Monthly Archives: May 2015

Homily for May 24

Blood feud. Vendetta. Vengeance. Wrath. Road rage. Anger. Hostility.
Just hearing these words and phrases recited might be unsettling, might leave us feeling a bit anxious. Well, then, it’s no wonder the WORLD is so unsettled and anxious. These things are EVERYWHERE. They were everywhere in Jesus’ time, and they are everywhere today. They are part and parcel of our fallen human nature. Sometimes they ooze out of the pores of people you might not even suspect of entertaining such violent, unforgiving attitudes.
I remember once asking a nice and very proper lady in the parish where I was assigned about the health of her sister-in-law, who had been ill. “I don’t know, and I don’t care,” she replied curtly. “We haven’t spoken in years.”

“Really?” I said with much surprise. “Well, maybe this would be a good time to reach out to her and try to heal that wound. You’re both decent people. What ever happened to keep you at odds with each other?”

She stiffened. “Without asking, when my mother-in-law died, she took a piece of furniture that I had my heart set on. She’s never apologized for it.”

“Well,” I suggested, “deaths and funerals can be hard times for families. Maybe she didn’t know how important that item was to you, or that you even wanted it.”

“Father, you don’t have to try to smooth things over,” she said. “You don’t understand how families are.”

“Really?” I said again in amazement. “You must think I dropped to earth out of the sky! But I DO understand what Jesus expects us to do. Making peace with each other is even more important than going to church, he implies in the Sermon on the Mount. And then when he appeared to the Apostles on Easter night, he breathed the Holy Spirit upon them FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. It sounds like that was pretty important to him.”

She turned on her heel and walked away without a word. And I suddenly realized how the grudges I have nursed, the slights I have entertained and nourished, the injuries of which I have not let go, how painful these might be for someone else who was aware of them. An unforgiving attitude makes the world a sadder, harsher, more violence-prone place. Is it any wonder Christ puts such a premium on forgiveness? He did it in the midst of a Middle East which even today is a kind of Petri dish for growing a culture of bitterness and rage. But we don’t have to look as far as the Middle East. We can look at Ferguson, Baltimore, our own workplaces and schools, our neighborhoods, our families, our streets and highways, our conversations. The culture of unforgiveness is everywhere. That gives us a large, large playing field on which to introduce, at Jesus’ direction, the concept and action of FORGIVENESS. The world will hate us for it, because it means the end of its destructive game-playing. The Lord knows that, and has to breathe the Holy Spirit upon us to strengthen us with and for this great gift.

We are blown out into the world on Pentecost with a radically new message: mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation. If the world doesn’t hear it from us, the followers of Christ, from whom else can it expect to hear it? We are sent out into the world to wash it, to wash it clean of its sins, even as the Blood of our Savior has washed us! What’s the primary sign of the very sacrament by which we are incorporated into God’s own divine life? WASHING! Like The Wave that was so popular for a time at sports events, the Christians of the world witness to Christ like part of a great wave washing over the world and freeing it from all those wicked attachments to hurt and injury that we cherish and polish like precious jewels. Let go of them!! You can’t get into heaven clinging to such hatred. Forget about the 72 virgins. God cannot pour forgiveness into your heart if you keep it filled with all that wrathful garbage that so many people allow to consume them from the inside out.

Start small. Take a deep breath when you turn the key in the ignition. Just say, “Come, Holy Spirit, help me drive like a disciple out here.” Resolve to put a prayer on your lips for every son-of-a-gun who cuts you off. When you’re stopped at a light, look around at how angry everybody looks when they’re driving — and SMILE! It’s really hard to hold bitterness inside when you sport a sincere smile. It’s one of the most important tools in your Pentecost washing equipment, and one that’s easily passed on. A smile is contagious. And if someone doesn’t catch it, they’ll at least be distracted from their anger by wondering what you’re up to. And for them, that might just be a tiny opening to Christ. A bit of Pentecost. A language everybody can understand.

Homily for May 17


You might not have noticed, but the second reading, from the first chapter of the letter to the Ephesians, is only three sentences long. The second sentence is most of that: one sentence containing nine phrases, a total of 102 words! The Apostle begins that sentence, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened”! Even if our graduates didn’t all get A’s back in biology class, I think they could all tell us that hearts don’t have eyes. But in a very poetic way, they do! When the Apostles stood looking up to heaven after Jesus’ Ascension, it wasn’t just because they were trying to get a visual on him. It wasn’t so much their eyes, but their HEARTS that were following him. He wasn’t only someone they had observed, he was someone they LOVED. When the angels appear and ask why they’re looking up to heaven, they have to re-direct not only the Apostles’ eyes, but their hearts. “Why are you looking for him THERE?” they ask. “If you love him, do what he told you: GET BUSY! You’ll find him.”

