Saturday, April 30, 2011

"We are the Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!"

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 1, 2011:
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A priest was shaking hands with the people as they left after Mass on Easter Sunday morning. As Joe tried to pass by, the priest pulled him aside as said, “Joe, you need to join the Army of the Lord.” Joe replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Father.” “Well, then how come I only see you in church on Christmas and Easter?” the priest asked. Joe whispered back, “I’m in the Secret Service.”

In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright takes a look at the life-changing and even world-changing power of the Resurrection of Jesus and makes the case that Christians could do a better job of celebrating Easter properly. If you think about it, here we are just a week after Easter – still in the Octave of Easter – and the world has moved on. We’re focused on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, First Communions, summer vacations and the like – it wouldn’t surprise me if we started seeing Fall clothing in the stores soon.

Lent is a different story. We marked our 40 day journey of Lent with fasting, self-denial and special liturgies and times of prayer. There were ashes at the beginning and palms near the end. The Triduum gathered us with Jesus at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and at the foot of His cross on Good Friday. All of Lent embodies the way of the cross as the way of life and salvation. But, once Lent is over; as soon as the Easter Vigil and the festivity of Easter Sunday are done, resurrection joy seems to fade as fast as the Easter lilies wilt. The celebration of Easter seems to fade into the secret service.

But, as our beloved former Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified today, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and alleluia is our song.” Easter isn’t merely an historical commemoration – it is and should be for us – a way of life. The resurrection of Jesus is the most central reality in our faith. As St. Paul says in First Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” Resurrection changes everything. In his book, Wright suggests that “if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up.” He suggests finding the opportunities to be more social with family and friends and faith community – to enjoy one another and celebrate our common bonds as sons and daughters of God. He recommends that we joyfully remember our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever – by splashing water joyfully. He recommends that we go around town engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; that we become the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world. That our Easter candle not be a mere light in our Church building, but that we become that bright light for all the world to see.

If people noticed our ashes and our fasting and abstinence during Lent; they should also now notice our joy and happiness in the reality of the resurrection. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is the meaning of all of this?”

If the assertion is correct that we have forgotten how to celebrate Easter properly; we see evidence of it even in our Gospel passage today. Certainly for the frightened disciples locked in the Upper Room, resurrection joy has faded. On the evening of Easter day, instead of celebrating, that have withdrawn into hiding and locked themselves away.

It isn’t difficult to imagine why. A coalition of secular and religious authorities has conspired to crucify Jesus. Perhaps the disciples feared that the people who had come for Jesus might now come for them. Along with that, you can’t help but wonder if the disciples were hiding in shame over personal failure, too. They had let Jesus down, failed Him in so many ways. Earlier in the Gospel of John, Thomas suggested that if the disciples were going to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, they might as well die with Him. They didn’t. At the Last Supper, Peter said to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” He didn’t. In fact, just a few hours later, he denied Jesus.

This must be the reason that the first words Jesus speaks to His disciples are, “Peace be with you.” It is an astonishing gift, this gift of peace, for the people who had denied, betrayed and abandoned Jesus. It is an astonishing gift that Jesus extends to us as well – we who know how we have failed Him by what we have done and what we have left undone. To us all – those disciples in the Upper Room and you and I in this Church – God’s love comes in person. The Risen Christ shows the disciples His hands and side as signs of divine mercy and love for the world. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” Jesus said the night before His death. To understand that you and I remain friends of Jesus, even after betrayal and denial is astonishing. To find in Him reconciliation and not revenge or punishment is in itself new life. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says to the disciples, and even to Thomas in his doubt. He says it to us as well. And with those simple words, resurrection joy is restored. Easter goes on.

Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples, or us, where He finds us – tucked away in fear, failure, and seclusion. And He doesn’t let us hold tight to His forgiveness and peace as a private possession. Jesus moves quickly from love’s evidence to love’s mission, from Easter’s declaration to Easter’s celebration. He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

That’s our mission – to go out in Jesus’ name as Jesus had been sent. Our task and our calling is to embody our Lord’s life in and for the world. As the Easter people we are called to share God’s abundance to people in need; to speak love in a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; to show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; or offer hope to someone who aches under failure. We are called not to be Christians in the Secret Service; but the Easter people who cry out alleluia to the world around us. We know that the disciples withdrawal in the Upper Room was temporary; that Thomas went from doubting to proclaiming, “My Lord and My God!” Let us be a people markedly different for the 50 days of Easter and beyond because He has truly risen, as He said!!

