Yearly Archives: 2016

Homily for September 4 2016

 

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 4

How long has it been since you engaged someone in conversation about your faith?  Not nagged them, not badgered them, not shamed them, but ENGAGED them.  Usually we think of ENGAGEMENT as something pleasant, like ENGAGED to be married, or ENGAGED in the game on TV, or ENGAGED in her work.  It doesn’t have the feeling of drudgery about it, but rather of preference and delight – even if it IS work.

Christ often invites us to be ENGAGED in bringing the gospel to others.  But even if we’ve been baptized, how often do we take his invitation seriously?  We have been entrusted with the one message that can bring people to LIFE, not just life here, but life FOREVER.  No salesperson can claim that privilege, whether they’re selling patent medicine, used cars, or life insurance.  We don’t have to claim responsibility for this message, as though we had invented it, because we didn’t!  It’s been REVEALED to us, and the message is God’s.  We’re just the messengers.

When I was a mail carrier a half a century ago, I took great pride in delivering those messages.  There were magazines, there were bills, there were letters of appointment and letters of DIS-appointment.  I was a very important cog in the wheels of communication for the people on my route, both businesses and homes.  I wasn’t the SOURCE of the mail, and I didn’t have to do anything about it once it was delivered.  GETTING IT THERE – THAT was my job.  But there wasn’t a check or a letter from an attorney or a birthday card or a big envelope saying “You may have already won!!!” that could compare with the message which it is my privilege to deliver to you and to everyone who crosses my path.

I’m not going to read the Gospel to all of them.  I’m not going to preach my homily to all of them.  Like the Lord encourages us in today’s Gospel, we have to calculate just how and when and where to do what with whom.  You might be building a tower or a brewery somewhere downtown in our growing city.  You might have faced an opponent, on an actual field of battle or on the 50-yard line.  You might already be thinking about Thanksgiving dinner and what to serve THIS year.  No matter what the situation, if you’re going to be successful at it, you have to CALCULATE.  The same tactics won’t work in every situation.

And it’s like that with exposing people to the Good News, the Gospel we are pledged and promised to bring to them.  I’ve had plenty of people either sigh and roll their eyes or quickly turn away when I go to the doctor’s office and sit down near them in the waiting room.  After I check to make sure I haven’t spilled my lunch all over my black clothes, I relax, kind of knowing that their reaction is an instinctive, “Oh no, here’s comes a sermon!” or “Oh no, now I have to behave!”  It’s a reaction similar to what a police officer gets when the cruiser is in traffic behind another car:  “Oh no, he’s watching me!”  You get used to it.  But I also know that minding my own business, or perhaps helping in some small way if someone’s having trouble getting out of a chair or figuring out how to work the coffee maker – these might be the most effective way at the moment of fulfilling my baptismal promise of witnessing to the Lord Jesus.

Jesus does not expect us to be bulls in the china shop, nor politicians on the stump.  The first thing we should always do is be on our best behavior, thinking of others and their needs and ready to be at their service if the occasion presents.  The second thing we have to do is to get and stay PREPARED TO ENGAGE others in a conversation about faith and Christ and the Church and the sacraments, IF they express an interest.  We do that by becoming as fluent about our Catholic faith as we are in speaking English–perhaps even more so.  Our list of life’s accomplishments might be long or short, impressive or minimal.  The only really important question we should picture the Lord asking us at our judgment is not, “What did you build, why did you do that, how many times did you commit those sins,” etc., but rather, “Who’d you bring with you?”  And we’re not going to be very good fishers of men if we haven’t calculated to use the right bait.

Homily for August 27 and 28, 2016

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 27-28

My old baseball coach back in grade school taught all of us lots of life lessons.  One of them was the relationship between the civic virtue of sportsmanship and the spiritual virtue of humility, which we were learning about in the Catholic school.  Now, I didn’t have a whole lot to be proud of in the way I attempted to play baseball.  But on those rare occasions when I actually did something right, like getting on base without the help of an error by the other team, I knew better than to do any more than mumble “Thanks” if someone congratulated me.  “You did your job,” we were told.  “Now keep your feelings to yourself.  Let other people do the cheering.”

That attitude and demeanor became common to hear during and after 9/11, when so many fire fighters and police officers were asked about how they had dared to rush into buildings from which everyone else was rushing out.  “I was just doing my job,” they would almost unanimously reply.  If a spectacular rescue was accomplished, they would attribute it to their training, and quickly note that it was all teamwork, and that any member of the team would have done the same thing, and probably done it better.

