God, why are you asleep with this storm raging around me?!?

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B (June 21, 2015)

First Reading:  JB 38:1, 8-11
Second Reading:  2 COR 5:14-17
Gospel: MK 4:35-41

“The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

As I prayed over this week’s scriptures, this line from today’s Gospel jumped off the page and I sat with it and let it simmer in my mind. This gospel and this passage present us with a question that most of us ask at some point in our lives, “Where is God in the midst of the storms life throws at us?”

Job, the main character in our first reading surely had to answer that question. Stripped of literally everything the world viewed as “good”, he was left with nothing but questions. Wealth. Gone. Health. Gone. Family. Gone. Job faced the most severe storms that life could throw at him and he was left with nothing but himself and his relationship with God as he wrestled mightily with this question.

Let’s take a look at the miracle story we heard in today’s Gospel and see what light it JesusCalmstheSeacan shed on our reflections. Why do you suppose Jesus, who is God, and therefore all-knowing and all-powerful, allows himself to fall asleep just as the storm was brewing and especially when things got tough, really scary, for his disciples? This is a question for all of us. Maybe we won’t be on a boat during a storm that threatens to sink us. But I look out at you sitting here before me and I know many of you right now have storms of your own in progress. Maybe it is the:

  • long and painful sickness of a loved one with a chronic condition or disease
  • perhaps the death of a spouse or child through disease …
  • perhaps the death of a spouse or child through disease or tragic accident,
  • it might be the damage caused by your own or a family member’s addictions and infidelities,
  • you found out one day you no longer have a job that you count on to feed and support your family
  • or perhaps it’s sheer, heart-sickening loneliness

Right now some of you here may feel as if you are on that boat and the storm is raging around you while God is asleep. Why would he do that? Why? It’s a natural question to ask. The Catechism tells us clearly that we will not understand God’s ways fully until we meet him face to face on the other side of death.

[Catechism #324: The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life.]

However, we can understand God’s ways partially, if we understand God’s plan for our lives. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus told us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” And often when we go through these difficult seasons of life; when we are asked to pick up and carry a cross of our own, it can feel as if God has fallen asleep in our boat while the storm rages all around us.

This past week, we buried a parishioner named Barbara McHugh. Barbara was a modern day Job. Barbara was divorced some 20 years ago and had no children. Both parents had died and she had no brothers or sisters. In short, she had no family whatsoever. Shortly after her divorce, she had a severe case of Pancreatitis that ravaged her body, stole her good health and eventually her ability to work or even get out of her apartment, save an occasional doctor’s visit or trip to the grocery. My wife began to take Barbara Communion eight years ago and for the last five years she took her Communion just about every week. If anyone had reason to be bitter or wonder why God was asleep in her boat while the storm raged in her life, it was Barbara.

But Barbara had learned the lesson I believe God was teaching his disciples in the midst of the storm we heard about in today’s Gospel. We are not all-powerful; we need the mighty hand of God to guide us as we pick up the crosses that come into our lives. Today’s Gospel reading illustrates that it wasn’t until Jesus fell asleep in the midst of the storm, that his disciples came to understand just how much they truly depended on him. If it seems God is sleeping in the midst of our storm, perhaps it’s precisely so we will acknowledge our dependence upon him.

Barbara engaged her God and wrestled with him, much in the same way Job did. Eventually, she came to acknowledge her total dependence on God for the grace she needed to weather the crosses she had been given to carry. She not only survived those storms, but she truly thrived in them. She was a light to the people she was able to meet in her limited visits out of her home. And she was a light to my wife who often told me that she was so blessed by Barbara’s positive spirit and love for the Lord in spite of the many hardships she had to endure. Barbara is someone we should try to emulate. Barbara relied totally on God’s grace to not only see her through the storms but how to reflect the Lord’s light on others she encountered in her limited outings.

By virtue of our baptism and confirmation, we received the Holy Spirit into our very beings – always there and ready to be engaged. What a gift we have been given. The question is, do we open the gift and make use of it like Barbara did.
Indeed, God is with us always and just waiting to be engaged. Look at what the Apostles did. They approached Jesus and engaged him. He waited, they approached. My brothers and sisters – God will not leave us alone in our times of challenge, when the storms of life are raging around us. But we need to be willing to approach him; to engage him; to develop an ever-deepening personal relationship with him. The Apostles turned to him, went to him in the back of the boat and engaged him. We need to draw close to him and ask him to draw close to us – not just once the storm is upon us but each and every day.

Prayer is how we approach Jesus. It was by going to Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat, that the Apostles discovered his greatness and survived the storm. Prayer is our classroom of silence, where we grow in intimacy with our God and begin to understand our place in His plan; where we come to know his voice so we will be able to hear it when the storms of life threaten to overtake us. Prayer is our gym where we exercise and strengthen the faith that allows Jesus to become the Lord of our lives, not just in theory, but in practice – every day!

I’ve heard it said that we don’t do altar calls in the Catholic Church, that “It’s one of those protestant things.” I disagree. We have an altar call at every Mass. It’s called Communion. When you and I come forward to the altar to receive our Lord, body, blood, soul and divinity, it’s as if we are approaching Jesus in the back of that boat, to engage him. Today when you come forward to receive, here’s what I want you to do. First, thank Jesus for laying down his life so that your sins might be forgiven. Secondly, invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life, letting him know that you do depend on him to live as his faithful disciple – and mean it!

