Saturday, April 28, 2018

Homily for 29 April 2018

29 April 2018
5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Something wonderful is happening this weekend!  Thirty-eight of our children will be receiving Communion for the first time.  They’re all dressed up and ready to go.  They’ve been practicing how to hold their hands when they come up to receive Jesus.  They know how to say, “Amen.”  And, of course, they’re all set for the party afterwards.

There’s a lot of preparation that’s gone into today.  And that’s because something wonderful is happening!  Our children are going to be receiving Jesus for the very first time in Communion.  And that’s how it is for us Catholics.  Receiving Communion is a big deal.  After all, we don’t come up to the altar to eat some bread and some wine; we come up here to receive…Jesus, the Son of the Living God.  And that’s a big deal.

In fact, receiving Communion is the highpoint of the whole Mass.  It’s the whole reason we’re here: to receive the Lord, to open our hearts and our minds to let him in, so we can share life with him.  And so, Communion is a big deal.

If you’ve ever had a best friend, and you just wish you could spend all day with him or her, well, receiving Communion is a way that Jesus and we can be together all the time.  And the more we go to Communion, the closer to him we’ll get.

Now, our children here are going to be receiving Jesus for the first time.  They’re taking a big step on their journey of faith and growing in friendship with the Lord.  But what about the rest of us?  Just think of how many times in life we’ve gone to Communion.  Hundreds, thousands of times?  Just think of how much closer we’ve come to the Lord, Sunday by Sunday.  Receiving Communion is a big deal because it really tightens that bond of friendship with God.

But there are even more good things that come from Communion.  At the Last Supper, we know that Jesus gave his Blood to the Apostles and he said, “Take this all you and drink from it…it will be poured out for you and for many—for the forgiveness of sins.”  And that’s another effect of receiving Communion: the forgiveness of our sins.

You know, we all do things or say things which aren’t the best.  We all do it, and it’s okay to admit that.  It started way back in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  But Jesus gives us especially his Blood as a way we can “wash away” our sins.  Now, normally, blood is something that leaves a stain.  But Jesus’ Blood does just the opposite!  It takes stain out; it washes our sins away—amazingly.  And the more often we go to Communion, the cleaner our soul becomes.  And that just makes life better all around.

So Communion is a big deal.  It brings us closer to Jesus and it washes away our sins.  But there’s even more to it than that.  Communion also makes us brothers and sisters…in Christ.  Now, we all know who our parents and grandparents are, and who are brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles are.  There all those (sometimes crazy) people we’re related to by blood.

Well, when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, everybody who receives Communion becomes “blood relatives;” we all have the same Jesus inside of us.  In fact, that’s where the name “Communion” comes from.  The Eucharist puts us into communion, into unity and community, with everybody else who receives the Eucharist.

And way back in the first couple of centuries of the early Church, the people knew that.  That’s why Saint Paul’s letters always start with something like: “Dear brothers and sisters.”  It’s why monks and nuns are called “Brother” so-and-so, and “Sister” so-and-so.  Receiving Communion makes us part of the “family of God.”  That’s why we call priests “Father,” and why some religious women are called “Mother.”  It’s why we call St. Mary our Blessed “Mother.”

But the thing is that receiving Communion makes us part of a very, very large family; a global community of believers.  I think this is a reason why several years ago we stopped holding hands during the Our Father; as a reminder that because of Communion we’re connected with a whole lot of people who we can’t see or touch.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, they say that “the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.”  Now that’s an area of over 5,000 square miles.  It’s like all the land east of Lake Winnebago, from Green Bay to (northern) Milwaukee.  And there were believers scattered throughout that whole area, but…they were in unity with one another—because of Communion.

That’s why—as Catholics—we can go to any Catholic church in the world and we belong there.  We always have a spiritual “home” wherever we go.  And that’s a pretty cool thing.  And then there are all the faithful departed, all the Saints in heaven.  We’re their brothers and sisters, too.  Death doesn’t get in the way of that.

