Sunday, November 19, 2017

I want to be rich!!

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Practice what you preach

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Won't you be my neighbor?











HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 29, 2017:

Sing with me if you know this: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day. If you’re like me, you’ll rmember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. And, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Our Gospel today is also asking us to reflect on who is our neighbor. Today’s passage follows last week’s in which the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, its’ the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus, this time with a question about the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is the love of God. But, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is the love of neighbor.

Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Or as we hear more succinctly in the First Letter of John, “God is love, and whoever remains in love, remains in God, and God in them.”

Jesus is challenging the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe. God took just as much time to create each one of us; to create you. We are all God’s masterpieces.

Pope Francis touched on this topic reflecting on today’s Gospel. He said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present. No longer can we separate a religious life from service to the concrete brothers and sisters we meet every day. No longer can we divide prayer, the encounter with God in the sacraments, from listening to others, from closeness to their lives, especially to their wounds.”

This concern resonates with what we see in our world today. Yes, the error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. These things cause us to wonder where is the love of our neighbor?

Just like the Pharisees of old, today there are too many Christians who try to separate the love of their fellow human beings from their love of God. There are too many followers of Jesus whose commitment to faith does not include commitment to issues of human rights; to economic and legal justice; to the call for peace; to equality and the ending of prejudice and persecution. Again, we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters – especially those who are different from us; especially those who others reject; especially those in need. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the face of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

I can do all things!











HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 15, 2017:

A good friend of mine often tells a story about an encounter he had with his father when he was a child. One day, Mike was in his bedroom when he heard a sound on the roof outside his window. He looked out just in time to see a figure quickly making his way into the room next door through window. The room was his Dad’s study. Mike rushed into the hallway and knocked on that door. He heard some commotion and his father’s voice, “Just a minute.” A few moments later, his Dad opened the door hastily buttoning up his shirt. But, as the shirt closed, Mike could see clearly below the large “S” emblem of the son of Krypton. Mike had just realized that his Dad was Superman! His mild-mannered Dad who worked for the state by day, was secretly the Man of Steel during his off hours. I always love that story.

Anyone my age or older will remember watching Superman on television. You would hear those words, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” And, then you’d run to the TV to hear the rest, he was, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.”

Now, when we were kids, we all wanted to be Superman. We ran around with towels tied around our necks to serve as a cape, and jumped off of higher and higher pieces of furniture to our parents fright, and we would debate about which power of Superman’s we’d most like to have – I always wanted to fly! And, yes, as kids we were faster than a speedy tricycle, more powerful than our little brothers, and could leap tall ottomans in a single bound!

I was thinking of this as I was reflecting on the Word of God we heard today from our second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. St. Paul said something utterly incredible today. He said, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” I can do all things. And, isn’t this is our dream? This is perhaps the more adult version of wanting to be Superman. We want to be able to do all things. We want to be invincible. We want to be beyond the reach of anything that could harm us. We want to be the hero or heroine in our families and in our communities.

But, the reality is that we, all too often, feel helpless, not heroic, against the challenges of life. We struggle with our own faith. We struggle with trying to have the greatest marriage, the perfect children, the happiest life. But into those moments of doubt and struggle, let us hear Paul’s words again, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” So, what does St. Paul mean?

Well, when Paul claims “I can do all things” he doesn’t mean that he can fly, or bend steel with his bare hands. He’s not saying that he can travel to the moon, or visit heaven at whim. He is not saying that he can paint like Rembrandt, compose like Mozart, write like Shakespeare, or theorize like Einstein. But what he does mean is that when he invites God into the daily joys and struggles of his life, he and God will meet them together, and God will always make them better by His presence, and will lead us to the best outcome if we surrender our will to His. Jesus is always waiting to fill us with His presence. To fill our struggles with His love.

