Yearly Archives: 2017

Homily for December 10, 2017

HOMILY – DECEMBER 10

We all know that there are people who love to go around saying these are the end times, and predicting the imminent destruction of the universe.  In spite of the fact that Jesus himself said to pay no attention to them, PEOPLE DO.  Even people who claim to be Christians do.  The supermarket tabloids are always eager to run a headline saying the world is going to end on such-and-such a day.  Sells papers.  When some people spend their whole lives and a lot of other people’s money trying to figure out when it’s all going to happen, why does our Lord tell us not to listen to them?  Because it takes our focus off the REAL work of being Christian:  proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God, not just on some date in the future, but RIGHT NOW!

Our patron St. Peter tells us in his Second Letter, the second reading today, “What sort of persons you ought to be, . . . waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”  When you start looking at the calendar, or listening to the prophets of doom, or watching the news and wondering “How long, O Lord?” let God gently answer you:  “As long as it takes.”  We’ve all had the experience of sitting and waiting in a doctor’s office.  Other people lope and lumber in, you’ve been sitting there since you were much younger, they are called in first, they come out and leave first, and you’re still waiting!  Well, I find that the older I get, the more time I spend waiting in doctors’ offices.  You know you’re reaching the golden years when the litany of the doctors and the litany of the prescriptions are longer than the litany of the saints.  But one thing I’ve discovered about waiting, whether it’s in the doctor’s office or in the airport:  You do it much better if you make it CONSTRUCTIVE!  And that’s what St. Peter is telling us:  “What sort of persons you ought to be!”

We ought to be those who never waste the precious time God gives us.  Waiting for a train to pass?  Keep a rosary handy in your car and pray a decade while the freight is rolling by.  Going to the doctor’s office?  Bring magazines with you to read there, and save time at home.  Don’t read the ones that are in the doctor’s office, people have been coughing and sneezing on them for a month!  Don’t just play video games at the airport or however you’re traveling.  Get some of that school reading list done, or improve your mind by enjoying a classic novel or biography.  When I was in canon law school, I spent my two hours on the bus and subway each day doing my homework.  We’ll find we won’t need to RELAX so much if we’ve accomplished things while we’re waiting for other things.

But this isn’t just a lesson in the constructive use of time.  It’s about proclaiming the Kingdom of God in union with Christ.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus had “down” time:  he slept, he enjoyed the innocent company of children, he retreated into the mountains or into the desert, he enjoyed pointing out the wonders of nature to his disciples and teaching them things about God by having them look more deeply at creation.  And yet even in these moments that we might call a “breather,” he was proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  We are to imitate that behavior of the Word made flesh, giving comfort to God’s people, speaking tenderly to Jerusalem, proclaiming that her service is at an end, her guilt is absolved.  We must never fear to cry out to the cities of Judah and of all the world, “Here is your God!  Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, and gathers the lambs in his arms.”  How people everywhere need to hear these words of divine consolation!  GOD REALLY LOVES THEM!  If we spend all our time and energy trying eagerly to get that message across in word and action, our waiting will never seem long at all.  We’ll be too busy about the Lord’s work to think about it.  And when the Lord comes, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”  And whether it’s sooner or later, we won’t even mind, because we’ll realize that that’s what life was supposed to be all about, anyway.

 

Homily for December 3, 2017

HOMILY – DECEMBER 3

Our first reading today makes us wonder:  Is it Advent, or is it LENT?  The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God’s people, gives voice to lots of admission of guilt — not just individual guilt, but our COMMON guilt.  “Why let US wander from your ways, why let US harden OUR hearts so WE fear you?”  Note:  WE, US, OUR — it’s not just my own personal sins of which I’m guilty.

We hear a lot these days about sins that seem bigger than any one of us, things like “institutional racism,” or more recently, “systemic sexism.”  What do we mean by such terms?  How do we resolve them?  Or first, how do we come to PARTICIPATE in them?  How do we AVOID them?  Well, such terms help to teach us that, for instance, you don’t have to shun or ridicule people of a different race or language or religion or ability to let them know they’re DIFFERENT — just don’t INCLUDE them.  Then, when something really ugly or violent happens, you can say, “I didn’t do anything!!”  And you’d be right!  But that’s the PROBLEM!  You.  Didn’t.  Do.  Anything.

Same thing with all the current buzz about sexual advances in the workplace, whether in the movie capital of the world or the nation’s Capitol in Washington.  And we don’t have to go that far.  How many workplaces have I heard of right close to home where the chit-chat is all about who the assistant manager is making a move on THIS week?  If that doesn’t sound like any place YOU’VE ever worked, thank God for the favor.  You must have really meant it when you prayed, “Lead us not into temptation”!

