Choosing the better part is not so easy!

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C) – July 21, 2013 – preached at the 5pm Vigil and 5pm Life Teen Masses at the Cathedral of Christ the King

  • Genesis 18:1-10a
  • Colossians 1:24-28
  • Luke 10:38-42

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need for only one thing.”MarthaJesus

Was Jesus really upset that Martha was attending to the needs of those gathered in her home?    Martha was simply doing the expected, showing hospitality to her guests.  It wasn’t Martha’s show of hospitality that Jesus was questioning.

To confirm this, we don’t have to look any further than our first reading today from the Book of Genesis.  Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, spots three visitors approaching.  While he doesn’t yet realize the Lord has come to him, he senses there is something special about these men. How does he respond?

He says, “Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree. … let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh abraham_angelsyourselves, and afterward you may go on your way.”

Abraham, like Martha, offers simple hospitality to these guests and the men graciously accept that hospitality.  But there’s a difference between Martha and Abraham which is key to understanding Jesus reaction to Martha’s question.  Abraham is focused on his guests; seeking to meet their needs.  Where is Martha’s focus?  Jesus response makes it clear that her heart is in the wrong place.  She has allowed secondary anxieties and concerns to distract her from the most important thing, the most important person who is standing in front of her – JESUS!

Abraham never knew Jesus – but like Mary, he had the heart of a disciple.  He demonstrated that when the Lord approached him in the form of these three guests.  He saw their needs and responded to those needs.  And for 2000 years, the Church has called her people to do the same; to be of service to the communities in which she lives.  These passages from Scripture are meant to stir us into action and remind us of what it means to have the heart of a disciple; a heart that is not focused on self, but wholly on the good of the other.

Charity and justice; the two feet of Catholic social teaching.  This parish always responds generously when it comes to acts of charity; collections for missionaries charityjusticeand for natural disasters; providing food to the sick and those that cannot afford it through the St. Vincent DePaul society.  Our teens gave up a week of their summer break to take part in Heart Work Camp.  This year, we exceeded our goal for the Bishop’s Annual Appeal. In these and many other ways we respond with great zeal performing these acts of charity.

But today I want to focus on the other part of the Church’s social teaching, that of social or restorative justice.  While charity is a necessary component of the a disciples way of life, it’s not sufficient by itself.  Often there are laws, regulations, government or civic structures that have aspects that are at worst, unjust and at best, lack in providing even the most minimal of basic services to our citizens.  Right here in our own community some of our brothers and sisters battle every day just to survive, to have the very basic essentials of life that many of us take for granted.

Writing a check or making a cash donation won’t help these situations.  This form of social ministry seeks to identify problems and then advocate for systemic changes to eliminate those problems.  By ourselves, or even as an entire parish, we are limited in what demands for change we can make of our elected and appointed officials.

The good news is that we aren’t alone.  Christ the King is now a member of BUILD, joining with 21 other faith communities, including other Lexington parishes; all of whom are dedicated to making a difference.  BUILD stands for Building a United Interfaith Lexington through Direct-Action.   It is an ecumenical restorative justice association of Christian faith communities.  Since its inception in 2003, BUILD has been constituent-led and employs the practices of direct-action community organizing. It’s now a powerful grassroots organization that is creating system-wide changes in Lexington.

In 2004, BUILD discovered that many of the working poor in Lexington could not hold jobs because Lextran was not operating during evening and overnight hours and they could not afford their own transportation.  BUILD worked with LexTran and obtained their commitment to start an “Employment Bus” which takes citizens to work during the hours there is no regular bus service.  The Employment bus service began in August 2006 and continues today.

In 2006, BUILD discovered that in the Fayette County Jail, there was a men’s drug treatment program in place but there was none for women.  As a result, BUILD requested and convinced the city to allocate $175,000 per year in the city’s budget to start a women’s drug treatment program.  The program is still in place and as a result, over 325 women have had the opportunity to break the chains of drug abuse so they can become productive members of our community.

In 2010, BUILD worked with the Health Department and other healthcare providers to give 14,000 more people access to primary health care each year–estimated to be about $8 million in additional primary health care each year.

Now, all of us here at Christ the King have the opportunity to put our values into action by participating in BUILD and be a part of making additional positive changes in our community.  But for this to happen we need you.  We need Catholics who take their faith seriously and are willing to invest their time, talent, and treasure to expand the BUILD network.  BUILD works because of numbers.  Numbers make all the difference in this type of restorative justice.  Politicians and other officials BUILD_Assemblyrespond when they are approached in great numbers.  That’s why it’s important that we respond in great numbers.

Today, I am asking you for a personal commitment; a personal commitment to pray about and consider making a personal investment as a participant in BUILD here at Christ the King.  There are two events coming up in the next few weeks, both of which will help you understand BUILD in more detail.

The first is a Diocesan “Rethinking Justice Workshop” scheduled for next Saturday from 9am to Noon down in the Parish Life Center.  The second event is a Parish Social Ministry retreat scheduled for Saturday August 10th from 9am – 2pm.  BUILD will be discussed at both of these events and you can get all the details on page 7 of this week’s bulletin.

