Thursday, March 29, 2018

I want you to be the Church


A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After the checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from very severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The doctor said, “Every morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. Make him something nutritious for lunch. At dinnertime prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him and don't discuss your problems with him. Most importantly, never nag him. If you can do this for the next year, your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband saw how distressed his wife was and asked, “What did the doctor say?” The woman looked at her husband and said, “Honey, the doctor said you're going to die.”

This humorous story points out the reality of what we gather to celebrate tonight – if love isn’t paired with service, we cannot truly live. We gather tonight and begin the Sacred Triduum – three days which really serve as one singular feast. Tonight’s feast recalls three things in particular – the institution of the Eucharist, the mandate to service in the washing of the feet, and the establishment priesthood – but ultimately I think tonight focuses on God’s bounty; God’s goodness to us. On this holy night, our God wants to spoil us.

These Holy Days seek to inspire us; to remind us who we are as children of God and members of the Church; and most profoundly to remind us through dramatic moments of ritual and sacrament and prayer of one powerful reality – that Jesus Christ is real. We do not merely gather here tonight to tell an old story. We gather tonight to meet a real person – our Savior Jesus Christ, who – although He walked the earth 2,000 years ago – is still living and active and in our midst today.

One of the most powerful statements of this realness came from the 4th Century. St. Ambrose, in a Holy Week homily instructed those entering the church about the awesome power of the Eucharist. He wrote, “Perhaps you say, ‘The bread I have here is ordinary bread.’ Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ…When the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore it is Christ’s words that bring this sacrament into being. What is this word of Christ? It is the word by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and all creatures came into being. See, then, how efficacious the word of Christ is. There was no heaven, there was no sea, there was no earth. And yet, as David says, ‘He spoke and it was made; he commanded and it was created.’ To answer your question, then, before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created…You see from all this, surely, the power that is contained in the heavenly word.” What is St. Ambrose’s point? Quite simply and quite powerfully – that Jesus is real!

What we celebrate tonight gets at the very heart of why we do all that we do as people of faith. Why do we come to church? What sense does it make in our modern world? In a very real sense Jesus says to us tonight, “I don’t want you to come to the church. I want you to be the church.” This is why we celebrate not only the Eucharist, but also the call to be foot washers. If we only celebrated the Last Supper we might begin to think that the Eucharist is a commodity that we come here to acquire. We come to acquire this special grace and then we leave on go on our way. Jesus reminds us that He is not a commodity, but that the Eucharist is a transformative prism through which we are transformed into people who love differently, who care differently, who reach out differently – or more simply, we become people who wash the feet of those around us, in love, and mercy, and joy. The Eucharist transforms us from being a consumer of the divine, to becoming a contributor to the divinity of our world. We come here not to be served, but to become servants.

Jesus tonight also reminds us that we are connected to one another as radical expressions of God’s love for the world. We love without exception – the homeless and the hungry, the immigrant and the refugee, the gay or transgendered person, the Muslim and the atheist, we love even our enemy – we love without exception. Too many voices in our world encourage us to love selectively, to love only those who are like us. It is not easy to love the way Jesus wants us to. Through the Eucharist, we become a community that loves in this transformative way together, side by side, arms linked in an unending chain of love; changing our world by it.

You see, in the washing of the feet, Jesus turns the Mantle of Privilege that comes from being the Son of God into an Apron of Service transforming the world with humble love. Jesus shows us that when we recognize Him in the Eucharist; when we have make Him part of our lives; then we powerfully make Him present in our world by the simple act of washing feet; the acts of service that make Jesus real.

So, the question tonight is this: are we willing to take off our outer garment? Are we willing to lay down our own Mantles of Privilege, or pride or jealousy, anger or selfishness, laziness or greed? Whatever our Mantle is, can we lay it down and replace it with the Apron of Service? When we take off our outer garments all things are possible for us. Someone said, “When we’re young we think we can change the world by sheer force of will. We march for our causes, speak out to be heard, we protest and write letters. But, as we grow in spiritual maturity we realize that the way to change the world is to put down our placards and pick up a towel and basin.”

My friends, on this Holy Night, look into the mirror that is Jesus Christ in His Sacred Body and Blood. Look there until you see your own image reflected in the face of Jesus. Then, become that mirror for the world, reflecting the face of Christ to all who see you. Reflect Christ through your own humble, simple acts of service to one another. Put on the Apron of Service and follow the example that Jesus has given us. My friends Jesus is real! Let us be filled once again with the Real and Abiding Presence of Christ here tonight and let us become his Real and Abiding Presence in our world. And, let us become like Him, washers of feet.

“Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Lord has need of you!


Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. Today, in this one liturgy, we move in dramatic form between great highs and great lows, we move from the cheers of “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” that lead Him to the cross. These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week that lies ahead. Today is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around to see how this all turns out.

But today, let’s focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and in particular, let’s look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. It’s easy to focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about two characters no one ever seems to mention – the donkey and its’ owner. Think about it. How different would this story be if the owner of the donkey had refused to give it up? Without them, we might not have a story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The point is that no matter how unknown or seemingly inconsequential a person is, no matter how small a role someone plays, every part is important in the unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as He needed even a donkey and its owner in His entry to Jerusalem, if He is to complete His mission.

