Saturday, August 12, 2017

Get out of the boat!

HOMILY FOR THE 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 13, 2017:

Roger Bannister and John Landy were two runners who within days of each other were first to break the four-minute mile in the 1950s. Shortly after this feat, a race was held between the two to see who was, in fact, the fastest. As the race began Landy led Bannister all the way into the final leg. Then he did something he should not have done. He glanced over his shoulder to see how far behind his competitor was. That was all Bannister needed. He shot past Landy and won the race.

In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus call out to Peter to come to him across the water. Because Peter believed in Jesus, he stepped out of the boat onto the water. Peter found himself doing the impossible, simply because he believed in Jesus. If Jesus believed Peter could walk on water, then Peter believed it too. But, just like John Landy, Peter became alarmed as he walked across the water. For a brief moment, he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked down at the turbulent water below. And Peter began to sink.



We, too, are all really a bit like Peter. Jesus has called each of us to be His followers in our modern world. But trying to follow Jesus today is almost like trying to walk on water. It can feel as though it is next to impossible. But Jesus believes that we can do it. Most of us have had times in our lives when we have powerfully experienced the presence of Jesus. We treasure these encounters. We live for these moments. But, like Peter, at other times we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and turned away to other things. We’ve become occupied with the normal daily activities of our lives, our families, our children, our jobs. We have taken our eyes off of Jesus because of the pains and challenges in life; the struggles and the difficulties that we face. And we, like Peter, have sometimes lost our balance and felt like we were sinking.

In the early days of sailing, a boy went to sea to learn to be a sailor. One day when the sea was stormy, he was told to climb to the top of the mast. The first half of the climb was easy. The boy kept his eyes fixed on the sky. But halfway to the top, he made a mistake. He looked down at the stormy waters. He grew dizzy and was in danger of falling. An old sailor saw what was happening and called out, “Look back to the sky, boy! Look back to the sky!” The boy followed the advice and finished his climb safely.

My friends, if we have found ourselves being swallowed by the stormy waves of life, it is a good time to ask if our focus in on Jesus, or perhaps we, too, have looked away. Today’s Gospel calls us to return our gaze into the loving eyes of our Savior. To focus on Jesus who knows that we can accomplish even the seemingly impossible, if we maintain our focus on Him. We hear the cry of the old sailor to “Look up to the sky” and find there our Lord who believes in all that we can accomplish with and through Him. We should do what Peter did and cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save us,"reach out to Him in our need and Jesus will reach out His hand and save us, as He saved Peter. The hand of Jesus will reach into the challenges of our lives and lift us from our challenges; and restore us to His love and grace.

The message of this spectacular Gospel story today is simple. If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of our lives and our world, we have to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him. But, there’s also another powerful message for us in this encounter. This Gospel isn’t only about what Peter did wrong. He also did something very right. After all, he walked on water! The boat was full of the disciples. It wasn’t Peter alone. But, only he did the miraculous and joined Jesus in this spectacular moment. Peter alone, was willing to take the risk. Peter alone was willing to get out of the boat and embrace even the impossible. His willingness to take a risk for Jesus gave him access to the miraculous. The rest of the disciples didn’t experience this wonder. They huddled in fear. They sought only for Jesus to bring them comfort against the storm. But Peter got out of the boat. He did this for one overwhelming reason – not because it would be exciting, but Peter got out of the boat because that was where Jesus was and the only place Peter wanted to be was with his Lord.

Jesus is extending His hand to each one of us today. He wants us to get out of the boat with Him. He wants us to leave the merely comfortable, to step up against our fears, and to have the courage to join Him wherever it is that He wants to take us. If we have that courage, just like Peter, we will never be the same. Jesus will take us to new places, new experiences, encounters with new people – all of which will allow us to experience God in new and powerful ways. They might even allow us to experience the miraculous.

So, if you want to walk on water, first, you have to get out of the boat. And if you keep your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, you can’t imagine what God will have in store. Let’s get out of the boat and walk with Jesus.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Transform me, Lord












HOMILY FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD, August 6, 2017:

Many years ago, for one summer, I got to be a member of the Fighting Irish as I took summer courses at the famous University of Notre Dame. At the center of Notre Dame’s campus is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Every day, I would pray there and like most Catholics, I would always sit in the same spot, next to the same person. For weeks, this man and I didn’t speak to each other beyond a nod of the head and the sign of peace. But, every day I noticed what a beautiful singing voice he had. After about a month, I thought to myself, “Maybe no one has ever affirmed his singing.” So, after Mass one day, I introduced myself and said to him, “I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this before, but you really have a beautiful voice. You should consider using that gift that God has given you.” A small smile crossed his face, he shook my hand and said, “Hi Tom. My name is Michael Joncas.” Now, you may not recognize that name right away, but Michael Joncas is one of the most famous Catholic composers today. He has written such beautiful hymns as, “Take and Eat,” “When We Eat This Bread,” and most famously “On Eagle’s Wings.” I, of course, turned 20 shades of red and finally said, “Well, I guess you are making good use of that gift.”

But, in that moment, I instantly saw this man in a different light. It was a revelation that changed forever the way I would look at him. And, once I knew who he really was – once I had a fuller picture of his true identity – I wanted to stay there with him as long as I could and talk about liturgy and music and theChurch. But, eventually we had to return to get on with our day.Something like this is happening in our Gospel today. Peter, James and John, went up the mountain with Jesus to pray. But, they went up with the Jesus they already knew – a spectacular Jesus to be sure, one who heals, forgives, preaches with authority – but they hadn’t seen anything yet. Before their very eyes, Jesus is transfigured into unbelievable glory, and he is joined by Moses and Elijah – the three of them representing the fullness of God’s divine revelation. Their immediate reaction, “It is good that we are here!” They would never look at Jesus in the same way again, and wanted to hold on to that moment for as long as they could.

