Monthly Archives: November 2015

Homily for November 22, 2015

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 22

Let’s zero in for a moment on one verse in today’s Gospel, verse 36:  “If my kingdom DID belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting.”  Stop there.  You might say, “No, wait.  Read on.  It only makes sense if you finish Jesus’ sentence:  ‘My attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.’  Isn’t that a good motive for fighting?  Wouldn’t that have been a worthy cause, to save Jesus from his impending doom?  But the Apostles had already chickened out and run away.”

And that’s Jesus point exactly.  “If my kingdom DID belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting.”  But they aren’t.  They’re not around.  This makes no EARTHLY sense to them, either, because “my kingdom is not of this world.”  Is this kingdom of Christ worth fighting for, then?  Oh yes, it’s infinitely and eternally worthy.  But FIGHTING rather pales in comparison to infinity and eternity, doesn’t it?  Because this kingdom, not of this world, cannot be won, conquered, or held by fighting.  It’s accomplished by FAITH.  Fighting is of THIS world.  If you don’t believe that, turn on the radio, turn on the TV, read the paper, plunge into the Internet.  We humans are a quarrelsome lot.  We pick fights over EVERYTHING!  So catch the full impact of Jesus’ statement:  “If my kingdom DID belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting.”

Now, let’s admit it.  His attendants, his disciples, DO fight.  Catholics and Protestants fight.  Romans and Orthodox fight.  In Rwanda, 20 years, ago, Catholic Hutu and Catholic Tutsi fought each other to the death.  Protestant churches fight among themselves and, presto!, that produces more Protestant churches.  But you’ll notice that when we fight, it’s so often done in the spirit of the world:  name-calling, exaggeration, inaccuracies, self-serving and self-righteous accusations, personal attacks.  If we persist in imitating the world and its ways in attempting to serve Christ and his kingdom, we are only holding ourselves up to judgment in the eyes of the world itself.  And all the world will say is, “See, even THEY fight.  And they’re not even very good at it!!”

How different this is from Jesus’ definition of those who belong to HIS kingdom!  “By THIS will all know that you are my disciples, by the LOVE you have for one another.”  And of course, by “one another,” he doesn’t just mean we should love those who are like us or close to us.  He means EVERYBODY.  Those we love and those we don’t, those who are friends and those who are enemies, those we’re close to and those we’re not, those who are like us and those who are, oh, so different.  And he made this quite clear, over and over again.

What a strange and unusual kingdom this is!  “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus tells Peter, when in the garden the Apostle shows a last flicker of evaporating bravery in defense of his master, “for all who live by the sword will die by the sword.”  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you.”

“But Lord,” we protest, “they’ll wipe us out!!”

And Christ the King replies with a smile, “You’re talking about a kingdom that started with eleven fishermen and a tax collector, and in 300 years had become the religion of the Roman Empire.  Now what’s that you were saying?”

Take careful note that when Jesus spoke with soldiers, he didn’t talk DOWN to them with an air of moral superiority.  He never told one of them to abandon their post, even with the reputation they had for brutal suppression of those they ruled.  That, too, is because his kingdom is not of this world.  Many early Christian converts were serving in the military.  Some laid down their arms, others did not.  Self-defense and defense of one’s nation is an affair of the world.  The kingdom of Christ does not involve itself in it, but strives to be of service to all.  Fighting is a method employed by the world to resolve its affairs.  The kingdom of Christ holds all of us to a different standard, even while we recognize that there are times when limited violence must be used in defending against aggression and in resolving some of the affairs of this world.  That’s BECAUSE they are affairs of this world.  Christ our King is always calling us to do better.

Fighting is part of our fallen human nature.  Hurt those who hurt you.  Do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you.  Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.  ((Shake fist in the air.))  “I’LL GET YOU FOR THIS!!”  None of these ingrained reactions which seem so “natural” to us can ever lead us to the infinity and eternity of Christ’s kingdom.  Even as he is tortured to death because of the treachery and conniving of those who are threatened by his message, Christ our King calls them and us to conversion, to the better way of his kingdom, to genuine mercy and justice, and to life with him forever.  Baptism makes you royalty in this kingdom.  The Holy Spirit anoints you for greatness.  The Eucharist enables you to dine each day at the King’s banquet.  You don’t have to wait.  Your mission as his ambassador in this world continues — today and every day.

Homily for November 15, 2015

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 15

That first reading from the Book of Daniel is most often heard at Catholic funerals.  It’s definitely a reading about the end times:  on a global scale, the end of the world; on an individual scale, our own personal death.  We hear about these things especially in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament and in the Book of Revelation in the New.  And then, of course, there’s the Gospel passage we heard today, this one from Mark.  It’s amazing how quickly some people get creeped out when we start talking about the end times.  I hope we don’t think Jesus was gathering the Apostles around the campfire and telling ghost stories; but from the reaction of many people, you’d think that was the case.