The Ascension is all about empowerment. Christ gives his Apostles and us the great commission: “GO, go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. Carry on the work which I have begun.” And after nine days of intense prayer and preparation, Jesus breathes his Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost. Similarly, the different points of progress in our own lives as Jesus’ disciples are moments of empowerment. You who are celebrating your graduation this year are being honored for achievement and completion, true. But there’s more. There’s a reason it’s also called commencement. It’s a new beginning. There’s more school, more jobs, more life. And you are not just garden-variety graduates. You are BAPTIZED graduates, CONFIRMED members of the Body of Christ. When you hear the words of the great commission in the Gospel today, it means YOU! “GO into the whole world . . .” And so you will, some here, some there, some even behind the lines into enemy territory. (Anybody here going to Ohio State?) But seriously, even Buckeyes are in need of the Good News of Christ.

Christ is depending on you to take your commission seriously. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you go and do it as believers, setting you very definitely apart from those who have not yet responded to God’s call. Christ and his Church are relying on you to represent him to roommates, fellow students, teammates, co-workers, family members, and friends. Wherever you find yourself, remember that you do not just HAPPEN to be there. You are SENT, and by what a Savior!

Homily for May 10


“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.”  With these carefully chosen words, Jesus continues his Last Supper discourse to the Apostles.  How does the Father love him?  Jesus, the Son of God, the perfect image of the Father, manifested that divine love between Father and Son on the cross.  What that meant in human terms was so terrifying that all but John ran away.  The very thought that love could be synonymous — or perhaps better, SIMULTANEOUS — with such a gruesome, barbaric execution was foreign to those nine tough fishermen and a seasoned tax collector, someone who had likely been called every name in the book.  But they learned, and each would manifest in his own life and death, that love means commitment, love means self-sacrifice, love means laying down one’s life for one’s friends — and yes, even for one’s enemies, if we are to participate in the wondrous redeeming work of our Savior.

“As the Father loves me. . .”  But what about the Mother?  Why do we never hear about the human love between Mother and Son which must have been such a part of the life of that Holy Family at Nazareth?  Could it be that that love was so obvious that Jesus had no need to talk about it?  We know how he respected her.  At age 12, from being about his Father’s business in the Temple, he went down with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth, and was subject to them.  The Son of God, the Creator of the universe, SUBJECT to, OBEDIENT to his mother and his foster father in a humble tradesman’s dwelling in a backwater hill town in a very unimportant country in the Roman Empire.

At some point, even though she would be left widowed and alone, Mary willingly participated in the work of her Son by letting him go, letting him hang up the saw and the T-square, letting those hands that had grown rough making the neighbors’ furniture become the means of healing and comfort to countless bodies and minds in pain.

Then, because in a human way her Son had learned so much from Mary and Joseph’s marriage, and had such a respect for that sacred institution, that it didn’t take more than a brief sentence from her to prompt him, a guest at Cana, to save the newlyweds from embarrassment at their wedding reception.

When a woman in the crowd to which he is preaching lifts up her voice and cries exuberantly, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you,” the Son of God and Son of Mary is unperturbed.  “Rather blessed,” he replies gently, “are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”  It is not Mary’s physical relationship with him as his mother that is her saving grace, for that would be impossible for anyone else to imitate.  Rather, it is the fact that she has heard the Word of God and kept it — so perfectly, in fact, that the Word has become flesh in her womb, and is born into his own creation through her obedient “Let it be done to me.”

And in fulfillment of Simeon’s prophetic words at Jesus’ presentation in the Temple some three decades before, Mary stands at the foot of the Cross, sharing in her Son’s passion and death, and thus in his work of redemption, as we are all called to do.  Her mother’s love knows no limits.  It is imitative of the love of the Father and the Son, as humanly perfect as it can be.

Finally, when her Son has ascended into heaven, she continues to be a mother to his Body, the Church, gathering with us then and now in prayer, ever awaiting the Spirit of God to fall afresh on us in a Pentecost which is always in need of renewal for each generation.

Your love and mine, as mothers and fathers and children, is often far from perfect.  Yet God chooses us, calls us to imitate his own divine love.  We often fail.  We are self-concerned, even narcissistic.  We play favorites.  We whine and complain.  We cherish old hurts and insults.  We give in to the temptation to treat others as they have treated us, instead of as we would LIKE to be treated.  And sometimes we scorn character defects and sinful behaviors in others, including our parents, even though we have accepted those very patterns into our own lives.  One seminary professor was once asked whether he thought the Blessed Mother had ever expressed even the slightest irritation.  After all, it’s hard to imagine family life without at least SOMETHING grating on our nerves occasionally.  The professor thought a moment and said, “Well, I suppose when Jesus occasionally did something extraordinarily loving that delightfully surprised her, she probably sighed and said, ‘Oh, you’re just like your Father!!’”

We are not always just like our Father.  But by recognizing the love he has shown us in giving us the love and care of our human mothers, he has shown us something of the nurturing and care that is such a part of his own divine maternal instincts.  When we honor our fathers and mothers, we are honoring the one who chose them for us.  In one way or another, our mother’s love has put us in touch with God, the author of life.