Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts, prayers AND actions! | #FriarFriday







NOTE: This originally appeared as part of the #FriarFriday series at USfranciscans.org

In the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy in Orlando that took the innocent lives of 49 people enjoying a night out at a bar that caters to the LGBTQ community, it is hard to find the words to express the sorrow, the anger, the hopelessness, and the desire for change that all swirl around together in the minds and hearts of most of us.

What people come to quickly, myself included, is a desire to express “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, and for all of their loved-ones who now carry a burden of loss and grief that I’m sure feels too heavy to bear.

This tragedy brings up within us a visceral reaction to the event itself, but unfortunately in our country, it also brings up the cumulative feelings of events like this that take place far too often here. There have been 182 mass shootings this year alone (and we’re not half way into the year). These shootings have taken the lives of 288 people and injured another 673. Six of these shootings have taken place since Sunday’s shooting in Orlando alone. And, we as a society have become numb to it all. We throw up our hands and wonder what can be done?

But, we always come back to thoughts and prayers. And this is a good thing. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, there have been numerous sentiments expressed through social media saying things like, “No more thoughts and prayers.” The thought behind these posts is that thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need action if things are going to change. And they are right.

However, I think these statements create a false dichotomy. The reality of what we need is not a decision between “thoughts and prayers” OR “action”. What we need is thoughts and prayers AND action. Thoughts and prayers, if authentic, will lead to the best action.

Thoughts are an important first step because these lead us to be focused on people, to be focused on compassion, to focus on doing what is truly best for the safety in our world. We keep the victims and their family and loved ones in our thoughts, because in that way we share some small measure of the burden of their loss and grief. Our thoughts tell those who remain that they are not alone; that we are with them in their pain. Saying “you are in our thoughts” is a way of saying, I stand with you in solidarity in this tragic moment.

Thoughts lead to prayers. Pray for those who have died and for those who grieve. By connecting our thoughts in and through prayer, it brings us to a very different interior space. It brings us into a space that is God-centered and God-focused. When we bring these thoughts to God, we are more likely to be rooted in the best of who we are – in compassion, in kindness, in solidarity, in sorrow, and in a desire for healing and authentic change.

When we do not connect our thoughts to our prayers, we are lead to the worst side of who we are; a road of irrationality and vengeance fueled by our anger. Our “solutions” will more likely be temporary and designed to make us feel like we’re doing something, but which actually won’t solve the problems we face. It brings us into a space of accusation, and prejudice and name-calling – which cloud our vision from real solutions.

Prayer places us in a balanced space which allows a thoughtful process so we might enter into the complexity of these issues. This tragedy in Orlando isn’t about terrorism, or mental health, or gun laws, or immigration, or religion, or prejudice towards the LGBTQ community. It isn’t about any one of these things. It is about all of these things in a complex mix that will take time to unpack, and a one-size-fits-all solution will not make things better. From thoughts and prayers, we can find the courage to act.

So what can we do? Our actions can begin by seeking unity and rejecting the division that unbridled anger call forth. We can, and must, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in solidarity. They need us now more than ever. They need us to weep with them, to comfort them, to be angry at the situation with them, and to hear that we love them and that God loves them.

We can seek to advocate for reasonable, sensible gun reform. No one is coming to take all of the guns. But, surely there are sensible first steps that we can take to live in a safer world. Reforms could include background checks and bans on weapons that are needed only by the military in a war zone. This will mean putting aside the political divisions on this issue that are so entrenched that we have all stopped listening to each other.

And we can stand up and demand of our leaders every effort to assure that this never happen again. We have to shake ourselves out of the numbness or helplessness that has overtaken us; the sense that this won’t change, that this can’t change. It can change and we need to be the ones holding our leaders to task to make sure that it does.

Let us never again have to add another community to the heartbreaking list that includes Columbine, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Newtown and now Orlando.

Let us pledge, especially we who follow St. Francis, to truly be instruments of peace in a world full of violence. Let us offer our thoughts and our prayers – and then, let us act.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Defined by glory, not sin








HOMILY FOR THE 11th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, June 12, 2016:

One Saturday afternoon, a group of boys went to confession. Curiously, one by one, each of them ended their confession the same way, saying, “I threw peanuts in the river.” The priest thought, if that is a sin, it really is a strange one. The last to come in was the smallest boy of the group. The priest expected to hear the same sin he heard from the others, but the boy didn’t mention it. So the priest asked, “Is that all? Did you forget something? Did you throw peanuts in the river?” The boy looked shocked and replied, “Father, I am Peanuts! They threw me in the river!”

My friends, our Scriptures today want to remind us of a humbling truth – that we are all sinners. No one of us is immune from sin – not even the greatest and holiest among in our midst. In our first reading, we hear of the sin of King David. Despite having it all, he still wanted Bathsheba, and in order to have her, he arranged the death of her husband by sending him to the front lines of battle. Worse yet, David remained oblivious to the seriousness of his sins; blinded by his own power. So God sent the prophet Nathan to shake him out of his spiritual coma and only then did he repent and seek forgiveness.

And, in our Gospel today, we hear of a woman who lived in sin for far too long. But, fortunately, she had a personal encounter with the merciful and forgiving heart of Jesus. That unique experience opened her eyes and led her to a profound change of heart. Grateful for forgiveness, she went to see Jesus at dinner in a Pharisee’s house and tearfully showered Him with acts of gratitude and love. Both King David and the woman were sinners. But they were made aware of and had sincere sorrow for their sins. And they received tremendous forgiveness from God.

