Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jesus the migrant, Jesus the homeless, Jesus the refugee










HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JOSEPH, MARY and JESUS, December 31, 2017:

We hear a phrase regularly this time of year – Jesus is the reason for the season. It invites us, in the midst of our gatherings with family and friends, to enter into the incredible faith reality that we celebrate – the amazing truth that God became one of us in the child Jesus. Jesus is the reason for our celebrations and our joy. Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the Feast of Christmas – asks us to take that a step further. If Jesus is the reason for the season, what is the reason for Jesus? And, that is a really interesting question.

All of our songs, symbols and prayers this time of year are also drawing us into a deeper experience of the incarnation of the Lord. Perhaps none more profoundly than our Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in most households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. And, we are so blessed here with beautiful Christmas manger both inside and outside of our churches.

If you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was our own St. Francis of Assisi, who originated this custom in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to truly understand the impact of the reason that Jesus, God Himself, became one of us. He wanted to imagine what that moment was like, and so he recreated the scene; the first Christmas manger. And it is powerful for us to likewise take a moment do the same.

The feast of the Holy Family in particular reminds us that when God decided that the time had come for Him to enter into our human reality; to come to earth and take on our human flesh, that we need only to look at the manger to how He chose to do it. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not in flurry and splendor, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter humanity as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter humanity as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. He chose to enter our world as a refugee, as they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. And, He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the aid and assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission among us of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.

God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they are icons of the very image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning?

Our Christmas mangers are an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their head. And every day there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people here on Cape Cod who are also homeless, or hungry, or facing a basic need. As we encounter these people, do we recognize that their image and the image of the Holy Family are the same? Do we recognize that when God came to earth, He associated Himself precisely with these same people? This is where God is present today.

In a few days or weeks, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets remain in the men and women in need all around us. I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us, God Himself came to us, in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there; they are not the “other”; instead, they are our brother, our sister, our family – and to reach out to them in need.

My friends, Jesus is the reason for the season; and this is the reason for Jesus. He came among us so that we might see God’s presence in our midst; that we might see God’s presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in the most unlikely of places. If we want to become a Holy Family, this is how we do it. We say yes to that presence, yes to that invitation before our eyes, just as Joseph and Mary did so long ago. And it will make all the difference in our lives, in our world and in our families. May we become one, united and holy family under our loving and compassionate God this Christmas and always.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Do not be afraid!"















HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD, December 25, 2017:

Join me in a little sing-a-long: “Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. ” Is there any hymn that captures the quiet, the holiness, the hopes and the peace of Christmas than Silent Night? Just singing that song fills me with the peace of Christmas – and I hope you too.

I am such a big fan of all the traditions that surround this time of year. I particularly remember as a child all of the Christmas TV specials. During that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas we were so excited when any of them would come on. After dinner, we would hurriedly take our bath, put on our PJs and sit in front of the TV to watch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It wouldn’t be Christmastime without watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and my all-time favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I recently saw something online that made the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas even more profound. At the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is the scene were young Linus reminds every one of the true meaning of Christmas as he recites the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It is the same passage we just heard proclaimed tonight. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.’”

But, for as many times as I have seen that special, there was one small but important detail that I had never noticed before until now. Charlie Brown is best known for his striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all are always trying to separate Linus from his blanket. And they always fail. Even though his security blanket is a source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he refuses to give it up. It makes him feel safe and secure.

Until this moment. As Linus is sharing the story of Christ’s birth, he drops his blanket. In that climactic scene when Linus shares what Christmas is all about, he drops his security blanket, and most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, "fear not" or in our translation “Do not be afraid.”

This cannot be a coincidence or something unintentional. It seems instead that Peanuts creator Charles Schultz was telling us something so simple, so important, so brilliant. The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and instead to trust and cling to Jesus.

We all know that 2017 has been a difficult year for our nation, for our world. So much of the struggle of this last year has been based on fear. Fear of the other, fear of the immigrant, fear of the refugee, fear of the poor and the homeless and the addict. Fear of war, fear of terror. Fear seemingly everywhere. We may be among those who find ourselves grasping at something – anything – that offers a sense of security, whatever that might mean.