I’ve made a personal commitment to help Adrienne get BUILD off the ground here at Christ the King and now I’m asking you to consider doing the same.  I’ve attended the BUILD meetings.  I’ve  witnessed the positive results that occur when our politicians face 2500 or more of their citizens respectfully, but firmly, asking for changes that will improve the lives of our brothers and sisters.   Do you want to make a difference in your community?  Make a commitment to make a difference.  I’ve seen the Body of Christ in action with this group, and it’s compelling.  Lives have been changed right here in Lexington because of what BUILD is doing.

My brothers and sisters, Jesus told Martha that there was need for only one thing and that Mary had chosen the better part; which was to sit at Jesus feet and follow his lead.  At our Baptism, we each received a call to actively participate in bringing about the reign of God; to make the Gospel real in our own community.  In the Antiphon for our Responsorial Psalm today, four times we repeated, “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”  (REPEAT)  BUILD is doing just that and I hope many of you will join us in bringing light and life into the lives of our brothers and sisters that are most in need.

Pentecost: Birth of the Church but Oh So Much More!

Pentecost Sunday (Cycle C) – May 19, 2013

    • Acts 2:1-11
    • Romans 8:8-17
    • John 14:15-16, 23b-26

Today we bring the Easter Season to a close with the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost.  For 50 days now, we have celebrated the great victory that Jesus won for us through his resurrection from the dead.  Last week, we celebrated Jesus’ Ascension; when he told his Apostles to return to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come and clothe them with power from on high.  To prepare and reassure

Birth of the Church

Birth of the Church

the Apostles, in today’s Gospel, Jesus said to them, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

Personally, I’ve often wondered just why Jesus had to leave.  I mean, think about it.  Why did Jesus have to leave?  Let me tell you what I would do if I was God; and for those of you who know me that’s a scary thought.  But hear me out.  We’ve all probably said to ourselves at one time, “If I could only have been there and heard Jesus preach and see his miracles, it would be so much easier to believe.”  Haven’t you said that before?  Well if I was God, I’d have Jesus stay right there, in Jerusalem or Rome – on his throne and just let him teach, preach and heal people.

And he would live forever so his message could be heard and seen by every generation. With modern technology, he could preach to every Church and home around the world.  Doesn’t that sound good?  But … that’s not what God had in mind.  God had a very different plan.  But this question has nagged at me for many years and I never found an answer that made sense to me … UNTIL this week.

This past Thursday, one of the readings from the Divine Office was a commentary on the Gospel of John from St. Cyril of Alexandria. As I read it, I truly felt as if God has given me an answer to this very question of why Jesus had to leave and return to the Father.  St. Cyril explains, “As long as Christ was with them in the flesh, it must have seemed to believers that they possessed every blessing in him; but when the time came for him to ascend to his heavenly Father, it was necessary for him to be united through his Spirit to those who worshiped him, and to dwell in our

Power of Pentecost

Power of Pentecost

hearts through faith. Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father; making it easy for us to grow in holiness.”

Cyril tells us that as long as Jesus stayed here, the Spirit could not come and dwell within us.  Yes, Jesus could continue to preach, teach and heal, but in his human nature, he could not enter into intimate relationship with everyone.  Cyril tells us that “Only by the Spirit’s presence within us would we have the confidence to cry out, Abba, Father …” Jesus had to go so that the Father could give each of us an even greater gift, the gift of the Father’s Spirit who would come to not only birth the Church, but to come and dwell within each one of us.  This is what we celebrate today!

Here is the question I ask you to consider on this great Feast of Pentecost.  Will you lay down your life so the Holy Spirit can use you to accomplish God’s mission to save the world? (REPEAT)   Today’s first reading recounts the birth of the Church as the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.  But this isn’t just a nice story about what happened to the Apostles some 2000 years ago.  This is our story too!  The same Holy Spirit that descended as tongues of fire upon the Apostles, comes to us in Baptism, in Confirmation, and in all the sacraments.  Pentecost tells us that we can’t be Jesus disciple and just nibble around the edges of his message.  Do we walk in here each week just to check off our obligation box on our weekly checklist?  Do we view our Catholic faith as just a set of ancient rules and regulations that aren’t relevant in our modern culture?  Or is our faith about a relationship with the living God who sent his only Son to suffer, die and rise because of his infinite love for each one of us!

What we do here should change us!  What we do here should renew us!  What we do here should make a difference in the life of every person we meet this week, in our families, among parishioners, among our friends and co-workers.  Pentecost changed the world – because it birthed a Church.  But what you and I must ask ourselves is, “Will Pentecost make a difference in our lives today?!”  Will we allow the Spirit to really change our lives; allow the love of Jesus Christ to flow through us into the lives of every person we interact with this week!

Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  You and I were born to be disciples of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit; to be the instruments of Jesus fire upon the earth.  But discipleship involves sacrifice, a willingness to lay down our own plans, our own selfish desires, and to offer ourselves as instruments to bring Jesus message of love and salvation to everyone in our lives!

ReceiveHolySpirit

Today, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to bring the love of Jesus Christ to those in your family, among your friends, among your co-workers.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the spirit of a servant; a servant who engages people both within the Church and outside the Church – to let them see Christ’s love and saving power through the way you live your life.