God’s message for us about sin today is as simple as that – we should be aware of our sin, sorry for it and turn to God for forgiveness and when we do, everything changes. The problem is that we know this isn’t the way it usually goes. In our world today, we are more likely to justify our sins, or simply be unaware of our need to seek God’s forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger facing us today is that we have become insensitive to sin, not aware of our need to seek forgiveness. Yes forgiveness is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us that, “God never tires of forgiving us.”

The Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” This really gets at the heart of the issue. What keeps many of us from an awareness of our sin is that we get stuck there; we get stuck on sin. When we think about sin, and we think only about sin. We let sin stick. We let our sin become our label. We define others and we define ourselves by our sin. We say, “You know Joe, he’s a drunk.” “You know Mary, she cheated.” “You know Bill, he’s such a gossip.” And so on. The Pharisee does this in our gospel today when he says, “He would know what sort of woman this is.” He has defined the woman by her sin.

But Jesus defines her, and us, in a very different way. Jesus defined her by her goodness and her glory and by what she can be. Jesus sees not the sum of her sins, but her potential for holiness and goodness and love. Jesus doesn’t apply labels. He recognizes our failings, our sins, our shortcomings. But he also sees something more. He sees beyond those things. He sees not just what we are, but what we can be. We are more than the sum of our sins. We are better than the sum of our sins.

Deacon Greg Kandra puts it this way: “We are the alcoholic determined to stay sober—and attending AA meetings five nights a week to make that happen. We are the husband neglecting his family because of his job, or his ego, or his own selfishness, and deciding to rearrange his priorities so that he can attend his son’s little league game. We are the woman who hasn’t been to confession in 20 years, quietly slipping into the pew on a Saturday morning, waiting for the chance to reconcile with the Church and finally, at long last, come home.”

Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, was talking with a friend shortly after his conversion to Catholicism. The friend asked, “Now that you are Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint! All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, God wants us to see our sins – not so we will beat ourselves up or feel bad or define ourselves by the bad things we’ve done. We are not the sum of our sins – we are the sum of our Grace; we are the sum of our Salvation purchased with the Blood of Jesus on the Cross. God wants us to be aware of our sins so that we can seek forgiveness, move beyond them and be the people He has created us to be; and He has created us for greatness.

Every sinner has a future and that future is holiness; that future is sainthood – that future is ours. God knows what we can be – all we have to do is desire it.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bringing what we have

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, May 29, 2016:

During a celebration of First Holy Communion, a priest was trying to help the children understand what Holy Communion is all about. He said, “Holy Communion is a ‘joyful feast’. So, what does that mean? Well, ‘joyful’ means happy and a feast is a meal. So a ‘joyful feast’ is a ‘happy meal’.” Turning to the kids, he asked, “So, who can tell me what we need at Mass for a happy meal?” One boy chimed in and said, “I know, a happy meal includes a hamburger, fr



ies, a regular coke, and a prize.”

Today, of course, we commemorate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called simply Corpus Christi. This feast invites us to reflect on the tremendous gift of the Eucharist and what it means in our lives. We could view this in many ways – how the Sacrifice of the Cross is related to our celebration; what it means to say that Jesus is truly and fully present in this bread and wine made Body and Blood; or how we need a greater devotion to the Eucharist today.

In my preparation for today, I was reading the homily of Pope Francis for today’s feast. In his homily, the Pope focused on our part in this miraculous exchange. We often focus on what the bread and wine become, or the way Jesus established the priesthood to continue this miraculous presence for all time. But, Pope Francis reminds us that the Eucharist requires something from us, too.

The Pope said, “Jesus says to the disciples in front of the tired and hungry crowds: ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’. Indeed, it is Jesus who blesses and breaks the loaves and provides sufficient food to satisfy the whole crowd, but it is the disciples who offer the five loaves and two fish. Jesus wanted it this way: that, instead of sending the crowd away, the disciples would put at his disposal what little they had…This needs always to happen through those two small actions: offering the few loaves and fish which we have; receiving the bread broken by the hands of Jesus and giving it to all.”

This is the intended goal of the Eucharist – that we will bring whatever we have to the Lord and allow Him to bless it and consecrate it and make it holy – and then, we go out to the world as His presence to feed, house, forgive, heal and transform what we find there. We might find this thought overwhelming and near impossible. We might feel like the disciples who, when Jesus asked them to feed the more than 5,000 people, said, “Five loaves and two fish are all that we have.” How could what they ever do what Jesus asks, given the little they bring?

And yet, this is how sacrament always works. We bring something to God and He transforms it into His real presence in us and through us to the world. What we bring is usually meager. In baptism, we bring simple drops of water, and God transforms that into belonging and membership in His family, wiping away the stain of original sin. In confession, we bring the absolute worst parts of who we are, we bring our deepest sins, our greatest mistakes, our painful experiences, and God transforms even those scarlet sins into the bright whiteness of forgiveness and healing. And here in the Eucharist, we bring simple bread and mediocre wine, and God transforms that into Himself for us. Don’t worry about what you bring to God – He only asks that we offer what we have, no matter how seemingly inadequate; and He will transform it into joy and healing, into compassion and peace – into Himself for the world, through us.

