Saturday, November 24, 2018

Homily for 25 Nov 2018

25 Nov 2018
Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B

The scene painted by the Prophet Daniel reads something like a coronation.  We heard: “When he reached the Ancient One, and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship.”  Kingship was bestowed upon him.  And when we think of Christ the King—Christ our King—we can use this coronation scene and we can picture God the Father crowning his Son, Jesus: “When he reached the Ancient One [the Father], and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man [Jesus] received dominion, glory, and kingship.”

And one of the symbols of the authority given to a king or a queen is the scepter: a staff or a rod.  And usually on top of the scepter is yet another symbol of authority—maybe a cross, or an eagle, or a jewel or something.  But if we think of Jesus’ scepter, his staff or rod, what might be on top of it is the word “Truth.” 

Jesus says, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  He also says, “The truth will set you free” [John 8:32].  And, of course, Jesus identifies himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  When we picture Christ the King, we can picture him with his scepter in hand, and the word “Truth” atop that scepter.  Truth is at the heart of Christ’s kingship.  And truth is the foundation of any authority we give him. 

Power isn’t what makes him a king.  Likeability and friendliness don’t make him a king.  Nor does any amount of privilege as the Son of God make him a king.  Truth, and his absolute fidelity to truth, is what make him our King.  A 19th Century commentator (Matthew Henry) writes that Christ the King “conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth, and in his majesty rides prosperously, because of truth (Ps. 45:4).  And it is with his truth that he shall judge the people (Ps. 96:13)”. 

And so, today’s celebration of Christ’s kingship is, at the same time, a celebration of truth; and a celebration of the power and the freedom, the justice, and the goodness and beauty that all come with truth. 

You know, whenever there’s a dispute among people, or in court, or in politics, we hope that the truth will prevail.  And that’s our hope because truth and justice go hand-in-hand.  Or when a child does something wrong, we hope that he or she will tell the truth.  And that’s our hope because truth and goodness are inseparable; and we want our children to be good.  Or when somebody confesses to a crime, the truth comes out and there’s freedom.  There’s still some penalty to pay, but at least the soul is free.

And this last example gets at the meaning of truth.  In Greek, there’s the word “lethe” [láy-thay], and it means “forgetfulness” or “concealment.”  It’s where we get the word “lethargic.”  But then in Greek there’s the word for truth, which is “alethia” [ah-láy-thee-uh].  And it basically means “revelation” or “disclosure.”  It means: To reveal what is hidden.  And so, we can understand why Jesus calls himself “the Truth.”  He reveals to us what is hidden in God.  And not only that—he also reveals to us what is hidden in ourselves.

The Second Vatican Council wrote that “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, [Christ] fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” [Gaudium et Spes, 22].  We give Jesus authority because he’s like a mirror for us.  We look at him, his life, his values, his priorities, his loves and, in that, we’re meant to see...ourselves.  Jesus reveals to us our potential as sons and daughters of God.  And he loves us that way, by being our truth. 

Christ is the Great Revealer, the one who unveils everything; he is the Truth.  And, because of that, goodness and beauty, freedom, power, and greatness follow him.  In short, the Kingdom of God springs up wherever he is; wherever truth is.  And that’s why Scripture speaks of “us” as having been “made into a kingdom” [Rev 1:6].  If the truth of things is really of importance to us, then the Kingdom of God necessarily blossoms within us and through us.  And this is something that’s seen throughout the history of the Church.

Whenever the Church has been in trouble, salvation always comes by way of the truth.  When Christians were persecuted in the early Church, there was a lot of bloodshed, but truth won out.  When life was dark and chaotic in the 9th Century—even in the Church—people who stuck to the truths of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles are what saved Christianity.  When the Church was going off the rails again in the 16th Century, Martin Luther tried to interject the truth there, for which he was condemned.  But the Church did make some changes then, and returned to the truth again—even if Christianity had been split apart by then.

When we look at the Church today, it’s in trouble.  Some of its leaders have caused irreparable harm.  Christ himself is given a bad name by some “Christians” out there who preach their own truth as though it’s God’s truth, and they accuse and condemn people left and right.  There’s a sense of competition with the Evangelicals and mega-churches: “We need music like they have, we need flashy preachers like they have, we need to have what they have.”  And then soon our salvation is dependent on other people and buildings and this latest trend and that latest thing to hit the church “industry.”

What happened to truth?  What happened to seeing beauty and goodness in God’s truth?  What happened to marveling at the transforming power of God’s truth?  What happened to Christ—in particular, Christ the King; Christ the Great Revealer who shares everything he has from the Father with us?  Christ who holds nothing back from us, and offers us everything?  Whenever the Church has been in trouble, salvation has always come by way of the truth.

