Monthly Archives: March 2015

Homily March 29, 2015

HOMILY – MARCH 29
Holy Week is a study of God our Father’s love for us as expressed in the flesh and blood of his own Son, the innocent Lamb of the New Covenant, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In his suffering Servant and Son, the Father recognizes the divine love which the Son returns to him in all eternity. In his passion and death, Jesus allows us to see, right up close, the inner dynamism of God’s love. If you’ve ever said or heard someone say, “I love him or her to death,” now you get a chance to see what that means when GOD says it. In the person of his Son, God shows us very literally how he loves us to death — his and ours.
During this Holy Week, we are treated to Old Testament readings from the Prophet Isaiah. Nothing new about that, especially during Lent. But these readings are from a special category. We call them the Songs of the Suffering Servant of God. There are four of them, scattered through Isaiah’s chapters 42 to 53. The “servant” can be understood to be God’s people Israel; OR to be an individual, the Messiah or Anointed One of God. Christ fulfills the prophetic meaning of these songs perfectly. He is called by God to lead the nations, but is horribly abused and rejected. He sacrifices himself, out of love accepting the punishments due to others. He is the Righteous and Just One, and salvation comes to us all through his loving actions.
God’s people in Jesus’ time were suffering under Roman imperial rule and occupation, and their expectations of the Messiah were shaped accordingly. People were waiting for a heroic conqueror who would free them from Roman rule and lead them to reign gloriously as an independent kingdom once again. They had allowed the poignant image of the Suffering Servant to recede from their awareness of God’s Word, let alone identify the Messiah with such themes. In their theology, the human authors of the Gospels of the New Testament revive all those images and themes, and see them fulfilled perfectly, even verse by verse, in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. To the alert and careful observer, there can be no doubt that he is the long-awaited Messiah. His miracles, his becoming the Passover Lamb of God’s New Covenant with his people, his suffering and death, and of course ultimately his Resurrection, all reveal him as the Expectation of the Nations.
When we hear the second reading, this familiar passage from Philippians, it should revive our faith and confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. This infant Church, full of mostly unlettered men and women, is blessed to have a scholar of the Law like Paul of Tarsus among its miraculously designated preachers and leaders. But even Paul would have been at pains to author such magnificent verse as Philippians 2:6-11 (“two, six to eleven”). He seems to have introduced these lines into his letter as something with which the Philippians were already well familiar–likely an early Christian hymn which they knew and would recognize, kind of like someone injecting the words, “O say, can you see . . .” into a speech with the full expectation that U.S. citizens, at least, will pick up on it and know the rest. To think that only 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, ordinary people were capable of such meditation on and understanding of the mission and person of Jesus Christ! Now THAT is divine inspiration at work!
Review those thoughts and musings once again: He was in the form of God, meaning he was divine. . . He was equal to God, but didn’t “Lord” it over anybody. . . He emptied himself, and took on the lot of the lowest class of humanity, a slave. . . Thoroughly human as well as divine, he was so humble that he died a death reserved for slaves and other lowlifes. . . In doing that, he was perfectly obedient to God, the very image of the Suffering Servant carrying out the divine will. . . And it brought him to the cross.
At the moment of his conception, God had announced that his Son’s name was to be Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins. His name alone is worthy of the greatest respect, a genuflection from all humanity living and deceased. Every tongue should acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. By doing so, we give glory to God for his gift of our Savior.
We might go so far as to call this beautiful hymn, composed by our earliest Christian ancestors under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, the New Testament’s Hymn of the Suffering and Triumphant Servant. But this is a different kind of triumph than winning an election, a promotion, a tournament, a battle, or a war. In his triumph, our Lord and Savior never rubs anyone’s nose in the dirt, never scorns those who are a little slow or fall down on the job, never struts around beating his chest. The only way you can lose with him is to CHOOSE to lose; and even then, our Savior and Good Shepherd will go in search to give you every possible chance, every benefit of the doubt. If you’re looking for proof of his divinity in signs of triumphal conquest, you won’t find it in THIS Savior! He enters Jerusalem on a donkey, a funny and lowly animal then as now. He enters this way as if to speak his familiar theme: “Do not be afraid!!” And how true that is. We have nothing to fear from him. WITH him, we have nothing to fear from ANYONE. Anything we might “lose” in following him, we’ll find that we gain a hundred times over, in ways that we cannot even imagine.

That’s our Savior, the Suffering Servant, serving not only God his Father, but you and me, his brothers and sisters, showing us that there are no lengths to which he will not go to bring us home with him to his Father forever.

