Monthly Archives: March 2016

Homily for March 26 and 27, 2016

 

HOMILY – MARCH 26-27

A number of years ago, I began to feel more than frustrated when individuals or couples would call for an appointment for, as they put it, “counseling.”  Sure, I had taken the required basic counseling courses in school, and at least — I think — gained from them enough awareness to inflict no further harm than the callers were already suffering.  What was most frustrating, though, was that, precisely in their difficulties, so many seemed to be quite distant from the Church and all we represent.  They were reaching out as to the last (and perhaps the least expensive?) resort when the problems had become so insurmountable that only Donald Trump or the Son of God himself could begin to help solve them.  Since I didn’t have Donald Trump’s credit card handy, I would ask them how much they had prayed about their problem.  I didn’t mean slapping the forehead in every other crisis and saying, “God help us!”  I meant how much extended time they had devoted JUST to prayer, preferably how much time in church before the Blessed Sacrament.  Truth be told, the honest answer most often was, “Not much.”

That’s why I began a rather consistent policy of asking that question of people up front when they called for an appointment.  In other words, if you haven’t taken the time to spend at least several hours talking with or just BEING with your Creator and Lord in the Sacrament of his Real Presence in our midst, how exactly do you think I’M going to help you?  At first it felt like a cop-out.  After all, hadn’t I been ordained to solve all problems, heal all ills, mend all fences, dispel all worries?  And in MY prayer, the answer came through loud and clear from the Lord:  “No, you were ordained to send people to ME, not stop them at YOU.”  It was then I realized that so often when Jesus performed a miracle, he told the person, “Your FAITH has saved you.”  And that faith must be the active component in us if we are not to be defeated by life’s challenges.

We often hear people say things like, “Turn to the Lord in your troubles,” which kind of implies that we’ve been turned AWAY from him the rest of the time.  If that’s the case, no wonder turning to him will take so much energy!  When we are USED to being his friends and companions, walking in the radiance of his light every day, no TURNING is necessary.  We’re already there, awash in the splendor of his light.  And that brings us to the radiant light of our risen Lord in the mystery of the Eucharist.

So many to whom I’ve recommended spending time in adoration before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament have not returned for further advice.  Some, I know, have found the answers that I could never have provided just by basking in the radiance of his risen glory.  After all, the Lord remains with us in the Eucharist as our RISEN Lord, at ALL times, not just at Easter.  And just like you have to turn on the light in a darkened room in order to find what you’re looking for, so you have to come in faith into the radiant glory of the Lord in order to discover the things he has to reveal to you.  You’ll be surprised when it begins to happen.  You might even wonder why on earth you ever went anywhere else looking for answers.

If none of this makes sense to you, if you’ve tried and “nothing happened,” remember this:  When you turn on the light after being in darkness, it takes time for your eyes to adjust.  The same thing is true of the soul.  When you’ve been running around in your own dark night of the soul, or in the gloom of your own inner room, the brilliant light of our risen Lord might not at first be apparent to you.  The one who made you and restored you for eternity and infinity humbles himself so that you can approach him, talk with him, walk with him.  Moses had to remove his shoes in the presence of the burning bush.  Peter, James, and John could not speak of the Transfiguration until after the Resurrection — they didn’t have words to describe what they had seen.  And no one actually witnessed the divine energy of the moment of the Resurrection, which burst the earth open from within as the Savior emerged in his glorified Body.  Locked doors and walls were no longer a barrier for him, but it was REALLY HIM.  Really his wounds, really his personality, really his memory of experiences they had shared together, and really his divine mercy and mirth to cure even the bitter guilt of denial with the love which Peter would be led to confess.

The Eucharist might seem, to the naked eye, static, unmoving and unmoved.  But there is in the Blessed Sacrament the divine, dynamic energy of the Resurrection, which has been the strength of martyrs, the driving force of missionaries, and the food of the Church for nearly two thousand years.  We who gather for the nourishment of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, WE are the witnesses to his Resurrection.  What could not be seen by any mortal eye at the moment when the tomb could no longer contain the One who had created the very earth — that fact, that event, that risen Lord is the one whose witnesses we are, every time we gather for the breaking of the bread, every time we drink the cup of salvation, every time we approach him in the quiet and stillness of adoration.  And indeed, every time we proclaim his love, perform his works of mercy, and pass on the Good News of redemption and salvation, we are declaring ourselves and showing ourselves to be his Eucharistic and Easter people.