Holy Spirit, come and transform us, the people of Christ the King.  Make us bold disciples of Jesus Christ.  Give us the courage to lay down our lives, to desire nothing but to do the will of our Father; to live the fullness of Christ’s message so that we might bring the light and life of Christ to our families, our community, our nation, and the world.  Come Holy Spirit – flood our lives with the power of your love!  Amen!

To the Elect, “Surrender to Christ!”

Fifth Sunday of Lent (3rd Scrutiny – Cycle A Readings) – March 17, 2013

  • Ezekiel 37:12-14
  • Romans 8:8-11
  • John 11:1-45

What joy and hope we all experienced this week when we realized it was white smoke billowing out of the Sistine Chapel chimney; and then the hour-long wait to find out who our new Holy Father would be.  And what a choice the Cardinals made as they followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Tears came to my eyes as Pope Francis asked the world to bless him and then bowed down in an act of total humility – truly showing what it means to be the servant to the servants of God.  We must continue to pray for him as he takes on this most awesome of tasks – being the Vicar of Christ on earth as he leads the Catholic Church.  It’s an exciting time to be Catholic.

Our Elect are in the final stages of preparation as they await reception of the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil. Today they will participate in the 3rd and final Scrutiny.  My dear Elect, I have to admit that I am quite envious of you as you prepare to begin your new life in Christ at the Easter Vigil.  I am a cradle Catholic.  I never had the opportunity to make an adult decision to embrace the faith.  We Catholics don’t make it easy to enter the Church do we?  No we don’t.  But yet here you are, responding to the call of the Holy Spirit in your lives as you’ve been praying, studying, and discerning over these past several months.  What a gift you have been given.

During the Scrutiny today, you will hear Father Richard  pray over you at one point in these words, “Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving Raising_Lazarus_Byzantine_Icon
sacraments and deliver them from the spirit of corruption.”  We will pray along with Father for you and with you; that God fully prepare your hearts and souls so that you are fully ready to receive the gift of new life through the waters of Baptism.

How appropriate we have today’s powerful Gospel as part of this 3rd Scrutiny.  Jesus demonstrates his full power as the Son of the Father.  He tells Martha, he tells our Elect and he tells all of us, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  It’s Jesus who gives life to those who believe in him.

In two weeks, you Elect will stand in line over there by our beautiful new Baptismal font.  You will descend, one at a time, down the steps into the waters of new life.  You will bow down in the water and place yourself in our Bishop’s hands. He will plunge you into the water three times, and three times bring you up, invoking each member of the Holy Trinity as he does so.  In those moments, your soul will be forever changed.  Your soul will literally die, with all vestiges of sin finally purged.  And just as Lazarus emerged from the tomb, you will emerge from the baptismal waters a new creation; an adopted son or Surrenderdaughter of our heavenly Father.

I give you one phrase that I hope you will remember as you step down into the Baptismal font – and that phrase is “surrender to Christ.” Surrender to Christ all that you are; surrender your life; surrender control; surrender your will; surrender your plans and place yourself spiritually and physically into the Bishop’s hands.  Bishop Gainer, acting in “Persona Christi,” the person of Christ, will accompany you as you are truly made into a new creation.  Surrender to Christ.  That is my hope for you.

Church!  This message is not just for our Catechumens!  Those of us already baptized ARE truly sons and daughters of a loving Father and we should rejoice in that.  Even if we can’t remember our baptism, it is a reality and the Holy Spirit lives within us.  The grace we received in Baptism and since through the Sacraments is real.  But we need to tend to it.  We need to make sure that we cooperate with that grace to stay in God’s will and in God’s way.

In our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is explaining the difference between those who live in the flesh and those who live in the Spirit.  He says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  The flesh is our sinful nature and our sin; and in our sin we cannot please God.  But further on St. Paul says, “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”  We who are baptized have the “Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead” living within us.  The question is, “Are we cooperating with the grace we received in our own Baptism and through all of the sacraments we’ve received since then.”

We have just over a week left in Lent to examine ourselves. Are we living in the flesh, turned away from the light of Christ?  Restoration to life in the Spirit is 14693_455422657854596_83138451_navailable through the doors of these Confessionals.  If you have not recently participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the sacrament of God’s mercy, you still have several opportunities before Lent comes to a close.  This Wednesday, you can come before the 5:30pm Mass or from 6:30-8pm for the last evening of Bishop Gainer’s “The Light is on for you” initiative.  You can come Saturday at the regular times and a week from this Wednesday is the Parish Reconciliation Service.  You have every opportunity to make that turn back to the light of Christ during these last days of Lent.  Turn and allow Jesus, through his priest, to break the chains of sin.  Let him restore you to the fullness of freedom that God intends for those who love him and believe in him.