Then, as you receive our Lord, experience the joy and peace of knowing that your God lives; that your God loves; and that your God is always in control, no matter what storms may be raging in your life.

That is the secret Barbara McHugh discovered many years ago and that the Apostles learned the day that Jesus woke up in that boat, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”

What is Caesar’s and What is God’s?

Tags

, , ,

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A – October 19th, 2014

  • First Reading:  Isaiah 45:1,4-6
  • Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
  • Gospel:  Matthew 22:15-21

CLICK HERE for link to audio from 9am Mass

Today we continue a sequence of Gospels that find Jesus being questioned by those who will ultimately put him to death.  Jesus, knowing what was in their hearts but loving them anyway, chose to try and teach them a lesson rather than ignoring or humiliating them.  And that lesson is as valid today as it was twenty centuries ago:  RenderUntoGodGive to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.

Jesus is telling us that every Christian holds dual citizenship.  Our physical birth made us citizens of an earthly nation.  Our spiritual birth that took place in the waters of baptism made us citizens of the heavenly Kingdom.  Sometimes these kingdoms overlap.  But in the end, our earthly citizenship will come to an end while our heavenly citizenship will last forever.  Throughout the ages, many saints and martyrs have taught us that any time we are forced to choose between the two; any time Caesar tries to take what belongs to God, we must be faithful to our everlasting homeland, even if it means suffering painful consequences here on earth.

But as often as possible, Jesus reminds us that we need to responsibly live out both of these citizenships.  We don’t thumb our nose at Caeser, who does have his rightful place.  Knowing our citizenship in heaven trumps our citizenship on earth, how do we exercise both of these responsibly?

We have an election coming up.  I don’t know about you, but the mute button on my TV is begging for mercy.  The second one of those political commercials comes on, we dive for the remote, “Hit the mute button!”  Oh, if only the election could be tomorrow.  We laugh, but those commercials are a reminder that as members of the Church we are obliged to participate responsibly in shaping the moral character of our society.  We are called not only to help maintain a civil society, but also to help improve it, to help build up a civilization of Christian justice and love.

In democratic societies like ours, we have a unique opportunity to do this by making good use of the many conversations that happen in election years; conversations about social virtues and values.  Many of our friends, colleagues, and neighbors want to make the right decisions in the voting booth, but don’t understand the difference between foundational and secondary issues.  They’re hungry for the truth on these complicated matters.  As followers of Christ, we are called to feed the hungry, to let our light shine before others.  Studies have repeatedly shown that the single biggest factor in how people vote is not mass media, but information they get from friends and colleagues.  In our social conversations at work, at gatherings of our friends, we should never be afraid to explain our point of view based on the beauty and truth of the Church’s teachings.  We are disciples of Jesus and we have something important, something crucial to contribute to these conversations!

Several years ago the Bishops published a wonderful document to assist all of us inFaithfulCitizenship understanding how we effectively and faithfully participate in the political process.  The document is called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (Click here for a two page summary version).  In the bulletin, Adrienne is running significant excerpts from this document several weeks in a row – including this week.  In the Wednesday Wisdom E-mail that I hope many of you receive, Brenda sent a link to a two page summary of this document and I highly encourage everyone to spend time between now and the election reading and digesting that document.  Participating in being good citizens is not an optional component of who we are as Jesus’ disciples.

As I said in the beginning, we are also citizens of the heavenly realm – so we must render unto God what is God’s.  And exactly what does belong to God?  We know the answer to this question.  It’s written in the very first pages of the Bible.  All that we are, all that we possess, and all that we can ever hope for has its origins in God.  Just as the Roman coin bore the image of the Emperor who made it, so we are made in the image and likeness of the one who created us and who loves us.

God called each one of us into existence; but not just to exist.  God created us so that we could be in relationship with him; so that we could learn to love him as he has always loved us.  This is the whole purpose of our lives: to abide in communion with God.  The Catechism puts it this way in paragraph #44,  “Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.”  Freely living by our bond with God means living as he created us to live.  And he has shown us how to do that by sending us his Son, the model of every Christian life, the Friend of every human soul.

And so, giving to God what belongs to God means obeying his commandments, following the example of Christ, our Lord and Savior and heeding the teachings of his Church.  And we do this, NOT because we are following some ancient set of rules that have no relevance to our modern lives.  No!  We do this because we know that God loves us; wants the absolute best for us; longs for us to be the best version of ourselves; and desires that we become all that he created us to be.  And we do all of this be because in following the commandments, in following the example of Christ, in heeding the teachings of his Church, we are confident that we are living in the center of God’s will for our lives.

Let me ask you a question.  If you were arrested later this week and accused of being a Christian, a citizen of this world AND the heavenly realm, would there be enough ChristianEvidenceevidence to convict you?  Think about that?  Would there be enough evidence to convict you of being a disciple of Jesus Christ?  Could people say they heard you speak up and defend the teachings of Christ and his Church in those office and social conversations?  Or would they say you sort of smiled, nodded your head and said nothing.  Would they say they saw you at Habitat Builds, or taking St. Vincent DePaul food vouchers to those in need?  Would they say they saw you in the adoration chapel on a regular basis?  Would they say you responded to the call for adult disciples to lead our Children’s Liturgy of the Word services or our CCD classes?  Would they have seen you at a BUILD event as the faith community here in Lexington works to hold our leaders accountable to making Lexington a city of justice for all?  Would they have seen you praying in front of the local abortion clinic; being a witness to life?  What evidence would there be to convict you of being a disciple of Jesus?

