Yearly Archives: 2016

Homily for December 18, 2016

HOMILY – DECEMBER 18

God talks to us!  You might not hear that from folks who don’t think their prayers are being answered, but God DOES talk to us.  If we’re locked into just one answer – “I won’t take NO for an answer,” or “You better tell me what I want to hear!” – well, no wonder we’re so often disappointed.  St. Paul starts his Letter to the Romans, which we heard in the second reading, by saying that he has been “called to be an apostle and SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL OF GOD” – and he wrote that before any of the four Gospels were completed!  What could he be talking about?

He goes on to explain the gospel of God, the “good news” of God, which God promised previously through his prophets.  So God has spoken BEFORE!  About what?  “About his Son!”  And Paul goes on to describe the message in a nutshell:  descended from King David, the Son of God established in power, the Spirit of holiness, the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord!  It’s all there:  the Trinity, God’s choice of a people, the Incarnation of the Anointed One, the promise of eternal life – and Paul says he’s received it all so that he can bring this good news to everyone, including the non-Jewish peoples, the Gentiles.  And we can say that God doesn’t talk?  He lays it all out for us, over and over again.

In the first reading, God sends his prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz (AH-hahz) to try to dissuade him from his wrong-headed ways and corrupt life.  “Ask for a sign,” God invites him, “any sign at all, anything you want!”  But the young, arrogant king doesn’t WANT a sign, doesn’t WANT to listen, doesn’t want to CHANGE, prefers his OWN ways to anything God has to offer.  Sound familiar, fellow sinner?  I don’t know about you, but it certainly sounds like ME!  And then I’ve had the arrogance at times to entertain the thought that God doesn’t answer my prayers!  Oh. sure, blame it on God, when I’M the one who hasn’t been listening!

So Ahaz talks back to God, putting on the pretense of piety:  “I won’t ask, I don’t want to TEMPT God!”  Aw, isn’t that sweet?  But God sees through that disguise, and tells him he’s going to get a sign, anyway.  And some 700 years later, that promise is fulfilled, practically to the letter, as God-with-us, EMMANUEL, is born of the Virgin Mary for our salvation.

What a contrast between King Ahaz on the one hand, and St. Joseph in the Gospel on the other!  Whereas Ahaz talked back to God, Joseph receives God’s message from an angel in a dream.  When he wakes up, there’s no back-talk.  There’s no questioning.  There’s no suggesting a better plan.  There’s no talking at all!  Joseph just moves into action, and begins being for Mary the husband that she will need.  And Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes that all this is in fulfillment of that 700-year-old prophecy that came through Isaiah for King Ahaz.  Whatever happened back then, God’s own Word tells us that the COMPLETE meaning of what might have been a rather puzzling prophecy is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and even in the circumstances of his Incarnation and birth.

“God with us.”  That simple phrase should evoke feelings of warmth, security, and belonging.  If someone comes up to you at a difficult time, puts a firm hand on your shoulder, and says, “I’m WITH you,” you will likely feel a comfort and reassurance that will go beyond your friend’s physical presence.  The words will come back to you even when time and distance separate you.  Your life will be different because of that simple promise of accompaniment.  And so it is with God’s promise to us.  God comes to pitch his tent in our midst, as St. John says, and that means he’s in it for the long haul with us as we are on this pilgrim journey, together.

And there’s more.  Because we the baptized are Christ’s Body and Bride, when God-with-us, Emmanuel, dwells in our midst, we are permeated with his divine mission.  That means that WE, the people in whom God dwells, present God-with-us to those in the world around us who are not yet believers.  We are called and sent to accompany this world with the truth, the light of Christ himself, to show them the way home.  This is precisely what St. Paul means when he calls himself “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle.”  When you are deeply in love with someone, you will gladly put them first in your life.  Their life’s mission will become yours.  The world ought to be reassured by our presence in its midst.  But the world will of course also be CHALLENGED by Christ, God-with-us, as WE are challenged, for in spite of our holy calling, we should not be surprised that we always remain sinners.  Ah, the constant tug of fallen human nature!

Ahaz refused to accept that challenge.  It should be no surprise that the world gets its back up at us rather regularly, because we know how stubborn and uncomfortable WE can be when it comes to accepting and carrying out God’s holy will.  Let’s do what we can to touch the world with the caress, the smile, and the Sacred Heartbeat of the divine.  We have our marching orders.  Carrying them out is how we await the coming of Jesus in glory!

Homily for November 27, 2016

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 27

The prophet Isaiah lived some 700 years before Christ.  His book of prophecy (which is actually three books in one) gives both encouragement and warning to God’s people in Jerusalem.  If they live according to the plan of God which has been revealed to them, they shall prosper.  If they try to make things more politically prosperous for themselves without regard to God, their kingdom will fall and they will be carried off into exile.  It didn’t take a prophet to see what was going on; but it took a prophet to SAY IT, loud and clear, to the king, to his court, to the religious leaders, and to the people in general.

