Saturday, December 8, 2018

Homily for 9 Dec 2018

9 Dec 2018
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C

The “separation of Church and State” is an idea we’re all familiar with.  It comes from the First Amendment to our Constitution, where it reads that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."  And, today, that amendment is so often taken to mean that the Church and the State should just mind their own business; that they shouldn’t have anything to say to one another; and even, perhaps, that they should at least be unfriendly, if not combative, toward each other.

And I bring this up because it’s a dangerous interpretation which undercuts the well-being of society.  Instead, the “separation of Church and State” means that they should cooperate with one another, without trying to replace the other.  Both have the same goal; namely, the flourishing of human society, the flourishing of the human person.  But they approach that goal from different spheres: one human, and the other divine. 

It’s why the clergy are prohibited—by the Church—from supporting any particular candidate or party.  Instead, we support general Christian principles.  And it’s why there’s such a problem when the State tries to “push” any one set of religious beliefs (or lack of beliefs) over and against another.  The Church and the State can’t replace one another, and they have to cooperate; again, for the good of human society and the flourishing of the human person.

In some ways, the country is like a “home.”  We have certain values embedded in the State, and those values help shape us; values like: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  And we have certain values embedded in our homes, too, that shape who we are; values like: “don’t hit your brother,” and “eat everything on your plate and be thankful.”  So you can imagine the impact of having God in the home, and God in society.

God gives us values.  He shows us what’s important and what isn’t.  He shows us what’s right and what’s not.  So in a society where God has been banished, or in a home where God is not welcome, there are going to be some important values missing. And those are values, teachings, and truths which cannot be replaced by the government or by secular society.  A society and a home where God is “separated” off and banished is a severely handicapped place.

And it’s not only a handicapped place, it’s an increasingly scary place, as we see on the news, in social media, and so on.  There’s a certain lawlessness, valuelessness, a place of violence, where “it’s every man and woman for themselves.”  Of course, it’s not like that all over the place.  There certainly are pockets of civility and goodness.  But those pockets are places (and people) where God is still allowed to be a part of life; where God hasn’t been “separated” off.  And one of those places, hopefully, is in our own homes.

Last weekend, Deacon Mike brought up the idea of the “Domestic Church.”  And it’s something the homilies will focus on through the Feast of the Holy Family.  And we’re doing that very intentionally, because we know that the health of the Church, and the health of any sort of missionary work we do is entirely dependent upon spiritual health in the family, in the home.  Without homes where God is welcome, we don’t have much to build on, and the gospel cannot be spread—except by a few people who are paid to do that.  And that’s not really what Jesus envisioned for his people.

Now, “evangelization” is an intimidating word—mainly because we immediately picture people going around door-to-door, standing on street corners, trying to shout out the good news to whomever will listen.  And for some people that might be what their vocation in life looks like: to be a street preacher.  And that’s fine and we can support them.  But for most of us, the call to share the gospel is much simpler.  The call involves simply having a home where God is welcome and invited.

If you’re a parent, you evangelize your children every time you pray and give thanks before a meal.  You share the gospel every time you correct your children—with love, with firmness, with a desire to see them be “good” people.  You share God with your children by being the face of God to them, when it’s easy and when it’s difficult.  You don’t have to stand on a street corner to evangelize; you just have to have a home where God and his influence are welcome and invited.

If you’re empty nesters, how do the kids and the grandkids experience your home? your marriage?  Do they realize that “this is a Catholic home,” and that prayer is important, that truth is important, and that happiness and mutual respect are values of your home?  Do the two of you pray together?  Do you ask God to be part of your marriage, just like you did on your wedding day?

If you’re a widow or a widower (or even a single person who’s never been married), what do you fill the “empty times” with?  Family and friends?  God?  With the front door always open to God, there’s always someone to share with, there’s always someone to laugh with and to cry with.  Even when life gets tough, do God’s hope and love still dwell in your home?

Sharing the gospel, being missionary disciples begins in the home.  It begins in the Domestic Church.  It doesn’t happen in the parish office.  It doesn’t happen in the Sunday homily.  It doesn’t really even happen here at Mass.  Sharing the gospel, living the gospel begins at home.  Nothing can replace a home where God dwells.

Now, if I were in the pews listening to this homily, I would feel...nervous, maybe.  And that’s because I’m not crazy about others trying to organize my personal life.  And this talk about God’s influence in the home gets personal.  Of course, that’s something I’ve had to get over—because it’s God we’re talking about.  You know, God isn’t someone we invite into our homes, only to have him just sit there—kind of like when Martha had Jesus over for coffee and donuts and she couldn’t stop telling him what to do.