We are not unlike them. We too long for moments when God reveals Himself to us. Transfiguration is not only what we hear in the Gospel. It is something we can experience regularly in our lives. It is what takes place in this and every Mass if we open our minds, our hearts, our lives to it. Just think about it. God’s Word starts out as mere ink on a page, but it is transfigured through the Lector proclaiming it into a revelation of God - God’s message for us - that takes root in our hearts. The Eucharist starts out as nothing more than simple bread and wine, but it too is transfigured through the hands of the priest and the work of the Holy Spirit into the very presence of Jesus in our midst – His true Body and Blood – and once received, that presence of Jesus is within us. And, our reaction each and every Sunday should be: “It is good that we are here! Can we stay forever?”

The problem is that our eyes and our hearts are too often shielded from God’s presence right in front of us. They get shielded by our own concerns and struggles; shielded by our own hurts and pains; shielded even by the familiarity of experiencing Mass over and over again. But that doesn’t change what happens here - God wants to reveal Himself to us. Jesus wants us to hear His Words for us, to see and receive His Body and Blood. Why? So, that we too can be transfigured into what God wants us to be; so that we can go forth from this place and transfigure our homes, our workplace, our community, our relationships, into that glorious and holy reality that Jesus came here to share with us.

Transfiguration is an experience, a glimpse, of the full glory of God in Jesus. When Jesus arrived at the mountain top His appearance changed and literally shone brightly with God’s glory. Jesus shone with the glory that caused Moses to shine that day on the mountain when the 10 Commandments were given to him from Heaven. He shone with the glory that carried Elijah up to Heaven's height - gone from this world, but alive in the next. He shone with the glory of His own baptismal day, when His Father's voice was heard to say: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" - and indeed those words first uttered at the River are repeated on the Mountaintop of Transfiguration.

As we today ascend this mountaintop where God wants to reveal Himself to us, let us shake whatever shields our minds and hearts from seeing Him. Let us leave this place radiant from our encounter with the God who loves us. “It is good that we are here.” Let us behold God’s glory and bring that glory to everyone we meet.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A taste of Heaven









HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 30, 2017:

A teacher, a tax collector, and a politician wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question. St. Peter addressed the teacher first, “What was the name of that ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.” The teacher answered, “That’s easy, the Titanic.” St. Peter let her in. He then looked at the tax collector asking, “How many people died on the ship?” He was a fan of the History Channel and answered, “1,228.” St. Peter let him in too. Then, turning to the politician, St. Peter said, “Name them.”

That joke could be a commentary on our current political climate, but it also raises an important question: Have you ever thought about what Heaven is like? Most of us, at one point or another, have wondered, is there a Heaven and what is it like? Jesus explores this in our Gospel today; and gives us a positive answer about Heaven (yes, there is a Heaven!) and some insight about what it is like.

This passage called to mind for me the very first time that I was in the presence of a Pope. It was 15 years ago and I was at a Wednesday Audience with Saint Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. At that audience, the Pope reflected on the same passage we have today. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.”

His comments mirror those that we hear from Jesus today. Heaven is clearly one of Jesus’ favorite topics, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel. In His first sermon in Matthew, Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And, in the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, it should be a favorite of ours too.

We often think about Heaven in extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, all the food you can eat and not gain an ounce! We imagine some sort of celestial castle nestled in the clouds, twinkling stars and bright rainbows. Angels everywhere, zooming around God’s throne; the air alive with the sound of magnificent music.

But, notice that Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very ordinary things. Jesus presents us with a farmer sowing seeds, weeds in a field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly, and familiar. We pray this every time we say, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as it in heaven.”

So, what is this taste of Heaven that we can experience here on earth? The answer is right here in our Church. The closest we come to this dual dimension of heaven and earth is the Church and the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our union with God in heaven and with humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven among all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the budding forth of that Kingdom.”

Now we are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy their treasure. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross. And far from hiding this treasure, God shares them with us freely. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes down and sanctifies our gifts; we sing with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.” Our treasure, our precious pearl of membership in the Church is the gift that all the money in the world could never buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s intense love and true presence leading us to eternal life.

Saint John Paul said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were open to His love…will enjoy communion with God which is the goal of human existence.” We get a taste of Heaven on earth through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, a great foretaste of the happiness and peace and union we will one day know forever with God in Heaven.

St. Therese of Lisieux said, “It is not to remain in a golden ciborium that Jesus comes down each day from Heaven, but to find another Heaven, the Heaven of our soul in which He takes delight." My friends, “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Who am I to judge?











HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 23, 2017:

Growing up Sunday nights always had a ritual about them. You quickly had your bath so that you could be in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Wild Kingdom was always exciting because inevitably Marlin Perkins would come face-to-face with something ferocious – a lion, a tiger, a bear (oh my?). And it would be exciting. I had my own encounter with something ferocious when I was living in Boston. One evening I was grilling chicken in the small alleyway between the friary and church, when I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction. I quickly discovered this was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs nearby. So, I gave Mama her space. A week later I checked to see if I had any new pigeon chicks in the alleyway. What I saw was the Mom protecting one cute little chick, and the second egg cast outside of the nest. And it was a sad sight – to see the Mom protecting one, but having cast off another. I reminded myself that that was simply the way it goes sometimes in the wild kingdom. Some make it, some don’t.