Now, Isaiah tried to disqualify himself when God called:  “Nooooo, Lord, I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips!”  The people are wicked, he says, and he’s no better.  But God won’t take “No” for an answer.  He will cleanse Isaiah’s deficiencies.  He sends an angel to bring a burning coal right from the altar of offering in the temple, and the angel touches it to Isaiah’s lips.  The long form of the little prayer the priest says just before he reads the Gospel at Mass recalls that cleansing, and the priest asks God to do the same thing here and now to his own heart and lips so that in THIS time and place, he, like Isaiah, may worthily and fittingly proclaim the Good News.

It is the Church, after all, the New Jerusalem, in which the prophecy of Isaiah finds its fulfillment.  The nations of the world did not exactly come streaming to the old Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob, to hear God’s instructions and come to life.  Most often, they came to gain some advantage over the Jews, and even to loot and plunder.  Gentile converts were few and far between.  But on and after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit both sent the Apostles OUT and drew more and more people IN, people of every race and language and way of life.  The very word “Catholic” means “universal,” and it is an apt description of what happens when the Church gathers for worship:  “Here comes EVERYBODY!”  Even our old ethnic parishes witness to this marvelous transformation.  They were established to serve people of a certain ethnic group; and now after a century or so, they often serve a great hodge-podge or melting pot of peoples, both among the parishioners and in their neighborhoods.  The government needs a so-called “commitment to diversity” to accomplish by REG-ulation what the Spirit of God accomplishes by IN-spiration, and far more effectively!

But today’s Scriptures are not addressed only to God’s people in the Old Testament.  They are addressed to US, in the Church.  We are called to “walk in the light of the Lord,” so that others may behold God’s work in us and come streaming to the Church, the mountain of the Lord, seeking instruction and finding God’s love at work.  “This is how all will know you for my disciples,” says the Lord, “by the love you have for one another.”  Where else can people go in this cruel and vindictive world to find genuine forgiveness?  The United Nations?  A political party?  The media?  Hollywood?  Mecca?  And where is the Church?  In the Vatican?  In a house of worship?  Well, God makes it clear that HIS PEOPLE is his dwelling place in this New Covenant.  What a responsibility we have to live as though God is living within us – BECAUSE HE IS!!  And many people will either be drawn to him or drawn AWAY from him by the way WE act and speak.   And you can’t say, “But I’m not ordained!  I’m not involved in the parish!  I’m too young!  I’m too old!”  Nope, no excuses.  If you need a burning coal to purge whatever keeps you from being the agent of God you were baptized to be, God will take care of it, and it might not be pretty.  It’s better to be willing and cooperative.

If Jesus teaches in the beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” it was Isaiah 700 years earlier who announced that God’s people should lead the world in the ways of peace, converting weapons of war into farming implements.  This isn’t a message only for politicians and the military.  What are YOUR weapons of war?  How about a sour attitude or a wet blanket?  How about Facebook or Twitter?  How do we use social media to wage our own wars, firing off rounds and then hiding in the shadows of anonymity?  That’s why St. Paul gives such warning to his Christians at Rome in the second reading.  The day of the Lord is at hand!  We’ve got too much to do to get bogged down in orgies and drunkenness, in promiscuity and lust, in rivalry and jealousy.

Most of us have just a little tendency to get very uneasy when we hear Jesus say in the Gospel, “At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  Is he talking about our death?  Is he talking about the end of the world?  Maybe, just maybe, he’s talking about the call of God that comes to each of us so, so often in life:  “I need you.  There, over there.  I need you over here.  Can you give me a hand with her?  Will you give him a smile and a good word to get him going?”  Advent is a time to prepare for the Kingdom of God, sure.  But we’re prepared for the Kingdom of God only if we’re ready for the very next time he needs us, at whatever hour the call comes.  One thing you can be sure of:  it won’t be long!

Homily for November 20, 2016

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 20

My dear friends, in King David, a thousand years before Christ, God’s people had a leader they could admire.  He surely had his weaknesses and sins, and willingly confessed them and did penance before God and man.  But he exercised restraint, and was renowned for not giving orders to attack those who attacked him.  He reasoned that perhaps they were serving as instruments of God to call him to greater humility.  Then in Psalm 110, David sings, “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’. . .  The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent:  ‘You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchisedech (mel-KIH-zeh-deck).’”  A thousand years before Christ, David uttered these prophetic words about “his lord,” the Anointed One, the Messiah who was to come.  In situating the Messiah in the line of Melchisedech, he refers to that mysterious figure who had greeted and honored Abraham, our father in faith.  Melchisedech was both the king and the priest of the city of Salem (sah-LEMM), which became Jerusalem; and he brought out a most unusual sacrifice of bread and wine to give praise to God.  If any of that sounds like it’s pointing to Christ, David drives the point home:  king, priest, prophet, sacrifice, bread and wine – and look what we’re doing here at Mass!

