Saturday, November 25, 2017

You be Jesus!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 26, 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!”





At the beginning of this month, on All Saints Day, I asked everyone if they want to go to Heaven when their time on earth was done. Because, of course, a saint is simply someone who lived a life worthy of Heaven. Luckily, everyone raised their hands. After all, Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. Although we all want to get to Heaven, we probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about what it takes to get there. What does a life worthy of Heaven look like? Does it simply mean being a baptized Catholic, is that enough? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation? Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily or fulfilled certain devotional practices? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?

Well, on this last day of our Church year, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage gives us the answer to this question. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven and who will not. He gives us this image of a King separating people into two categories – sheep and goats. And guess what we want to be? We want to be sheep! The sheep are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.

Here is the criteria for Heaven Jesus gives us: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is through the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.

The question for us today is this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to have hearts led by compassion, to see everyone as a brother or sister, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. Or do we have categories in our hearts where we have decided that some people are unworthy of our love and concern – like the immigrant or the refugee, the gay or lesbian person, the homeless or the drug addict, just to name a few groups that are often the recipients of something other than our compassion.

Jesus calls us to love without restriction, and today we live in a society that encourages us to fear those who are different from us, to exclude those on the margins, to respond with vengeance instead of seeking the ways of peace together. This leads us every day to be more divided, and we see the scourge of racism and prejudice coming more into the forefront.

Pope Francis said last year, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. None of this makes us enemies. Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy.”

It isn’t easy to love the way Christ loves. It calls us to take risks, it invites us to be vulnerable as we reach out to those in our world. But, it also makes all the difference. It calls us to live a life worthy of Heaven. The more we allow Christ to transform us, the more He changes the direction of our love – away from ourselves and always towards others.

St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood today, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go out from this place and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy or unworthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so loved by us. As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.

So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here. Let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let God fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let Jesus transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.

Little David was right, you be Jesus, and you, and you, and you – and it will bring us all the way to Heaven.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

I want to be rich!!

HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 19, 2017:

A man once said, “I’m just one step away from being rich. All I need now is the money.” If I were to poll our congregation and ask how many of us would like to be rich, my guess is that I would see a lot of hands go up. Especially heading into the holiday season, we often think we could use just a little more help, and the lure of things like $100 million Powerball lotteries set our imaginations aflame. Being rich is something that our culture glorifies in song, TV, and movies, and something that most of us have probably thought of more than once.






Today’s Gospel gives us the parable of the talents about three men who had the opportunity to gain tremendous wealth. Now, sometimes a small word can make a big difference. We hear that word “talent”, and we probably assume that Jesus meant specific gifts much like the way we use the word today. We talk about things like athletic ability or intelligence as talents. We consider things like charisma or the ability to cook well as talents. But the word “talent” in our Gospel passage today had a very specific understanding. A talent was a monetary figure that was equal to 6,000 days’ wages. That’s a lot of money. To put it in contemporary standards, given the current average annual salary in America, one talent today would be about $130,000 – a significant amount by any stretch of the imagination. So, even the man in our parable who only received one talent was off to a great start.

But, of course, if we think that this parable is Jesus version of Warren Buffet’s How to Get Rich and Become Successful, we would be distorting its meaning. Jesus isn’t given us investment strategies for our 401K today. As always, Jesus is leading us into something deeper. Yes, He is talking about the way we use our time and our gifts, but not merely so that we maximize our return on investment. Jesus’ focus today is to remind us the gifts and talents that we have received do need to be invested – to get a good return, they must be invested in ‘the Kingdom of God.’ In other words, they are mean to help us become the holy people God has created us to be. That is our greatest success

To the question, do you want to be rich, Jesus would respond today, “You already are.” The reality is that we all start off rich – no matter what our bank accounts say about it. For example, Psalm 103 reminds us that God is slow to anger, rich in compassion; and in his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks about God being rich in mercy. And, just like the master giving talents to his servants, God has invested these gifts in us from the moment of our baptism. We’ve all received such profound gifts from God – the gift of His merciful love, the gift of His Son Jesus, the very gift of life itself. And we receive these gifts over and over again in all the sacraments – so profoundly in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. We are rich indeed.

But, just like the servants in today’s parable, God expects us to do something with these gifts. He wants us to invest them and multiply them and get a great return on our investment. God isn’t asking us today what kind of investor we are with our dollars and cents. But, God is asking us how have we invested His love in the world? Have we multiplied God’s forgiveness to the people around us? Have we gotten a good return on His compassion? How have we multiplied His joy in our hearts, in our homes, in our community?