We heard in our Gospel today, “‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.” Unlike the chicks in my alley, Jesus gives us a different image from nature today – that of wheat and weeds. To put this into context, I think our nature can sometimes be like the pigeon deciding who make it and who doesn’t. We create categories like us and them; good and bad; sinner and saint. These exclude and we judge who is better and who is worse.

Even people of faith still seem to create these categories. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation for our own sins and walk in the light of the Lord. But, too often, when we’re forgiven, we become acutely aware of everyone else’s sin. When we become wheat – to use Jesus’ image today – we suddenly see the weeds around us. And that is the problem that Jesus is trying to get at today with this image of wheat and weeds – what we might call the Holier-Than-Thou Syndrome. But, Jesus calls us to something different, something new, something better. Through the gift and grace of the Sacraments, and our living faith, Jesus invites us into a supernatural realm where we are no longer bound by the constraints of human nature. He tell us, “Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.”

Jesus recognized – especially in the Pharisees (a name which means literally “the separated ones”) – that even our holiness can become a temptation to judge others. We sometimes consciously or unconsciously decide that we can spiritually judge who is in and who is out. Take any of today’s hot-button issues. We might be tempted to judge someone who is divorced or who committed adultery; or someone who had an abortion. It could just be someone who is mean and hateful, or a gossip, someone who is gay or lesbian, someone who has stolen or even committed some other horrible crime. We look at them and we become a self-appointed judge and jury. But, where is God’s love and mercy in that? Where is God’s opportunity for encounter, relationship, reconciliation and forgiveness and healing?

The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to be the judge. Pope Francis said it much more directly when he said five simple words, “Who am I to judge?” These were five powerful words coming from the Pope, but the same words should come from each of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the only true judge we will ever face.

But change that statement ever so slightly and ask, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to welcome? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are exactly the things we are called to do, and our judgment only gets in the way of these things. Jesus explicitly asks us to be the ones who love, to be His kind, welcoming, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world.

Jesus tells us to “Let [the weeds and wheat] grow together.” Why? Because in His Kingdom, something amazing can happen. Weeds can become wheat. If Jesus, through His grace and mercy, can transform mere bread and wine into His Body and Blood – as He will do again in front of our very eyes on this altar today; if Jesus can turn even our sins into holiness every time we go to Confession – then surely He can also turn weeds into wheat. Perhaps some of us here – maybe many of us here, maybe all of us here – were once weeds ourselves, but through God’s amazing grace, we have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” Jesus says because He is giving us all the time we need to do the same. He wants all the weeds to become the beautiful wheat of His harvest.It might be nature’s way to cast off the ones who don’t look like they are going to make it. But, that is not God’s way and it most certainly should not be our way. Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." Let us make his words our words too.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Loving God's Word!

HOMILY FOR THE 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 16, 2017:

A new pastor was assigned to a local Church, and was so overwhelmed with his new assignment that he didn’t have time to write a new homily each Sunday so he used the same homily four times in a row. A group of parishioners complained to the Bishop. The Bishop asked a simple question, “What was the homily about?” Stunned, they looked one to the other – not one of them could remember. So, the Bishop said, “Let him preach it one more time.”

They say that there are three things that St. Peter will ask you at the Pearly Gates if you want to get into Heaven: What was Sunday’s First Reading? Second Reading? And Gospel Reading? How many of us could answer today?

My friends, what place does God’s Word, Sacred Scripture, hold in our lives? In our first reading we heard, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”


Jesus gives us the parable of the seed and the sower meant to encourage our love of God’s Word. “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Pope Francis said, “Maybe we've made [the Word of God] a little difficult with explanations that no one understands, but the Christian life is as simple and easy as this: listen to the word of God and put it into practice.”

One man shared with a church group about the turnaround in his life since he started to love God’s Word. “Two years ago,” he said, “I had no appetite for the Word of God. On Sundays, I would shop around going from church to church to find the priest that gave the shortest homily. My idea of a good Mass was one that took 40 minutes or less! But, once I became open to God’s Word; I became like the writer of Psalm 119 who said, “Had your word, O Lord, not been my delight, I would have perished…I will never forget your words; through them you give me life.”

Jesus is calling us all to become people love the Word of God. Just listen to some of the things God says to us. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Or “God is love and all who love dwell in God and God in them.” Or, “In all things God words for the good of those who love Him.” Or, “What, then, shall we say? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Or, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.” Or, “All of the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” In fact, that theme, “Do not be afraid,” is one of the most common messages spread all throughout the Bible. I could go on and on, and hopefully you, too, have your own favorites. Jesus wants us to be in love with the Word of God so that it can fill us, mold us, direct our lives.

A priest delivered a homily in 10 minutes one Sunday, which was about half his usual length. He explained to the parish, “I regret to inform you that my dog ate the rest of my homily which I was unable to deliver this morning.” After Mass, a visitor from another parish said to the priest, “Father, if that dog of yours has any pups, I want to get one to give to my priest.” My friends, if our favorite part of God’s Word is when it is over, then we are missing the point.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “The Word of God is living and active.” Loving God’s Word begins with our openness. Can we surrender to God’s Word? Can we believe in our hearts that there is nothing more important than God’s Word? Can we be people who pledge to live as St. James calls us to as “doers of the word and not hearers only…The one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what they do.”

So, where does the Word of God fit into your life? The seed of God’s Word has been placed in each of us again today at this Holy Mass. Will it grow and be fruitful? Or will it wither and fade? Pope Francis said, “Listen to the word of God; listen with your ears and hear with your heart. God speaks to each of us. The Gospel was written for each of us.”