If in David we have a PROPHETIC king, in Jesus Christ we have a CONQUERING King.  The difference between our King and all the other kings in human history is that the others were busy about either defending their kingdoms or extending their realms by force.  Our King will not allow us to be snatched away by force, but neither does he guarantee that we will survive in this earthly life.  Our King doesn’t assure us that everything will go well for us and that we will not be harmed.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He comes to take part in the very worst of human suffering – the torture and murder of the innocent – to show that he is WITH US in OUR sufferings.  And he guarantees only that we, his subjects, might well endure plenty of sufferings in this life, whether we are innocent or not.  But because his Kingdom is not a kingdom of this world, we have nothing to fear in the long run.  He has already won the war.  What we are involved in on a daily basis are just skirmishes with an enemy, the evil one, who cannot accept its own defeat.  This doesn’t sound like the world’s idea of a conquering king.  But let’s press on.

Not only is his Kingdom different; the conquering is different, too.  This is a conquest that is expressed in service and self-sacrifice, even to death on a cross.  Anyone, man, woman, or child, who looks upon our King on the throne of his cross can say, “That’s for ME!  He did it for ME!”  If that makes him even more mysterious, if we wonder what we must be worth for our King to go to such lengths for us, we have a lifetime, and then all of eternity, to ponder it, marvel at it, and be in awe of it.  You would never forget the heroism of someone who bought you a few more years of life on earth at the price of their own life, taking a bullet for you, so to speak.  Our King suffers his passion and death for all of us and each of us, whether we appreciate it or not.  If we don’t appreciate it, the benefit of his sacrifice remains for us to take advantage of it at any time.  But it will take an act of faith on our part, as it did for the so-called “good thief” on the cross next to Jesus.

The other thief, the poor wretch, just won’t let go of his anger and rebellion, even as the good thief points out to him that he’s under the same sentence.  He’s a dying man, and he’s still shouting angry insults and challenges.  Jesus does not upbraid him.  The decision will have to be HIS, like the open-ended story of the elder son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal.  The good thief provides the pattern of faith which anyone can easily follow.  Simply recognizing Jesus’ innocence, he calls out to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And the answer?  The Kingdom is already here!  “This day, you shall be with me in paradise.”  What a wonderful path to citizenship in this Kingdom!  Just let go of your sins, let loose with your faith, throw yourself at his mercy, and you’re a shoo-in.  Total amnesty!  And any time the other thief wants it, it’s there for him, too.  No one, NO ONE, is ever written off by Christ, even those who seem to denounce him most forcefully.  Our King has accomplished our redemption.  It’s all THERE for us.  Accepting it is up to US.  And that’s where we have to drop our defenses, quit being so complicated and so entangled in the affairs of this world, and simply surrender to the conquering love of this most divinely exceptional King.

 

Homily for November 13, 2016

 

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 13

St. Paul had a problem with his converts in Thessalónica in Greece.  They had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  They were dutifully awaiting his return at the end of time.  The only problem was, the urban legends of the day were teasing them with rumors that the end of time was just around the corner.  So quite a number of them were quite content to quit their jobs, live off everyone else, and just wait for Jesus to come back.  That was not what Christ intended, and certainly not the gospel message that St. Paul had brought and preached to them.  They had had his own example, as he supported himself and his preaching with his occupation as a tentmaker.  What a scolding he gives them in our second reading, from the second letter he had to write to them!

“I didn’t receive free food from anyone. . .  I worked day and night in toil and drudgery, so as not to be a burden to any of you. . .  Anyone who doesn’t work, should not eat!”  Who wrote this, Donald Trump??  Ah, no, it’s the Apostle himself.  He scores these folks for their phony piety, because in their self-styled waiting for Jesus they were basically freeloading and leeching off everybody else.  And they weren’t the last ones to have the wrong idea about how to prepare for the return of the Lord in glory!

There are so many people who love to go around wringing their hands and fretting, “I think we’re in the end times!”  I like to respond by saying, “Good!  Then we won’t have to listen to people fussing about the end times anymore!”  But actually the better answer is, “Of course we are!  We’ve been in the end times ever since Jesus.  Now get back to work!”  How many gallons of ink have been spilled into books warning about the gloom and doom to come!  And yet the whole message of the Gospel this morning is that gloom and doom are rather constant companions of the human race.  Wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues have been part and parcel of human and natural history from time immemorial.  Awesome signs in the sky have been appearing since before the dinosaurs.  And they shall all continue.

Don’t bother looking for a convergence of planets.  Don’t worry about tomorrow night’s super moon or the fact that Niagara Falls has frozen over four times just in the last seven years.  All those authors who try to figure out which world leader is which beast in the Book of Revelation are clearly barking up the wrong tree.  What does Jesus say about it all?  “Don’t pay attention to the prophets of doom. . .  Don’t be deceived. . .  Don’t be terrified.”  And in Matthew he even tells us, “Don’t try to figure it out..”  In short, the best preparation is to keep on doing what you should be doing anyway:  living a decent life, doing your job well, being a good family member, a welcoming neighbor, a constructive fellow employee.  THAT’S how you prepare for whatever comes along.  The prophet Malachi said it well in our Old Testament reading:  “The proud and all evildoers will be stubble, burned to a crisp. . .  But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”  Like the heat and light of the sun, what destroys those who are UN-prepared will calm and comfort those who ARE prepared.