The Acts of the Apostles said that “the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.”  Today we’d say, “the church throughout the world, in every country, and throughout all of heaven.”  Communion makes us part of a very, very large family of believers; brothers and sisters because of our one common relative: Jesus.

So there are a lot of wonderful things that come from receiving Communion: deepening our friendship with the Lord; being washed clean of our sins again and again; and being part of an enormous family and community of believers, the Church.  And the last thing I’ll mention today is what comes from the Gospel of John.

Jesus says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”  Receiving Communion makes us not only friends of the Lord, but also his disciples.  That’s one of the meanings behind the “Amen” we say when we come up to receive the Eucharist.  “Amen” means—among other things, “I am a disciple of Jesus,” or “I want to be a better disciple of Jesus.”  It’s like when the bride and groom say, “I do” at their wedding…sort of.  Actually, it’s more like when an athlete says, “Okay, coach.  I’ll sign on with you.  So teach me, show me.”

Being a disciple means being in a relationship with the Lord, where he’s the coach, he’s the mentor, he’s the “one who knows,” and we’re the student, the learner, the one who’s trying to be like him in some way.

When you hear the word “disciple” think of the word “discipline.”  People who are disciplined are those who follow some sort of a standard, who allow themselves to be molded and shaped by something outside themselves.  There’s the image of the coach and the athlete, the teacher and the student.  There are also cultural norms, social etiquette, systems of values and beliefs, and so on. 

In the first Letter of St. John, he refers to the commandments of Jesus: love God, love your neighbor, believe in the name of Jesus.  That’s a set of standards which disciples discipline themselves by.  Jesus says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”  By receiving Communion, we’re saying “Amen” to Jesus, but especially to Jesus as our Teacher, our Mentor, our Friend who always love us, but who always encourages us to be more, to be the best person he’s made us to be.

So there are a lot of wonderful things that come from receiving Communion: friendship with the Lord, being washed clean of our sins again and again, being part of an enormous community of believers, and strengthening ourselves as disciples of Jesus.  Receiving Communion is the highlight of what we do at Mass.  And it happens right here at these steps to the sanctuary.

We don’t usually think of these steps as anything important.  But they are a very sacred place; it’s where Communion happens, where heaven and earth meet.  It’s where we become what we’re made to be: sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Homily for 27 April 2018

27 April 2018

We’re a people of faith, and yet, it’s not an absolutely blind faith.  We’re also a people of reason.  It’s why Christianity is described as a “reasonable faith.”  We don’t just pull things out of thin air and call it the gospel.

And so, if we ever have doubts about our faith (or if somebody questions why we believe in the first place), we put our noggins in gear and we point to the Apostles.  We have faith because of the Apostles (and with a little help from the Holy Spirit and the whole life of the Church for the past 2,000 years).  Our faith is rooted in the Apostles and what they said.

Saint Paul writes that “God raised [Jesus] from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.  These are now his witnesses before the people.”  “These” being the Apostles and those close to them.

Why do we believe in the Eucharist?  Because the Apostles were there at the Last Supper, and they handed it on to us.  Why do we believe in a loving God?  Because that’s who the Apostles encountered in the flesh-and-blood Jesus.  Why do we believe in life and death?  Because the Apostles were there at the Resurrection, and they’ve handed that great truth onto us.

Our faith is not an absolutely blind faith.  It’s a reasonable faith, one that involves both the heart and the head.  We pray that God will keep us strong in both heart and mind.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Homily for 26 April 2018

26 April 2018

(School Mass)

They say that “time heals everything.”  And that just means that when we’re right in the middle of something (especially something difficult), we can’t always see what’s going on.  We have to wait in order to understand; maybe months, maybe years.  But we have to wait before we can see clearly.

It’s like of like the birds.  You know, the birds get to fly high above the ground.  And the higher up they fly, the bigger picture they get of what’s all happening on earth.  Of course, we can’t fly (except in an airplane), but we can get a bigger picture by letting time go by.  And a lot of the time, that’s how it is with God.