Welcoming God into our home also means welcoming a certain amount of change—and stability—into our home.  While I’m sure God enjoys the coffee and donuts and our hospitality, he especially enjoys it when we sit down and let him do the talking.  And I don’t mean just having him remind us of the commandments and the Beatitudes and his other teachings.  I mean sitting down and listening to his story.  Who is this Jesus?  What’s God the Father like?—we know he’s happy to share what he knows.  What was it like to be raised by Mary and Joseph?  How did it feel to be betrayed by his friends?  What makes him happy?  What makes him sad?

And that might be a change for us—to welcome God into our home, but to let him do the talking; to let him be that person who people gather around to hear stories.  That might be a change for us: to actually welcome God and to take in what he has to share—not only as a visitor, but as a member of the family.

But with that change in approach to God (if that would be a change for you), God also brings a certain stability to the home; stability by way of a set of values and beliefs, stability by way of a solid faith, a confident hope, and that never-ending light of Christian love.  God transforms the home into the Domestic Church, and the Domestic Church transforms society into an earthly kingdom—one household at a time.  But it all begins by welcoming the Lord into our home, into our personal space, and letting him set the tone at home.

Now, the Jewish people have a long-standing tradition with the ritual of circumcision (it has its roots in the First Book of Kings).  And the tradition is that they place a “chair for Elijah” next to the person who leads the ritual.  The Prophet Malachi refers to Elijah as “the messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3:1).  And Elijah serves as “the guardian of the little ones” being circumcised. And so, Elijah’s Chair signifies his presence; it signifies the blessing and protection of God at the ritual.  A physical chair signifies Elijah’s presence in the home.

And we can take a cue from this Jewish tradition.  When we welcome the Lord into our homes, into our families, is there a physical “something” we put in place as a reminder of his Living Presence?  Many people put a crucifix in a prominent place.  Maybe there’s an image of Jesus or the Trinity or the Holy Family that sits on the mantel—not by itself, but maybe with a candle by it, and a little basket by it where we can offer our prayers and thoughts to God.

When we welcome the Lord into our homes, is there a physical “something” that serves as a reminder of his presence?  Next weekend, we’ll talk more about some of those concrete ways we might do that. 

But, for now, this weekend, it’s good to consider some fundamental questions: How do people know that my home is a Christian home?  What do they experience there?  And how do I, myself, remember that God dwells in my home...that I have welcomed him, not just for a visit, but to stay.  How do I see to it that in my house there is no “separation” between God and the life that goes on in my home?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Homily for 25 Nov 2018

25 Nov 2018
Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B

The scene painted by the Prophet Daniel reads something like a coronation.  We heard: “When he reached the Ancient One, and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship.”  Kingship was bestowed upon him.  And when we think of Christ the King—Christ our King—we can use this coronation scene and we can picture God the Father crowning his Son, Jesus: “When he reached the Ancient One [the Father], and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man [Jesus] received dominion, glory, and kingship.”

And one of the symbols of the authority given to a king or a queen is the scepter: a staff or a rod.  And usually on top of the scepter is yet another symbol of authority—maybe a cross, or an eagle, or a jewel or something.  But if we think of Jesus’ scepter, his staff or rod, what might be on top of it is the word “Truth.” 

Jesus says, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  He also says, “The truth will set you free” [John 8:32].  And, of course, Jesus identifies himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  When we picture Christ the King, we can picture him with his scepter in hand, and the word “Truth” atop that scepter.  Truth is at the heart of Christ’s kingship.  And truth is the foundation of any authority we give him. 

Power isn’t what makes him a king.  Likeability and friendliness don’t make him a king.  Nor does any amount of privilege as the Son of God make him a king.  Truth, and his absolute fidelity to truth, is what make him our King.  A 19th Century commentator (Matthew Henry) writes that Christ the King “conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth, and in his majesty rides prosperously, because of truth (Ps. 45:4).  And it is with his truth that he shall judge the people (Ps. 96:13)”. 

And so, today’s celebration of Christ’s kingship is, at the same time, a celebration of truth; and a celebration of the power and the freedom, the justice, and the goodness and beauty that all come with truth. 

You know, whenever there’s a dispute among people, or in court, or in politics, we hope that the truth will prevail.  And that’s our hope because truth and justice go hand-in-hand.  Or when a child does something wrong, we hope that he or she will tell the truth.  And that’s our hope because truth and goodness are inseparable; and we want our children to be good.  Or when somebody confesses to a crime, the truth comes out and there’s freedom.  There’s still some penalty to pay, but at least the soul is free.