So if you’re worshiping God, taking care of your family, doing your job, minding your own business, and looking for every opportunity to be of service to Christ in others, you have nothing to fear.  Keep on keeping on.  And don’t be drawn off course by those who derive some fascination from the blockbuster-movie scripts of the end of the world.  Remember that wonderful passage in the First Book of Kings, chapter 19, when God tells the prophet Elijah to stand up on the mountain, and he’ll let Elijah see him pass by?  There’s a powerful, raging wind; there’s a destructive earthquake; there’s a roaring, consuming fire.  God was in none of those.  They were only his heralds, announcing his arrival.  Finally, there was a tiny, whispering sound, and Elijah realized that THAT was the presence of God.  Here in the Eucharist, God, as it were, WHISPERS to us in these tiny forms of bread and wine.  And amidst all the clamor and noise of the world, the victory marches and the protests, here we recognize the presence of God himself.  Here, the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, is already in our midst, already giving us a taste of the infinity and eternity which both comes AFTER the end of time, and already surrounds us.

Homily for October 30 2016

 

HOMILY – OCTOBER 30

Most of us are as wary of a letter from the I.R.S. as we are of having a patrol car pull up behind us in traffic.  The I.R.S. has a well-earned reputation as a ruthless collection agency, at least depending on which political party or elite group you belong to.  One I.R.S. director was forced to resign a few years ago because she was heading the agency when certain groups annoying to the party in power were clearly targeted for audits and penalties and general harassment.  Such shenanigans were no surprise to most of us, who have unfortunately become quite cynical about the lack of ethics of those in government.

However, whatever loathing we might have for I.R.S. agents individually or collectively, it really can’t compare with the way tax collectors in Palestine in the time of Jesus were despised.  Because they were Jews who were hired by the Roman occupation to extract money from their own people, they were already identified as traitors to the nation.  They were assigned a certain amount of tax money that they were to squeeze out of a given geographical area.  To encourage the cooperation of these tax collectors, the Empire let them keep anything over and above their target – kind of like C.S.A.!  (Omigosh, did I really say that??!!)  And because the Empire looked the other way at how much MORE the tax collectors made over and above their assigned amount, many of them became extremely wealthy – at the expense of their hapless countrymen, whom they could order to be thrown in prison if they didn’t cough up the arbitrary amount they were charged.  So, the tax collectors were seen not only as traitors, but as thieving crooks of the absolute worst order.

I say all this because we all hear the story about Zacchaeus and tend to think of him as kind of a lovable character, since Jesus goes to have dinner at his house.  Jesus notes that salvation has come to his house, and that he is a “descendant of Abraham.”  Zacchaeus has a nobility and a place in the house and nation of Israel that not even his sins can take from him.  But that’s not the way the people saw it, certainly not the way the Pharisees saw it.  Zacchaeus was a public sinner, a traitor, a thief.  He had made his very comfortable living on the backs of his own people, maybe even on the widows and the poor.  He wasn’t a businessman involved in a successful private enterprise.  He made HIS wealth not by earning it, but by TAKING it from others.

You might compare Zacchaeus to someone like Bernie Madoff, whose pyramid schemes collapsed several years ago as Bernie “made off” with the money of hundreds and hundreds of people, most of them retirees who had trusted him and depended on him to invest their money and to help them live securely in their golden years.  Bernie’s in jail forever, while those he defrauded are broke, ruined.  There’s really no way to bring about real justice in a horrible turn of events like that.

You could also compare Zacchaeus, in a way, to the sleazy pornographers who make billions off other people’s biological interest in and psychological addiction to what they produce and sell.  These are among the human traffickers who, to make their billions, destroy the bodies, hearts, minds, consciences, and souls of those who work for them as well as those to whom they sell their products.  The Internet has made their “product” accessible even to young children, destroying at an early age any hope they might have had to experience the beauty and joy of loving and committed intimate relationships.

So Zacchaeus was no saint.  And the crowd was stunned that Jesus would go to have dinner with him at his house.  What had HE done to deserve this attention?  The answer is:  Nothing, except sin.  What have YOU done to deserve God’s mercy?  The answer is:  Nothing, except sin.  Because we are fallen, because we have no moral stature, we have no claim on the Savior.  Oh, we NEED a Savior, but most people aren’t interested enough to even climb a tree to find him.  He provides forgiveness, he lavishes it on us although we are unworthy.  He extends a hand to us, whether we are up a tree or down in the gutter.  And he says, “Your sins are not the end of your story.  No matter what you’ve done, there is hope for you.”