In today’s Gospel, the man who received the one talent was paralyzed with fear – a fear that kept him from appreciating what he had received, so much so that he didn’t share it, he didn’t multiply it, instead, he dug a big hole and hid it away. And sometimes, we can act in the same way. Especially in our world today where it seems every conversation is fraught with divisiveness and anger, we can be afraid to speak a word of love. In our relationships, our pride can keep us from being the first one to break the ice and offer forgiveness. St. Theresa of Avila said that we’re often tempted to live in the past or in the future; but, in the end, the only place we can actually love God and others is in the present. This is where we’re called to invest.

The servant given the single talent, didn’t even try to respond to the trust that the master had shown him. The Lord today is calling us simply to try. How much love, joy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness can we share and multiply in our world? This is what God calls us to invest. And our world will be better for it.

Jesus invites us to recognize the gifts, the talents, that we’ve received – the endless gift of God’s love and mercy – and then to do all that we can to share and multiply those gifts in our world. And, when we have lived a life of helping God to multiply that love and mercy in our world, we too will hear Him say to us, “Come, share your master’s joy!”

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Practice what you preach

HOMILY FOR THE 31st SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, November 5, 2017:

This past week began, of course, with Halloween, the annual dress-up day in which children run from house to house in their costumes begging sweet treats. Among the most popular costumes this year were Pennywise the clown, the kids from the TV show Stranger Things, Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman. Now when I was a kid, there were only four basic choices - ghost, witch, cowboy, or hobo. For kids, and the young at heart, Halloween is a day of pretending to be someone or something that we are not.

The word “pretend” comes to us, as many of our words do, from Latin. It is a combination of the verb, teneo which means “I hold”, and the prefix “pre” which means “in front of”. This is essentially what children do at Halloween – they pretend; they hold in front of them an image that is different from who they really are. In fact, very often, the image that they hold is so different that it is hard to recognize the true person.



Pretending is also what Jesus wants to address today in the Gospel. As we heard, “Do and observe all things [the Pharisees] tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” Jesus is speaking about a group of pretenders, the Pharisees. Jesus tells His disciples and the crowd to follow the demands of the Law, but do not follow what the Pharisees do. They are pretenders, holding in front of themselves religious symbols. As Jesus said, “They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.” Phylacteries are containers affixed to arms and foreheads. Inside are written important verses of the Law. People who see them are impressed believing that those who wear them are as holy as the verses themselves.

Jesus reminds us that following Him is not about saying you are a Christian, but it is a matter of the way we live our lives. Being a disciple of Jesus it is about what is written in our hearts, and shown by the way we live and what we do – these are the things that let people know that it is Jesus we follow. Jesus, of course, is the complete opposite of the Pharisees. While they put on a good public show, Jesus is no pretender. He lives what He preaches and invites us to let go of any pretending in our lives and to follow Him in what we say and in what we do.

One of the greatest dangers for people of faith, I think, is to be enamored of Scripture, to love the teaching of the Church, to hold as precious the words of Jesus – but, to act no differently than the rest of the world when we’re outside of a church building. This is what Jesus is addressing so strongly. The Pharisees were obsessed with the external observance of the Law, while their actions said something different, even something opposite. They were obsessed with rituals, but neglected the change of heart and life that those rituals hope to bring about in people.

On Wednesday, the day after Halloween, we celebrated All Saints Day. It is the day we celebrate the opposite of the pretending of the night before. We celebrate those holy women and men who shed all pretense, all masks, and witnessed fully to their love of Jesus in every aspect of their living. These are our heroes, these are our inspirations, and we strive to follow Christ like them.

We can all feel the challenge of pretending in our lives. We come to Church and we leave here feeling better, but the difficulties of ordinary life seep back in – the challenges of family, of the secular world we live in, the difficult people in our workplace. We can be intimidated to speak to loudly when words of hatred, or prejudice, or racism, are expressed in our presence. But, Jesus calls us to be His fearless witnesses in a world which is hungering for His message.

In the ritual for the Ordination of a Deacon, the Bishop hands the Deacon a Book of the Gospels and says to him, “Receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach.” This call is not only for deacons, it could equally be the call of every baptized Christian.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” When we believe what we read, teach what we believe and practice what we teach, it not only changes us and makes us more like Christ; it has the power to change the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

The end is near!!

HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 18, 2018: Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfull...