Yearly Archives: 2017

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.

 

Homily for September 10, 2017

 

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 10

Ezekiel the Prophet has a tall order from God in the first reading.  God says, “I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel.”  Now, if we’re thinking, “This has nothing to do with ME,” we’d better think again.  From the moment of our baptism, when we were anointed with the sacred chrism right after the water was poured, the priest prayed, “As Christ was anointed priest, PROPHET, and king, so may you live always as a member of his Body, sharing everlasting life.”  Christ was anointed; YOU are anointed to live as a member of his Body; therefore, living as a member of his Body, YOU are anointed as a prophet.  Oh, don’t worry:  you’re not the only one!  Look around you.  We are a priestly people, we are a prophetic people, we are a kingly people, because we live as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.  It’s an honor and a privilege, but we don’t have time to sit around waiting for the applause.  There won’t BE much applause, anyway.  We’ve got work to do, and instead of moaning about the condition of the world around us, our job is to get out there and witness to Christ, to transform that world from the inside out.

“I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel.”  That’s not just the Jews, the original Israel.  That’s not just the Church, the new and expanded Israel.  It means everybody on earth.  Christ’s mission is a UNIVERSAL mission.  No one is excluded from the right to hear about the Gospel and to see it being lived.  Your duty is to let the Gospel leap off the pages of your life, because many people you encounter will never pick up the Book.  Your reward?  Many people will hate you for it, even though YOU know and I know that the Gospel is for their own good.  There will be many, many people whom you will never convince.  Don’t worry about that.  Don’t worry about the RESULTS.  God will take care of the results.  YOUR job is to provide the witness.

Sometimes, like a good watchman in an emergency, you’re going to have to sound the alarm that something is wrong.  The Church has been doing that loud and clear now for well over 40 years when it comes to abortion; and surveys, at least, tell us that the culture is beginning to listen.  Even there, there’s a long way to go, and the work will never be completely finished.  There are many other things that we might have to issue warnings about, but being a watchman is not just about warning.  Much of our witness, as we’ve said, has to do with our own behavior, not just telling other people what to do or not do.  People watch us.  They’re looking to see if we’re believable.  You might not be the prophet whom this or that person will believe.  But maybe a grandchild, or a godchild, or someone you taught in religious education, will provide a witness that will catch someone’s eye and heart and lead them to Christ.  You may never know it in this life, but you have a role in passing the Word on — from Jesus, to the Apostles, to their followers, to the saints, to one particular couple, to their children, and on and on.  For 2,000 years, it’s been passed on, in the Scriptures, in our Tradition, by word of mouth, and by the example of men and women, boys and girls, just like you and me.  We don’t have time to keep looking back to see if we can see results.  We just keep looking forward, at the work yet to be done.  And judging from the headlines on any given day, we can be assured of enough work to last us for the rest of our lives.

What about the second reading and the Gospel today?  Sounds like Jesus gives us permission to read the riot act to that reprehensible relative, and even to bring others along for the intervention.  Wrong.  Take care to read over them again.  St. Paul tells the Romans, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.”  And Jesus gives us careful rules on fraternal correction so that we may not only exercise our duty as watchmen for the house of Israel, but do it in an orderly and considerate fashion without just “clearing the air” or “getting something off our chest.”  As I’ve often said, anytime you hear someone say, “I’m going to be brutally honest,” the one thing you can count on is that it’s gonna be brutal.  Honest, maybe not so much.  The main thing is that when we undertake correction of others, we do it for THEIR improvement, not for our own satisfaction.  If it doesn’t seem that it will be well received coming from US, perhaps because of some unpleasant history, perhaps it’s up to ANOTHER watchman at another time.

Being a watchman is an art, like being a physician, or a police officer, or a parent, or a pastor.  Sure, there’s some science and technology and law and nurturing wrapped up in all of it, but you learn to know how much of what to apply at the right time.  We have a lifetime to practice, the Holy Spirit to guide us, and this most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist to nourish us for the task.  God doesn’t leave his staff members to fend for themselves!

Homily for September 3, 2017

 

HOMILY – SEPTEMBER 3

Wow, from chief of staff to goat, in just a few verses!  Poor Peter.  One moment, he shines with the sparkle of dogmatic brilliance:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Then, in practically the next breath, as Jesus begins to explain his upcoming passion and death, his newly-appointed first mate does — well, what first mates are supposed to do, right?  “Don’t talk like that, Captain,” he insists, dismissing these dire predictions of suffering and death.  “Nothing like that is going to happen to YOU!”  And you can hear Peter thinking, “Especially with US around!” as he looks at his fellow Apostles and sees them eagerly looking forward to a victorious entry into Jerusalem.  This is, after all, the Messiah.  This is the one we’ve all been waiting for.  All the signs are there.  We’ve seen them.  The crowds are going wild.  What can go wrong?