Most of us love to see public sinners, or especially those who have sinned against us personally, humbled and crushed into the dust.  THAT, we imagine, is the justice of God.  But the Book of Wisdom in the first reading hints that God’s justice tends to FAVOR us sinners.  It notes that God rebukes “offenders little by little.”  That’s not fast enough for us, unless we’re the offenders in question.  But it does teach us that each of us, saint and sinner alike, is precious in God’s sight with a dignity that even sin cannot erase, because we were created in God’s love.  No matter the exact circumstances of our conception:  GOD is our Creator, our father and mother are PRO-creators.  God tells us through the prophet Isaiah in his chapter 49, “Even if a mother could forget the baby nursing at her breasts, even if she could forget the child of her womb, I will NEVER forget you!”  Jesus puts those words into flesh, and invites US SINNERS to carry on the message.  Who is up a tree or in the gutter, to whom YOU can extend your heart and hand in mercy each day?  Do it in God’s name.  There are still ‘way too many people who associate God’s name, and God himself, with damnation more than with eternal life.  Put some flesh on the Scriptures for them.  Give them a boost.  They might not have the moral stature to see it on their own.

Homily for October 9 2016

 

HOMILY – OCTOBER 9

Most often when we hear the story of the ten lepers in the Gospel, we reflect on the point that Jesus makes about only one of them returning to give thanks to God.  It is, we suppose, a lesson about the necessity of gratitude.  And well it can be.  But let’s not stop there.

The first reading, from the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament, provides a clue as to what else the Church might want us to consider as we celebrate the Mass today.  Here, the man who is cured is clearly a foreigner.  He has followed the suggestion of one of his servants, an exile from the land of the Jews, to seek out a holy man down in Israel who might just have the power to cure him of his leprosy.  And so Naaman goes, traveling to a despised and conquered land to seek out one of THEIR prophets.  But when he gets there, the prophet won’t even come to the door.  He sends word by way of a servant, to tell this military official with his grand entourage to go jump in the river.  Not just once, but seven times!  And not just any river, mind you, but the JORDAN River, sacred to the Israelites but in many places not much more impressive than Indian Mill Creek where it runs along Ann Street a few blocks north of here.

Naaman is insulted.  He comes from Syria, the land of the headwaters of the great rivers of the Middle East, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of civilization.  What could this miserable trickle, the Jordan, have to offer?  But his same servant prevails upon him, talking sense to his bruised ego.  “If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, wouldn’t you have done it?  This is simple.  What have you got to lose?”

Clearly, the only thing Naaman had to lose was his pride.  And he did.  THAT’S the first step of faith, and how tough faith is for those who won’t lose their pride!  How often Jesus told people he cured, “Your FAITH has saved you!”  Sure, he had the power, and it was so real, so tangible, that he could even feel it going forth from him.  But someone had to draw on it with faith.  Put a straw in a glass of a nice cold beverage and it won’t do a thing for you unless you make yourself look a little silly, purse your lips, and SUCK!  There.  Just thinking about it might make you lose a little pride.  Well, the same thing is true of faith.  You have to draw on Jesus’ power, and that takes faith.  But you won’t be saved without it.

So Naaman takes the leap of faith, not just once, but seven times – and he is cured of his leprosy.  The foreigner comes, not to the temple, but to hear the word of God from the prophet, and he responds to it.  In the Gospel, the ten lepers cry out to Jesus with faith:  “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  They are so miserable in their disease and the low estate to which it has brought them that they even have a Samaritan in their company.  See?  “Misery loves company” – even when it’s someone we would ordinarily NEVER associate with.  But the disease has associated them with each other.  What human decency could not accomplish, their sorry state does.  And the clamor they make along the road, calling out to Jesus?  Well, they’re already covered with leprosy, who cares about pride?  They have nothing to lose.  Jesus very simply tells the lepers to go show themselves to the priests.  And just like his first miracle, at Cana, a divine word is all it takes.  Water becomes wine.  Corrupt, leprous flesh becomes smooth as a baby’s cheeks – all four of them!  And the nine Jews, former lepers, continue on as they have been told, to show themselves to the priests at the temple in Jerusalem.

But the Samaritan won’t be welcome at the temple.  THEY won’t let him in, and perhaps he doesn’t care to set foot in it himself.  Samaritans and Jews were like the Shia and Sunni Muslims – bitter enemies.  The Samaritans had their own “temple” of sorts, up on Mount Gerizim, and their worship was greatly corrupted with pagan influences and idolatry – like a leprosy of religion.  So he has no place to go except back to Christ, giving thanks to God, and recognizing in Jesus something he could receive neither in the temple in Jerusalem nor at the corrupted temple of Samaria.

What a lesson for us!  When Jesus knocks down the boundaries of Israel in the New Covenant, he intends his Body, the Church, to be the locus of worship for ALL people.  But it does cost something.  The gift is free, but THEY MUST REACH OUT IN FAITH, and that just might cost them something:  their pride!  Once they reach out in faith; and once they are washed and cured of the leprosy of sin, not in the waters of the Jordan but in the waters of BAPTISM, they, no matter who they are, Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans, Africans, Asians, they can come to Jesus giving thanks to God – EUCHARIST, “thanks-giving.”  And that’s why we are here this morning, my friends.  We former lepers have been healed by Christ.  Every time we slide back into the cesspool of sin, we can be healed again if we swallow our pride and call out to Christ the Lord for mercy.  And we can find in him, in the bread of life that is his Body and the cup of salvation that is his Blood, the food we need to sustain us as the visible sign of his healing presence in all the world.  Now let’s go out and act like it.  Your faith has saved you!  And perhaps THROUGH you, your faith will help to save others, too.  You might not even know who they are yet.