But truthfully, we don’t even have to go outside our own HOMES for examples of moral laxity.  What about simple neglect of piety?  Ask yourself:  how often do your kids or grandkids see you pray, OTHER THAN at Mass or at meals?  And if you take them to a restaurant, do you stop to pray?  Do you lead them in the sign of the cross?  Or do you not want to call attention to yourselves and your faith?  In other words, have they gotten the message from you that religion and faith are PRIVATE matters, not to be displayed or shared in public?  Believe me, that’s the message that the world around us wants to drill into them, and it’s GLAD to have your cooperation!  That’s why we heard many politicians so often in the last decade talking about freedom of WORSHIP rather than freedom of RELIGION:  keep it in church, don’t let it affect your life out here.

How often do your kids and grandkids see you reading Scripture or praying the rosary?  How often do you ask them to join you in doing that?  I’ve had many parents over the years, in parishes all over, ask why their sons and daughters have quit going to church.  “We raised them Catholic,” they’ll say.  But all too often I’ve heard parents say they don’t bother with church when they’re on vacation, or they laugh about not having been to confession in years, or they talk openly with friends about what methods of artificial contraception they’re using.  And the kids can’t help but pick up such attitudes as basically WINKING at anything the Church has to offer.  How can we blame the kids for not taking their faith seriously when we’ve provided a garden of spiritual cement for it to grow on?

See how easily we can create a climate of indifference when we don’t regard our baptism and our discipleship of Christ as the CENTRAL purpose and mission of our lives?  We can’t afford to be a teacher or an engineer or a clerk who HAPPENS to be Catholic.  We have to be CATHOLICS who happen to be lawyers and teachers and doctors and community leaders!  The world around us is so opposed to the message of Christ that unless we are Catholic FIRST, we stand in danger of losing our faith altogether, or at least of not passing it on effectively to the next generation as something of eternal relevance.

The world thinks that divine revelation is a lot of hocus-pocus.  It will demand PROOF for what we claim is truth.  So remember:  Your LIFE might be the only Scripture many people will ever read.  When Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Watch!” he means WATCH!  BE ALERT! — for opportunities to witness to him, not just WATCH the world go by.  If you aren’t pro-active with your faith, the world will gladly steam-roll right over you.  And your deadliest sin will be that of omission.

Homily for November 19, 2017

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 26

God and his Church want us to be very clear about this:  Christ our King, our Lord and Savior, indeed came to redeem us.  He came to win us back to the Father.  He came to take our sins on himself so that we might be free.  He came to break the stranglehold of the evil one on a human nature that would never again only be fallen, but now, more importantly, be REDEEMED.  When in faith we accept the redemption Christ has mercifully won for us, we are saved.  But being saved means recognizing that Christ sets a pattern of behavior for us that we must strive to imitate.  It is not enough for us disciples to proclaim “I’m saved!” and then to continue to behave as if nothing had happened.  The proof of that acceptance on our part is the action of grace and of the Holy Spirit.  These lead us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord both in belief and in deed.  Belief that is not expressed in action is as false as good deeds performed without reference to Christ — although in that case, at least a person would be acting according to the lights of the NATURAL law within us.

To listen to some Christians, you’d think that the only code of behavior God has given us consists of the Ten Commandments.  Christ expands the meaning of each of the commandments, adding our interior dispositions and attitudes to our outward obedience to what God commands.  But he also adds the Beatitudes, and in today’s Gospel, the works of mercy.  In fact, the penalty for not being alert to the opportunities for the works of mercy is the harshest condemnation to be found in the teachings of Christ.  It is echoed, for instance, in Luke’s story of the rich man who literally and routinely walks over the poor man Lazarus at his doorstep.  The rich man dies and suffers the torments assigned to the unrighteous in today’s Gospel.

Jesus himself often compares God to a king, or to a powerful landowner.  The wonderful imagery he employs in his story of those who are like the sheep and the goats is so simple that even children can easily understand it.  The imagery leads us to understand the point.  Note that Jesus does not fault the sheep, the righteous, for not recognizing him.  Instead, he REVEALS himself to them:  “When you did this or that for someone else, THAT WAS ME!!”  They had simply done what they were commanded to do by God:  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Let’s be clear:  Love of God and love of neighbor are not the two Great OPTIONS.  They are COMMANDMENTS, from our Creator himself.  Everything else, including our eternal salvation, depends on those.  Obeying and fulfilling them means we’ve accepted God’s message, and the Messenger, Christ Jesus our King, reveals himself as The Message, God’s Eternal Word made flesh.

