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!”    

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Homily for 10 Jan 2018

10 Jan 2018

It takes practice to recognize the Lord’s voice.  You know, we might look at spiritual giants like St. Francis or St. Benedict or St. Teresa of Avila and think, “Wow! they had it all figured out.”  And that could be true.  But they didn’t start out having it all figured out.  They had to learn.  And the first thing they had to learn was how to recognize Christ’s voice.

And it was the same with Samuel.  The Lord hadn’t spoken to him before so, obviously, he couldn’t recognize the voice of God when he did speak.  Learning to hear God’s voice took time.  It took practice.  And it took the help of the high priest Eli.  And we should expect to have the same learning curve in our own relationships with the Lord.

It doesn’t seem to matter how young or old we are, we’re always learning to be attuned better to what God is saying.  And one valuable tool for us is what Eli said to Samuel: “If you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”  If we want to hear and recognize the voice of Jesus, it’s good to pray: first, that the Lord speak and, second, that God give us the grace to be quiet…and listen.

And another valuable “tool” from Scripture we can use is the example of Eli.  If we want to recognize the voice of Jesus, then seek the advice of people who know what he sounds like, and how he speaks: saints, spiritual writers, friends, and so on. 

It takes practice to recognize the Lord’s voice.  But with prayer and the help of others, we can learn.  And if we already know the Lord’s voice, that’s great!  Who else desires to know him?  And how can you be like Eli to that person?

Homily for 9 Jan 2018

9 Jan 2018

The Christmas season is over for another year.  But the effects of the season should still be with us.  We celebrated the coming of Christ into our lives…but now what?

When Jesus went from place to place, people followed him.  He came into their lives, and they let themselves be moved—physically—from where they were.  Life changed for them; maybe not drastically, but it changed somewhat.

We celebrated the coming of Christ into our lives: Have we been moved…in our hearts or minds?  Have we felt compelled to change something in our lives that needs changing?  Has Christmas affected us?

When Jesus went to the synagogue, he cast out an unclean spirit from a person.  And the people were astonished because his words had the power to make darkness go away.  The Prophet Isaiah foresaw that.  We know the prophecy very well: “A people in darkness have seen a great light.”  And that light was Jesus.

We celebrated the coming of Christ into our lives: Have we seen his light, have we felt his warmth and love, have we let ourselves be “cleaned up inside” and made fresh with a spirit of hope and peace?

The Christmas season is over for another year.  But the gift—Jesus—is still here.  The question is: What are you going to do with him?  Or, rather: What are you going to let him do with you?