My friends, the Word of God is alive and active. It has the power to set us free, comfort our sorrows, heal our wounds, and feed our souls. May the Word of God light our lives and direct our paths. Let us love God’s Word!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Gentleness is the language of Christians















HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 9, 2017:

One of Aesop’s Fables tells of a contest between the sun and the wind over which of the two was stronger. One day a person dressed in a coat was walking down a deserted country road. The sun said to the wind, “Whoever makes that person remove the coat faster will be the winner.” The wind agreed and decided to go first. The wind blew stronger and stronger, but no matter what, the just person held on to their coat tighter. Finally, exhausted, the wind gave up. Then the sun took over. All the sun did was shine in all its glory. Within minutes, the person took of their coat. The moral of Aesop’s story was: you can achieve more by gentleness than by violence.

In our world today, gentleness is not in as high regard as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. The word “gentleman” testifies to this reality. Today, however, our culture values aggressiveness and divisiveness more than it values gentleness. Just look at the media. News channels spend all day long shouting at each other. The average child spends 25 hours a week watching television, more time than they spend in school or engaged in any other activity except sleep. And it is estimated that by the time a child is 18; they will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders. One study concluded that teens who watch more than one hour of TV a day were four times more likely to commit aggressive acts in adulthood. It shouldn’t be surprising that our culture reflects the violence of our age.

How different from what Jesus taught us today. He said, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Likewise, in our first reading today, Zechariah foretold the gentleness of Jesus, “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, he is meek…and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” A beautiful example of the gentleness of Jesus is the way he handled the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with the woman, but also with her self-righteous accusers. He didn’t shout or rave. He didn’t yell or scream. He simply wrote in the sand gently with His finger. His gentle and loving compassion towards the woman stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night in comparison to the violent accusations of the crowd.

Jesus repeatedly gives us gentle examples to imitate. He held up for us the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep who didn’t react aggressively to the sheep that ran away. He placed the sheep gently and lovingly on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son who didn’t shout at or reject his wayward son. Instead, he hugged him, he loved him and welcomed him home.

I read a story in Guideposts magazine about a child who grew up with a crippled and twisted back. Fully clothed, he could pass for healthy, but when he took his shirt off, his disfigurement was noticeable. As a boy, one day he stood in line waiting to be examined by the school doctor. He always dreaded the moment when the doctor would say, “Remove your shirt.” Finally the terrible moment came. He fumbled with his buttons, his hands shaking badly. At last, his shirt was off. The doctor looked at him and then did something very unusual. He walked around the desk, held the boy’s face in his big hands, looked right at him and said, gently, “Do you believe in God?” “Yes sir,” the boy responded. “Good! The more you believe in Him, the more you believe in yourself.” The doctor went back to his desk and wrote something on his chart before stepping out of the room for a moment. The boy was curious and so he quickly looked at the chart. Under the heading “Physical Characteristics,” the doctor had written, “This boy has a perfectly well-shaped head.” The boy couldn’t believe his eyes. And, although that brief episode took place many years ago, but the boy never forgot the gentleness and the encouraging words of that kind doctor. This is the invitation of today’s Gospel for all of us, “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

And so, let us respond to the people we encounter as the sun did in Aesop’s fable – with gentleness and warmth. Let us engage those who have wronged us as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery; and as the father of the Prodigal Son – with compassion and understanding. Let us build up people with heavy burdens just as the doctor did – with tenderness and sensitivity.

Pope Francis said, “The language of Christians is the language of gentleness and respect. It’s terrible to see people who say they are Christians, but who are full of bitterness. The Holy Spirit is gentle and calls us to likewise be always gentle, and to always respect others.” Let gentleness and respect be our language always.

“Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Encountering Jesus through His wounds

FEAST OF ST. THOMAS THE APOSTLE, July 3: 
“The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. 
In the history of the Church there have been some mistakes made on the path towards God. Some have believed that the Living God can be found on the path of meditation alone. That's dangerous! How many are lost on that path. Yes they arrive at knowledge of God, but not of Jesus Christ, Son of God. 
Others thought that to arrive at God we must mortify ourselves, we have to be austere and have chosen the path of penance: only penance and fasting. Not even these arrive at the Living God, Jesus Christ. 
There are those who believe that they can arrive by their own efforts. But Jesus tells us [as He told Thomas] that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. 
We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. 
And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. 'Oh, great! Let's set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things to help '. That's important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. 
We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. 
Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."
- Pope Francis, Feast of St. Thomas, July 3, 2013 

Caravaggio's "Incredulity of St. Thomas"

Saturday, July 1, 2017

"I'm with them."

HOMILY FOR THE 13th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 2, 2017:

The new pastor reported to his new parish to preach, but on his first day only three people turned up to hear him preach. He asked the Deacon, “Did you let the parish know I would be preaching today?” “No” replied the Deacon, “but word seems to have got round anyway.” Well, I am very happy to see more than three people here today!

We just heard these beautiful and even poetic words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “You must think of yourselves as living for God in Christ.” But, beautiful though they are, what does it mean to say that we are living for God in Christ? Jesus today goes even farther in the Gospel today to talk about what it means to be a worthy follower of Him. 

I just finished a wonderful vacation relaxing by the beach in Hampton, NH, and this gave me a chance to catch up on some things. Among them, I really enjoy an podcast called “On Being” which interviews a variety of people on issues of faith each week. One of the most stunning episodes that I listened to was with Martin Sheen, the well-known actor of such films as Apocalypse Now and of course for seven years, he was President Jeb Bartlett on The West Wing – still my favorite president! But, Martin is also an extremely devout Catholic and a longtime social activist.