Homily for October 2 2016

 

HOMILY – OCTOBER 2

We rarely hear from the very short Book of the Prophet Habakkuk, so the first reading this morning is a rare delight.  Habakkuk has his prophetic vision just before the time of the Babylonian exile, and it’s a nightmare.  He is deeply distressed by the violence he sees, especially when the victims are innocent people.  Oh, the people of God GENERALLY were anything but innocent.  The Promised Land of God’s people was and IS at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, at the convergence of both land and sea trade routes.  Anyone going to Egypt from the north passed through Palestine.  And anyone going to Syria or Asia Minor or Persia from the south passed through Palestine.  There were always temptations to imitate the immoral customs and religions of the people passing through, and to forge political alliances with their governments – RATHER THAN relying on God alone to sustain them.  Why had God brought Abraham to THAT place?  Likely precisely SO THAT his people could have a positive effect on the people around them.  And what often happened was just the other way around.

After all, look what happens in our own day!  We, God’s people, often wind up being heavily influenced by the society and culture around US.  But WE are the ones who are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, the beacon of truth for the people in whose midst we live.  Look at the numbers of those who leave the Church, and wind up living as though they were never baptized to be disciples of God’s Anointed One, the Savior of the world.  And their attitude, if you ask them, is often, “None of your business!”  Not exactly a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Look what happens when we vote.  Candidates who promote abortion, same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, and every kind of bizarre and immoral personal behavior could not keep getting elected if it were not for the votes of a majority of Catholics.  This is astounding!  We have the power to make a distinct difference in the world, and we fail continuously.  The old saying, “If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll lie down for anything,” certainly can apply to us.  And the resulting human wreckage in terms of suicide, drug addiction, broken homes, broken hearts, and broken lives is all around us, crying to heaven like Abel’s blood from the earth.  So now you have a picture of what Habakkuk saw in his vision.  Violence and bloodshed all around, and why does God allow innocent people to suffer?  Why doesn’t he just punish the wicked and be done with it?

The Apostle addresses this issue in his letter to Timothy in the second reading.  “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. . .  God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control.”  Be confident about your testimony to Christ, by the way you live and speak and pray.  That doesn’t mean being smug or feeling superior.  We are here as the world’s servants, but it’s service rendered in the name of the Lord and Master of all.  It’s testimony to HIM, not to ourselves, that we provide to others, so they can make THEIR choice to follow him or not.

How do you feed your faith each week?  It’s really like staying strong and healthy physically:  you have to work at it.  Prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, participation in the sacraments, studying and reading about your faith, listening to Catholic radio and TV, taking advantage of Catholic lectures and instruction classes – all these things are a necessary and ongoing PREPARATION for being a faithful witness out on the street, at work or school, in the neighborhood, or in the family.  And what’s the REWARD?  The satisfaction of being able to say, like a heroic soldier or fire fighter or police officer, “I was only doing my job!”  For a disciple of Jesus, that would be our highest honor.  That’s because what the Lord has in store for us is so much, much more than anything this life can offer.  An eternity of being home again at last, of both pressure-free relaxation and yet thrilling discovery in the loving embrace of God and the companionship of the whole communion of saints!  And every time we celebrate the Mass, we are proclaiming with Jesus that the victory is in sight.

Homily for September 25 2016

 

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 25

Oh, the prophet Amos takes on the fat cats in the first reading, doesn’t he?  No good reviews at the country club after THAT sermon!  You know, he’s not blaming people just for being rich.  He’s blaming them for living only for themselves, the ones who have not a thought for anyone else.  And Jesus points out that same kind of blind heartlessness to others in need, in his parable of the rich man and the poor man.

Look at the details.  The poor man sits at the rich man’s door.  He sees how the rich man lives and he longs to go dumpster diving, just to get a taste of the garbage.  A man could live off the rich man’s GARBAGE!  Let’s be honest about it:  no matter how poor you might be, you must know that by the standards of the rest of the world, you and all of us are so rich that the rest of the world could live on our garbage.  Just the food thrown out by our restaurants every night could easily feed anyone in our own country who hasn’t had a square meal, and care for a good portion of the rest of the world besides.  And I’m not talking about the waste of individual diners.  I’m talking about the institutional waste, the food restaurants have to throw away because of mistaken orders or oversupply, the food that hasn’t been touched, but that absurd health regulations won’t let employees or anyone else take home or give away.