And this last example gets at the meaning of truth.  In Greek, there’s the word “lethe” [láy-thay], and it means “forgetfulness” or “concealment.”  It’s where we get the word “lethargic.”  But then in Greek there’s the word for truth, which is “alethia” [ah-láy-thee-uh].  And it basically means “revelation” or “disclosure.”  It means: To reveal what is hidden.  And so, we can understand why Jesus calls himself “the Truth.”  He reveals to us what is hidden in God.  And not only that—he also reveals to us what is hidden in ourselves.

The Second Vatican Council wrote that “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, [Christ] fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” [Gaudium et Spes, 22].  We give Jesus authority because he’s like a mirror for us.  We look at him, his life, his values, his priorities, his loves and, in that, we’re meant to see...ourselves.  Jesus reveals to us our potential as sons and daughters of God.  And he loves us that way, by being our truth. 

Christ is the Great Revealer, the one who unveils everything; he is the Truth.  And, because of that, goodness and beauty, freedom, power, and greatness follow him.  In short, the Kingdom of God springs up wherever he is; wherever truth is.  And that’s why Scripture speaks of “us” as having been “made into a kingdom” [Rev 1:6].  If the truth of things is really of importance to us, then the Kingdom of God necessarily blossoms within us and through us.  And this is something that’s seen throughout the history of the Church.

Whenever the Church has been in trouble, salvation always comes by way of the truth.  When Christians were persecuted in the early Church, there was a lot of bloodshed, but truth won out.  When life was dark and chaotic in the 9th Century—even in the Church—people who stuck to the truths of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles are what saved Christianity.  When the Church was going off the rails again in the 16th Century, Martin Luther tried to interject the truth there, for which he was condemned.  But the Church did make some changes then, and returned to the truth again—even if Christianity had been split apart by then.

When we look at the Church today, it’s in trouble.  Some of its leaders have caused irreparable harm.  Christ himself is given a bad name by some “Christians” out there who preach their own truth as though it’s God’s truth, and they accuse and condemn people left and right.  There’s a sense of competition with the Evangelicals and mega-churches: “We need music like they have, we need flashy preachers like they have, we need to have what they have.”  And then soon our salvation is dependent on other people and buildings and this latest trend and that latest thing to hit the church “industry.”

What happened to truth?  What happened to seeing beauty and goodness in God’s truth?  What happened to marveling at the transforming power of God’s truth?  What happened to Christ—in particular, Christ the King; Christ the Great Revealer who shares everything he has from the Father with us?  Christ who holds nothing back from us, and offers us everything?  Whenever the Church has been in trouble, salvation has always come by way of the truth.

As we live out our calling to be “the kingdom” here on earth, it’s critical to keep truth at our core.  And we do that in several ways—none of which we haven’t heard of before.  One way is humility; not self-deprecation, but genuine humility—the kind of humility that says, “I am not the center of the universe.  I’m a necessary part of it, and I’m even a good (very good) part of it, but I’m not the center of the universe.  There’s more than just me and my thoughts.”  So, humility and truth go hand-in-hand.

Another way is wonder—trying to see the world fresh every day, realizing that there’s always more to learn.  You know, science and experimentation are fascinating things.  And they’ve revealed a lot of truths to humanity.  But, if there’s a pitfall to science, it’s a lack of wonder.  For example, just because we know how genetics work, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wonder about why genetics work the way they do.  Humans didn’t make genes and chromosomes and all that, so we can’t stop at the question of how; we have to keep wondering and ask the question why.  So wonder, endless curiosity, and truth go hand-in-hand.

What else... Well, learning is essential to truth.  Learning, knowledge, understanding, wisdom—we don’t leave them behind when we graduate from school.  We don’t leave them behind when we get confirmed.  Learning and truth go hand-in-hand.

And, perhaps another way we live out our calling to be “the kingdom” here on earth, is through respect and awe.  When we approach God in prayer, in Mass, or wherever, we approach with respect and with awe—not because God is someone to fear, but because God is someone to be awed by.  It’s like being with someone at the moment of death, or at the moment of birth.  It’s like seeing the power of tornadoes and hurricanes.  It’s like seeing a beautiful sunrise or the stars twinkling in the clear night sky.  You just sit back with awe and take it in.  Truth requires a certain amount of “stillness.”  It needs time and silence to unfold for us.  It needs respect and awe.  Truth can’t be rushed, but only received and hungered for.

