Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Homily for 31 Jan 2018

31 Jan 2018

Our God is a personal God: he knows each of us by name, and that’s how he relates to us.  We aren’t just another sheep in the flock.  And that’s the gospel, the good news today.  God knows each of us personally...and we can know him personally.

This is maybe why the Lord was not happy when King David called for the census of the people.  David turned people into numbers; into faceless, nameless statistics.  And it was a similar problem in the gospel today: the people had their own ideas of who Jesus was, and they refused to accept him as the person he is. 

God created something very personal when he created the human race.  We aren’t statistics; we’re persons, with names and identities.  And our God isn’t a nameless God; he is Jesus, Yahweh, Emmanuel, “God-with-us.”  And this is all good news. 

When we’re tempted to feel alone, Jesus is there for the unfailing Friend he is.  When we pray, we pray from one heart to another—from ours to God’s.  And when we see others—in person, on the internet, in the paper—they are brothers and sisters (even if we forget it sometimes).

Our God is a personal God, and he created a personal world.  May we enjoy each other’s company, and remember to share our own self with others.  Especially, may we open our heart to God’s and know we are deeply, personally loved and adored.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Homily for 28 Jan 2018

28 Jan 2018
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

It was about twenty years ago.  I was looking through some pictures, and I saw one of me.  And it just grabbed my attention because I saw that, oh my goodness...I was really overweight.  You know what they say, “The camera doesn’t lie!”  It was one of those life-changing moments.  And right then I committed myself to getting in better shape, which I did.  But it wouldn’t have happened without that one snapshot.  That’s what opened my eyes to see that something needed to change.

And I wonder sometimes if that’s how it is with us in our lives of faith—as individuals and as a Church.  Do we at some point have an “awakening,” where we get a glimpse of ourselves and say, “Oh my goodness, I’ve really gotten off track here!”  Does that happen?...because if it doesn’t, then maybe that’s something to pray for—the gift of self-awareness, and the fortitude to change what needs to be changed.

As a “shepherd” in the Lord’s flock, it’s something that crosses my mind quite a bit.  Not too long ago, I was at a Church gathering; it lasted about an hour and a half.  And, except for the opening prayer, Jesus was never mentioned once in that ninety minutes.  Not once.  You wouldn’t think that would happen in the Church.  But it does; every now and then we lose our grounding, we get off track; we forget what we’re about.  Jesus, God, faith...they all seemed to be absent during that meeting.

At the Second Vatican Council (and since about the 1890s), there had been a strong push for “fully conscious and active participation” during the Mass.  People were concerned that the faithful (and even the ordained) weren’t really “engaged” in what was happening at Mass.  And so, the “push” for active participation was an attempt to get the Church “back on track” in its worship. 

Now, it’s interesting to note that the original Latin word [actuosa] from Vatican II we translate as “active,” can be translated as either “active” or “actual.”  And think we’d all agree there’s a difference.  “Active” generally means “doing things.”  But “actual” means to “make something real.”  So when the Church made that call for “active” participation in the Mass, it makes more sense to think of it as a call for “actual” participation.

After all, we can be singing, standing, kneeling, responding, and so on...we can be “doing” everything correctly, but still be totally disconnected from what’s going on.  We can be “actively” participating, but still off track.  And so, we want to be “actually,” consciously involved in what’s going on here. 

For example, our psalm today, Psalm 95, is a song of praise and adoration of God: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us bow down in worship; for he is our God and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”  It’s a really heartfelt, deeply felt kind of song.  The question, though, is: Did we mean what we sang?  Were we “actually” singing that psalm?

Of course, that’s a question we each have to ask ourselves: Did we mean what we sang?  And it doesn’t matter if we sing well or not, or even if we sing at all.  That’s not the point. The question is: Is the sentiment of that psalm in our heart, in our spirit?  Do we feel those words of praise and adoration inside?...because that’s where “conscious and actual participation” happens...deep within each of us. 

If we don’t feel it—if we’re not actually participating in the words we sing, in the gestures we make, and so on—well, then there’s a disconnect.  And when we feel that disconnect, it’s like seeing a snapshot of ourselves and saying, “Oh my goodness...something’s not right here.  What happened to Jesus?  What happened to living faith, and hope, and love?  Something has to change.”

It can be one of those life-changing moments to be aware of that disconnect.  But it can be also very empowering, because it motivates us to make a change.

Now, here in the parish (and in any parish, it seems), when building projects are in discussion, those discussions can be a major “dis-traction” from what we’re all about.  And it takes an enormous amount of effort to stay on track; to remember our priorities, to remember what’s important.  But if we get off track, if we lose our focus, then something has to change.