Make room next to the woman caught in adultery

Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 17, 2013

  • Isaiah 43:16-21
  • Philippians 3:8-14
  • John 8:1-11

What joy and hope we all experienced this week when we realized it was white smoke billowing out of the Sistine Chapel chimney; and then the hour-long wait to find out who our new Holy Father would be.  And what a choice the Cardinals made as they followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Tears came to my eyes as Pope Francis asked the world to bless him and then bowed down in an act of total humility – truly showing what it means to be the servant to the servants of God.  We must continue to pray for him as he takes on this most awesome of tasks – being the Vicar of Christ on earth as he leads the Catholic Church.  It’s an exciting time to be Catholic.

The gospels for last week and for this week have a common theme.  Last week, we heard the parable of the prodigal son or as some have said the parable of the Loving Father.  Through this amazing story, Jesus lets us know that our heavenly Father always stands ready to shower us with unconditional love and mercy.  Regardless of what we’ve done in the past; no matter what sins we have committed or struggle with every day; if we merely make the first move to return, our heavenly Father will race towards us – ready to embrace us in his loving arms.

Today, we have another example God’s love and mercy.  Jesus is confronted in a very public way with a woman who was found in the very act of adultery.  The scribes and Pharisees  want to test Jesus as they look to build a case for his arrest.

So they ask Jesus if he agrees with the Law of Moses, that this woman should be stoned by the community.  Who is Jesus?  God, right?!  Absolutely, and by all rights, God, the creator of this woman and creator of the moral law, has every right to pass judgment on her.

But let’s not sit here as observers.  That’s too easy.  Let’s put ourselves into the event.  Maybe our sin is adultery.  Maybe we stand before our Lord as an abuser of pornography, alcohol or drugs.  Maybe we abuse our bodies by overeating.  Maybe we have torn the fabric of a relationship, with our spouse, with a child, with a woman-caught-in-adulteryparent or sibling.  Our sins, whatever they are, stain, strain and can break our relationship with God.

Now our culture tells us, “Don’t worry about it.”  Our culture tells us to overlook that last line of today’s Gospel, “Go and sin no more.”  Let’s be clear here.  What the woman did was sinful.  Jesus minced no words about that.  His parting command to the woman and to you and me is, “Go and sin no more.”  When we go to Confession and we say our Act of Contrition; that is our response to his command.  We tell God that we will do everything in our power to avoid sinning again.  With God’s grace, we seek to keep turned toward the light of Christ and live not according to our own imperfect will, but in God’s perfect will.

So, whatever our sin is, if we are honest with ourselves, we find ourselves beside this woman, our sin on full display.  But what is Jesus reaction?  Remember, he has every right to pass judgment, on her; on me; on you.  But that isn’t what happens.  Jesus bends over … and begins to write in the sand.

And he waits ……….. perhaps to give the woman, and us, time; time for us to realize the gravity of our sin; time for us to realize the damage that sin has done to our lives and the lives of those around us.  What might seem for a time to fill a hole in our heart, we soon find does not satisfy.  Unchecked, our sin ultimately consumes, shreds and destroys.

Jesus finally looks up and sees only the woman in front of him.  I can imagine that he looked deeply beyond her eyes and into her very soul.  He looks into my eyes and yours – looking beyond the façade of the person we want everyone to see.  He looks past all those false fronts we put up for the world to see.  He looks into the depths of this woman’s soul as he does with us; and in doing so he teaches us about mercy and love that is beyond our comprehension.  Listen to the words of Blessed Charles de Foucalde:

“How many are your mercies, O God – mercies yesterday and today, and at every moment of my life, from before my birth, from before time itself began!  I am plunged deep in mercies – I drown in them; they cover me, wrapping me around every side.”

My brothers and sisters, we have a God whose love and mercy is boundless.  It’s unconditional.  All we need do is make that turn back toward the light of Christ – and our God will race towards us to shower us with his mercy and love.  And in his love, he calls us out of our sin and gives us the grace to go and sin no more.

We have just over a week left in Lent to examine ourselves. Are we living in the flesh, turned away from the light of Christ?  Restoration is available through the doors of these Confessionals.  If you have not recently participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the sacrament of God’s mercy, you still have several0000acatholicconfession opportunities before Lent comes to a close.  This Wednesday, you can come before the 5:30pm Mass or from 6:30-8pm for the last evening of Bishop Gainer’s “The Light is on for you” initiative.  You can come Saturday at the regular times and a week from this Wednesday is the Parish Reconciliation Service.  You have every opportunity to make that turn back to the light of Christ during these last days of Lent.  Turn and allow Jesus, through his priest, to break the chains of sin.  Let him restore you in the fullness of freedom God intends for those who love him and believe in him.

Jesus Directs, Mary Encourages & We Do Whatever He Tells Us

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2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – January 19/20, 2013
–  First Reading:  Isaiah 62:1-5
–  Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 12:4-11
–  Gospel:  John 2:1-11

In today’s gospel from John, we find ourselves present at the wedding feast at Cana.  I want to highlight one particular aspect of this story.  Jesus does nothing.  He speaks.  He directs.  But all of the action, all of the doing, is done by others.  The servants, in obedience to Mary’s words to “Do whatever he tells you”, take the action, fill the jars and bring them to the head waiter to taste.

Jesus directs.  Mary encourages.  And in obedience, the servants take the action that results in the transformation of the water into wine.