Now a word for all of us, but especially for those who are coming for baptism and confirmation tonight:  When we are baptized, it might look like we’re plunging into and being bathed in water, but we are also being bathed in LIGHT, the radiant light of the risen Lord.  In a week or two, many of us will have friends returning from Florida or other parts south.  You know how you can almost feel the warmth of the Florida sun when you see their glow!  That’s how we the baptized have to be in the midst of the world — aglow with the risen Lord!  The world can’t admit it, but it needs and longs for the light of that Living Flame of the Resurrection.  United to the risen Christ, WE are the light of the world.   Like the new fire of Easter from which our candle has received its flame, WE are the living torches of the fire of God’s Word and God’s love.  The world’s got to see our shine, and through us experience the warmth of God’s light and love — so BURN, BABY, BURN !!

Homily for Holy Thursday, March 24, 2016

HOMILY – MARCH 24

We hear a lot about contracts in daily life.  There are labor contracts, business contracts, purchase contracts, land contracts, social contracts.  We all know that a contract is an agreement.  Each side in a contract brings something to it, each side expects to get something out of it.  It’s all spelled out, right there in the contract.  You’ll do this, then I’ll do that, then you’ll do this, and so forth.  Each term of the contract depends on what came before.  If you don’t do what YOU’RE supposed to do, then I don’t have to do what I’M supposed to do.  And if one of us has a dispute about it, we can make an appointment to go see Judge Judy or someone else who will straighten it all out for us.

Then we hear about covenants.  We probably think, “Okay, that’s a kind of contract.”  Well, that’s right only insofar as it is also an agreement.  A covenant is a commitment that comes from a relationship.  Perhaps the most common covenant we are familiar with is the family, which comes from the covenant of marriage.  You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose family.  You can mock them, disrespect them, distrust them, betray them, cuss them out, leave them, and have nothing to do with them.  And you know what?  They’re still family.  And they always will be.  Disown them all you want, anyone doing your genealogy will still include them in your family line.  At times, you might wish your family was history, but you’re too late.  They already are.  They’re YOUR history, and you are THEIRS.  You are a member of that family, and whether you are a good one or a bad one is up to YOU, not them.  THAT’S covenant.

You and I know that family doesn’t have to be about all the dark sides that we just enumerated.  Thank God, for the most part we have family relationships that we enjoy and are comfortable with.  They are enriching and consoling.  They help make us who we are.  They support us.  WE can talk about our family, but let someone else do it and those might be FIGHTIN’ words!

We who are baptized have also become part of another covenant.  God made a covenant with the people he has chosen to be his own.  He spends much of the Old Testament talking about that covenant in terms of a marriage, with all its ups and downs.  He gives them commandments for their proper growth into the people he needs for the great rescue mission that will be carried out by his Anointed One, the Messiah.  He will be our God, and we will be his people.  His covenant with us stands firm.  Faithless as we might be at times, God will always be faithful to his covenant.

When the Anointed One comes, in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, he doesn’t abolish the covenant.  He FULFILLS it by expanding it beyond all boundaries of nation and race and language to invite and include ALL peoples.  We, the members of this new and expanded family of God, have a new and expanded mission:  to go out to all the world and tell THEM the good news that God loves them and wants them to live with him forever.

When is a family most a family?  What’s the one thing we do together that we most enjoy, that nourishes us and sustains us and offers us the chance to be renewed and refreshed?  Chances are that at least some part of that, or maybe ALL of it, will involve food and drink.  God knows that, and in both the Old and New Covenants or Testaments, he has chosen a sacrificial meal as the one sacred sign of his covenant, in which his people can participate and celebrate and communicate with him and with one another.

In the Old Covenant, it was the Passover meal, for which a choice lamb was sacrificed and eaten to commemorate the angel of death PASSING OVER the homes of the Israelites and enabling their escape from slavery in Egypt.  That Passover meal was not just to REMEMBER a past event.  It made that event PRESENT in the lives of those participating in it.  They were THERE with Moses and their ancestors in sharing that sacred meal, and God was with them.

In the New Covenant, the sacrificial meal is the Eucharist, in which the choicest lamb of all, the Lamb of God as John the Baptist called him, Jesus our Savior, offers us his own Body and Blood to eat and drink, as we are THERE and he with us in the whole PASCHAL MYSTERY of his saving passion, death, and resurrection.  And John the Evangelist shows us in the Gospel a most important element of both the Mystery and the Meal:  it involves the sacrifice of service.  Having completed the Passover Meal, having offered his priestly prayer for us, his family, Jesus rises from the table and washes the feet of his disciples.  The Covenant is not complete unless we draw others into it by word, example, mercy, and forgiveness.  “Forgive us our trespasses,” the Lamb of God has taught us, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  And “If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, so YOU must wash each other’s feet.”

