church cannot afford to let wolves in sheep’s clothing wander around and disturb the flock.  The Church, the parish, cannot afford it any more.  

The Church will be a community of people who love and respect one another—intentionally and deliberately—or it will cease to be.  Jesus didn’t want his people to perish, and so he was willing to risk the Cross in order to do some “Temple cleansing.”  Are we willing to take the same risk?  For God’s sake…are willing to take the same risk, and do some much needed…”temple cleansing”?