I actually had the great opportunity to meet him briefly a number of years ago. Martin is very close with the Franciscans in California, and one day I was at a Franciscan retreat house in Malibu for a meeting when Martin suddenly popped out of a friar’s office into the hallway where I was chatting with some others. The West Wing was still on the air at the time, and so I had the great fun of shaking his hand and greeting him as “Mr. President.”

In the interview I was listening to last week, Martin discussed his faith and what it means for him to live for God in Christ. Martin was raised Catholic, but he had a crisis of faith around the time of Apocalypse Now which took him on a search for God that eventually lead him right back to the Catholicism of his childhood. Speaking of his spiritual awakening, he said, “The love that I longed for, and I think all of us really long for, is knowing that we are loved. That despite ourselves, we are loved. And when you realize that, and you embrace that, you begin to look at everyone else and you can see very clearly who in your vision knows they’re loved and who does not. And that makes all the difference. And I began to give thanks and praise for that love. You know how, so often, people say they go on this journey — and I said it, too — that ‘I’m looking for God.’ But God has already found us, really. We have to look in the spot where we are least likely to look, and that is within ourselves. And when we find that love, that presence, deep within our own personal being — and it’s not something that you can earn, or something that you can work towards. It’s just a realization of being human, of being alive, of being conscious. And that love is overwhelming. And that is the basic foundation of joy. Then we become enviably joyful. And we see it in others, and we seek to ignite that love in others. But, you can’t force someone to realize they’re loved, but you can show them. And most of the effort we make is just by living our lives, by being compassionate, and loving, and respectful, and being a vessel of service for others. That’s what feeds that love.”

My friends, we are incredibly and immensely loved by God. This is, perhaps, the most profound reality of our faith. That God loves us, or as we hear in the First Letter of John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that God loved us first.” Let that sink in – God loved us first and best – and the certainty of that love fuels our joy. You are loved by God; you are God’s beloved. Nothing can change that or take it away. Even our greatest sin cannot take away the love that God has for us.

And, if you’re thinking today, “I want to feel that love” then you are in luck. We find the greatest expression of that love right here at Mass in the gift of the Eucharist. The early followers of Jesus, in fact, called Mass an Agape Feast which means love feast. This is a love feast where the God who loved us first showers that love on us. This is the love that we are then called to share with the world.

Again, from the Martin Sheen interview, he said, “It’s so overwhelming, at times, this reality of loving because one is loved. You just sit and stare sometimes into a vacuum and say, where did this come from, and why is it so clear, and why is it so simple, and so powerful? And one of the great mysteries that I experience at mass is the reception at communion. How do we embrace that? How can we possibly, consciously understand what that is? And I don’t have a clue. I just stand in line and say, ‘I’m Ramón, called Martin, your friend. And I’m with them.’ Whoever the crowd is, I’m getting in line with, you just look at the people who are in that line, that community; that is the greatest and simplest expression of overtly trying to explain this mystery. It is probably the most profound mystery in all of the universe, this love. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed just watching people in line to embrace the sacrament. It is the most profound thing. I never ever can get over it. It’s just something you have to surrender to. And just saying, I’m with them. That’s the community of saints.”

My friends, what we gather for here today is no more complicated than this – God loved us first and best. God has already found us. That same God wants to shower His love on us today in this Eucharist. If you have been longing to feel that love, then surrender to it here today. Let God’s love wash over you and touch the very depths of your being. God wants the Eucharist today to bind us, connect us, inspire us, and send us out in the world to remind the whole world that the love of God is meant for all.

God is with us, and we live together for God in Christ. And, as Martin said, “I’m with them!”

May the Lord give you peace.

Müller out, Ladaria in at CDF | America Magazine

By Gerard O'Connell | July 01, 2017 | AMERICA MAGAZINE

Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and successor to Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican announced at midday, July 1.

Pope Francis’ decision to nominate a new prefect of the C.D.F. is perhaps the most important appointment he has made to the Roman Curia after that of naming Cardinal Pietro Parolin as secretary of state.

It is destined to have far-reaching consequences, not the least of which is to ensure that the C.D.F. and its prefect are rowing with and not against the pope on key issues, including the interpretation of “Amoris Laetitia,” synodality and cooperation with the commission for the protection of minors.

At the time of his appointment, the 73-year old archbishop was Secretary of the C.D.F., that is, the number two position in the congregation. He was appointed to that role by Benedict XVI on July 9, 2008.

Today’s Vatican communique confirmed the story that had been widely circulated the previous afternoon and evening that Francis had not renewed the mandate of the German cardinal. It also announced that Archbishop Ladaria would succeed Cardinal Müller in his roles as the President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission.

America has learned that Pope Francis received Cardinal Müller in private audience in his library in the Vatican at noon on June 30 and informed him that he would not be reconfirmed as prefect when his five-year mandate, which was due to end on July 2, concluded. Informed sources told America that Francis offered him the possibility of re-assignment to another position in the Vatican after the summer holidays, but the German cardinal turned this down on the grounds that since he had been head of the “supreme” congregation (as the C.D.F. is called in Vatican parlance) it would be beneath his dignity to accept another post and so he preferred to go into retirement.

Sources told America that the Vatican was scheduled to announce the change at the head of the C.D.F. on Monday, July 3, but after the audience with the pope, Cardinal Müller returned to the C.D.F. and informed his colleagues that he was no longer head of the congregation. That news was quickly passed to media close to the cardinal and became public some hours later. For this reason, the Vatican decided to make the announcement at noon today.