“How beautiful on the mountaintops,” says the prophet Isaiah, “are the feet of those who bring the Good News.”  We are fed by the Savior with the gift of his very self so that we are nourished for our mission, for our journey through life.  We wash the feet of one another so those feet will be beautiful, and prepared for the lifelong journey of carrying the Good News to whomever we meet.  We might fall down on the job at times, but we shall never stop being part of the family, the missionaries of mercy in the midst of a harsh and unforgiving world.  Don’t worry:  God is with us, and he is always faithful to his covenant.

Homily for March 20, 2016

HOMILY – MARCH 20

What an image, as the Anointed One, the Son of God, the true King of the Universe, rides triumphantly into Jerusalem — on a jackass!  He is greeted by a mob waving palm branches.  And the “establishment” of the day goes nuts.  “Who does he think he is?” they mutter to one another.  But that’s a question that doesn’t matter.  He KNOWS who he is, and he is right where he belongs.  His hour has come, and he is in the midst of his people as the perfect and complete gift of self, from God himself.  By this gift of his own Son, God will show the lengths to which he will go to provide us what we need to come to live with him forever.  God is infinitely great, and so he doesn’t mind being infinitely humble when he is in our midst as one who serves.

Follow carefully this morning as we read the Passion according to Luke.  As the Gospel shows him perfectly and calmly in charge riding on a jackass, so the Passion will show him perfectly and calmly in charge as he is slapped and treated like a fool, as he is brutally scourged and beaten, as he is humiliated in being stripped and affixed to a tree of death.  But where man was defeated by sin at the tree in the Garden of Paradise, the Son of God CONQUERS death itself as he hangs on the tree, promising paradise to a repentant thief — that is, to any of us sinners who repent and call out to him for mercy.  Man disobeyed in the garden by trying to acquire “life” on his own terms when life had already been freely given to him.  Jesus is perfectly obedient to the Father by restoring and freely giving the gift of eternal life to any who come to THIS tree, and thirst and ask.

The world does not thirst and ask.  The elites of this world find God’s perfect gift so “unsophisticated” that even to bring it up in public is politically incorrect.  It’s the “in” thing among our own government officials at the highest levels these days to speak only of freedom of WORSHIP, rather than freedom of RELIGION.  They don’t mind — yet — what goes on inside these four walls.  They just don’t want us bringing what we do here out into society.  A procession like we’ve had this morning — well, that’s all right, just don’t talk about it later.  They try to do to the Church and to religion what they did to Christ:  shrink him, neutralize his influence, hold him up to ridicule, treat him like a fool, kill him and be done with him.  After all, doesn’t everyone have a constitutional right NOT to be offended?

You see, the world imagines it will suffer defeat and loss if it gives in to belief in Christ.  Since the world strangely believes it can attain perfection on its own, it has no need of a Savior.  But that false belief in its own perfection is so easily shattered when trials of any sort befall us.  How often do we hear of a tragedy, and then hear that “people are trying to make sense of it,” as though stewing about it could in itself shed light on the hold that original sin has on us.  But only Christ our Savior can really accompany us through the humdrum and the routine and the weariness and the trials and the tribulations and the crucifixions of life, because he’s already been there and done that.  As we recall and celebrate all the events of this holy week, we have the opportunity to accompany HIM, to walk with HIM, to learn from HIM.  The world will not make sense, because sin is senseless.  But by walking with Christ, we shall begin with him to see the world as mercifully redeemed and infinitely redeemable.  And Christ wants us, his disciples, in on the action.

We’re in training.

Let’s roll.

 

Homily for March 6, 2016

 

HOMILY – MARCH 6

I should think that most of us could retell the story of the prodigal son by heart, although it would be interesting to find out which of the many details we might leave out in the telling.  There is perhaps no finer example of Jesus’ skill as not just a storyteller, but as a teller of stories with morals woven through them.  He is, after all, speaking the mind of God.  And that should be very consoling for us:  God telling us what God is like.

We are in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and after Mass this morning there will be several priests on hand for confessions.  So it might be good to pick out those elements of the story of the prodigal which relate most directly to the sacrament of penance.

This brash and impudent son is a symbol of all of us and each of us sinners.  He sins himself into misery and squalor, reduced to a state below the level of pigs by wanting to eat pig food.  No one will give him any!  For Jewish people to hear this story, oh my, to be lower than a pig was lower than low.  Jews believe that a pig is an unclean animal; and even now, observant Jews do not eat pork.  So this was a way to express the depths to which this young man had sunk. In the words of AA, he has hit rock bottom.