Humility is the lesson we have refreshed for us in the Scriptures today.  The word comes from humus (HYOO-muss), which means earth, dirt.  From humus, we get the word human, because, according to Genesis 2, we were formed by our Creator “from the dust of the earth.”  And from those words, we get humility, which is the virtue of recognizing WHO AND WHAT WE REALLY ARE.  And who and what we are is so surpassingly special that we really cannot express it in mere human words.  God’s Word sings the praises of his human creations.  Regarding man, Psalm 8 says, “You have made him little less than a god, with glory and honor you crowned him.”  That’s all of us, men and women, boys and girls.  Each of us has an honor and a dignity given by God himself, in whose image we are made.  We have to remember that about ourselves, and it is especially important to remember it about others – ALL others, especially those in whom the recognition of some dignity might be particularly difficult for us.

Humility is not something that you put on only when you want to use it for your own advantage.  We quickly become transparent to everyone but ourselves when we attempt to do that.  Insincerity and humility are entirely incompatible.  So Jesus’ lesson in the Gospel today is not just a lesson in table etiquette.  He’s not telling us to take the lowest place at the table JUST SO our host can invite us to a more prominent position.  Our whole attitude, our whole LIFE as Christians must have as our model Jesus himself, who came “not be served, but to serve.”  If you’re always alert to opportunities to be of service to others rather than waiting to be served yourself, you won’t have TIME to think about what’s coming to you.  And you won’t have to be preoccupied with becoming holy.  Holiness and humility are closely related:  the more you try to be noticed for them, the more you lack either one.  Get your focus off yourself, your privileges, your prerogatives, and start focusing on others, their needs, how you can help.  If they tell you to go fly a kite, humility won’t let you waste a moment licking your wounds.  Insults and disrespect will wash off you like water off a duck’s back, as you quickly find others to quietly assist.  You will accept discipline and correction as something that comes from God himself, difficult at times, but always worthy of consideration.  Why?  Because you know that truth is not yours to determine alone.  Humility makes us servants of the truth, and the truth sets us free.  Believe it.  Try it, over and over again.  When pride makes you fail, laugh and realize that that’s why we PRACTICE virtue – we can always get better at it!

Homily for August 20-21 2016

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 20-21

Have you ever noticed, how many times in the Gospels Jesus is asked a direct question about stuff we all want to know about, stuff we’re STILL asking about, and he gives his disciples or whoever is questioning him an oblique answer?  Today’s Gospel gives a good example.  The disciples ask him a simple question:  “Are they few in number who are to be saved?”  Hey, people are still asking that today.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses used to say that only 144,000 people would be saved, because that’s the number they pulled out of the Book of Revelation.  That was no big deal when the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses was less than 144,000.  The only problem was, they had to sit down and recalculate their approach to the Scripture when their own number exceeded 144,000, which was quite a long time ago now.  And there’s a lot of things they’ve been recalculating ever since!

But there are plenty of other questions that the Scriptures don’t answer clearly.  “When will all these things happen?’ the disciples ask Jesus when he starts talking about the end of the world.  And his answer is, basically, “No one knows, only God.  There will be lots of signs, but you can’t really tell.”

“What’s the greatest of all the commandments?” the Jewish lawyer asks him.  And Jesus replies that there are TWO, love of God and love of neighbor, and they are inseparable, and all the rest depend on them.  Don’t try to boil them down to one.

The rich young man asks him, “What do I need to do to be saved?”  And Jesus gives him the same ol’, same ol’ :  “Keep the commandments.  And oh, if you’ve done all that, give everything away to the poor and come, follow me.”  And the poor young fellow hangs his head and goes away crestfallen, thinking he could get in on a secret formula.

And then there’s the classic question that Peter asked Jesus as they’re walking along after the Resurrection.  Peter looks back at the Beloved Disciple walking along behind them and whispers, “Lord, let me in on it.  What about HIM?”  And Jesus says, “What ABOUT him?  YOUR job is to follow ME!”  Isn’t that the question we ask so very often?  What about OTHERS?  How come the rich have it so easy?  How come the poor don’t help themselves?  How come the boss gets to make all the rules?  How come my worthless bum of a brother-in-law gets to have such a nice home and family?  Or the priest who asks, “How come Father Den gets to be pastor of SS. Peter & Paul and here I am stuck at St. Ludmilla’s in Knobby Knee?”  And Jesus’ answer to all those questions is the same as his oblique answer to Peter:  “Don’t worry about all that other stuff.  YOUR job is to follow ME!”

As human beings, if we’re not careful, we naturally tend to imitate the world around us.  Even for us Christians, our natural curiosity is spurred on by the media’s need to know every juicy detail of every secret deed and plot.  I mean, who can resist, as we’re standing in line at the supermarket, reading at least a little bit more than the tabloid headline?  I mean, don’t you want to know which movie star’s new baby was conceived with an alien while on a camping trip in the high desert?  What about the end of the world, and the lineup of all the recent tragedies, whatever they were THIS week?  What about this?  What about that?  All these questions are distractions that the evil one plants in our minds to get us off the track of LIVING THE GOSPEL.  IF they are really few in number who are to be saved, there really are, in minds unenlightened by Jesus, only two logical responses:  First, you probably aren’t going to make the cut anyway, so the heck with it, eat, drink, and be merry.  Or second, the mass of humanity is headed straight to hell, so look down your nose at them and be smugly concerned about yourself alone.  And THAT’S precisely why Jesus did not give a straight answer to the question.  It would be too SELF-satisfying for those who ask it.  NOT getting all the answers we want is a part of the DISCIPLINE with which the Father strengthens us, as we heard in the Letter to the Hebrews.

Both the reading from Isaiah and the Gospel should be very unsettling for us.  Our job is to be out spreading the Good News of the Kingdom all over the world, and woe to us if we don’t!  Those whom YOU think of as the Great Unwashed Masses MIGHT be closer to the Kingdom of God than those who celebrate the sacraments and bear the name of Christian.  Jesus, after all, cautions us in another place about our stuffy pride:  “Prostitutes and tax collectors might just make it to the Kingdom before YOU.”  It really depends on how you answer the call of Christ every day.  And that’s the end of the homily.

Because, I don’t know about you, but I’VE got a lot of work to do!!

Homily for August 6-7, 2016

HOMILY – AUGUST 6-7

I tried a couple of times to play shortstop on our baseball team when I was a kid.  It didn’t work out, for me or for the team.  When the batter hit a ground ball anywhere toward me, I was fine until I almost got my glove on it.  Then I would turn my head away, instinctively fearing that the ball might take a weird hop, smack me square in the mouth, and leave me looking like a hockey player.  My teammates unanimously agreed that ANY accident to my face would be an improvement, but their taunts didn’t improve my courage.  “Morrow,” the manager would bark, “RIGHT FIELD!”

I’ll admit it.  I lacked faith.  Faith in the ordinary trajectory of a baseball, and faith in my ability to successfully get a glove on it and throw it to first.  And faith that accidents DO happen, and you get over it.  And when I ponder the absolutely amazing things that I admire about really good baseball players, American ninjas, or those undertaking any challenging sport or physical activity, I realize that it all requires a focus and concentration not unlike the virtue and the gift of faith.  You’ve got to get the concentration off yourself and stop asking, “What will happen to me, me, me?”

I’ve tried to remember that, in dealing with people who profess to have no faith, or who have lost their faith.  Sure, we say that faith is a gift of God.  But if it is, why doesn’t everybody have it?  If it’s good for you, if in fact it’s necessary to BELIEVE in order to be saved, how can God be a good and merciful Father if he withholds that precious gift of faith from so many people?  We hear in the first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, how the People of God in the Old Testament collectively responded in faith to the events of their own history as they unfolded and as they participated in them.  Then in the second reading, St. Paul shares with us one example – Abraham – who acted on faith and served both God and the people of whom he became the patriarch.  St. Paul goes on in the letter to detail the exploits of other individuals who were people of faith, but we get the point.  People who have faith can accomplish a great deal.  Now, it’s obvious that people who do NOT have faith can ALSO accomplish a great deal – but what’s the point?  It’s like, “Well, I’m alive, I’m here, I might as well do something with my time, even though it ultimately has no meaning.”  What a strange outlook on life!  But isn’t that really the position of someone who has no faith?

I’m not making fun of them, mind you.  Having failed in my imaginary career as a major-league shortstop, I also once found myself at the top of a high-dive, with friends urging me to jump into the waters of the pool below.  Oh, it wasn’t THAT high, but too high for me.  There was water in the pool, I had a good time watching everybody else do it; but when I got up there, there was just no way I was leaving that platform without coming back down the ladder.  The gang laughed at my lack of courage.  So I asked them, “Hey, you guys ever been up to the top of an aerial ladder, a hundred-footer?”

“Oh, man, no way would I go up that far on a ladder,” one of the guys piped up, “I’m afraid of heights.”

“Well, I can do that,” I replied, “but they’ve never asked me to jump off.”

