Monthly Archives: February 2015

Homily for February 21 and 22

HOMILY – FEBRUARY 21-22

This past week, I heard an interview on the radio that touched me profoundly.  A reporter in Iraq was talking with an 11-year-old Chaldean Catholic girl whose family members had been raped and murdered by invading terrorist soldiers.  She and surviving members of their Catholic village had taken refuge in a half-built strip mall in a town miles away, and had been living there for some weeks.  The girl spoke in Arabic, and her soft, gentle words were translated for the reporter by an interpreter.  The reporter asked the girl what she missed most, besides her family.  She quietly replied, “My school and my church.”  The reporter pressed on, “Well, how do you feel about these people who have done such horrible things to you and your family?”  Without a quiver in her voice, this 11-year-old girl replied, “Oh, we pray for them all the time.  That’s what Jesus wants us to do.”

A statement of faith like that would rather seem to indicate who is dealing death, and who is dealing life.  These modern-day martyrs might seem far away, but we are one with them this very morning in the Eucharist we celebrate.  Here is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, who told his Apostles, “DO THIS in memory of me.”  And then the next day, he cried out to the Father as he was being crucified and tortured to death, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!”

“DO THIS!”  These words at the Last Supper were spoken as the Lord began the action of the Paschal Mystery, his passion, death, and resurrection.  We understand that they were spoken over bread and wine, and refer to the transforming action of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  But the Eucharist is also the re-presentation of Calvary, of his suffering and death on the cross.  And his “DO THIS” echoes over the scene of his crucifixion as starkly and lovingly as it lingers here when we pronounce those sacred words that change mere bread and wine into his Body and Blood.

“DO THIS!” Jesus cries out.  And in the desert of Iraq, a little girl and her family, and her classmates, and her townspeople, hear the words of Jesus and DO IT.  Right now, right this minute, our brother and sister Christians are DOING THIS in Jesus’ name.  And what about us?

You might say, as I have often said or thought on being confronted with someone else’s cross, someone else’s disease, someone else’s suffering:  “Wow, I could never do that.”  But friends, don’t discount God’s grace.  He hasn’t asked you to do THAT —    YET.  Your time will come, and the Lord will tell you, as he told his apostle St. Paul, “Don’t lose heart, my grace is sufficient for you.”  The temptation is there for all of us to lose our faith, to surrender to hopelessness and despair, to listen to the seductive voice of the evil one, who knows very well how to make the good look bad, and the bad look very, very good.  But Jesus tells us, “DO THIS!”  Can you gain some strength from the living witness of this 11-year-old Iraqi girl?

We often get discouraged in the face of temptation.  It’s so easy for us to cry out at such times, “Where is God in all this?”  We forget the very simple lesson of the Incarnation, that our God has freely chosen, in the person of his Son, to “become like us in all things but sin,” as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us.  It means that if we’re asking, “Where is God in all this?” we’ve likely turned our backs on HIM, and so can’t see him.  And all the while his arms are open in a loving embrace, and he’s reminding us, “I was here FIRST!  We’re in this TOGETHER.”

We often speak of baptism as “taking the plunge with Christ.”  In this morning’s Scriptures, Jesus reminds us again that in our baptism, your baptism, my baptism, little Andrew who is being baptized this morning, Jesus reminds us that HE TAKES THE PLUNGE WITH US!  He loves us so much that he freely becomes an integral part of our lives, and will never leave us to face our trials alone.  All we have to do is DO THIS, what he does, as he does it, where he does it, when he does it, because he does it.  He does it first.  He sets the pattern for us.  And we walk with him in the shadow — and in the radiance — of his cross.

Homily for February 14 and 15

HOMILY – FEBRUARY 14-15

“I feel treated like a leper!”  That was the complaint I heard from a parishioner years ago who had been hired by a government office in a neighboring county.  She was the only Catholic in the office.  All the other employees and supervisors were members of another Christian faith.  They were coolly civil with their new co-worker, but after nearly a year it was very clear that they really didn’t care that she wasn’t fitting in.  Her own boss gave her work the highest praise, and assured her that she was proving to be a very valuable member of the staff.  But he acknowledged the difficult situation.  “I realize it isn’t easy for you here,” he said.  “Old habits are hard to break.  Our people are brought up to be very suspicious.  Don’t get discouraged.  You’re having an effect.  If it’s any consolation, I hear them saying things like, ‘You know, she’s really not all that bad.’”

So there was my parishioner, feeling like a leper and yet being a missionary of sorts, in a very hostile environment.  If we occasionally feel like that in our own society, or in our own culture, perhaps in our own workplace or school, or even sometimes in our own family, it’s not unusual.  There are many who bear great antipathy to the Catholic faith.  Let’s face it, we’ve got it easy compared with many of our fellow Christians here and there around the world.  We’ve all had experience with feeling like the leper.  If you haven’t yet, just wait.