As we live out our calling to be “the kingdom” here on earth, it’s critical to keep truth at our core.  And we do that in several ways—none of which we haven’t heard of before.  One way is humility; not self-deprecation, but genuine humility—the kind of humility that says, “I am not the center of the universe.  I’m a necessary part of it, and I’m even a good (very good) part of it, but I’m not the center of the universe.  There’s more than just me and my thoughts.”  So, humility and truth go hand-in-hand.

Another way is wonder—trying to see the world fresh every day, realizing that there’s always more to learn.  You know, science and experimentation are fascinating things.  And they’ve revealed a lot of truths to humanity.  But, if there’s a pitfall to science, it’s a lack of wonder.  For example, just because we know how genetics work, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t wonder about why genetics work the way they do.  Humans didn’t make genes and chromosomes and all that, so we can’t stop at the question of how; we have to keep wondering and ask the question why.  So wonder, endless curiosity, and truth go hand-in-hand.

What else... Well, learning is essential to truth.  Learning, knowledge, understanding, wisdom—we don’t leave them behind when we graduate from school.  We don’t leave them behind when we get confirmed.  Learning and truth go hand-in-hand.

And, perhaps another way we live out our calling to be “the kingdom” here on earth, is through respect and awe.  When we approach God in prayer, in Mass, or wherever, we approach with respect and with awe—not because God is someone to fear, but because God is someone to be awed by.  It’s like being with someone at the moment of death, or at the moment of birth.  It’s like seeing the power of tornadoes and hurricanes.  It’s like seeing a beautiful sunrise or the stars twinkling in the clear night sky.  You just sit back with awe and take it in.  Truth requires a certain amount of “stillness.”  It needs time and silence to unfold for us.  It needs respect and awe.  Truth can’t be rushed, but only received and hungered for.

Christ the King reveals to us our supreme calling: to “be the kingdom” here on earth, a nation of people where truth is our light, and where none other than God himself is that Light and Truth.  May we live humbly, with wonder and awe, learning from Christ our King, Christ our Truth.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Homily for 18 Nov 2018

18 Nov 2018
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

There used to be a sign by the highway.  It was about the size of a card table, painted white, really simple.  And there were big black letters on it that read: “Prepare! The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  And after about five years, the paint was starting to peel (I suppose from sitting out in the hot sun all day).  And then after about seven years, it started to tilt, and you could see the wood underneath the paint; it was already gray from the weather. 

And then, finally, after about ten years, it fell over in the ditch.  The mud and the rain finished it off.  So much for: “Prepare!  The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  I guess it wasn’t as “close at hand” as they thought.  Scripture reminds us today of the closeness of the coming of Jesus, and of all the earthly and cosmic events that will happen when he comes. 

But, at the same time, these Scriptures today can be a bit like that sign by the highway.  Thousands of years have gone by from the time Mark’s Gospel was written, and another six hundred years beyond that since the Book of Daniel was written.  It’s a long time for Scripture to be standing there by the highway, proclaiming its urgent message that Jesus is coming.  And, of course, for a lot of people, that message is worn and irrelevant, just like that sign by the highway.  You can only wait so long, and then you stop paying attention.

But, really, the wait isn’t that long.  Christians have long believed in what’s called the “general resurrection” when, at the end of time, what Jesus says will come to pass.  “They will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky” [Mark 13:26-27].  That’s the “general resurrection.”  And, while we don’t when that will happen, we can probably guess it’s not going to be for awhile (based on our already 2,000+ year wait).

But Christians have also long believed in what might be called the “individual resurrection,” or “individual judgment,” which we experience at the time of our death.  We hear in the Gospel of Luke: “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (16:22).  And later at the crucifixion scene, Jesus tells the repentant thief: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43).  So, really, the wait isn’t that long.

For myself, I expect in the next forty years or so, “the Kingdom of God will be at hand” for me.  But, of course, I don’t know; none of us does.  But we do know that, sooner or later, “the Kingdom of God will be at hand” for each of us; at some point we have to die.  These bodies of ours aren’t made to last forever...even if our souls are.  And that’s not a reason to be afraid. 

How many times does Jesus say, “Be not afraid, be not afraid, I am with you always.”  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am going to prepare a place for you, and then I will come back to take you with me, so that where I am you also may be.”  And, really, for a people of faith, for people who trust in God, who adore God, who open themselves up to him and his grace, Christs promise is a wonderful thing to hear and to cherish: “I will come back to take you with me; be not afraid, I am with you always.”

It’s an image of the Bridegroom embracing his Beloved, his Bride.  But that only happens through what we talked about last weekend; namely, sacrifice. 

It’s similar, maybe, to the relationship we have to the earth.  The earth gives and gives.  And we are the happy recipients of all that earth offers us: food, water, shelter, star-filled nights, sunny days, heat, and cold, and so on.  The earth gives and gives...for our benefit.  And we receive everything the earth gives.  We take that food and water and warmth, and it becomes part of our lives.