Homily for March 22

HOMILY – MARCH 22

“All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord.”  So God told us through the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading.  God makes himself perfectly accessible to us in his Son, Jesus Christ.  And Christ makes himself, and God, perfectly accessible to us in his Church.

We have a picture of this right in the Gospel.  “We would like to see Jesus.”  These are the words of the Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for Passover, words which they tell Philip the Apostle.  When Andrew and Philip tell Jesus, what does he do?  Does he run right over to the Greeks and say, “Pleased to meet you”?  “Come, follow me”?  No, he begins a lesson about his passion and death.  “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.”

All of us who wish to see Jesus (and I’m presuming most of us do) come to him with certain expectations.  Some are disappointed when it turns out he is not the answer man for all of life’s problems.  Oh, yes, he is the Answer!  But seeing and following Jesus is not going to automatically get you all you think you need and want.  There’s infinitely more to it than that.  The Greeks get their wish, to see Jesus, but they get a whole lot more.  Were they ready?  Were the Apostles ready?  Are we ready?  What about you?  What about me?

When we, when anyone, asks to see Jesus, he is anxious to respond to our request.  Our Advent hymns refer to “the waiting world,” indicating that the longing for salvation  — of SOME kind — is rather universally experienced.  People certainly don’t all know that they should be seeking to see Jesus, but they certainly all know that they want SOMEthing, SOME one who will relieve their hurts, their pain, their broken hearts, their poverty, their anxiety.  What else would explain people voting for Hitler, or fighting and dying for Stalin?  Even professed atheists mock believers:  “Show me!  Prove to me!”  They defiantly reject any attempt to show or to prove, saying it’s all a figment of sentimental imaginations.  But they still tell us to show them, to prove to them, as though they MIGHT be convinced and converted if they at last were confronted with an argument of which they had previously been unaware.

I said that Jesus is anxious to respond to our request to see him.  And yes, when he responds, we’d best be ready.  “When I am lifted up from the earth,” he says, “I will draw everyone to myself.”  Well, we might ask, when is THAT going to happen?  It’s been two millennia since Jesus was lifted up on the cross, and then taken up from earth to heaven.  And although millions and billions of disciples have been made and converts baptized, many more millions and billions either despise Jesus, reject him, or have never heard of him.

The answer to this apparent puzzle about Jesus drawing everyone to himself is that it happens all the time.  The answer lies in Jesus’ image of the grain of wheat.  Just as grains of wheat are as close to us as the nearest loaf of bread, so the lesson of the grain of wheat is a part of all of our human experience.  Something has to die so that new life can come about.  Yesterday has to give way to today so that we may live in the present.  It’s not gone forever.  It has become a part of us, and it helps make today what it is.  Grade school has to die so we can go to high school, and high school has to die so we can go to college, but what we learned in grade school and high school will always remain with us as a foundation.  And in our own lives, the years give way to those that follow.  Finding an old calendar in a closet can bring to mind the birth of our youngest child, the death of a loved one, the year we got our current job, events that form and shape our lives.

Seeing Jesus means that we shall also see him die and rise, as an assurance that he is the Lord of life, but also as a promise that we who see and follow him will die and rise with him.  Sickness and death are a part of all of our lives.  The unbeliever sees only pain, misery, and the harsh and final reality of death as something to be avoided at all costs, and grieves because it cannot ultimately BE avoided.  Christ gives us a simple lesson from nature.  When a grain of wheat falls to the earth, it loses its identity as a mere grain, but it BECOMES all that God placed within it.  We don’t plant an acorn, only to go back years later and find — a giant acorn!!  The oak that springs from that little nut could not be imagined to be contained within it, but there it stands, giving its shade — and more acorns — as a proof from nature of the SUPER-natural teaching that Jesus provides.

“We want to see Jesus.”  When we are longing for salvation, when we are longing for rescue from the troubles and trials of our present life, let’s remember that in company with our Blessed Savior, our own dying — in whatever forms, and however long — can be joined with his so that we can rise with him.  He already began that process within us in the waters of baptism.  He continues it right to the moment of our final anointing (extreme unction) and the drawing of our final breath.  In our own suffering and dying, day by day, the Father recognizes in us the image of his own Divine Son, and has the ultimate compassion on us as he calls us to eternal life.