Of course, the answer is, as it usually is in human affairs, plenty!  The same crowds acclaiming Jesus with Hosannas on Palm Sunday will be cheering for the release of Barabbas just six days hence.  Their fickle enthusiasm mirrors our own repetitious sinfulness.  We easily forget that our own sinful choices add OUR voices to the chorus of “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  And if we look around for the Apostles to encourage us otherwise, whoops, they’ve by and large taken confused and gutless refuge in the upper room.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story.  Christ, and his Apostles, now filled with the Holy Spirit, will not let sin be the last word for us unless we choose to make it so.  In the second reading, from Romans, we heard St. Paul encourage us:  “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  Christ is eager to have his disciples join in his redemptive sacrifice of love to the Father.  We are invited to do so at every Mass:  “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father.”  Everything that we do, except sin of course, can be part of that offering and sacrifice.  Think of that often during the day and during the week.  When you come to Mass, you’re bringing all that with you to offer with Jesus.  If you’re into that as you should be, there’s not a chance that you’ll ever again whine, “Booooooring” when someone mentions going to Mass.  You’ll be so ready you can’t wait.

The Apostle also warns us, “Do not be conformed to this age,” and “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  Note that that’s part of God’s revelation.  Paul wrote the words at a certain time in history.  But God made sure those words were included in the Scriptures for every day and age.  No matter when we happen to live, the evil one will always be anxious to use the world with all its allurements and temptations to entrap us, hook, line, and stinker.  And, brother and sister, do we ever fall for it!

I just read an article by a leading Jesuit priest, arguing that the Church should soften its stance for people who disagree in theory and / or practice with Church teachings on sexuality.  He wrote that we should all spend a lot of time thinking about WHY so many people disagree with the Church’s teachings.  My carefully measured and highly controlled reaction was, “WELL DUH!!!  BECAUSE THEY’RE HARD, THAT’S WHY!!!”  I mean, I can figure THAT out, and I’m not even a Jesuit!!!  Listen to St. Paul:  “Do.  Not.  Be.  Conformed.  To.  The.  Spirit.  Of.  This.  Age.”  Can he be any clearer?  And wasn’t he talking about lots of the same things that are just as sinfully common today as they were back then?  Keep reminding yourself:  the greatest thing the WORLD has to offer you is a huge mission field to make the Kingdom of God known.  Everything else can easily just be an illusion to lead you astray.  If you’re constantly asking yourself how this plan, this relationship, this job, this trip, this vacation, this action will help you to make the gospel a reality in your own life and the lives of others, you are far less apt to trade your soul for a bubble that is bound to burst, sooner or later.

Homily for August 27, 2017

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 27

We’ve gotten pretty familiar with the news, reporting that this or that Cabinet member or other administration official is out and someone else is in.  This is not unusual in big business or big politics.  AND, it’s not unusual in the big Bible!  Shebna was the chief of staff of Hezekiah, the king of Judah about 300 years after King David, so about 700 B.C.  But Shebna was a wicked, proud, and deceitful man who took advantage of his position for his own betterment and pleasure.  Now, it’s bad enough if you get fired by your boss.  Shebna got fired by God!  God sends Isaiah the prophet to tell him off, to detail his sins and injustices, and to give him the results:  “Hand over the keys, I’m giving them to somebody else!”  Those are tough words, coming from God himself.  Why would God get involved in the internal politics of this little mid-Eastern kingdom?  Because THEY ARE GOD’S PEOPLE!  And God’s not going to let them be so poorly served by someone who’s only in it for himself.

Turn to the Gospel, and we have Jesus handing over the keys to the Kingdom –not to the kingdom of Judah, not to the kingdom of Galilee, not to the Roman Empire, but to the Kingdom of GOD!  Here is the Son of God, not TAKING AWAY the keys from a mere mortal, but GIVING THEM to a mere mortal.  Sure, we call that mere mortal SAINT Peter today, but it wasn’t pretty getting him there.  Peter was like the blowhard in a West Side bar, a big, burly Alpha male, quick to speak up, one extreme to the other, both feet in his mouth, and therefore no one really surprised when he fell flat on his face.  Hard to walk OR talk when ya got both feet in there!  But Jesus was able to see through all that bluster and recognize LEADERSHIP, combined with THE HEART OF A SHEPHERD.  Simon, son of John, speaks up for the rest when Jesus asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?” and Simon says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  It’s not the only time, by any means, when this Apostle will blurt out something that he does not entirely comprehend — but with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he gets it right!