Now, let’s turn to our Epistle from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Paul’s letter is a response to a community being torn apart over a variety of issues.  But the most divisive is the argument in the community about which of the spiritual gifts is more important.

Monsignor Charles Pope

Earlier this week I read an article written by Monsignor Charles Pope.  Monsignor Pope articulates a problem we have in our Church today and that has vexed me most of my adult life.  He says, “As a priest, one of my greater sorrows is the experience of the great divide that exists in the two “wings” of the Church. In one wing are those who engage the great moral struggles of our day related to abortion, the proper biblical understanding of human sexuality, marriage and family, and questions related to euthanasia. In the other wing, those who engage the great social and moral issues related to poverty, economic justice, solidarity, unity and mutual respect.”

Just like the Corinthians, these two wings of the Church often do not hold each other in mutual respect.  There’s an overt bickering that takes place in different forms and these two wings spend time arguing over whose mission is more important.  Monsignor Pope points out that, “The Church needs both wings to fly, to be credible, biblical and authentic …”

St. Paul’s response to the Corinthians is very similar, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  And later he adds, “But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.”

Paul’s message is that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to everyone but that they all serve a purpose in responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship in the Body of Christ.  The Corinthians were doing harm to the Body of Christ as they argued over whose gifts, whose mission was more important!

Monsignor Pope builds on Paul’s message, “Both wings, both battles are essential. They are really one battle for human dignity. The Church has an obligation to proclaim the Good News and Kingdom of God in all aspects.  More than ever the poor, the needy, the unborn, our families, our youth and all who are vulnerable in any way need and deserve our Catholic unity.”

My brothers and sisters, the Catholic Church is a sleeping giant; a giant which has the potential to overcome the culture of death in which we are immersed.  But it will only happen if we learn to respect and esteem both wings of the Church.  Some are and will be called to defend life issues while others are and will be called to reach out and serve the poor and oppressed.  We do harm to the un-born, the poor and the oppressed when we waste time arguing over which of these wings is more important.

I think Mother Teresa has the key for us to begin to address this problem.  Mother Teresa integrated both wings into her own spirituality.  She was an outspoken advocate for the sanctity of all human life, most especially the un-born while making her life’s mission to care for the dying in the streets of Calcutta.

We can’t all go out and do what Mother Teresa did.  But we can adopt her spirituality.  She understood that both wings are critical for the Church to fully respond to Jesus’ call to build his kingdom.  We seek to develop and use our own spiritual gifts.  But at the same time, we encourage and support all members of the Church to develop and use their own spiritual gifts because they are all essential!

Today we celebrate the Rite of Welcoming for five candidates, those who are already baptized but are now ready to continue their journey of formation.  God willing, they will eventually enter into full Communion with the Catholic Church.  We pray for and encourage these candidates to continue discovering and putting into practice their own unique gifts as the Lord directs them.

Monsignor Pope ends his article by saying, “The Church needs two wings to fly.  Two wings: life and family, love for the poor and hunger for justice. Two wings to fly, but one heart that unites the love of God and neighbor.”

At the wedding feast, Jesus told the servants what to do and at Mary’s urging, they did it – and a miracle happened.  Our Lord has given unique gifts to each of us. We are called to make use of these gifts to build the kingdom.  Are our ears open, ready to listen; ready to respond to Jesus like those servants at the wedding feast?  Let’s stop arguing with each other about whose gifts are more important and go out and fly with our two wings.  If we can do this, let me tell you what can happen.

When we are open to our Lord’s direction in prayer; when we are open to the Lord’s direction in our worship here at Mass; when we are open to the Lord’s direction by accepting and living the teachings of the Church in all their beauty and fullness, we become all that God created us to be.  If we do that, and then challenge and encourage all the members in our Church to do the same thing, to become all that God created them to be, with their unique gifts, then the sleeping giant will arise.  The Church, with her two wings, will soar.  Miracles will happen.  The world will be transformed – because Jesus directed, Mary encouraged, and all of us, with our unique blend of gifts, did whatever he told us.

Our joy, our holiness is attractive! Let’s transform the world.

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I preached this homily at the 5pm Masses on December 15th/16th at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

3rd Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) – Cycle C (Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7); Luke 3:10-18)

Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, better known as Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is the Latin word that means “Rejoice!”  It’s as if the Church is giving us a joy-filled timeout during this penitential season of preparation just to say, “Are you ready, because what you are preparing for is going to be great!!!”

I want to start my homily by focusing on John the Baptist.  He was a disconcerting character.  After all, he did walk around in animal skins and survived on locusts and honey.  If we encountered someone like him on the street today, we’d be tempted to smile politely and quickly cross to the other side of the street.  But as odd as his JohntheBaptistlife style might have been, there was something intensely attractive about John.  People were drawn to him.  Why?  Because holiness is attractive.  Yeah.  Holiness attracts like a magnet.  They came from near and far and hung on his every word.  In last week’s Gospel, John called the people to repent, to radically change their lives; to turn away from their sin.  John is preparing the people for Jesus’ entry into the world and into their lives.