Today reminds us that our devotion and love of the Eucharist has to be more than a static appreciation of what happens on the altar. We are reminded that we are integral to its effectiveness – both by bringing who we are and allowing God to transform us as he transforms the bread and wine – to be His presence healing the wounds of our world.

A few years ago, speaking on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, the Pope spoke of being that healing presence. He said, “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. We need to touch these 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.”

So, what does it take to make this happy meal today, this joyful feast, this Eucharistic banquet? It takes you and me and the powerful work of God and our willingness to change our lives and change the world. As God, today, once again changes this bread and wine into His very presence, let us also place ourselves on the altar and ask that He change us so that we might bring his love and joy, healing and forgiveness to our broken world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Becoming Trinity










HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, May 22, 2016:

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet one God. It is perhaps one of the most challenging mysteries of the faith to understand from an intellectual perspective. How can three things be one? St. Patrick famously tried to explain this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet united as one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Trinity, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.” Does that clear things up for you? Probably not. And yet, I think that this feast and this reality can speak to us deeply.

Trying to dissect the Trinity in its parts like a science experiment will get us nowhere, but instead asking what the Trinity has to say to us is a profoundly interesting question. Understanding that God is a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit tells us that the Trinity is all about relationship. Right from the beginning of the Bible, we hear God say, “Let us make human beings in our likeness.” And, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” We know that loneliness is one of the most painful things we can experience – now, this is different than enjoying good, renewing alone time – I’m speaking of the sense that we are alone in the world and that perhaps no one cares for us or knows us intimately. We thrive when we are in good, healthy, loving and intimate relationships with one another – whether it’s the devout love of family, or the deep, abiding bonds of friendships; the loving and romantic ties we find with a spouse, the love of our children, or so many more – we are meant to be in relationships.

This desire comes to us from the God who in the heart of His very nature is a loving relationship – Father, loving Son, loving Spirit in eternal perfection. This loving relationship is so perfect and so powerful that it overwhelms us. In the Trinity is a God who loves us so much that as God the Father He created us. Who loves us so much that He became one of us, as God the Son. A God who loves us so much, that He never wants to leave us and so remains with us, as Holy Spirit.

Love is what the mystery of the Trinity is all about. When we receive and offer love, we most profoundly show our created likeness to God. The First Letter of John reminds us that, “God is love and all who dwell in love, dwell in God, and God in them.” We could replace the word Trinity for God in this passage and know that when we love, we are in the Trinity and the Trinity is in us.

The Trinity tells us that God wants to share Himself with us. He wants to give to us all that He is. It tells us that God is so generous that He gave us Himself, in flesh, to suffer with us and die for us. It tells us that God so generous that He continues to give us Himself in the Body and Blood of Jesus at each Mass. It tells us that God is so generous that He shares with us gifts: wisdom and understanding, courage and piety, knowledge and counsel and awe.

The Trinity tells us that we have a God who loves us beyond our wildest dreams as three distinct persons with limitless possibilities. And He wants us to not only know that deeply, but more importantly to imitate it in our lives. “Let us make human beings in our likeness.”

We know that we area least godlike when we limit our love, when we are filled with anger, hatred or prejudice towards other people. We fail to live up to our godly image when we are isolated and isolationist; when we care more about our own accumulation than about another’s need. But, we are made in the likeness of a God who is Trinity. Our call is to love like the Trinity. To have a love that is creative like the Father – one that brings forth life into the world; whether literally through our children, but also in the way in the way that we encourage and lift up one another – give them life – especially those who are in need of affirmation and friendship. It can be in the way that when faced with the prejudice of another, we respond to lovingly to remind them of the dignity of everyone, even if we don’t agree. Our love can be in the flesh, like God the Son, when we treat the homeless or the hungry person as a real person and reach out to them in their need. Our love can be abiding, as with the Spirit, in the ways that we make commitments of love to one another, commitments that are willing to weather the storm and find the path of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Let us today learn from God’s example of limitless, loving relationship to reflect the same to the world around us. Let us find our God in the world around us, and let us be the generous presence of God to the world. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Let the Word go forth!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 15, 2016:

“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. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; 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. 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.

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 of Israel entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost for the Jews 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 – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; as the Church. And we, too, are part of that miracle, 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 to the Son is the very same mission that the Son gives to all of us who follow Him. So just as the Son came as the full Revelation of God to us, His people, we are to continue that Revelation, we are to continue to spread the Good News of God’s love and care for us. 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; that we might give birth to that Presence in our world.

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 to us. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in 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; on 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 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.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Living and working for Heaven!

HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 8, 2016:

Going through my desk earlier this week, I came across a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s oldest sister and she passed away a few of years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters, my cousins, 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 wrote, “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 everyone she loved.


Now, while I would bet that we all want to get to Heaven, I’d bet we don’t think about it every day. Normally, our attention is focused on the things in front of us – the concerns of work, or family; the challenges or joys that we experience in relationships; the things happening in the world like this negative election cycle; or the challenges of homelessness, or poverty, or violence. There are so many, many things that keep our eyes focused right here where we are.

But, Jesus came to earth for one amazing reason – to show us the way to Heaven, or as we’ll pray in our Eucharistic Prayer today, “He ascended, that we might be confident in following where He has gone.” The Easter and the Ascension are all about reminding us of this eternal reality; this destination and purpose of our lives. Heaven is our goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives. So, how important it is for us to pick our heads up from the daily cares and be focused on our heavenly home.

