Monday, August 21, 2017

Hate cannot be allowed to win

HATE CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO WIN. It is almost unthinkable that we as a nation find ourselves in this same place again. As I saw the images of scores of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others spewing hateful slogans and carrying torches in the streets of Charlottesville, it was an image that I had hoped was lost to history. It recalled the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938 when German Nazi’s ferociously removed Jewish people from their homes into concentration camps. It was reminiscent of pictures from at least 100 years ago of the KKK marching similarly throughout the South, including arching on our nation’s capital.

This is also a moment when it is crystal clear what people of faith are called to do. Some have called for dialogue saying that both sides should come together and discuss their differences in a civil manner. But, with all due respect to dialogue, this is not a time for dialogue. There are not two equally valid sides to this debate that dialogue will shed light on. Racism is a clear evil and we do not dialogue with evil. We don’t find compromise with evil. To dialogue with evil is to validate its argument as worthy of consideration.

Instead, this is a moment that is calling forth the fullness and strength of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are all being called upon to stand up, to publicly renounce, to reject this resurgent sin once again. We are called to speak up and speak out in peaceful, prayerful, and non-violent ways. Martin Luther King Jr., famously and correctly said, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the one who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Our faith is based on a simple yet powerful notion – that all people are created by God and because of that possess an inherent dignity that cannot be taken away. Because of this we are all brothers and sisters in God’s great family and that is true if we are black or white, if we are rich or poor, if we are gay or straight, American or not, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or atheist. Nothing can change this or take it away. This is our faith. And we must stand up and be heard especially when anyone wants to offer an ideology that counters or denies this truth.

We know that this evil is not limited to our own shores as we have watched yet another terror attack, this time in Barcelona. Our prayers are with all of those who have been killed or injured through these acts of evil. And we pray for all of those who have the courage to stand up in the face of evil to denounce it, to reject it to call it out, and to work so that our world may be a better, more loving, kind, and united place.

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.

- Fr. Tom

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Get out of the boat!

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Transform me, Lord












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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.