Today’s Gospel passage picks up where last week’s left off.  After they hear John’s impassioned call to repent, the people ask John HOW they should respond.  There was a large crowd gathered to hear John speak.  But in his telling of the event, Luke goes out of his way to identify two groups who were present in the crowd, the tax collectors and soldiers.  The Jews despised tax collectors and soldiers as traitors to their Roman conquerors.  Luke makes it clear that these despised people both heard and responded to John’s call.  Luke let’s his readers and us know that John’s call to repentance is universal.  No matter who we are, no matter what we have done in life, the call to repentance and holiness is meant for all of us.

As John explains to each group how to respond to his invitation, the people’s excitement and joy begin to build.  They are now part of something that is bigger than themselves.  When John senses the people are attributing their joy to John himself, he quickly corrects them when he says, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!”  The long awaited messiah is coming soon and he, NOT John, is the cause for their joy.

All three of our readings today speak in unison that our source of true joy is God drawing near to his people.  In our first reading, the prophet Zephaniah announces God’s favor upon the people.  They had turned away from their sin and have now turned back towards God.  God welcomes them back with open arms.  “Sing joyfully, O Israel!  Be glad and exult with all your heart.  The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  The Lord is near.”

And this is a joy that transcends the tragedies of this life.  In a message to the people of Newtown, Connecticut, Pope Benedict asked for “… God’s consolation for those who mourn; for strength and sustenance for the entire community, especially in the form of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.”  We mourn for and with the people of Newtown.  But even in the midst of this tragedy we take comfort knowing that God who is the source of our joy, drew close to the people in Newtown.  He was with them in that school, welcoming the dying into his arms and mourning with those who were left behind.  He was with them when a group of priests meeting at a parish just down the street from the school dropped what they were doing and rushed to the scene to lend whatever aid and comfort they could give to the wounded and dying.  We hold on to our joy as at the same time, we hold on to one another to get through the tragedies of life – because God is present to us through them all.

When he announced the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict reminded the people of God, that there is tremendous joy in encountering Christ.  But our encounter isn’t just an intellectual exercise, knowing the Church’s doctrine or a set of facts about Jesus.  No.  Our joy comes from an intimate encounter with the living God.  Our Lord draws near to us every time we celebrate Mass together. We experience our Lord in a very personal and intimate way – first through his living word and then by consuming his very essence into our bodies.

My brothers and sisters, Christmas quickly approaches.  Gaudete Sunday calls us to experience the same anticipatory joy that John’s listeners experienced.  For the rest of this Mass, I ask you to put yourself alongside the soldiers and tax collectors in today’s Gospel passage.  Ask the Lord what he would have you do during the remaining days of this Advent season to respond to this universal call to holiness.  We have a moment of silence just after my homily.  Ask him then!  Say, “Lord, tell me one way I can prepare my heart for your coming at Christmas.” Ask Jesus just like John’s followers asked him.  And then spend the rest of Mass joyfully listening through the songs, through the prayers.  Listen!  Because if you ask, he will answer.

When we engage with our God in this way, asking for his guidance and responding as we are directed, our lives are transformed.  We become holy and my brothers and sisters, John the Baptist proved that holiness is attractive!  There is a joy that overflows out of our relationship with our God that floods into the lives of those around us.

Our holiness, our joy, both individually and as the body of Christ, has the power to transform; the power to transform the lives of those we encounter; and ultimately the power to transform society from the inside out.  May the rest of our Advent be a time of joyful anticipation that prepares our hearts for Christmas and transforms our lives and the lives of all those we touch.  Oh yes, holiness is attractive!  Let us respond to John’s call to radical conversion by asking our God what he would have us do; and then go out there and be truly joyful, truly holy.

We must think like God if we want to be free to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him

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I preached this homily at the 5pm Masses on September 15th/16th at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B (Isaiah 50:4c-9a;  James 2:14-18;  Mark 8:27-35)

You can break down today’s passage from St. Mark’s Gospel into three short vignettes.    In the first, Jesus disciples are responding to Jesus question of who people say that he is.  Peter closes out this first movement with his declaration that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus promptly tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this.

In the second part of the passage, Jesus shares with the disciples exactly what would be happening to him – and these are things that the disciples did not want to hear.  Peter can’t resist.  In his best demonstration of “Take one step forward, two steps backward,” Peter rebukes Jesus.  Imagine that!  Peter telling Jesus what he should be doing!   Jesus looks at his disciples and says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

If you are like me, you may be thinking, “How do I learn to think like God does?!?    Well, we come to Mass and are fed by God’s word, by Jesus’ body and blood.  We read and study scripture.  We pray.  We ask God to keep us in his will and to give us grace to follow that will to the best of our ability.  We perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  We come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask for God’s forgiveness on a regular basis.  Learning to think like God is a life-long process.  But it’s a process that doesn’t happen by accident.  It’s a process we must consciously choose, each and every day.

I recently read a quote from researcher George Barna who said, “We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs–our clothing, our food, our education.  Now, it’s our religion.  America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions.”