Christ the King reveals to us our supreme calling: to “be the kingdom” here on earth, a nation of people where truth is our light, and where none other than God himself is that Light and Truth.  May we live humbly, with wonder and awe, learning from Christ our King, Christ our Truth.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Homily for 18 Nov 2018

18 Nov 2018
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

There used to be a sign by the highway.  It was about the size of a card table, painted white, really simple.  And there were big black letters on it that read: “Prepare! The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  And after about five years, the paint was starting to peel (I suppose from sitting out in the hot sun all day).  And then after about seven years, it started to tilt, and you could see the wood underneath the paint; it was already gray from the weather. 

And then, finally, after about ten years, it fell over in the ditch.  The mud and the rain finished it off.  So much for: “Prepare!  The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  I guess it wasn’t as “close at hand” as they thought.  Scripture reminds us today of the closeness of the coming of Jesus, and of all the earthly and cosmic events that will happen when he comes. 

But, at the same time, these Scriptures today can be a bit like that sign by the highway.  Thousands of years have gone by from the time Mark’s Gospel was written, and another six hundred years beyond that since the Book of Daniel was written.  It’s a long time for Scripture to be standing there by the highway, proclaiming its urgent message that Jesus is coming.  And, of course, for a lot of people, that message is worn and irrelevant, just like that sign by the highway.  You can only wait so long, and then you stop paying attention.

But, really, the wait isn’t that long.  Christians have long believed in what’s called the “general resurrection” when, at the end of time, what Jesus says will come to pass.  “They will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky” [Mark 13:26-27].  That’s the “general resurrection.”  And, while we don’t when that will happen, we can probably guess it’s not going to be for awhile (based on our already 2,000+ year wait).

But Christians have also long believed in what might be called the “individual resurrection,” or “individual judgment,” which we experience at the time of our death.  We hear in the Gospel of Luke: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (16:22).  And later at the crucifixion scene, Jesus tells the repentant thief: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43).  So, really, the wait isn’t that long.

For myself, I expect in the next forty years or so, “the Kingdom of God will be at hand” for me.  But, of course, I don’t know; none of us does.  But we do know that, sooner or later, “the Kingdom of God will be at hand” for each of us; at some point we have to die.  These bodies of ours aren’t made to last forever...even if our souls are.  And that’s not a reason to be afraid. 

How many times does Jesus say, “Be not afraid, be not afraid, I am with you always.”  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am going to prepare a place for you, and then I will come back to take you with me, so that where I am you also may be.”  And, really, for a people of faith, for people who trust in God, who adore God, who open themselves up to him and his grace, Christs promise is a wonderful thing to hear and to cherish: “I will come back to take you with me; be not afraid, I am with you always.”

It’s an image of the Bridegroom embracing his Beloved, his Bride.  But that only happens through what we talked about last weekend; namely, sacrifice. 

It’s similar, maybe, to the relationship we have to the earth.  The earth gives and gives.  And we are the happy recipients of all that earth offers us: food, water, shelter, star-filled nights, sunny days, heat, and cold, and so on.  The earth gives and gives...for our benefit.  And we receive everything the earth gives.  We take that food and water and warmth, and it becomes part of our lives.

But, then, at some point, we give ourselves to the earth, and the earth receives us.  Of course, that’s what cemeteries symbolize and remind us of: the give-and-take relationship between ourselves and the earth.  And if cemeteries remind us of that, then churches (and what we do here at Mass) remind us of the give-and-take relationship between ourselves and our God.  God gives and gives: love, guidance, forgiveness, hope, faith, truth, wisdom, and so on.  God gives and gives.  And we (try to) receive all that. 

But, then, we give ourselves to God, and God receives us.  God takes us to himself, so that, as Jesus says, “where I am you also may be;” not in the dark of the grave, but enjoying the “splendor of God’s Kingdom” in spirit and in truth.  But that give-and-take relationship with God requires sacrifice...from both parties: God and us. 

But by really trying to live a life of sacrifice—a life of self-offering and self-gift to God and to others—we realize that “the Kingdom of God is at hand;” not only at the end of the world, not only at the time of our individual passing from this life, but also right here in life.  The Kingdom of God is at hand; it’s here for the taking.  Just like an apple tree that’s ready for the harvest.  And the tree says, “Come, enjoy my fruit!”  So the Kingdom of God is always ripe, always ready for the taking.