Then there are those who are represented by the goats.  “When did we see YOU?” they cry.  “If only we had known it was YOU, we would have acted differently!!”  Ah, but that’s no excuse.  The key was to respond to the needs of EVERYONE, without regard to who they are or whether they deserve it.  As Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, “Doesn’t God make his sun shine and his rain fall on the good AND the bad?  Therefore, be perfect AS your heavenly Father is perfect.”  If we spend more time tracking the lifestyles of the rich and famous than we do attending to the needs of the humble and unknown, we know we’ve got work to do!  Jesus tells us, “The poor will ALWAYS be with you.”  That’s right, the works of mercy are the work of a lifetime, so we’d better get started.

Homily for November 5, 2017

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 12

Remember hearing the screaming of a political fan of a candidate who backed out of the presidential race last year and pledged support for another candidate?  “THIS HAS TO BE A JOKE! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!  I’M LITERALLY ABOUT TO KILL MYSELF AND I’M NOT KIDDING!  YOU BETTER FIX THIS RIGHT NOW!  I’M LITERALLY GOING TO DIE, I NEED AN AMBULANCE!  I CAN’T BELIEVE…” she shouted before the video cut out.  And we’ve cut out all the expletives, which really manifested the profound nature of her ranting.

One year later, this past week, in fact, as reported by The West Village Patch in New York City, “A collective scream Wednesday marked a year since Donald Trump was elected leader of the U.S.  Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered for the anniversary, crowding into Washington Square Park Wednesday night and howling at the top of their lungs.”

Regardless of one’s politics or views, it seems to me that these examples of venting rage display the complete opposite of what St. Clement of Alexandria wisely tells us, commenting on Psalm 37 in the third century:  “‘Watch the wholehearted, and mark the upright, for there is a future for the one who seeks peace’; such will the one be who believes with the whole heart in a genuine way, and is tranquil in the whole soul.”  Compare those words of wisdom with the utterances we recalled at the beginning.  Now, much as I like to poke fun at political nonsense, it’s tragic to realize that for the vast mass of unbelievers, there is little one can do with frustration other than howl at the moon.  And how ironic, that after all that communal wailing, New York was hit with an Arctic blast like it hadn’t felt for years.  So much for any lasting effect of all that hot air.

Is it any wonder that there’s so much mental illness and suicide these days, especially among the young?  They are so often being taught by peers and by the culture around them that faith in God has no relevance.  As we said earlier, it’s no mistake that wisdom is always listed first among the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Wisdom is not prudence, and should not be confused with it.  As the first reading says, “Taking THOUGHT of wisdom is the PERFECTION of prudence.”  Prudence is a virtue, wisdom is a gift.  With God’s help, we can ACQUIRE prudence by being calm and PRACTICING it, as we do with the other virtues.  Prudence is in part the habit of being able to prioritize, and then act accordingly.  But prudence in its perfection leads us to THINK of wisdom, and to see how we might, as the passage says, make ourselves worthy of her.  Prudence means not being led by the latest fads, or by what’s trending online.  Prudence means that we know we will be more apt to find guiding principles for life in studying the writings of Popes and the Lives of the Saints, than in the latest murmurings of Kim and Kanye.  And if you even RECOGNIZED those names, I suggest you might begin your search for wisdom by spending just a little more time with the Popes and the Saints.  We have plenty of material over in the school that’s there for you to use anytime, free of charge.

The funny parable Jesus tells paints a wonderful contrast between the calm wisdom of those who get it and the unhinged cluelessness of those who don’t.  Ten ceremonial virgins or bridesmaids, according to Jewish wedding custom, gather to welcome the bridegroom to the bride’s home.  He’s late.  He’s at the bachelor party.  He’s out hunting.  Who knows?  But he’s late.  They all fall asleep.  No difference there.  The wise get just as tired as the unwise.  The difference, of course, is in the pre-planning.  Jesus often tells us that, if we’re going to be HIS followers, we have to be READY.  Not just ready for death, not just on edge because something bad is going to happen, but prepared for EVERY opportunity to be of service, to give him the glory, and to proclaim his Kingdom.  To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, who was speaking of the duties of citizenship in his Inaugural Address, as Christ’s disciples we will “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to” spread the knowledge and love of God through Christ our Savior.  And our love of Christ our Bridegroom will make us WANT to be ready, no matter when or how he arrives.

Love, prudence, more love, wisdom, more love — this is our pilgrim way with and to God and his Kingdom.  The kingdom of this world is clearly a downward spiral of violence, sex abuse, accusations, gossip, he-said-she-said, fake news, false testimony, empty promises, and hopeless screaming — the Scriptural “wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  It leads nowhere.  We are IN that world to bring it the Good News of redemption and salvation; but we are not OF that world.  Often without realizing it, and certainly without thanking us, the world is dependent on us to remain FAITHFUL to Christ, who is its ONE TRUE LIGHT!  You and I reflect that light, and allow it to shine through us.  Faith, prudence, wisdom, love — all of these help us to be tranquil in a world that has run out of the oil of virtue and common sense.  Let us never fail to ask God for a greater share in these virtues and gifts that will help us to be faithful to our baptism and useful servants of those to whom he sends us.