When Peter rebuked Jesus, Jesus said Peter was thinking as human beings do and not as God does.  But is Peter behaving any differently than the culture that George Barna has so eloquently described?  We have over 33,000 Christian denominations, all claiming they have the fullness of truth and that all others are flawed in some way.  Even many who claim the name Catholic pick and choose what teachings of the Church they will follow; as if they are ordering a pair of custom designer jeans.  I think Mr. Barna has nailed our culture to a T.  When we think like human beings rather than as God thinks, we create cheap imitations of the truth that God revealed through Jesus and that has been handed down through the Apostles and their successors.

Now we enter the third movement in this passage when Jesus brings the larger crowd into the conversation.  While Jesus does not share the “secret” of his own destiny with the larger crowd, what he does do in clear and unambiguous terms is to tell the crowd just what it takes to be his disciple:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”   Now if people from today’s Madison Avenue were advising Jesus on the best way to establish a flourishing church, I doubt if they’d have approved that message for his recruiting brochure.

But Jesus isn’t interested in Madison Avenue marketing campaigns.  Jesus is telling us how to think like God.  But every day, you and I are immersed in a culture that tells us to think like human beings.  We are told we can have it all, pleasure, power … life without sacrifice, life without suffering, without pain; that we can have a religion of our own making; a religion that doesn’t challenge or stretch us; a religion that allows us to do our own, rather than God’s will.

Pope John Paul II once said that we should not be afraid to welcome the cross of Christ into our lives because doing so gives full meaning to life’s joys and sorrows; that in embracing the cross of Christ, we make our own life a gift of love.  We all have crosses in our lives, don’t we?  Many of you are here today with heavy hearts; heavy crosses in your life; broken or strained marriages; children who are struggling with life’s challenges – who have left the Church; struggles with alcohol, drug or pornography abuse that is tearing apart your family; cancer or other illnesses of the body; unemployment – the list goes on.  Yes, we all have crosses that come into our lives.

Pope John Paul II is telling us that we should not be afraid because when we embrace the crosses in our lives, we embrace the cross of Christ.  And in embracing the cross of Christ, our lives are transformed into a gift of love for God and for those people God has placed into our lives.

But we can only be free to embrace those crosses, as Jesus said to Peter, if we strive to think like God and not like human beings.  Are we willing to deny ourselves, to lay down our own agendas, our own human thinking, our own designer made religion, so that we can be free to pick up our cross and follow Jesus?

I want to close my homily by sharing with you Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s  journey from death into everlasting life.  Blessed Kateri will be canonized next month and when she is, she will become the first Native American saint.  After suffering from years of ill health, Kateri died at the age of 24 as she uttered her last words, “Jesus I love you.”  It is reported that after her death, she appeared to multiple people.  Each person Kateri appeared to heard this same message, “The cross was the glory of my life and the glory of my death, and I want you to make it yours.”  Listen closely to these words.  (REPEAT).

My brothers and sisters, may we spend the rest of this mass and this week considering this invitation from a soon to be saint of our Church.  Blessed Kateri knows what it means to think like God and not like human beings.  Blessed Kateri knows what it means to deny herself, pick up her cross and follow Jesus.  Like those she appeared to after her death, now she invites you and me to make the cross of Christ the glory of our lives.  Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us!

June 17th, 2012 (Cycle B – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

This homily was prepared in the run up to the “Fortnight for Freedom” which took place in late June through July 4th.  It also happened to be Father’s Day on Sunday.  The readings for that Sunday were:

  • Ezekiel 17:22-24
  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10
  • Mark 4:26-34

Let me begin by wishing all you dad’s out there a “Happy Father’s Day!”   For all of us who still have our dads with us, let’s be sure and let them know in some special way just how thankful we are for all they have done and continue to do for us.  For those whose fathers have gone before us, then give thanks to God for the ways they blessed you and your family.   And I want to wish Happy Father’s day to you, Fr. __________, for being a spiritual father to this parish and thank you for saying yes to the priesthood.

There will be a special blessing for all fathers after Communion, so please look forward to that and once again – Happy Fathers Day!

“Brothers and sisters:  We are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.”  This line opens our second reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  These words of exhortation only make sense through the eyes of faith.  Our faith tells us we are exiles in this world, awaiting the time we will return to full communion with the Father, Son and Spirit in heaven.  Life on this side of heaven is far from ideal and includes periods of struggle and challenges.  But St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to walk by faith and not by sight; to be courageous and to live so as to please God in all they do.

My brothers and sisters, these words are as relevant to us now as they were to the Corinthians some 2000 years ago.  For 200+ years, our Church and many other faith communities have been able to work in a cooperative fashion with government agencies for the common good of society and the communities in which we live.  However, for the past several years, we have seen a slow and steady erosion of the religious freedom that has been a foundational element of this great nation.  As a Church, we have been free to practice our faith and provide our services to the communities of which we are a part without interference or coercion from the government.  But now we are witnessing events that threaten this most important freedom that is fundamental to our dignity as human beings.

The Second Vatican Council declared “that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups … such that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.”   My brothers and sisters, our religious liberty is under attack in many ways and we live at a time in history that demands the kind of courage St. Paul described in today’s second reading.