Let us make St. Peter’s words today our own, “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Every wedding is a royal wedding

NOTE: Wonderful homily today by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres for the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.  If you didn't have a chance to hear/read it, here it is:


“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,

Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practise and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.

I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today, will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life. And I pray that God will bless you in the way of life that you have chosen, that way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Advice for a Happy Life!

Health:

  1. Drink plenty of water.
  2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.
  3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
  4. Live with the 3 E’s - Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy
  5. Play more games.
  6. Read more books than you did in 2010.
  7. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
  8. Sleep for 7 hours.
  9. Take a 10-30 minutes walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

Personality:

  1. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
  2. Don’t have negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
  3. Don’t over do. Keep your limits.
  4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
  5. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip.
  6. Dream more while you are awake.
  7. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
  8. Forget issues of the past. Don’t remind others of their mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
  9. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don’t hate others.
  10. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.
  11. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
  12. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
  13. Smile and laugh more.
  14. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

Society:

  1. Call your family often.
  2. Each day give something good to others.
  3. Forgive everyone for everything.
  4. Spend time with people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6.
  5. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
  6. What other people think of you is none of your business.
  7. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

Life:

  1. Do the right thing!
  2. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
  3. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
  4. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
  5. The best is yet to come.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Behold, I make all things new!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, April 24, 2011:
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Three men died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first man, “What is Easter?” The man replies, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful...” “Wrong,” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second man the same question, “What is Easter?” The second man replies, “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 shakes his head in disgust at the second man, looks at the third man and asks, “What is Easter?” The third man smiles and looks St. Pete in the eye. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and He was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took Him to be crucified and was stabbed in the side, they made Him wear a crown of thorns, and He was hung on a cross. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder,” the man paused before finishing, “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.”

There is a powerful scene in the movie, The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus is carrying His cross towards Golgotha. He has fallen and as He rises again, His gaze catches that of Mary, His mother, who runs to her Son, as she had done so many times in His life. He places a bloodied hand to her face, looks at her tenderly and says, “See, mother, I make all things new.” St. Paul echoes this statement in Second Corinthians where he writes, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” This is the answer to St. Peter’s question, “What is Easter?” The answer? “I make all things new.”

There is a story about three little trees who dreamed of what they wanted to be when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said, “One day, I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!” The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean and said, “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!” The third little tree looked down into the valley below and said, “I don’t want to leave the mountain at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”
Years, passed. The rain came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain. The first looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. “Now I shall become a beautiful chest and hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree thought.

The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It’s perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last wood cutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the wood cutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me.” He muttered. With a swoop of his shining ax, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, or treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river, instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” The once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God.”

Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. “I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and a thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The tired man awoke. He stood up, stretched out His hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of Heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hand to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

On this Easter Sunday we do not merely recall that one man was raised from the dead a very long time ago. Instead, we remember that in that resurrection all things were made new. We gather here today because the Good News of our Feast is that we, too, are raised! We too have been made new! We too are invited to become not what we want to be; but what God has called us to be – His sons, His daughters – made new for the Kingdom.

The truth is that there are times when we feel like the trees in our story – sometimes we feel as though we are not what we could be; what we should be. There are times when we feel we are not going where we wanted to; or where we hoped our lives would take us. There are times when we feel forgotten, ignored, despised and even cast aside into a heap wondering if anyone even knows us or sees us. And to these moments, Christ brings us resurrection and newness of life.

We are a people who believe in the empty tomb. Our gospel stories today leave us with the image of an empty tomb. There is no body left in that tomb because it has been raised! The tomb that held the dead body of Christ has now become the womb giving birth to eternal life. This empty tomb speaks our faith – it speaks of a God who can conquer all things, who can triumph over all things, who can transform and change any situation into one that burst with life – not even death has power over our God! “Behold, I make all things new.”