Because we live in a society which most of the world considers rich, there’s not much we can do to change their opinion of us.  But opinions don’t count; ACTIONS do.  There ARE people in our country who are scandalously and obscenely wealthy, who live only for themselves, who spend so much and consume so much that it almost defies description.  Don’t be like them, and don’t compare yourselves to them.  So many people waste their time saying, “Well, rich people do bad and outrageous things, so that gives ME the right to do bad and outrageous things.”  No, no.  Look at all the people who decide to riot and loot and destroy the businesses of hard-working people, to “get back” at – at WHOM?  At WHAT?   I remember talking to a poor lady on my mail route 50 years ago, around the corner from the smoking ruins of a grocery store that had been firebombed and looted in the riot the night before.  She said, “NOW what am I going to do?  I don’t drive, and that was the only grocery store I could walk to?”  Gee, that riot really accomplished a lot.  The rioters and looters really “got back.”  But who lost out?

Jesus talks a longer, more eternal view.  He doesn’t suggest that the poor man in the story should pick up rocks and throw them through the rich man’s window.  The Gospel rather clearly indicates that GOD’S brand of justice has that longer, eternal view:  the poor man got HIS, and now you, the rich man, are gonna get YOURS.  Jesus doesn’t indicate that God enjoys this.  Even Abraham speaks from his eternal glory and calls the suffering rich man, “My son.”  We discover that the rich man even knows the poor man’s name, and probably has, all along.  But Lazarus doesn’t get all huffy and cry out, “Oh, sure, you literally walked over me to get into your house all your life, never gave me a thing to help me, didn’t even act like you SAW me, and NOW you know my name!!”  But Lazarus doesn’t say a word.

Oh, we love to see others get their come-uppance.  The thought of seeing all those sinners (which never includes US, of course!) frying in hell somehow does our hearts good.  But stop.  Remember that so many people around the world who are hearing this Gospel, this weekend, our fellow believers, THEY are thinking of US.  Some of them might be secretly gloating, thinking of the fate of rich, selfish Americans.  And if WE are serious about OUR faith, we can’t be fazed by that.  Just because others resent or even hate us is never a reason to turn the tables on them.  We ought to respond to legitimate criticism (and even ponder UNJUST criticism) in such a way that we are always open to and ready to improve and grow in virtue and charity.  Few of us individually have the opportunity to address global problems of poverty on a global scale.  But unlike the rich man in the Gospel, we CAN start with the poor man at our door.  Often we do that best by joining others in the community in supporting our own local services that help poor people in concrete ways:  our food pantry and clothing center, God’s Kitchen, St. Vincent de Paul, Home Repair Services, Habitat for Humanity, the missions that provide a place for people to stay, and so on.

Being rich is not necessarily a blessing, being poor is not necessarily a curse.  Each state of life has its own challenges, because the greatest challenge of all is to put yourself and use everything you have in the service of God and your neighbor.  You don’t have to stop enjoying good Festival food or stop going on vacation.  But you CAN be alert every day to the poor man at the door, and then make a good decision about the best way to walk home WITH HIM to the kingdom of heaven to meet the Lord together.

Homily for September 18 2016

 

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 17-18

A couple years ago, I marched over to a local bank where I had had a savings account for years.  I told the teller, “I would like to close out my savings account.”

“May I ask what the reason is for your discontinuing with us?” the teller asked.  She was no doubt prompted by the bank’s “Rules for Tellers” instructing them to find out why customers might be jumping ship.

“Well, I’m not completely discontinuing,” I replied.  “I’ll still have a checking account here for the convenience.  And I’ll keep whatever amount I have to in it to avoid paying fees.  But the savings account is coming out.  With what I’m earning in interest, it costs me more than that to get in the car and drive to the bank.  I’ll make more money keeping it under my mattress.”  (Hint to potential thieves:  I lied.  Don’t bother looking there!)

Withdrawing my little savings account didn’t break the bank, and that wasn’t my intention.  But it bugs me that they – the Federal Reserve, the big bankers, the economic gurus — tell us they’re only able to give us such a pittance of interest that we are actually PAYING THEM to hold on to our money for us!  Is the Prophet Amos talking to THEM in today’s first reading, when he calls out, “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land”?  I don’t consider myself either needy or poor, at least materially speaking, but there are enough folks who have lost their jobs, had their homes foreclosed, and their businesses ruined to deny that Amos is talking about a real and contemporary problem.  We aren’t just reading ancient history.

Amos mentions other injustices we can recognize:  price gouging, secret deals, valuing profits more than human good, selling garbage and defective products — all these things can be shrugged off as “good for business” by those who have lost their moral compass.  This is not to say that all business owners are crooked and not to be trusted.  But it IS an invitation, a COMMAND to all of us to be fair and honest in our dealings with one another – buying and selling, e-Bay, Craig’s list, and all the other activities of commerce and trade.  It is just plain wrong to think that we are somehow incapable of sin in this area.  Not only should we try to avoid IN-justice, we should actively seek to be so fair and just that it will stun people and take them off guard.  When we are pleasantly surprised in this way, we learn the value of being able to trust those with whom we have dealings in the public forum.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that if we are not trustworthy with DISHONEST wealth, who will trust us with TRUE wealth?  What on earth does he mean?  Is he implying that, as we hear from certain quarters now and then, if a person is rich, that money must have been made dishonestly?  That the only way people can afford to be comfortable is on the backs of the poor?  How about a different perspective?