The comparison with the leper is easy for us to understand if we know the Scriptures.  We probably don’t know any real live lepers.  The disease of leprosy has been almost wiped out, primarily due to proper medicine and the increase of sanitary and sterile conditions in more and more parts of the world.  But we will always know what it means, from those haunting images in the Scriptures, when leprosy was a dreaded disease that could strike anyone.  Rich or poor, priest or politician, it brought about a sentence of permanent separation from family and loved ones, from work, from the rest of the community.  Leper colonies abounded, where the doomed entered a community of the doomed, disfigured, and dying.  Lepers who had to leave the colony for any reason, perhaps to beg or to take care of some necessity, had to ring a bell as they went, so people could flee their presence.  Faces and limbs had to be wrapped and shrouded to conceal the ugly sores and rotting flesh.  It was a living hell on earth.

Mark wastes no time in his Gospel with clearly showing why the Lord has come.  Here, just 40 verses into the very first chapter, a leper in the midst of his living hell has heard of Jesus and comes to him.  What faith!  “If you want to,” he cries out, “you can make me clean!”  “Of course I want to,” Jesus replies.  He touches the leper–something which rendered Jesus ritually unclean according to the Law of Moses.  But here, instead of being corrupted by the disease, the Divine Physician puts the disease to flight and restores the one who was in its grip.  The man is cured, and now the cure has to be certified by a Jewish priest.  Jesus is obedient to the Law of Moses, even as his curing touch manifests his superiority to that Law.

You and I live in a world of lepers, including ourselves.  Sin disfigures us far, far more than even the worst physical disease.  Many have no comprehension of the sorry state of their souls, living in ignorance of or in defiance of God’s loving invitation to share the life of grace and the eternal life of the Kingdom of Heaven.  We live in the midst of that world.  More often than not, because of our weakness, we contribute to the world’s pollution by our own sins.  And yet we are missionaries of the Divine Physician.  We are empowered by him and accompanied by him as he sends us out in his name to bring some measure of healing into a world where sin is on the rampage.

Don’t get discouraged.  Like the Catholic lady in the office filled with Christians with other allegiances, you and I live our lives surrounded by people who may not be naturally inclined to faith, hope, and love.  We are missionaries.  It can be a lonely life.  We might even be treated like lepers at times.  But as agents of the one who comes to heal the wounds and take away the sins of the world, we have one hand in his and the other hand touching the lepers.  His power flows through us.  In the second reading, St. Paul says, “Avoid giving offense,” even to the Jews or Greeks.  “I try to please everyone in every way,” he says, “not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.”  What a great call we have, to have a part in Jesus’ own healing ministry just by being decent relatives, neighbors, co-workers, fellow-commuters!  Never underestimate the power of cheerful greetings, simple compliments, gestures of kindness.  Don’t worry that they’re not always returned.  It’s YOUR call to be the apostle, what people do with it is THEIR business.  And you can carry out that call every day, in every situation and circumstance.  It’s not YOUR power at work.  It’s the Lord’s.

Homily for February 7 and 8

HOMILY – FEBRUARY 7-8

Poor Job!  Who hasn’t felt like what we heard in the first reading, at least on occasion?  “Months of futility, nights of suffering!”  I know a few years ago I was taken aback when I saw a young man downtown, wearing a T-shirt that said, “Life’s a pain, and then you die.”  Only his T-shirt didn’t say “pain.”  I cleaned that up for the faint of heart.  But I remember thinking, how nihilistic.  The poor young man thinks he doesn’t have anything or anyone to live for.

And that got me to thinking about the pain in our own lives, mine and yours.  And our pains are probably pretty slight right now, compared to the agony and anguish of Christian parents and children in Iraq, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in so many other places where our fellow Christians are under terrible persecution, where they are literally being put to the sword and having everything they’ve worked for stolen and sold by their murderers.

So many of them are probably tempted to just give up.  Many do.  Many of us probably would.  It makes you question everything you’ve believed.  Where is God in all this?  Why doesn’t God intervene for us?  Doesn’t anyone else care what’s happening to us?  Help can never come fast enough when you see your loved ones in pain, when your grandmother can’t get her medicine, when the babies are hungry and thirsty and there’s no food or water, when your beautiful teenage sister sits staring vacantly and mumbling senselessly because she’s been raped so many times by enemy soldiers.  And yet there are people who come through all this bruised and battered, but unshaken.  How?  Why?

You’ve perhaps heard that “the best DE-fense is a good OF-fense.”  It’s as true in the Christian life as it is in sports and in combat.  St. Peter says that “the devil goes about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  We have to be ever countering those wily attacks with positive acts of care and concern for others.  Remember the scene in Forrest Gump, when the hero, in battle in Viet Nam, single-handedly carries his entire outfit, one by one, to safety?  Some would say he was too simple-minded to realize that he wasn’t supposed to be able to do that.  Maybe the fact is that he was too SINGLE-minded to give up.  His one and only concern was getting his guys out.  He overcame by not concentrating on himself, but on others.

The Gospel gives us a picture of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, beleaguered by people with every sort of disease and infirmity.  They come to him from all over, looking for healing, looking for help, looking for answers.  How can he possibly care for them all?  His answer?  One at a time.  He moves along, not thinking of himself, but concentrating on the genuine needs of the people who are calling out to him.  This is why he’s here among us.  He has a purpose.  All of those people became sick again sometime.  In a sad twist, some of them probably jeered at him as he hung on the cross.  No matter.  For just a moment there, in out-of-the-way Galilee, they were touched by the divine hand of God himself.