Now, last week we had a joint meeting of the Pastoral and Finance Councils.  And the meeting was a result of my feeling that “something had to change.”  It’s no secret that discussions and disagreements about buildings have dominated the life of the parish for far too long.  We’ve lost focus on the Lord, on our mission, and our basic call to love one another.

And so, I sent a recommendation to the Councils regarding our buildings; which they generally accepted.  And it contains some definite changes and some concrete direction.  And it’s a recommendation which should resonate with parishioners because it’s based on what I’ve heard the parish community say—as a whole. 

“Something had to change.”  And what had to change was the plan itself; to make it more in line with what parishioners (generally speaking) desire.  And so, if it’s acceptable to you—to a vast majority of parishioners—we will keep and use our three churches for the foreseeable future.  We will do necessary upgrades and upkeep on them.  We will also build a new Parish Center on our new land.  And it’ll serve as a place for continued growth in unity as friends and neighbors in Christ.

We’ve been talking with an architect.  And we could be fundraising as early as September—if it’s what parishioners generally want.  Now, I’m not going to go into all the details of this in the middle of the homily (I’ll say more about that at the end of Mass).  Something needed to change in order to get the parish on track again; in order to be “actually engaged” in what we’re about: love of God, love of neighbor, and the call to go out and share the gospel.

Now, if we look at more snapshots of ourselves as a Church, we see how many of our youth have fallen away from their Catholic faith.  And that’s disturbing.  You know, the fact that we’re unable to keep our youth in Christ’s flock should be like a red warning light: “Something’s not right; something needs to change.”  And that’s a tough one.  It’s a tough one…for several reasons. 

None of us lives in a bubble.  And that’s especially true with our youth.  Our circle of influence isn’t just our neighborhood; it isn’t just the people we see every day.  The circle of influence for our youth is, quite literally, the entire world.  There’s been global communication before, but not like there is today.  There’s instantaneous sharing of ideas.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But it does mean that, today, the Catholic Church is easily just one voice among many, many others for our youth (and adults, too).  What some anonymous person puts on YouTube can be just as influential as (or more so than) what a bishop or the pope says.  And that isn’t a fault of our youth; it’s just the situation we find ourselves in today as the Church.  But, still, something isn’t right here; something has to change.

And one area of change here at the parish is in our Discipleship Formation program.  We’re basically overhauling the whole thing.  You know, it isn’t enough to simply tell our youth what to think or believe.  That has its place, certainly.  But when youth get to high school, they have the ability to think for themselves.  And so, in the Discipleship Formation program we’re going to start teaching our youth how to think.  We’re going to have an entire semester on critical thinking skills.  They’re going to learn how to make an argument, how to recognize a good argument from a bad one, and so on.

And they’re going to take those skills and apply them to real life situations.  And they’re apply those skills to the teachings of the Church.  As a parish, we’re not going to run from the challenge of global communication and social media; instead we’re going to teach our youth how to think, how to engage their Catholic faith intelligently, and how to engage other ways of thinking and believing that are out there.  And that will be a major change in the Discipleship Formation program.

But another area of change, with respect to youth, is in the home.  You know, our youth can go to Wednesday Discipleship Formation, they can go to St. Clare School, and they can learn about the faith, our values, and such.  But unless that’s supported in the home, it’s almost pointless.  Is there a change that needs to happen at home, regarding faith and our youth?  Maybe, maybe not.  I don’t know.  If you were to see a snapshot of home life—and how faith is part of home life, what would you see?  Is there a change that needs to happen?

Do the kids know they’re loved?  I know it sounds like a wishy-washy sort of question, but it’s important: do the kids know they’re loved, that they have a home, a place where they absolutely belong?  And that’s not just a question for parents; it’s also for grandparents, aunts and uncles, and…the the parish community.  Of all the places someone should be able to expect love and acceptance it should be in the Catholic Church.  It’s what makes us “catholic.”  Jesus loves everybody; he welcomes everybody to follow him.

He went out and touched the lepers who were literally the outcasts of society.  He welcomed prostitutes and ate meals with them; he wasn’t ashamed to be associated with either of them.  The same went for the “tax-man;” imagine Jesus having the Commissioner of the IRS over for supper.  And he even loved those people who hated his guts.

Do our youth know—and, for that matter, does each of us know—that we are unconditionally welcomed by the Lord?  Welcomed and cared about... 

It always strikes me as sad, but especially as tragic, when I read or hear about a youth who commits suicide because he or she felt unloved, unwanted, and unwelcome.  I mean, where was the Church for that lost soul?  Was it too busy strategizing about finances, or reorganizing committee structures, or what?  Did the Church get off track and forget to “go after the lost sheep”?  Or did the Church do everything it could?  I don’t know.  But it makes me wonder.

