Monthly Archives: July 2015

Homily for July 26, 2015

HOMILY – JULY 26

“How can I set this before a hundred people?” asked Elisha’s servant about 20 barley loaves.

“What good are these for so many?” Andrew asks Jesus as a boy comes forward with five barley loaves and two fish for well over 5,000 people.

“Prayer?  Right.  What good is THAT going to do?” we so often ask, yes, even we believers, when we are confronted with a desperate situation in our lives.

In all these instances, it is not God who fails to offer, it’s WE who fail to accept.  When Elisha’s servant does what the prophet tells him, the people are fed adequately, with some left over.  When the Apostles do what Jesus tells them, the people eat until they’re full, and a dozen baskets of fragments are collected as leftovers.  When we actually do pray in our difficult situations, God’s grace flows our way to help us deal with things as they occur.  In merely human terms, things sometimes get worse.  People get sicker, we don’t get that job we prayed and hoped for, we don’t get into the school we had our heart set on, someone we love tells us without warning that they are leaving home or bowing out of a relationship.  We could be crushed if we didn’t realize that God’s grace is going to help us get through the gloom of the dark night of the soul.

I’ve been richly blessed by God in having had a wonderful relationship with both of my parents.  After Dad died in 2009, my bond with Mom grew even stronger as she came to rely on my help and that of my sister more and more.  I knew the day would come when the Lord would call her home, and I dreaded it — mainly because I’ve inherited Mom’s emotions and figured I’d be a blubbering mess.  I always said she could cry watching a Donald Duck cartoon, and she would reply, “Why not?  Think of all that work and artistry, it’s so amazing and beautiful!”

At any rate, when she suddenly slipped away into eternity on the evening of July 15, it struck me that my response was not nearly as emotional as I had figured it would be.  That’s not to say I haven’t choked up or shed tears.  The tears just haven’t gotten in the way of things that needed to be done.  And I asked God about it.  “Dear Lord, I thought I’d have a lot harder time with this,” I said.  And he replied, “You didn’t need the grace until now.”  And I realized again how the martyrs of the past and present can go bravely off to horrible suffering and death with a certain equanimity.  How do they do it?  Aren’t they afraid?  And the answer comes, “They WERE.  But they didn’t need the grace until now.”

Doesn’t that make us wonder why some get the grace and others apparently do not?  Why doesn’t EVERYBODY get the grace to handle difficulties in their lives?  If God gives in abundance, as he did with these miracles of the multiplication of loaves, even more than what they could eat, why do some people seem to lack the grace to deal with their sufferings?  Or DO they?

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve recommended prayer or some time spent in adoration to people, and I can tell from their attitude that they’ve ruled it out before they try it.  Then their life continues to go down the toilet, and they wonder why God doesn’t do anything.  I’ve talked with many spouses, husbands and wives, whose wife or husband won’t budge an inch when it comes to seeking help TOGETHER to work on a troubled marriage.  “It’s YOUR problem, YOU need the help,” the stubborn spouse often states in refusing counseling.  I’ve often wanted to shake them and say, “If you promised to be two in one flesh, don’t you see that you’re PART of this, and that what affects one has to be affecting both?”  But they’re not around to hear it.  And often enough, we’ll find out later that they’ll say their marriage fell apart because God didn’t help them.

I’ve come to realize that so very, very often, the graces that God gives in abundance are willfully REFUSED by those who would benefit and grow by leaps and bounds if they would just swallow their pride.  It’s like the atheist who keeps saying, “You’ll never prove to ME that God exists,” when he has decided that he will steel himself against any argument that is offered, case closed, end of story.  It’s like the immature person who doesn’t want to hear something that pokes a hole in his version of reality, puts his hands over his ears, and shouts, “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!”