So we are indeed citizens of the world and more importantly of the heavenly realm.  Yes, we owe to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  But God claims us as his own and we are the coins that bear his image.  So most certainly, we owe everything to God.  Everything!  And when we begin to live in the center of God’s will for us, my brothers and sisters, get ready!  Because then we will experience true joy and the peace that is beyond all understanding.

Responding to Our Father’s Unimaginable Generosity – Called to participate in it!

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 21st, 2014 – Preached at the Sunday morning Masses, Cathedral of Christ the King

Reading 1 – IS 55:6-9
Reading 2 – PHIL 1:20C-24, 27A
Gospel – MT 20:1-16A

Audio capture of this homily preached at the 11:15am Mass

In some ways people never change.   In today’s Gospel parable, we hear that the men who worked all day long in the vineyard were livid when they realized that those who had only worked for an hour were getting paid a full day’s wage.   If we’re honest, youUnfairLandowner and I have probably had the same reaction at some point.  How could this landowner be so unfair?!?  Yes, in some ways people never change.  But is this the right perspective through which we should look at this parable?

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds us that God thinks differently than we do, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shares the parable of the rich landowner with his disciples, his closest friends and those committed to follow him.  So what exactly is Jesus trying to teach those closest to him and by extension, what is he trying to teach you and me?

Let’s start by focusing on the land-owner.  Did he cheat anyone?  Did he give anyone less than he promised?  No.  In the time of Jesus, day workers didn’t have regular work.  They literally had to seek work day by day to feed their families.   Those not hired by mid-day would be resigned to another hungry evening for themselves and their families.   It was a hard life, living day to day with little to no security.  Only a man with a truly generous heart would put men to work with only an hour remaining till sundown.   And only an extraordinarily generous man would pay them a full day’s wage!   This parable would have blown the minds of Jesus’ listeners; in a GOOD way.  And it should blow our minds too!

Another commentator noted that this land-owner was relentless in his generosity.  He didn’t just go out once or twice during the day.  But five times he went out into the streets of his village looking to invite anyone he could find to come and work in his vineyard.   Jesus tells us that God is like this landowner;  that he is relentless in inviting anyone who will listen to come and work in and for the Kingdom.   There’s not one person that ever lived that God did not desire to invite to come work in his kingdom.  There is not one person sitting in this Church right now that God does not passionately pursue – desiring that each and every one hear and accept his invitation to come and work in the vineyard of his kingdom.

For some, the invitation is heard and accepted early in life.  For others, the invitation to the kingdom is heard during a crisis, or a major event that occurs in mid-life.  And still for others, the invitation is heard in the twilight of life, perhaps even at the last moments before death.  The beautiful thing is that we have a God whose generosity knows no bounds; who stands ready at all times to shower us with his mercy and love.  All we need to do is to say yes to his invitation.

This is one thing I love so much about Pope Francis.  He models for us what it looks like to be the generous landowner.  Pope Francis engages and invites people from all francis-slum-feet_2510124bwalks of life and across all social and economic strata.  He models the master, Jesus, who ate and hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, to the chagrin of the upper crust and power brokers in their society.   The way Pope Francis engages people in all walks and states of life has gotten the attention of the whole world; and the world is listening.  It’s a lesson you and I need to put into practice in our own lives.

It occurs to me that some of you may be here seeking, questioning, considering; but not yet convinced you personally have been invited to work in the vineyard of God’s kingdom.  If that describes you, then please listen closely to me now.  Because I invite you, on behalf of Jesus, to come and work in our Father’s kingdom.  I can’t make it any more plain than that.  And now you can’t say you haven’t been personally invited.

As disciples, we are all SENT at the end of every Mass to go out there; outside these walls to invite everyone, ALL people to participate in the work of the kingdom – ALL people.   Those we love for sure.  But as Pope Francis has shown us, we are called to engage with those in our neighborhoods, our places of work, our social circles and yes, to the people who might make us feel uncomfortable; who might think differently than we do.

This is Catechist Sunday.  At today’s Masses, after the homily, our parish Catechists will be commissioned.  What a perfect illustration of the lesson Jesus teaches today.  Those of you who are catechists are committing to be just like that vineyard owner, inviting our children and young adults to come and work in the vineyard of God’s kingdom.  And at the end of Mass, all you parents will receive a special blessing that recognizes you are the first and primary teachers of the faith for your children.  As you receive that blessing, I encourage you to make a commitment to Jesus that you too will be like the vineyard owner and invite your children to participate with you and this community in working together in the vineyard of God’s kingdom.

If you are a disciple and are ready to take up this challenge, then I’d recommend a prayer written by St. Teresa of Avila.  Listen as I pray on our behalf:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the
compassion of Christ must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless His people.  AMEN!