If we were to come across a snapshot of ourselves as a parish—with regard to love of neighbor, with regard to our youth—we’d probably (hopefully) say, “Oh my goodness, we have some work to do there; something has to change.”

Just recently, Bishop Ricken asked parishes to do some “mission planning.”  And the questions we’re going to be asking are these types of questions.  The planning isn’t going to be about how to boost Mass attendance, or how to increase financial giving; it’s not going to be a survey about Mass times or anything like that. 

The planning is going to ask questions like: Are people satisfied with their lives?  Do people have it in their hearts to be of service to others?  Do people feel welcome, and invited, to share themselves, and to give of their talents to their community?  Is this a spiritual home for people?  Does each and every person—young and old and in between—know that he or she is deeply loved by our God? 

And whatever snapshots we come up with in that planning, we pray that God will give us all the courage to notice what needs to change, and then to actually make those changes.

You know, twenty years ago when I first saw that picture of me being a little overweight, my initial reaction was, well...I was shocked.  But it made me determined to make a change.  And I did, and it was great.

God helps us to see ourselves—as individuals and as a parish.  He holds up a snapshot of our lives and, very gently but firmly, he points to it and says, “You might want to fix that.  You’re going off track right there.”  May we see what God sees, and change our lives…for our own good, the good of our neighbor, and for his glory.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Homily for 25 Jan 2018

25 Jan 2018
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
(School Mass)

When Paul was riding his horse on his way to Damascus, the Lord didn’t call out and say, “Hey, you!”  He didn’t do that.  He said, “Saul!  Saul!”  Jesus called him by his name.  And that’s important.

When each of us was born (and that includes the adults here, too), our parents didn’t say, “Oh, just name the kid whatever; it doesn’t matter.”  They probably didn’t do that.  Instead, they probably thought about it, and said, “We’re going to name our child…your name.”  And our name is an important thing, because it shows how each of us is a unique person, a unique child of God.

And it also shows how each of us has a special place in the world.  Saint Paul had his place in the world.  And there was only one Saint Paul.  Just imagine if he hadn’t been born, or if he hadn’t stopped when Jesus called him.  The whole church around the world would look very different.  Saint Paul had a special task to do—he had a special mission, and only he could do it.

And that’s the same with us.  Just imagine if any one of us hadn’t been born!  The world wouldn’t be the same, would it?  Jesus needs each one of us to be here.  And he calls each of us by our name, just like he called Saint Paul.

He even calls each of us to the altar.  He doesn’t say, “Hey, you! come over and receive Communion.”  No—he doesn’t do that.  He calls us by our name.  Now, in a little bit, Ayden is going to receive his First Communion.  But notice that, right before Communion, Jesus is going to call him by name.  And Ayden is going to come up here to receive Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist.

But it doesn’t end there.  At the end of Mass, the priest says, “Go!  Go in peace!  Go, the Mass is ended!  Go announce the Gospel of the Lord!  Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!”  And that’s Jesus saying to each one of us, “Go, and be who I’ve made you to be.” 

Jesus calls us each by our name.  We each have a special purpose in the world.  And our task—our joy, is to be who God made us to be…for the good of others, for our own happiness, and for the glory of God.      

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Homily for 21 Jan 2018

21 Jan 2018
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Last week we talked about Jesus the Rabbi, and how disciples would attach themselves to a rabbi with the intention of becoming just like that rabbi.  So, to be a disciple of Jesus means to imitate him, to let him share his life with me, and to share my life with him, so that...when people encounter us, they’re encountering Jesus.  The student becomes like the teacher, the disciple becomes like the rabbi.

And we see this commitment between a disciple and the rabbi in the gospel again today.  Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, and right away Simon, Andrew, James, and John just left everything and followed him.  Now, to us that looks extraordinary.  But, at the time, it may not have been.  To drop everything and dedicate one’s life to the rabbi was what you did...if you wanted to be a disciple.

But, you know, when those four fishermen started to follow Jesus that day, they didn’t follow him because they knew all about him; they didn’t know he was God in the flesh; they didn’t know he was the Christ.  All they probably knew about him was that he was an up-and-coming rabbi who was making waves.  Jesus’ reputation had preceded him.  So that day when Jesus came walking by, they still had a lot to learn about who he really was.

But that’s how it is with us human beings.  We don’t know everything.  We’re constantly learning.  Even (and especially!) when it comes to God, it takes time—it takes years, centuries, millennia—to even begin to understand who this God is who whispers to us and calls us to himself.  Who is this person who says, “Come, follow me”?