If you know enough of the story of Superman, you know that back on his home planet, he would be just another ordinary man. It is earth’s yellow sun that gives Superman extraordinary strength and abilities here. My friends, it is the very same for you and for me. We do well to remember that the Son also gives us our greatest strength, but not the sun in the sky, for us it is the Son of God who we are humbled to receive in the Eucharist at each and every Mass. When we humbly open our lives to God and truly receive Him in the Eucharist, we are filled with a strength that was previously unimaginable. And isn’t that why we are here week after week?

We can be tempted to look at the pressure we’re under, the mountains we must climb, the burdens we bear, and we say, “I just can’t do it. It’s too much!” And in those moments, let us remember today’s words, “I can do all things with him who strengthens me.” My friends, we can climb any mountain, we can bear any load, we can endure any pain, we can overcome any temptation, and we bear any struggle with the God who gives us strength, who fills those struggles with His presence.

“In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret…I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Let God strengthen you today through this Holy Mass, and you too will do all things.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Leaving worry behind











HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 8, 2017:

Two young boys were staying overnight at their grandmother’s house. Every night before they went to sleep they said their prayers. The older boy went first praying about the day he had, about everything he had done and for all his loved ones. Then it was the younger boy’s turn. He prayed much louder than his brother, “God please give me a new bike, new toys and some candy!” When he finished his brother asked, “Why are you praying for bikes, toys and candy so loud? You know, God is not deaf." To which the younger boy responded, “I know, but Grandma is.”

There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon’s Generals, Massena, who, with his army of 18,000 soldiers besieged an Austrian town that was completely defenseless. Knowing they had no chance, the town leaders met to discuss how to surrender. As they discussed giving up, a wise old man in the town stood up and reminded everyone that it was Easter Sunday. He suggested that they hold their usual Easter services and put the problem in God's hands. Everyone agreed and went to the church where they rang the bells to assemble the towns for worship. But, when Massena’s soldiers heard the joyful ringing of the bells they concluded that Austrian reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. They immediately ran off in retreat, and the town was saved.

I think this little story sheds some light on what St. Paul is saying in today's second reading from the Letter to the Philippians, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Faith in Christ affects how we face the problems of life. Where people who have no faith typically respond to life's problems with worry, people of faith respond to life's problems with prayer.

We all know that worry sometimes gets the better of us. We worry about our jobs, the bills, our children, our world and our safety and so many other things – some big, some small. Worry and anxiety can take up a lot of space in our lives. But as we heard in our story, worry only encourages surrender to the challenges facing us. In prayer, on the other hand, we raise our hands to our all-loving Father, who can draw us out of our anxiety and into a new world of possibilities with Him. Have you ever noticed how similar the gesture of surrender is to that of prayer? In prayer, we are also surrendering, not to people and their ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference in the world.

St. Paul today gives us the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” First, he reminds us that prayer is not simply reading a shopping list of our needs before God. It also includes thanking God for the blessing of life and faith that we enjoy already and lifting up before God through petition all other people and their needs. Our prayer involves asking for and offering forgiveness wherever it is needed. And, it involves praying in such a way that our prayer isn’t only about ourselves and our own needs, but it is also about others and their needs – especially those most marginalized in our world.

St. Paul tells us that when we pray in this way “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens when we learn to take all our problems to the Lord in prayer. We trade our stress and worry for peace of mind.

So if you find yourself today full of anxiety and worry – worried about your health, worried about your children, anxious about your home or how to pay the bills, then today is the day to throw your hands in the air and surrender – surrender to God all of your cares, and instead of needless worry and anxiety, place them before God in trusting prayer. Let God calm your heart, your mind, your life, and fill you instead with His love, compassion, joy, and mercy.

The key to finding peace in a world of stress and anxiety is not worry but to pray. And not to pray only sometimes, but to pray always in how we think, in what we say and in how we act in the world around us. We start each and every week right here in church with the most profound prayer of the Holy Mass. And what we experience here today, we must bring into the rest of our lives this week so that we can become that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.