But, in the midst of it all, Jesus comes once again to remind us of something profound and deeply meaningful – “Do not be afraid…For today a savior has been born for you.” My friends, we are reminded today of this eternal truth: We were not created for fear. We were created for hope. We are the “light of the world”. We are the “salt of the earth”. We are called to be the leaven in our society, lifting the world out of its fear and anxiety and negativity; lifting it into the joy, love, compassion, forgiveness and healing of Jesus. My friends, we have been created for hope. Do not be afraid.

In his homily for Midnight Mass tonight Pope Francis spoke of hope. He said, “The faith we proclaim tonight makes us see God present in all those situations where we think he is absent. He is present in the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our doors. Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity that does not grow accustomed to injustice, as if it were something natural, but that has the courage to make itself a land of hospitality. In this Child, God invites us to be messengers of hope, to become sentinels for all those bowed down by the despair born of encountering so many closed doors. In this child, God makes us agents of his hospitality. Moved by the joy of the gift, little Child of Bethlehem, we ask that your crying may shake us from our indifference and open our eyes to those who are suffering. May your revolutionary tenderness persuade us to feel our call to be agents of the hope and tenderness of our people.”

My friends, we were created for hope. Let this Christmas child make us the agents of hospitality and sentinels of hope our world so desperately needs.

Merry Christmas and please join me again: Silent Night…

Saturday, December 23, 2017

What's in a name?












HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 24, 2017:

Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are interesting things, and they usually come with a story. Let me give you an example. I have a beautiful black and white cat named Lucky. I have had lucky for about 17 years, and he was originally a rescue after he had been injured as a kitten. The local vet was looking for someone to adopt him or they’d have to put him down. So, being a good Franciscan, I took him. I asked my then 6 year old niece to give him a name and she came up with Lucky because as she said, “He’s lucky to be alive.”

Names have something to say about who we are and where we come from. For example, a few years ago, I lead a pilgrimage to Ireland. I am of Irish-American descent, so this trip also gave me a chance to connect with the roots of my family and our origins. During the journey, we traveled to some of the places that my family came from in Ireland which gave me a sense of my roots. When I came back, I did some additional research and was amazed when I looked up my great-grandfather, Thomas Mitchell, who was born in Ireland, whose name I share. I never knew him, he returned to the Lord before I was born, but you feel a connection when you share a family name. Well, as I was doing the research, l came across his baptismal record and was stunned to discover that he was born on September 1, 1879. My birthday is also September 1, just 89 years later. For me, sharing his name, and sharing the same birthday, deepened my connection to this relative whose name I share.

Names usually have something to tell us about who we are. You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family. So much of our Advent reflection is also about names; two names in particular. All through Advent, we hear the name Emmanuel. We’ve sung each week, “O come, Emmanuel.” And, of course, the second name is Jesus, for child whose birth we eagerly await.

When we look a little deeper, we realize that these two names have great meaning for us. The name Emmanuel tells us something very important about the birth of this child. This is no ordinary child.

When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.” His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history. We do not have a God who loves us from afar; a God who communicates to us always through someone or something else. Our God comes to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes; our struggles and challenges. To proclaim His love to us directly. God is with us!

And then we have the name Jesus – the name that the angels tells Joseph that he is to give to this child. This name also tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means, “God is salvation.” The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but that His presence in our midst will also do something so amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation for us. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear: that the birth of this child will mean that our God is with us and He is our salvation!

As we enter these final hours of our Advent journey, let us be mindful of what we celebrate – the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, our lives, our struggles and our joys. That our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever.

And let us also remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – the name Christian, a name that means “little Christ.” We remember that the effect of this visitation of our God is that He calls us to be like Him; that when people see us, they see Him; that we are a living reflection of the God who is with us and comes to save us. God is not distant. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar. He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him; and always calling us to reflect His image to the world. This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus. God is with us and will save us. So, what's in a name? Nothing less than our salvation!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

I have a secret for you!

HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 17, 2017:

There is a story about a monastery that was going through a time of crisis. Some of the monks had left the monastery; no new candidates joined them in years; and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction. The few monks that remained became old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a holy hermit living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how bad things had become and that only seven old monks remained. Praying on this, the hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him: one of the monks currently living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.




With this revelation the abbot returned to his monastery, and recounted what the hermit told him. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who, among them, could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has a holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and could never fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits to disguise His true identity. This only made them more confused and they could not figure out who was Christ among them. At the end of the meeting what each one knew for sure was that any of them could be Christ.