Faith is like taking the plunge, as we do into the waters of baptism — with a little help from our parents and sponsors, of course.  But faith is also like climbing a ladder, or being a good shortstop.  You really have to forget about yourself and concentrate on the One who is the source of faith, and hope, and charity – God himself.  That’s why we call them the THEOLOGICAL virtues:  they come from God and lead to God.  We don’t have faith or exercise it only as a safeguard for what might happen to us if we don’t.  That would be concentrating on ourselves, not on God.  Like a fire fighter climbing a ladder to rescue someone, like a soldier braving enemy fire to pull a wounded friend back from the front line, like the servants in today’s Gospel who were waiting for their master to return from the wedding, faith means we concentrate on the One to whom faith is leading us, not on ourselves, not on what we might get out of it.

THAT’S why faith can be tough.  It really is leaving something behind and barking out on a journey of trust and confidence.  Like the father in Mark 9 whose son was possessed by an epileptic demon, we can so often only cry out, “Lord, I believe, help my UN-belief.”  But like the good athlete, the good public servant, the good soldier, at a certain point faith means letting go, and being spiritually reckless in a way that engages us with a God who will never let us down, even when it seems like he is!  We dare not mock people who have no faith, or whose faith is weak.  We have to be here for them, help them in any way we can, pray for them, accompany them.  It doesn’t matter how many of them get to heaven just by grabbing onto our coattails.  Otherwise the Lord’s first question to us might well be, “How is it you showed up here ALONE?”

Homily for July 24

 

 

HOMILY – JULY 24

If you get a job with a new company, I would imagine you’d be quite pleased to have the boss himself come up to you and tell you, “Now if there’s anything you need or any problems you’re having, just come right on into my office and we’ll talk about it.  Or, you can relay your message through my secretary or one of my assistants.  We thrive on communication around here.”  Now, many places of business SAY they act that way, but in practice it’s quite different.  Imagine your delight if you found out that the boss wasn’t setting you up, but that it really happened the way he had described.

Jesus doesn’t want to be our boss.  He’s so, so much more:  Savior, Redeemer, Eternal Friend and Companion, Image of the Father.  But sharing as he does in the work of our creation, he is in a position to give us direct instructions about how to communicate in this great Kingdom of God.  And we find some of those direct instructions today, in the lessons the Lord gives us about prayer.

Who better to tell us how to pray than the one to whom we are praying??!!  The Lord Jesus gives us these very practical lessons and considerations about prayer.  It’s clear from these lessons that our prayers do not INFORM God of anything that he doesn’t already know.  But he makes it clear that he loves to hear us say it.  He loves to have us talk to him, not because he’s lonely, not because he’s needy in any way, but because it’s good for US.  Expressing our love for and dependence upon God is marvelously enriching.  We are not demeaned by prayer, as though we are incapable of doing anything for ourselves.  In prayer, we acknowledge what God tells us in his holy Word, that he is interested in everything and anything that is of interest to US, that he is both our creator and our life’s companion, and that there is nothing so insignificant about our lives that it is of no significance to him.  God who knows the number of both the sparrows and the hairs of our head is eager to hear about anything we bring him.

We don’t have to get into bargaining with God, like Abraham does somewhat amusingly in the first reading.  But pray always.  Whether it’s praise, thanksgiving, repentance, or petition, our prayers are a joy to God and do honor to our high vocation as his priestly people.

Homily for July 17 2016

 

HOMILY – JULY 17

When I went to Italy as a student many years ago, two of the Italian words I quickly learned were familiar from English, only they each dropped an initial “H.”  The two words were ospiti (pron. AWSS-pee-tee) and umiltà (pron. oo-mill-TAH).  Ospiti means “guests.”  Think of the letters after “h” in our word hospital, where patients are the guests – PAYING guests, to be sure, but still there to benefit from hospitality, which is what we all offer to guests.

Then there’s the word umiltà, which means “humility.”  You might have guessed!  These two words really have a lot in common.  The root of the word “humility” is “humus,” or soil, ground, earth – the same as for the word “human.”  Humans display humility to the degree that we are in touch with where we came from.  And when we remember where we came from, we are the most capable of receiving guests, recognizing that we share COMMON GROUND.  Hospitality and humility go hand in hand.  Humility is necessary if hospitality is to be sincere and successful.  Our guests will sense immediately if they are there more for our benefit or use than for their enjoyment.

The Scriptures give us a couple of examples of humility and hospitality, and how they come into play with each other.  St. Luke tells us that Mary’s words when she understood what God wanted her to do were humble words:  “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”  Her humility was such that even the tremendous announcement of the Incarnation could not keep her from thinking of others.  Off she went into the hill country to care for her aging and unexpectedly pregnant cousin, Elizabeth.

Much later on, St. John lets us know that Mary’s personality hasn’t changed.  There is a wedding at Cana, and she is there.  When she notices trouble brewing in the kitchen, she doesn’t engage in chatter and gossip.  She quietly goes directly to Jesus and presents the impending crisis of the young couple and their family.  She turns to the servants and humbly directs them to Jesus:  “Do whatever he tells you.”  And then she recedes into the background while the waters behold their Creator and blush.