Our reading from the Book of Jonah was written maybe 450 years before Jesus was born.  And it reflects one way that people understand God.  God was someone who threatened destruction if the people didn’t change their ways.  And people cowered in fear at the thought of being annihilated.  But, then again, at that time in history, the gods (generally speaking) weren’t always considered to be “friends” to the human race.  Sometimes the gods could be pretty manipulative and tricky; the last thing you’d want is to have a god angry at you.  But that’s a particular lens through which people understood the time.

That doesn’t mean we should discount the Book of Jonah.  It has some important truths we want to pay attention to.  But it does mean we have to remember that our ancestors in the faith were still learning who God is.

Now, a couple hundred years before that, the Book of Job was written.  And in that book God is actually bargaining with Satan!  Really? Is that the God we worship...God who makes deals with Satan?  Well, here again our ancestors in the faith were still learning about God.  We all know about the Roman and Greek gods: how there was Zeus (the father of all the gods), and then his council of gods who he conversed with, and then there were the lesser gods, and finally mortal human beings (who were the play things of the gods).

At it’s through this lens—this understanding of reality—that we interpret what God is doing in the Book of Job.  Satan isn’t the same Satan that Jesus talks about.  Satan (in the Book of Job) is just one of the gods in the divine council.  God talked to him just like Zeus talked to one of his lesser gods.  Now, does that mean that our God makes deals with the devil?  No...far from it.  Instead, in the Book of Job we see that God is always the one in control.  There’s never any chance that Satan is somehow going to triumph.  And that’s true.  That’s why we look at Job: to remember the truth that, no matter what happens in life, everything will turn out okay with God’s help.

Now, fast forward several centuries to Saint Paul.  He says, “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out...Jesus is coming back very, very soon.  The Second Coming of Christ is going to happen any day now!”  And 2,000 years later, we’re still waiting.  Even with Paul’s encounter with Jesus, and his almost fanatic discipleship under the Holy Spirit, he still didn’t entirely understand God’s ways.  Now, he knew more than the people who wrote the Books of Job and Jonah, but he still had a ways to go in understanding this God he was following.

And so, fast forward to today.  A lot of people have decided that there isn’t a God!  Or, if there is, God is pretty weak and ineffective.  Many people have “figured out” who God is: God irrelevancy—like our appendix or our tonsils.  You can get rid of them and you’ll be fine. 

Others have discovered God to be like the tax-man.  You just pay him your dues and then go about life as normal.  For others, God is like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold, windy day; he makes you feel all warm and good inside...that’s who God is.  And, of course, for some God is a tyrant; somebody you have to appease or you going to be thrown into hell—just because he can do it: God is an enemy, one who always has the upper hand.

So, where does that leave us?  Is Jesus like...the tax-man?  Well, I suppose, in some ways.  I mean, he does ask us to follow his commandments, to take up our cross and follow him.  So, he does have some expectations.  But is he the tax-man?  No.

Is Jesus...weak and ineffective?  Well, I suppose, somewhat.  When we look at the crucifix, he certainly looks pretty weak.  And for all his efforts, he only ended up with two disciples at the end: his mother and John.  But is Jesus weak and ineffective?  No.  It’s when we’re weak that we are strong.  And there are about a billion and a half people who follow him today in the Catholic way of life.

Well, is Jesus like a cup of hot chocolate on a wintry day?  Well again, I suppose, in some ways.  When we’re hurting or lost, he certainly brings calm and comfort to those who ask for it.  “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  But is he more than that?  Certainly.  When we’ve done something wrong, or we’re not living up to our potential, he kind of pokes at our conscience.  He comforts the afflicted, but he also afflicts the comfortable.

What about that whole “hell” Jesus—is God—a tyrant?  No.  But he is a just God who respects the free will he gave to each of us.  God allows for the fact that not everybody wants to be with him; not everybody is going to find him attractive.  And so, there is a “place,” there is a way of life for people who deliberately choose not to love; who choose not to be humble, who see themselves as God, as the center of the universe.  There’s a place for people who refuse to share, who say, “Everything is mine, and none of it is yours.”  And that place exists because...God respects our ability to choose.  Is God the arbitrarily threatening God we see in the Book of Jonah?  No.  We’ve come a long way is understanding that that isn’t who God is.  And we know it because of Jesus.

Jesus is God-in-the-flesh.  It’s what we celebrate every single Christmas.  If we want to know who God is, look to Jesus.  After all, he’s God.  He came to humanity to say, “Ok people, this is who I am.  Listen to my words, watch what I do, follow my example.”  And one of the easiest ways to do that is in prayer. 