Homily for November 5, 2017

HOMILY – NOVEMBER 5

The 1985 movie “Spies Like Us,” with Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase, featured the famous scene in which the two lead characters, pretending to be physicians, are introduced to a whole assembly of doctors in a big surgical tent.  They all begin exchanging greetings, going around the circle, “Doctor…Doctor…Doctor…Doctor,” to the point of being a complete mock of professional courtesy.  THAT’S what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel:  the religious “professionals” who were far more impressed with their own titles, robes, and privileges than they were with the solemn duties on behalf of God’s people which had been entrusted to them by God.  One can picture a gathering of these self-important men, bowing and scraping and toadying up to one another, burdening God’s people with rules and regs and fees and quite forgetting about God’s demands on THEM.

Of course, I’VE never done that.  (Pause.)

The heck I haven’t.  Maybe not in the same way, maybe not in the same fashion as some others who have earned MY scorn, but just as guilty of using my position, blowing my own horn, showing off my imagined abilities, pretending to be more than I could ever be, all the while convincing myself that I’m a really great, great guy.  All for the glory of God, of course.  (Pause.)

Right.  Rather, all for MY greater glory.  Wow, as I’m listening to that first reading from Malachi this morning, I’m getting some prickly heat around and under my collar.  I’m getting a little uncomfortable hearing God’s stern warning to lazy priests, corrupt priests, self-aggrandizing priests–and no matter how much I try to compare myself to others and say, “Yeah, but I’m not like THAT,” I realize that there are other priests doing the same thing and thinking that, whew, at least they’re not like ME!

St. Paul takes the heat off momentarily in the second reading when he reminds the Thessalonians of his selfless service among them.  But oh, how can I measure up to his virtuous ministry?  “We were gentle among you, we had great affection for you, we wanted to share our very selves with you, we worked night and day in toil and drudgery in order not to burden any of you.”  Wow!  When I think of all the benefits that I receive from being your pastor, I’m embarrassed when I place them alongside the little bit that I seem to do for YOU!  It seems like nothing!  I think often of my long-ago predecessor in this Grand River Valley, the Venerable Father (later Bishop) Frederic Baraga, and all his hardships and journeys on foot and by canoe, and his lousy diet of boiled potatoes for every meal, and the harsh weather and bitter cold he endured — dear Lord, what must HE think if he’s overheard me complaining about my garage door opener not working?

I have plenty to answer for, my friends.  But we would be very mistaken if we thought that today’s readings are only about our ordained priests.  Now, I’m not saying this to deflect attention away from my own misdeeds and inadequacies and lack of virtue.  My job is not only to examine my OWN conscience, but to help you examine YOURS.  The fact is, we are, ALL of us, called to be Christ’s priestly people through baptism.  Through our baptism, you AND I are the religious professionals of the world!  We are the members of the Catholic, the Universal Church.  To us belongs the fullness of belief and practice, Scripture and Tradition, worship and sacraments, that Christ intended for ALL his disciples.  Most of our other Christian churches can claim greater or lesser PARTS of that belief and practice, but the FULLNESS of what Christ intended when he said to our patron, St. Peter, “On this rock I will build my CHURCH” is the Church that Peter and Peter’s successors have continued to shepherd right to this very day.

Are you equipped to be the baptized religious professional, the disciple of Jesus Christ that he RELIES on you to be?  Do you take seriously that “AMEN!” you say when you are presented with “The Body of Christ” in Holy Communion?  Are you fluent in your faith?  Can you defend it, explain it, correct mistaken notions of it?  Can you hold your own in discussing Scripture and doctrine with a neighbor, a co-worker, a fallen-away child or grandchild or relative?  As your pastor, I have to continue my formation CONSTANTLY, reading, studying, going to classes and conferences, engaging in theological conversations, especially with my YOUNGER confreres whose seminary studies are much more recent than my own.  I challenge you to read over today’s Scriptures again in a new and more personal light.  Let the Lord speak to YOU as his religious professional, and then decide if you need to do something more to measure up.  I know I do.  And I’m here to help you if you do, too.  Rabbi.  Father.  Teacher.  Doctor.  Catholic.  Those are just titles.  Together, let’s put some CONTENT behind them.  God bless you!

