Friday, June 15, 2018

Homily for 15 June 2018

15 June 2018

God is the Creator, but he’s also the re-Creator.  He creates.  But what he creates isn’t like a big wind-up toy, where God turns the crank and then lets it go.  Instead, he creates…and then keeps reshaping and reforming what he’s creating.  Creation is a continual process.  This is what Scripture reminds us of today.

The prophets of old led to Elijah, and Elijah was soon to be replaced with Elisha and new prophets.  Even something as sacred as the Ten Commandments God tinkered with when Jesus gave a new interpretation of those laws.  Creation is a continual process.  We see it out in the fields, in the barn, in the family, and within ourselves.

For instance, when it comes to prayer, the types of prayer that worked for me five years ago just don’t “work” anymore.  I’ve grown in faith, and so the prayers change, too.  But that’s how it is with any relationship.  The way each of us relates to God changes—not because God changes, but because we do, and because our life stories change and are re-created.

God is the Creator, but he’s also the re-Creator.  And so, when life changes and new challenges come, God might just be tinkering with his creation…making it stronger, making it into his kingdom. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Homily for 14 June 2018

14 June 2018

God has done many good things—that’s the gist of the psalm today: God has done many good things.  He’s “visited the land and watered it,” and has “crowned the year with his bounty;”  “the untilled meadows overflow with it.”  God has done many good things; these things and much more—magnificent things.

But, at the same time, it’s easy to overlook them because we’ve grown accustomed to them.  It’s easy to forget.  You know, one of the joys of childhood is that every day is a new adventure, every plant, every insect, every stone laying along the railroad tracks is something to be marveled at.  Not too much is taken for granted.

Here at the start of our day, it’s good to be like children: with eyes wide open, ready to take in all that God has prepared for us.  God has done many good things.  Let’s be sure to “stop and smell the roses” and give thanks.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Homily for 10 June 2018

10 June 2018
10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

In the 1st Century B.C., the city of Rome was called for the first time the “Eternal City.”  The poet Albius Tibullus gave it that name—and for good reason.  The Romans were strong warriors who defeated any enemy that came their way.  And the Roman Empire extended throughout the known world.  After Rome was given that name, the “Eternal City,” people really began to believe that if the city fell, the rest of the world would, too.

Of course, as we know, it wasn’t eternal.  The Roman civilization gradually deteriorated from the inside out, and in the year 410, the Eternal City was sack by the Visigoths.  And that’s a story which is repeated throughout history.  Civilizations rise and fall, and new ones take their place.  The same can be said of the Church, which is a society with its own brand of civilization.

Just go to the internet and look up “church ruins,” and you’ll find all sorts of pictures and stories of areas in the world where the Church was, and is no longer; or areas where the Church has changed so much that one type of Christian society has been replaced by another over time.  Civilizations rise and fall and change.  It’s just a fact of life.

But Christianity is different.  I mean, it changes through time, like anything else.  But it’s supposed to actually be “eternal,” like Heaven, like God.  We might even think the same thing about, say, the United States.  We can’t conceive of there not being a United States.  And yet, neither of these—Christianity or the country—is a “for sure” thing.  That’s what history teaches us: we can’t take anything for granted—not even such enduring things as the Church and the country.

And I mention this because for the past several months Bishop Ricken has been asking the priests, and pastoral and parish leaders, to consider the question (and I’m paraphrasing here): If your parish were no longer there...would anyone notice?  Would the wider population be affected at all if your parish were no longer there?

And it’s an excellent question because it lays it right out there that not even the Church (on earth) is eternal.  It, like any other society, rises and falls.  And so, if the Church were to simply disintegrate in our little corner of the world, would anyone notice?  Is the civilization we call “Catholic living” really that important to the wider population?  Well, from all the data, it would seem the answer is generally “no.” 

Now, that’s not necessarily a reason to get depressed.  But it is a reason to seriously reconsider what we’re doing, and what we’re not doing.  Our strength isn’t in thinking that the Church will just always be there.  Instead, our strength is in acknowledging our frailty. 

That’s why we go to Confession, isn’t it?  We go in the little room, and we admit our weakness to God.  And he says, “Don’t worry about it—I forgive you.  And here’s some of my grace to help you.”  Right?  Our strength is in admitting our weakness, our frailty.  God goes on forever, the Church in Heaven goes on forever.  But the neighborhood Church?  Who says that goes on forever?  That’s not a sure thing.  And our strength lies in acknowledging that.

And that’s why Bishop has put that question out there to the priests and parish leaders: IF your parish were no longer there, would anyone notice?  What would be the loss to the surrounding population?  And if the answer is, “Well, there wouldn’t be any loss,” then it’s a good sign we need to change what we’re doing.

In Saint Paul’s letter today to the Corinthians (2 Cor 4:15), he really highlights what our relationship is to the surrounding population, whether they’re other Christian denominations, non-believers, migrant workers, or what have you.  He writes, “Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.”