In choosing Archbishop Ladaria to replace him, the pope has opted for a highly qualified theologian who shares his pastorally sensitive approach, having worked closely with him in these years, and has the ability to manage the C.D.F.

In an interview on May 12 with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, Cardinal Müller reiterated his argument that Pope Francis’ post-synodal statement on the family does not open the door to receiving Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. This came after bishops’ conferences in Germany, Argentina and Malta issued guidelines on “Amoris” that allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the sacrament in certain situations.America has learned that a number of cardinals had asked Francis to remove Cardinal Müller from that post because he had on several occasions publicly disagreed with or distanced himself from the pope’s positions—in particular regarding “Amoris Laetitia”—and they felt this was undermining the papal office and magisterium.

“It is not good that the bishops’ conferences are making official interpretations of the pope,” Cardinal Müller said. “That is not Catholic. We have this document of the pope, and it must be read in the context of the complete Catholic tradition.”

While Pope Francis has signaled openness to an investigation into the role of women deacons in church history, establishing a commission (headed by Archbishop Ladaria) to study the issue, Cardinal Müller was firm in his opposition to the idea. “No. Impossible. It will not come.”

After Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor who resigned her post on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on March 1, cited what she described as resistance coming from some Vatican offices, in particular the C.D.F., against implementing recommendations, Cardinal Müller dismissed her claims. “I think this cliché must be put to an end: the idea that the pope, who wants the reform, is on one side and, on the other, a group of resisters who want to block it,” Cardinal Müller said.

Born at Manacor, on the Spanish island of Majorca, Archbishop Ladaria entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) after graduating in law at the University of Madrid in 1966. He went on to study at the Comillas Pontifical University, Madrid, and Sankt Georgen Graduate school of philosophy and theology in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

After his ordination to the priesthood in July 1973, Ladaria obtained a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, in 1975 and went onto be a professor of dogmatic theology, first at the Comillas university, and then in 1984 at the Gregorian University, where he was vice-rector from 1986-1994.

St. John Paul II appointed him as a member of the International Theological Commission in 1992 and consultor of the C.D.F. in 1995. As secretary-general of the I.T.C., a post he held until 2009, he led its revision of the church’s understanding of limbo which concluded that children who die without baptism can enjoy the beatific vision in heaven.

Benedict XVI appointed him as secretary of the C.D.F. on July 9, 2008, and made him archbishop. He has served as consultor to the congregation for bishops and the pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity, and has been involved in the dialogue with Saint Pius X Society. Last August, Pope Francis appointed him as president of the study commission on the women’s diaconate. At the C.D.F. he has also been involved in dealing with the abuse of minors by clergy.

Monday, June 12, 2017

President Carter shakes every hand on a plane



 
All kinds of things can run through the heads of people buckling themselves into an airline seat with even a remote understanding of current high-altitude events.
There's the possibility of a bloody passenger being dragged off the plane, or of a brawl breaking out, or even the remote chance that the person in 13D will have to be subdued with duct tape.
But passengers on a Delta flight from the D.C. area to Atlanta got a surprise that was welcome and charming: a grinning, nonagenarian, bolo-tie-wearing former president who ambled down the aisle, apparently shaking every single passenger's hand.
The video clip of Jimmy Carter was taken by passenger James Parker Sheffield. He's the one in the video who says “What a pleasure. Thank you,” in five words summing up the collective thoughts of the Internet since it was tweeted on Thursday.
Carter and Sheffield and about 100 other people were sharing a flight from a D.C. area airport to Atlanta, Sheffield told Atlanta ABC-affiliate WSB-TV.
The flight was delayed slightly, and flight attendants had just announced that the cabin door was closed. In the video, flight attendants can be seen tucking away the last pieces of luggage.
“It's hard to put into words what a nice reprieve from the current political theater this moment was,” Sheffield told WSV-TV. “His enthusiasm was authentic and humble, in a way that made things feel less heavy for a moment.”
Off camera, a woman can be heard saying “I love you, Jimmy Carter.”
Occasionally, news stories will crop up that say Carter is a nice, decent guy. He does have a Nobel Peace Prize after all, “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” So he's no stranger to handshakes.
He's also taught Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., for decades, and when he announced that he was battling cancer, hundreds made pilgrimages to the church to see him, according to The Washington Post's David Weigel.
He's spent 30 years hammering homes for Habitat for Humanity and lending his celebrity to the cause.
Deanna Congileo, a spokeswoman for Carter, declined to give out details about his travel for security purposes. But she said the airplane handshakes are not uncommon.
“For decades since he left office, he has shaken hands with his fellow travelers on planes,” she said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post. “He enjoys it, and passengers are excited to get to interact with a former president.”
Although Carter's spokeswoman wouldn't confirm this, the Atlanta Journal Constitution hinted at another reason he presses the flesh with all the passengers: Some would undoubtedly recognize him and ask to meet him during the flight. Spending a few minutes shaking everyone's hand before the flight leaves the gate obviates a potential headache for the pilots and crew.
Carter alludes to the potential problems of flying with a dignitary in a joke with one passenger:
“It's not my fault we're late by the way.”

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Let the Word go forth! | Pentecost

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, June 4, 2017:













“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961, who would have turned 100 years old this past Thursday had history not had a different destiny for him. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; there was a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.”

Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth, but this time we speak of God’s Word. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America, right here to Raynham.

What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.

Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples huddled and afraid in that upper room – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; this time as the Church. We, too, are part of that miracle. We too are called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.