This prayer is printed on the bottom of page 4 of the bulletin so you can cut it out, place it on your mirror, and make it a daily reminder that God is counting on you to be like the generous land-owner.Christasnobodybutyou

My brothers and sisters, in each of our lives, there are men and women; sons and daughters; brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers; young and old; who are leading lives of quiet desperation.   Our father in heaven calls us to mirror his generosity as we go out into the streets of our lives and invite those we find there to come and work with us in the vineyard of God’s kingdom.   The question I ask you to ponder today is, “Are you ready to step up and respond to God’s generous invitation?”

St. Teresa of Avila, PRAY FOR US!

Love of the Holy Trinity – Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – June 15th, 2014 – Preached at the 5pm Vigil Mass, Cathedral of Christ the King

Reading 1 – EX 34:4B-6, 8-9
Reading 2 – 2 COR 13:11-13
Gospel – JN 3:16-18

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.  Did you ever wonder why the Church places Holy Trinity Sunday right after Pentecost, which we celebrated last Sunday?  I did.  So I turned to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  In paragraph HolyTrinityIcon234, the Catechism teaches us that “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life.”

I had to think about that.  For much of my adult life I treated this mystery of the Holy Trinity as something detached.  Important?  Yes!!  Essential element of our faith?  Absolutely!!  But connected to my life as a Catholic living in the real world?  Hmm.  Not so much.  I hadn’t connected this dogma of our faith with God’s vision for how we are to live our lives as Jesus disciples.  Recently, Fr. Alan spoke to our Catholics Returning Home participants.  During his presentation, he built upon this statement from the Catechism, that the Holy Trinity is the central mystery and foundation of Christian faith and Christian life.  Everything God hopes for us, wants for us and expects from us flows directly from this doctrine of our faith.  It’s all wonderfully connected together.

St. John Paul II captured this so beautifully in his Theology of the Body – a decades long reflection that has become a new expression of the ancient teachings of the Church.  As St. John Paul reflected on God as Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he observed what is neatly summarized in another paragraph in the Catechism (221) which reads, “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.”

Think about that, “God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.”  St. John Paul reflected on the nature of the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As he did so, he observed that there were four essential elements of that love; that it is Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful.

Trinitarian Godly love is free.  It’s love that is given without reservation; it’s not controlled or manipulated by another person or by a disordered desire.  In our first reading today we heard an intimate exchange between God and Moses.  God had no need of the people’s worship, but nonetheless he presents himself to Moses; almost courting Moses as the representative of his people.  God freely seeks to share himself with his people because authentic love seeks to share itself with another.  Love that is free!

Trinitarian Godly love is total.  It’s a love that’s “all in” – with nothing held back.  It’s a love that gives all for the good of the other; TOTAL self-donation.  We hear in today’s Gospel that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that Series_theology_body1everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”  The Father gave us his Son, an act of total self-donation.  The Son gave us his life, an act of total self-donation; nothing held back in his love for you and me.  Love that is total!

Trinitarian Godly love is faithful.  It’s a love that is committed and permanent.  The Trinity is an eternal exchange of love; love always present to the other; love always committed to the good of the other.  Love that is faithful!

Finally, Trinitarian Godly love is fruitful.  It’s not only open to life, but it actually produces life.  The Father, from all eternity is making a gift of himself in love to the Son.  And the Son, eternally is receiving the gift of the Father, makes a gift of himself back to the Father.  The love between them is so real, so profound, that this love is another eternal person – the Holy Spirit.  Love that is fruitful!

This dogma of our faith is not just some interesting theological belief.  It expresses who God is and it leads directly to our understanding of who we are as men and women created in his image.  Marriage is a living sign that images the union of Christ and the Church.  St. John Paul has said that, except for Christ himself, that marriage, consummated and expressed through sexual union, is the fullest revelation of God’s love for the world.  Why?  Because marital love, in its essence, shares the same characteristics as the love of the Trinity – it is free, total, faithful and fruitful.

Why has the Church held from the beginning that marriage is the permanent relationship of one man and one woman?  Not because the Church seeks to exclude anyone.  It’s because only a man and woman can image Godly love that is fruitful; theMaritalLove one flesh union capable of creating new life.  Whatever else same sex relationships might be, they simply don’t share in this essential element of Trinitarian love.

Why has the Church held from the beginning that artificial contraception contradicts God’s vision for marriage?  It’s because in the exchange of marital vows, husband and wife make a covenantal gift of themselves, one to the other, with nothing held back, including their fertility.  When couples sterilize their sexual union, they change the language of the marital embrace.  They reduce what is meant to be an expression of their total self-gift of love to a partial and conditional gift that no longer images the love of the Holy Trinity.

I know many of you struggle with some of the moral teachings of the Church.  I too struggled with some of them for a good portion of my adult life.  I encourage you to keep struggling, keep searching, keep praying for guidance.  I can recommend an excellent book that may be helpful to you called Good News about Sex & Marriage by Christopher West.  It’s very readable but at GoodNewsAboutSexandMarriagethe same time very thorough.  It will give you a wonderful explanation of St. John Paul’s rich and beautiful Theology of the Body and show how this mystery of the Holy Trinity undergirds the Church’s moral teachings.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”  God’s love of himself and his love for us is free, total, faithful and fruitful.  This doctrine of the Holy Trinity extends far beyond just a mere theological curiosity.  It leads us towards God’s vision of life itself and our place as man and woman created in his image and likeness.  O Most Holy Trinity, teach us and guide us.  St. John Paul II, pray for us!

