Monthly Archives: June 2015

Homily for June 28, 2015

“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). These words of Jesus from St. John’s 10th chapter are not in the Gospel today, but the Gospel really does illustrate them. Because she reaches out and touches his clothing with purpose, power goes out from Jesus and heals the woman who has been sick for years. He raises to life the young girl who has died. We know there are many other miracle stories in the Gospels. These two illustrate something very significant, not only about Jesus’ power but about the whole plan of God revealing himself in and through his Son.
With examples like this, how is it that so many continue to make the mistake of thinking that God is against them, that God is an adversary, that when we suffer trials of some kind, it’s a sign of God’s displeasure, or of his lack of care for us? The very fact of God’s becoming flesh in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, should correct such notions. The further fact of Christ’s fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies by being the innocent Passover Lamb of God who sacrifices himself for our sins should correct such notions. And the further fact of the witness of untold thousands of faithful Christians who have followed in Christ’s steps and lived and died, often in terrible sufferings, out of love for him, should correct such notions. How often has it happened, even this past week, that while we whine about our little misfortunes and inconveniences, in the Middle East our fellow Christians are being crucified, burned alive, drowned, beheaded, and dismembered? This often happens before the very eyes of their children, if in fact their children are not put to death before the parents’ eyes first. Kind of makes a lot of our own whining look pretty self-centered and self-serving, doesn’t it?

And the eight parishioners who died with their pastor at the church in Charleston? They were at Bible study! As good Christians, they welcomed a guest, a stranger, into their midst for a full hour before he opened fire and killed all but two of them, stopping several times to reload. And in his twisted mind, HE was the hero! My friends, we’re not recalling these things to scare us into inaction and paralysis, but to show how our fellow believers are being called on every day to put their lives on the line. They didn’t WANT to die, any more than Jesus himself did. Human nature gives us an instinct for self-preservation, and Jesus shared our human nature. His sweat was like drops of blood in the Garden of Olives as in agony he prayerfully pondered his impending death. But he did it out of love. FOR US. How can we ever doubt that God cares about us like no one else?
Let’s strive to avoid knee-jerk reactions in our relationship with God. It’s an all-too-common fault, one to which I frequently adhere. Lots of times, I can deal with the big stuff better than the small stuff. My larger trials might bring me moments of fear of the unknown, even tears of frustration at times. But that’s nothing compared to when the garage door opener doesn’t work, or some inbred so-and-so cuts me off in traffic. I’ve had fellow priests sit in stunned silence at my rants, not realizing that my blood pressure would shoot even higher if I DIDN’T break out in a string of language not yet found in urban graffiti. And so I’ve had to train myself to be calm. My rage is a vice, not only unbecoming of a Christian, but truly needing the restraint of Christian witness. Christ’s most valued lessons were the love we should manifest for one another, and even for our enemies; and the way we should join him in his redemptive work by offering our own sufferings, carrying our own crosses each day, WITH him. How quickly we forget! And how often we have to return to Square One and start all over again. We might get tired of doing that, and imagine that Christ gets tired of US, too. Never. Sharing our human nature, he was like us in all things but sin. He knows the urges that push us over the edge. He knows how often we live our lives on that edge, the thin line between virtue and vice. And he is oh, so anxious to forgive us and restore a baptismal beauty and calm to our souls.

“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.” Sufferings are part and parcel of every life. Embracing them with and for Jesus, like the woman who reached out to touch his garments with deliberation and purpose, is what gives life its fullness. What that means in your life and mine is different only in the details, in the things that get under our particular skin, in the day-to-day challenges that we face. Let’s remember that anytime we hear an inner voice saying we’re not worthy, we’ll never improve, we’re hopeless, we’re too insignificant for God to care, that THAT voice is NOT the voice of the Savior who shed his precious Blood for us. The voice of the evil one can be cleverly disguised to sound like an invitation to humility or to reasonable thinking or to what is due to us in justice. But if we can’t answer with a “YES!!” the question, “Is this the BEST I can do as a Christian witness?” perhaps the Lord himself is giving us the opportunity for a better response.