Homily for October 29, 2017

 

HOMILY – OCTOBER 29

On my mother’s side, I’m only three generations from Europe.  My maternal great-grandparents all came here in the very early 1900’s.  They were poor, they scraped together what they needed for the ocean voyage, they never expected to go back, and they knew that they were coming to a new and very different land.  They had to answer questions at Ellis Island about their origins and about their plans.  They were immigrants.  On my dad’s side, they had come over several generations earlier; but they, too, were immigrants.

Then and now, there are people who leave homelands where life is so toxic that they are in perpetual danger.  Any reform of our immigration laws must take this into account, and must make provision for those who truly live in fear for their lives.  But it’s clear that pressure must be put on their countries of origin to work to correct what is so desperately wrong — crime, drugs, war, famine, whatever — that people will go to any lengths to get out.  No country can really help to solve a refugee crisis by removing all borders and all restrictions.  Every country has the right to see to the security and health of those who already live in it, including immigrants who are already there.

Those things being said, where do we stand as a Church with today’s first reading:  “You shall not molest or oppress an alien?”  Actually, it’s not difficult.  We should be encouraging national policies which are just and fair.  We cannot turn a blind eye to the genuine needs of other people, either within or outside our borders.  And while we should not encourage the violation of just and reasonable laws, most of us do not have a personal responsibility to enforce such civil laws.  People in need who come to the Church are responsible for their own civil situations.  Far more than irritation with THEM, I tend to get upset with those who equate legal and illegal immigration by lumping them all together.  I dislike being lectured on how my ancestors were immigrants, as though there were no difference even today between making applications, paying fees, and patiently waiting in line — as opposed to crossing borders in unauthorized ways.

What would Jesus do?  He shows us in the way he speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well.  He shows us in the healing he provides from a distance for the Roman centurion’s servant.  He shows us in the faith he recognizes in the Syro-Phoenician woman who tells him of the demon harming her daughter.  He was no stranger to strangers.  In him we find the pattern of how we are to behave with others, focusing on the virtuous human acts of friendship, mercy, and healing.

We learn yet again from the Gospel that we do all these things, not just so that others will like us, and not out of some bleeding-heart need to have others in debt to us.  Mere humanistic motives have led us to the entitlement mentality mess which we find in our own country and in nations throughout the world.  We are commanded first of all to love God, not because God needs it, but because he knows that it helps to enrich and complete US, whom he has made in his own image.  God is love, and he creates us, alone among all his creatures, to be able to receive, ponder, experience, and reflect his love.  We are made to be in relationship with God.  When we forget that, or are ignorant of it — well, the results are in the news every day, in Hollywood sex scandals, mass murders, terrorism, political corruption, out-of-control drug abuse, and in our own personal sins — which we are quite content NOT to see in the news.  Think of that:  all the sin, all the misery in our tired world, all due to people rejecting the God who gave them the gift of life and the capacity to leave the world a better place than they found it!

That love of God will brim over into the second commandment, love of neighbor.  If it doesn’t, it wasn’t an authentic love of the one, true God in the first place.  That’s why it’s “like” the first commandment.  Jesus teaches us that unless we learn to serve him in others, we shall miss the chance to serve him at all.  Our service is a form of witness.  It might not be understood as such by many, but we are bound nonetheless to provide it, simply because WE AND THEY are made in the image and likeness of God.  Love of God and love of neighbor — there is no better formula for genuine happiness now and eternal happiness forever, than the two great commandments given us by our Creator.  We need to pray that many will discover or RE-discover the ultimate simplicity of God’s love.

Homily for October 8, 2017

 

HOMILY – OCTOBER 8

In the Christian life, it’s hard to keep focused on the fact that Jesus is calling on and relying on ALL of us to be his priestly people.  We bear his name as Christians, and he is the eternal high priest; so it should come as no surprise that when we are baptized and confirmed and share in the Eucharist, we are being equipped for what we need to do AS HIS PRIESTLY PEOPLE.  When we hear him taking the chief priests and elders of the people to task, as Isaiah did in his own vineyard parable in the first reading today, we must realize that he is talking to ALL of us, not just to the ordained.  I was a baptized and confirmed member of God’s priestly people long before I became an ORDAINED priest to minister within the Church to the rest of God’s people.  At the very least, if you haven’t caught on to what you’re supposed to do as a member of the baptized and confirmed priestly people, there’s not much hope that ordination is going to help you OR the Church.  That’s why the Church, and not the individual alone, is the one who decides whether someone has a vocation to the ordained priesthood.  And even at that, sometimes we’re disappointed.  We are, after all, all of us, earthen vessels.

