Saturday, October 27, 2018

Homily for 28 Oct 2018

28 Oct 2018
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Every October, on the last Sunday of the month, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates “Priesthood Sunday.”  Officially, it’s “a day to reflect upon and affirm the role of the priesthood in the life of the Church as a central one” (from Serra International).  And, to be honest, it’s an idea I’ve struggled with; primarily because what we do here at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God.

Even when there is a wedding, or a baptism, or confirmation, or the blessing of an anniversary, and so on, it isn’t about us.  Instead, it’s always about offering thanks and praise to God for what he’s doing.  You know, a wedding is a time to celebrate God’s grace having brought the couple together; God’s grace blessing them and strengthening them in their lifelong union of love.  At a baptism and at confirmation, we celebrate God’s gift of salvation and new life.  And so on, and so on.

What we do at Mass isn’t about any of us—it’s about God.  And so, on this “Priesthood Sunday,” there is something to celebrate and to honor.  And what we hold up today is…priesthood.  “Now, wait a minute, Father.  You just said we weren’t going to do that.”  Well, true.  But we are going to celebrate what God is doing.  And what he’s doing, as we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews, is that Jesus is being—at this very moment—our great High Priest.  And he’s inviting to share in that same priesthood.

Priesthood is, fundamentally, a state of being.  It’s part of who someone is.  It describes the nature and lifestyle of a person.  And at the heart of that lifestyle are two things: offering and intercession.  Offering and intercession.

When we come to Mass we do a lot of things: sit, stand, kneel, sing, put money in the basket, pray, genuflect, listen to Scripture, write intentions in the prayer book, say Amen, profess the faith, and just generally try to give our attention to what’s going on.  And all of that is an offering of ourselves.  From the moment we say, “Ok, I’m going to go to Mass,” until we get here and participate in Mass, we’re offering ourselves to God: our time, our attention, our money, our gifts, our prayers, our hopes and faith, our voices, our intentions, and our hearts.

And even when we leave from here, we still live a life of offering.  Offering our time to neighbors, friends, and family; offering our help to those in need; giving of our gifts and our talents where they’re needed; and so on.  At the heart of priesthood is this idea of “offering” and “giving.”  And so, “priesthood” should describe every one of us.

This is what the Roman Catechism says: “All the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of Baptism.  Especially is this name given to [those who,]… enlightened by faith and charity…offer spiritual sacrifices to God on the altar of their hearts.” 

And this understanding of priesthood has been around for a very long time.  The Roman Catechism was written by Pope St. Pius V…in 1570.  And, of course, before that there was Saint Peter saying to the people, “You are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (1 Peter 2:5).  Not sacrifices and offerings on the stone or wood altar, but spiritual sacrifices on “the altar of the heart.”  And we carry our hearts and souls with us all the time.  And so, whenever or wherever we are, we can exercise our God-given ability to “make an offering.”

And also right there at the heart of priesthood is the idea of “making intercession” for others; praying to God on behalf of others.  You know, at Mass when we have our Universal Prayers, we all respond, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  “For the Church, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.  For the sick and the needy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.  For those who have died, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.” 

The thing is that we all pray: Lord, hear our prayer.  It isn’t just the ordained priest who says it; we all say it.  We all offer prayers of intercession—for the Church, the world, the needy, our own needs, and for all the faithful departed.  And, you know, this is what Jesus does for us in heaven.  We see that beautifully in the Gospel of John (17:6-26) when Jesus prays to God the Father.  He says:

“I pray for them…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.  Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am…that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus, our great High Priest, is praying for us—always.  He’s always interceding on our behalf, for our good.  And by exercising the priesthood God has invited us to share in, we do the same for the world, for those who hate us, and for those we love.

Now, if you’re wondering why I get to dress in black and wear a white collar, why I get to wear the fancy clothes at Mass, the reason is this.  The ordained priest is here to model a life of offering and intercession.  Just as Jesus came to mentor the Apostles in the ways of priesthood, so the ordained priest is here to mentor all the baptized in the ways of priesthood. 

And so, be sure to pray for me and for all ordained priests, that we might be faithful to our call to serve you, and to offer our lives for you, and to pray for your good. 

On this “Priesthood Sunday,” we celebrate and honor priesthood itself.  We thank God for inviting us to share in the life of Jesus who is the great High Priest, the one who offers himself perfectly and fully; the one who is always selfless in his prayers for us.  We worship God alone here at Mass.  But we do that by exercising our common priesthood, our common call to offer ourselves to God, and to pray for those who need God.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Homily for 21 Oct 2018

21 Oct 2018
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Whenever we come to worship God, we usually sing songs of gratitude or praise.  You know, we sing words like: “Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away;” or “The God of all grace has blessed us this day, all of creation joins us in praise;” or “Sing a new song unto the Lord, let your song be sung from mountains high, singing alleluia!”

And these are songs of a free people; a people who’ve seen the difference between a life without Christ and a life with Christ.  They’re songs of people who are not captive anymore, but are free in spirit.  Christ has unlocked their “prison door” and they’ve begun to experience a new way of living.  They’ve begun to live God’s vision of a “new humanity.”