And that’s a pretty dense sentence, so let me break it apart.  Saint Paul says, “Everything indeed is for you,” meaning all the grace and goodness God has given me, the individual, is for “my good,” but it’s given to be shared, to be spread.  For instance, God forgives me—freely.  So I, in turn, forgive my neighbor.  That’s a way the grace of God (and the relevance of the faith) is spread.  Or maybe God has given me a positive outlook on life.  So I, in turn, share that optimism with those who need it.  (Whether or not they accept is their business, but we share it anyway).  That’s a way grace is spread out.

Or if I go to a football game, or a soccer game, or a track meet, I’m going to share my enthusiasm for life—while wearing my St. Clare t-shirt (of course, we need to get St. Clare t-shirts to make that happen).  But that’s a way others can connect the Church and faith with life outside these walls—that God can be present and enjoying a game between his sons and daughters.  “Everything indeed is for you,” says St. Paul, meaning all the grace and goodness God has given me, the individual, is for “my good,” but for everybody else’s, too.   

St. Paul goes on: “ that the grace bestowed in abundance....”  Now, that’s not God’s grace bestowed on us—that’s God’s grace bestowed out on the world by us: an “abundance” of grace, an “abundance” of goodwill and peace, an “abundance” of neighborly encouragement, an “abundance” of looking out for the lost and the forgotten—even those right in front of us.

“...So that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people (out there)...may cause the thanksgiving to overflow....”  Going out and sharing God’s grace with people in the area isn’t about meeting a consumer need; it’s about meeting a human need—the need to know that “I am worth something to somebody,” and the need to give back—even if that giving is a simple “thank you.”    

But this thanksgiving is directed not to “me” or even “us” as a Church but, as St. Paul says, “for the glory of God.”  It’s been pointed out by many leaders in the global Church that the Church is not a social services organization.  We don’t exist to provide a service.  We exist to reconnect God with his lost sheep.  We exist to undo the events of the Garden of Eden, and to remind people where the purpose and meaning of their lives come from, and where basic human hope and love come from.  Really, we exist to help people be the sons and daughters of God that they are.

We have a wonderful message to share with others outside these walls.  But we can’t think that “somebody else will just take care of it,” or that “the Church will always be around to do that.”  We can’t take that for granted.

If our parish (or any parish) were no longer to exist, would the wider population notice? Would it make a difference at all in others’ lives? Hopefully, the answer would be “yes”—hopefully they'd miss our presence. But it’s not a sure thing. But we increase our chances of making a difference--and being relevant--every time we step out and the share the grace God has blessed us with.

That’s where our hope lies: the grace of God and responding to the simple call to share that abundance of grace with those around us.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Homily for 8 June 2018

8 Jun 2018
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

In Catholic churches, the most important piece of art in the sanctuary is a crucifix.  And ours is very prominent here by the altar.  But what’s behind that crucifix is what we celebrate today: the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus; it’s what led him to the Cross; it’s the indomitable Spirit of divine Love poured out.  The bleeding Heart of Jesus and the open wound of Jesus’ side on the Cross are the same. 

Some people jokingly say that their wedding day was their funeral.  But for Jesus, his funeral—his crucifixion—was his wedding day.  It was the day that he gave himself, definitively, to the Church, his Bride.  And behind that act of spiritual and bodily love for us is the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

But his love is not given in a spirit of sentimentality, as we so often take “love” to be today.  Instead, the sacredness of his love is that it’s not about him; it’s about his devotion to us.  It’s freely given and sacrificial; completely selfless and given for the good of those who are open to receive it.  This kind of love is at the root of marriage, the family, committed friendships, and so on.  And this relational, sacrificial love is central to the Sacred Heart.

The image of husband and wife, where God is the husband and Israel is the wife, is a thread that runs throughout the Old Testament prophets.  And, so, too, is the image of a parent’s love for a child.  The prophet Hosea speaks of God who “fostered [Ephraim] like one who raises an infant to his cheeks.”  It’s a touching image, one that has that familiar sentimental and emotional aspect to it.  But beneath that image is a more primordial, unconditionally devoted love of a parent for a child.  We adore God.  But it’s important to remember that God adores us first.  That divine adoration is his Sacred Heart poured out for us.

But Hosea notes also that, although God “stooped to feed [his] child, they did not know that I was their healer.”  And that’s the overarching story of Scripture; it’s the story of the whole of salvation history.  God loves us and creates us.  For a time, humanity returns his love.  But then we go on this roller coaster relationship of fidelity and infidelity.  We are faithful and unfaithful; faithful and unfaithful. 

But then, in salvation history, the Sacred Heart of Jesus pours out one last show of divine love for his people.  And we have the crucifixion, the wedding day when Christ the Bridegroom poured out his love for his Bride the Church.  The day when his Sacred Heart moved him to give his whole body, his whole being in love to the Bride, to his people.  And he says to us: “Return to me.” 

