Saturday, February 17, 2018

Homily for 18 Feb 2018


18 Feb 2018
1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

In December (6,2017) Pope Francis suggested that a line in the Our Father should be retranslated, the line we read as: “Lead us not into temptation.”  And, of course, that set off a storm of both praise and criticism.  The Pope said, “I am the one who falls.  It’s not [God] pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen.  A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately.  It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.”

And I think we’d all agree that God does not tempt us.  Saint James says as much in his letter when he writes, “No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.”  God doesn’t push us over a cliff and then watch to see if we’re going to learn how to fly.  He doesn’t entice us to watch us fall.  Obviously, that’s not who our God is. 

On a side note, if that were actually who our God is, then he wouldn’t be God.  And it would be a waste of our time to worship him.  Happily, though, that’s not who God is.  God does not tempt us.  Pope Francis is absolutely right about that. 

And yet, we see in the gospel that the Holy Spirit “drove” Jesus into the desert.  Jesus was anointed by the Spirit, sent by God the Father, in a lovely baptismal scene.  But then Jesus was immediately driven out into a place of temptation, into the desert.  Jesus wasn’t only “lead into temptation,” he was “thrown out” into it, right into the lion’s den to be tempted and tested.  Satan did the actual tempting.  But Jesus didn’t just wander into that place…he was put there on purpose.

And we see that same thing happen to many of God’s chosen ones.  Take, Abraham, for example: put to the test by being told to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.  Or take Job: put to the test and tempted to resent and deny God because of all his misfortunes in life.  Think about Peter: put to the test when Jesus was being arrested, tempted to deny having anything to do with Jesus.

God does not tempt us, as Pope Francis says.  But God certainly puts us in situations where we’re probably going to be tempted and tested.  And he doesn’t do it for kicks; he does it so that we can prove ourselves and our love for him; so we can be built up and made strong in faith, hope, and love.  God is like a coach who loves his players, but who also pushes us, who makes us face our limitations so that we can overcome them.  It’s one of the ways God loves us.

Of course, sometimes we wish that God would love us more in the other ways he does.  You know, with compassion, gentleness, joy of heart, and so on.  Even Jesus wished for that.  At the Agony in the Garden when he was coming up against his ultimate test—the Cross—he prayed, “Father, let this cup pass from me.”  In other words, “Father, I’d rather not do this, I’d rather not face the Cross, but let your Will be done.” 

“Lead us not into temptation,” “do not put us to the test,” but still, may your Will be done God—because we know his Will has a good purpose.  And that good purpose is: our being made holy, our becoming who we’re made to be, our flourishing as his sons and daughters.  Pope Benedict XVI wrote that this is why Jesus had to be tempted; to answer the question, “What must the Savior of the world do or not do?”  What does it mean to be the Savior?  Temptation is ultimately a question about our identity, especially our identity in relation to God.  Am I going to be a child of God, or not?  Am I going to let God be God in this situation, or am I going to take over?  Am I going to trust God, or am I going to live in fear?  These are some of the questions we face when we’re tempted, and they all get down to a question of identity.  Who am I?

You know, one of the joys of my own life is public speaking.  I love getting up in front of a crowd of people, having hundreds of eyeballs staring at me.  It’s wonderful!  (Not really.)  Actually, it’s probably the hardest thing for me to do.  Give me tragedy and mayhem, I can handle it.  But a crowd of people….  So you can imagine what a test it is to get up and preside at the Mass.  I enjoy it; I love the Mass, but it can definitely be a time of temptation.

And the temptation is, as I mentioned, a question of identity.  It’s very easy to feel judged when you have a bunch of people looking at you.  But the question that comes with that situation is: am I going to be at peace being the child of God that I am, a child of a God who’s already judged me worthy of his love; or am I going to be a fearful slave to what others think, to how others judge?  The temptation is to be fearful.  The test is to be that peaceful child of God in that situation.

And this is a temptation that, I imagine, most of us can relate to on some level: the temptation to give more weight to what others think, and less weight to what God thinks.  We do it in our relationships, in our friendships, in the parish, in politics, at work, at school…pretty much everywhere. 

You have your peers, your teammates, classmates, friends, neighbors; you have your parents or other authority figures; you have God and Church; and somewhere in the mix you have yourself.  Where does your allegiance lay?  Are friends more important than personal integrity?  Or does personal integrity win friends?  Is getting along with everybody more important than being true to your faith?  Or does faith influence how you get along with others?  Am I a child of God, or am I a slave to what others think?  Of course, most of us are probably a mix of the two.    

When finances get tight, or life takes you on a strange path, the temptation is to worry too much, to despair.  The test, though, is to keep our head screwed on right, to trust the providence of God, and to just go with it.  When I was in college in Milwaukee it never failed: the last couple months of summer I’d be dead broke.  I was like a kid getting all excited about finding a dime, or a quarter…”Alright, I can buy a loaf of bread this week!” 

As Jesus says, “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matt 6:26,33).  I may have been scraping the bottom of the financial barrel there in college, but I made it; God got me through.  I passed the test; I didn’t despair.

