Saturday, January 19, 2019

Changing the impossible


When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a practicing Catholic family, but my Dad was generally unchurched and had never been baptized. If you remember the church in the 1960s, this was somewhat of a scandal. You simply didn’t marry outside of your faith. My parents were not allowed to have a Mass. They had to stand outside of the communion rail. And, my aunt, who is a religious sister, was not allowed to attend. As you can imagine, this was a somewhat negative experience of the Church, so becoming a Catholic was not high on my Dad’s list at that time.

Dad, though, was always the best non-Catholic church goer you could imagine. He attended Mass with us as a family. He ran most of the pancake breakfasts, spaghetti suppers and other things events in the parish. Mom, of course, constantly begged him to become a Catholic to no avail. When I entered religious life, I added my voice to that chorus. As a person of Irish heritage, of course, my favorite tool of persuasion was good-old guilt. I can remember saying to my Dad, “You know Dad, it would be so amazing if I were able to give you communion on the day of my first Mass as a priest.” Now, that is some grade-A guilt, but it didn’t work.

The situation seemed impossible, and it didn’t seem like it would ever change. I had my own secret plan that if Dad ever got ill and it didn’t look like he would make it, I was just going to baptize him! (And then go to confession!) In the meantime, I would just pray. After receiving Communion each day, I would just say, “Lord, I offer you the grace of this Eucharist and ask that you place a desire for baptism in my Dad’s heart.” Of course, as always, Mom was also praying the rosary every day for this same intention. But I don’t think that either one of us believed it would ever happen.

And then, one day, 12 years ago, a month before my Dad’s 69th birthday, he called me and said only two words, “I’m ready.” And, I knew immediately what that meant. And in the joy and honor of my priesthood, I baptized, confirmed, and gave first communion to my own Dad.

But, in the midst of that joy, I also heard God chastising me. He was saying, “Didn’t you know that all things are possible with me. Didn’t you know that all things unfold according to My plan, in My time. Why didn’t you trust Me?” All the while, I thought it was my job to bring Dad into the Church, and I was failing. God reminded me that my job was just to be faithful, to be prayerful, and to have trust in Him – and that great things would happen.

Now, while most of us haven’t been in exactly that situation, I’m willing to bet that each one of us has something in our lives that we wish would change, but at the same time feels impossible. Maybe we desperately wish that our spouse, our children, our friends, would find a deeper place for God in their lives. Perhaps we know someone – or maybe even ourselves – are caught in the throes of addiction and it just feels like nothing can ever change that situation. Maybe we have some broken relationships in our lives – words we wish we could take back, or words that others have used to wound us – and we just don’t know how to find reconciliation and forgiveness. It is natural for us to feel overwhelmed sometimes by what the world throws at us.

Into the midst of these feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, our Scriptures give us hope. “Do whatever He tells you” the Blessed Mother utters. We know this story of the first miracle at Cana so well that we can lose its impact. After all, we know how the story turns out. But think about the horror of this moment for the family throwing this wedding party. When members of a family get married, the celebration is among the most important kind of celebrations we hold. They celebrate not only the love of the two people getting married, but the feast also says something about the family throwing the party. Families go all-out when holding a wedding feast; often beyond their means. It is an act of love, an act of celebration, and a public act of honor. So imagine this family and just about the worst thing possible has happened. Imagine the terror when they realized that there was no more wine. This would disappoint their children, and certainly bring a level of public shame to the whole family for their failure. They would become the “family who ran out of wine at the wedding” and would probably never live that down.

But, Mary says so simply, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” An act of trust that when we invite Jesus into our impossible situations, amazing things can happen. Jesus not only solves the problem and miraculously turns water into wine – but it is in fact the best wine anyone had ever tasted. Trusting Jesus is an invitation to allow the amazing power of God to change even the impossible situations in our lives.

