Monthly Archives: January 2016

Homily for January 31, 2016

HOMILY – JANUARY 31

Each of us was anointed with sacred chrism immediately after we were washed in the waters of baptism.  Generally, in the Roman rite, that was not yet our confirmation, but rather looked FORWARD to the confirmation of our baptism that would take place when we celebrated THAT sacrament a few years later.  The words that were used for that anointing were spoken in English for many of us, and in Latin for us old timers.  But let me refresh your memory with a more literal translation of the Latin sentence.  The person baptizing says, “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who freed you from sin and regenerated you from water and the Holy Spirit, himself anoints you with the chrism of salvation, so that, gathered to his people, you may remain a member of Christ the priest, prophet, and king, into eternal life.”

What powerful words!  Similar to God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.”  Did you get that?  “I KNEW you, I DEDICATED you, I APPOINTED you.”  And that was even before you were born.  Regardless of what the world around us wants us to believe, we have God’s word for it:  he is at work on each of us already in the womb.  You and I are known, dedicated, and appointed.  At baptism and again at confirmation, it becomes clearer:  “I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”

It’s a good thing God says those words to many of us, because I know if it was just me, I’d be scared spitless!  Jeremiah was!  He did his best to squeak out of God’s call a few verses later, when he cried, “Nooooo, God, you must be thinking of someone else, I’m too young, I don’t know how to speak.”  And God replies, “Yeah, yeah,” and then the words we heard at the end of the reading:  “They will fight against you BUT NOT PREVAIL OVER YOU, FOR I AM WITH YOU TO DELIVER YOU.”

Well, it sure looks like ISIS is prevailing in Iraq and Syria!  It sure looks like Boko Haram is conquering in Nigeria.  It sure looks like the Taliban is on the move against Christians in Pakistan.  And what about in our own country?  Six Catholic justices on the Supreme Court — and we get a 5-4 decision that can’t tell us the truth about marriage?  Catholic Senators and representatives — who meekly and obediently follow their party platform and vote to approve partial-birth abortion?  And what about all the Catholics that keep voting such people into office?  Who needs ISIS and Boko Haram and the Taliban?  As the prophetic people of God, we’re doing a pretty good job at silencing the very witness and testimony that Jesus Christ called us to bring to the nations!  If he can’t rely on his own baptized and confirmed members who are known, dedicated, and appointed to be prophetic, to whom else is he going to turn?

Prophecy doesn’t come without cost.  God already warned us that “they will fight against you,” but then he said, they will “not prevail over you.”  So don’t worry.  No matter what it looks like, ISIS is not prevailing.  Boko Haram is not prevailing.  The Taliban are not prevailing.  Terrorists are not prevailing.  Democrats and Republicans and Socialists and Communists are not prevailing.  No matter what it looks like.  “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  “Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.”

Jesus escaped from his fellow villagers when they were about to throw him off the cliff on which Nazareth was perched.  But he did not escape, nor try to escape, Mount Calvary.  He accepted a criminal’s death to identify with all of us sinners.  He accepted the appearance of failure to identify with us when we wonder if our prophetic witness is making any difference.  And he manifested himself in the Resurrection to show us first that he HAS conquered, and that we CAN rely on him to be God-with-us.  All we have to do is go back out to the nations, to our OWN nation, to our neighborhoods and cities and villages and farms and families, and keep on proclaiming the truth in charity.  It’s not to prove ourselves right.  It’s so that others, too, might come to the light of faith and come to eternal life.  It’s for THEM–for the very people who look like they’re prevailing, winning, out-talking and out-smarting us.  For those for whom Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”  In the apparent weakness of things like compassion, and mercy, and the message and person of Jesus Christ, are the ONLY truths that will lead to LIFE, not just life here, but life forever.  Be not afraid.  Remember, your life might be the only Scripture some people will ever read.  Make sure it’s in bold print!

Homily for January 21 2016

HOMILY – JANUARY 24

We don’t often hear from the Book of Nehemiah, but we did this morning.  This book dates from the time when God’s people were returning to Jerusalem from the 70 years of Babylonian exile.  Ezra the scribe, the book says, unrolled the scroll and began to read to the people from the law of the Lord.  They were home again.  Most of them gathered there that day had only heard about their beloved holy city Jerusalem from their parents and grandparents who had never made it back.  Maybe a very few old people had survived the decades of exile and were coming back and remembered what they had only known as children.  But under Nehemiah’s direction, these courageous people rebuilt the walls of the great city, they gathered amidst the ruins of the temple, and Ezra the priest read to them from the law of the Lord.  They were home, and the proclamation of God’s word fell on their ears and hearts like a refreshing rainfall after a long drought.  Tears must have flowed in abundance as they thought of all the suffering it had taken to get to this moment, the loved ones they had buried in a foreign land, the eyes and ears that would never see and hear what THEY were privileged to see and hear.  But Nehemiah warns them, “Do not be sad, and do not weep.”  Look to the future, not the past.