When Jesus gives him a whole new name, Simon, son of John, becomes (in Aramaic and Hebrew) Kepha (pron. KAY-fuh) or in Greek Petros (pron. peh-TRAWSS), Peter.  It will take a lot longer than that until he can be recognized as SAINT Peter!  There are lots of sins and weaknesses yet to be purged and purified before the gates of the Kingdom of God can be opened for Peter himself.  But he has the keys, given to him by God, for himself and for the rest of us.  His commission is similar to the commission God gives to Eliakim (pron. eh-LEE-ah-kim) through Isaiah the prophet:  “When he opens, no one shall shut.  When he shuts, no one shall open.”  With Peter, it’s, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  In both cases, it’s GOD, intervening in earthly affairs, handing over the power, all of it, to a chief of staff to carry on the work of the Kingdom.  And why does God do it?  Because in both cases, THEY ARE GOD’S PEOPLE.  God has a divine design in mind, and proceeds at his own pace — always much too slow for US — to keep unfolding the events of salvation history.

Think of that.  BECAUSE we are God’s people, God intervenes in our history, not necessarily at our beck and call, but to help us accomplish our purposes.  And he does it THROUGH US.  Through a conclave, through an ordination, through an appointment, through a transfer, through the loving and courageous witness of martyrs and husbands and wives and children.  St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “How inscrutable are God’s judgments, how unsearchable his ways!”  We might be prone to echo that sentiment when the Church, with its teaching, sanctifying, and governing authority, makes decisions we don’t particularly agree with or provides teachings we find difficult.  Yet when a person already baptized in another Christian church makes a profession of faith in the Catholic Church, he or she adds this statement to the Nicene Creed:  “I believe and profess ALL that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

I recently heard a conversation between a lifelong Catholic lady and a man who converted to Catholicism as an adult.  She was finding fault with some pretty basic and fundamental teachings and practices of the Church, and asked him what he thought.  Without a moment’s hesitation he told her, “When I made my decision to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, she accepted me as a sinner in need.  And I accepted her with all her human warts and foibles, because I trust Jesus and his Holy Spirit to guide the Church and keep her faithful to the truth and the path to life.  When it’s challenging, I accept it because I know I need the challenge, not out of any blind faith.”

In a human way, we might disagree with the emphasis the Pope and the bishops give to this or that.  We might suffer some consternation or doubt when they disagree among themselves, forgetting that with the news coverage we have today, it seems that no conversation can stay out of public notice for long.  An important lesson I have treasured from my many years of study of Church history is one I found I share with my old friend Cardinal Dolan of New York.  He says, “If anything, the grittiness, the awkwardness, the clumsiness, the dirt of the Church has only deepened my faith in the divine.”  The English Catholic author Hilaire Belloc wrote, many decades ago, “After years of study I’ve come to reluctantly accept that the Roman Catholic Church must be divine, because no merely human institution governed by such imbecility could have survived a fortnight!”  That’s not a doctrine of the Church, mind you, but it’s a good reason to take courage, as the Apostles did, in good times and in bad.  As Peter said to Jesus on another occasion, when others were leaving because they literally couldn’t SWALLOW the teaching on the Eucharist, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life!”  And the Church provides the context in which we learn to understand those words.  And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Homily for August 20, 2017

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 20

A dog!  A DAWWWG!!  Jesus called this poor woman a DAWWWG!!  If he’d call somebody mean names in person, don’t give him a Twitter account!!  Now, I’ve heard all kinds of fussing and sputtering about today’s Gospel passage from Matthew:  “Why did Jesus talk that way to her?”  “How could his human nature be so flawed as to buy into the racism of his age?”  But I think most of these comments and questions discount the fishing expedition that Jesus goes on whenever he wants to reel in the big one.  Better than anyone else, he knows how to slowly draaaw faith out of the people he talks with — even his Apostles!  He’s got more than a rude insult up his divine sleeve.