The Book of Wisdom tells us, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”  God does not tempt us.  But he puts us in situations where we might be tempted.  Like a good coach, a loving teacher he stretches and pushes us to mold us into who and what we’re made to be: sons and daughters of God.  The temptation is to recoil back from that.  The test is to stay true to God and to ourselves. 

“Lead us not into temptation,” we pray, “but still…may your Will be done.”  Make us instruments of your peace, instruments strong enough to be nailed to a cross.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Homily for 16 Feb 2018


16 Feb 2018

There’s a spiritual benefit to the discipline of fasting.  It recalls the desert experience, and how in that setting we are challenged to rely more on God than on worldly nourishment.  But there’s also more to fasting.  And Scripture today reminds us of that.

Fasting is a reminder that we’re not yet in heaven.  Even though heaven has already broken into our lives, we’re still not entirely there.  We’re “away from the Bridegroom” Jesus.  And so our feasting with happiness that God has called us to himself is also mixed with fasting in a spirit of longing to be definitely with God. 

And then the Prophet Isaiah brings to our awareness the social aspect of fasting: fasting from being resentful or proud, fasting from being neglectful of those in need, fasting from self-centeredness, and so on, and so on. 

As part of our Lenten discipline, we fast.  But we don’t do it mechanically or absentmindedly.  We do it for some very definite purposes: as a way stop feeding the stomach, and start feeding the soul; as a reminder that we’re not yet in the feast of heaven; and as a way to look outward, toward those in need, and toward our God. 

May God bless us and make our fasting fruitful.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Homily for 15 Feb 2018


15 Feb 2018
(School Mass)

Today we get to learn a new vocabulary word.  And the word is “repent.”  We heard it right before the gospel reading when Jesus says, “Repent, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And we heard it yesterday, too, for Ash Wednesday.  When we got ashes put on our forehead, we heard, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  So, it’s an important word for us during Lent.

Now, the word “repent” can have two meanings.  It can mean “to feel sorry” for things that maybe we shouldn’t have done.  Things like: talking in class when we should’ve been listening; or not respecting a classmate, or a teacher or parents.  There are a lot of things we can feel sorry for. 

But Jesus doesn’t tell us to “repent” in order to make us feel bad.  He tells us to “repent” so we remember that we’re supposed to be loving our classmates, and teachers and parents, and everybody else.  People who can feel sorry are people who know how to love others; and they don’t want to hurt others.  So when Jesus tells us to “repent,” he’s reminding us to make sure we have a loving heart, a heart that feels both joy…and sorrow.

Now, the word “repent” has another meaning, too.  It can also mean “to think again,” or “to rethink” something.  For example, when we have a choice, we have to think about it.  If I have a choice to be nice to somebody, or the choice to be disrespectful, I have to think about it.  What am I going to do?  Am I going to be nice, or am I going to disrespectful?  Well, if I make the wrong choice, I have to “rethink” my decision…I have to “repent.”  I have to change my mind about what I’m doing.

So the word “repent” is very important for us, especially during Lent.  It means “to feel sorry” and “to rethink” the decisions we make so can make better ones in the future.  Ultimately, it means to be a more loving, wise person.  It means to be like Jesus. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Homily for 9 Feb 2018

9 Feb 2018

Can God create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it?  It’s a question meant to demonstrate what’s called the “omnipotence paradox.”  The paradox being: If God really is all-powerful, is there anything he cannot do?  Is there anything which God does not have ultimate power over?  And the answer is supposed to be No. 

But there might be one thing: the human heart.  We heard that after Jesus healed the deaf man, “he ordered [the people] not to tell anyone.  But...the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”  In the psalm we hear: “My people heard not my voice, and Israel obeyed me not...if only my people would hear me.” 

It’s a breathtaking thing—to realize that the human heart can easily overrule the will of God.  God’s voice can easily be pushed aside by our own voice.  It’s breathtaking, and it can be downright scary to realize we have that kind of power.  But God has entrusted that power—that freedom, to us.

May we use our freedom of heart...wisely.  May we use it for the good, being humble instruments and faithful friends of our God.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Homily for 6 Feb 2018


6 Feb 2018

“Hypocrites!”: it’s probably the worst thing Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes.  For people who prided themselves on fidelity to the law of God, “hypocrites” was the worst thing to be called.  But, of course, it was the truth.  They presented themselves as “the faithful;” and they were…but not necessarily to God.  That was the problem.  And they didn’t recognize it, which made the problem much worse.

The Christian life is characterized by many things, one of which is the interior freedom to “go with the flow” of the Holy Spirit; to make corrections in the course of life so we stay on track.  You know, if you’re driving your car and you start to drift to the left or the right, you don’t just keep drifting and go into the ditch; you make a correction.  And we do it without even thinking, really.  Well, we do the same in our lives as disciples of Christ.

If there’s a passage in Scripture, or something in a homily, or something that a bishop or pope or a friend says which makes you think: “Oh!...maybe I need to change something in my life,” it’s good to listen to that.  It’s good to act on that.  We hope that we’ll never hear Jesus call us a hypocrite, like he did the Pharisees.  But if he says some other truth that we need to hear, it’s good to listen and act on it—not in fear, but with thanks.

The Lord is our Navigator through life.  He’s our GPS who says, “Turn right, turn left.”  And it’s good to listen to him and to act.  He’ll get us to where we’re going, safe and sound.