What We Need to Trust in God

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle A) – May 18, 2014

  • Preached at the 7:30, 9 & 11:15am Masses
  • First Reading:  Acts 6:1-7
  • Second Reading:  1 Peter 2:4-9
  • Gospel:  John 14:1-12

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia, Alleluia!   It is still Easter isn’t it?!?  Say it with me!

Don’t let the world rob you of your Easter joy!  In fact, the world desperately needs to experience the joy of the risen Christ through you.  So don’t let the world down.  Don’t let your family and friends down.

As I prepared for this homily, as usual, I read all three readings and the Responsorial Psalm.  What grabbed my attention, at least in the beginning, was the antiphon to the responsorial psalm we sang together after our first reading, “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.”   The Holy Spirit kept drawing me back to that line, “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.”  The second part of this statement is clear.  We are to place our trust in Jesus.  As his disciple, we are called to journey with Jesus; called to place our life in his hands; called to place our trust in him and live according to his will.

That part of this response made sense to me.  But what about the first part, “Lord let your mercy be on us …” That wasn’t as clear to me.  I asked the Holy Spirit to help me understand why we needed to ask for God’s mercy before we place our trust in him.  And then I began to recall a number of the Gospels and homilies I’ve heard since Holy Week.PeterDenies

I thought back to Good Friday when Peter, the Apostle who became our first Pope, denied that he even knew who Jesus was.  He did not trust in Jesus, and in his weakness, denied knowing him.  But following his Resurrection, Jesus showered Peter with the mercy of forgiveness when he asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me?”  Only with his mercy was Peter able to turn back to Jesus and place his trust in him.  “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.”

DoubtingThomasThe following week we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday.  In the Gospel that week, it was Thomas who was unable to trust in
what Jesus had told the Apostles – that he would suffer, die and rise again.  But Jesus did not leave him wallowing in his doubt.   Instead, Jesus bathed Thomas with the mercy of his presence.  He invited Thomas to place his hands into his side and into the marks of the nails in his hands.  Only then was Thomas able to say, “My Lord and my God.”  “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.”

Finally, two weeks ago, in our Gospel we encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  They were headed in the Emmauswrong direction, away from the risen Lord.  Sad; broken; just sure that the vision Jesus had painted over the last three years was going down in flames.  But Jesus did not leave these men broken hearted and in despair.  In his infinite mercy, he drew along-side them on that road, reminding them of all that had been written in scripture about him.  Later they said, “Were not are hearts burning as he spoke to us on the way.”  Only after Jesus showered them with his presence were they able to trust in what Jesus had been trying to tell them all along.  “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.”

Are you starting to see a pattern?  And now we come to today’s reading from the Gospel of John.  We find Jesus trying to lift the spirit of his Apostles at the Last Supper.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says to them.  Jesus tells them that he is going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them and then would return to bring them back with him.   Once again, Thomas fails to trust in Jesus when he says, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can you say we know the way?”   Thomas is confused.  But as before, Jesus loves Thomas too much to leave him in his confusion.

In his merciful response, Jesus says to Thomas, the Apostles and to all of his followers down through the ages, “I am the way, waytruthlifethe truth, and the life.”   Disciples who are ready and able to place their complete trust in Jesus must understand and own this statement.   Jesus doesn’t teach us about a way of life.  Jesus IS the way.   He invites us to the way of selfless love and service to others; surrendering our wills so we can conform our wills to his.  Jesus doesn’t teach us about abstract truth.  Jesus IS truth itself, not one truth among many.  And finally, Jesus says he is the life.  He doesn’t teach us about life.  He is life itself and invites us to immerse ourselves in an intimate and living relationship with him.  “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.”

My brothers and sisters, without God’s mercy, we simply are not capable of putting our trust in Jesus.   We have seen this demonstrated repeatedly in the Gospels we’ve heard since Holy Week.  We see this same pattern played out over and over again down through the ages and, if we are honest, we see it played out in our own lives.  When we don’t begin by asking God for his mercy, we end up telling Jesus, “No thank you, I would rather follow MY way.  We tell Jesus, “No thank you, I would rather make up MY own truth.”  We tell Jesus, “No thank you, I would rather live MY own life.”

The Good News today is that God loves us too much to leave us vacillating in doubt; loves us too much to leave us frozen in fear and depression; loves us too much to leave us bewildered in confusion.  God longs for us to turn to him and ask for his mercy.  You see, every time we come to Mass, we are on that road to Emmaus.  God is present with us as we hear the scriptures proclaimed and explained, just as Jesus did for those two men on that road.   But are we open to that mercy?  Does your heart burn within you when you hear the Word of God proclaimed and explained?  Do you recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread here on this altar?  When you approach Jesus in his sacramental presence at Communion, do you recognize him as the one who died for you; laying down his own life so that you might have life?

Yes, my brothers and sisters, these pews and these aisles are your personal road to Emmaus.  If your heart doesn’t burn with a passionate love for God during Mass; if you don’t recognize Jesus himself in the breaking of the bread on this altar and active in your life throughout the week, then I invite you to begin regularly asking God to cover you with his mercy.  With that simple prayer, you invite God to make it possible for you to truly and fully trust in him; to conform your will to his will.  And when you surrender and place your trust in the Lord, you will know the true joy of Easter as Jesus will become for you, THE way, THE truth, and THE life.