It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a task to accomplish. The institution of the Church came about not to serve itself, but to serve that mission; to help organize that work of God. So what is that work? Jesus tells us Himself, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” The mission that the Father gave the Son is the very same mission that the Son gives to all of us who follow Him. So just as the Son came to reveal God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and joy to us, we are to continue that Revelation, we are commissioned to spread that same Good News to everyone we encounter.

Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture and its life-giving Words for us, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us once again – all in he hopes that we willgive birth to that Presence of God outside of the walls of this church.

The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven that we celebrated last week can leave us with a false impression that God is no longer on the scene. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us, God dwells through us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”

And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; upon the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle, forgiving and compassionate presence of God in our world.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.

May the Lord give you peace.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

10 Years of A Friar's Life!

So I just wanted to offer a word to acknowledge that this blog, A FRIAR'S LIFE, reached its 10 year anniversary a few months ago.  So grateful to all of you who are regular readers of the blog. It has put me in contact with people far and wide. I'm always amazed at the range of places people are accessing from.  Looking right now at the feed for example, people have accessed content from Brooklyn, the Philippines, KwaZulu-Natal, Japan, Auckland, Seattle, Oceanside (CA), Peoria, Gettysburg, Victoria, Goa, and on and on..

Each week of course, I share my homily that I offer in person in area parishes.  A full church will be somewhere between 300-500 people who hear a homily.  The average readership via this blog is about 1,100 people a week. So, in a real way, this is a big part of my "congregation".  Thank you for reading every week!!

Here are some of the highest read posts of the last 10 years:


  1. Pope Francis prepares sandwich for Swiss guard  (This by a huge percentage really grabbed people's attention)
  2. A possible response from US bishops to gay marriage
  3. How Christians should really respond to Caitlyn Jenner
  4. Putting on the apron of service
  5. A Pope in Brown | America Magazine
  6. Pope Benedict & St. Francis: He resigned too!
I've also enjoyed doing "Ask Fr. Tom" and should probably resurrect that one. It was always a great way to connect with your questions.

So, thank you for reading, and I hope you keep reading in the years ahead!!

Peace,
Fr. Tom

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Live for Heaven











HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 28,2 017:
In the top drawer of my desk I keep a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s oldest sister and she passed away a few years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. One said simply, “Please read this at my funeral.” But on the other side she had written, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for all of the people she loved.

While I’m sure we all want to get to Heaven, I would bet that getting there isn’t something most of us think about on any given day. This is for two reasons. First, the practical demands of everyday life on earth usually grab our attention even though Jesus came to earth to lead us to Heaven, or as we’ll hear in the Eucharistic Prayer today, “Where Christ has gone, we hope to follow.” Heaven is the goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives on earth. How foolish a traveler would be to struggle forward without ever thinking about where they are going!

But there is another reason why we don’t give too much thought to Heaven: it’s simply because imagining eternal life is hard for us. Jesus gives us some insight today. He said, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one you sent, Jesus Christ.”

We all know that the greatest joy of our lives is the relationships of love we are blessed with. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art, even nice homes and cool cars – what would these be without others to share them with? Loving relationships make life’s most ordinary activities enjoyable and meaningful.

Today Jesus is telling us that Heaven is nothing more or less than a perfect relationship of love, an everlasting getting-to-know-God, Christ, the saints, being reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us. These relationships will never get boring or tedious, because God is infinite, and getting to know Him is an adventure that will never end. If the best human friendships never lose their luster, how much more indescribable will our eternal friendship with God be!

C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of that Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and they love their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back to England at the end of each adventure.

At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever, which in the books is the equivalent of Heaven. Lewis describes this reality, “For [the children], [the end of the books] was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, were nothing more than a hint, a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Heaven was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last.

In his encyclical, “Saved in Hope,” Pope Emeritus Benedict gave a simple suggestion of how we can daily lead lives focused on Heaven. He suggested reviving the tradition of “offering up” the small trials of each day, those little sufferings, pains, and inconveniences, that we all go through all the time. We all experience them. No one escapes them. From traffic jams to money worries, the trials of daily life affect us all. “Offering them up” simply means turning them into a prayer. Instead of complaining, we turn our minds to Christ, and we unite our small sufferings with Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, joining them with God’s plan of redemption. By doing this, we keep our hearts set on the Lord. And if we do that, with the help of God, eternal life will surely be ours.

My friends, my Aunt Pat had it right: let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Or as St. Bernadette Soubirous said, “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

You are God's people now

HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 14, 2017:

A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”

Have you ever thought about the reality that you have been called by God? Each one of us didn’t end up here by accident today. We are Catholics today for one singular reason – because God has called us to be. Now, typically when we talk about being called, we are usually talking only about those whose vocation it is to be a priest, a deacon, or a consecrated religious brother or sister, but being called by God, God having a plan for our lives, this is something that belongs to each and every one of us. God calls each of us just personally, He calls each of us tenderly.

We heard this in our second reading today, from St. Peter’s First Letter. He said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” And the very next verse beyond our reading, St. Peter says, “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people.” These words of St. Peter are directed to all the baptized, all those who call themselves Christians, to all of us. And Peter reminds us today that we are chosen, we are God’s own. He has called US out of darkness. We were no people and now we are God’s people. Each and every one of us!

When we fully embrace the fact that God has called us, we gain a clarity about our identity, a clarity about who God wants us to be. It is this God-given identity that we are being called to share with the world. The world needs to know the people called by God. Our action in the world needs to be a recognizable reflection of the God who has called us.