And Jesus has not stopped doing the impossible. After all, just look at what He did in my Dad’s life when we stopped badgering and instead entered a space of prayerful trust. The impossible became possible. I want you to think about the impossible situations in your life today. Have you been trying to fix them all by yourself? Have you given up hope that they could ever change? Have you simply learned to live with them and allow the wounds simply to remain? Take a word of advice from the Blessed Mother today, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Today, as Jesus once again miraculously appears on our altar, I encourage you to hand over your impossible situations to Him. Invite Jesus into the messiness of your life; invite Jesus into the messiness of certain relationships or challenges. Because inviting Jesus in changes everything; and cooperating with Him leads to greatness – it leads to miracles. Hand over your impossible situations to Him in full faith and trust and then watch what unfolds – it might be nothing short of a miracle.

And, just imagine what our world could look like, what our lives could look like, if we lived with the same kind of trust in Jesus that Mary had. Imagine our impossible situations turned around; our relationships healed; our addictions cured; our problems resolved – all in the way that God intends. Mary didn’t beg, she didn’t hedge her bets. She simply knew that Her Son could do this. We should know this too. Whatever is impossible in our lives – Jesus has got it; He can do this. So, do whatever He tells you.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Reveal Yourself to us today!


As our Christmas season quickly comes to a close – it will be all over next week with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – I hate to see all of the Christmas music go for another year. I love singing all of our Christmas songs. There are wonderful Christmas hymns, of course, for today, the best known is We Three Kings. But my favorite song for Epiphany is one you may not have heard of. It is by James Taylor and is called Home By Another Way. It is a song about the dream that the wise men had following their visit with Mary, Joseph and Jesus; the dream that told them to avoid King Herod and seek a different route home.

This notion of moving in a new direction serves as a good image for Epiphany. Epiphany is about our call to change course in our lives and set our direction clearly on Jesus. Just like the Magi, we have seen the star that called us to move towards Him. When the Magi saw that star they had no idea who Jesus was or what He would mean to the world. They were literally far from Him and made a choice to move in His direction. We too might find ourselves in the same position. Maybe we have always desired to know Jesus more intimately, more powerfully, more personally in our lives and yet have not come close. The star again calls us today. Maybe we have been hurt, wounded, or are sad or grieving and feel a great distance from Jesus today. The star calls to us. Maybe our relationship with Jesus feels stagnant, like it isn’t growing or moving or changing, and we don’t know what to do to make it better. The star calls to us again today.

Jesus wants to reveal Himself to each one of us today, just as He did to the wise men so long ago. And, He wants that revelation to change the course of our lives. Whatever parts of our lives have been distant – perhaps we have been full of anger or fear, anxiety or judgment. Perhaps we have old wounds and broken relationships that we’ve not tended to. Jesus wants to be the healing for all of the broken places in our lives.

Pope Francis said of the wise men, “[The Magi] had to discover that what they sought was not in a palace, but elsewhere. In the palace, they did not see the star guiding them to discover a God who wants to be love. For only under the banner of freedom is it possible to realize that the gaze of God lifts up, forgives and heals us. To realize that God wanted to be born where we least expected. To realize that in God’s eyes there is always room for those who are wounded, weary, mistreated and abandoned.”

The story of the visit of the Magi opens our eyes to the fact that God shows Himself to us in so many ways. The shepherds came to know of Jesus’ birth through a vision of angels. The Magi came to know through a reading of the stars. King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures – very different ways that communicated the same truth – that God is in our midst and is calling us to come to Him.

Today, as always, God invites us into renewed and deeper relationship with Him through His Son. God is revealing Himself to us in Word, in our hearts – and so powerfully in the Eucharist. In just a few moments, there will be another kind of Epiphany of the Lord – this one will take place on our altar. God will reveal Himself to us in the Body and Blood of His Son. At that moment we will be invited once again to “come and do him homage?”

My friends, this is the “other way” that a living encounter with Jesus sends us. If we once again alter our course and head straight toward God, we too will be sent forth by another way. We too will be called to not take a road of selfishness, but instead take a road of empathy, care and concern for others; a road of forgiveness, healing and hope.

The star shines brightly today guiding us to change our course and head again toward Jesus – so powerfully here in this Church as He reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament. And, when we leave this encounter, Jesus tells us as a dream told the Three Kings to have the courage to go home by another way, to embark on the path that opens our eyes and our hearts, our minds and our lives, to the presence of Jesus that we will suddenly see is all around us.

Let us be the mercy, the forgiveness, the healing, the joy and the hope that the Baby Jesus came to bring to our world.

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...