Saturday, May 27, 2017

Live for Heaven











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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

You are God's people now

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.