That’s the message of the prophets, the message of Christ’s teachings, the message of our Scripture and the Tradition as a whole: return to God.  Entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to that love which knows no limits, which is eternally forgiving, which is kind, gracious, and merciful.

This is the prayer of St. Paul when he writes to the Ephesians.  He kneels before the Father interceding for us so that we might “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, . . . [and] be filled with all the fullness of God.”  In effect, St. Paul’s prayer is that we be able to pray our psalm from today: “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid.  My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my savior.”

And he shows himself our Savior on the Cross.  There, his Sacred Heart is poured out in sacrificial love: the Bridegroom gives himself to the Bride.  And he says to her—he says to us: Come to me.  Follow me, whose Heart is aflame with love for you.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Homily for 1 June 2018

1 June 2018

“All that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours,” says Jesus.  And the two key ideas there are: prayer and belief.

What is prayer but being one with God—in thought, in desire, and so on.  So, really, what we ask for in “prayer” is simply what God wants for us.  After all, a person who’s one with God says in so many words, “Thy will be done, thy kingdom come…and it will be enough.”

So “all that we ask for in prayer” is already something God desires for us.  But then Jesus says, “believe that you will receive it”—believe.

If we’re lost, for example, well, we know God wants us to be not lost.  So ask him for guidance—with full confidence that he will make it happen—and all will be well.  Or if we’re anxious about a situation, well, we know God wants us to be at peace.  So ask him for peace, for confidence—believing that he will make it happen—and all will be well.

God answers prayers.  And our personal belief that he does is what makes us see that it’s true: God answers prayers.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Homily for 31 May 2018

31 May 2018
Feast of the Visitation
(School Mass)

We know that Saint Mary is one of our greatest helpers.  She loves to bring her son, Jesus, to us, and she loves it when we get to know him.  Have you ever given a gift to someone, and the enjoyable part of it all is to just see the person’s reaction?  Well, that’s how it is with St. Mary—she enjoys bringing Jesus to us and making our lives better.

And, you know, it all started with today’s feast: the Feast of the Visitation.  She went over to Elizabeth’s house for a visit.  But it was a special visit because it was the first time she was bringing Jesus to someone else.  That was when our Blessed Mother started to live out her calling—God called her and made her to bring Jesus to other people. 

And that’s why we pray to St. Mary.  We all know the Rosary: “Hail, Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee”—that’s what the Archangel Gabriel said.  “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”—that’s what Elizabeth said when Mary came for her visit.  “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us…”—that’s what we say.  And we say it because, of all the people who ever lived, Saint Mary knows how to get us in touch with her son, Jesus.

Now, of course, we can pray to Jesus directly (and we should).  But sometimes we need a little help in our prayers.  Maybe we feel like Jesus is far away.  And so we might ask our Blessed Mother—and all the Angels and the Saints, and even our family and friends and ancestors who’ve died—we ask them to “pray for us,” to help us connect with God.

St. Mary’s calling is to be the Mother of God, and also to be the main person who helps us connect with Jesus.  She’s there to help us.  And she’s there to bring joy and happiness into our lives—through Jesus.  And so, we pray: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Homily for 30 May 2018

30 May 2018

We don’t usually think of ourselves as “captives.”  But the Scriptures today suggest that it might be helpful to think of ourselves as such.  St. Peter writes, “Beloved, realize that you were ransomed….”  And then Jesus says, “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Of course, a “ransom” is given specifically to release someone who’s been held captive.  If Jesus died for us, it wasn’t only to show us his love and devotion.  It was also to free us.  But, again, we don’t usually think of ourselves as even being captive.  So the idea of Jesus “freeing” us doesn’t always resonate.  But, still, the Scriptures today suggest we might want to think and pray about that.

We humans can be captive to a lot of things, things like: food, or the need for others’ approval.  We can be captive to our own negative thoughts about ourselves or others—ruminating about faults and failures; being captive to resentments or unforgiveness.  We can be captive to our ways and patterns of thinking, without considering there might be other ways.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be committed to certain things in life; certain values, ways of thinking and believing, and so on.  But are there things in life which…hold us back?  Are there things we do, or ways of thinking which frustrate us, or limit us?  If not, that’s great—maybe God has already set you free from them.  But if there are areas in life where, “Yes, I’m a captive to something,” it’s good to ask how the Lord can “set you free” from it.

We don’t usually think of ourselves as “captives.”  But, again, the Lord came to “give his life as a ransom.”  Is there an area of my life where I could use the Lord’s help to be free?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Homily for 27 May 2018

27 May 2018
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Memorial Day weekend and our solemnity today, the Most Holy Trinity—it’s an interesting combination, but they actually work together quite nicely.  There’s a commonality between both the Holy Trinity and Memorial Day, and that element is “love.”  On Monday we’ll remember all those men and women who gave their lives for love of country.  And this weekend we remember that at the heart of our God, the Holy Trinity, is love.