Remember that God doesn’t create anyone to go to hell.  God WILLS the salvation of all.  Predestination means that God has destined us for eternal glory, and that he will give us every possible grace and benefit to assist us on our journey to our true home.  But he’ll never force the issue.  Out of the well over 5,000 on the mountain that day, there were surely some who whined, “I don’t LIKE barley loaves,” or “Yukk, I HATE fish.”  Well, you can go all through life missing the miracles of God’s grace.  You’re invited to the table of faith.  There’s a place set for you.  You’ve been given the directions, and everybody’s plugging for you to get there.  The whole Church prays for you every day.  Jesus surrendered his own life for you on the cross.  Now you’ve just got to decide to surrender yourSELF, and accept the grace that God is holding out to you even as you’re drawing your last breath.  He created you for so much better.

Homily for July 19, 2015

HOMILY – JULY 19

Remember the very dark comedy that came out back in 2003, called Bad Santa? Billy Bob Thornton played a miserable conman who hires on during the holiday season to rob department stores.  The story has a gentler ending, of course, but it’s every kid’s and parent’s nightmare of how to ruin Christmas.  Well, there are prophecies in the Old Testament, and instructions in the New, and words of Our Lord himself in the Gospels, warning us about Bad Shepherds.  One such warning is in the first reading from Jeremiah today.  There’s no little truth to the old saying, “Every evil comes from the clergy.”  Christ himself warns us all about following too closely the personal examples of those who use their office in temple, synagogue, or church to feather their own nests and further their own material interests.

The great evangelical historian Karl August Meissinger once noted in writing about the origins of the Reformation, “If Luther returned today . . . he would find to his astonishment a Roman Church which he would never have attacked in her present aspect. . .  Above all, he would see . . . that not one of the abuses which were the actual occasion of his break with Rome remains in existence.”  If a Protestant theologian could write that about the greatest division and scandal in Western Christianity, how much more could be written today to reach out to so many who have abandoned the Church in disgust?

We’ve probably all known or talked with relatives and friends who no longer go to church.  Some were turned off 40 and 50 years ago by changes in the liturgy, and even more by the careless abuses that were foisted on God’s people in some places by clergy who were more interested in their own agenda than in the TRUE “spirit of Vatican II.”  Some left the Church because of one unpleasant incident in confession.  Some have left because of a harsh or uncaring attitude coming from a representative of the Church.  In more recent years, many have turned their backs on the Church because of the truly scandalous crimes of some clergy and religious with children and teens who were in their pastoral care.  And many have left because it seemed that those crimes were deliberately covered up by those in authority in the Church.

That being said, we find the Lord Jesus swamped with a task of preaching and healing in the midst of a people who are “like a sheep without a shepherd” — and he steps in to fill the bill.  In truth, Jesus is the ONLY one who can really fill the bill, the ONLY really Good Shepherd, whom all God’s people, the shepherds and those in their care, must follow.  This gospel passage today, it must be said, is a setup!  We are being set up for the Sunday liturgy and readings over the next few weeks, when Christ, in St. John’s famous Chapter 6, will carefully lay out for us his teaching on his greatest gift — the very mystery which we are gathered here to worship.  It is the mystery of his sacred, continuing presence in the Eucharist, when we DO THIS in memory of him, when we gather to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood, when we have Holy Communion with him and with our fellow believers through him.  No other shepherd can do for us what Jesus Christ did, does, and will do for all eternity.  The Mass connects us backward to that moment of his Paschal Mystery, his death and resurrection, in history.  It connects us forward to the wedding banquet, the Supper of the Lamb of God in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And it makes us present in the here and now in a mystical way in the liturgy of heaven, while extending our hands in service as God’s priestly people to include ALL people in our prayers.

In just a few moments, after we make our profession of faith, we shall turn to God in prayer for the universal Church.  That’s not just for those who are in church with us this morning, or for those who are in church anywhere today.  It’s for all who have left the Church out of their own neglect or that of others, for those who have left in disgust or rage or tears.  It’s for those who have been turned off by so-called “organized religion,” and consider us all to be fanatics and extremists.  It’s for everybody who falls into that category, as we all do at times, of “sheep without a shepherd,” running here and there and around in circles and going nowhere because we have lost our way home.  We pray for all of them today, as we strive to respond to Christ’s call to bring each other home to the Kingdom.  And in the next few weeks, we shall ponder the beauty of the Mystery that binds us together, the Mystery of Christ’s own Body and Blood, really present here and sustaining us for our mission “out there.”

 

Homily for July 12, 2015

HOMILY – JULY 12

These couple weeks, we as the Church are learning (again) about our prophetic mission.  Last week we had the example of Jesus himself, being rejected by the people of his own home town of Nazareth.  Today we hear about Amos, who had no thought of becoming a prophet.  He was perfectly happy working as a shepherd and a tree trimmer.  Now there’s a good lesson:  don’t get too complacent about your job or your present situation in life.  God will be happy to shake it up for you.  It’s how we grow.  Or, as they say at West Point — and in the seminary — “Builds character, son!”

Anyway, Amos does what God wants him to do.  Now, you’d think that would be a formula for success, right?  Just do what God is calling you to do and everything will be JUUUUST fine.  Oh, no.  Sorry.  Do what God wants, and it’s going to be a threat to many other people’s complacency.  “Hate speech!” they’ll shriek.  “Bigot!  Intolerant cave-dweller!”  And other names which will even make Google blush when you look them up.

In Amos’ case, he’s chased out of town by the “official” prophet for not prattling the party line, for not supporting the institution and the status quo, for not being politically correct.  “Hey, don’t blame me,” Amos says, “GOD told me to do this!”  And when you and I get fed up with the lack of enthusiasm for the message God gives us to proclaim, we’ll probably bring our woes to God and say something like, “Surely you can find someone better suited than me!  Look at all the abuse I’m getting!”  And we’ll hear God say, with a sympathetic smile in his voice, “Fine, now get back to work.  And it’s only going to get worse if you keep calling me Shirley.”

One of the things we note in the Gospel is that the key to being prophetic is simplicity.  You don’t need a lot of stuff to do it.  Simplicity is at the heart of bringing the message of Christ to the world.  You can say more with a smile than with a whole roomful of the latest electronic and digital gadgets.  Oh, they can help, but they won’t fool anybody if the smile isn’t there.  Our efforts at virtue, our refusal to complain, our calm under pressure, our patience in hardship and trials — all these are the prophetic sermons that don’t even need words.

See, SIN gets us into endless entanglements.  Tell one lie, you’ve got to tell another to cover it up, then another, then another, until you actually start believing the first one, and have woven that web in which you wind up trapped.

It’s like that with so many elements of the Church’s moral teachings.  Maybe you remember how we used to laugh at that silly song, “I Am My Own Grandpaw.”  It was supposedly the story of someone whose family tree looked more like poison ivy because of the marriages, remarriages, stepchildren, half-brothers and sisters, shirt-tail cousins twice removed, and on and on.  Well, sad but true, that silly song has come to life in so many families in our society, and in ways we couldn’t even imagine a few years ago.  Grandmothers serving as surrogate mothers for granddaughters-in-law, men being named in paternity suits for donations made to a sperm bank when they were in college, angry children suing parents for “wrongful birth”  . . .  Soon, it’ll be trying to figure out how many “marriage” partners of whatever species can fit on the head of a pin.

The complications of fallen human nature just go on and on.  See why we need the simplicity of the Gospel?  See how Christ wants us to accept his call to live our REDEEMED human nature?  I’m not saying we have to become Amish.  But we do have to make an effort to live in such an unentangled way that the people of our culture will look at us and perhaps be enviously attracted to ask just what might be the reason for our integrity.  That’s why Christ gives such specific instructions for the disciples he’s sending out — what to take, but even more, what NOT to take.  The early Christians, although they were scorned, abused, exiled, and put to death for carrying out their prophetic mission, were still the object of amazement by many who were eventually converted.  Converted how?  Why?  Because they observed those Christians doing what they couldn’t find anybody else doing, anywhere else:  “See how they LOVE one another!”

Homily for July 6, 2015

HOMILY – JULY 5

Did you follow closely the words of the Lord to Ezekiel the prophet in the first reading today?  If you didn’t, better go back and re-read them.  If you heard them the first time, did it sound just a little like God speaking to someone in our own place and time?  “I am sending you to . . . rebels who have rebelled against me.  They and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.  Those to whom I am sending you are hard of face and obstinate of heart.  You shall speak God’s Word to them.  They are a rebellious house.  But whether they heed or resist, they’ll know a prophet has been among them.”