For instance, sit down and look at a crucifix.  Imagine, if you can, being in his place.  Handed over by his fellow Jews, humiliated, mocked, spat upon, stripped naked and nailed up for everybody to see, and stare at, to make fun of.  Is that a tyrant, there on the cross?  Is that a cup of hot chocolate?  Is it the tax-man, who just sees us as a faceless number in a book?  No.  It’s God—it’s the epitome of love there hanging on the cross.  And he let it happen for you and for me. 

Or, another way to “listen, watch, and follow” what Jesus does is to sit down with Scripture.  Go right to the gospels.  Pick one, any one.  Find a section where Jesus is doing something, or saying something.  Read it, and imagine being there in that scene.  What does he say?  What’s the expression of his face?  What are the reactions of people who hear him, who see him?  Listen and watch.  Pay attention to the rabbi, and trying doing what he does. 

He does what’s hard.  “Love your enemies.”  “Pray for those who persecute you.”  Speak the truth...with humility.  “Be not afraid.”

For centuries—for thousands of years, humanity has wondered who our God is.  And through the lens of Jesus we have our clearest vision of that.  But we can only know so much from standing at a distance.  And so, Jesus walks right by us and says, “Come, follow me.”  Right here at Mass, Jesus appears for just a few minutes in the Eucharist.  And he says, “Come, follow me.  Come stay with me, open the door to me.  Let me show you who I am.”

But will we open the door?  If not today, don’t worry.  Jesus walks by again and again.  And the invitation is always there: “If you want to know who I am, ask me.  Come, sit with me.  Let me show you who I am.”    

Friday, January 19, 2018

Homily for 19 Jan 2018

19 Jan 2018

There are a number of theories out there as to why Judas betrayed Jesus.  One of them is that Judas handed Jesus over in the hopes that Jesus would resist arrest; that he would fight back, and start a new revolt against the Romans. 

If that’s the case, then Judas’ betrayal wasn’t that he handed Jesus over to be arrested; it’s that he tried to use Jesus for his own purposes…instead of letting Jesus use him for God’s purposes.  It’s an interesting theory, and it has some merit. 

When Jesus chose Judas, along with the other Eleven, did he know Judas would be betray him?  I don’t know.  Most likely, any of them could’ve betrayed Jesus—they were all sinners, more or less.  They all had their own life ambitions, their own thoughts about how the world should be, their own ideas regarding the political situation at the time.  Any one of them could’ve seen Jesus as the perfect person to advance their own causes and ideas.  But only Judas did it.

Of course, Jesus is still betrayed today.  He’s either a poster child or a spokesman for a number of political and social causes—none of which have to do with what God’s agenda is.  Jesus is still betrayed today; he’s still used as a pawn, even today.

We pray that the minds and hearts of people will see Jesus for who he is; that they will let themselves be “used” by God, so that God’s Will will be done, and our own desires and agendas can take second place.  And, of course, may we be examples of that, by being faithful, humble, and joyful disciples of the Lord.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Homily for 18 Jan 2018

18 Jan 2018
(School Mass)

Jesus was pretty popular!  There were people coming from all over the place to see him—even from Jerusalem.  And that was seventy-six miles away from where he was. 

Friends were coming to see him, curious people, too; people wanting to hear him preach, people wanting to touch him and be healed; people just wanting things from him.  And then the Pharisees and the Romans wanted to come and see him, too…but they wanted to kill him. 

Jesus was getting surrounded by all sorts of people.  Imagine thousands of people all coming at you at the same time.  But, you know, Jesus didn’t have a problem with that.  It wasn’t too much for him to handle.  And that’s because he knew our psalm for today very well:

“In God I trust; I shall not fear.
Have mercy on me, O God, for men trample upon me;
all the day they press their attack against me.
My adversaries trample upon me all the day;
yes, many fight against me.
In God I trust; I shall not fear.”

At Mass this past Sunday, we talked about how if we want to be disciples of Jesus, then we want to try to be like him.  Jesus is our Teacher, our “Rabbi;” he’s even our hero.  He’s somebody we look up to and say, “I want to be like him.”

Well, part of being like Jesus is being able to say—from our heart—“In God I trust, I shall not fear.”  It’s easy for us to get overwhelmed by stuff: when there’s too much homework, or you don’t understand something; when there are a lot of chores to do at home; when you go off to high school and there’s a lot of peer pressure; or for adults, when you’re trying to juggle work and family and faith; or when we’re all just very busy and feeling like we’re being pulled apart.