But, then, at some point, we give ourselves to the earth, and the earth receives us.  Of course, that’s what cemeteries symbolize and remind us of: the give-and-take relationship between ourselves and the earth.  And if cemeteries remind us of that, then churches (and what we do here at Mass) remind us of the give-and-take relationship between ourselves and our God.  God gives and gives: love, guidance, forgiveness, hope, faith, truth, wisdom, and so on.  God gives and gives.  And we (try to) receive all that. 

But, then, we give ourselves to God, and God receives us.  God takes us to himself, so that, as Jesus says, “where I am you also may be;” not in the dark of the grave, but enjoying the “splendor of God’s Kingdom” in spirit and in truth.  But that give-and-take relationship with God requires sacrifice...from both parties: God and us. 

But by really trying to live a life of sacrifice—a life of self-offering and self-gift to God and to others—we realize that “the Kingdom of God is at hand;” not only at the end of the world, not only at the time of our individual passing from this life, but also right here in life.  The Kingdom of God is at hand; it’s here for the taking.  Just like an apple tree that’s ready for the harvest.  And the tree says, “Come, enjoy my fruit!”  So the Kingdom of God is always ripe, always ready for the taking.

And we do take—not in guilt, but with thanksgiving.  At the Last Supper, Jesus broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this, all of you, and eat of it.”  Take it, eat it.  It’s given up...”for you.”  There’s no guilt involved, just thanksgiving.  And the same thing with the chalice: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it.”  Take it, drink from it.  It’s poured out...”for you.”  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  There’s nothing to be afraid of; just enjoy the fruits of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, just as much as we enjoy the fruits of the earth.

But, in return, what do we give to the Lord?  What do we give to the earth in return?  We care for it as responsible workers in “the vineyard of the Lord.”  We love the earth by caring for it.  And how do we love the Lord?  Through sacrifice...primarily, a sacrifice of thanksgiving, worship, and adoration.  Ultimately, though, we love the Lord by dying into his hands, with trust, and with hope and peace.  We love him by giving ourselves back to him—each and every day in spirit, and then, someday, we give our frail bodies back to him.

So, the Kingdom of God is, truly, at hand.  Right now the grace of God is ready for the taking.  And there’s plenty to go around.  And the more we enjoy that grace today, the more we enjoy and develop our friendship with Christ today, the more we’ll look forward to that day; that day when God will say, “Come, it’s time.  Be not afraid...the Kingdom of God is hand...for you.”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Homily for 11 Nov 2018

11 Nov 2018
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Sacrifice is central to our lives as Christians.  Whether we’re here at Mass, or out and about doing our thing as families, as friends, or even as individuals, sacrifice is essentially what defines us as Christians.  And that’s not just for Catholics; that goes for anyone who would call him- or herself a follower of Jesus Christ.  At the heart of Christian worship is sacrifice.  It’s why the crucifix holds a central place in Christian art.  Sacrifice is (or is supposed to be) central to who we are and what we’re about. 

And this is something our readings this weekend make us reflect on.  We hear about the sacrifice of the widow at Zarephath—using up the last of her flour and oil to feed someone.  We hear about the sacrifice of the widow at the Temple—putting her two cents into the treasury, “her whole livelihood.”  We hear about Jesus offering the sacrifice of himself, both on earth and in heaven.  This weekend, we cannot escape sacrifice.

And if there’s a main idea to our readings today it’s that: Sacrifice should cost me something.  Sacrifice should cost us something; we should “feel it.”  Now, Jesus is not asking us to be in misery and pain.  He’s not asking that; instead, he’s asking us to make sure our sacrifices are actually sacrifices.  And he makes that request through the little snapshot in the gospel.

“Many rich people put in large sums” into the treasury.  Then “a poor widow also came and put in two small coins.”  And Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more...[because the others] contributed from their surplus,” whereas she “contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”  Jesus is trying to get across the point that the widow “felt” her sacrifice, whereas the others did not necessarily. 

It’s the difference between a sacrifice of my “extra stuff” (a sacrifice which doesn’t really touch “me”), and a sacrifice which is “me.”  When Elijah came to Zarephath, the widow didn’t say, “Well, I don’t have much flour and oil, but let me go see if my neighbor can spare some.”  No, she used up what was hers, even if it was all she had.  And Jesus on the Cross sacrificed his own blood, not the blood of a sacrificial animal (which would be the usual sacrifice to make at that time). 

There’s a big difference between those people at the Temple who gave out of their surplus, and the widow who had no surplus and gave of herself, her “whole livelihood” (or in Greek we could read that “she gave her whole life.”  There’s a big difference there.  God is looking for self-sacrifice—not the sacrifice of somebody else.  And God walks the talk: he himself was sacrificed on the Cross.  So he’s not asking us to do something he himself hasn’t already done.