God tends to move very slowly.  Either that or we’re moving too fast.  And so, it can take a while to see clearly what God is doing.  And that’s what our readings remind us of today.  St. Paul stood up in the synagogue and he reminded the people of their history.  He made the people look backwards in order to see how God had been working.  And then Jesus spoke with his disciples, but he made them look forward.  And then when those things happened in the future, the disciples would remember to look backward to what Jesus said, so they would understand what God was doing.

When we’re right in the middle of something, we can’t always see what’s going on.  And so we have to wait.  We have to wait, and then someday we can say, “Oh, that’s what God was doing!  Now I see.  Now it makes sense to me.”  But that takes time.

And so we ask God for patience, for hope, and especially for trust that he is God, and in the end, everything will turn out just the way it was supposed to.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Homily for 25 April 2018

25 April 2018

Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature,” says Jesus.  In the Church there’s a lot of talk of the New Evangelization, going out as missionary disciples to do just that: to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel.  But, you know, Jesus didn’t tell everyone to do that.  St. Mark tells us that he came to the Apostles and commissioned them, specifically, to be missionary disciples.

But, at the same time, we know that the Lord empowers other people, too, besides the Apostles.  After all, our feast day today is centered on St. Mark—an evangelist, but not one of the twelve Apostles.  So we know that others besides the original Twelve were called by the Lord.  But, still, not everyone is called to “go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel.”

In the Gospel of Mark, there’s what we call the “Messianic secret.”  Various people (and some demons) recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and even as the Son of God.  But he says to those people, “Quiet!  Don’t tell anyone.”  Jesus says that again and again in Mark’s Gospel: “Don’t tell anyone that I’m the Messiah.”  That’s the “Messianic secret.”

And maybe Jesus did that because he doesn’t want just anybody going out and telling others about him.  He only wants people to do that whom he specifically called and commissioned to do it.  Not everybody is called to be an evangelist.  This is something St. Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians.  He writes that Jesus, “gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers....”

Not everybody is called to be an evangelist.  And if we’re not called, then it’s best that we try not to be one—for the good of Christ’s mission.  But, at the same time, we are each called to “proclaim the Gospel” in the way that our Blessed Mother proclaimed the good news: by the manner of our life, through “preaching by example.”  St. Peter gives us some guidance in that we he talks about a life of humility and simplicity, steadfast faith, sobriety and vigilance in looking to see how the Lord is at work in our lives.

We may not each be called to be evangelists, like St. Mark, but we are called by God to “preach the gospel” by the manner of our life, each in our own way, according to the gifts God has given us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Homily for 24 April 2018

24 April 2018

“Jesus answered them, saying, ‘I told you and you do not believe.’”  The exercise of belief is what draws the line between Christians and non-Christians.  Obviously we can’t call ourselves Christians if we don’t really believe that Jesus is the Son of God the Father; if we don’t believe in all the things he tried to teach, things like: the resurrection, the importance of looking out for those in need, how to worship God rightly, and so on.

We call ourselves “Christians” not because of our ethnicity or the language we speak, but because of our simple belief that Jesus is who he says he is.  But that simple belief opens us up to a whole new way of living.  If Jesus is who he says he is, then God has come to us.  And so, we Christians are an astounded people, an awe struck people who wonder at God like we wonder at the sunrise or sunset. 

If Jesus is who he says he is, then that makes us Christians a people of hope, too.  Pope Francis wrote that “the joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”  But it’s not a superficial joy, one that goes up and down depending on the day.  Instead, it’s a deep joy that comes from a “sure and certain hope” that only God can give us.  Hope leads to joy, and joy is built on hope.

So, wonder, hope, and joy all characterize the lives of Christians.  But none of that happens without first believing that Jesus is who he says he is.  May God increase our faith in the Lord, and thereby increase our wonder, our hope, and our joy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Homily for 11 April 2018

11 April 2018

We celebrate the Eucharist in order to give thanks to God.  We thank him because, as we hear in the Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son so that everyone…might have eternal life.”  We thank God for his love for us.