I think there’s also another reason we don’t give much thought to Heaven: because picturing eternal life is difficult. This is where Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are helpful. He said, “As you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…I wish that where I am they also may be with me.”

We all know that the great joy in life is so clear in the loving relationships we enjoy. 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 enjoyable and meaningful. Jesus is telling us that Heaven is the ultimate, perfect relationship of love and union with God. And it will last for all time because God and His love are infinite.

You are probably familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis was a strong Christian, and in Narnia has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of our 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 their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back home 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. Lewis describes what their lives were like from that moment on. He writes, “For the children, the end 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.”

Lewis explains that compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, both in this world and in Narnia, were nothing more than a hint; barely a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Aslan’s Country was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last.

My friends, this is the eternal life that Jesus promises us – an everlasting adventure that only gets better and better. One of the worse things we can do is to not think about Heaven enough. After all, the less focused we are on our destination, the more likely we’ll be to make a wrong turn along the way. Imagine a baseball player who never thought about the game; an actor who never thought about the performance; a writer who never thought about the story. A Christian who never thinks about Heaven is equally absurd.

Let us keep our eyes on the prize because where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow. Where Mary has gone, where countless saints have gone, where my Aunt Pat has gone – we all hope to follow. As St. Bernadette Soubirous put it: “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”

My friends, St. Bernadette and 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. Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.

May the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Anticipating sainthood







HOMILY FOR THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD, May 5, 2016:

There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church tonight, it has been 40 days since we gathered to celebrate the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead – 40 days. Think about that for a moment. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land after 40 years in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to Ascension?

Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.

First a word on ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, in a way, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we are free from sin, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” A bit confused, Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, we don’t gather here tonight to simply remember and commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” And Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of eternal life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!

Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every creature. We’re called to remember that commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today. We’re called to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed; have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where He has gone, we too may follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Love like Jesus loves!








HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 24, 2016:

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!”

The artist Paul Gustave Doré once lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name, Doré hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be someone else, but Doré insisted. So the official said, “We'll give you a test. If you pass it we'll allow you to go.” He handed him a pencil and paper and told him to sketch some people nearby. Doré did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His actions confirmed his identity.

Jesus said in our Gospel passage today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or, as the famous hymn says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus challenges us to ask whether people can tell that we are His followers by the way we act. Think about that for a minute – how does someone know who you are? Sometimes a uniform can help – we can pick out a policeman or a fireman quickly. We can pick out a priest in his collar, or a member of a religious Order in their habit - like the Franciscan habit that we wear. But, a uniform doesn’t make the person, or in the words of Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, “The hood does not make a monk.”

Don’t get me wrong, uniforms, clerical garb or religious habits all have their place – especially if you need that police officer. And Jesus Himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish His followers from the non-believers around them. But His answer is very different than mere externals. It’s not enough to wear a cross or claim the name of Christian or Catholic. For Jesus, the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress; not in the way we describe ourselves; but in the way we live - and most importantly in the way we love. Just think of one of the dismissals we use at the end of Mass, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!”

We heard today from Jesus, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Or to phrase it just a bit differently, Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit. Love is the Christian calling card.

You see, Jesus wants the world to recognize us as Christians. As it was said in the earliest days of the Church is should be said today of us, “See how those Christians love.” And yet, how often is the Gospel, the Good News used, as a weapon, as something to keep people away or excluded; made to feel outside of that love. How often do people know we’re Catholic because we “oppose this” or are “against that”. Being contrary has become the Catholic identity far too often in our world.

The challenge for each of us today is to witness to the people around us; the people we encounter every day. But effective witnessing usually has less to do with how eloquently we speak and more to do with how faithfully and lovingly we live. As St Francis of Assisi told his brothers, “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” And, I think we have such a powerful example of exactly what this looks like in Pope Francis.

The impact of his papacy has been tremendous in the three short years since his election. And the greatest effect, I think, has been through these continuous examples of way he loves. Pope Francis has set the Church and the world on its head with his simple form of humble and loving leadership. His greatest teaching has been his big and easy smile; the heart-felt embracing of so many – especially the most marginalized; his literal washing the feet of the poor, the refugees, Muslims, the elderly, and so many more.

“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” We shouldn’t look at Pope Francis with amazement and awe; grateful to have such an example. We should look at him and be inspired to do the same. As I look back on the papacies of the last 30 years, I am amazed at the intellect and charisma of St. Pope John Paul II, I am grateful and appreciative of the tremendous teaching of Pope Benedict; but I want to be like Pope Francis. And, that’s another way of saying, I want to show the same love that Jesus showed. As my little joke said, “You be Jesus!”

You’ve heard the statement before, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” The way to be a convicted Christian is by living and loving so that through us people begin to have a glimpse of the unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ. The best habit we can wear is to love everyone the way Christ loves – without restriction, without judgment, without condition. The love of Christ, leads us to passionately proclaim His message, to feed those who are hungry without thought, to give shelter to the homeless, to reach out to the lost and forsaken, to welcome the stranger, the marginalized. Let this be what identifies you as a follower of Jesus more than anything else.

I’ll end with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which capture well the love of Christ. She wrote, “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway! If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway! The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway! Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway! What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway! People really need help but may attack you if you try to help them. Help them anyway! Give the world your best and it will hurt you. Give your best anyway! In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” My brothers and sisters, You be Jesus!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Do you love me?










HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 10, 2016:

There is probably no greater question ever asked than “Do you love me?” It is a question that is full of anxiety, full of hope; it is tinged with vulnerability and speaks of our hopes and dreams. We hear this poignant question echo out from the Gospel today not once, but three times. “Do you love me?” Why does Jesus ask Simon Peter this question and why three times?

Certainly the three questions are a counter balance to the three times that Peter denies Jesus on the night of His Passion. But, there is much more going on in this passage. Simon is not merely overcoming a denial, but Jesus is both reconciling him and drawing him more deeply into the mystery of His love. If you didn’t pick up on all of that, part of the reason is some of the detail lost when translated from Greek to English.

In English, when Jesus asks “Do you love me?” and Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” it all sounds the same, an even a bit redundant. But in Greek we find that Peter is not exactly responding to the question Jesus is asking him. In Greek there are many words that can be translated into “love” in English. There is eros, which refers to sexual or erotic love. There is philia, meaning pragmatic love, like the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Finally there is agape. This is the height of love. Agape is self-sacrificing, completely unconditional love, even for a person who may not deserve it and when there is nothing tangible to be gained. The clearest example of the self-sacrificing and unconditional love we call agape is found in the love that Jesus has for us, which made him give up his life for us on the Cross.

In our passage today, Jesus asks Peter, “Agapas me?” meaning “Do you love me in the complete and sacrificing way that I love you?” Peter knows that he has failed in this standard. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his life. So, Peter does not answer in kind to Jesus. He answers, “Philo se” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how much I deeply admire you and how devoted I am to you.” This seemingly simple exchange is really a confession. Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I love and admire you, but I have failed in loving You the way You love me.” So Jesus asks him a second time, “Agapas me?” and again Peter replies that he has philia love for him. Finally, Jesus asks, “Philas me? Do you have philial love for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia for you.” Jesus meets Peter where he is. He accepts what Peter can do understanding that this is a start.

We see in Peter we a wise, and humble man who doesn’t claim more than he can deliver. Peter's confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love the way you love; help me have to completely giving love that you have.”

Today’s Gospel is so well-timed that it can’t be a coincidence. Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation on Friday called, “The Joy of Love.” It is long and fruitful exploration of love and family, but at the heart of it, I think the Holy Father is giving us a message similar to what we see in this Gospel exchange. That the ideal of love is powerful and godlike, but Jesus meets us where we are and encourages us forward. The Pope writes, for example, “Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort.” [#130]

We often profess our love for God; our love for Jesus. But, Peter challenges us today to realize that professing our love is only half of the story. The other half is the recognition that our love cannot reach its height and be a most powerful force in our lives, unless we invite and allow God to fill up in us what we lack. The Pope writes, “If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.”

Today, we are invited to join St. Peter in his confession: “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love. Help me to love more, to love completely.”

Jesus tells Peter how to fill up that lack of love. “Feed my lambs...tend my sheep...feed my sheep.” Caring for others; expanding our own circle of love especially to those who need it most will help us love as Jesus loves. The more we do the things that Jesus does – without counting the cost - the more we will love like Jesus loves. We can learn to love more.

Jesus asks us today, “Do you love me?” What will our response be?

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Living in Hope | Pope Francis







HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS

Vatican Basilica
Holy Saturday, 26 March 2016

“Peter ran to the tomb” (Lk 24:12). What thoughts crossed Peter’s mind and stirred his heart as he ran to the tomb? The Gospel tells us that the eleven, including Peter, had not believed the testimony of the women, their Easter proclamation. Quite the contrary, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). Thus there was doubt in Peter’s heart, together with many other worries: sadness at the death of the beloved Master and disillusionment for having denied him three times during his Passion.

There is, however, something which signals a change in him: after listening to the women and refusing to believe them, “Peter rose” (v. 12). He did not remain sedentary, in thought; he did not stay at home as the others did. He did not succumb to the somber atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts. He was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere. He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust. And so, he got up, just as he was, and ran towards the tomb from where he would return “amazed” (v. 12). This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.

The women too, who had gone out early in the morning to perform a work of mercy, taking the perfumed ointments to the tomb, had the same experience. They were “frightened and bowed their faces”, and yet they were deeply affected by the words of the angel: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v. 5).

We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope. Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord – each of us knows what they are – so that he may enter and grant us life. Let us give him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish. This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the centre of our lives.

We see and will continue to see problems both within and without. They will always be there. But tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems, and in a certain sense, to “evangelize” them. To evangelize our problems. Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord “is not here, but has risen!” (v. 6). He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will never let us down.

This is the foundation of our hope, which is not mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous. Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him. This hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). The Paraclete does not make everything look appealing. He does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, conquered death and conquered fear. Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love (cf.Rom 8:39).

The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living. After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. There is so necessary today. However, we must not proclaim ourselves. Rather, as joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love; otherwise we will be only an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.