Now God invites you to do that, to walk in the steps of his Son, to touch lives and hearts for him, and make a difference by giving them a taste of the Kingdom of heaven.  Just a taste.  You can’t do it all, and you aren’t going to.  But as long as you keep the concentration first on Jesus, then on others, you will have your priorities in order.  AND when you take the concentration off yourself, you’ll suddenly find your OWN needs more than taken care of by the Lord himself.  Let him work through you, don’t give your own needs and issues and prerogatives a thought, and he’ll take care of you.  You’ll have all you need; and you’ll discover that, in union with him, you’ll need very little else.  In fact, you’ll be amazed at what you DON’T need!

St. Paul had discovered that formula.  “I accommodated myself to people in all kinds of different situations,” he tells the Corinthians in the second reading, “so that by all possible means I might bring some to salvation.”  That had become his only motive.  He tells the Galatians, “It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.”  So his only concern is bringing Christ to others and introducing them, letting them meet him.  And St. Paul usually doesn’t hang around too long to see the results.

A good contemporary example for us is Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest who was the New York Fire Department chaplain killed by falling debris at the World Trade Center on 9/11.  He had a favorite prayer that went like this:  “Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet those you want me to meet, tell me what you want me to say.

“And then let me get out of your way.”

HOMILY – JANUARY 31-FEBRUARY 1

HOMILY – JANUARY 31-FEBRUARY 1

Did you ask yourself the right questions before you got married?  If you’re not married, but might get married someday, what kind of questions will you ask YOURself before plunging into a relationship for life?  (Obviously, if you don’t intend it to be FOR LIFE, it’s not really marriage.)

Our questions in this regard are usually focused on the two of us, husband and wife, boy friend and girl friend.  “Is the right girl / the right guy for me?  If not a single one of their irritating little habits never changes, am I still willing to live with this person for the rest of my life?  Is being around him or her ever a source of anxiety for me?  Have other people expressed reservations or concerns to me about my fiancé, or about me?  Am I listening and observing, or have I already made up my mind and nothing will change it?”  Those questions can go on and on, and they’re good and important ones.  However, if we’re serious about living the Christian life and our relationship with Christ, we’d best not disregard a whole ‘nother set of questions.

“What is God calling us to do with our marriage FOR THE CHURCH?”  Whoops, how does the Church figure into this?  We thought it was just the two of us.  “How does Christ want us to live our marriage as prophetic people?”  Aw, come on now, Father, I’m no prophet.  Neither is my fiancée.  Isn’t marriage hard enough without trying to be heroic?

Some might counter that, with all the attacks on marriage and family life these days, ANYONE who chooses to get married is ALREADY doing something heroic.  It’s like being open to the procreation of new life in marriage.  How many times have I had a young, expectant mother tell me about the snide remarks she’s had to endure from other women at work or at other activities:  “Oh, don’t you guys know what causes that?” or “Gee, must be something in the water in your neighborhood.”  Yes, no doubt about it, living marriage as the Lord and his Church expect IS ALREADY HEROIC.

Don’t be put off by St. Paul’s warnings in the second reading.  He’s reminding the Corinthians that, married or single, their first responsibility is to the Lord, their first duty is to proclaim his Gospel in word and deed.  If marriage and its cares are going to interfere with that, well, then it’s best not to marry.  But if God gives you the grace to enter and live a prophetic marriage as a gift to the Church and a witness to the world, go for it!  Being prophetic doesn’t mean telling the future.  It means TEACHING, teaching the world about the things Christ, the Prophet promised by Moses in the first reading, has come to teach.  And that in itself will provide us lots of the questions we have to ask ourselves before and during marriage.  Rather than, “Is this something we want?” or “Is this something we can afford?” shouldn’t the question be, “How is what we want to buy going to help us project the image of Christ to the people around us”?  “How am I helping this spouse whom God gave me to get closer to God and his Kingdom today?”  The world badly, badly needs the joyful and PROPHETIC witness of Christian married couples who unashamedly believe and practice something the world finds restrictive and binding.  Of course it’s binding!  Is there anything of real value that we don’t want to last??  But it’s hard!  Ah, so THAT’S the problem!  And that’s precisely why God showers marriage with his grace, not just any grace, but SACRAMENTAL grace, making this ordinary, natural relationship of man and woman something EXTRA-ordinary and SUPER-natural.

The SACRAMENTAL MINISTRY of marriage is a service to the Church and to the world, not just to the couple and their family.  In the face of all kinds of lack of support and negative publicity, the Church stands almost alone in appreciating marriage for what it really is:  the way that most Christians have to be personally prophetic, to become in the midst of the world a living message from God, and to BE his loving presence in a culture in which genuine love has so often grown cold.  Wives, husbands, be assured of our prayers for you today.  Like our prophetic Savior, you do the extra-ordinary work of helping to cast out the world’s demons just by carefully attending to the ordinary things of life.  May His grace support you, and all of us, each day.