If we want to be like Jesus, we want to be able to say—from our heart: “I trust in God.  No matter what happens, I trust in God…I won’t ever be afraid or worried.”  May the Lord help us to say it, and believe it: I trust in God, I trust in God.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Homily for 17 Jan 2018

17 Jan 2018

There are many types of combat.  There’s the story of David and Goliath (or rather, David and all the whole Philistine army!); a story of physical combat.  And we also hear about Jesus and his more “philosophical combat” with the Pharisees.  And of the two we can probably relate a little more to this philosophical type of combat.

If you’ve ever tried to live your Catholic faith…around those who “were once Catholic,” or who are Catholic in name only, you know the type of “combat” Jesus was engaged in.  It can be a struggle, sadly, even against people we know very well: our friends, our neighbors.

The Pharisees weren’t Jesus’ enemies; they were fellow Jews.  And he loved them, and tried to show them the way.  But they rejected him…a fellow Jew.  And we shouldn’t expect anything less when we try to live (and share) our faith today.  It’s a sad thing to have to admit, but some of our hardest “customers” are fellow Catholics.

And we can relate to what Jesus felt.  He looked at the Pharisees “with anger,” and was “grieved at their hardness of heart.”  You know, it can be one of the most annoying and frustrating things to try to convince a fellow Catholic to practice his or her faith.  But that’s the “philosophical combat” we sometimes find ourselves in.

But in the midst of being “rejected” by fellow Catholics, our strength and our joy is always in the Lord.  That’s the “weapon” God has given us—both as an offense and a defense.  As Saint Paul says, let us be “protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation” (1 Thes 5:8). 

Faith, hope, and love may not seem like much of a weapon sometimes.  But, then again, neither was the slingshot David had.  But with humility before God and fidelity to Jesus, we needn’t worry.  God has already won the war.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Homily for 16 Jan 2018

16 Jan 2018

Jesus says, “The sabbath was made for man.”  In other words, all that God prescribes, all that our faith demands is supposed to be for our benefit.  It’s supposed to help us flourish as human beings, as children of God.

Now, the Pharisees were obsessed with the sabbath laws—we sort of have the opposite of that today, it seems.  Today there can apathy towards what God puts out there as guidelines for his people.  Ideally, of course, we’d be somewhere in the middle: not apathetic, but also not obsessed with the details of what our faith demands.

Ideally, we’d be focused on the overarching purpose of it all—the purpose being “life.”  We’re disciples of Jesus, we adhere to the Catholic faith because we want to know and experience what really being alive is like.  And so, if our practice of the faith leaves us feeling…flat, then maybe our prayer needs to be our alleluia verse rom today:

“May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.”  And that hope, of course, is to be fully and genuinely alive—as God intends for us to be.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Homily for 14 Jan 2018

14 Jan 2018
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

We see here in the gospel the beginning of a relationship.  Andrew and another person go to Jesus and they spend the day with him.  And very shortly after, Simon Peter begins his relationship with Jesus.  But this isn’t just a “friendly” type of relationship between Jesus and his first followers; it’s a relationship between a rabbi and his talmidim [tal-mee-DEEM] (which is the Hebrew word for “disciples”).

And the relationship between a rabbi and his talmidim might be described as being like the relationship between a teacher and his or her students.  But it’s much more intense and personal that than.  The talmidim—the disciples—would commit themselves to become like the rabbi—like the teacher—as much as possible.  And that’s quite a bit different than how we think.  When we go to school, we don’t necessarily want to be just like Mrs. ----, or Mr. ----.  If anything, we want to be ourselves, and we look to teachers to help us reach our potential.

But with a rabbi and his talmidim, his disciples aren’t trying to be better versions of themselves; they’re trying to be just like the rabbi.  They see their fullest potential as a human being is to emulate, to imitate the rabbi.  And so, the rabbi is more like what we’d call a “hero,” a mentor.  The disciple looks at the rabbi and says, “I want to be just like him.”

And so, when Andrew, the other person, and Simon Peter spent the day with Jesus, they weren’t just “hanging out.”  And they weren’t simply becoming friends with Jesus.  They were beginning to form a unique type of relationship; an especially intense and personal relationship between themselves and their rabbi.

And I say “their rabbi” because there were lots of other rabbis around, too—John the Baptist, for example.  We usually don’t think of John as a rabbi, but he did have his own group of disciples.  And the rabbis didn’t generally go out and look around for disciples—the disciples came to them.  It’s maybe like today and how we apply to go to college.  Not everybody “gets in;” not everybody learned from a rabbi, not everybody “made the cut.”  Only those people who the rabbi thought would be good disciples were accepted.

And so, to enter a rabbi’s “school” was an honor; to be one of his talmidim—one of his disciples—was a privilege.  But, as we know, Jesus also approached particular people and said, “Come, follow me.”  And immediately they left everything and went with him.  It was one thing to be accepted as one of a rabbi’s disciples, but it was something entirely different to be asked by the rabbi himself to be his disciple.