We might get a very tiny idea of the emotions of that day if we think of, for instance, the people of St. Mary Magdalen parish in Kentwood, who lost their beloved church to a devastating fire just three and a half years ago.  How could it burn so?  It wasn’t built of wood!  Ah, but there was enough wood and other flammable material in it to result in its total destruction.  So many people were disheartened, in a state of complete disbelief.  But then what happened?  The rubble was cleared, plans were drawn, preparations were made, and before long the people of God in that parish were gathering in a new parish church, hearing God’s Word, celebrating the sacraments, and having their faith burning within them with a renewed zeal and love for God.

The story of Nehemiah is set before us as an intentional parallel to the Gospel, which is set in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus’ home town.  He, too, opens a scroll of the Scripture and reads it to the people, not just after a disastrous fire, not just after a few decades of exile, but after centuries and centuries of human longing for redemption, salvation, restoration, after sin had entered the world and made it impossible for us to live in paradise.  No fair blaming only our first parents.  We’re ALL implicated in the evil of sin, we all have a hand in it, and most of us long to be free.  Jesus announces that that freedom has come.  The words of the Scripture — of ALL the Scriptures — are fulfilled in him.  The life he promises is not just a restoration of a church building, not just the rebuilding of an earthly city in all its magnificence.  He promises that WE are the city of God, WE are God’s temple, God’s dwelling place among men, and all are invited to be a part of this great Kingdom of God.  Now THAT’S restoration!  And the words are fulfilled even as they are hearing them.

We get glimpses of this glory often enough, in moments of prayer, adoration, liturgy, celebration.  We experience the ongoing epiphany of the Son of God in deeds of great charity.  We see the Mystical Body of Christ manifest in just what St. Paul speaks of in the second reading, the proliferation of countless gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the Church and the renewing of the face of the earth.  When we are baptized, we are given the challenge of making heaven on earth — for others, not for ourselves.  It’s in the process of looking after others’ needs that we find our own salvation, as Jesus assures us in Matthew 25:  “As often as you did it for one of the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”  The challenge would seem insurmountable if it weren’t for the simple fact that no one of us, individually, has to do it ALL.  That’s not what God expects.  But we each have to do SOMETHING.

Some of the gifts poured out by the Spirit are very humble ones, works of quiet, hidden service.  All of them are important.  It struck me some years ago as I boarded a plane, took a window seat, and watched my suitcase, yes, MY suitcase, coming up the conveyor below and into the baggage compartment.  It was placed there by a baggage handler who had no idea I was watching him.  We rely on so many people to make sure that things go right that we don’t even think about it until something ISN’T done and something goes wrong.  It made me appreciate the work of all the unseen and unnoticed people in my life, in OUR lives, who really make our world go ‘round.  Once again, it’s a lesson we have to learn and re-learn every day.  Our work counts.  Our schoolwork counts.  Our hospitality, our thoughtfulness, our smiles and kind words, they all count.  There are innumerable opportunities every day to share those gifts of the Spirit which happen to be ours.

Christ’s work of redemption, salvation, restoration is not complete just with his reading of the scroll.  There is much, much more to do, so much that he involves US in it, intimately and profoundly.  It’s HIS work.  The words of Scripture were fulfilled that day in the hearing of the people in the synagogue at Nazareth.  But there are billions of hearts, and twice as many ears, in the temple of the world TODAY, which are longing for the refreshment and the fulfillment of divine promises that many have never even had put into words.  The task we acquired in baptism, the task for which we are strengthened in confirmation, the task to which we re-commit ourselves when we are nourished for it here in the Eucharist, this task fulfills the words of the Scriptures for people in our own time and place.  What does “this task” consist of?  It can be as simple as anything that’s on your “to-do” list each day.  Fixing dinner, helping with the dishes, doing a good job at work, cleaning up your desk (N.B.:  Stare at Father Den a moment!!).  Filled with an infinite variety of the Spirit’s gifts, let’s take that task up joyfully, every day.