Many of us, when we are in such a state, are reluctant to go to confession.  We have a natural fear of admitting, let alone telling someone else, just how bad we’ve been, what we’ve done, what we’ve said, what we’ve thought.  It goes against the grain.  Cover-up is not just for politicians.  Just ask any 3-year-old who broke the lamp in the living room, and you’re apt to get quite a story.  But the young man in THIS story is so hungry that it makes him sorry enough to do ANYTHING — even to go home!  “I’ll return to my Father and say . . .”  Oh, don’t pat him on the back TOO hard.  He’s only going back because he’s hungry.  In classic Catholic terms, his contrition is definitely imperfect.  He’s sorry because he’s hungry.

But at least he does admit his wrongdoing, AND its cosmic implications:  “I have sinned against heaven and against you.”  He has taken time to prepare his confession.  Let’s not forget to do that.  I remember years ago, a high schooler coming into confession  and saying, “I did a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have, and I didn’t do a lot of stuff I SHOULD have.”  I wanted to ask him if he brushed his teeth with his finger.  You know, you can go through the motions, but it’s not gonna do you much good unless you get into the nooks and crannies.  A guy who beat up his wife and shot three people in a holdup should kinda say more than, “I’ve been mean.”

Let’s be clear about this.  God doesn’t need to hear our sins.  The priest doesn’t need to hear our sins.  WE need to TELL them, to get them out in the open, to get them off our minds and off our hearts, to be specific enough to try to improve.  No one will ever improve by saying, “I’m gonna stop doing bad stuff.”  If you come down with food poisoning and the doctor in the E.R. asks you what you had to eat — “STUFF” is not an answer that’ll get you cured.

Next, notice the father at the son’s return.  He sees him coming from a long way off, and runs to meet him.  The son begins his prepared confession, and the father hardly notices.  He doesn’t dwell on the young man’s sins, but he doesn’t cut him off, either.  He knows his son NEEDS to confess in order to be truly healed.  But while the son is doing that, orders are being shouted out for the party.

What about that penance?  It’s a work of “satisfaction,” but don’t kid yourself.  Nothing YOU do can ever heal sin.  It’s a token gesture on your part.  It’s your acknowledging that you’re only joining your act of penance to Christ’s supreme sacrifice for your sins.  It extends your celebration of the sacrament of penance BEYOND the confessional or penance room.  It’s a good reminder that we cannot hope to experience the effects of God’s mercy unless we pass it on.  In going to confession, we are forgiven, yes; but we also BECOME FORGIV-ERS.  Going out into a harsh, violent, unforgiving world, we’re the ones who bring a new message to the scene, ministers of reconciliation in Christ’s name.  Our call as disciples is to become expert at it, and we cannot hope to do so without experiencing it ourselves in the sacrament of penance.

Our Act of Contrition is really very simple.  “Dear God, I’ve sinned, I’m sorry, I’m even sorry that I’m not as sorry as I should be.”  And then we hear those wonderful words of absolution:  “Quick, put a ring on his finger!  Put sandals on her feet!  This child of mine was lost, and has been found!”

One quick and final word for any of you who have ever mourned the estrangement of a child or grandchild from the family or from the faith — and what family hasn’t had SOMEONE in such sad situations?  We so often beat ourselves up over it.  “Where did I go wrong?  I sent them all through Catholic school.  I tried my best to be a good example.”  Note that the prodigal father — the father who is as prodigal with his mercy as the son is prodigal with his premature inheritance — the prodigal father doesn’t waste any time beating himself up over EITHER of his sons.  Judging by our miserable standards, he doesn’t have a very good batting average.  One son leaves and squanders everything.  The other one stays, but never enjoys all that his father’s house has to offer, describing his own ungrateful life as “slavery.”  The father doesn’t blame himself.  He leaves the lines of communication open with each of his sons.  Just because he gave us free will doesn’t make God responsible for our sins.

How do YOU respond to YOUR heavenly Father’s always leaving the lines of communication open with you?  Do you ponder the mystery of why you were called to baptism?  Do you reflect on what that baptism calls you to do?  Do you spend more time being angry about the wasted lives of others than you do spending your own life in works of loving service that give glory to God?  Do you grouse about the faults of others without making any effort to see your own?  Have you squandered your precious life on earth only in pursuit of things that will make YOU temporarily happy?  Do you spend ANY time in adoration, simply learning to speak the language of your Father’s house, the language of heaven?  Some say there’s really no ending to the Gospel story of the prodigal.  But there is.  And YOU have the chance to write it, every day of your life.