But that word “love” needs a little bit of nuance.  And I think President Abraham Lincoln got at the nuance in his Gettysburg Address.  He gave the address in 1863 at the dedication of the new Soldier’s Cemetery in Gettysburg, and in it he said, “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

And that idea of “devotion” gets to what we’re talking about when we talk about “love of country,” and the “love at the heart of the Holy Trinity.”  It’s not a sentimental, warm-fuzzy love, but rather, it’s “devotion;” self-sacrificing, other-centered devotion.  It’s the kind of love which looks outward, away from the self, and toward the good of the other.  It’s the kind of love and devotion which says, “I want what’s best for…you; I devote myself to your good.” 

Of course, it’s not entirely self-sacrificing because that kind of devotion and love actually builds up the person who’s doing the loving.  The soldier is built up and honored because he or she “gave the last full measure of devotion.”  And we come here and give “glory and honor” to the Holy Trinity because our God epitomizes “the last full measure of devotion,” especially on the Cross and in the Eucharist.  The person who’s devoted to something bigger than him-or-herself doesn’t get lost; they’re actually enhanced and honored.

But, again, from the Gettysburg Address: “from these honored dead we take increased devotion to…that cause…” for which they gave their lives.  This weekend we honor those who have died for our country; we honor our God who died on the Cross out of sheer devotion for us.  They died for something—something worth dying for.  Soldiers die for the American cause, and those “certain inalienable rights, among them: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  And God died for the cause of humanity, that “we might have life, life to the fullest.”

Among us Catholics we also recognize all those martyrs throughout the ages who “fought the good fight,” who died for the cause of truth, goodness, and right in the world.  And we can understand this whole idea of “devotion;” dedication and love for something outside of ourselves.

For instance, when a bride and groom approach their wedding day, they aren’t thinking sarcastically, “Oh! This’ll be interesting!”  No…they’re excited about devoted themselves to an idea—the idea of a happy marriage, a happy, long life together.  They’re devoting themselves to each other, of course.  But they’re devoting themselves to an idea they share: the idea of mutual, self-giving love.  “I love you and I’ll do anything…for you.”

Or take a priest on ordination day.  He isn’t thinking, “Oh, I could be doing anything else but this!  What am I doing here?!”  No…he’s focused on devoting himself to an idea—the idea of sharing the gospel, bringing God and his people together, making a positive change for the good of others; the idea of dedicating one’s life to God and the things of heaven.  The priest says the same thing as the bride and groom, but he says it to God and to the Church: “I love you and I’ll do anything…for you.”

Of course, those causes don’t always turn out the way they’re supposed to.  And so, the soldiers die, the martyrs die, the married couple has to work through aggravations between themselves, the priest has to go through “dark nights of the soul,” and God has to die on a Cross.  Love and devotion aren’t all roses and sunshine.  Love and devotion also have a cost, and we honor those who pay the price, who “give the last full measure of devotion” so that the cause might live on.

But that’s just it.  They didn’t die so that we could just honor them in our words.  Soldiers don’t die so we can have Memorial Day.  God and the martyrs didn’t die so we could have something to do on Sunday morning.  They all “gave the last full measure of devotion” as…an invitation, of a sort.

Soldiers die in order to say, “Be a faithful, involved, responsible citizen of your country.”  The Christian martyrs die in order to say, “Be a faithful, involved, responsible member of the Church.”  And God pours out his heart of devotion on the Cross with that eternal invitation: “Follow me.”  They all die for some cause, and they want us to get on board with it, be it the country, or the Church, or God (or all three).

And we hear this invitation, too, in the Gettysburg Address.  Lincoln says, “It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”  We honor those who died for our country by: voting, by being a champion of freedom in our own way, by respecting our laws and our values, and so on.  And we honor our God, the Holy Trinity, by: speaking the truth with kindness and mercy, dedicating ourselves happily to the Providence of God, fostering gratitude for all the blessings we have in life, being concerned for the well-being of our neighbor, and so on. 

So, Memorial Day weekend and the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity have a commonality, that being “love,” or a spirit of “devotion.”  But, especially as Catholics, we honor this weekend the Holy Trinity; the divine union which is possible only because of love: self-sacrificing, devotional love, which puts concern for “the other” ahead of “my own convenience.” 

Christ died to open us up to the heart of God, that heart poured out in selfless devotion for us.  May we let him lead us into “life, life to the fullest,” that cause for which he died.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Homily for 22 May 2018

22 May 2018

In the old liturgical calendar there really wasn’t “Ordinary Time.”  The weeks were laid out as: “The 1st Sunday After Pentecost, the 10th Sunday After Pentecost, the 18th Week After Pentecost,” and so on.  The reference point was Pentecost, that moment when the disciples’ lives took a definite turn.  There was no “going back” after one had been struck by the Holy Spirit.