Now, granted, very few of us (if any of us here) will be called upon to make such a dramatic sacrifice as Jesus.  But sacrifice is still central to our lives as Christians.

For example, friendship is a good thing.  It’s a great gift from God to have true friends in this life.  But, there is a cost involved with that good thing; and the cost is sacrifice.  When it’s the end of the day, and you’re ready to just wind down, your friend might call or text, and he or she might need to talk.  Not just a “hey, how’s it going” kind of talk, but a talk that requires a caring heart.  Well, that’s where the self-sacrifice comes in.  You ignore the fact that you’re tired, and you be the friend.  And it costs you something, and you feel it. You’re tired, and if your body had its way, you’d be asleep already.  But you forego the sleep and you give your time and attention to that other person—willingly.  Sacrifice is part of who we are as Christians.

And, of course, any parent knows that children bring all sorts of opportunities for self-sacrifice.  “I’d like to go to the game, but...little Matthew is sick and I need to stay home.  It’s my responsibility.”  Or “I want my kids to like me, but I just have to be the parent and say ‘no’ this time, even if makes them mad.”  Parents feel what it’s like to sacrifice.

Politics is another area for sacrifice.  For instance, Christians are absolutely pro-life.  And it takes a certain amount of courage to stand up for that, especially when you know that other people might treat you quite badly when you stand up for life.  But that’s the sacrifice: Being a willing target of others’ hostility, even the hostility of other Christians.

In this politically charged time in our history, you almost have to expect to be bad-mouthed if you dare to stand up for what you believe.  Politics can be a vicious arena, and there are plenty of chances to practice self-sacrifice.  And that are sacrifices we might feel; they’re sacrifices that might cost us something.

And, of course, sacrifice touches parish life, too.  Every volunteer we have is practicing self-sacrifice; giving their time, their efforts for the good of the community, with the only “payment” being those words: Thank you.  Even the employees have opportunities to practice sacrifice whenever they say ‘okay’ to one of Father’s off-the-wall ideas.  Really, we each practice self-sacrifice every time we give somebody the benefit of the doubt; when we choose the ways of mercy and non-judgement when, really, we want nothing more than judge somebody else.  And we all know how that kind of sacrifice feels like: it feels like a tongue that’s been bitten.

Sacrifice runs all through parish life.  And a really concrete way we experience that is, of course, with the collection basket.  Sacrifice makes the parish and the school run.  We’re not like a civic government that can just levy taxes.  The bulk of what we do is supported by people’s sacrificial offering.  Without financial sacrifice, we cease to be (a parish).  And so, talk about money and the collection basket shouldn’t be shied away from; it should be right out there in the open like any other sacrifice we’re each asked to make.  Without a healthy sense of sacrifice, the parish—the Church—doesn’t exist; whether that’s the sacrifice of money, or the sacrifice of time, or the sacrificial offering of our gifts and our talents.  The life of any Christian community runs on sacrifice; in particular, the sacrifices that we “feel.”

But, in saying that, it has to be acknowledged that sacrifice is a two-way street.  We’re called to sacrifice because of our baptism and our profession of faith in Christ.  We’re called to a life of sacrifice.  But, we’re also called to receive others’ sacrifice with gratitude, and to reverence that for what it is: a sacrifice, a self-gift.

Now, we hear today about Elijah and the scribes.  And they’re on opposite ends of a spectrum.  Both ask for sacrifice from others.  They both do it.  But Elijah asks, knowing that the widow’s sacrifice won’t bring her any harm in the long run.  He asks for a sacrifice to help her be a better Jew.  But when the scribes ask for a sacrifice, it’s only to fill their treasury.  Even if the sacrifice is intended for the Temple, there’s no attention given to the well-being of the widow, the one making the sacrifice.   As Jesus puts it, the scribes “devour the houses of widows.”  The scribes have little respect for others’ sacrifice as a sacrifice.  But Elijah does.

It’s as we say during Mass: May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…for the praise and glory of his name…for our good…and the good of his holy Church.  Sacrifice is meant to build up, not to destroy.

And so, any time we ask for a sacrifice from someone else—whether that’s among friends or family, at work, or in the parish, or from the parish; whether it’s a sacrifice of time, or money, or gifts and talents—we want to follow the example of Elijah (and Jesus).  Others’ self-sacrifice should be reverenced and cherished, not abused or taken for granted.  And perhaps the best way to do that is to make sure that we “feel” our own sacrifices, so we can appreciate the sacrifices of others.

And so, as we gather here at the Altar of God, we approach with gratitude in our hearts.  Jesus’ self-sacrifice is given to us and for our benefit.  May we, in turn, take that same spirit of sacrifice into the world, into our homes and our hearts.