Saturday, July 21, 2018

Seeking the sea of our own tranquility


See if you can finish this sentence for me, “One small step for man…” Right, “one giant leap for mankind.” I have been enjoying the different programs and stories commemorating the 49th anniversary of the moon landing this week, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon.

The image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflected on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you certainly cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in a quiet and airless place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own deserted place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. Now, for some, vacation isn’t to such a deserted place. Some might go to Disney World, or visit a big city. I returned a few weeks ago from Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. Surely some of you here today are visiting as vacationers coming from places both far or not so far, visiting Cape Cod for your holiday.

Now Cape Cod traffic surely feels very far away from the Sea of Tranquility, but whatever you do this summer, whether vacation or staycation, Jesus invites you to “come away…and rest awhile.” Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, to rest from our work, to engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, renew our spirits, renew our faith. When I am on vacation, my favorite times of day are sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.

Thinking of the moon landing, one of the more surprising stories is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the focus of the moon landing as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular, and perhaps even more profound, as a man of faith.

He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home prayed. Here are his words, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever lives in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”

It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon — and Who, in the words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.” It was nonetheless a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Well, Buzz Aldrin remembered. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, he traveled to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.

How about us? Now, none of us are headed to the moon, but what will we remember in the quiet moments of this summertime? Will we find the quiet spaces in the midst of our busy lives to remember the One who makes it all possible? Let us take our faith with us on every journey we make, whether near or far. Because God is there. Seen or unseen, God is always present. Let us acknowledge that presence, and celebrate it, and allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls.

Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Let us offer the God who has given us so much – our lives, our livelihoods, our families, our faith – let us offer Him our love, our time, our praise. Let us find the moments to say, quite simply, “Thank you for this.” Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God deeply immersed in prayer.

One of the lessons of today’s Gospel is that after the apostles had done their amazing work – we heard last week about the miracles they performed – they returned to Christ, who reminded them that the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest. It’s also prayer. It’s also renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a deserted place to find peace we so desperately need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.

As we recall what transpired on the moon nearly 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is God’s love available to us every time we pray. Let us meet God in that tranquil place, one small step at a time.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

We hold these truths to be self evident...

Happy Independence Day! Sort of. You may know that the Second Continental Congress actually voted to separate from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, but it took a few days to do the paperwork. John Adams was certain that July 2nd would be commemorated as our nation's Day of Independence (since it was the actual day). So certain, he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." But, the Declaration itself had that "July 4th" date so prominently displayed at the top, that ended up winning the day. Some had also suggested August 2 as our national celebration since that was the day that most of the colonial representatives actually signed the document. Interesting history, but I think we can agree 242 years later, the issue is settled - HAPPY 4th!! Personally, a tradition I follow each year is to read the Declaration of Independence out loud. It is a wonderful experience. The words are powerful and often inspiring. I hope you try it: It also seems more important now than ever to remember who we are as a nation, who we strive to be. 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock
New Hampshire:Josiah BartlettWilliam WhippleMatthew Thornton
Massachusetts:John HancockSamuel AdamsJohn AdamsRobert Treat PaineElbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:Stephen HopkinsWilliam Ellery
Connecticut:Roger ShermanSamuel HuntingtonWilliam WilliamsOliver Wolcott
New York:William FloydPhilip LivingstonFrancis LewisLewis Morris
New Jersey:Richard StocktonJohn WitherspoonFrancis HopkinsonJohn HartAbraham ClarkPennsylvania:Robert MorrisBenjamin RushBenjamin FranklinJohn MortonGeorge ClymerJames SmithGeorge TaylorJames WilsonGeorge Ross
Delaware:Caesar RodneyGeorge ReadThomas McKean
Maryland:Samuel ChaseWilliam PacaThomas StoneCharles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia:George WytheRichard Henry LeeThomas JeffersonBenjamin HarrisonThomas Nelson, Jr.Francis Lightfoot LeeCarter Braxton
North Carolina:William HooperJoseph HewesJohn Penn
South Carolina:Edward RutledgeThomas Heyward, Jr.Thomas Lynch, Jr.Arthur Middleton
Georgia:Button GwinnettLyman HallGeorge Walton

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Some people just can't tell a joke


A young man considering a vocation with the Franciscans was invited to dinner at the local friary one evening. As dinner went on, from time-to-time, one of the friars would stand up and say a number and the rest of the friars would laugh hysterically. One stood up and said, “72,” and everyone laughed. Another said, “149,” and again everyone laughed. Another said, “14,” and again, everyone laughed. Confused, the young man asked what was going on. “Well, you see, we’ve all lived together for a long time,” one friar said, “By now, we know each other jokes by heart, so we numbered them all to save time. Someone says a number and we remember the joke and laugh,” then he said, “Why don’t you give it a try. We have 300 jokes, just stand and say any number you like.” The young man stood tentatively and said, “107,” and there was nothing but silence. The man sat down and asked what went wrong. He said, “What can I tell you? Some people just can’t tell a joke.”

I was thinking of this today because I think there’s something like this going on in our Gospel. I think Jesus is telling us a bit of a joke, but I didn’t notice anyone laughing as I read it today. It was a classic case of the flop.

So, what’s the joke? Well, as we heard in the Gospel, Jesus asks the familiar question, “To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?” Now if you think about how you might answer that question, most of us would probably choose something amazing to compare the Kingdom of God to. We might choose, for example, the image we heard in our First Reading from Ezekiel – the great and mighty cedar tree. This is an image that is used over and over again in the Old Testament and cedars are mighty trees. They were large and strong, they soar into the sky as high as 200 feet. Standing at their base it might feel you could climb them all the way to Heaven. Certainly a worthy comparison to the Kingdom of God.

But, instead of something so majestic, Jesus said, “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.” And, I think this is his joke. Instead of a mighty cedar, Jesus is essentially comparing God’s kingdom to something like a weed; that’s what the mustard bush was after all. We might understand better if it were told like this: the Kingdom of God is like dandelion seed, which, when sown into your lawn will drive you crazy all summer long!”

As always, though, Jesus is telling His little joke to make a much bigger point. The point is that we may want the Kingdom of God to be like the beautiful, majestic cedar tree shooting all the way to Heaven itself, but the reality is that God’s Kingdom needs to be a little closer to earth; a little closer to our reality. How many of us have seen a 200 foot cedar tree? Not many. And how about those dandelions? Just about everyone. The Kingdom of God needs to be persistent – as persistent as we must be to rid of our lawns of dandelions. The Kingdom of God will not simply arrive and remain forever. It will pop up over here, and then over there, and again over there. And, we need to be the ones continually planting those tiny little seeds of the Kingdom so it becomes present in our world. We are the dandelions of the Kingdom that God wants popping up here and there and everywhere.

We help to bring forth that Kingdom when we commit ourselves to Kingdom values – peacemaking in the face of conflict, offering forgiveness instead of vengeance and retribution, justice in the face of corruption, generosity instead of the overwhelming greed in our world. We are called to be sowers of that little seed of the Kingdom, that seed of faith; to make our own personal contribution to the presence and the growth of God’s Kingdom.

Kingdoms don’t grow by themselves. Each one of us counts. The seeds we sow in God’s name have enormous potential. They are the principles we hold dear, the loving witness that we give, the faithful promises we make and keep, the needy people we help to raise out of poverty, injustice or despair. They are the prayers we say, the children we welcome into relationship with Christ, the Holy Masses we celebrate, the hurts we forgive, the kindness we show, the family members, neighbors and even enemies we love and forgive. The seed can be all sorts of things – a listening ear, an encouraging word, a happy memory shared. And it is our job to plant those seeds here, there, and everywhere; over and over and over again.

My friends, the seeds we plant will take root and grow and the presence of the Kingdom of God will be more and more in our midst if we remain persistent in spreading them. And, that’s no joke. Bring forth the Kingdom of God!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

First Communion, Last Communion, and all the ones in between


Earlier this week, I was called to the ICU at the hospital for an urgent call for someone who was near death. The person in question had been away from the Church, away from the Mass, away from the Eucharist for more than 50 years. They wanted nothing more on that day to be reconciled. I spent some time in conversation, and then brought the grace that comes from the Anointing of the Sick, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then I said, “Would you like to receive Holy Communion?” Their eyes widened incredulous, “Is that possible?” “Absolutely,” I said. “Your sins have been forgiven and God wants to be close to you.” We prayed again and then I gave communion to someone with the most beaming face I’ve ever seen. As I left that hospital room, all I could hear repeating over and over was, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

Today we the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called simply Corpus Christi. Too often we don’t really think about the Eucharist that much; we receive the Eucharist often out of habit more than an action of faith. For me, this feast calls to mind different powerful experiences of the Eucharist; those First Communions as we experienced a few weeks ago in the parish; the Last Communions like I experienced this week, and the many others in between.

Think of the little girl or boy, dressed in white, approaching the altar for their First Holy Communion. There have already been big events in their lives – birthdays, Christmas celebrations, the first day of school. But, this First Holy Communion is in many ways the climax of their young lives. We all witness that as the children move expectantly towards the altar; their eyes transfixed on the Host. With practiced hands they receive the Host and pass it reverently to their lips. God is with these children now, in a temple innocent and pure.

We also think of the woman or man waiting on their deathbed for the last Holy Communion. There have been big events in their lives too – wedding days, the birth of children, the first time they were called “Mom” or “Grampa.” And now with their last Holy Communion comes the climax of their final years. The priest moves near. They open their eyes as they did in their childhood, raise their white-haired head from the pillow and welcome the Savior with all of the fervor their body will allow. God is with them now, and will be with them for all eternity.

The First Holy Communion is always a fervent one. So is the Last Holy Communion. We bring to the first one the freshness of youth; we bring to the last one the clarity that age brings to life. But, how about today – we find ourselves at one of those countless Holy Communions in between. How can we renew that fervor for Jesus in the Eucharist today and come to understand its value in our lives?

In Holy Communion, Jesus nourishes us. He gives us food for our souls. In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “If you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” What soil does for a plant, what milk does for a baby, Holy Communion does for our soul. By receiving regularly and with fervor, we will thrive spiritually on the body and blood of Christ.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with Himself. We know in life that people can be close to each other in many ways – as fellow workers, as friends. The most intimate human relationship we know is that of two united through marriage. But, the closest intimacy possible for us is the intimacy found in the Eucharist. Again Jesus says in John, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” It isn’t a question of living with another person, like in marriage, but of living in one another, sharing the same life. In Holy Communion we share the life of Jesus. This union began in our Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, but reaches its peak in Holy Communion. We return to that peak of intimacy and union every time we receive Holy Communion.

In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with each other. This sacrament is not only an intimacy between ourselves and Jesus. It is also a love affair that embraces the whole community. It is not just my personal communion with Christ; it is our shared communion with each other in Christ. As St. Paul said, “As there is one bread, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one bread.” This is not a personal sacrament; it is not a straight line of contact between you and Jesus alone. It is a social sacrament, a circle that includes Christ, yourself and all of your brothers and sisters – the one on your left and right, in front and behind. As members of this community, we are not like stones scattered around a field; instead we are likes stones built up into a wall, keeping each other in place and being kept in place by others. When we stand before this altar, it is a sign of our love for each other, a pledge of kindness and compassion towards each other – a love that finds its source in the Eucharist; in this Eucharist.

Finally, reception of Holy Communion is an assurance of our Heavenly destiny. Jesus said, “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person on the last day.” Our individual resurrection may seem remote to us now at this point in our lives, so remote that our mind can’t focus on it. But, as remote as it may seem, the Resurrection is the one event on which we base all our hope. Death never wins the day; Heaven does. Every time. We are not born for death; we are born for eternity; for Heaven. And we have it on the word of our Savior that, if we are faithful to the Eucharist, we too will rise on the Last Day. It is a mighty thought, a happy thought, a hopeful thought.

And so we pray today that through the great gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus, that we may all be nourished, that we may be united with our Lord, united with one another and assured of our eternal home in Heaven. May God increase in us our love and devotion for the Body and Blood of His Son.

And may we leave this place repeating in the depths of our hearts, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity


Many years ago, the Jesuits and Franciscans were offered a large, beautiful church in Rome, but didn’t know how to decide who should get it. So, they held a debate to settle the issue. Each Order sent their greatest theologian and to make it more interesting, they decided neither theologian would be able to speak. When the debate began, the Jesuit went first. He raised his hand and showed three fingers. The Franciscan looked back and raised one finger. The Jesuit waved his fingers in a circle around his head. The Franciscan pointed to the ground where he sat. Then Jesuit pulled out bread and a glass of wine. And the Franciscan pulled out an apple. Finally, the Jesuit said, “I give up. You are too good. The Franciscans win!”

The Jesuits asked their man what had happened. He said, “Well, first I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was only one God. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He pointed to the ground to say God was right here with us. I pulled out bread and wine to show the power of the sacraments. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. What could I do?”

Meanwhile, the friars also asked their man what happened. He said, “First he played hardball and said we had three days to get out of here. I told him not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole place would be cleared of Franciscans and I let him know that we were staying right here.” “And, what happened next?” the friars asked. The friar said, “I don't know. He took out his lunch, so I took out mine.”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – the mystery of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and still one God. It is a challenging mystery of faith. How can three things be one? St. Patrick famously explained this using the image of the shamrock – three leaves, yet one shamrock. The Catechism has this to say, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself…The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to people.” Does that clear things up for you? Probably not. And yet, we can come to a better understanding of the Trinity in our lives – spiritually and intellectually.

We all remember what we did at the beginning of Mass today. It is the same thing we do at the beginning of every Mass. We did this and please join me. + In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. It is a familiar gesture that we do often more as a reflex than a conscious movement. But it is a gesture that points to today’s feast. When we are conscious of what we are doing in that act, it is a simple act of faith in the complexity of God who is revealed to us in the mystery of Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit.

I say “revealed to us” because we wouldn’t have a clue about the Trinity if Jesus didn’t tell us about it. Jesus talked about His Father in Heaven. He talked about Himself as the Son. He talked about sending us His Holy Spirit. This is what the Catechism means when it says, “The history of salvation is identical with the history by which God reveals himself.” God reveals Himself precisely as Trinity; as three Persons in one God. Although the Trinity is a mystery, it doesn’t mean it is mystifying; rather it is a mystery that God wants us to be drawn deeply into.

So, let’s think about that sign of the cross and how it draws us into mystery. First we touch our forehead and say, “In the Name of the Father…” When I hear those words, I think of the beauty of the trees, and flowers and plant life coming into bloom; I recall beautiful red sunsets at the beach as the setting sun shimmers on the water; the grandeur of the mountains; the feel of a warm breeze. I think of all the beautiful children who received First Communion a few weeks ago; the giggling and crying babies baptized; and the pride and happiness on the faces of their parents. I think of these things because God the Father is the Creator of a beautiful world – something that should always cause us to marvel. That finger on my forehead is a reminder of a God so in love with us that He sent His only Son to draw us back into His embrace. This same Father we speak of as “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

Next we move to our chest, to the place where our heart resides and say, “and of the Son.” Here I think of the love the Son of God showed us when He multiplied the loaves for the hungry, when He reached across social and racial barriers to Samaritans, when He made room at His table for outcasts and sinners, when He chased the scavengers away from woman caught in adultery hungry for her blood, when He gave the ultimate and agonizing proof of His love for us on the cross. “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”

We move to our shoulders and say, “and of the Holy Spirit.” We recall a Spirit who gives so widely of Himself that it takes the full span of our shoulders to remind us – left to right, from one side of the world to the other. And I think of God’s desire to be close to us; to be our friend, to be in our hearts; to be in here in Buzzards Bay, in Boston, Los Angeles, Afghanistan, Jerusalem, Rome, Tokyo and every corner of the world all at the same time. I think of the Holy Spirit as a the power in my life – as a great force for goodness and holiness, as one to turn to when decisions are to be made, as one who consoles us through difficult moments in our lives. With the Holy Spirit, we are never alone. God is always with us. What we span in blessing, the Holy Spirit strengthens in life so that we can shoulder our burdens and responsibilities.

And so, we come to the end of the blessing – the joining of hands and the concluding, “Amen.” And we remind ourselves that word “amen” means “so be it;” it is an expression of agreement, in is an act of faith in all that has gone before. And with that “amen” we renew our faith. I believe in you Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

My friends, may all the signs of the cross we make be a proclamation of our belief in a God who has revealed Himself to us as as Father, Son and Spirit. May it signal our acceptance of God’s love and our willingness to share that love with others. May the hands we join in faith be generous in giving and eager in helping others. May the life and love of the Trinity be reflected in our lives too. This is true meaning of the Most Holy Trinity in our lives.

May God bless us all + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What's in a name?


The Navy Chief noticed a new sailor and asked, “What’s your name?” “John,” the young man said. “Look,” said the Chief, “I don’t know what they’re teaching in boot camp nowadays, but I don’t call anyone by his first name. It breeds familiarity, and that breaks down authority. I refer to you by last name only; Smith, Jones, Baker, whatever. And you call me as ’Chief’. Am I clear?” “Aye, Aye Chief!” the sailor said. “So let me ask again, what’s your name sailor?” The man sighed and said, “Darling. My last name is Darling.” Without skipping a beat, the Chief said, “Okay, John, you’re dismissed.”

What’s in a name? We heard Jesus say, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.” Keep them in your name. That phrase brings to mind the famous question pondered in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Our Gospel invites us to ponder the same question, what is in a name? Just think of your family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. Last names and their meanings are important. First names are also important. For myself, every time someone tells me they are pregnant, I remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?

Time Magazine recently had an interesting article about names. You know, not too long ago, Catholics always gave their children religious names – naming them after Biblical individuals or saints. Why? Because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be. Today, though, we live in an age where names come from different sources – movies, television, sometimes just made up.

But, the good news, according to the Time article is that in the last 10 years, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. Among the top 10 boys names last year were Jacob, Michael, Noah and Anthony – all good Biblical or saintly names. Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one I saw, Nevaeh. That’s Heaven spelled backwards.

So, what’s in a name? We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.” This is a name that each of us has been given through the grace of our Baptism. We too are called Christians. We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the daughters and sons of God. It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.

So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God. In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name. Embrace the name of Chistian that has been given to you. Live as a daughter or son of God; as a little Christ in the world. We pray, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be God, blessed be His Holy Name.” And may we be blessed in the name He has given us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"You were made for greatness!"


There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church today, it has been 40 days since we celebrated the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land through 40 years in the desert. Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to today?

Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.

Let me say a word about ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power to ascend on her own. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, we don’t gather here tonight to simply commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that just as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!

Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone. We’re called to remember our commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today; to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed? Have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where Jesus has gone, we too may follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Jesus is what God's love looks like


A little girl was showing her mother her collection of dolls one day. The mother asked, “Which one do you love most?” The girl pointed to a miserable, tattered looking doll and said that was her favorite. “Why do you love that doll most?” the mother asked. The girl answered, “Because that one needs my love more than the rest.”

Our second reading the First Letter of John reminded us, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, our Scriptures today and all week have focused on the nature of love – God’s love for us and His command that we love each other.

But, language is such an imprecise thing. Just think of how imprecise the word love is. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are actually different words for love. The two used in the New Testament are philia or the love between friends; and agape, which is love in its highest form. Agape is the word used most often and it’s the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love from God that we are called to imitate in our own lives.

John today paints for us a picture of God’s love tells us why we should love, what love is about, and how we are to love. So, why love? Then John tells us why. “Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John reminds us that love is from God, it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. On the flip side, he tells us that if you don’t have love for others then quite simply you cannot know God. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.

For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.

So, what does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love? John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” So, Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.

Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Human love comes because we want to receive something, something like feeling good in the other’s company. God’s love it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes a climactic sign of the way God loves us and the model for the way we should love one another.

Finally, John brings his point home, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” My friends, God loves us unconditionally, God love us perfectly, completely, personally, and generously; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given.

We can sometimes view the command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments. It should in fact be what defines our lives as believers. As they said of the Christians in Antioch so many centuries ago, should be said of us today, “See how these Christians love.”

May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He loves us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"You only love God as much as the person you love least."


Consider this quote, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who lived a life dedicated to reaching out to those whom society had cast off. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let that one sink in a little bit as we focus in on our readings today.

As much as Easter is, of course, about Jesus and His resurrection, this season also focuses our attention on another central figure, St. Paul and the life-changing effect of his encounter with the Resurrected Christ. We hear a lot about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles which have such a prominent place in our Easter readings, and of course, we always hear a lot from him, as his letters to the various churches he established are read most Sundays throughout the year.

I think that the church gives us Paul during the Easter season as a point of connection between these great events and our own life. In other words, we are Paul. We relate to him in his struggles, in his doubt, even in his disbelief. And, if we can relate to him in those moments, then we can perhaps also relate to him in his conversion; we can relate to him in his zeal to grow in faith, and to share that faith with anyone he encountered. Our life of faith, after all, is not about a life of perfect belief from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle even with our practice; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, newness, constant change, constant return. And Paul reminds us that this is okay. That no matter how far away we sometimes feel from God, we can always return. There is no place that is too far from God for us.

In today’s passage from Acts, St. Paul was still a fresh convert to the faith and newly arrived from Damascus. I hope your ears perked up like mine did at the beginning of the passage: “they were all afraid of him.” Isn’t that stunning? The early Christians knew who this guy was and what he did– he was a persecutor, he was a Christian-hunter. Among the Christians in Jerusalem Paul wasn’t very popular. Nobody trusted him. They even feared for their lives just because he was there. In fact, at the beginning of the chapter we have today, it says that Paul was “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples.” This was one mean guy.

That brings me back to Dorothy Day, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This very mean Paul is not who usually comes to mind when we think of the great saint. So, what happened? Well, of course, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that Paul fell to the ground in that moment. But, it wasn’t just that moment that changed everything. There was also one person in the community of believers who saw something more in him. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul’s conversion – and believed in him. Today’s reading says Barnabas “took charge” of Paul. Biblical scholars think it was more than that. One commentator suggested that there would not even be a Paul if there wasn’t first a Barnabas – someone who after that tremendous moment of conversion became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas was someone who personified Christian love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”

Years later, when Paul wrote his famous passage to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – I believe, he was really talking about this. Not something romantic or flowery. But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. That is unafraid and steadfast. That is willing to risk. Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past; even a horrible and violent past like Paul’s. In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner, a persecutor, even a Christian-hunter, might have the potential to be a saint. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”

Let me share one more detail with you about our good Barnabas. Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name to symbolize his new life in Christ. He was given the name Barnabas, a name which translated means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Saul who through this encouragement grew into the Saint Paul we have come to revere.

To offer encouragement means to support and uplift. It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears. It is to love like Christ loves. To see beyond sin into holiness. This is the effect of resurrection. It will raise us not only on the last day, but it can raise us on this day too, it can raise us every day – right out of whatever weighs us down.

“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”, a man who “breathed murderous threats against them” and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life.

My friends, let us pray today that we too might be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement – for each other, for those we struggle with, for those who seem to need that love and encouragement more than anyone else. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let the person we love least be the person we love most and then we will be loving the way that God loves, and we will be encouraging as Barnabas encouraged, we too will be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven, and bringing everyone else along with us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Inspired by a homily from The Deacon's Bench.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Listen to Jesus!


Jesus was at the Pearly Gates one day and decided to give St. Peter a break from the hard work of sorting those who would enter Heaven from those who wouldn’t. He opened the Book of Life and after he had sorted a few people, looked up to see an old man before Him who looked familiar. “And you are…” Jesus asked. The man responded, “I’m a carpenter. And, I was told that my son was in there. I’d like to see him. You’d recognize him, he’s got nail marks in his hands and in his feet.” Jesus was stunned, He leaned forward, looked at the old man, smiled and said, “Dad?” The man’s eyes widened and he looked at Jesus and said, “Pinocchio?”

“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” As we hear these words about the good shepherd in our Gospel today, the church also invites us to celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is a perfect fit as Jesus gives us this powerful image of Himself as the Good Shepherd. To fully understand the image, we need to know a little bit about shepherds and what they do. In Jesus’ time, there were two kinds of shepherds. First, there was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just a job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would not risk his life for them in a dangerous situation. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same sheep all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.

Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is the heart of vocation. Discovering our best identity – who we are called to be in God’s sight – is what a vocation is all about. God, of course, continually calls each one of us to something special in His kingdom. Our challenge is to create an environment that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where He leads. The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something special and He might even be calling someone here today to become a priest, deacon or religious.

The question of vocation is all about our identity. God very simply calls us to be who we are created to be. The question is who are we in God’s sight? St. Francis of Assisi would remind the friars, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. It is only when we know our true identity before God, that we discover our vocation.

If this identity has been nurtured, and if we open our heart to the Good Shepherd, it is here at the Holy Mass that we begin to see this identity emerge. Receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, tells us something about ourselves. When we enter into that personal relationship with Jesus that we can only have in the Eucharist, Jesus helps us to discover who He calls us to be. In fact, we are never more clearly ourselves than we are right here; gathered around the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist. If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do – meet Jesus here in the Eucharist and he will reveal it to you.

I’ve told my own vocation story many times before. But, it all boils down to this. As a teen, I had the merest spark of faith. I did not yet know the Lord. In my early 20s I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Eucharist. When I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences. The Mass was speaking to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed in my heart that this was Jesus. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom. And you can too.

To discover that identity requires two things of us. First, can you hear His voice? Can you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls you? And secondly, do we pray for and encourage those around us to discover that call; especially those who might be called to service in the Church? I don’t know if I would be a priest today if it weren’t for the support I received from crucial people in my life as I explored this call – the Dominican sisters who taught me and encouraged a vocation, my aunt Maureen who is a Sister of Mercy and who showed me the joy that can be found in religious life, Fr. Marc Hession who was my first mentor and led me toward a life of priestly service, and most importantly my mother and father, who gave witness to me of what it means to live a Christian life.

We have all been led here by a Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and wants the best for them. We will meet Him in a profound and special way in the Eucharist and discover who we are in God’s sight and what God has planned for us in His Kingdom. Let us pray that more young men and women will have the courage to pursue the vocation that God is calling them to; that they will follow the Good Shepherd. And let us be the people who encourage them to do so.

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hungry for Jesus!


One of my favorite movies is a little known comedy from the 1990s with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep called Defending Your Life. In the story, Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. Every day he goes to a room, much like a courtroom, where they show scenes from his life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and he has to defend his decisions in each of those moments. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. But, my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. And in Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.

I was thinking of that film because as we make our way through the post-resurrection stories of Jesus, there is a repeating theme you might have noticed. Jesus seems awfully hungry. When He encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they stop to have a meal. This is when they exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us?” And how they came to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then appears to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. Here, after a miraculous catch of fish, He sits down with them and prepares a breakfast.

And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again, and asks the now-familiar question, “Have you anything to eat?” Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!

Now, of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, this focus on eating is there for an important reason. These stories don’t want to merely recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something important – that the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Jesus is a flesh and blood, breathing and eating human being – just like you and me. What the disciples encounter after the resurrection is not a ghost or a spirit; it’s not a mirage or even an angel. Just like before the resurrection, Jesus is a full human being. This is why we profess in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Angels don’t enjoy bread and wine. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as He was before.

This isn’t meant to be just an interesting detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded that through our own baptism, we too are welcomed into a life that is eternal with God. That we too will be resurrected, body and soul, one day. We will not be ghosts; we will not be angels; we will not be spirits in the afterlife – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but somehow perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.

Jesus invites us into a tremendous intimacy through resurrection, and it is all about the body – not only the Body of Jesus raised from the dead , but, also the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at every Mass; the Body and Blood of Jesus that we take into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The resurrected Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity.

Archbishop Tom Murphy was the beloved Archbishop of Seattle in the late 1980s and 1990s. He was a shepherd who loved his flock and was always very present to the people. He had a very close relationship with the teens at one of his Catholic high schools where he essentially acted as their chaplain. Despite his busy schedule, he was always available whenever the sacraments needed to be celebrated for the students. They were his kids and he was their Archbishop.

In 1996, he was diagnosed with leukemia. For the last year of his life, he underwent treatments to fight the cancer which left him in need of regular blood transfusions. His kids saw their opportunity to help this holy man who had done so much for them and organized blood drives so that their Archbishop would have the blood needed for his transfusions. At his last Mass with the teens he said to them, “Since I was a boy, I have always loved the Mass and in particular the Eucharist. I would serve at daily Mass and was always in awe of what took place on the altar. But, I don’t know that I ever fully understood it until now. Today, as I stand here, I’ve got your blood in me and I’m alive today because of your blood. Now I understand the Eucharist.”

My brothers and sisters, this is what Easter is all about. If we keep encountering a Jesus who each week seems to be hungry, it is a reminder to us that we too should be hungry – hungry or the things of Heaven; hungry for the Body and Blood that do not merely nourish us for today, but fulfill all our hungers for eternity. Jesus every day appears on our altar with an invitation: Receive my Body and Blood. Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; giving you eternal life.

My friends, today and at each Eucharist, Jesus wants to be one with us; He wants communion with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Each time we gather, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We are alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins. Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe in the resurrection of the Body – Jesus’ body and ours – and we believe in life everlasting. Amen.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

This is our faith! "My Lord and my God!"

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER (Divine Mercy Sunday), April 8, 2018:

I recently came across a powerful story on one of my favorite blogs by Deacon Greg Kandra. Last year, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.

Following the attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.

Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” And addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”

The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, Amr Adeeb, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”

This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Gospel today calls us to reflect in the midst of our Easter joy on what it means for us to be a people of faith; a people who believe in the saving power of Jesus.

Our Gospel today presents us with the story of the most well-known doubter in the Bible – the apostle Thomas. For obvious reasons, I have always had a great affinity for Thomas and have also always found that he gets the short end of the stick when it comes to this perception as the Doubting Thomas. But, as we just heard in the proclamation, doubting is not where Thomas ends up, but believing. He makes perhaps the greatest profession of faith in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.” But, as you can guess, I don’t think that “doubting” is a fair assessment of Thomas’ faith.

The usual take on today’s Gospel goes something like this – Jesus appeared to the disciples, except Thomas who wasn’t there. Jesus gives them the gift of peace; He breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them a mission to go forth and forgive sins. Everyone believed, except poor Thomas who, of course, gets labeled the doubter. The message from too many preachers will be: Don’t be like poor, poor Thomas, instead have some faith like the rest of the apostles.

However, Bible commentator Russell Saltzman gives the story a new spin. He wrote, Notice that “[the other apostles] didn’t go anywhere, did they? They stayed put. They didn’t venture an inch. They didn’t undo a single sin anywhere. They remained together and they were still there when Thomas finally shows.”

Saltzman goes on to say that if Thomas did indeed doubt, perhaps he didn’t doubt Jesus, but he doubted his fellow apostles. After all, if Jesus appeared as they said, if He gave them peace as they said, if He breathed the Holy Spirit as they said, and if He gave them a mission as they said, then why were they still locked up afraid in that upper room? “If you’ve been sent, what are you still doing here?” is Thomas’ dilemma. From Thomas’ perspective, an encounter with the Risen Jesus should have produced some fruit on the part of his fellow apostles, instead, he finds them right where he left them – afraid in the Upper Room.

Fast forward a week later, when Thomas is present, he receives the same gifts from Jesus and Tradition tells us that Thomas was the first apostle to leave Jerusalem. From his encounter with the Risen Lord, Thomas made a huge leap of faith to the full divinity of Christ that the others didn’t and was able to proclaim: “My Lord and my God.” And with that he traveled, further and faster than all the rest, all the way to the tip of India. This is not the behavior of a doubter.

This is all a simple way of saying – especially on this Second Sunday of Easter – that Easter, the Resurrection, our faith should also make a difference in our lives; a difference that shows. It made a difference in the life of Naseem Faheem and his family. It made a difference in the life of Thomas. And so, our encounter with the Risen Jesus should move us too and not leave us right where He found us. My friends, our God appears to us here again today. He speaks His word, He offers His Son, He gives us a mission. We, just like the apostles, are being sent – will we go anywhere? Will it make a difference in the way we are living our lives?

Pope Francis spoke about this encounter between Jesus and Thomas not long after his election, and how this encounter is meant to send us our in mission. The Pope said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. Jesus tells us [as He told Thomas] that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy; by giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked, humiliated, or a slave; because they are in jail, or in a hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to kiss and bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. And we must do this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."

My friends, today it is we who are in the Upper Room. It is we to whom Jesus offers peace and the gifts of His Spirit. It is we who are once again sent. Let us act in faith like Naseem, with out question. Let us proclaim with Thomas, My Lord and my God, and then bring Jesus to our world.

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.