And we do take—not in guilt, but with thanksgiving.  At the Last Supper, Jesus broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this, all of you, and eat of it.”  Take it, eat it.  It’s given up...”for you.”  There’s no guilt involved, just thanksgiving.  And the same thing with the chalice: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it.”  Take it, drink from it.  It’s poured out...”for you.”  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  There’s nothing to be afraid of; just enjoy the fruits of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, just as much as we enjoy the fruits of the earth.

But, in return, what do we give to the Lord?  What do we give to the earth in return?  We care for it as responsible workers in “the vineyard of the Lord.”  We love the earth by caring for it.  And how do we love the Lord?  Through sacrifice...primarily, a sacrifice of thanksgiving, worship, and adoration.  Ultimately, though, we love the Lord by dying into his hands, with trust, and with hope and peace.  We love him by giving ourselves back to him—each and every day in spirit, and then, someday, we give our frail bodies back to him.

So, the Kingdom of God is, truly, at hand.  Right now the grace of God is ready for the taking.  And there’s plenty to go around.  And the more we enjoy that grace today, the more we enjoy and develop our friendship with Christ today, the more we’ll look forward to that day; that day when God will say, “Come, it’s time.  Be not afraid...the Kingdom of God is hand...for you.”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Homily for 11 Nov 2018

11 Nov 2018
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Sacrifice is central to our lives as Christians.  Whether we’re here at Mass, or out and about doing our thing as families, as friends, or even as individuals, sacrifice is essentially what defines us as Christians.  And that’s not just for Catholics; that goes for anyone who would call him- or herself a follower of Jesus Christ.  At the heart of Christian worship is sacrifice.  It’s why the crucifix holds a central place in Christian art.  Sacrifice is (or is supposed to be) central to who we are and what we’re about. 

And this is something our readings this weekend make us reflect on.  We hear about the sacrifice of the widow at Zarephath—using up the last of her flour and oil to feed someone.  We hear about the sacrifice of the widow at the Temple—putting her two cents into the treasury, “her whole livelihood.”  We hear about Jesus offering the sacrifice of himself, both on earth and in heaven.  This weekend, we cannot escape sacrifice.

And if there’s a main idea to our readings today it’s that: Sacrifice should cost me something.  Sacrifice should cost us something; we should “feel it.”  Now, Jesus is not asking us to be in misery and pain.  He’s not asking that; instead, he’s asking us to make sure our sacrifices are actually sacrifices.  And he makes that request through the little snapshot in the gospel.

“Many rich people put in large sums” into the treasury.  Then “a poor widow also came and put in two small coins.”  And Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more...[because the others] contributed from their surplus,” whereas she “contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”  Jesus is trying to get across the point that the widow “felt” her sacrifice, whereas the others did not necessarily. 

It’s the difference between a sacrifice of my “extra stuff” (a sacrifice which doesn’t really touch “me”), and a sacrifice which is “me.”  When Elijah came to Zarephath, the widow didn’t say, “Well, I don’t have much flour and oil, but let me go see if my neighbor can spare some.”  No, she used up what was hers, even if it was all she had.  And Jesus on the Cross sacrificed his own blood, not the blood of a sacrificial animal (which would be the usual sacrifice to make at that time). 

There’s a big difference between those people at the Temple who gave out of their surplus, and the widow who had no surplus and gave of herself, her “whole livelihood” (or in Greek we could read that “she gave her whole life.”  There’s a big difference there.  God is looking for self-sacrifice—not the sacrifice of somebody else.  And God walks the talk: he himself was sacrificed on the Cross.  So he’s not asking us to do something he himself hasn’t already done.

Now, granted, very few of us (if any of us here) will be called upon to make such a dramatic sacrifice as Jesus.  But sacrifice is still central to our lives as Christians.

For example, friendship is a good thing.  It’s a great gift from God to have true friends in this life.  But, there is a cost involved with that good thing; and the cost is sacrifice.  When it’s the end of the day, and you’re ready to just wind down, your friend might call or text, and he or she might need to talk.  Not just a “hey, how’s it going” kind of talk, but a talk that requires a caring heart.  Well, that’s where the self-sacrifice comes in.  You ignore the fact that you’re tired, and you be the friend.  And it costs you something, and you feel it. You’re tired, and if your body had its way, you’d be asleep already.  But you forego the sleep and you give your time and attention to that other person—willingly.  Sacrifice is part of who we are as Christians.

And, of course, any parent knows that children bring all sorts of opportunities for self-sacrifice.  “I’d like to go to the game, but...little Matthew is sick and I need to stay home.  It’s my responsibility.”  Or “I want my kids to like me, but I just have to be the parent and say ‘no’ this time, even if makes them mad.”  Parents feel what it’s like to sacrifice.