The question is, though: Are we these people?  We hear today that: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”—a ransom from all the things we can be a slave to, without even knowing it.  Have we allowed ourselves to be ransomed by the Lord? 

When I was in college, there was a young woman (probably in her early 20s) who had told the class she was Catholic (I think we were each describing who we were).  And she seemed pretty normal and was a good presence in the classroom; you know, kind and helpful; she always wore a crucifix on her necklace.  And then there was another young lady there who was just the opposite: she had a foul mouth; she was confrontational and overbearing, and didn’t believe in a god of any sort.

And by the end of the semester, we had two foul-mouthed girls in the class, who were rude and couldn’t care less about other people.  And we had one less Catholic—she was a captive, and she did what was popular rather than what was right.  She was in prison again, and she didn’t even know it. 

Of course, that’s the struggle of so many youth today—to be a free person in Christ, or to be a slave to popular opinion.  It’s a rather tragic thing to see a young man or woman in church with a face that says: “I would rather be anywhere else than here.”  An expressionless face, a stoic and unmovable face that says (even if they don’t know it): “I am a captive.”  And it’s sad to see someone who is unable to sing the songs of Christian freedom; who might sing the words on the page, but maybe doesn’t feel them in his or her heart.

And that’s not just a struggle for youth today; it’s also a challenge for many adults.  The old idea of “keeping up with Joneses” keeps a lot of people captive.  “My neighbor has a new car, and all I have is my old Buick with 120,000 miles on it.”  Or “my friend Joe over here can run a marathon, but I can’t even run around the block.”  It’s easy to be held captive to images of what we think we should be like. 

And then we come to Mass and sing, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”  But do we?  Are we really so free and able to “place our trust in” God and be at peace about life?  Or are our hearts and minds held captive and bothered by other things?  I would imagine the answer is probably: “It depends.  Sometimes I’m free, and sometimes I know I’m not.”  But it’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves. 

The thing about it, though, is that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer.  And that’s because, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”  He didn’t come to strong-arm us into saying yes to him.  Jesus is Lord, but…he doesn’t lord it over us.  He never says: “I am the Son of God: the Ruler of the world.”  Instead, he’s the much weaker “Son of Man,” who invites people to follow him; he never forces us. 

He serves us by inviting us to be his friends.  His disciples follow him because they want to, not because they have to.  And they follow him because they know he’s “set them free” from their captivity to…popular opinion, or the latest gadget, or the idea that they have to change themselves in order to be lovable.  The disciples of Christ are freed from all that, and they just follow him with trust, hope, and adoration.

And they follow him into something new—into a new way of living, into a new way of being human.  Jesus shows us a “new humanity,” as Pope Benedict XVI calls it.  And what this “new humanity” looks like is: interior freedom; kindness; a life of trust and fidelity toward God and others; a life of hope and integrity; a life of greatness and inner radiance; a life of happiness and peace; a life of service (that is, love) for God, others, and ourselves; a life of commitment and self-offering; a life of always looking forward and upward; a life that treasures the ancient and the old, and reveres and nurtures the new.

The Son of Man came to “ransom us” from our old selves, and to open the way to a “new humanity.”  Of course, that “new humanity” comes with a price.  And Christ has already paid the price on the Cross.  But the price continues to be paid every time we try to “own” the freedom Christ offers us.

For many of our youth, the price of living as a free person in Christ is the fear of what others will say.  What are others going to think if I’m actually happy that there’s at least one person in life who loves me unconditionally?  What are others going to think if I say, “I can’t go out tonight because I just want to spend some time with my family.”  The Cross happens again every time they put their love of God ahead of their concerns about what others think.  The same can be said for adults. 

But the beauty of choosing to be a free person with Christ, and embracing the occasional pain that comes with it, is that God’s vision of the “new humanity” comes to be a reality in us.  In the 2nd Century, St Irenaeus saw very clearly that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive, and the life of humanity is the vision of God.”  The flowers in the field, the birds in the sky give glory to God because they are what they’re made to be.  And the glory of God, the radiance of God is within us when we are what we’re made to be: and we’re made to be free.

And that’s not only God’s vision, but it’s ours as well.  James and John asked if they could sit with Christ “in glory.”  And we’re just like that.  We want “glory,” happiness, peace; we want life to be good and fulfilling.  We know we’re made to be free.

So why remain captive to all those things in life which stop us from becoming part of God’s “new humanity?”  Why remain captive to others’ opinions of us?  Why remain captive to the social ideas that our human worth comes from our appearance, or the kind of house we have, or whatever?  Why remain captive to all that when the Son of Man came to ransom us from that and to show us a better way, a happier and more glorious way?

Christ shows us a “new humanity,” a new way to live life.  And he frees us from everything that holds us back.  All that’s left is to take the first step: the first steps from captivity to freedom in God.  And maybe it starts by taking to heart the words we sing at Mass: “Glory and praise to our God, who alone gives light to our day, many are the blessings he bears to those who trust in his ways.”