From that day on they began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could, in fact, be Christ. They began to show more love, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to a simple truth: that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.

My brothers and sisters, Advent is for us a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord: we recall His birth 2,000 years ago; we look forward to His return at the end of time. But, now, suppose that we were told, like the monks in our story, that the Christ for whom we are waiting is already here in our midst as one of us, what difference would that make?

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist tries to announce the same powerful message to the people of his time who were anxiously awaiting the coming of the Messiah. John tells them: “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

The reason the people of Jesus’ time could not recognize Him as the Messiah is that they had their own ideas about how the Messiah was going to come. The Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by physically destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from because He came from God. So when Jesus finally arrived, born of a woman like every other person, they did not recognize Him. He was too ordinary, too unimpressive, and so, far too many people missed the very presence of God in front of them.

We face the same challenge today. We too have our own expectations of what the presence of God in our midst should look like. It is different for each of us. And, it is good for us to anticipate God in our midst as long as our expectations aren’t more important than God’s actual presence. God is right in front of us in Word, in Sacrament, and perhaps where we miss Him most often – God is present within us, and in every single person we meet. After all, this is what we mean when we respond, “And with your spirit” – words that recognize God’s presence in those around us.

And so, my friends, listen carefully today. I have a secret for you. One of the members of our community is actually the Messiah, but they are living in such a way that they aren’t quickly recognized. “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” So, how will we recognize this Godly presence in our midst? Because God is right here before us, waiting for us to invite Him in. My friends, let us pray that God will continue to open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our very lives to see His presence in us, and to see His presence around us today. Do you see what I see?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Made new!












HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 10, 2017:

A few years ago, I watched a documentary called Untattoo You. It told the remarkable story of a program on the West Coast that offered to remove unwanted tattoos from the bodies of young people – their focus was helping young people escape from gang life and remove the tattoos that were associated with it; tattoos that had literally physically marked them as part of these destructive groups. The film is told from the perspective of these young people; about how their lives got into these difficult places and about how difficult it had been leave gang life, not to mention the challenge of removing the actual tattoos.

Although dramatic, the ideas behind this film get at an important point in all of our lives – the reality that all of us have probably at some point done something that we regret and would like to erase. Usually these things aren’t as visible as a tattoo or as dramatic as joining a gang, but we all make mistakes; we all make poor decisions; we all say things we wish we could take back or have broken friendships or relationships that we wish we could repair. It is part of being human and sometimes we just wish we could make these mistakes disappear; that they could be erased. We’re looking for the way to undo the things that we wish we could change.

If we take a moment to slow down this Advent Season, to listen to the words of Scripture and the songs being sung, to take a few moments out of all the hustle and bustle, we might discover that this is in fact the message of Advent too. That it is the message of Jesus. It is what is offered to us every time we enter the Confessional; every time we gather around the altar for the Eucharist. Jesus is constantly inviting us to welcome Him again. He is saying, “I am always right here to change your darkness into light; to change your sin into holiness; to change your sadness into joy. I am here to make all things new for you.”

We hear these words today of a “voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” Those words, my friends, are being spoken to us, telling us to prepare once again; to ready our hearts once again that Jesus might find a home there; to clear the pathways so that He can enter in.

Pope Francis has been a similar voice crying out inviting us to prepare. He has reminded us of powerful realities like the fact that “God never tires of forgiving us.” So, we should never tire of seeking out that forgiveness. And in The Joy of the Gospel he said, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord. Take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’”

So, as we hear the words of Scripture today, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” what are we to do? Well, these words are not historic, they are present and alive, meant for each one of us just as much as they were meant for the women and men who first heard them more than 2,000 years ago. These words, here today, are an invitation to you and me to become new again in Jesus. To leave behind whatever tattoos, whatever marks, there are on our souls that we regret – let God have them, let God heal them, let God change and transform them. As St. Francis of Assisi said, you should “hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who has given Himself completely to you, might receive you completely.” So, my friends, don’t let this Mass be like every other Mass, any other Mass. Today, look into your heart and leave it all here. Today, let God have all those things you want to change. Let Him have the words you wish you never said, the things you wish you never did. Today, prepare the way, make some room, let Jesus in this Eucharist fill you completely.