Politics is another area for sacrifice.  For instance, Christians are absolutely pro-life.  And it takes a certain amount of courage to stand up for that, especially when you know that other people might treat you quite badly when you stand up for life.  But that’s the sacrifice: Being a willing target of others’ hostility, even the hostility of other Christians.

In this politically charged time in our history, you almost have to expect to be bad-mouthed if you dare to stand up for what you believe.  Politics can be a vicious arena, and there are plenty of chances to practice self-sacrifice.  And that are sacrifices we might feel; they’re sacrifices that might cost us something.

And, of course, sacrifice touches parish life, too.  Every volunteer we have is practicing self-sacrifice; giving their time, their efforts for the good of the community, with the only “payment” being those words: Thank you.  Even the employees have opportunities to practice sacrifice whenever they say ‘okay’ to one of Father’s off-the-wall ideas.  Really, we each practice self-sacrifice every time we give somebody the benefit of the doubt; when we choose the ways of mercy and non-judgement when, really, we want nothing more than judge somebody else.  And we all know how that kind of sacrifice feels like: it feels like a tongue that’s been bitten.

Sacrifice runs all through parish life.  And a really concrete way we experience that is, of course, with the collection basket.  Sacrifice makes the parish and the school run.  We’re not like a civic government that can just levy taxes.  The bulk of what we do is supported by people’s sacrificial offering.  Without financial sacrifice, we cease to be (a parish).  And so, talk about money and the collection basket shouldn’t be shied away from; it should be right out there in the open like any other sacrifice we’re each asked to make.  Without a healthy sense of sacrifice, the parish—the Church—doesn’t exist; whether that’s the sacrifice of money, or the sacrifice of time, or the sacrificial offering of our gifts and our talents.  The life of any Christian community runs on sacrifice; in particular, the sacrifices that we “feel.”

But, in saying that, it has to be acknowledged that sacrifice is a two-way street.  We’re called to sacrifice because of our baptism and our profession of faith in Christ.  We’re called to a life of sacrifice.  But, we’re also called to receive others’ sacrifice with gratitude, and to reverence that for what it is: a sacrifice, a self-gift.

Now, we hear today about Elijah and the scribes.  And they’re on opposite ends of a spectrum.  Both ask for sacrifice from others.  They both do it.  But Elijah asks, knowing that the widow’s sacrifice won’t bring her any harm in the long run.  He asks for a sacrifice to help her be a better Jew.  But when the scribes ask for a sacrifice, it’s only to fill their treasury.  Even if the sacrifice is intended for the Temple, there’s no attention given to the well-being of the widow, the one making the sacrifice.   As Jesus puts it, the scribes “devour the houses of widows.”  The scribes have little respect for others’ sacrifice as a sacrifice.  But Elijah does.

It’s as we say during Mass: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…for the praise and glory of his name…for our good…and the good of his holy Church.  Sacrifice is meant to build up, not to destroy.

And so, any time we ask for a sacrifice from someone else—whether that’s among friends or family, at work, or in the parish, or from the parish; whether it’s a sacrifice of time, or money, or gifts and talents—we want to follow the example of Elijah (and Jesus).  Others’ self-sacrifice should be reverenced and cherished, not abused or taken for granted.  And perhaps the best way to do that is to make sure that we “feel” our own sacrifices, so we can appreciate the sacrifices of others.

And so, as we gather here at the Altar of God, we approach with gratitude in our hearts.  Jesus’ self-sacrifice is given to us and for our benefit.  May we, in turn, take that same spirit of sacrifice into the world, into our homes and our hearts.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Homily for 28 Oct 2018

28 Oct 2018
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Every October, on the last Sunday of the month, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates “Priesthood Sunday.”  Officially, it’s “a day to reflect upon and affirm the role of the priesthood in the life of the Church as a central one” (from Serra International).  And, to be honest, it’s an idea I’ve struggled with; primarily because what we do here at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God.

Even when there is a wedding, or a baptism, or confirmation, or the blessing of an anniversary, and so on, it isn’t about us.  Instead, it’s always about offering thanks and praise to God for what he’s doing.  You know, a wedding is a time to celebrate God’s grace having brought the couple together; God’s grace blessing them and strengthening them in their lifelong union of love.  At a baptism and at confirmation, we celebrate God’s gift of salvation and new life.  And so on, and so on.