Let’s not have to meet our Heavenly King with empty hands

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C) – November 17, 2013

  • Preached at the 7:30, 9 & 11:15am Masses
  • First Reading:  Malachi 3:19-20a
  • Second Reading:  2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
  • Gospel:  Luke 21:5-19

Today’s Gospel opens with a crowd gathered around Jesus in the temple.  Some of those gathered with Jesus take notice that the temple is adorned with costly stones and votive offerings.

Clearly, the people are not expecting Jesus to take the conversation where it goes next.  Jesus begins to tell them that everything they see in the temple will be destroyed.  He is commenting on the destruction of the temple which will come about in the year 70 AD when the Romans destroy the temple and much of Jerusalem.

This reading falls into a category of scripture that is eschatological in nature.  The word Eschatology derives from a Greek word that translates roughly as, “knowledge of the last things.”  Each year, as we near the end of the LastThingsliturgical year, the Church asks us to focus on these important last things in a profound way.

Every Sunday when we pray the Creed, we solemnly profess our belief that Jesus “will come again to judge the living and the dead.”   The Church has never claimed to know when Judgment Day will come.  It could be today, it could be 1000 years from now.  Jesus himself told us that we can know “neither the day nor the hour.”

What we do know for sure is that Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead.  Each one of us will come to our own end, either at our earthly death or at the second coming.  Nobody here will escape judgment day, not a single one of us.

But life has a funny way of distracting us doesn’t it.  Our culture does everything in its power to deny the reality of death.  It’s the reason we glorify youth – turning youthfulness itself into a god to be adored and pursued at all costs.   Wrinkles and grey hair – OH NO!  We can’t have that!  Many of us live as if death doesn’t exist or at best, thinking we can deal with it LATER!

Charles V was one of the last truly great European Emperors.   One of his closest and most well-loved advisers fell ill in the prime of his life.  Charles was at his bedside as the man lay dying and was deeply moved at the man’s suffering.  He tried to comfort him saying, “My friend, you have been a faithful servant all these years.  Please, let me now do something for you. Ask anything of me, and I will do it.”

The dying man turned his weak eyes to his King, and whispered, “Sire, there is one great favor I desire.”

The Emperor was glad at this, and leaned forward, “Tell me,” he said, “What is it?”

“Give me one more day of life – just one day more!”

Charles’ face fell. He answered simply, “You know that I have not the power.”

The man smiled weakly, and said:  “Yes, I know. Even the greatest earthly king cannot give life.  And now you see how foolish I have been. I served you well all these years, but I gave no thought to my Heavenly King, and now I must go to him Empty handswith empty hands. Pray for me.”

Those were his last words.  “I must go to him with empty hands.”  My brothers and sisters, we cannot live life distracted by the gods of this world, whether it be chasing eternal youth, money, power, prestige, or addictions to alcohol, drugs or pornography.  If we do, we risk showing up at our own judgment with empty hands.

For those who do not know or believe in Christ, the future is a dark and threatening mystery. But for us, it is a coming victory.   Judgment Day is coming.  Jesus is coming again.  There will be an end to the battle between good and evil, and good will win.  We know this. God has revealed it.

Knowing that Christ’s Kingdom will be victorious and last forever has a very practical consequence: it frees us up to be more energetic and confident in building up that Kingdom.  Jesus tells his Apostles that they will be persecuted, but they are not to worry, since “it will lead to your giving testimony.”  This is what we are called to do – to give testimony; to tell others about Christ, to share our experience of Christ’s saving love so they too can experience the love of Jesus and his Church.

Jesus tells his followers, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”  We were created to be disciples of Jesus, to follow him and then invite others to follow him as well.  We have been given a share in his mission.  It’s by our perseverance in carrying out that mission that we will secure our salvation.

People around us are starving to find meaning in their lives.  Most people lead lives of quiet desperation, looking in all the wrong places as they seek to fill the empty space in their heart.  But we know that only the love of God can satisfy the deepest desires and longings of the human heart.

The thing is we have what they are looking for right here in our soul and right here at this altar.  The gospel challenges us today to ask ourselves what we are doing to invite the lost among us to share in this beautiful faith we have been blessed with.   Let’s stop making excuses for not testifying to others about our faith; not testifying to others about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Here is one concrete way you can be a disciple this week.  Invite a family member, friend or co-worker to come to Mass with you next weekend.  Pretty simple, right?  Invite a family member, friend, or co-worker to come to Mass with you next weekend.  We are designating next weekend as “Friends and Family” weekend.  Invite your family and friends to an encounter with Jesus Christ.  Invite them toComeAndSee come and see.  They may say yes.  They may say no.  But either way you have done your part as a disciple.  Seeds will have been planted that may bloom later.  With this one simple action you give testimony, you persevere in the faith as Jesus exhorts us to do in our Gospel account.

Today, when we say the Creed and again profess our faith in the everlasting Kingdom, may we also renew our commitment to build that Kingdom; renew our commitment to invite others to share in the joy we have as disciples; so that on the day of our judgment, none of us will have to face our King with empty hands.