The long and short of it is, we are not all called to be pastors, but we are all called to be pastoral.  A pastor is a shepherd.  In the Christian way of speaking, a pastor is a shepherd of souls.  A pastor’s primary interest is in helping his assigned flock to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with God forever in the next.  In other words, a pastor’s work is to help people understand why God made them, and then to help them cooperate with God’s loving plan for them.  Each and every one of us, INCLUDING the ordained, has the Christ-given duty from baptism to be pastoral, to be like a shepherd, to be looking out for the salvation of others even more than for our own.  The beauty of it is, that those who are concerned about OTHERS’ salvation will THEMSELVES not be overlooked by God when the judgment takes place.

Being pastoral doesn’t mean getting all up in someone’s face or business.  It doesn’t mean nagging them farther and farther away from the practice of the faith.  Like medicine, being pastoral is often more art than science, as we ponder and experiment with different shades of caring, trying to get the right formula for each person for whom we care.  Many times, being pastoral is going to mean surrendering our care to God in prayer, and admitting that we are powerless to figure out what to do about this straying sheep or that obnoxious agnostic.  Prayer for those whom we don’t know how to help is never prayer wasted.  Prayer for an enemy’s eternal salvation is an especially efficacious act, at least after we’ve examined our consciences and made sure that being enemies is not OUR fault.

Being pastoral means being aware of the power of the smallest gesture to convey something of the message of Christ.  Many of you remember Monsignor Hugh Michael Beahan, our longtime diocesan director of radio and TV until his death in 1980.  I had the good fortune to work with him at St. Mary’s on Turner, and to live with him for a time at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.  What impressed me about this thoroughly pastoral man was that, whether answering the door for a bum at the Cathedral rectory at 11:00 at night after a long day, or on the air in front of the TV camera, he had the same wonderful persona:  smiling, welcoming, engaging.  There was nothing phony or put on about him.  In an age long before teleprompters, he memorized word-for-word his 3-page scripts each week for his famous Fifteen with Father TV talks, so he could look directly into the camera and have what felt like a one-on-one conversation with each of the thousands of people tuning in.  He paid supreme attention to all the little things, and in the process accomplished magnificent things.  All that by the time he died at age 60!

We don’t have to set out to make headlines.  In fact, we’re probably better off if we don’t.  Do the little things prayerfully and well, and you’ll be delightfully surprised to find what God can do with them.  In today’s Gospel, the crazy tenants thought they would inherit the vineyard if they killed the owner’s son!  Go figure!  Don’t complicate your life with sinful craving and scheming.  Remember what happened at Cana?  At his mother’s prompting, Jesus, the Son of God, simply tells the waiters to fill jars with water when they’ve run out of wine.  Follow Mary’s advice, “Do whatever he tells you,” give him your very best with the routine and ordinary stuff, the “water” of life, as it were, and you’ll be amazed what God can do with a little.  In just a few moments, we’ll bring him a little bread and a little wine, and God will take it and make of it the sacred food and drink that has nourished his Church for 2,000 years, the Body and Blood of his Son.  After Mass, we’ll take a little water and speak a few simple words, and God will begin the gift of eternal life for our little sister, Teresa Chiara, just as he began it for us at OUR baptism.  There is literally no end to his wonders.  We witness them every day, as a prelude to joining him in the Kingdom.

Homily for October 1, 2017

 

HOMILY – OCTOBER 1

Perhaps the name Bernard Nathanson doesn’t sound familiar to you.  I hope that by the time I’ve finished speaking, you’ll recognize his significance as someone who lived a long life on both sides of a very contemporary life-and-death issue.  Bernard was born in 1926, and followed in the steps of his father as an obstetrician and gynecologist.  He fell in with bad company and gave them an air of professionalism they did not deserve.  He and his cohorts were the key supporters of the overturning of all abortion laws in the 1960’s.  Their efforts were rewarded by the Supreme Court’s cowardly fabrication of law in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Dr. Nathanson ran the New York City Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health — you guessed it, the largest freestanding abortion facility in the world.  However, this happened to be right about the same time that ultrasound was invented.  Dr. Nathanson had the opportunity to view a real-time abortion, and it started him thinking about what he was doing.  By the end of 1974, less than two years after Roe v. Wade, he wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine, “I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”  He said that abortion is “the most atrocious holocaust in the history of the United States.”  He wrote a book titled Aborting America in which he exposed what he called “the dishonest beginnings of the abortion movement.”  By this he meant the LIE that abortion was being promoted to protect women and their rights, whereas the promoters knew it was a very lucrative way to take advantage of poor women in desperate situations.

In 1984, Dr. Nathanson directed and narrated a film called The Silent Scream in company with the National Right to Life Committee.  Some of you might have seen this powerful documentary.  It is a testimony to the complete philosophical conversion of a man who had been a ruthless abortionist and abortion advocate just a decade earlier.  He also revealed that the numbers he had used to try to convince the public of the dangers of so-called “back-alley” abortions were “false figures.”  By 1996, his change of heart was complete.  He admitted in his autobiography, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”  Thereupon he joined the Catholic Church in New York City, and was baptized and confirmed by John Cardinal O’Connor in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  When asked why he converted to Catholicism, he stated that, “No religion matches the special role for forgiveness that is afforded by the Catholic Church.”