HOMILY – MARCH 15

 HOMILY – MARCH 15

            Everyone knows John 3:16.  We’ve seen the chapter and verse cited and draped over the stands at football games.  It’s a very popular evangelical text, as well as a central doctrine of the Church.  If we can’t immediately quote it verbatim, most of us Christians can at least come reasonably close if we hear someone start out, “God so loved the world. . .”  The statement of the purpose of the Incarnation continues in verse 17:  “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.”  How odd that when many people think of “the Church,” they immediately associate it with blaming, fault-finding, finger-wagging, tongue-lashing, guilt-tripping condemnation, carried out by the true believers in Jesus who cackle with glee at the thought of how they will be saved while all the wicked are destined to fry in hell.  We’re all familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church crowd in Topeka, Kansas, whose members go around the country desecrating military funerals and denouncing homosexuals.  What’s really stunning is the number of non-believers who figure that the only difference between Westboro and other Christians is that we others keep our mouths shut to avoid being politically incorrect.  But they’re convinced we’d be doing the same thing if we could.  Just check them out on the Internet!

It’s sad that the disciples of the Son of God, who stated so clearly to Nicodemus that he had NOT come for condemnation, are so often associated with:  CONDEMNATION!!  Just yesterday, I walked into a social gathering to be greeted with, “Father’s here!  Everybody watch your language!”  Good grief.  Like I’m going to read the riot act to anyone who even says “heck” or “darn” because we all know that they REALLY wanted to say something else, and have already cursed in their heart.  Mwah-ha-ha, off to heck with you!

The caricature of religion enables us to trivialize it, and ultimately to neutralize it.  After all, we’re all sinners.  God can’t be THAT demanding now, can he?  He says he doesn’t condemn anyone.  So doesn’t that mean that we’ve got nothing to worry about?  As we hear so often, “We’re all going to the same place.”  Imagine the surprise of the lady who said that to me at the funeral home where I had gone for the visitation for her husband.  He and she and their whole family had left the Church, through no fault of ours.  She acted quite embarrassed to see me; but I had made a point of going, to let it be known just by my presence that any problems they had with the Church were theirs, not ours.  And then came an excited rush of nervous words, excuses, apologies, anything to avoid letting me get a word in.  And then the ultimate disclaimer, “Well, after all, Father, we’re all going to the same place.”  I simply looked at her and said, very kindly, “No, we’re not.”

She was quite taken aback, and I continued, very kindly, “You see, if you’re on the East Beltline and I’m on Leonard Street, it’s possible that we might see each other as we intersect, but we’re definitely not headed in the same direction.”  My point is covered by Jesus in verse 18 of John 3:  “Whoever does not believe has already been condemned.”  Omigosh!  Jesus Christ, speaking of condemnation?  Is it possible?  We thought he said he had not come into the world to condemn it.  Right.  He hasn’t.  HE doesn’t have to.  We’re capable of that all by ourselves.

Believing, hoping, loving, dreaming, changing, growing — all these things are part and parcel of becoming our best selves.  We believers know that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  We are our best selves when we are most like him.  As Jesus says in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  We already bear God’s image in our bodies and souls.  All we have to do is act like it.  All we have to do is act like Christ, the Perfect Image of the Father.

Remember back in 2003 to ‘05, when there was a TV show called “Joan of Arcadia”?  I was bemused by the theme song, “What if God was one of us?”  I never bothered to watch a single episode, because I figured the show must have been the brain child of a non-Christian.  After all, any Christian knows that the question, “What if God was one of us?” has already been perfectly answered in Jesus Christ.  There are no “what ifs.”  We give up believing in him and his Church, which is a key part of his revelation to us, at our own peril.  If we steadfastly refuse to become our best selves, and reject every overture of his grace to do so, we are choosing our own condemnation.  God does not have to, nor does he ever WANT to, condemn us.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:14, “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that ONE of these little ones be lost.”  That’s pretty clear about whose responsibility it is if we indeed wind up lost:  it’s our own choice.  In refusing to believe, in refusing to hope, in refusing to love, we are fashioning our own condemnation.  It is not God’s will.  He pursues sinners to win them back.  He is patient with doubters to give them room.  But there is little he can do with the obstinate refusers who mock  and despise his gentle romancing.  He will do, and has done, EVERYTHING including dying for us, to manifest his love.  But that death also illustrates the cost of sin, and the finality of the true choice of an evil, hardened heart.

Pray to know Christ.  Strive to imitate him.  Learn of him in the Scriptures.  Converse with him as you’re driving or biking or walking.  Join him often at Mass, Sundays, weekdays.  Come and spend time with him in the Blessed Sacrament.  Find him in the poor and the down and out.  He makes so many opportunities available for us to learn the language of heaven while we are still on earth.  Sure, it goes against the grain of our fallen human nature, which we cherish and in which we grow lazy.  Ask Christ to renew in you the grace to become your very best self, so you will not in any way resemble the sad, tragic portrait of the people of God painted for us in the first reading from Second Chronicles.  As the Apostle has told us in Ephesians, “We are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”  So, be nourished here by his Word and his Sacrament.  And then, go out and get busy.  The world needs, and God is honored by,

 your

 very

 best.