The HHS Mandate recently put into effect will force most Churches and private businesses to provide employee insurance coverage for contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs and sterilization.  The supposed exemption for faith-based organizations is so narrowly written that practically no functioning Church will qualify and individually owned businesses definitely will not qualify.  Many Church related organizations and individually owned businesses will soon be forced to violate their consciences, face exorbitant fines or drop their healthcare coverage altogether.  While this issue has gotten the most coverage in recent months, it’s just one of many ways our religious liberty is under attack.

The USCCBs’ Migration and Refugee Services provides assistance for victims of human trafficking and has had outstanding results in doing so.  But because they won’t provide or refer for contraceptive services which are in violation of Catholic teaching, the federal government has not renewed its contracts with this agency.

Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.

Several states have recently passed laws that make it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize, hear the confession of, celebrate the anointing of the sick with, or preach the word of God to, an undocumented immigrant.  Nor can they encourage them to attend Mass or give them a ride to Mass.

My brothers and sisters, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  Our Bishops have rightly called the Church to action and that means you and me!  Here is an excerpt from a document the Bishop’s recently released called “Our First Most Cherished Liberty”:

“As bishops we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics. We exhort them to be both engaged and articulate in insisting that as Catholics and as Americans we do not have to choose between the two. There is an urgent need for the lay faithful, in cooperation with Christians, Jews, and others, to impress upon our elected representatives the importance of continued protection of religious liberty in a free society.”

Our US Bishops have called for a “fortnight for freedom,” 14 days when across the country we will come together as Church to reflect on and highlight the importance of defending our religious freedom.   The fortnight begins this Thursday June 21st and runs through July 4th.  All across the country during this fortnight for freedom, our Church will be providing a great hymn of prayer for our country.  We need to join in that chorus of prayer.

The Lexington area parishes have planned a series of eight fortnight events.  The first will be held this Thursday at Mary Queen.  We will close the fortnight as a diocese right here in the Cathedral with Bishop Gainer celebrating Mass on the 4th of July at 10am.  Each fortnight event focuses on a specific threat to our religious freedom.  We will gain a deeper understanding of the issue and hear about ways we can respond to make a difference.

You might ask, “What can I do.  I’m just one person!”   In our Gospel today, Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, one of the smallest seeds there is.  But when sown and nurtured, that seed turns into one of the largest of plants.  You aren’t just one person.  You are a member of the Catholic Church, the largest faith community on earth.  And every day, the Catholic Church feeds more people, houses more people, clothes more people, takes care of more sick people, and educates more people than any other institution in the world.  How dare the government tell us we can no longer serve the world in these and many other ways unless we are willing to violate some of our most deeply held beliefs!  It’s time to put our mustard seeds together and let God turn them into a mustard plant.  It’s time we come together and respond to these threats to our freedom with one Catholic voice!

Participating in these fortnight for freedom events is one very important way we can respond to these threats.  On the bottom of page 8 in this week’s bulletin is information about all eight events including the hosting parish and topic to be covered.  Talk to your family and get as many of these events on your calendar as you can.  Invite others to come with you.

My brothers and sisters, these unjust attacks on our religious liberty must be resisted and rejected – by you and by me.   Fr. Frank Provone, head of “Priests for Life” said, “You don’t adapt to injustice, you oppose it!”  It’s been said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”  We can’t pretend that this is no big deal or that someone else will do something about it.  It’s up to you and me.

As St. Paul exhorted the Corinthians, today he exhorts you and me.  It’s time for the Church to walk by faith and not by sight.  Be of courage my brothers and sisters.  I hope to see many of you at the fortnight for freedom events and most especially at the July 4th Mass.  May that Mass be a celebration of the freedom God gave us so we can serve him in this life while we anticipate the joy we will find with him in the next.

What in the heck am I doing?

Welcome to my world … well actually not my world as I am but a lowly steward of the wonderful life God has gifted me with.  I really don’t know where this blog will go and I leave it in God’s hands to make of it what he will.

The reason for setting this blog up goes back four years to 2008 and my ordination to the permanent diaconate in the Catholic Church.  Since then I have been asked from time to time by various individuals for copies of my homilies, which I gladly shared via E-mail and/or hard copy.  Recently, a Facebook page was established by one of my brother deacons and his wife here in the Diocese of Lexington with the specific purpose of allowing clergy in our diocese to share their homilies for anyone who would be interested.

So based on the regular requests for my homilies and the establishment of this new Facebook page, I decided I would establish this blog to host some of my homilies so I could then share them through the new Facebook page.

I don’t see myself as a regular blogger so don’t expect regular posts from me but as time allows and the spirit moves me, I may stick my toe in the proverbial blogging waters and see how it goes.  In the meantime, I hope my homilies bring some combination of faith, hope and love to anyone who chooses to read them.

When I came up with the tag line for this blog (“Striving to reflect the embrace of Christ”), those are the words that came to me.  I can only pray that this is what I am about in my diaconal ministry and that here in this blog, my homilies may bring you and others closer to the embrace of the one who loves us beyond our wildest dreams and who longs to embrace us in his saving arms.

Stay tuned for homilies to follow shortly.  First I have to figure out all this blog technology.  Pray for me that I can do just that!