My friends, we need to be mindful of this message today. In the midst of all of the challenges in our lives, God tells us that He will raise us to new life, new possibilities, new ways to care for one another, to love one another, to establish peace. God will renew us, transform us, change us, make us new, bring us to new life!
The empty tomb has become the womb giving birth to eternal life! Jesus has risen as He promised – behold, He makes all things new! Will you let Him make you new again?

Happy Easter and may God give you peace!

(Special thanks to Dusty Cabral who shared the story of the three trees with me!)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sunday is coming, but today is Good Friday!

NOTE: Tonight, as we celebrate the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, our Deacon Ernie, will be offering the homily.  But I recently received a request from one of my former parishioner's in New Hampshire for a copy of the homily that I delivered on Good Friday in 2002.  It was at the height of the abuse scandal that has rocked our church these last years.  I thought it would be worth sharing here today:
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HOMILY FOR THE LITURGY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, Good Friday, March 29, 2002:
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Last year Deacon Gary left us on Good Friday with that powerful, yet simple reminder, “Today is Good Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” A reminder that although we do celebrate the Cross, the death of our Lord for us, we can’t look at that alone, we have to remember that there is always resurrection! But, one year later, we find ourselves as people, as priests, deacons and ministers – as Church – in a very different space. One that is leading us to a tremendous amount of soul searching, a tremendous amount of anguish and pain. I want to take Deacon Gary’s statement and give it a slightly different twist this year – Sunday’s coming, but today, today is Good Friday.

You know we sometimes have a temptation in our world to avoid the cross, to brush past it, to try and avoid any of the pain and hurt and difficulties that life will send our way. We can be tempted to jump right over this day, to try and move from the beauty of Holy Thursday, the wonderful gift of the Eucharist – and move right to Sunday and the feast of the resurrection – to avoid the ugliness of the cross, the horror of our Lord and God being nailed to that cross because we have sinned. Sunday’s coming, but today is Good Friday. We must be on that cross today. The Church and the priesthood is on that cross today.

My brothers and sisters, we don’t come here to commemorate something that happened 2,000 years ago, we come here to embrace something that we must do today, right now. That cross is not only the cross of Christ, it is our cross, too. We cannot reach the resurrection, unless we are willing to be placed on that cross, with all of our own sinfulness, with all of our own weakness, with the recognition that God alone can heal us and make us new again. Sunday’s coming, but today, today is Good Friday.

As a young priest I can tell you that never has my mission, and the mission of all new priest been more clear – God will need us to spend the next decades working diligently to restore faith and trust in His Church and in its religious leaders. It is a major task, but one that can be achieved by one thing – the public witness to a personal life of holiness. St. Francis tells his brother priests, “See your dignity my brother priests and be holy as he is holy.” But this is not to be a holiness of false piety and outward show, it is to be a holiness that shows a desire for the things of God, a devotion to the God’s Word, the Church and the Sacraments, and a quick willingness to be a person who seeks reconciliation whenever a situation requires offering or seeking forgiveness. And isn’t this the task of every Christian?

We can only accomplish these things however, when we willingly embrace the Cross. Fr. Joe stated so wonderfully boldly last night that we’re staying – he and I will continue to serve you and be your priests, we will continue to offer the sacraments through the grace of our ordinations. We, as I think most of us, wish these scandals would just go away. But, we have to remember that we have to spend that time on the cross first. We have to die to the sins of the past if we want to be raised and made new. Sunday’s coming, but today, today is Good Friday.

There is sometimes a tendency for us to not want suffering for ourselves or for others. But, we have to live the witness of the cross and believe in our hearts that suffering for God’s sake, in God’s name, can transform us and the world.

As we know, we don’t have to seek out suffering. It will find us. But, what we do with it makes all the difference. As Jesus says in the garden, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Just as Jesus could not avoid drinking from the cup of his passion, neither can we.
When we see that, and understand that, only then can we be open to the power that it has to change us. The word sacrifice comes from two Latin words that mean to be made holy. Let us remember that today, Jesus hangs on the cross, today the Church hangs on the cross, today the priesthood hangs on the cross, today we too individually must hang on the cross. Let us embrace that and make it an offering to God and be made holy.