Homily for January 17, 2016

HOMILY – JANUARY 17

Many years ago, in one of our theology classes at St. John’s Seminary, the professor had invited a minister from a local Church of Christ to speak to us.  The topic was to be the differences between what he understood as Catholic belief and practice and the beliefs and practices of HIS church.  He zeroed in rather quickly on Catholic attitudes about alcohol, picking up just as quickly that he was certainly not talking to a classroom full of teetotalers.  He declared very dogmatically that the use of alcohol was an offense against God, and that anyone who consumed it in any form was beyond salvation.  He was momentarily startled by a few students in the back of the room laughing, giving each other high-fives, and jokingly saying among themselves, “See ya in hell!”  He nervously took a question from a student near the front.

“If alcohol in any form, as you say, is an offense against God, why are there so many positive references to it in both the Old and New Testaments?  Certainly the negative possibilities are there, with warnings against drunkenness and so on, but the Psalmist writes of ‘wine to cheer the heart of man.’  The cups of wine are part of the Passover ritual, and Christ himself performs his first miracle to keep a wedding party going, by changing water into w–”

“Grape juice!” the minister shouted sternly.

“I beg your pardon?” the student asked in amazement.

“It was grape juice!” the minister repeated.  “Gawd (as many ministers seem to pronounce the divine name) would NEVER have had anything to do with alcohol!”

“But what’s your basis for saying that?” another student chimed in.  “The word in Greek is . . .”

Oinos!” (pron. OY-nawss) the minister came back at once.  “Grape juice!”

“Try telling a Greek that!” one student piped up, to the great mirth of the whole class.  We were beginning to actually enjoy the idea of debating with a theological Neanderthal.  But no amount of Scripture and no amount of logic could shake the poor man from his fundamentalism about spiritous liquors.

Finally, one student summed it up.  “You know, Reverend,” he said, “I really don’t care what you and your church WISH to believe.  And I really don’t much care that you think we’re all going to hell.  If my salvation depends on either what you say or what God says, I’ll take my chances with God.  I don’t find one thing you’ve said to be based in Scripture.  Instead, you’re taking your own cultural preference and telling people God said it, which is the same thing Christ said the Pharisees were doing.  You can certainly say all of us Catholics are going to hell, but I just want to assure you, we don’t think the same thing about you.”

The whole class broke out in applause at the student’s eloquence, and the red-faced minister brought his remarks to a close and excused himself.  We actually felt kind of sorry for him.  One of the guys quipped, “He’s probably driving his uptight self home right now, sweating bullets and saying, ‘Man, I could sure use a drink!’”

There is no historical doubt about it.  The people of Galilee, the people of the Middle East, the people of the whole Mediterranean area, enjoy wine as naturally as so many of us depend on that ever-present water bottle.  Why?  Because much of their water, what there is of it, isn’t fit to drink, at least in its natural state.  So when at Cana they ran out of wine at a WEDDING RECEPTION  — whoa, ho, it’s still a topic of conversation two thousand years later!  But of course, it’s a continuation of the Epiphany:  God manifesting himself in our midst, one of us, God-with-us.  And his divine imagination and creativity know no bounds.

All three readings today speak of God’s overwhelming generosity.  Isaiah proclaims that God takes delight in restoring his people after their chastisement.  St. Paul’s famous 12th chapter of First Corinthians describes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit like a cornucopia of spiritual gifts to build up the Church for its great tasks.  And finally, at Cana, God renews and refreshes his spouse, his people, as Christ performs his first miracle in the context of a WEDDING.  He, our divine Spouse, comes to delight his Bride with a gift that is a foretaste of the Eucharistic banquet, which in turn is a sharing on earth of the delights of the banquet table in the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is no end to the splendors paraded before us, not just to wow us with a spectacle, but to whet our appetites for eternal joys.

Perhaps the minister had an important corrective for all of us.  Alcohol in itself is not the Good News.  Our cultural leanings for or against alcohol — or any other food or beverage — are not the Good News.  The glow, the warmth, the camaraderie associated with food and drink, with hearth and home, with family and friends — well, each of these can be a PART of the Good News, pointing to the great Communion that God wants us to enjoy with him forever.  If you think Epiphany HERE was something — brother, sister, you just wait!  There is a wedding feast waiting for us, the likes of which you have never seen, and which will never end.  Going to it won’t be the LAST thing you do.  O-nce you’re there, it’ll be the only thing you’ll ever WANT to do.  You’ve already received the invitation.  How do you plan to respond?