Pope Francis and the Samaritan Woman at the Well

One thing I can say about observing the first six months of Pope Francis’ pontificate is that it has stretched me in ways I surely was not anticipating.  It’s been amazing to watch both the Catholic and mainstream press interpret for us exactly what Pope Francis meant when he said, “(fill in any single sentence fromPopeFrancisOhNo Pope Francis).”

As a deacon, I’ve been asked for my thoughts a few times about something Pope Francis said.  But for the most part, what I’ve been trying to do is simply be open to the man that was elected Pope by the process that the Church established for that purpose.  Just … be … open … and come along for the ride with the Vicar of Christ now with us on earth.

I’d like to share two observations that I’ve made over the last couple of months.

Observation 1 

It’s amazing to me how many both within and outside the Church have turned into the equivalent of biblical fundamentalists when it comes to observing Pope Francis.  They select one quote from one article in one publication targeted to one audience.  They then extrapolate that one sentence into a full theology for which they claim Pope Francis is now advocating.  What?!?  Few disagree that it’s dangerous to take one passage of scripture out of context and interpret it on its own.   We have to look at any passage and ask questions like:

  • Who was the author?
  • Who was their audience?
  • What was their motivation for writing the entire letter, book, etc.?

We know better than to pull individual verses of scripture out on their own and use them as “proof texts.”  But wow, that’s exactly what many are doing with all the articles and interviews Pope Francis is giving.

Observation 2

From what I can tell, Pope Francis has no desire to nor will he change settled Catholic moral teaching (e.g.  abortion, gay marriage, contraception, etc.).  However, I do believe that Pope Francis is calling us to make some radical changes, just not in the areas the press and some Catholic commentators seems to be focusing on.

As I observe, read, and pray about the many articles that have been written about Pope Francis, my thoughts keep returning to the episode in the Gospel of John – Jesus encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the well.  Rather than any thought of change to or even de-emphasis of Catholic moral jesus-woman_at_the_well-15x12teaching, I believe Pope Francis is challenging the Church (you and me included) to take up a more radical model of engagement with the world.

Let me explain through the lense of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman.  The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other and avoided engagement with each other whenever possible.  For Jesus to engage in an extended conversation with a woman, no less a Samaritan woman, that would have spoken volumes to first century readers.  Throughout the Gospel, many criticized Jesus for the choices he made in who he chose to involve himself with. Look at how Pope Francis is reaching out to those outside the Church and/or those not actively practicing their Catholic faith.  He’s visited adults in prison, washed the feet of children of young men and women incarcerated for their offences.  He’s calling people directly on the phone, including atheists who are willing to enter into respectful exchanges with him.  He’s reaching out to all people of good will who are willing to engage him.

What is Pope Francis doing?  He’s doing what Jesus did when he encountered the Samaritan woman at the well.  With everyone Jesus encountered, his first move was to establish a relationship of trust.  He acknowledged in some way their innate dignity as human beings.  Jesus did this with the Samaritan woman and in doing so he gained her trust.  She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus was genuine; that he cared about her and had her best interest at heart.  She trusted him and as a result was open to listen to him later in their exchange.

I believe Pope Francis is challenging us to use this model of engagement as we encounter the people God places into our lives each and every day.  Think about it. If our first move with people is to confront or call out the sin in their lives, they will likely withdraw and we lose an opportunity to win them over to the truth of the Gospel.

This is not (in spite of what the media or even  some Catholic commentators say as they wring their hands) ignoring the reality of sin, either in the general sense or in the personal sense.  Jesus did not ignore the sin in the Samaritan woman’s life, nor did he ignore the sin present in the lives of others that he encountered.  But, he didn’t go there first!  He didn’t confront the Samaritan woman immediately with, “You do know adultery is an abomination to God don’t you?”  No!  He entered into a relationship building dialog with her that recognized her dignity as a human being.  And only after he gained her trust did he then move forward to help her understand God’s plan for her life.  But because he had first engaged her in this spirit of acceptance (of her person-hood, not her lifestyle) and respect, she was open to hear Jesus’ explanation of how her choices had resulted in separation from the beautiful vision of the life God had in mind for her.

I believe this is one radical change that Pope Francis is calling us to consider and take up.  Oh, and how it will stretch us.  I know it is stretching me already.  This model of engagement takes way more work than merely engaging people with a catechetical/apologetic model that most often ends in red-faced arguments and closed minds.  But this is not to minimize the need for good catechesis and apologetics either.  There will be time enough for those discussions, but we want to have people in relationship with us so they are open to hear the truth of the Gospel.

This model of engagement means I need to be willing to enter into dynamic relationships and be willing to journey in friendship with people with whom I may have great differences of opinion on the key issues of life.  That’s hard for me to think about.  But Jesus himself went and hung out with the outcasts, the downtrodden, as well as the rich and the lost.  Without ignoring the sin in their lives, he engaged them and they experienced the genuine care he had for each of them because he truly sought to be in communion with them.   This approach generated a spirit of trust with those he encountered that allowed them to be open to hear the truth come through in those deeper and harder conversations.