I read a wonderful book a few years ago by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly congregational pastor writing letters to his young son for posterity. In one passage he writes, “When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you - What is the Lord asking of me in this moment? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, well, then you are free to act differently than the circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own light. You are freed of the impulse to hate or resent the person. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it?”

I love the thought that God calls us to be present in the world as artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges that our world presents in ways that transform them into something new and holy. And it is all about our identity in Christ, and identity given to us through our call. An identity that means to implant in us and bring out from us incredible joy.

If we are artists, the color we are called to paint the world with is the color of joy. Pope Francis speaks about joy constantly. It is his major theme. In one of his earliest Masses, he said, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy.”

This simple message of joy is critical because we know we live in a world that so often lacks joy. We live in a world that is wracked by seemingly endless wars and disease; we live in a culture of political divisiveness; there is poverty and violence all around; there are difficulties in families, in marriages, among children, in all our relationships. To this, the Pope challenges us to live lives that are different than the divisions around us; lives that paint the world with joy. He said, “Joy…always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” by God.

My friends, this is, what it means for us to be called. You are chosen by God. Now you are God’s people. And He is calling you to radiate joy. We should be joyful as Jesus was joyful, as joyful as Pope Francis is; radiating the joy that is a gift of God.

The Pope said, “I invite all Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her. Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”

My friends, as we continue our Easter journey, as we encounter Jesus who is waiting for us in this Mass today, I want to renew that invitation of Pope Francis in each of our hearts today. Renew your encounter with Jesus who has called you. Renew your encounter with the God who loves you and who has called you to be a people uniquely His own. Let God’s love be planted in you again so that you may beam with joy.

We have been called to show the world how to love. We are here to be the joyful face of God that conquers the darkness of our hearts, the darkness of our times. Let us be artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the joy that is a gift from God. You were no people, now you are God’s people.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"A poor sinner" | What does Easter mean today?

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, Easter, April 16, 2017:





















Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could only enter if they could answer one simple question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “I know. Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and His disciples were eating the Last Supper and He was deceived and turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. They made Him wear a crown of thorns, and He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.” So close!

My friends, as we gather on this beautiful Easter Sunday morning, St. Peter’s question is a good one for us to ponder as well, “What is Easter?” We know the easy answer, which is good news for us in case St. Peter asks, that Easter celebrates Jesus resurrection from the dead. That’s a deeply powerful theological reality, one that we all hope to share in when our lives come to an end. We want to be raised too. We want to live with Jesus in Heaven forever too. But, what does Easter mean for us today, here, hopefully long before we’re called home?

Today isn’t just another day. We gather today because we are a people who believe in something that should be impossible. We commemorate that a man was raised from the dead. This should not be possible. People don’t rise from the dead all around us. Each and every Sunday we profess this belief, “in the resurrection of the dead.” We believe in the impossibility that death has no hold on us. So what does Easter mean for us today?

Let me tell you a story. Empress Zita of Bourbon was the last Empress of the once great Astro-Hungarian Empire. She died in 1989 and was the last royal of an age past, an age that we usually associate with many centuries ago. Her funeral in 1989 was full of pomp, circumstance and ancient rituals. The most interesting moment came following the funeral Mass when the procession led to the Franciscan church in Vienna where she would be buried in the Imperial Crypt below. Eight thousand mourners filed out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and fell in line behind the catafalque drawn by six black Noricum stallions.

Two hours later, when the procession reached the entrance of the Church, the pallbearers and friars played out a ceremony dating centuries back. One Franciscan opened a small window in the church door and asked, “Who wishes to enter?” The pallbearers answered, “Zita, Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow.” The friar responded, “We know of no one by that name,” and closed the window. A second knock and the friar again asks, “Who wishes to enter?” The response, “Zita, Empress and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Austria, and Apostolic Queen of Hungary.” Again, the friar responded, “I do not know this person.” Finally, a third knock. “Who wishes to enter here?” and the answer from the pallbearers, “Zita of Hapsburg, a poor sinner.” With this answer, the doors of the church opened to receive the queen.

What does Easter mean for us today? It means that the resurrection transforms us and raises us to something new. It completely changes our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, our relationship with the world – bringing to each of them new life and conquering even what has seemed impossible.

It means that in the end the only thing that matters is allowing ourselves to be transformed and becoming that transformation in the world. Empress Zita had all that the world could offer – fame, power, wealth. None of that granted her entry into eternity. Only faith in Jesus, recognition of the need for God, and following God’s ways could do that. The resurrection of Jesus reminds us to once again set our course on Christ, to live lives that give witness to the resurrection by what we say and more importantly by what we do. We make the resurrection present today when we love when it is difficult to love, when we reach out to those who live on the margins of our society, when we go the extra mile and show the unexpected kindness.

To a world that chooses vengeance, we are called to offer gestures of compassion and forgiveness; to a world that seeks only power, money and prestige, we are called to offer gestures of humility and kindness; to a world that selfishly cares only for itself; we are called to offer gestures of love and concern; of openness and acceptance of others. Change often feels impossible, but we are reminded today that we are the people of the impossible and so let us change the world by our gestures of peace and care and joy – especially in the situations, times and places where those gestures are least expected.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of the movie Chocolat. In the final scene on Easter Sunday, the young priest says in his homily, "We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. We’ve got to measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create and whom we include." This is what Easter means for us today.

The spiritual writer Ron Rolheiser wrote, "Ultimately, belief in the resurrection asks us to believe that, despite a strong experience to the contrary, reality is gracious, light does triumph over darkness, love over self-interest, justice over oppression, peace over chaos, fulfilment over hunger. Faith in the resurrection is the trust that, in the end, everything is good."

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.