See what an opportune moment we have in the midst of current events, Charlottesville and so on, to hear God speak to us about how we are to think about “others”!  Not just other people in general, not just your co-workers or the neighbors down the street, not just the family members with whom you live, but “THE others.”  People who are very unlike you, people who don’t share your values, your religion, or your ethnic heritage.  People who have no work ethic, people of vastly different races or cultures, people who loudly shout things that you find abhorrent and detestable.  People whose language you can’t begin to understand.  THOSE people, whoever they might be.  Unless we’ve achieved sainthood, we likely all have someone who fits one or more of those categories.

What does God reveal to us about THEM?  First reading, from Isaiah:  “The FOREIGNERS I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples.”  Oh, to be sure, God doesn’t issue a blank check.  There are conditions for those others, as there are for us.  They have to be trying hard to be good, just as we do.  Their concepts of God and of the purpose and meaning of life might be kind of hazy, compared to what we should know and believe from the Catechism.  But let’s remember that our own thoughts and actions sometimes identify US as hypocrites:  believing one thing and doing another.  It’s called SIN, and we’re all guilty, to one degree or another.  THAT we have in common with everybody else on earth, from Hitler and his associates to the slobs who dump their household trash in the freeway medians in the middle of the night.  What we also have in common with everybody else on earth is the mercy which God freely extends to us.  Some are so hardened in their sinful ways that they cannot even recognize good when it’s in front of them.  For them, we have to pray.  We are, after all, God’s priestly people.  If no one else prays for the Hitlers and the slobs, WE have to.  That’s our job, that’s our vocation.  It ain’t pretty, and it might only earn us ridicule, but SOMEbody’s gotta do it.

Second reading, from Romans.  Paul is writing, of course, about the Jews who seem to be rejecting Christ, and his anxiety for them because they are his people.  After all, he’s a Jew, himself!  “Just as YOU once disobeyed God but have now received mercy, so THEY have now disobeyed in order that they too may now receive mercy.”  The best thing we can do to convince others of God’s love and of the truth of our faith is to LIVE IT as best we can.  We’ll never know who’s watching.  A few years ago, I concelebrated the funeral of a retired fire fighter who had no idea how instrumental he had been in bringing about my dad’s conversion.  Dad had plenty of wonderful Catholic examples in my mom’s family and among his friends.  But this one man made a difference, not with brilliant arguments in defense of the faith, nor by heroic acts of self-denial or charity.  Those things have their place, for sure.  But he did something so simple that any of us could do it.  Every night before he got into bed at the engine house, he knelt down next to his bunk in the dorm and took a few minutes to quietly say his prayers.  Never talked about it, never made a show of it.  But Dad noticed, and it was a tipping point:  “Wow, people REALLY BELIEVE this!!”  Now, can you do something like that, in an appropriate way, of course — in your dorm room, at the hospital cafeteria, at the Burger King?  You never know who’s watching.  Same thing with any good action that you perform, for no other reason than just because it should be done.

And now, finally, the Gospel reading, from Matthew.  Think of the Gospel conversations Jesus had with women.  Each of them shows Jesus slowly, carefully, one could even say coyly, teasing a profession of faith out of one who has a need.  The Samaritan woman at the well needs water, along with some respect that she has not earned.  The woman with the history of hemorrhage needs a physical cure.  Martha of Bethany has suffered the death of her brother, Lazarus.  The woman caught in adultery needs forgiveness more than judgment.  And this Canaanite woman, a member of what we might call the aboriginal people of the land that became Israel, needs a demon driven out of her daughter.  In a way, each of them is a symbol of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

“Send her away,” the disciples say, heartlessly.  Why should they show her any compassion?  She’s only a pagan.  She has no RIGHT to the Lord and his saving message.  And at first, Jesus seems to agree.  “It’s not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  The self-satisfied looks on the disciples’ faces show no shock at this apparent insult.  After all:  SHE’S ONLY A PAGAN.  And the pagan takes the insult in stride, and is not put off by it.  “All right, so I’m a dog.  Even dogs get what drops off the table!”  And wow!  You can see the smile of recognition dawn on Jesus’ face as she takes the bait of faith and runs with it.  “O Woman” — remember that this was a title of the highest respect — “great is your faith!”

Our task as Jesus’ disciples is NEVER to treat people according to their worst behavior.  In God’s eyes, we have all been, at one time or another, unbearable, uncouth, undocumented, unfair, ungrateful, unreliable, untruthful, unwashed.  We don’t have to remind others of their sorry condition unless it’s our job in society to parent, to teach, to report, to oversee, to apprehend, to enforce, to judge, or to sentence — and even then, those disciplinary actions can be performed with kindness.  And even then, God invites us to see his image and likeness in others IN SPITE OF how they might have tarnished that image and likeness by sin.  And even then, treat them according to the dignity that HE has given them, not according to the judgment they may have earned by their bad behavior or even their willful ignorance.  Now, this doesn’t mean lying down and becoming a doormat for evildoers.  It means positioning ourselves to become part of the pathway to salvation for anyone who might want to come along with us.