Does that describe our society, our culture?  We might all agree that it does.  It’s easy to get on our high horse and blame the society, blame the culture, blame the media, blame the government, blame politicians, blame the schools, blame the police, blame our parents, blame the in-laws, blame the kids, blame the neighbors, blame the other political party.  Hmmm, let’s see, who wasn’t on that list?  Hmm, how long has it been since I blamed MYSELF?

Now, I’m certainly not to blame for EVERYthing.  But — I am to blame for not being the kind of prophet the Lord sent Ezekiel to be.  And who else is supposed to be prophetic?  The whole CHURCH is supposed to be prophetic!  Well, then, let’s blame the Pope, blame the bishops, blame the clergy . . .  And on and on we go.  However, it does come back to ME, eventually.  If I go to buy something at the Burger King and don’t pause to make the sign of the cross and offer a prayer of blessing and thanks, I missed yet another chance to proclaim the Kingdom of God in the midst of the people he wants to be his.  If I drive by a Catholic church and don’t make the sign of the cross to honor the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament within, I might be missing a great chance to give witness to my kids or whomever else is in the car with me, even to other drivers or to people on the sidewalk.  Little gestures like this can have a profound influence on our kids and their friends.  Don’t worry about them thinking that you’re a religious fanatic.  The cumulative impression just of doing little things that speak of your faith is something that will last.  Your example is the finest teaching tool you have.  It either reinforces or nullifies any words you speak.  Outward signs are so, so important, without shoving anything down anybody’s throat.  That crucifix or picture of the Sacred Heart on the wall of your home, that little front yard shrine honoring the Blessed Mother . . .  How many times have I driven out in the country and seen a nice “Bathtub Mary,” as we used to jokingly call them, and thought, “Ooooo, goodie, we’re EVERYWHERE!!  Hee, hee, hee!!”

So don’t try to squeak out of your prophetic obligation.  It’s written right there in the baptismal register, wherever you were baptized.  Are you shy?  Are you self-conscious about doing something that will attract notice?  Don’t worry, there’s precedent for any reluctance you may have.  Isaiah protested that he was as foul-mouthed as anyone among whom he lived.  God took care of it.  Jeremiah protested he was too young.  God took care of it.  Amos was perfectly happy being a tree trimmer.  God took care of it.  Hosea was no doubt shocked that God wanted him to marry a prostitute.  God took care of it.  So you can protest or neglect your prophetic duties all you want.  “I’m a sinner.  Sometimes I miss church.  I’m not very regular about confession.”  All those things can CHANGE.  God will clean you up and get you back and fit for duty.  But you’ve got to REPORT for duty.  Don’t worry that you feel like you’re only one person, or even that you’re the only one in your whole family who still goes to church.  Don’t worry that you’re the only one at work who seems to be pro-life, or who takes a more Catholic approach to some of the other great moral issues of the day.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or how smart you are or how good you look, if you’re the only one with a flashlight at a big party when the lights go out, guess who the people are going to follow!!  THAT’S what being prophetic means.  Just make sure the flashlight is chained to your wrist.  (Pause for a deep breath J.)

This weekend, we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day.  See, forget about Great Britain, a lot of people now think that we’re independent of GOD!  Well, was it any different for the prophets in the Roman Empire?  Has it been any different for the prophets during the Reformation, or during the French revolution, or in Nazi Germany, or in the Soviet Union, or in Communist China or Viet Nam?  It grieves me when I hear people say, “Woe is us, the country is going to hell in a handbasket!”  Or, “I’m not going to vote any more, what difference does it make?”  You’re basically telling God, “I don’t like the mission you’ve given me.  It’s too hard.  Nobody listens.  They all do what they want, in spite of anything we do or say.”  God listens, very kindly and thoughtfully.  Then he says, “Hmmm, I think I’ve heard all this before, all those nights my Son used to talk with me on the mountain.  Okay, are you through?  I told you I was sending you to a rebellious house, a revolting people.  What did you expect?  Now get back to work.  And let them see the Light shining through you.”