Jesus has died for us on the cross. He has shown us the way. We must follow. The Church will be resurrected, the priesthood will be resurrected, our faith in our religious leaders will be resurrected – but only if we are willing and courageous enough to place on the cross all of the things that we each individually and communally need to die to.

My brothers and sisters, Sunday is coming, but today, today is Good Friday.

May God give you peace!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Putting on the apron of service

HOMILY FOR THE HOLY THURSDAY MASS OF THE LORD'S SUPPER, April 21, 2011:
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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 very severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The woman quickly said, “Tell me, doctor, what I need to do.”

The doctor said, “Each morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. For lunch make him a nutritious meal. For dinner prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him with chores. Don't discuss your problems with him, it will only make his stress worse. And, most importantly, no nagging. If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year, 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, thought for a moment and said, “The doctor said you're going to die.”

This humorous story points out a true reality tonight – if love isn’t paired with service, we cannot truly live.
We gather on this Holy Night and celebrate the beginning of the Sacred Triduum, three days which really serve as one singular feast. Tonight’s feast is in itself a mini-Triduum recalling three things in particular – the institution of the Eucharist, the mandate to service, and the establishment priesthood – but ultimately I think it focuses on God’s bounty; God’s goodness to us. On this holy night, our God spoils us.

The Sacred Triduum seeks nothing less than to inspire us; to remind us who we are as children of God and members of the Church; and most profoundly to remind us through dramatic moments of ritual and sacrament and prayer of one powerful reality – that Jesus Christ is real. We do not merely gather here tonight to tell a very old story. We gather here tonight to meet a very real person – our Savior Jesus Christ, who – although He walked the earth some 2,000 years ago – is still living and active and in our midst today.

In the history of the Church, the celebration of Holy Week and the season of Lent were originally established for those who were preparing to enter the Church as new members. Originally, new members entered only once a year, at the Easter Vigil. In my studies for my Master’s Degree in Liturgy, I did a great deal of reading about this process of preparation, particularly during the first 400 years of the Church and one thing I discovered is that these rituals in the early Church had the same goal as they do today – to help us realize what Christ has done for us and what we must, in turn, do for Christ.

There was tremendous drama in the rituals of the early Church. For example, in the 4th Century, St. Ambrose, in a Holy Week homily instructed catechumens on the awesome power of the Eucharist. He wrote this, “Perhaps you say, ‘The bread I have here is ordinary bread.’ Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ…When the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore it is Christ’s words that bring this sacrament into being. What is this word of Christ? It is the word by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and all creatures came into being. See, then, how efficacious the word of Christ is. There was no heaven, there was no sea, there was no earth. And yet, as David says, ‘He spoke and it was made; he commanded and it was created.’ To answer your question, then, before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created…You see from all this, surely, the power that is contained in the heavenly word.” What is St. Ambrose’s point? Quite simply and quite powerfully that Jesus Christ is real!

Likewise, a modern example. This one from Pope John Paul 2nd in a letter he wrote for Holy Week 2002. He said, “Before this extraordinary Eucharistic reality we find ourselves amazed and overwhelmed, so deep is the humility by which God ‘stoops’ in order to unite himself with us! If we feel moved before the Christmas crib, when we contemplate the Incarnation of the Word, what must we feel before the altar where, by the poor hands of the priest, Christ makes his Sacrifice present in time? We can only fall to our knees and silently adore this supreme mystery of faith.” My brothers and sisters, the profound question that God places in your heart tonight is this: Do you believe that Jesus is real and is present in our midst? If the answer is “yes” then we’ve got to be like the early Christians and that belief has got to be translated through the example of our lives into so much more than words – it must be lived in action; in service!

Our Gospel proclaimed tonight, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Have you ever wondered why it is that on this night that commemorates the institution of both the priesthood and the Eucharist, our Gospel is about foot washing? We would expect perhaps to have a passage from Matthew, Mark or Luke related to the bread and wine of the Last Supper. Instead, we’re given the washing of the feet. John gives us an example where Jesus turns things upside down through a tremendous act of humility. The Master washes the feet of the servant. Peter is stunned, “You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus shows that the transformative power of His love is most effective when turned into humble service. 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 internalized Him in our lives; we most powerfully make Him truly present to our world by the simple act of washing feet; simple acts of service that make Jesus real.