Homily for June 21


Quite a few of us here are old enough to remember learning our religion lessons from the Baltimore catechism.  That catechism was a product of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, a meeting of all the bishops of the U.S.  At that meeting, they determined that it was necessary to have an American version of the catechism of the Catholic Church, to explain to children and adults of all ages the fundamental truths and practices which are a part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ as a member of the Catholic Church.  The catechism was clearly written, in question-and-answer form, and most of us older folks learned many of the answers by heart.  It was the bishops’ intention that their people would grow up learning about their faith through the lessons of the catechism, as well as from the Sacred Scriptures and from the celebration of the Church’s liturgy, sacraments, and sacramentals.

If you grew up learning the catechism in this way, do you remember what the first question was?  It was a very simple one, only three words long:  “Who made you?”  The answer was also only three words:  “God made me.”  The second question got into the divine rationale:  “Why did God make you?”  And the answer:  “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in heaven.”  When we got to feeling more grown-up and sophisticated, we were often embarrassed at how childish and elementary these beginning questions sounded.  That’s too bad, because they were and they remain fundamental to all the rest of the catechism.  Not thinking to ask those questions, and not knowing those simple answers, is what is leading many people in our society and in our world to ruin today.

Note that in the Gospel, the Apostles ask a similar fundamental question about Jesus.  He is with them in the boat, and has calmed the storm which threatened them.  The Gospel says they were filled with great awe.  Then they asked each other, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”  They knew it was Jesus of Nazareth.  They knew him to have been the carpenter there.  They knew him as a gentle but forceful preacher, as someone whose compassion for the sick and disabled was so powerful that it could work miracles of healing.  But THIS?  Having control over the weather and the natural elements?  Who IS this, REALLY?  As good Jews, they would have recalled the words of God to Job which we heard in the first reading, as God gently chides Job for imagining that he, Job, should be able to figure out all the ways of the Creator.  Job is a good man, but he has demonstrated his lack of trust, and especially his LACK OF AWE.  And, like the Apostles, only if we are filled with great awe before God will we even BEGIN to appreciate, let alone understand, the ways of God, whose love and wisdom and knowledge is so vast and superior to our own — but in whose image we are made.  If we get hung up on things like the use of the male pronoun for God, or was Jesus lying when he told a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who never really existed, we’re never going to be filled with awe.  Only with anger and rage.  And they lead us nowhere.

Thus the questions which began the study of the faith in the Baltimore catechism must always be on our minds as we go through life.  “Who made you?” and “Why did God make you?”  Remember the answers to these, and you will not be overwhelmed by the ups and downs of the stormy seas of life.  When people haven’t been introduced to God in these simplest of terms, they will naturally rebel.  They will be angry.  They will feel cheated.  They will act like victims.  They will grasp for and seize anything they want just to satisfy their cravings, but they will never be satisfied.  And their lack of satisfaction will be like a drug addict who needs more and more of the narcotic to calm the savage beast within, but to no avail.  Ultimately, they will turn to violence, because it seems to be the only response to a world that does not subserviently respond to their appetites.  It should be obvious that when more and more people feel this way and respond this way, community, society, even civilization itself become impossible.

Isn’t that where we find ourselves today?  In the plazas of Ramadi and Mosul, in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, in the deserts of Syria and Libya, in a church in Charleston, the words of our Savior echo in the ears and hearts of all of those he has chosen to spread the Good News:  “THIS is how all will know that you are MY disciples, by your love for one another.”  And to be a consistent, deliberate decision, that love must be fueled by the basic answers to “Who made you?” and “Why did God make you?”  Far from being childish and elementary, these questions are seen as all the more profound when we realize what damage is caused when they are not even asked, let alone answered correctly and with the authority of the Creator himself.

Coincidentally, we celebrate Father’s Day today also.  This is another fundamental component of our life in this world as children of God, made in his image and likeness.  There are and always have been families where a father or a mother had to, out of tragic necessity, serve in both capacities in the raising of children.  But that is not what God intended.  For many years, we have heard and observed government and academic leaders disparage the idea that fathers are spiritually and psychologically and morally necessary for the healthy upbringing of children and families.  Often enough, those who should know better act and speak as though fatherless families are just one more choice or option among many.  To them, we cry out from the midst of societies and communities in ruins, and ask still another simple and fundamental question:

“How’s that working for you?”