Christians believe that Christ has CONQUERED death by his own death on the cross and by his glorious resurrection.  So why do so many of us break out in a cold sweat when we hear about death, or the end of the world?  Let’s take a closer look at the first reading and the Gospel and see what’s so scary about them.  Sure, Daniel has references to “a time unsurpassed in distress,” and some “who sleep in the dust of the earth . . . shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”  Tough words, but read on:  “YOUR people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book. . .  The wise shall shine brightly . . . and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”  Are you found written in the book?  Are you wise?  Do you lead the many to justice?  If you’re engaged in these works of the Kingdom, see, you have nothing to fear.  And if you’re NOT so engaged, you can change.  Anytime.  It’s your choice.

Then in the Gospel we hear about the physical collapse of the universe.  No surprise.  God made it all from nothing, it can certainly return to its former state.  Too many people, though, stop reading at the end of that first paragraph.  Jesus goes on, first taking a victorious image from Daniel:  “the Son of Man coming in the clouds” with great power and glory, he will “send out his angels and gather his elect from the four winds.”  Are you part of the elect?  Do you want to be?  Christ has already chosen and called you.  Now it’s YOUR choice.

Jesus then tells us that all these things happening — in fact, WHATEVER  happens — can be seen as a sign “that he is near, at the gates.”  You’re hearing this about the Someone who loves you more than anyone else ever could, who died on the cross for you, who WANTS you with him forever in the Kingdom of Heaven as a member of his Church, his precious Bride.  Does it seem too good to be true?  Do you WANT it to be true in your case?  Once again, now it’s your choice.

With nearly everyone in this church this morning, Jesus has given us plenty of reason NOT to be afraid.  Many of us were called by God and brought to the font of baptism when we were infants.  “Let the children come to me,” Jesus said; and thanks be to God, you had parents who took him up on the hope and promise contained in that invitation.  Our new little brother who is being brought for baptism by his family this morning is the latest in a long line of potential saints whose eternal life began at this font.  Whether or not they ARE saints — well, God took the initiative and extended the invitation, it’s up to each of us to follow up on it.  Many of us came to Christ at a later age, but Jesus reassures us, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.”  Thanks be to God, you who are converts have allowed the Father to draw you by his grace to this precious gift of his Son.  And this precious gift is not just a spiritual relationship, it’s a real flesh-and-blood communion with the One who loves us to death!  And he has gathered us here to celebrate that, and to worship the Father with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homily for November 8, 2015

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 8

Perhaps you’ve heard the old story about the barnyard animals arguing about who did more for the farmer.  The hen had the floor, or the roost, clucking, “No one does more for the farmer than I do.  Every morning without fail, I provide him an egg for his breakfast.”

At that, the pig spoke up.  “I don’t want to ruffle any feathers here,” he said, “but I would submit that I do much more than that for the farmer.  You see, there’s bound to come a time when the farmer decides to have more than an egg for his breakfast.  He might well decide to have ham, or bacon.  And when he does, you, Mrs. Hen, will note that you simply make a contribution.  In my case, it’s total commitment.”

And that’s kind of Jesus’ point in the Gospel, about the widow and her mite, and certainly the point of the story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath.  In each case, these widows really had nothing to lose by giving the last bit of oil and flour or the last two coins which they had.  Those tiny bits of material belongings could not save them from ultimate death.  Reduced to complete and absolute poverty, they gave up all they had, to rely totally on God.  I would wager that none of us has been in that position, no matter to what extent we might have pled poverty at one time or another in our lives.

Jesus doesn’t rush in with a safety net or a social program to save the widow at the temple.  Relying totally on God and on the goodness of his people, she will no doubt join the beggars who were very familiar faces to those who came to worship at the temple.  Their presence didn’t inspire political speeches about how this party or that would be more dedicated to caring for the poor.  That was not considered to be a function of government in Jesus’ day.  Beggars were usually persons handicapped by age or infirmity who had no relatives to help sustain them.  Without family, they relied on the great family of God, who had been telling his people all through the Old Testament that they were to care for the widow and the orphan in their midst.  It wasn’t the duty of government.  It was the duty of EVERYONE.  And Christ continues that great tradition of charity in God’s name by underscoring the fact that charity to anyone in need is an act of praise and love for God, an act in which they should see HIS face in the face of the one in need.

As we hear in the letter to the Hebrews in the second reading, Christ’s supreme act of love on the cross is the summit of all actions of charity.  When the Innocent Lamb offers himself for our sins, he makes a total commitment to God.  He holds nothing back.  As we have said many times, God shows us in the cross that he will go to any lengths and pay any price to convince us of his love and win us back to his divine embrace.

How do we express our comprehension of this great gift?  How do we express our thanks, our appreciation?  With a token offering?  Or with the gift of our whole self, in imitation of Christ?  St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans, “None of us lives as his own master, and none of us dies as his own master.  Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”  Do we act in that way?  Do we think and act as though all of our possessions come from God and belong to God, and are given to us only to see how and for whose benefit we will use them?

