Monthly Archives: October 2017

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!