Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bringing what we have


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


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!


“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!


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


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.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...