And this is reflected, maybe, in the very first line of the gospel today: “Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey….”  Just two days ago we celebrated Pentecost; the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of the Church, into the hearts of the faithful.  The question is: Where are we going from here?  Are we going anywhere?

Is this the Tuesday after Pentecost, or do we go back to “Ordinary Time,” as usual?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Homily for 20 May 2018

20 May 2018
Solemnity of Pentecost

Jesus ascended into the heavens, and as he went he gave his little group of followers their calling in life.  He said to them, “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”  That was their vocation: the spread the good news of God’s love and salvation to all parts of the world.  And then the Holy Spirit came upon them and empowered them to do just that.

So often, Pentecost is referred to as the “birthday of the Church.”  But it’s more like the birthday of the “missionary spirit of” the Church.  Before then the little Church—that little group of believers—had already been joined to Jesus.  [And we know their names: Peter, John, James and Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Thaddeus; together with some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (among them Barsabbas and Matthias) (Acts 1:13,14,23).]

They already existed as a band of believers, as the Church.  But with Pentecost they went from being an isolated group to being out and about in the world as a specifically “missionary” Church.  It’s like getting a diploma from high school or college: you feel empowered to go take on the world and make a difference.  It’s a thrilling experience of life!  And that’s what those first believers experienced: the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to go and impact others’ lives through by sharing the good news of God’s love and salvation.

But, you know, the world is a big place!  So, as we heard, the Spirit enabled them to speak different languages; to reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard the gospel message.  And this is where the Church—that little band of believers—became “catholic.”  After all, it’s one of the hallmarks of Christ’s Church, that it’s “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”  From day one, it’s been part of the Church’s self-understanding; that she is “catholic.”

Now, if when you hear the word “catholic” you immediately think of: the pope, bishops, hierarchy, the Mass, the Rosary, priests and deacons...Rome, that’s good.  It’s all part of who and what the Church is.  But the word “catholic” really is an adjective, just like those other three words: “one, holy, and apostolic.”  It’s an adjective: “catholic” means “according to the whole,” or as we’d say in English, “universal” or “all-encompassing.”

Jesus created a Church which is all-encompassing (or “catholic”); one that goes out to anybody and everybody in order to spread the gospel message.  It’s also a Church which opens the door to anybody and everybody who wants to follow Christ in a particular way of life.  At Pentecost, God created a “catholic” Church, a universal and all-encompassing Church.

So the purpose of the Church isn’t to be just an isolated little thing; the Lord created her—at Pentecost—to be a Church: on the move, making a difference, transforming life on earth, inviting humanity back to reunion with God.  This is part of the Church’s vocation: to love God, to love her neighbors, and to go make disciples of every nation. 

And the Church fulfills her vocation in a million different ways, through all the countless callings God has given his people (which we talked about last week).  No single person reaches everybody.  But, as a whole, the Church has many “tongues of fire” which it uses to reach out to the multitudes.  (It’s one of the blessings we have here at St. Clare, the fact that you don’t have to listen to just one preacher throughout the year: you have a priest and three deacons who preach in different ways, who reach different people from different backgrounds.)

“Diversity” is a hallmark of the Catholic Church, and we see that so clearly in the image of the multitude of tongues in the Acts of the Apostles.

I’ve heard a few people (outside the parish) say they’re watching us at St. Clare (in a positive way), to see what happens.  And they say that in reference to the merger and how parish life in general continues to take shape.  And what they seem to be suggesting is that the basic idea of “catholicity” is put to the test here at St. Clare.  They’re interested to see how the “catholic” Church takes shape among a diverse group of people.

When I was a seminarian, I was assigned to a parish in Indiana, and it was merging with another parish.  And they were vastly different communities.  One was a large community, mostly Caucasian, middle-upper class, with their own local traditions and ways they celebrate the Mass.  They had a big gothic church downtown.  The other was a pretty small community (maybe 100 people), mostly Black with some Hispanic, lower-middle class, with their own cultural traditions and ways they celebrate the Mass.  They had a small brick church a few blocks away. 

They merged...and they’re going strong, at least in part because they know what the word “catholic” means.  Being part of the “catholic” Church allows for such diversity.  And not only that, it also encourages that kind of diversity...for the purpose of spreading the gospel message to a variety of people.  Can people be on the same page, with regard to the common mission of Christ’s Church, while at the same time respecting (and even encouraging) diversity in the parish population?

This is what the Church calls “unity in diversity:” a diversity of God-given vocations, calling, gifts and talents...all serving one purpose; namely, the glorification of God and the sanctification of the world.  But that’s how the Holy Spirit worked there at that first Pentecost: the Spirit unites, and he also diversifies.

In the “catholic” Church, everybody should be able to find a home—everybody, that is, who is looking for a place to belong.  And that can be so different that what we experience in other places.  I think of high school and peer pressure: the pressure to “fit in,” to be like everybody else for the sake of belonging; the pressure to sacrifice yourself to conform to someone else’s standards.  We don’t do that in the Church.