You might wonder why we’ve spent homily time telling you about Dr. Nathanson.  The secondary reason is that this is Right to Life Sunday, and we are well into the autumn season’s 40 Days for Life, with substantial participation from our parishioners.  Next week Tuesday, many of us will gather for the annual Right to Life Dinner at DeVos Place.  But the PRIMARY reason is that this is indeed homily material.  Remember the Gospel reading?  The father has two sons.  The first says “No!” when ordered to the vineyard.  BUT HE RELENTS, he REPENTS, and he goes.  The second one says, “Here I go!” but never does.  How many times we hear people say, or even hear ourselves say, regarding our sins, “Well, that’s just the way I am!” or “I’ve been doing this so long, I’ll never change” or “My whole family is this way, it’s our temperament”?

Let’s face it:  ‘way too many people love the words of the hymn “Just As I Am,” because they think it means they DON’T HAVE TO CHANGE!  How many times have you heard people try to excuse their sins by saying, “Jesus loves me JUST AS I AM!”?  That’s a true statement, but he also daily challenges us to be BETTER than the way he finds us!  You think you can’t, or you’ll never, change?  It’s UP TO YOU!  If a man who was personally responsible for at least 60,000 abortions could begin to see his evil AS EVIL and begin to let the light of God’s truth and love dawn in his heart, what about YOU?  God’s grace of conversion is held out to you every day.  Thank him if your sins aren’t major.  But don’t for a moment think that there’s nothing to work on.  Chip away at those nagging faults, overcome those bad habits.  If Dr. Nathanson could change HIS life, and be an inspiration to so many others even after his death six years ago, don’t sell yourself short.  Virtue is calling you.  And all you have to do is listen to the news to see how very much the world needs it!

Homily for September 24, 2017

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 24

No matter how much we have, no matter how good we’ve got it, our fallen human nature has us bristle when we hear of someone else getting the same thing — or MORE — without, in our minds, earning it or working for it.  “Why should THEY get the same amount as those of us who have worked all these hours in the heat of the day?”  But if life were based only on comparisons, we would be constantly miserable.  As a matter of fact, many people ARE constantly miserable precisely BECAUSE they are always comparing their lot to others, and reckoning that they come up short.  Life isn’t fair, they moan.  And because God is the author of life, GOD isn’t fair!

It might seem rather childish when put in THOSE terms, but let’s face it:  this is how labor union leaders make their money!  Tap into the innate unfairness in working conditions, in wages and hours, in who-does-less-for-more, and you’ve got the basic problem all of us see with today’s Gospel.  That’s why the Church prefaced that Gospel with the passage from Isaiah in the first reading.  Are we really intent on being on the same page with God in drawing others to him and to his Kingdom?  After all, the fullness of life in the Kingdom is going to be the fullness of life for all who are saved!

Infant baptism, and a long life of daily sacrifice as a Carmelite nun?  Jesus promises eternal life in his Kingdom.

A teenage convert who marries her Catholic sweetheart, has a wonderful marriage and a dozen kids, and is stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s and a painful death in her late 40’s?  Jesus promises eternal life in his Kingdom.

A scoundrel who has swindled hundreds out of their life savings, but has a deathbed conversion and dies with the blessing of all the sacraments?  Jesus promises eternal life in his Kingdom.

Now, if you’re the least bit upset about all that, are you really on board with Christ, who wants the Gospel proclaimed to ALL people without exception?  Have you forgotten that his words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” were also prayed FOR YOU?  Are you as anxious as the Good Shepherd for the lost and straying sheep, or are you just content to mind your own business — until the straying sheep seem to get more attention than YOU?  Yes, friends, the Gospel is full of examples like this.  We do have to ask ourselves whether we are as eager about others’ salvation as we are about saving our OWN eternal hides.  If salvation becomes simply a matter of “every man for himself,” we are ALL in danger of losing it.  After all, the Church is intended to be a COMMUNITY.of believers who are constantly and joyfully welcoming new members into the fold — for THEIR good, not ours.

I’m reminded of the factory worker years ago who showed up at the first union meeting he had ever attended.  Being recognized by the chair, he stood up and announced, “Now, look here!  I got shorted in my check $50 the last two weeks!”

“We’ve been having problems with payroll accuracy and complaining about it for months,” the union president said.  “Where have YOU been when all THAT was going on?”