Not all will accept the invitation, which comes from God, not just from us.  No, we live in a world where many are ready to call us names and spit in our face BECAUSE we are disciples of Jesus, so we might as well expect it.  For us, it should be consoling to hear his words as we, like the pagan woman before us, brush the insults aside:  “O man, O woman, great is your faith!”  Even those who spit in our face  — MIGHT be watching, and find THEIR way to the Lord because of how we handle it.

Homily for August 13, 2017

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 13

Last week we heard the Gospel story of the Transfiguration.  We should know by now that if you ask any faithful Jew, “Who represent the Law and the Prophets?” you will get the answer, “Moses and Elijah.”  It was Moses and Elijah who appeared on Mount Tabor, speaking with Jesus.  You might say that it proved he had the backing of the Law and the Prophets — AND the approving voice of his Father — as he was about to undergo his saving passion and death.

There are two passages in the Old Testament in which God comes as close as he can to revealing himself in person to a human being.  In today’s first reading, we hear the story of God saying to Elijah, “The Lord will be passing by.”  Now, Elijah knew that no mortal could look on the face of God and live.  As he stands there on the mountain, the forces of nature go wild — wind, earthquake, fire — but none of those contain the Lord.  They are his creations, they are not gods in themselves.  Then comes a tiny whispering sound.  THAT coaxes Elijah to the door of the cave, where he hides his face in his cloak.  He has recognized the whisper of God passing by.  A good lesson for us:  make too much noise about your situation, and you might not hear God when he passes without fanfare.

But earlier, in Exodus Chapter 33, there is a similar passage about a similar encounter — one between God and Moses.  “Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’”  And we know that from then on, Moses had to wear a veil over his face.  Even the “divine sunburn” from the radiance of God’s BACK was so brilliant that it blinded anyone who looked at Moses.

Do we get the picture?  God’s presence is so overwhelming, his appearance so radiant with divine vitality, that no one can behold him and live.  So how does he come among us?  As one of US!  The Apostles think it’s a ghost when they see him walking on the water.  Peter makes bold to say, “IF it’s you, let me do that, too!”  But the really big IF is Peter himself, as it always is with us when we say in our prayers, “Lord, IF you love me, IF you want what’s good for me, IF you have the power to do this and that,” and then, like Peter, fall flat on our faces or sink beneath the waves for lack of faith.

 

Note that in the Old Testament passages about Moses and Elijah, God promises to PASS BY.  In the New Testament, God makes his PEOPLE his Temple, his dwelling place.  So dear are his people to him that the Apostle Paul can say, in the second reading from Romans 9:  “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.  They are Israelites.”  They are God’s people.  Paul would gladly give up his own salvation if it would assure theirs.  But WE, the people of the New Testament, the Bride of Christ, are in an even more privileged position.  Christ, who has given up his LIFE for us, will never more pass us by.  He dwells in our midst.  Sad but true, it is WE who so often pass HIM by.

I recognize this whenever I cut my prayers to the minimum to do my own thing.  “It is I,” Jesus says as he comes walking on the troubled waters in the winds and storms of our lives.  “Do not be afraid!”  But what am I afraid of?  That I might have to change?  That I’ll lose time for my “own” work?  That I might not get something else done?  But what will it really be worth without prayer?

When you just turn off, without a second thought, an invitation to spend some time in adoration;  an opportunity to stop by church for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament;  the chance to go to weekday Mass, at least during Advent and Lent;  the impulse to come to church to thank God on your birthday or anniversary;  the wish that you had “someone” to talk to about some pressing problem or difficulty;  my friends, when you turn off all those openings to the Lord, it’s no longer God who is passing YOU by.  He is anxious to show you himself here, in the form of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.  Ask yourself:  Do you know which day of the week we have adoration here at church from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.?  Do you know that our church is open EVERY day from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m., and that the Lord is just waiting for your visit?  He makes himself so very available to you.  Isn’t there a chance that things might be different for you, O you of little faith, if you stopped being afraid of losing time, of missing out on something, of going out of your way, of “interrupting” your day with prayer?  If you, and all of us, stopped just PASSING HIM BY?  Ask yourself:  what are you afraid of, what’s holding you back, from spending a little more time with the One who should be the very Center of your life?  He died so you could be with him forever.  Start enjoying that now.