Now, a donkey was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. People used it to move around and do their shopping, to carry a heavy load, and in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that this donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high market value. So, giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was actually a big sacrifice. It was a generous and heroic act of faith on the part of its owner; even though it seems very simple.

It begs the question of us – do we respond as quickly and as generously when God calls for our gifts, our talents and our treasure? We are reminded today that each one of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs; each of us has something. Will we give it to Him freely?

The spiritual writer Max Lucado offered a reflection on this Gospel moment. He wrote, “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and His story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to God. Your gifts are His and the donkey was His.”

My friends, as we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure – our donkey – to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not yet know Him.

So, what is your gift, your talent, your treasure? Your Master has need of it.

Have a blessed Holy Week and may the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Trusting God with the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, March 18, 2018:

A man was standing on the edge of a cliff admiring the beautiful scenery. Suddenly, without warning, the ground beneath his feet broke away and he began to fall. In desperation he grabbed a small branch and held on with all his might as he hung over the edge. The rocky ground was hundreds of feet below his dangling legs. He began to yell, “Is there anyone up there! Help me!” Suddenly the man heard a loud voice that said, “This is God. I will help you. Put all your faith and trust in me and I will take you safely to the top. All you have to do is let go.” The man paused for a moment, looked intently at the ground far below and then back to the heavens and yelled, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Letting go and fully trusting in God is one of the most difficult things we’ll ever face in our spiritual journey. But, it is also one of the most necessary parts of truly living as people of faith. Jesus tells us as much in today’s Gospel passage, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Jesus asks us to trust fully in Him – not to trust in ourselves or our own ability – but to trust that His way is the right way – even when we can’t see the bigger picture; even when we don’t know the outcome. He simply asks us to trust and to follow. It may be the most difficult thing we are asked to do – simply trust.

There is a story about an emperor trying to choose his successor. He decided he would choose from among the children in his kingdom. Calling them together he said, “I am going to give each one of you a very special seed today. Plant it and care for it and return in one year with what you have grown. I will then judge and the one I choose will be the next emperor!” One boy, Jack, went home and excitedly told his mother what had happened. She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. Weeks and even months went by, and Jack faithfully cared for his seed, but nothing ever grew.

Finally the year went by and everyone brought what they had grown back to the emperor. When Jack arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful - in all shapes and sizes. But still all he had was an empty pot. He put it on the floor and the other kids laughed at him. When the emperor arrived, he said, “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown.” Then he spotted Jack at the back of the room with his empty pot. He called him to the front and asked his name. He looked at the boy, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Jack!” Jack was stunned. He couldn't even grow a seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. But I gave you all boiled seeds, which could not grow. All of you, except Jack, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jack was the only one who trusted to do what I asked no matter what, and so he will be the new emperor!”

Jack trusted even when it seemed difficult; even when it felt like his actions were not accomplishing anything; even when he felt like he was failing. How many times in our own lives are we unwilling to offer pure and honest trust and instead try and change things ourselves, without God’s help. We try and force the outcome that we want and ignore God’s bigger plan because we can’t see it in the moment. Scripture shows us time and time again, that when we fail to trust in God, things don’t go our way. Just think of Abraham who didn’t trust God’s promise to him and his wife Sarah, just think of Jonah who didn’t trust God’s mercy for the people of Nineveh, just think of Thomas who didn’t trust Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead, Jack couldn’t understand what was wrong with his seed, yet he didn’t change his course; he continued to trust and for that he was rewarded. How much more so for those who trust and follow God.

So today, place all your cares on the Lord. Cry out to Him with all the challenges that burden your heart. Share all your hopes and dreams with God. And, then simply trust that all will work out for the good; that all will work according to God’s plan. “The Father will honor whoever serves me… And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Walking, talking Temples of the Holy Spirit


I want to invite you to think about a simple question today. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that. Historically, our Church was tied directly to the Cape Cod Canal that sits right out our front door. For those who didn’t know, St. Margaret’s was built in 1915 as a mission of Corpus Christi Church in Sandwich mainly to serve the population that suddenly appeared here as a result of the digging of the canal at the same time. We didn’t become a separate parish until 1946 when two mission churches – St. Margaret’s and St. Mary’s (which was a mission of St. Patrick’s) were formed into a single parish community.

So, history is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer – this church was built to be a temple. Every Catholic church was built to be more than a merely ordinary space. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we come to meet God in Word and Sacrament to be formed once again into members of His family. It is a unique place of real encounter with the living God.

A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where we can be together with God. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.

And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do only here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We dress respectfully. We stand and kneel and bow and show a special reverence that says we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him.

And this brings us to our Gospel today. This extraordinary passage is really the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – treating God’s dwelling place differently than the sacred space it is meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if our church were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.

But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church – any Church – are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they encounter us – believers in Jesus. Each one of us is a walking, talking, living temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.

Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living, breathing, walking, talking Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us.

”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.

My friends, as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God into the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you and be renewed this Lent.

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...