“Well, sure,” the worker said, “I heard the other guys complaining about it, but hey, this is MY paycheck!”

The real test of our commitment to JUSTICE is like the sincerity of our concern about SALVATION:  are we concerned only when it concerns US, or are we truly forgetful of self so that we can rejoice at others’ good fortune and share in it?  The lives of the saints make it clear that true holiness consists in part of a complete forgetfulness of self.  If we’re constantly pre-occupied with how holy we’re becoming, the focus is too much on ourselves and not enough on Jesus and others.  We should rejoice that God is so anxious for our salvation that he’ll leave the light on for us till the very last.  Who knows, we might need it ourselves, to find our way home!  Lord, have mercy on US!

Homily for September 17, 2017

 

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 17

Last week we heard about our compulsory prophetic vocation as the Church, as God’s People, to witness Christ to everyone.  This weekend we are given an important and very challenging detail about the CONTENT of that witness.  Already in the Old Testament, in that reading from the Book of Sirach, we have it laid right out for us about how very much God values forgiveness.  He values it because he is mercy itself, and he knows how much we need to be a forgiving people, to forgive one another, in order to thrive.

How contrary to our fallen human nature is the command to forgive!  Sure, we can point to those cultures that WE think of as “primitive” or “different,” and see how the Arabs, for instance, seem to live and breathe their centuries-old feuds.  We can point to the “mafia” culture in Sicily, “The Godfather” image, the so-called honor killings there and in Pakistan, and get all prideful and say, “Thank God WE’RE not like THAT!”  But it’s never far from us.  Clint Eastwood made a lot of money playing the rogue cop “Dirty Harry,” carrying out personal revenge by eliminating thugs.  And of course, we all cheered, because there’s always a certain feeling of satisfaction when bad guys get their just desserts.  Just 25 years ago, Clint starred in and directed a western titled “Unforgiven,” which won four Academy awards, including Best Picture.  So that really says a lot about US and OUR culture.  How many young people have been murdered on the streets of our cities just because it was “payback time,” and they were “unforgiven”?  Or, on the more ordinary level, how many families have been split and shattered forever over something like “who inherited Grandma’s doily when I should have had it”!

Into the midst of all this mayhem, God sends his own Son, who of course pays the ultimate price of his OWN life for preaching and living and breathing — forgiveness!  So be prepared, and don’t be surprised.  The message is not well received.  But it is a life-giving message, and it must be preached, and lived, and modeled by those whom God calls to be his people.  Where else are we going to find it?  We’re the guys with the confessionals!

Your experiences with forgiveness might well leave you wondering if it’s worth it.  I guarantee you, you WILL get negative vibes even from some of those to whom you extend forgiveness.  You’ll hear things like, “Who are YOU to forgive ME, you self-righteous hypocrite?”  Or, “I don’t need your forgiveness, YOU’RE the one with the problem!”  I’ve had, and I’m sure you have had, people who have decided that “we are no longer speaking.”  How many times I’ve grieved with people in confession or in private conversation who really don’t know why a former friend or a beloved relative has suddenly turned on them or given them a permanent cold shoulder!  And yes, there are times when our only recourse is to prayer for someone who is obviously at odds with us.  What is beyond our power is never beyond GOD’S power — but given our stubbornness as human beings, it might still take years.

The pain is worth it.  When I’ve been estranged from a friend or relative, I’ve found that my prayer for them helps me to be more aware of how I might be coming across to others.  When I remember someone in prayer in this way, it helps me to forget my own hurt feelings and recognize them as a fellow believer, or POTENTIAL believer, for whom Christ shed his Precious Blood.  Their eternal salvation becomes far more important to me than merely trying to settle scores, or even make peace, here on earth.  Imagine having someone with whom you were at odds, coming up to you in heaven with a big smile and saying, “If it weren’t for your prayers, I wouldn’t be here!!  Thank you!!!”  THAT would be worth far more than a momentary reconciliation in this passing world.  But that doesn’t mean we give up working for peace among us here on earth as well:  “Thy will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven!”  And it surely is God’s will that his children live at peace with one another.

It starts with God, and he relies on you and me to pass it on.  God’s forgiveness, says Jesus, won’t do you one bit of good if you keep it to yourself.  It’s given to you so that you can pass it on.  You’ve heard of MONEY burning a hole in your pocket?  You just can’t wait to spend it?  Well, FORGIVENESS has to be like that.  You didn’t have to pay for it, Christ paid for it FOR you.  All you have to do to benefit from that great gift is to pass it on.  Don’t worry how it’s received.  Human history shows us how strange and unfamiliar a gift it can appear to be.  Like our charity, we can’t wait around to measure the effect of sharing God’s forgiveness with others.  We’ve received without cost.  Without cost, we are to give.