At the foot of the Cross, Mary is there, humbly suffering the agony of watching her beloved Son pour out the last drop of his blood for us sinners.  Not a word of complaint escapes her lips.  Later, when she gathers with the infant Church, the Apostles and other disciples in the upper room, she prays with them, but she does not demand attention nor expect special privilege.  She is the model disciple.

Now, in whose home would you be more comfortable as a guest?  The home of Mary, the Mother of Jesus?  Or the home of Mary of Bethany, whose sister Martha, in today’s Gospel, is quite forward about her expectations of her sister?  Martha, attentive to the details, the minutiae of hospitality, does the UNTHINKABLE:  she asks their guest, the Lord Jesus, to get involved in her family squabble with her sister!  Can you imagine how uncomfortable you’d be, going to someone’s house and having them demand that you take sides in a family argument?  But Jesus of course, never loses his cool, with Martha or with us and our fretting and pouting over all sorts of hurts, real or imagined.  “Martha, Martha,” he chides her gently, “you fuss, fuss, fuss, but you miss the most important thing, the one thing really necessary.  Mary has chosen the better part.”  Mary of Bethany, at this point at least, demonstrates humility.  She sits with their guest.  She listens.  The guest is more important than the details.  She exemplifies the faith and hospitality of Abraham, our father in faith about whom we heard in the first reading.

The second reading from the Letter to the Colossians is just a continuation of last week’s second reading.  It doesn’t HAVE to fit in, but it does, beautifully.  That famous verse 24 is for all of us Christians.  The Apostle says, “I make up in my own body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his Body, the Church!”  What, pray tell, could be lacking?  Only our participation in those sufferings, my friends.  We might not have to suffer the agonizing death of crucifixion.  But we shall have plenty of opportunities every day of our lives to live hospitably and humbly, to remember that everyone whom God sends into our lives is a GUEST, even for a few moments.  And that we share with them common ground, humus, the stuff of which we are made.  We both come from it, we’ll both go back to it.  And THERE is how we shed our pride and our arrogance, which can separate us from the common ground which God is so eager for us to share with him and with one another in the Kingdom of heaven.

 

Homily July 3 2016

HOMILY – JULY 3

Why 72?  Why did Jesus select a further 72 disciples and send them out?  The Gospel says that he sent them to every town and place that he intended to visit.  Let’s see, 72 disciples, they went in pairs – that would make 36 places Jesus was intending to go, on foot, to preach the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  That’s quite an ambitious road trip!  That would be quite a tour even for Lady Gaga, or for the Gaither Family Homecoming Extravaganza.

It could be that Jesus was sending out a symbolic number of disciples with reference to Genesis chapter 10, where the list of all the nations on earth numbers 70 or 72, depending on the language used.  So already the proclamation of the gospel can be seen as something that is for everyone on earth, not just for a chosen few.  Remember, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives the great commission to the Eleven apostles to “Go, teach all nations.”  This fits in very nicely with the invitation from God to all people through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading:  “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her!”  EVERYONE on earth is called and intended by God to be part of his people.  This is not just to get names on the rolls or fill the collection baskets, as some cynics would have us believe.  God wants to give LIFE to all people, not just here, but in his Kingdom, forever; and that ETERNAL life begins here and now for those who hear his call, accept his invitation, and strive to live as his children.

Now remember that Jesus sent the 72 out in pairs – you know, just like the Mormons, only he had the idea about 1900 years earlier!  THAT significance is clear:  no one of us is a Lone Ranger for Christ out there in the world, nor here at worship.  We are Church, we are members of the Body of Christ, we are not baptized just for our own personal salvation because Christ calls us to be formed into his People, with a capital P !  It’s one reason why the Church has for centuries built the greeting of peace into the liturgy just as we’re preparing for Holy Communion.  Sure, we receive Christ individually, but we worship together, we make our preparation together, we come up together, and we leave together.  Those who say they don’t like the greeting of peace because it’s a distraction are perhaps still thinking that the second great commandment, love of neighbor, distracts us from the first, love of God.  That’s the point:  You can’t have one without the other!  So stop wishing that Jesus would just pick ONE and be done with it.  You might as well try to clap with just one hand.

So Jesus the Lord is kind of floating a trial balloon, sending out these disciples.  They come back giddy and babbling like seminarians or novices returning from their first work on the “apostolate,” whatever it might be, recounting things that happened, swapping stories.  How Jesus enjoys their enthusiasm!  How significant that he remarks that even their modest beginnings are a defeat for the evil one!