What we do at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God.  And so, on this “Priesthood Sunday,” there is something to celebrate and to honor.  And what we hold up today is…priesthood.  “Now, wait a minute, Father.  You just said we weren’t going to do that.”  Well, true.  But we are going to celebrate what God is doing.  And what he’s doing, as we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews, is that Jesus is being—at this very moment—our great High Priest.  And he’s inviting to share in that same priesthood.

Priesthood is, fundamentally, a state of being.  It’s part of who someone is.  It describes the nature and lifestyle of a person.  And at the heart of that lifestyle are two things: offering and intercession.  Offering and intercession.

When we come to Mass we do a lot of things: sit, stand, kneel, sing, put money in the basket, pray, genuflect, listen to Scripture, write intentions in the prayer book, say Amen, profess the faith, and just generally try to give our attention to what’s going on.  And all of that is an offering of ourselves.  From the moment we say, “Ok, I’m going to go to Mass,” until we get here and participate in Mass, we’re offering ourselves to God: our time, our attention, our money, our gifts, our prayers, our hopes and faith, our voices, our intentions, and our hearts.

And even when we leave from here, we still live a life of offering.  Offering our time to neighbors, friends, and family; offering our help to those in need; giving of our gifts and our talents where they’re needed; and so on.  At the heart of priesthood is this idea of “offering” and “giving.”  And so, “priesthood” should describe every one of us.

This is what the Roman Catechism says: “All the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of Baptism.  Especially is this name given to [those who,]… enlightened by faith and charity…offer spiritual sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts.” 

And this understanding of priesthood has been around for a very long time.  The Roman Catechism was written by Pope St. Pius V…in 1570.  And, of course, before that there was Saint Peter saying to the people, “You are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5).  Not sacrifices and offerings on the stone or wood altar, but spiritual sacrifices on “the altar of the heart.”  And we carry our hearts and souls with us all the time.  And so, whenever or wherever we are, we can exercise our God-given ability to “make an offering.”

And also right there at the heart of priesthood is the idea of “making intercession” for others; praying to God on behalf of others.  You know, at Mass when we have our Universal Prayers, we all respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  “For the Church, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.  For the sick and the needy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.  For those who have died, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.” 

The thing is that we all pray: Lord, hear our prayer.  It isn’t just the ordained priest who says it; we all say it.  We all offer prayers of intercession—for the Church, the world, the needy, our own needs, and for all the faithful departed.  And, you know, this is what Jesus does for us in heaven.  We see that beautifully in the Gospel of John (17:6-26) when Jesus prays to God the Father.  He says:

“I pray for them…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am…that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus, our great High Priest, is praying for us—always.  He’s always interceding on our behalf, for our good.  And by exercising the priesthood God has invited us to share in, we do the same for the world, for those who hate us, and for those we love.

Now, if you’re wondering why I get to dress in black and wear a white collar, why I get to wear the fancy clothes at Mass, the reason is this.  The ordained priest is here to model a life of offering and intercession.  Just as Jesus came to mentor the Apostles in the ways of priesthood, so the ordained priest is here to mentor all the baptized in the ways of priesthood. 

And so, be sure to pray for me and for all ordained priests, that we might be faithful to our call to serve you, and to offer our lives for you, and to pray for your good. 

On this “Priesthood Sunday,” we celebrate and honor priesthood itself.  We thank God for inviting us to share in the life of Jesus who is the great High Priest, the one who offers himself perfectly and fully; the one who is always selfless in his prayers for us.  We worship God alone here at Mass.  But we do that by exercising our common priesthood, our common call to offer ourselves to God, and to pray for those who need God.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Homily for 21 Oct 2018

21 Oct 2018
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Whenever we come to worship God, we usually sing songs of gratitude or praise.  You know, we sing words like: “Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away;” or “The God of all grace has blessed us this day, all of creation joins us in praise;” or “Sing a new song unto the Lord, let your song be sung from mountains high, singing alleluia!”

And these are songs of a free people; a people who’ve seen the difference between a life without Christ and a life with Christ.  They’re songs of people who are not captive anymore, but are free in spirit.  Christ has unlocked their “prison door” and they’ve begun to experience a new way of living.  They’ve begun to live God’s vision of a “new humanity.”

The question is, though: Are we these people?  We hear today that: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”—a ransom from all the things we can be a slave to, without even knowing it.  Have we allowed ourselves to be ransomed by the Lord? 

When I was in college, there was a young woman (probably in her early 20s) who had told the class she was Catholic (I think we were each describing who we were).  And she seemed pretty normal and was a good presence in the classroom; you know, kind and helpful; she always wore a crucifix on her necklace.  And then there was another young lady there who was just the opposite: she had a foul mouth; she was confrontational and overbearing, and didn’t believe in a god of any sort.