 

HOMILY – FEBRUARY 28-MARCH 1

HOMILY – FEBRUARY 28-MARCH 1

One summer day many years ago, I was delivering mail in a down-and-out neighborhood.  An old man stopped me on the street, just to say hello and pass the time of day for a few minutes.  He talked a bit about his hard life, about how unfair things were, about how other folks had all the advantages.  I listened and nodded, but I did have to get on with my route, so trying to bring the conversation to a not-TOO-abrupt conclusion, I said, trying to be sympathetic, “Yeah, man, I know what you mean.”  The old man stiffened, and his eyes blazed as he shouted at me in a sudden rage, “NO, YOU DON’T!!  YOU’LL NEVER KNOW WHAT I MEAN!!  NOT IN A MILLION YEARS WILL YOU KNOW WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH!!”  I quickly apologized, and said, “My friend, I meant no offense.  Please forgive me, I sure didn’t mean to upset you.”  He calmed down ever so slightly and mumbled, “Well, let it pass, then,” but as he walked away, I could still hear him mumbling to himself.

Last week we recalled how we’re sometimes inclined to say something similar to God.  We hear of terror attacks or natural disasters, and we question, “Where is God in all this?”  But isn’t that a little like shouting at the heavens in a rage, “You’ll never know what we go through!  Never, never, never!!”  I remember once trying to explain to an angry woman how Jesus understands our own hardships and sorrows because of the Cross.  “Oh, big deal,” she fumed, “he hung there for what, three hours?  And look how long WE have to put up with everything!!!”  I admit I stepped away from her a bit, just in case she was Ground Zero for the next lightning strike.

Today we find out once again that God not only understands, but that he was there first.  Someone told me a few months ago that they always resented God playing games with Abraham, that it seemed cruel to get him all the way to the point of sacrificing his son out of blind obedience before God intervened with a, “Just kidding.”  “What kind of loving God would do a thing like THAT?” All I could say was, “The kind that St. Paul describes when (as in today’s second reading) he says, ‘God did not spare his own Son.’”  God shows us the difference between how he deals with Abraham and how he deals with himself.  Abraham shows total and complete trust in God even when it seemed like he was being asked to do the impossible.  We can scarcely imagine how gut-wrenching this was for our father in faith.  It wasn’t just ISAAC’S life that was at stake.  Isaac was the one who was the fulfillment of God’s promise, “You will see your children’s children.”  No Isaac, no grandchildren, no eternal life.  Abraham’s present AND FUTURE life was at stake, and it must have seemed to him that God was going back on all his promises.  “How can this be?”  But the Scriptures don’t indicate that Abraham ever asked that question, so all-embracing was his trust in God, who had never yet led him astray.  Abraham couldn’t see HOW God would take care of it, but he trusted that he would.

When Christ goes up the mountain and is transfigured before his closest friends, it is to strengthen them and let them know that he is God, and that he can be trusted.  This is not some political revolutionary, not just an upstart preacher from down the block in Nazareth.  When Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets, that is, the whole of the Jewish religion), when they are summoned into the presence of Jesus, the import of that incident is not lost upon Peter, James, and John.  The only one superior to Moses and Elijah is the SOURCE of the Law and the Prophets, God himself.  Oh, it’s not enough to convince the Apostles all at once and once for all.  They are weak human beings, and Jesus knows that.  All three of them will fall asleep in the garden when Jesus needs them to pray with him.  Peter will deny him three times.  Peter and James will run away and hide.  Of all the rough-and-tumble fishermen and the tax collector whom Jesus called as Apostles, only John will stand at the foot of the cross with Mary and the women.

NOW are we getting the picture?  When we are in pain, lonely, discouraged, brokenhearted, abandoned, betrayed, can we honestly call out to God and say, “YOU don’t know how I feel, YOU’VE never been here”??  Abraham didn’t cry out to God about how unjust and unfair God’s command was.  He just did it, but not because he was blindly, slavishly obedient.  Abraham did it because he trusted.  He loved.  He didn’t have the answers.  He told Isaac when the boy asked him where the wood for the sacrifice was, “God will provide it.”  And God provided so, so much more.  So don’t ask God where the wood for the sacrifice is.  Concentrate on the wood of the cross.  It has already carried the weight of the Paschal Lamb of our salvation.  The sacrifice has already been made.  The victory has already been won.  All Christ is asking us to do is to join him in it  — sacrifice, and victory.  Welcome to the Eucharist.  And then, go out and DO THIS, in his memory.