And what about us?  Our prophetic ministry begins here in church, in the waters of baptism; but it continues out there, when the shoe leather hits the road.  Even the little things we do can be a proclamation of the Good News.  It’s important to show others that Christianity, our Catholic faith, is as normal as the air we breathe.  I’m thrilled when I drive down a country road and see images of the Sacred Heart or of the Blessed Mother enshrined, whether in brick, block, or the buried shell of an old bathtub.  It speaks faith!  I’m delighted when I come to a parishioner’s home here in town and find some symbol of faith on the OUTSIDE of the house as well as our familiar crucifixes and other images on the INSIDE.  It speaks FAITH!  My heart leaps for joy within me when I see fellow diners in a restaurant pausing to make the sign of the cross and pray before and after their meal.  It SPEAKS FAITH!  And I go into a spiritual swoon when I overhear another Catholic patiently and fluently explaining some point of Catholic belief or practice to a friend or acquaintance.  IT SPEAKS FAITH!  All of these are examples of discipleship at work!  The 72 are multiplied hundreds and thousands of times in our wide variety of missionary labors!  Don’t be left out.  You can begin again any time.  Make it today.  Remember, like St. Paul in that second reading, you bear the marks of Jesus on your body.  At least, that’s what it says in the baptismal register.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homily for June 26 2016

 

HOMILY – JUNE 26

We’ve been getting lots of lessons during this liturgical year about our prophetic ministry as disciples of Christ – our call to teach the world the things that we are always being taught by Christ himself.  The Scriptures today are pretty dramatic, literally showing, in the case of Elijah and Elisha, the passing on of the prophetic mantle.  That mantle, and even more importantly, the mantle of Christ, is passed down to us today as members of his Body and Bride, the Church.

“Wait!” you say.  “I didn’t sign up for this!  It’s the job of the Pope and the bishops and the preachers to pass on the faith.  THEY are the Magisterium, the teaching authority, not me!”  And that’s true, to a point.  They are responsible for keeping the teaching of Christ clean and authentic, neither adding nor subtracting essentials.  But why teach if the content is not going to be used and passed on even further?  How many times have you heard people complain, “All those hours I spent studying trigonometry, or French literature, or Oriental history in school, and I’VE NEVER USED IT!!”  Well, if you listen to the Scriptures, if you pay some attention to homilies and sermons, if you listen to Catholic radio and watch Catholic TV, if you read some good instructive Catholic literature during the week, you will find PLENTY to use, every day, and PLENTY to pass on.  That’s how you figure into the prophetic ministry of Christ and his Church.  The Pope and the bishops and the priests are not at your workplace, at your school, or living in your neighborhood.  YOU are, and it’s your job to take what you’ve gained from Christ and pass it on in the most effective way.

Most of us LIVE our prophecy, our teaching, even more than passing it on by speaking and writing.  What people see us doing will often make a far bigger impression on them than anything we say.  But we should not rule out the very real possibility that we might well be called on to explain our faith and the teachings of Christ and the Church at any moment.  We need to call on the Holy Spirit in our daily prayer and ask for the grace to be prepared to witness, however that might come about.  You might be playing cards or out bowling when you hear someone come out with some untruth about the Scriptures, or about Catholic teaching.  You don’t have to go into fighting mode.  And don’t begin by saying, “I’m sorry, but . . .”  You should never be sorry about speaking the truth.  You’re not there to attack.  You’re there by God’s grace to calmly explain THE TRUTH in the midst of people who need to hear it.

A few years ago, I was stunned when I mentioned to a friend that I had had a tough baby funeral, but that the couple had been prepared for the baby’s death because the ultrasound had picked up some potentially fatal problems.  “Why didn’t they abort?” my CATHOLIC friend asked.  I was stunned, but I remember just continuing, “Why, you can’t abort the child!  That’s a precious human being, a unique creation of God.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s moral.  They love their daughter very much, and she will always be their first and oldest child.”  It was my friend’s turn to be stunned.  He sat there with a look on his face that said, “Wow!  He really BELIEVES this, he’s not just saying it because the Church tells him to!”  We’re still friends.  He knows where I stand, and I hope that since that brief conversation it’s a little easier for him to stand there, too.