My friends, let us be people of prayer so that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, October 2, 2017

O Lord, please not again!











O LORD, PLEASE NOT AGAIN. As I write these words today, it is hard to believe that once again our nation is faced with yet another moment of senseless tragedy as more than 50 people were killed in a shooting in Las Vegas.

Our hearts are once again broken for those who thought they were out for an enjoyable night at a concert, and instead found themselves the victims of gun violence. We remember them and we pray for them. We pray for all of those who now find themselves trying to make sense of the loss of their loved ones in this tragedy. We pray for the people of Las Vegas who now feel the closeness of such violence and terror in their own community.

And we pray that this will at long last be the mass shooting that wakes up our nation, so that we may begin to address the issue. Maybe this time will be the time that instead of simply retreating into polarized responses on the left and right, we can come together as Americans and work toward reasonable solutions that turn the tide.

Here’s a few things that we can do as people of faith:

Do Not Be Shocked by the Existence of Evil. Unfortunately, evil, like the attack in Las Vegas and so many others before it are a part of our world. We know that humans are sinful, and so we have to expect to encounter the consequences of sin. But, that doesn’t mean that we simply accept evil or that there’s nothing we can do. God has not left us defenseless in these battles. When attacks like Las Vegas happen, the media covers them relentlessly and graphicly. But we don’t have to respond with fear, paranoia, or on the other end, apathy. Responses based in fear are not usually good or helpful. We should be wise to the world, but respond as Christians – in prayer, in calmness, with the love of Christ.

Love Our Enemies—But Don't Let Them Destroy Us. Perhaps the hardest part of our faith is the call that Jesus gives us to love our enemies. It is never harder than when enemies attack us. But, Jesus comforts us in our sorrow and reminds us that this is the only way we will ever break the cycle of violence and vengeance. Loving our enemy does not mean offering them aid or comfort. It doesn’t make us a passive victim. What it means is that we don’t allow hatred to occupy a great space in our heart. We don’t allow a hateful act to turn us into hateful people.

Show Christ's Compassion to Victims. The last thing is the easiest and the most obvious. We are called to be the compassionate and loving presence of Christ in our world, especially to those who have experienced evil. In fact, the best way that they can move forward from that terrible moment is to experience the overwhelming compassion of people near and far. Imagine the effect we could have if we responded to such hate, not with more vitriol, but with love, kindness, and compassion in abundance. There is no better testimony of Christ's love for the world than when His followers tangibly and openly express that love in His name.

We pray for all the lives lost this week. We pray that this, at last, will be the last time this type of senseless violence strikes our land. And, we pray that God will strengthen us to confront such evil and hatred with the overwhelming love of God expressed through us.

- FT

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Lord is not fair!!
















HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 1, 2017:

About a decade ago, I had what is easily the most extraordinary experience of my priesthood. My own Dad was not raised in a family of church-goers. And as a result, he had never been baptized. Now over the years my Mom, myself, surely others, had long encouraged him to become a baptized member of the Church, but to no avail. I even tried to convince Dad as I was approaching my own ordination 17 years ago. I said, “Dad it would be so wonderful if I could give you communion on the day I celebrate my first Mass.” Now, I have to tell you that is grade A guilt right there. But, no effect. Instead, I just continued to pray every day in those moments of quiet prayer after receiving Holy Communion, “Lord, through the grace of this Eucharist, please place in Dad’s heart the desire for baptism.” Then, a little before his 69th birthday, Dad called me one day and said just two words to me: “I’m ready.” And in the absolute honor of my priesthood, I baptized, confirmed, and gave First Holy Communion to my own Dad.