How can we strengthen our hope? The liturgy of this night offers some guidance. It teaches us to remember the works of God. The readings describe God’s faithfulness, the history of his love towards us. The living word of God is able to involve us in this history of love, nourishing our hope and renewing our joy. The Gospel also reminds us of this: in order to kindle hope in the hearts of the women, the angel tells them: “Remember what [Jesus] told you” (v. 6). Remember the words of Jesus, remember all that he has done in our lives. Let us not forget his words and his works, otherwise we will lose hope and become “hopeless” Christians. Let us instead remember the Lord, his goodness and his life-giving words which have touched us. Let us remember them and make them ours, to be sentinels of the morning who know how to help others see the signs of the Risen Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! And we have the possibility of opening our hearts and receiving his gift of hope. Let us open our hearts to hope and go forth. May the memory of his works and his words be the bright star which directs our steps in the ways of faith towards that Easter that will have no end.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

God is ever faithful!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, Easter,










March 27, 2016:


Three men died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter told them they could enter only if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first man replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Wrong,” said St. Peter, and turned to the second man. He 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 shook his head and looked to the third man, “What is Easter?” He said, “Easter is the Christian holiday coinciding with the Jewish feast of Passover when Jesus and His disciples were eating the Last Supper, but He was deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of His disciples. The Romans crucified Him and made Him wear a crown of thorns. He was hung on a cross and buried in a cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter said, “Very good. Anything else?” The man said, “Oh, right, and every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.”

Well, let’s see if we can come to a bit of a clearer answer to the question what is Easter today. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I read a few years ago called Home by Marilyn Robinson. It is the sequel to her successful book Gilead. I’m currently reading the third in this series Lila, and this particular passage has been sticking with me all through Lent this year. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story as it tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, I can’t help but think this particular passage is good answer to our question what is Easter? “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

Yes, of course, Easter is our annual commemoration of the event that changed the world, and changed our lives – Jesus, the Son of God, does the seemingly impossible – He conquers death itself. O Death, where is your victory? And through our Baptism, He welcomes us into the same life eternal with Him. This is almost more than the mind can handle.

But, I think Easter is more than that for us, as well. It also plays a role in our own annual journey of faith. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, we may have found ourselves at some point feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, anxious, afraid, or sad, even far from God. But, our faithful God has welcomed us home once again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to be the people He created us to be.

As our Saint Pope John Paul II, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song.” And what he meant was that Easter isn’t just today, but it is a way of life. You see, resurrection changes everything. You can’t go from death to life without being changed. And so, if our Lent was a time to give things up, perhaps our Easter should be a time to take things up. Things like finding more time with family and friends. Things like joyfully remembering our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever. Things like engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; becoming the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world. Our Easter candle should not be just a light in our Church, but a bright light for all to see. If people noticed our ashes and our fasting during Lent; they should also notice our joy and happiness in the reality of the resurrection throughout Easter. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is this all about? What has changed with you?”

God is always faithful. He lets us wander so we might know what it means to come home. So whether you were already near, or perhaps you were far away, Jesus says today, Happy Easter and welcome home. Welcome home to the renewed, refreshed and resurrected relationship He offers you here today.

And, as an Easter people, go and share God’s goodness to those in need; speak love to a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; offer hope to those who ache under hardship or failure. Be the Easter people who cry out “alleluia” to the world around us. We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!



Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"He remembers His mercy forever" | Pope Francis

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
MASS OF THE CHRISM

24 March 2016

After hearing Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah and say: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21), the congregation in the synagogue of Nazareth might well have burst into applause. They might have then wept for joy, as did the people when Nehemiah and Ezra the priest read from the book of the Law found while they were rebuilding the walls. But the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ townspeople did the opposite; they closed their hearts to him and sent him off. At first, “all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (4:22). But then an insidious question began to make the rounds: “Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?” (4:22). And then, “they were filled with rage” (4:28). They wanted to throw him off the cliff. This was in fulfilment of the elderly Simeon’s prophecy to the Virgin Mary that he would be “a sign of contradiction” (2:34). By his words and actions, Jesus lays bare the secrets of the heart of every man and woman.

Where the Lord proclaims the Gospel of the Father’s unconditional mercy to the poor, the outcast and the oppressed, is the very place we are called to take a stand, to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12). His battle is not against men and women, but against the devil (cf. Eph 6:12), the enemy of humanity. But the Lord “passes through the midst” of all those who would stop him and “continues on his way” (Lk 4:30). Jesus does not fight to build power. If he breaks down walls and challenges our sense of security, he does this to open the flood gates of that mercy which, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he wants to pour out upon our world. A mercy which expands; it proclaims and brings newness; it heals, liberates and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour.

The mercy of our God is infinite and indescribable. We express the power of this mystery as an “ever greater” mercy, a mercy in motion, a mercy that each day seeks to make progress, taking small steps forward and advancing in that wasteland where indifference and violence have predominated.

This was the way of the Good Samaritan, who “showed mercy” (cf. Lk10:37): he was moved, he drew near to the unconscious man, he bandaged his wounds, took him to the inn, stayed there that evening and promised to return and cover any further cost. This is the way of mercy, which gathers together small gestures. Without demeaning, it grows with each helpful sign and act of love. Every one of us, looking at our own lives as God does, can try to remember the ways in which the Lord has been merciful towards us, how he has been much more merciful than we imagined. In this we can find the courage to ask him to take a step further and to reveal yet more of his mercy in the future: “Show us, Lord, your mercy” (Ps 85:8). This paradoxical way of praying to an ever more merciful God, helps us to tear down those walls with which we try to contain the abundant greatness of his heart. It is good for us to break out of our set ways, because it is proper to the Heart of God to overflow with tenderness, with ever more to give. For the Lord prefers something to be wasted rather than one drop of mercy be held back. He would rather have many seeds be carried off by the birds of the air than have one seed be missing, since each of those seeds has the capacity to bear abundant fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even a hundredfold.