We also thank God for those who went through great danger to bring us the good news of God’s love.  There are the Apostles, in our first reading, who were put in prison and then set free by an angel.  But instead of using the opportunity to run away and be safe, they went right back into the lion’s den and kept preaching. 

Then there is Saint Stanislaus, whose memorial we celebrate today.  He had wealth and security, but gave it all to the poor and became a parish priest.  He was known for his skills in spiritual direction and became a reluctant bishop.  And he preached against sinful living, which the king at the time didn’t like.  So Stanislaus was murdered while celebrating the Mass, in 1079.

We give thanks to God for his love.  And we give thanks for those in our past and in our present who reassure of God’s love for us, who bring us the good news of God’s very great love.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Homily for 10 April 2018

10 April 2018

“The wind blows where it wills,” Jesus says.  The interesting thing, though, is that the wind is not the air.  The air is already there; it’s a physical thing; we know “where it comes from and where it goes.”  But the wind, well that’s the force that moves the air.  And, spiritually speaking, we don’t know “where it comes from or where it goes.” 

And the point is that we’re like the air, and the Holy Spirit is like the wind that makes the air move.  Our basic calling in life is to be carried along by the Holy Spirit.  That’s part of the meaning in what Jesus says about being “born from above;” being “brought forth” on the winds of Heaven.  Of course, being carried along by that wind could be enjoyable, or scary even.

When we say, “Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit…Lord, help me to be your presence in the world today…Lord, show me the right thing to do,” whenever we try to let God take the lead, we never quite know where we’re going to end up.  We don’t know where the Holy Spirit is going to carry us off to.  It might be into a greater experience of life.  It might be down a path that really challenges us.  It might be toward an experience of the Cross.  Who knows.  Who knows where the wind will carry us off to.  We certainly don’t know.

But we do have some idea; after all, Jesus has gone before us.  We know where he’s at.  And where he’s at is where the Holy Spirit comes from and goes back to.  And so, sooner or later, if we let ourselves be carried along by the winds of the Holy Spirit, we’ll end up in a really good place: in heaven, with all the angels and the saints, with all our loved ones who’ve gone before us, all together in one place, loving God and being loved by him; happily, eternally.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Homily for 5 April 2018

5 April 2018
(School Mass)

Jesus doesn’t lie.  When he says something is going to happen, it does; like his resurrection.  Before he died on the Cross, Jesus told everybody he was going to rise from the dead.  And he did.  So why were the Apostles all scared and amazed when he came to them?  Well, because they didn’t believe him.  They didn’t believe him.  And that’s okay, because eventually they did believe. 

And that’s the important thing...they eventually believed him.  And that’s how it is with us, too.  We hear Jesus say things all the time, right?  For example, we go to confession and we hear the priest say, “Your sins are forgiven.”  But do we believe him?  Or we hear Jesus say, “Be not afraid, I am with you always.”  But do we believe him?  Or what about at the Mass when Jesus says, “This is my Body, given up for you.”  Do we believe him?

And I would bet the answer is: “Well, sometimes I believe him.  Sometimes I do.  But, sometimes I’m not sure.”  So we’re not all that different from those Apostles, right?, who were sitting there and then, oh my gosh, there’s Jesus standing there risen from the dead!

But then Jesus said, “Touch my hands and my feet.  Give me some food to eat, so you can I really am here.”  Jesus had to prove it to his Apostles that he wasn’t a liar, that he was trustworthy.  And did that so the Apostles could then go out and prove to others that Jesus told the truth.  And that’s why we have the Church and her bishops, and the priests and deacons, and the pope.  It’s why we have all the saints and all the angels.  The whole Church exists to show the world that Jesus is trustworthy; that what he says is true—even resurrection from the dead.

So if we find ourselves maybe a little doubtful in our faith, that’s okay.  But then we want to be sure to listen even closer to what the Church says about Jesus.  And if we’re really strong in our faith, well, that’s good.  But then we have to be sure to share our faith, and to teach others—very gently—that what Jesus says is true, and that he can be trusted.

When Jesus says something is going to happen, it does—even rising from the dead.  Do you believe him?  Jesus, help us when we doubt you.