And by the end of the semester, we had two foul-mouthed girls in the class, who were rude and couldn’t care less about other people.  And we had one less Catholic—she was a captive, and she did what was popular rather than what was right.  She was in prison again, and she didn’t even know it. 

Of course, that’s the struggle of so many youth today—to be a free person in Christ, or to be a slave to popular opinion.  It’s a rather tragic thing to see a young man or woman in church with a face that says: “I would rather be anywhere else than here.”  An expressionless face, a stoic and unmovable face that says (even if they don’t know it): “I am a captive.”  And it’s sad to see someone who is unable to sing the songs of Christian freedom; who might sing the words on the page, but maybe doesn’t feel them in his or her heart.

And that’s not just a struggle for youth today; it’s also a challenge for many adults.  The old idea of “keeping up with Joneses” keeps a lot of people captive.  “My neighbor has a new car, and all I have is my old Buick with 120,000 miles on it.”  Or “my friend Joe over here can run a marathon, but I can’t even run around the block.”  It’s easy to be held captive to images of what we think we should be like. 

And then we come to Mass and sing, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”  But do we?  Are we really so free and able to “place our trust in” God and be at peace about life?  Or are our hearts and minds held captive and bothered by other things?  I would imagine the answer is probably: “It depends.  Sometimes I’m free, and sometimes I know I’m not.”  But it’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves. 

The thing about it, though, is that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer.  And that’s because, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”  He didn’t come to strong-arm us into saying yes to him.  Jesus is Lord, but…he doesn’t lord it over us.  He never says: “I am the Son of God: the Ruler of the world.”  Instead, he’s the much weaker “Son of Man,” who invites people to follow him; he never forces us. 

He serves us by inviting us to be his friends.  His disciples follow him because they want to, not because they have to.  And they follow him because they know he’s “set them free” from their captivity to…popular opinion, or the latest gadget, or the idea that they have to change themselves in order to be lovable.  The disciples of Christ are freed from all that, and they just follow him with trust, hope, and adoration.

And they follow him into something new—into a new way of living, into a new way of being human.  Jesus shows us a “new humanity,” as Pope Benedict XVI calls it.  And what this “new humanity” looks like is: interior freedom; kindness; a life of trust and fidelity toward God and others; a life of hope and integrity; a life of greatness and inner radiance; a life of happiness and peace; a life of service (that is, love) for God, others, and ourselves; a life of commitment and self-offering; a life of always looking forward and upward; a life that treasures the ancient and the old, and reveres and nurtures the new.

The Son of Man came to “ransom us” from our old selves, and to open the way to a “new humanity.”  Of course, that “new humanity” comes with a price.  And Christ has already paid the price on the Cross.  But the price continues to be paid every time we try to “own” the freedom Christ offers us.

For many of our youth, the price of living as a free person in Christ is the fear of what others will say.  What are others going to think if I’m actually happy that there’s at least one person in life who loves me unconditionally?  What are others going to think if I say, “I can’t go out tonight because I just want to spend some time with my family.”  The Cross happens again every time they put their love of God ahead of their concerns about what others think.  The same can be said for adults. 

But the beauty of choosing to be a free person with Christ, and embracing the occasional pain that comes with it, is that God’s vision of the “new humanity” comes to be a reality in us.  In the 2nd Century, St Irenaeus saw very clearly that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive, and the life of humanity is the vision of God.”  The flowers in the field, the birds in the sky give glory to God because they are what they’re made to be.  And the glory of God, the radiance of God is within us when we are what we’re made to be: and we’re made to be free.

And that’s not only God’s vision, but it’s ours as well.  James and John asked if they could sit with Christ “in glory.”  And we’re just like that.  We want “glory,” happiness, peace; we want life to be good and fulfilling.  We know we’re made to be free.

So why remain captive to all those things in life which stop us from becoming part of God’s “new humanity?”  Why remain captive to others’ opinions of us?  Why remain captive to the social ideas that our human worth comes from our appearance, or the kind of house we have, or whatever?  Why remain captive to all that when the Son of Man came to ransom us from that and to show us a better way, a happier and more glorious way?

Christ shows us a “new humanity,” a new way to live life.  And he frees us from everything that holds us back.  All that’s left is to take the first step: the first steps from captivity to freedom in God.  And maybe it starts by taking to heart the words we sing at Mass: “Glory and praise to our God, who alone gives light to our day, many are the blessings he bears to those who trust in his ways.”