As priests, we are witnesses to and ministers of the ever-increasing abundance of the Father’s mercy; we have the rewarding and consoling task of incarnating mercy, as Jesus did, who “went about doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38) in a thousand ways so that it could touch everyone. We can help to inculturate mercy, so that each person can embrace it and experience it personally. This will help all people truly understand and practise mercy with creativity, in ways that respect their local cultures and families.

Today, during this Holy Thursday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I would like to speak of two areas in which the Lord shows excess in mercy. Based on his example, we also should not hesitate in showing excess. The first area I am referring to is encounter; the second is God’s forgiveness, which shames us while also giving us dignity.

The first area where we see God showing excess in his ever-increasing mercy is that of encounter. He gives himself completely and in such a way that every encounter leads to rejoicing. In the parable of the Merciful Father we are astounded by the man who runs, deeply moved, to his son, and throws his arms around him; we see how he embraces his son, kisses him, puts a ring on his finger, and then gives him his sandals, thus showing that he is a son and not a servant. Finally, he gives orders to everyone and organizes a party. In contemplating with awe this superabundance of the Father’s joy that is freely and boundlessly expressed when his son returns, we should not be fearful of exaggerating our gratitude. Our attitude should be that of the poor leper who, seeing himself healed, leaves his nine friends who go off to do what Jesus ordered, and goes back to kneel at the feet of the Lord, glorifying and thanking God aloud.

Mercy restores everything; it restores dignity to each person. This is why effusive gratitude is the proper response: we have to go the party, to put on our best clothes, to cast off the rancour of the elder brother, to rejoice and give thanks… Only in this way, participating fully in such rejoicing, is it possible to think straight, to ask for forgiveness, and see more clearly how to make up for the evil we have committed. It would be good for us to ask ourselves: after going to confession, do I rejoice? Or do I move on immediately to the next thing, as we would after going to the doctor, when we hear that the test results are not so bad and put them back in their envelope? And when I give alms, do I give time to the person who receives them to express their gratitude, do I celebrate the smile and the blessings that the poor offer, or do I continue on in haste with my own affairs after tossing in a coin?

The second area in which we see how God exceeds in his ever greater mercy is forgiveness itself. God does not only forgive incalculable debts, as he does to that servant who begs for mercy but is then miserly to his own debtor; he also enables us to move directly from the most shameful disgrace to the highest dignity without any intermediary stages. The Lords allows the forgiven woman to wash his feet with her tears. As soon as Simon confesses his sin and begs Jesus to send him away, the Lord raises him to be a fisher of men. We, however, tend to separate these two attitudes: when we are ashamed of our sins, we hide ourselves and walk around with our heads down, like Adam and Eve; and when we are raised up to some dignity, we try to cover up our sins and take pleasure in being seen, almost showing off.

Our response to God’s superabundant forgiveness should be always to preserve that healthy tension between a dignified shame and a shamed dignity. It is the attitude of one who seeks a humble and lowly place, but who can also allow the Lord to raise him up for the good of the mission, without complacency. The model that the Gospel consecrates, and which can help us when we confess our sins, is Peter, who allowed himself to be questioned about his love for the Lord, but who also renewed his acceptance of the ministry of shepherding the flock which the Lord had entrusted to him.

To grow in this “dignity which is capable of humbling itself”, and which delivers us from thinking that we are more or are less than what we are by grace, can help us understand the words of the prophet Isaiah that immediately follow the passage our Lord read in the synagogue at Nazareth: “You will be called priests of the Lord, ministers of our God” (Is 61:6). It is people who are poor, hungry, prisoners of war, without a future, cast to one side and rejected, that the Lord transforms into a priestly people.

As priests, we identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves. We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them. But we too remember that each of us knows the extent to which we too are often blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology. We feel that our soul thirsts for spirituality, not for a lack of Living Water which we only sip from, but because of an excessive “bubbly” spirituality, a “light” spirituality. We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click. We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters, to the Lord’s flock, to the sheep who wait for the voice of their shepherds.

Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation. He says to us, using the words the prophet Ezekiel spoke to the people who sold themselves and betrayed the Lord: “I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth… Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of the covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God” (Ezek 16:60-63).

In this Jubilee Year we celebrate our Father with hearts full of gratitude, and we pray to him that “he remember his mercy forever”; let us receive, with a dignity that is able to humble itself, the mercy revealed in the wounded flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us ask him to cleanse us of all sin and free us from every evil. And with the grace of the Holy Spirit let us commit ourselves anew to bringing God’s mercy to all men and women, and performing those works which the Spirit inspires in each of us for the common good of the entire People of God.

We are refugees!








HOMILY FOR THE MASS OF THE LORD'S SUPPER, HOLY THURSDAY, March 24, 2016:

A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After his checkup, concerned, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The woman quickly said, “Tell me what I need to do.” The doctor said, “Every morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. Make him something nutritious for lunch. At dinnertime prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him and don't discuss your problems with him, it will only make his stress worse. Most importantly, never nag him. If you can do this for the next year or so, your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband saw how distressed his wife was and asked, “What did the doctor say?” The woman looked at her husband and said, “Honey, the doctor said you're going to die.”

This humorous story points out the deepest reality of our faith; one that tonight’s celebration in particular hopes to highlight – we are called to live and live eternally, but the only way to do that is by pairing love with service; loving as Jesus loves – completely, unreservedly, without counting the cost.