You know, if we’re asked to do something by someone we admire, our response is immediate: “Yes, I’d love to do it!  It would be an honor!”  We would drop everything and go.  And that’s the kind of intense relationship we’re talking about between Jesus and his first disciples.  They immediately said “yes” when he asked them to “come, follow me.”  They lived with him, followed him from place to place, learned from him, ate with him; they shared his life, and they let him draw them into his life. 

It was an intense and personal relationship they were building.  But, again, they wanted to be just like him.  And that, in a nutshell, is really what it means to be a “disciple” of Jesus.  It means going to Jesus and saying, “Come into my home, into my mind, into my heart, and even into my body.”  It means spending time with him in prayer, learning from his timeless teachings; it means sharing my life with him, and especially letting him share his life with me.  It means, as John the Baptist says, “I must decrease, and he must increase.”  And the overall effect is that I become like Jesus; I become the spitting image of him.  That’s what it means to be a “disciple” of Jesus.

And discipleship is built on personal relationship with the Lord.  And, really, personal relationship is why people today join the Church (or a church); it’s why people have let themselves be martyred; ideally, it’s why we come to Mass on Sundays.  Personal relationship with Christ is why people become priests, and monks and nuns, and teachers of the faith at home and everywhere.  Personal relationship is why we let ourselves be guided by Christian morals and social norms, and so on.  It’s at the heart of our existence as Christians—from birth and into eternity: “personal relationship” with Jesus—our Mentor, our Hero, our Friend and Teacher.

The question that we each have to ponder, however, for ourselves is: Am I a disciple of Jesus?  And that’s not an accusatory question; it’s legitimate.  In Scripture, there are three or four different ways people are described as being in relation to Jesus, from being the closest to him, to being the farthest from him.  There are: the Apostles, the disciples, the crowds, and then a group called “the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, chief priests, and elders of the people”—basically, everybody who didn’t buy into Jesus.

And so, when we ask ourselves: Am I a disciple of Jesus? it’s a question of which bunch of people I’d see myself as belonging to.  *Now, an important thing to keep in mind here [bold-faced, italics, underlined!], is that Jesus has an intense love for all of them.  Jesus loves the Apostles as much as he loves everybody who rejected him, including Judas.  He gave his life for everybody.  So it’s not that one group is better, or more loved by God, than the others.

So when we ask ourselves: Am I a disciple of Jesus, you’re simply asking: How much do I want to be like him?  As much as one of the Apostles?  As much as one of his disciples?  As much as one of those people in the crowd?  Now, never mind how successfully or unsuccessfully we imitate Jesus…that’s not the point.  The point is: How much do I desire to be like him?  And have I let him influence me?  Have I asked him to be my Rabbi?  That’s the question.  It’s a question of discipleship; it’s a question of my personal relationship with the Lord.

Now, some of you might say, “Well, I don’t know that I’ve even met the Lord.  How am I supposed to know if I want to be like him?”  And that’s an excellent point.  You have to meet the Teacher first.

When I was studying the organ in college, I had a couple of different professors at different points in my education.  And there was a huge difference between them.  With the first one, I had three…and a half…lessons.  Now, he was clearly an excellent organist; he had skills far beyond mine.  But he was also too personally critical.  He was too abrasive and was the opposite of inspiring.  At least, that’s how I experienced him.  And so, half way through my fourth lesson…I just got up and left.  He was not somebody I wanted to be like.  That day I chose not to be one of his disciples.

But the other organ professor was wonderful!  She was a fantastic musician, but she also had a very good heart.  She was tough on me sometimes, but I could take it from her…because I had experienced her truly as a teacher, as a “master” who I wanted to be like.  So, if you’re saying, “Well, I don’t know that I’ve even met the Lord.  How am I supposed to know if I want to be like him?” you’re absolutely right!  You have to meet the Teacher first.  And that’s why Jesus called his disciples in the first place…

After the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, people still encountered him…but in the Apostles.  The Apostles had been transformed into the likeness of Jesus; they lived their discipleship and personal relationship with Jesus to the full, so that when others met them they were meeting Jesus.  It’s as Saint Paul said to the Galatians [2:20]: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  It’s also why he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” [1 Cor 11]. 

There’s kind of a domino effect here.  And it goes throughout history.  Jesus taught those first disciples, twelve of whom went to the “next level” and became his Apostles.  Those Twelve were sent out to make more disciples.  And from those disciples, some of them were chosen to “go out and make disciples” as the next generation of Apostles.  And from those disciples, some of them were chosen to “go out and make still more disciples” as yet another generation of Apostles.