As disciples, we are called to do no less than the Master.  I believe Pope Francis is modeling this form of evangelization before our very eyes and it’s stretching many of us and making us feel uncomfortable.  But I believe it’s a discomfort that is very good.  It’s like good exercise that builds up muscles.  It’s hard work but oh my goodness, look at the results that can occur.  Hearts can be won, lost souls recovered, and the Body of Christ can be built up.

I think this is an exciting time to be Catholic and I’m looking forward to the future with great hope and anticipation.  Keep stretching us Pope Francis!

Sin: Too Easy on Ourselves or Too Hard on Ourselves?

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C 
Preached at the 5pm Vigil Mass (14Sep2013) and 5pm Life Teen Mass (15Sep2013)
 
First Reading:  Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Second Reading:  1 Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel:  Luke 15:1-32
 

Popular Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly has said when we look at the sin in our lives, we often do one of two things.  We are either too easy on ourselves or we are too hard on ourselves.

In today’s first reading, Moses is away from the people receiving the Ten Commandments from God.  The people become impatient and while Moses is away they create an idol to worship.  The chosen people turn away from the God who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  In his place, they begin worshiping a god of their own making.

When we remove God from the center of our lives, just like the chosen people, we create gods of our own making; we create gods who seem to look and act a whole lot like we do.  How convenient!  There’s no more personal sin because I get to play God.  If I feel like it’s right, then it must be right!  Like the chosen people in today’s reading, we rationalize our sin away.

I’ll give you just one example.  Last week as I was distributing the Precious Blood at Communion time, I was shocked as I witnessed probably 20% of that entire wing of the Church receive Communion and head directly out the side door. Truly, it was close to one in five people who received the Body and Blood of our Lord and headed directly out the door like it was time to go.

Those of you who leave Mass TheWholeMassearly without a serious reason are rationalizing away sinful behavior.  The only thing I can figure is that you simply don’t have a full understanding of what the Mass is.  Because if you did, there’s no way you could leave right after Communion in good conscience.

St. John Vianney once said, “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”  When we celebrate Mass, we enter into the one eternal Mass taking place in Heaven and that was instituted at the Last Supper.  Through time and space, we connect with and enter into the presence of Jesus and the Apostles at the last supper.  Are you telling me that after you hand Jesus back his cup, having consumed his very body and blood that you would push back from the table and head for the door?  When you leave Mass early, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE DOING!

If you’ve allowed yourself to get into this habit, here’s a suggestion.  As you walk up to receive Communion, look up at the crucifix.  Look at the bloodied, battered and broken body of Jesus who suffered on that cross for you.  After you receive him body, blood, soul and divinity, go back to your pew and thank him for giving up his life in exchange for yours.  Be in communion with the rest of us who are doing the same thing.  Be there at the end of Mass to be dismissed with the community to go and announce the good news to a fallen world.  For Mass, we come together!  We praise together!  We worship together!  We are fed together!  And we leave on mission together!  That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ!

The other extreme Matthew Kelly observed in how we deal with sin is that sometimes we are too hard on ourselves.  We feel like we have done something so horrible that God can’t possibly forgive us.

There was a man who came to a priest in Confession with a sin he could not let go of.  The priest assured the man that God loved him and forgave him, but the man could not accept that.  He came back to the priest several times and each time they talked for a long time.  The man began to despair that what he had done could not be forgiven.  He was in Man-in-Despairtorment and nothing the priest said gave him any peace.

Running out of ideas, the priest suddenly remembered that the man had a teenage daughter.  The priest said to him, “What if your daughter came to you and told you that she had done something so terrible that you could never forgive her?  What would you do?”

With barely a pause the man said, I’d hold her tightly in my arms and tell her there is nothing she could do that would cause me to stop loving her or that I couldn’t forgive her for.”  The priest said, “But what if each time you started to speak those words to her she immediately yelled out, “Dad, I’m not worth loving!  What I’ve done is unforgivable!”  Every time you tried to let her know how much you loved her, she cut you off with those words.

The man was silent and his shoulders drooped as tears streamed down his face.  The priest then read the story of the Prodigal Son to the man, the same story we heard as the last part of today’s Gospel. When he finished, there was again a long silence and the man had his face buried in his hands.  The priest, gently, but firmly pulled his hands apart from his face, looked at the man and said, “Your father has forgiven you just as you know you would forgive your daughter.”   Finally, the man was able to accept the Father’s unconditional love for him and the forgiveness that resulted from that love.

My brothers and sisters, our Father did more than slaughter the fatted calf for us.  He allowed his only begotten Son to BE slaughtered for us.  In doing so Jesus destroyed sin’s hold on us and cleared the path back to union with our heavenly Father.  Just like the prodigal son, our first step to experience this mercy is to return-of-the-prodigal-son-by-rembrandtsimply admit to the sin present in our lives. Then, we turn away from that sin and run towards our heavenly Father right through the doors of these confessionals.

Your Father waits for you on the other side of these confessional doors.  He loves you so much that he allowed his only begotten Son to die in your place so that you might have life!  Don’t be too easy on yourself.  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Just be honest with yourself and bring the sin in your life with you through these confessional doors.  When you do that and every time you do that, you will hear those beautiful words of absolution from the lips of Jesus through his priest; the words that set you free you from the bondage of sin and bring you back into the embrace of your heavenly Father.  That, my brothers and sisters, is what disciples do with the sin in their life.