John tells us why. He says, Jesus knowing “that he had come from God and was returning to God,” He rose from supper and took off his outer garment and took a towel and tied it around his waist. What is important is that this is the reason Jesus does what He does. Jesus washes feet not because He is the Son of God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, but rather quite simply, He does this tremendous action because he knows that “he had come from God and was returning to God.” The fact that He, like us, is a bearer of the image and likeness of God is the reason for His humble action. As a human being, one of us, He has been created in the image and likeness of God and so He rose from supper and took off His outer garment and took a towel and tied it around His waist. My friends, we too, like Christ, have come from God and will return to God; and so we too must serve.

So, will we too take off our outer garment? Will we too take off all of the pretense and externals we put on; all of the things that keep us from humbly washing feet? We too must be reduced to nothing except God’s image shining brightly through us. We have come from God and will return to God and when we can take of our outer garments – the pride, jealousy, anger, selfishness and greed that keep us from helping others – then all things will be possible for us in and through God. We have to ask in our hearts, what are these outer clothes? What keeps me from washing feet? I heard someone say recently, 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.

St. Augustine said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” When we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, He wants it to be fruitful in our lives, so that we can become a true reflection of Jesus in the world. My friends, the reality is that Service is Eucharist. Our Eucharist is not complete until it finds its fullest expression in acts of Christian charity.

There is a story about some ladies who met to study the scriptures. While reading the third chapter of Malachi, they came upon a remarkable expression in the third verse: “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” Trying to understand this passage, one lady decided to visit a silversmith, and without telling him the reason for her visit, asked him to tell her about the process of refining silver. After he had fully described it to her, she asked, “Sir, do you sit while the work of refining is going on?” “Oh, yes,” replied the silversmith; “I must sit and watch the furnace constantly, for, if the time necessary for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be ruined.” She then asked, “How do you know when the process is complete?” He replied, “That's quite simple. When I can see my own image in the silver, the refining process is finished.” “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

My friends, on this Holy Night, look into the mirror that is Jesus Christ in His Sacred Body and Blood. Look there until you see your own image reflected in the face of Jesus. Then, become that mirror for the world, reflecting the face of Christ to all who see your face. Reflect Christ through your own humble, simple acts of service to one another.

So, my friends, what did the doctor say? He said, “You are going to live.” Let us be filled with His Real Presence here tonight and let us become his Real Presence in our world. Let us become like Him, washers of feet.

“‘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 God give you peace.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

He died for us!

HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 17, 2011:
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Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a 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 could ever be preached is right here in our midst and it uses no words – it is the Cross. Jesus did this for us – 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. Forget all of the hearts and chocolates and flowers that we usually associate as symbols of love – those 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.” He died for you, and for you. He died for you, and for you and He died for me. Many of us have heard them so many times that they no longer carry with the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done. If you’ve seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, you have at least a sense of the immensity of that love. 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 – with His grace and help. He died for us. How will you respond to what God has done for you?

Today’s celebration 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 – from the Last Supper, through that death and crucifixion, right through to newness of life in Resurrection. 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?

I invite us all to take a few moments of silent meditation. Gaze upon our cross. See in it the sign of God’s profound love for you.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The courage of an obedient faith

HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT, April 10, 2011:
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A poor man walking in the forest feelt close enough to God to ask, "God, what is a million years to you?" God replied, "My son, a million years to you is like a second to me." The man asked, "God, what is a million dollars to you?" God replied, "My son, a million dollars to you is less than a penny to me. It means almost nothing to me." The man then asked, "So God, can I have a million dollars?" God replied, "In a second."

"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." Today's Gospel contains one of the most well known Bible stories to us - the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In this rich story, we see three people whom Jesus loves dearly: Martha, with whom Jesus carries on a profound theological conversation; Mary, who believes that Jesus has power over the life of her brother; and Lazarus, whom Jesus calls back from the very clutches of death. This account is primarily a story about faith and obedience to God's will. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says, "Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him." He tells Martha, "Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." And at the end of the account we read, "Many...began to believe in him."