Jesus is encouraging us to BE trustworthy with what he calls “dishonest wealth.”  He doesn’t say “dishonestly OBTAINED wealth,” he calls it “DISHONEST wealth.”  Think about this:  Does the amount of money you have tell us anything about your character?  I have known wonderful, virtuous people who were dirt poor.  I have known generous, compassionate people who were very well off.  I have known people who climbed the ladder of economic success, using their fellow workers as mere rungs in the ladder.  I have known people who made their living faking a disability and getting paid by the government with money that I helped give them through taxes.  So it should be clear that money can’t tell us anything about the character of the one who has it, or of the one who doesn’t.  Wealth is dishonest, because in the way of the world, it CLAIMS to bestow virtue and CLAIMS to help us identify moral worth, when in fact it can do neither.  Jesus tells us to use wealth wisely, but to be aware of the lies it tells.  It’s how a person USES the money he has, be it abundant or scarce, which can be a better indicator of the person’s moral stature; but it’s still not guaranteed to be accurate.

The main thing in life is not how much money or how many toys you can acquire, but what you do with them in the service of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s because you’re his disciple.  Some disciples are materially rich, many are poor.  We all have the same basic task:  putting all we have, all our energy, all our talents, all our stuff, at the disposal of the Lord Jesus.  Do that sincerely, and any temptations to dishonesty will fade away.  In fact, you will positively DELIGHT in being as forthright and honest as you can be, simply because those virtues assist us in not only PREACHING the gospel, but BEING the gospel.  Being the light of the Lord in the lives of those around you is so exhilarating that you won’t be anxious for anything else.  And you’ll never have to be sneaky, or get involved in a cover-up!  What freedom!

Homily for September 11 2016

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 10-11

We’re all very familiar with the stories, the parables which Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15.  There are three of them, each one about something or someone who is lost:  the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the most famous of all, the lost son.  We’ve come to call the younger son the “prodigal,” because he wasted or squandered his inheritance on foolish living.  Too soon old and too late smart!  But because he has a prodigal FATHER, a father who wastes or squanders his mercy on not one, but TWO sons, it’s never too late.  The younger son can always return, and the father sees him coming from a long way off, giving us the impression that every day, he’s been scanning the horizon with the hope, “Maybe TODAY he’ll come back.”  The father doesn’t chase off in pursuit.  We might have to look for lost sheep and for lost coins.  But human beings who know where home is?  Well, most of the time we just have to wait.  Maybe TODAY they’ll come back.

Now why did I say the prodigal father wasted or squandered his mercy on the elder son as well?  The elder son is also too soon old and too late smart.  He’s been with the father the whole time, yet he’s never caught the most precious of his father’s attributes.  He resents the prodigality of both his brother AND his father:  the brother has wasted a perfectly good half of the inheritance; and the father has wasted time, energy, and a fatted calf to welcome the bum home.  The elder son won’t go in, he won’t rejoice, he won’t sing and dance with everyone else.  Perhaps the reason he complains that he never got so much as a young goat to feast on with his friends is because with an attitude like his, he probably didn’t HAVE any!  But no matter:  the father lays out the rationale for the party:  “We HAD to!  Your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”  The father pleads with the elder son, but he does not force.  The choice, as it was with the younger son, has to be his own.  And that’s where Jesus leaves us hanging.

Did the elder son finally go in, or not?  It’s up to US to write the ending, because the story is ultimately ABOUT us, each of us and all of us.  Will you go in, or not?  Will I?  We write our own life’s story every day.  We don’t know the day of our death, but the true ending of our life story is really up to us.  In the second reading, the Apostle gives Timothy — and us — something to chew on:  “This saying,” he says, “is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  That’s it.  That’s the reason for the Incarnation, the so-called “hidden years,” the public ministry, the miracles, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection:  to save sinners.  “You shall name him JESUS, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Sin leads us to lose our way home.  In some ways, sin makes us stupid, like sheep; or practically inanimate, like a coin.  The difference between us and sheep is that we’re not only lost, we forget how to get back.  The Lord has to pursue us.  The difference is that we have a free will.  Jesus would gladly throw us over his shoulders and carry us home, but the choice has to be ours.  Are you going to go in and rejoice that you’re home, or are you going to stay outside and sulk?  The answer to that question is, ultimately, up to you.  Jesus, the image of the Father, provides us with a picture of God that assures us we have nothing to lose, nothing to fear in deciding to go home.  When we’ve hit rock bottom, or even when we’re just stumbling along on pebbles, we can rely on the fact that the Father wants us home far more than we even want to get there.  And Jesus has come into our midst to tell us about that, and to let us see what the Father’s will looks like in the flesh.