That’s not to say there aren’t certain standards we try to follow.  There are.  But they’re pretty basic to human nature: love God, love your neighbor as a brother or sister, use the gifts God has given you, be respectful, encourage others, share Jesus with people who need him...I guess those are “standards” we try to adhere to.  But, they’re meant to build up, not tear down.  They’re meant to cause growth, not destruction of the individual.

(Of course, there’s also the weekend Mass schedule, which is another thing we conform to, whether or not we like it.  But that’s another homily…)

In the “catholic” Church, everybody who’s looking to belong somewhere should have a home.  That’s part of the gospel message, right?  The good news of salvation: that God draws all people to himself.  And it’s the basic vocation of the “catholic” Church to spread that good news to those who need to hear it; the core of the gospel message: “Jesus Christ loves you (yes, you); he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you” [Evangelii Gaudium, 164]. 

Who do you know who needs to hear that?  A friend, a spouse, people you wouldn’t normally think to reach out to?  Do you need to hear it? 

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they [your “catholic,” universal Church] shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth”…through her.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Homily for 18 May 2018

18 May 2018

In ancient times, gods were powerful beings.  There was no such thing as a “weak god.”  It was inconceivable.  And times haven’t changed all that much—with respect to people’s expectations of “the gods.”

When things go wrong, people expect God to fix it.  When there are earthquakes, floods, and natural disasters, people expect God to stop it.  When people around us lose their faith, we expect to just knock some sense into them, to set things right again. 

But the kingdom of our God isn’t the expected “kingdom of strength.”  We worship a risen Lord, of course, but we worship even more intensely a crucified Lord, an apparently very weak and ineffective God who “couldn’t even safe him, let alone others.”  Jesus put to humanity a very different understanding of what makes for godliness and divinity.  And he asks his followers to take the same path of weakness.

For example, we hear of St. Paul’s capture today.  He was caught not only by his Jewish adversaries, but he was also caught in the legal system of ancient Rome.  He was just being carried along by whatever the world threw at him.  He didn’t appear to be very strong.

Another example is St. Peter.  It’s a great line that Jesus says to him: “You will stretch out your hands, and someone else will…lead you where you do not want to go.”  Talk about not having control over your life or your destiny…

And yet, Peter and Paul are literally foundational figures for us Christians.  Two apparently very weak men, following the direction of an apparently weak God—Jesus.  And yet, they built the foundation of a Church which has lasted through the centuries up to the present day.  They founded a way of life built entirely upon the idea of “strength through weakness.”  And it’s been wildly successful.

“Strength through weakness:” that’s the vision Jesus lays out for us.  And we know it works.  It works to be weak, to say things like: “I don’t know;” “I don’t understand, but I’ll trust that it’ll work out the way it’s supposed to;” to call Jesus “Lord” and mean it.  It works to be weak, to be happy with the simple pleasures of life, to be content with what we have, to be thankful. 

“Strength through weakness” is the Way Jesus has shown us.  How can we follow that Way a little closer today?

Homily for 17 May 2018

17 May 2018
(School Mass)

This past weekend at Mass, we heard that “Jesus Christ loves you.”  It’s part of the gospel message.  And when you here that—“Jesus Christ loves you”—think of how a mom or dad might hold a little newborn baby in their arms.  They look at the little child and smile; they’re amazed at this little life they’ve created; they would do anything to keep that little child safe; they would do anything to make sure that child grows and becomes strong and healthy; they adore their little baby.

And that’s what we mean when we say that “Jesus Christ loves you.”  He holds us in his arms, and he looks and smiles at us; he adores us—after all, he made us.  And he would do anything to keep us safe (even die for us), and to keep us close to him.  That’s what Jesus’ love for us is like.

In the gospel today, Jesus prays to the Father: “Father, I want them to be me, I want them to be with us—us in them, them in us; I in them, them in me.”  Jesus wants very badly to be close to us…for our good; so that we can be raised up with him, so we can have a happier life even today.

Jesus is the closest and most committed Friend we have.  And that’s a reason to come to the Altar of God first thing today, and to say thank you.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for all the ways you love us.  Thank you for being an unfailing Friend to each one of us. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Homily for 16 May 2018

16 May 2018

In another few days we’ll be celebrating Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  But the Holy Spirit doesn’t just come and take up residence within our souls.  Our souls have to be open enough to “go with the flow” of the Holy Spirit.  And so, there’s some preparation that needs to happen.  We have to “get the house ready,” so to speak. 

And we do that by letting ourselves experience the bittersweetness of what’s happening in the readings today.  Saint Paul was leaving his beloved brothers and sisters, and “they were all weeping loudly.”  And then there’s Jesus’ prayer to the Father, which brings to mind Jesus saying to Mary Magdalene, “Stop holding on to me; I have to go to my Father.”