Of all the miracles Jesus performed, the raising of Lazarus ranks as the most astonishing to the people of his time. Traditional Jewish belief had it that the soul of a dead person remained in the body for three days. After three days the soul departs finally from the body never to return, and that is when corruption sets in. When Martha objects to the opening of the tomb and says, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days," she is expressing the common view that this is now a hopeless situation. Perhaps this is why Jesus delayed His arrival, to let the situation become clearly "impossible" in human standards before acting on it.In traditional Jewish mentality bringing back to life a person who is already four days dead and decaying is as unthinkable as Ezekiel's vision in which the dry bones of the dead are miraculously restored to life from our first reading.

For the early Christians, the story of the raising of Lazarus was more than a pointer to the resurrection of Jesus. For them this miracle is a challenge to never give up hope even in the hopeless situations in which they found themselves as individuals, as a church and as a nation. It's a reminder that it is never too late for God to revive and revitalize a person, a church or a nation. But first we must learn to cooperate with God.How can we cooperate with God so as to experience God's resurrection power in our lives and in our world? Well, we already know the answer: through obedient faith. Obedient faith is different from an expectant faith. An expectant faith has a confidence in what God can and will do. But, there is no one in this story with that kind of faith; no one believed that Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life after four days dead. No one expected him to do it, so expectant faith is not the emphasis here. Rather the emphasis in the story is on obedient faith: faithfully following God's will even when our confidence is perhaps weak. In other words, despite their doubts about the possibility of raising Lazarus, they still obediently followed Jesus' commands.

To raise Lazarus, Jesus issues three commands and all of them are obeyed to the letter. First, "Jesus said, 'Roll away the stone.' … So they rolled away the stone." Did the people understand why they should do this heavy work of rolling away the tombstone to expose a stinking corpse? No, but they had a faith in Jesus, expressing itself not through intellectual agreement with Him, but through obedience. Jesus' divine power was activated by human cooperation and obedience. It can also be stifled by non-cooperation. C.S. Lewis said, "God seems to do nothing by Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures." In other words, God will not do by a miracle what we can do by obedience.

The second command Jesus gives is directed to the dead man: "'Lazarus, come out!' and the dead man came out." We do not know the details of what transpired in the tomb. All we know is that Jesus' word of command is followed again by obedience. Lazarus gropes his way out of the dark tomb even with his hands and feet tied up in bandages, and his face all wrapped up. Even a man rotting away in the tomb can still have an obedient faith in God.

The third command again is addressed to the people, "Untie him, and let him go." Even though Lazarus could stumble himself out of the tomb, there was no way he could untie himself. He needs the community to do that for him. By unbinding Lazarus and setting him free from the death bands, the community is accepting Lazarus back as one of them. Again, all through obedience to God.

Many Christian individuals and communities today are dead much like Lazarus; but instead of a death of the body, we have fallen victim to the death of sin. Many are already in the tomb of hopelessness and decay, in the bondage of sinful habits and attitudes. Nothing short of a miracle can bring us back to life in Christ. Jesus is ready for the miracle. He Himself said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Are we ready to be obedient to His will for the miracle to happen? Are we ready to obediently roll away the stone that stands between us and the light of Christ's face? Are we ready to obediently take the first step to come out of the place of death and seek resurrection and new life through the gift of Confession? Jesus commands us as he commanded Lazarus, "John, Mary, Dave, Elizabeth, Tom - come out! Come out of the tomb of sin that has held you captive. Come out and be free!"

And, finally, are we also ready to untie, or forgive one another; to forgive the people who have wronged us; to stop holding grudges; to offer reconciliation, healing and at last let others go free? These are the ways we cooperate with God in the miracle of bringing renewal, and reviving us as individuals, as a church, and a nation. We are all called to obediently follow our God; to seek new life through reconciliation, and to become more and more a people who freely forgive the trespasses of others.

The Word of God today leads us past the inevitability of death to a consideration of life after death. But, Jesus asks us the same question He posed to Martha, "Do you believe this?" Do you believe this? Let us pray to have the obedience of the people in our Gospel, to have the faith of Martha, the trust of Lazarus so that we too may proclaim with our full heart, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that my obedience to You will bring me from the death of sin to abundant life. Yes, Lord, I believe that You can overcome any obstacle in my life; no matter how insurmountable it seems to me. Yes, Lord, I believe. I believe.

May God give you peace.