If we want to encounter Christ in the flesh today, we have to meet those people who are his Apostles and disciples…today: people who have such a personal and intense relationship with the Lord that we encounter him through them.  (Of course, that’s the whole purpose of the Church: to be the face and the hands and the voice of Jesus in the world…so that people will be drawn not to us but to him and say, “I want to be just like him.”)

So if we’re wondering, “How can I encounter Jesus so that I can even know if I want to follow him as a disciple?” the answer is: Look at people who are Christ-like.  People who are genuinely merciful, kind, just, truthful, humble, and so on; people who know Scripture, who value it; people who pray because they love the Lord; people who have a deep inner joy and contentment, even in the hard times of life.  Look to them to see Jesus. 

Now, if you’re somebody who’d put yourself in the “disciple” category, good!  Be aware that others “in the crowd” are looking at you to see Jesus.  Let that personal relationship with the Lord come through…so that others might see and “give glory to God.”

We see in our gospel today the beginning of a relationship between Jesus the Rabbi and three of his first tarmidim, his first disciples.  And, really, every day for us can be the beginning of a new—or more personal—relationship with our Teacher.  And it begins by somebody—me or somebody else—saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God…there he is…learn from him.”  There’s Jesus in that person over there.  There’s Jesus in that bishop over there.  There’s Jesus…over there at the altar.

“Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Not a piece of bread, but our Teacher.  Jesus, Rabbi, will you come stay with us?  Can we come and stay with you?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Homily for 12 Jan 2018

12 Jan 2018

In the Church we follow a principle called “subsidiarity.”  And that’s simply the idea that things should be allowed to happen on the most local level as possible.  For example, if there’s a project that a city wants to do, then that city should be able to handle it; the state or federal governments shouldn’t try to step in and take over.  And we get this principle from God himself.

When the people told Samuel he was too old and that they wanted a king to rule them, God said to Samuel: Give them a king if that’s what they want.  God knew that having a (human) king over the people wasn’t the best thing.  But instead of saying, “No, you don’t know what you’re doing—you’re not having a king,” God simply said okay.  After all, God gave his people free will, and they could decide for themselves.  God practiced the principle of “subsidiarity.”

And that’s both “good news” for us, and also something to handle with great care.  Subsidiarity can be good in that it preserves, and allows us to exercise, our free will.  But, at the same time, subsidiarity—if abused—could lead to bad things happening, most especially when someone “above us” is trying to guide us, and we refuse to listen.

Think of a parent who’s saying to the kids, “Don’t run out in the road....But, of course, you can do what you want.”  And the kids run out in the road and get hit by a car.  Well, in that case, it would’ve been wiser to set aside “what I want to do,” and listen to that voice “above them,” their parents.

With subsidiarity it’s a balancing act, and it takes humility and wisdom to know when to exercise our free will, and when to let ourselves be led by somebody else.  May God bless us with humility and wisdom.  May he help us to exercise our free will with prudence.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Homily for 11 Jan 2018

11 Jan 2018
(School Mass)

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Aladdin.  And his job was to polish oil lamps.  Well, one day he was polishing a lamp…and a magical genie came out of it.  And Genie told Aladdin, “Whatever you wish, I will do it for you.”  And so, Aladdin made many, many wishes and Genie made them all come true.  (You’ve probably heard that story before.)

Well, that’s sort of like our Scripture readings today.  The Hebrews had the Ark of the Covenant—the chest that they carried around the Ten Commandments in.  And the Ark had done many wonderful, powerful things for them.  And that’s why they decided to take it into battle with them; they wanted the Ark to give them victory over the Philistines, who were fighting them.

And the story of Aladdin and the lamp is also like our gospel reading.  People heard that Jesus was doing many wonderful, powerful things.  He was healing people, driving away demons, making the blind see and the lame walk.  And so people came to him from all over to see him; they wanted him to heal them, and to make their lives better.

So people were treating Jesus and the Ark of the Covenant like Aladdin was treating his magic lamp.  They were expecting God to be like Genie.  The problem was that God isn’t Genie.  And so, when the Hebrews lost the battle, when Jesus started to let people down because they didn’t get what they wanted…they stopped believing.

But, you know, the story of Aladdin and Genie has a happy ending.  In the end, Aladdin says, “Genie, my final wish is that I want you to be free.”  And so, from that day, Genie wasn’t a slave anymore to Aladdin; instead, he became Aladdin’s friend.

And our own story with God can have a happy ending (or beginning) too!  God isn’t Genie; God isn’t our slave, to do whatever we want; God is our friend.  We can let God be free, to do and to live as he wishes.  And we set him free by saying those wonderful words we say all the time: “Thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done!”