God’s plan has to be allowed to unfold in its due course, even if it means some temporary separation, some temporary bitterness.  And the more we can step back and let “God’s will be done,” the more we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit.  Of course, it’s not all negative—letting God’s will be done.  It’s not all bitterness and separation.  It’s also the experience of love and friendship, the joy of being alive and seeing something bigger at work, other than simply what “I want.”

The Holy Spirit comes, for sure.  But he comes especially to hearts and minds that are able to “go with the flow” of God’s will.  And so, in preparation for the Holy Spirit, we pray not only “Come, Holy Spirit, come,” but also, “thy will be done on earth…as it is in heaven.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Homily for 15 May 2018

15 May 2018

Jesus fulfilled his calling.  Saint Paul fulfilled his calling, as did the Apostles, our Blessed Mother, and countless others.  They’ve done their best to pass the faith along.  But then Saint Paul says, “I am not responsible for the blood of any of you.”  In other words, the responsibility for our own faith doesn’t lie with anybody else, except us.

What we each do with the faith is our own responsibility.  What we each do with the vocations and life callings we’ve been given is our own responsibility.  At the end of the day, nobody’s responsible for my life of faith other than “me.”

And I suppose that could be a scary thing; I mean, very few of us live out our calling to perfection.  But Jesus isn’t looking for perfection; he isn’t looking to condemn anyone.  He’s looking for faithfulness; he’s looking to support us in our life of faith.  Even in the ups and downs of our lives, Jesus is looking for a pattern of fidelity.  That’s what we’re each responsible for.  Nobody can be faithful to God’s calling for me other than…me.

And so, it’s actually an empowering thing: to realize that St. Paul, St. Mary, even Jesus himself is not responsible for “me.”  It’s as we heard this past weekend: Jesus has taken the training wheels off.  He’s still there to help us, but what we each do with our life (especially our life of faith) is up to…”me.” 

Jesus and his Church have given us the gift of faith.  But what we do with that is entirely up to “me.”  So what am “I” going to do with my faith?  How am “I” going to live it out a little more today?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Homily for 13 May 2018

13 May 2018
The Ascension of the Lord

The Ascension is like Jesus taking the training wheels off.  From the Incarnation at Christmas, through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus showed his followers the Way.  He taught them how to love, how to love their neighbors, and how to love one another.  He taught them—especially on the Cross—how deeply God loved them (and all humanity and all creation).

It’s like his disciples were learning how to ride a bicycle (the bicycle of Life), and Jesus himself was their training wheels.  But then, with the Ascension, those training wheels came off.  And Jesus said, “Now, let me see what you can do.  I’ll still be right there, but now it’s your time to take over.”

The Ascension was a major step forward for the infant Church.  Just then, that little community of believers heard their basic vocational call.  They knew what they were about and what they had to do.  Jesus said it very clearly: “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”

And that involves, primarily, preaching the gospel, sharing the “good news.”  But that “good news” has a very specific message.  Pope Francis puts it this way: The good news, the gospel is that “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you” [Evangelii Gaudium, 164].  That’s the gospel message at its core.  And that’s the message Jesus entrusted to his followers.

He said, “Here is this magnificent truth I’ve tried to share with you and teach you.  Now, take it and share it to the ends of the earth.”  And the Church did, to much success.  When we think of all that’s happened in the history of the world ever since then, it’s incredible that the message survived at all.

Ruthless persecutions of early Christians, the fall of the Roman Empire, barbarian invasions and general chaos throughout Europe and the Middle East; the Church getting too entangled with secular politics in the Middle Ages, corruption, fights over power, the influence of science and the demand for hard evidence to prove anything; abuse scandals, Post-Modern thought (or lack of thought).

It’s amazing that the gospel message has survived through all that (and more).  But it has.  And that’s because the message Jesus entrusted to the Church is eternal; it can’t be destroyed.  “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.”  It’s a message that can’t be destroyed.  But it can be overlooked and ignored.

Not everybody buys the gospel message.  Some people couldn’t care less about it.  And so we don’t have to wonder where the swords come from that pierce the Blessed Mother’s heart.  They come from indifference, apathy, and even hostility toward what Mother Church holds as…precious.

And so, the Church’s vocation isn’t just to share the gospel message (in a mechanical sort of way).  It’s also: to share God’s joy when others believe it, and to share in the sorrow when others reject the message or, worse, when Christians turn cold toward it.  The vocation involves both sorrow and joy.  And it’s a vocation the Church has always fulfilled, with the training wheels off, and with the Lord’s help.

In recent years, the term the “New Evangelization” has become popular in the Church; the idea being that we need a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit so the Church can “go to the ends of the earth,” to fulfill her vocation, to share the gospel and to remain strong when that message is rejected.  But, with the New Evangelization, there’s also a need in the Church for renewing a sense of “vocation.”  The Holy Spirit empowers one to fulfill his or her vocation.  But without a sense of vocation...what’s the Holy Spirit for (other than for sacraments and as a divine Companion to pray with)?

The Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill our vocations.  But without a sense of vocation—a sense of “my calling in life”—the Holy Spirit has only limited relevance.  “Church” doesn’t have much to do with “my life.”  When, in reality, the Holy Spirit is there to help us live the whole of life.  And “life” is that “calling,” that vocation we each have as members of the Church.

So we call on the Holy Spirit for the Sacraments and in personal prayer.  But we also call on the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and to strengthen us in our vocations.  Our prayer is, “Come, Holy Spirit.  Give me the grace to do what Christ has given me to do."

Now, the Church has a universal calling: a vocation to holiness, a call to share the gospel message.  And that’s a call we each have from our baptism, when we’re called to “keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts.”  That vocation isn’t just for priests, deacons, bishops, nuns, and monks.  It’s a vocation that every baptized person has.

But, at the same time, we each have our own specific vocations.  For example, we’re not all called to be evangelists.  Saint Paul says as much in his Letter to the Ephesians: Christ “gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers.”  The Church is a body with “many parts,” not just one big evangelizing part.  Imagine if you had three too many fingers and not enough toes; we’d be a little off kilter.  Well, it’s the same with the Church and our vocations.

God didn’t make each of us just to take up space.  He made each of us for a purpose.  And it’s important that we each live our specific vocations—not selfishly, but for the good of the whole, for our own personal flourishing, and for the good of the gospel message.  In fact, it would be a mistake to try to fulfill a vocation which is not ours. 

In the Gospel of Mark, there’s something called the “Messianic Secret.”  And we call it that because in that gospel Jesus was constantly saying to people, “Don’t tell others who I am; don’t tell others who I am.”  It looks like Jesus wanted to keep it a secret that he’s the Messiah.  So we call it the “Messianic Secret.”

But, from the standpoint of “vocation,” Jesus was maybe saying to those people, “Don’t be an evangelizer; don’t go out there and tell people about me; you have a different vocation.”  But then we see it again and again in the Gospel of Mark, people wouldn’t listen to Jesus; they’d go off and tell people, making it impossible for Jesus to do the work he was trying to do.  And so, we can say: It would be a mistake to try to fulfill a vocation which is not ours.

We’re not all called to be evangelists, or apostles, or prophets, or pastors, or teachers.  Some are, and some have other vocations.  But we each have some part to play; we each have some vocation. 

On this Mother’s Day weekend, we celebrate the vocation of motherhood.  Just imagine if mothers didn’t fulfill their vocation.  First off, none of us would be here.  But, so too, we wouldn’t know (through experience of Mom) that the gospel message is true: that we are loved, that others do sacrifice for our good, that we are not alone.  Motherhood is a precious vocation, and we celebrate those women—past and present—who fulfill that vocation in all the marvelous ways they do.

Think of artists, musicians, poets, architects, story-tellers: people whose vocation—from a Christian perspective—is to feed our imagination, to open our minds up to the unbelievable.  You know, the Ascension is an almost unbelievable thing: Jesus going up into the heavens, disappearing into the clouds.  So, too, is the idea that God took on human flesh at Christmas.  Or, even the idea that there is a God in the first place.  It’s all almost unbelievable.  We talk about angels and saints, a whole other realm of existence alongside earthly life—unbelievable.  We talk about people living on after death, the sacraments as channels of God’s grace, the Eucharist as the real Body and Blood of Jesus—it’s unbelievable. 

For a lot of people—especially today when everything has to go under the microscope for it to be believed (and even then, that’s not enough)—for too many people today, Christianity or any sort of spirituality is just...laughable; a bunch of ignorant, simple-minded people who waste their Sunday mornings going to Church to pray to an imaginary God.

Artists, musicians, poets, architects, story-tellers—their vocations are important in that they keep the human spirit open; open to other worlds, other ways of seeing things, other possibilities; open to what seems impossible.  You know, everything we do here at Mass is strange…if we aren’t able to have at least a little belief in the unbelievable.

For some people, their vocation is to be faithful to weekend Mass; to be a witness of fidelity to God for their neighbors.  For some people, their vocation is to a good friend in the workplace; to be a witness of God’s love to others—even if those others aren’t aware they’re being touched by God’s love.

Everybody has a vocation—everybody.  Some people allow themselves to be drawn into the confines of a monastery, to spend their lives in quiet prayer for the good of the world.  Others are more active out in the world; to be “in the world,” but not “of the world.”  Some are called the vocation of marriage; others to the single life.

Jesus did his part; he taught us how to love, our neighbor, and each other.  Now it’s the Church’s responsibility to spread the gospel message, each in our own way.  Jesus took the training wheels off, and he says to each of us, “There you go!  Now let me what you can do with what I’ve given you.  I’ll be right here to help.  But it’s your vocation now; see where you can take it.”