Let me share an example from a story I read on a favorite blog of mine called “The Deacon’s Bench” by Deacon Greg Kandra. He shares the story of the 2014 ISIS invasion of northern Iraq. During this invasion homes and businesses were confiscated, and this was the beginning what we now are recognizing as Christian genocide. Christians had to make a choice: pay a heavy tax, convert to Islam, or die. Countless people lost their lives. Tens of thousands fled their homes, with just the clothes on their backs, escaping into the desert.

Some of those who escaped were young men from a seminary in Quaraquosh. They managed to make their way to Lebanon, where they eventually resumed their studies at another seminary. By the grace of God, last Saturday, March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, four of those same young men were ordained deacons. In a few months, they will become priests.

But Saturday’s ordination was something extraordinary. It didn’t take place in a cathedral or basilica. Instead, the men returned to Iraq. At their request, they were ordained in a refugee camp. A priest told Catholic News Agency: “They chose this church specifically because they wanted to be close to the people who suffer.” He added that it would be a sign of hope to the universal church. “Despite the difficulty,” he said, “there are vocations, youth, who give themselves for the Church, to serve the people of God. This is important in our times.”

One of the young men explained the location another way. It only made sense to be ordained in the camp, he said, because “we are refugees.”

The example of these young deacons returning to be close to these people, their people, is a mirror of the example that Jesus gives us in a two-fold way tonight. We celebrate tonight both the establishment of the Eucharist – Christ’s true and abiding presence, His literal closeness, in our midst – and the impulse to let that Eucharist transform us into humble, loving servants – again, a form of closeness to the people of God, especially those in the most dire and desperate situations.

When we look at our world, and listen to the constant political discourse, we can easily be filled with anxiety. In our own most recent memory, we experience despicable attacks in Brussels, Ankara, San Bernardino, Paris and so many other places. But, in these moments we are called to even greater closeness; to remind the world of the precious closeness of God. We are called to fight the temptation to allow that anxiety to become fear and that fear to become a variety of irrational reactions to the challenges we face. We are called instead to remember who we are – we are refugees, we are immigrants, we are people in need of God’s presence in our lives, we are sons and daughters of God. We are called to be strengthened and renewed in that identity and to fill the world with God’s presence.

Pope Francis, who today himself washed the feet of refugees, said, “We identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves. We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them… Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation." Or more simply, Jesus asks us to be close.

We heard tonight, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” In the washing of the feet, Jesus turns the Mantle of Privilege that comes from being the Son of God into an Apron of Service transforming the world with humble love. Jesus shows us that when we recognize Him in the Eucharist; when we have internalized Him in our lives; we most powerfully make Him present through the simple act of washing feet; simple acts of service that make Jesus real; simple situations of experiencing and expressing the closeness that God has with us and desires for everyone.

Tonight, as we enter into this Sacred Triduum, let us fall on our knees in awe of our God who loves us so much that He is close to us and comes to us in this most personal and intimate way through the gift of the Eucharist. Tonight, when we stand and leave this church, let us pledge, once again, to be that close and to be the compassionate presence of God to everyone, but especially the “countless people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.”

Someone once said, “When we are young we think we can change the world by sheer force of will. We march for our causes, speak out to be heard, we protest and write letters. But, as we grow in spiritual maturity we may realize that the way to change the world is to put down our placards and pick up a towel and basin.” My friends, let us pledge once again to change the world together.

“‘Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

He died for us!








HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, March 20, 2016:

Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins the great feast of Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. Today, in this one liturgy, we move in dramatic form between great highs and great lows, we move from the cheers of “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” that lead Him to the cross. These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week that lies ahead. This is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross.

In the liturgy, before the Second Vatican Council, on Palm Sunday after the reading of the Passion, there was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “The Gospel of the Lord” was omitted. It was a proclamation that was greeted by a profound silence. Our liturgy today still calls for a respect for that silence. In the face of the Cross of Jesus, in recognition of his Passion and Death for us, the most eloquent response to this saving Word of God we have proclaimed is silence. The best, most profound homily that can be preached today is right here in our midst and it uses no words – it is the Cross. Jesus died on the cross for each one of us.

We find Jesus on the Cross – not for any sin of his own, but for the sins of all of us throughout all time. He is on that Cross for one reason – because that’s how great His love is for us. These two crossed pieces of wood are the most profound symbol of love that there is. Jesus died for us because He loves us.

Listen to those words: “He died for us:” Many of us have heard them so many times that they no longer carry with the shock of completely sacrificing themselves on account of what we have done. The challenge for each of us is to hear this message again today as though it were the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the sins of his brothers and sisters. He died for us.

This is a story of the profound love that God has for each of us; the profound hope that God places in each of us; and the profound confidence that God has in us that we truly can be His people, we can truly achieve the Kingdom, we can truly overcome our own sinfulness, our own weakness – that nothing is beyond our reach with His grace and help. He died for you; He died for me; He died for us! How will you respond to what God has done for you?

Today’s celebration today marks our entry way into Holy Week. We will spend this next week entering deeply into the story; deeply into the imagery and symbolism and ritual of our salvation. Today reminds us that our story is one that is full of triumph, the triumph of our King, but it is also one that is full of suffering. Our story is one of grace in the Eucharist, in our own Baptism, it is one that calls us into the service of our brothers and sisters.

He died for us. That is what it all comes down to. And so, what will you do? How will you respond to this time of grace? Let those words echo in your heart as you leave here today and throughout this week. He died for us.

May the Lord give you peace.