Homily for August 6, 2017

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 6

Besides my mom’s caring, nurturing hands, some of my earliest memories are of the rugged hands of the men in our family.  My dad’s hands had been seasoned by digging trenches in the Canal Zone and firing cannons in the infantry in the Bulge.  Before I was born, those hands were already busy dressing hydrants, laying lines, climbing ladders, and driving heavy equipment in the Fire Department.  My mom’s dad had big Lithuanian hands with a powerful grip.  He, too, had been a fire fighter, and later spent over 30 years at Haskelite over on Ann Street.  Dad’s dad had a farmer’s hands, and he had also been a lineman for Consumers.  Dad’s step-dad and brother-in-law were both railroad men.  You get the picture.  Strong, rough, weathered hands.

That’s how the Apostles knew Jesus — a man with carpenter’s hands, with all the slivers, scars, and scrapes that that involves.  They were used to hard work with their own hands, to be sure.  Except for Matthew the tax collector, they all had fishermen’s hands, handling boats, oars, nets, ropes, anchors, and, of course, bait and fish.  So they knew Jesus as one like them — different occupation, but no stranger to hard work.  One mysterious thing.  Even though he was commonly known as “the son of the carpenter” of Nazareth, he consistently referred to Almighty God as his “Abba,” his “Daddy.”  It was so unusual that no one really dared ask him about it.  They knew that the religious leaders sure didn’t like it, that familiarity with the Divine.  But then he also kept referring to himself as “Son of Man,” just like they knew the Prophet Daniel had testified that God’s own infinite power would shine through “one like a Son of Man,” coming on the clouds of heaven.  What could all this mean?  Who WAS Jesus, really?

Jesus selects his closest three to go with him up the mountain.  They have to be prepared for what is soon enough going to happen on ANOTHER mountain, the one just outside Jerusalem, the one that resembles a Skull.  But now, on THIS mountain, a whole new and more complete reality shines through the human nature of Jesus.  Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, are there as having been summoned into the presence of the Almighty, and they are conversing with Jesus.  The Apostles are overcome, Peter begins babbling something about putting up three Holy Tents, and suddenly the voice of the One whom Jesus calls “Abba” can be distinctly heard identifying himself as such:  “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  Whatever Peter, James, and John woke up thinking might happen that day, THIS WASN’T IT!!  Jesus refers to God as “Daddy,” the Voice refers to HIM as “my Son.”  Hmmm.  And at the same time, here he is, one like US in all things except sin.  Hmmm.

And then it’s over.  Down the mountain we go, back to — reality?  But THAT was reality, an infinitely more complete reality than anything here on earth seems to be.  “Now don’t tell anyone about this until the Son of Man rises from the dead.”  Not a word from the Apostles.  But what on earth — or in heaven — could he mean?  “Rise from the dead”?

Until the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, they couldn’t comprehend the height and depth and breadth of this revelation, and its implications for US.  If God could be among us in human form, then it’s clear that he has come to share his life with us.  That means WE are called to be similarly transparent, to let God’s life shine through us and light up the world.  Who, me?  Who, you?  You don’t have to THINK you’re unworthy.  You ARE unworthy, and God knows it, and God loves you and calls you ANYWAY!  As Father John Foley paraphrased St. Paul’s words in a hymn, “We hold a treasure, not made of gold, in earthen vessels, wealth untold.  One treasure only:  the Lord, the Christ, in earthen vessels.”  Christ’s divine nature shines through HIS human nature so that OUR human nature need no longer be just FALLEN human nature.  Like the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, the Transfiguration is a sign of our Redemption!  Unworthy earthen vessels containing eternal, infinite mysteries.

Look at your hands.  Rugged or soft, gnarled or smooth, the Lord asks you to place those hands, and your whole self, at his service.  He committed himself to you in baptism.  He won’t leave you to use those hands alone.  Whether those hands are cleaning fish, typing on a keyboard, changing diapers, sawing timber, or signing checks, they have the tremendous capacity to make the All Holy present to his creation.  Bread and wine will shortly be brought here to the altar to be changed into the Body and Blood of the One who was transfigured on Mount Tabor.  They are not intended to be left here simply to be worshiped, as Peter was ready to do in putting up tents to capture the moment.  No, those gifts become Christ precisely TO FEED US, so that we can go out and continue the transformation of the world itself, in Jesus’ Name.  We hold a treasure, in earthen vessels.