There are some people who try to excuse themselves by saying, “What?  Am I supposed to cash in my 401(k) and give it all to the poor?  Should I give away all the money I’ve tried to save for my children’s education?”  The answer from God himself is, “Of course not.”  God expects us to be prudent and responsible with what we have so we will not DELIBERATELY become a burden on others.  It is not a sin to be rich, and it is not a virtue to be poor.  The sin and the virtue rest in our attitude about what we have, and about how we manifest our love for God and neighbor in our use of this world’s goods.

I’ve never heard anyone tell a tale of financial woe and blame it on tithing — you know, “If I hadn’t given that ten percent to the church and to charity, I’d be well off today.”  Rather, it’s so often those who hold back for themselves and who are NOT generous with God and others, who experience dire financial straits because of their lack of planning.  The psalmist says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  We could well say, “Stewardship and tithing is the beginning of sound budgeting.”  Put your priorities in order by setting aside your tithe for God FIRST, and you will find yourself learning very well how to manage the remaining ninety percent.  And you and your children will learn in the process from whom that ninety percent has come.

Homily for November 1, 2015

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 1

Praise the Lord!  It’s our feast day!!  Well, not quite yet, but there’s promise, and there’s hope.  The promise is Christ’s, and our hope is in the mercy of a God who wants none of his children to be lost.  Later this week, on Thursday, we’ll hear the Gospel reading in the weekday Mass when Christ the Good Shepherd tells us straying sheep that there will be more joy in heaven over ONE repentant sinner than over ninety-nine who have no need to repent.  I can tell you that those have been words of hope and comfort for THIS sinner all those times the Good Shepherd had to carry my soggy, soiled, sorry self back home after I’d wandered away too far for much too long.  Why he even bothers after it happens over and over again, even to this day, is a mystery of his mercy.  But it’s a mystery I can only rejoice in.  And I suspect you know the feeling, too.

So, what awaits us?  Our readings on this solemnity of All Saints are a comprehensive study of our life as members of the Kingdom of God.  The first reading, from Revelation, gives us a picture of that for which we hope:  what’s going on eternally in that heavenly Kingdom.  Then St. John, always anxious to show us that Christ is neither a fantasy nor a pipedream, tells us in the second reading just who we are, and the great dignity God both gives us and wants us to share forever.  Finally, the Lord himself begins his Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, laying out for us how we are to achieve the goal and gift of eternal life.  In short, we’re shown what heaven IS, we’re assured that God intends us to BE there, and we’re given the GPS to show us the WAY.  It’s like an open-book exam!!  How can we lose?  Well, if we had the answer to that, we wouldn’t need those confessionals in the church, would we?  If love really meant never having to say you’re sorry, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior, would we?  It would have been rather pointless for Christ to endure the Cross to show us the cost of our sins, wouldn’t it?

But we’re in very good company, my friends.  The saints we celebrate today, the canonized and the un-canonized, all have their own stories about personal sin and redemption and salvation, all except Mary, who never tarnished the life of God within her.  As God allowed himself to grow within her physically, she never denied him the opportunity to grow within her spiritually.  In a human way, how Christ must have had his Mother in mind when he spoke these sayings of blessedness that we call the Beatitudes!  And since she is not divine, she can show us, her children, that these directions to life in the Kingdom are not beyond our reach as human beings.

The other saints?  Well, we know a little about many of them and a whole lot about some of them.  We look at the Apostles, diamonds in the rough, eager yet confused, very much in need of the breath of God’s Spirit to set them on joyful fire for their sacred mission.  We look at an Augustine, who freely confesses that there wasn’t a sin he didn’t commit before his conversion.  We look at the somber Jerome, the scholarly Thomas Aquinas, the devout and very practical mystics Gertrude the Great and Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila (AH-vee-luh), the soldier Ignatius, the jokester Philip Neri, the zealous Francis Xavier, and all those who have preceded us in these and other pews, all eager to spread the word of what the Lord in his mercy had done for them.  What a lesson we learn, just from their diversity!  People from every race and tongue, from every continent and occupation, young and old, royalty and peasant.

We pray that we shall have all eternity to hear their stories and together give glory to God for the never-ending accounts of his infinite mercy.  Those who are living the virtues spoken of by Christ in his Sermon are already living the life of the Kingdom, though they are here on earth.  For that reason, Christ can call them “blessed.”  If you’re ever tempted by the evil one to think that an eternity with God in the Kingdom would be boring, you perhaps have not yet experienced the thrill of discovering how beautifully it all fits together, how there is a never-ending feast for mind, heart, and spirit which our earthly senses cannot even comprehend.  Think how eager our loved ones are who have gone before us, to welcome us home and introduce us to eternal life.  We’ll hear in Eucharistic Prayer Number 3 today a wonderful description of that eternal day and eternal life:  “There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end through Christ our Lord.”

We need often to ponder the joys that await us in the Kingdom of heaven in order to live well the life of that Kingdom here on earth.  Even non-believers have the right to expect of us, the followers of Christ, that we will model for them the way home to God as All the Saints model that way home for us.  That’s the secret of holiness.  It can never be hoarded.  We have their example.  Now do as they did, and pay it forward.