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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.

 

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.