Pope Francis said, “I have this certainty: God is in every person's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life.” My friends, God is in our lives and He wants to be in them more and more and more. That is the message of Advent. To prepare ourselves because God is coming. Prepare ourselves because God wants to make His home with us, to make His home in us.

So, as we enter into this Eucharist today, let us open ourselves completely to Him. Hold back nothing of yourselves. Put all that you are – even and especially the parts you want to change – spiritually on the altar along with the bread and wine and just as Jesus changes them into something miraculous, let Him change you into something miraculous – let Him make you everything He knows you can be; the very person He created you to be. Prepare the way today, once more.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Wake up!!!!









HOMILY FOR THE 1st SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 3, 2017:

If you’re like me, especially at this time of year, I love to watch all of the cooking shows on Food TV. They make the most incredible things there, and they make it all look so easy. But, of course, they’re always looking for something new and different to keep things interesting. I saw one recently where they were cooking a TurDucKen. The TurDucKen is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. It makes your normal turkey seem so boring, doesn’t it? Here’s another one I saw – a holiday dessert called CherPumple. It’s essentially three different pies – cherry pie, pumpkin pie and apple pie – all stacked one on top of the other all brought together with a sugary frosting. Guaranteed to put you into a diabetic coma! It will go nicely with your TurDucKen. This time of year seems to bring out the desire for these kind of mash-ups, and not only with food. For example, I there is the ultimate mash-up of ChrismaHanuKwanzakah – a mash-up of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza into one mega-holiday. I’m not sure why we are so fascinated with mash-ups is this time of year. I think maybe it’s because we feel like there isn’t enough time to get it all done.

In the midst of this silliness, though, the Church gives us this beautiful, peaceful, and calming season of Advent. I think it is purposefully given to us right in the middle of the busiest time of the year; right in the thick of holiday parties, and shopping. The Church invites us today to stop, to breathe, to reflect, to take our time, to be renewed and refreshed once again in Jesus.

We’re invited to stop and spend some time pulling apart all that the world has tried to mash together for us. Despite what everything outside of the Church says to us, it isn’t Christmas yet. Wait for it; it will come. There in fact aren’t a million things to be done. You haven’t fallen behind. Stop, pause, and let the wonder of truth of this season unfold. Embrace the waiting and watching and anticipation that Advent welcomes us into – because there is a great value in the waiting, a great value in the anticipation.

Our readings today also have a message for us: wake up and pay attention to the waiting! Our second reading encouraged our waiting, “I give thanks to God always on your account…as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Jesus encouraged us to wake up, “"Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We are being reminded to stay awake because something is on the horizon; wake up because something is about to happen; something new is around the corner and we don’t want to miss it. We want to prepare; we want to be ready; to see with new eyes.

What are we waiting for? What are we meant to be awake for? Of course, for Jesus. But, not merely to recall His birth on Christmas Day. But, to be awakened to remember, once again, that He never left; that He is always right here and if we are not awake, we might be in danger of missing the presence of God in our midst.

My friends, here we are, all of us, often living in apprehension and anxiety; trying to make sense of our world, coping with our struggles as best we can – sickness, death, disappointment, loss, loneliness and fear. And in the eternal now that is our God, Jesus comes to join us; to comfort us as only God can comfort us and make us feel loved, as only God can make us feel loved. And, that is the point of Advent – to slow down, to wait, and to wake up, to see that Jesus is right here. So, let Him wrap you – wrap your struggles, your anxieties, your fears and disappointments; as well as, your joys, your triumphs, your love and your blessings – let God wrap all of that tightly in His loving and cradling arms. He wants to be present to you; to comfort you and share His profound love for you and with you.

The world wants to tempt you with its busyness, with its activity, with its ChrismaHanuKwanzakah and even with its CherPumple. But, resist the temptation and instead enter Advent time – a place to slow down, quiet down, and awaken ourselves to the Lord – in this Advent space Jesus wants to enter that busyness and be made present to us once again; present on this altar as bread and the wine become Body and Blood for us; present in our hearts and in our lives, so that we can become the comfort and love that He wants to extend to everyone we meet.

My friends, let us stay awake so that we may not miss the Visitation of Christ in our midst. Stay awake and let God comfort us, love us, and prepare us to welcome Him with renewed joy at Christmas.

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...