Jesus in the Gospel shows that there is a sense of urgency about our prophetic mission:  “Anyone who puts his hand to the plow and keeps looking back isn’t worthy of me!”  We are sinners, imperfect prophets.  I think of the many chances I’ve passed up to boldly but gently proclaim the truth of Christ when I very easily COULD have.  I can only rely on the mercy of God to magnify the benefit of the times that perhaps I HAVE been of some use as his prophet.  We really can waste no time.  We do not have a prophetic mission in order to benefit ourselves.  It’s to help save the souls of the people in whose midst we live.  God has placed them in our care, if even for a moment.  For them, it may well be a matter of eternal life or eternal death.  Wouldn’t it be a joy, my friends, to be welcomed to our heavenly home by many other members of the Communion of Saints who can greet us with, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you?”  Let’s pray that with God’s grace, we may always live as the very best version of ourselves, and thus help pave the way home for many others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEARNING ABOUT THE MASS – JUNE 12

READERS:  THIS PARAGRAPH IS TO BE DELIVERED TO THE CONGREGATION RIGHT AFTER YOUR GREETING, BUT BEFORE THE INTRODUCTION TO TODAY’S MASS.

 

After the priest, the lector, and the servers pay their reverence to the reserved Sacrament, they go up to the altar.  The priest kisses the altar, showing reverence on several different levels.  There is the obvious gesture toward the altar itself, the mensa or table on which Christ’s Saving Sacrifice will be re-presented for us in this time and place.  Gone are the bloody animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant.  We who have been baptized into Christ are both privileged and obliged to participate in the one Sacrifice in his Paschal Mystery, expressed at the Last Supper AND on the Cross AND in his rising from the grave.  We could not be present for those events in history; so Christ makes our participation in them possible for us here and now, in a very graphic way.  The solid rock of our altar here at SS. Peter & Paul speaks to us of the Rock which is Christ, on whom we can always rely as an anchor and a point of reference in our lives.

The priest is also showing affection to the altar because for us, it represents Christ himself.  So this greeting is given to Christ on behalf of all the believers present, and of all who through our prayers take part in this celebration of our Covenant with God.  As one of our Easter prefaces notes, Christ reveals himself here as the priest, the altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice.

Finally, the priest kisses the altar because it contains the relics of great members of the Communion of Saints, who truly gather with us here; as in the Eucharist earth meets heaven for a few moments of earthly time.  In the early days of Christianity, the Mass was frequently offered in the catacombs on the tombs of martyrs.  Here, we honor these relics embedded in the altar – in CHRIST –, which remind us that the liturgy truly connects us in time and in space with the whole Church in every place and time.

Homily for June 12 2016

HOMILY – JUNE 12

How can it happen, that we who are sinners can be made “just” or righteous?  St. Paul writes to the Galatians in the second reading that if justification comes through the Law of Moses, then Christ died for nothing.  Pretty strong words!  But just as we, God’s people, have received a New Covenant in the Blood of Christ, so the Law of Moses has given way to Christ’s supreme law of love.  Love has become the immeasurable measure by which all our actions must be measured.  Unlike the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, the demands of love are inexhaustible.  There’s always room for more.  And our freedom from the Law of Moses gives us the freedom to do the more.

Now, some people severely misinterpret this newfound freedom of the people of God to mean that there is nothing I can do that will separate me from God.  “Love, and do what you will,” said St. Augustine; but he was starting from the premise that to love means TO DO THE WILL OF GOD, conforming our weak human wills to his all-powerful divine will.  It does not mean that we can give in to all the promptings of the flesh and call it love.  God’s will for us is expressed very clearly in the Scriptures.  We know what it means to behave in a “godly” manner, and it certainly does not include chasing after every temptation that comes along.  God wills that we seek The Good, as HE has designed it, not as we would wish it or crave it.

Old Testament example:  In his idle moments, the great King David lusted for the wife of Uriah (pron. yer-EYE-uh), a foreigner of good will who was one of his very best military officers.  David set Uriah up to be killed in battle.  The Godfather might have said, “Make it look like an accident!”  How atrociously evil!  And yet, as soon as he is confronted with his sin by Nathan the prophet, as we heard in the first reading, David confesses his sin.  He makes no excuses for his wretched behavior, he humbles himself before God.  David has failed and fallen, but God holds out forgiveness for him so that he can continue his kingly service.  And he did not engage in a coverup.  His wicked choice is documented right there in the Scriptures, for everyone to see for all ages to come.

New Testament example:  The sinful woman who comes to Jesus while he is at dinner in the home of Simon the Pharisee is a well-known tramp.  The only resemblance between her and God is that she, too, has been EVERYWHERE.  But something, Someone, has loved her and led her from her life of public sin to make a very public act of repentance.  Jesus announces her forgiveness and tells her that it is responding with faith to God’s invitation that has brought her salvation.  Simon the Pharisee has entertained thoughts about Jesus and the woman in his head.  She, however, has given Jesus her heart.  She speaks no words.  The only language she uses is the sensual and tactile language she has employed to seduce others.  But here the tables are turned.  SHE has been seduced by the fountain of mercy itself.  She surrenders completely to God’s loving advances, responding with a sincerity that those at table find only a little less amazing than the declaration of the Savior that she is forgiven because she has shown great love.  There is no mistaking his meaning.  He is not speaking of the false loves in which she has indulged herself and others.  Her genuine repentance, this great act of faith, frees her from the slavery of her past and the bondage of her sins.  The Trinity is at work here in the forgiveness of Christ:  she has become a new creation, she is redeemed, and she is sanctified with a peace that she could never find in the world.

What power of forgiveness and freedom is held out to those who accept the call to repentance!  First, King David;  then, this woman from the streets;  then, the Apostle St. Paul;  all give testimony to the beauty of surrender to God, dropping all the disguises and defenses and allowing Truth Himself to set us free.  If we ever fear the thought of going to confession, perhaps after many years or many sins, re-reading these Scriptures should allow the Holy Spirit to help us hear Jesus’ own words:  “Be not afraid!”  The freedom that awaits us is infinitely more life-giving than confining ourselves to the ever-shrinking world of our sins and self-concern.  Come to the sacrament of penance, and hear the Good News of your absolution!

Homily for June 5 2016

HOMILY – JUNE 5

Listen again, if you will, to the first lines of that second reading from St. Paul to the Galatians:  “The gospel preached by me is not of human origin. . .  It came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”  This is really good news for us, my friends.  It means we’re not responsible for the message we’ve been given to pass on to the world!  We’re off the hook.  Kind of.  Oh, we’re responsible for PREACHING it, for LIVING it, for MAKING IT CLEAR in the midst of the circumstances in which God finds us and calls us.  But the message is HIS.  We have a revealed religion.  When people get angry at what we have to say, when they call our moral teachings hate speech, when they call our doctrine nonsense, when they claim that we made it all up and there’s no historical basis for it, we can say, “Why would we do that when it just buys us trouble?”

Our Christian faith is a REVEALED RELIGION.  Of course the Church has many human elements, as you would expect of any organization made up primarily of humans.  But it has its origin with God himself.  The human elements have been guided by the ongoing presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  We earthen vessels carry on the work of God, and the work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in bringing his people to life.  God did that very graphically through the prophet Elijah for the widow’s son in the Old Testament reading, and Christ accomplishes the work of God very graphically in calling the widow’s son to life in the Gospel.  But in both cases, there was an even greater reality at work than just bringing someone back to life here on earth.

How these stories should remind us of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John, chapter 3:  “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be SAVED through him”!  And then in John, chapter 10, he says, “I came that they might have LIFE, and have it to the full.”  So Jesus makes it clear that he hasn’t come just to call people out of the grave and back to earthly life.  He HAS that power, yes, but it’s to get our attention so that we can recognize the far more IMPORTANT power of calling people to ETERNAL life.  How unfortunate that the world often associates us Christians only with condemnation and death!  Maybe it’s the way we look!!  Maybe it’s the way we ACT!!  At any rate, it certainly seems that we haven’t always made the message of Christ and the message of life clear in the world’s mind.

And then, of course, it’s quite possible that many in the world resent the Church, as they resented Christ, precisely BECAUSE the Church speaks with authority.  The proud and self-centered of this world, and that includes our own stubborn hearts, don’t want ANYONE inviting them somewhere they don’t want to go, much less showing and telling them what to do to get there.  So they make fun of the ideas of heaven and eternal life, and loudly proclaim that THIS IS ALL THERE IS!  They look around and see in creation no playfulness or whimsy on the part of God, but only the cold, hard facts of science.  How dull is life without the poetry, music, and art of faith!  See why Christ wants us to LIVE that faith in a believable way?

To be sure, we’re not going to convince nor convert everyone.  Christ sends us out to FISH, not to drain the lake and scoop ‘em up off the bottom!  The centuries of patience that it’s taken the Church to work at accomplishing its task reflects the timelessness of God himself.  He demonstrates infinite and eternal patience in making our work his own.  He has entrusted to us the revelation of eternal truths, expressed in beautifully and utterly simple ways by Christ in his teachings and parables.  He has made his purpose clear from the first words of the revelation, in Genesis:  we are made in his image, to enjoy stewardship of his creation here in preparation for sharing his life forever in his Kingdom.  Human words are insufficient to express the whole truth of this mystery, and so God has finally spoken in the Word made flesh, in the Person of his Son.  Our task, by word and example, is simply to help others gain some familiarity with Jesus Christ, and then get to know him even more intimately in his Church, in his Scriptures, and in his sacraments.  We are calling them to have life, and to have it to the full.