But before the baptism, we had a process of preparation for Dad. I would go home and sit with both Dad and Mom, Mom was going to be his sponsor. We would get together and review key aspects of the faith. At one point, my Mom said quite definitively to Dad, “Now Scott, before you get baptized, you have to go to Confession.” But I had to respond, “Mom, actually, baptism forgives all sins. So, he doesn’t have to go to confession. Any sins he has committed in his life up to that point will be forgiven in that moment.” At this point, my Mom looked at me, looked at my Dad, and then said, “You mean, he gets away with it?! That’s not fair!”

Although she was joking, Mom’s words were not too far away from the words we heard in our first reading from Ezekiel today, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” We know that these are words we hear an awful lot in life from many different people. “That’s not fair!” People often feel as though life is not treating them fairly, sometimes that God is not treating them fairly. Children are the most frequent issuers of this statement. A sibling or friends gets something they’d like to have; a group of kids go somewhere they want to go. It can be just about anything that leads them to cry out, “It’s not fair! Why can’t I have that? Why can’t I go there?”

In the passage from Ezekiel, when the people cry out, “The Lord’s way is not fair” they are actually complaining about the fact that God is a forgiving God. They are not happy that God will forgive a sinner who turns away from their sin and back to Him. They would prefer that God condemn sinner for their sin – and not only the one who sinned, but even that person’s family for many generations. The fact that God’s forgiveness is not fair is the heart of their complaint. They just don’t like it.

And you know what? They are right, God is not fair. We know this once we have experienced God’s ways ourselves. We, too, might also say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” But, instead of that being a complaint, it is statement of gratitude. God’s ways are not fair. Thank you God for that!

Instead of merely fair, God’s ways are infinitely generous, gracious, and overflowing. We have a God who loves us beyond measure, more than we could ever earn. We have a God who never, ever tires of forgiving us, more than we could ever deserve. We have a God who is always present to us – in our joys and triumphs, in our sadness and sorrow, in our failures and even in our sin. And rather than abandoning us in our trial, God continually calls us to Himself so that He can – over and over and over again – make us whole and make us new. He call us so that He can heal our wounds; so that He can fill us with His presence; so that He can help us become more and more like Him.

God never tires of loving and forgiving us. And, He wants our ways to be like His. He wants us to be unfair too. He wants us to be just as generous in giving and even more generous in forgiving – as He is. God wants us to live in the way St. Paul tells us today, “Do nothing out of selfishness; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for [your] own interests, but for [the interests] of others. Have, in you, the same attitude that is in Christ.”

Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: mercy changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. This mercy is beautiful.”

My friends, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” And we are so grateful for that. Let us thank God for the generosity with which He loves and forgives us – and let us share that same love and forgiveness just as unfairly with the world!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Called to forgiveness







HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 17, 2017:

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” “Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”

I am regularly in awe at the way that the Holy Mass has a way of speaking to exact moments in history. Earlier this week, for example, we commemorated the attack on our nation that took place 16 years go; events that changed our world and changed our lives. Looking back on that day, we ask, “How have we changed since then?”

To answer that, let’s think about the way that God speaks to us through the Mass. My most poignant memories of September 11th are celebrating Mass in the days immediately following. So, what did God say to us in those days? Two days later, the Gospel at Mass was, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” We also heard that day from St. Paul who wrote, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

The day after that we marked the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross and the next day was Our Lady of Sorrows. These were not mere coincidence, instead, they are what God always does for us – He reminds us of who He is and He reminds us of who we are in His sight – especially at the most critical moments.

So, who are we? First, God said, “Love your enemies?” Those words may have never been harder to hear than on that day, but God wanted us to remember something very simple, “Do not hate them.” Do not let hatred push the love and the peace of Christ out of our hearts. When that happens Evil prevails in us. And so, do not hate them. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian is to forgive even the inexcusable, because God has already forgiven it in us.”

And God is speaking powerfully to us again today in our liturgy. We heard God say that “wrath and anger are hateful things” and that each of us who follow Him are called to forgive “seventy-seven times” an analogy that means that we are called to forgive infinitely, always, everywhere. These again seem like timely words as our world is once again afraid – afraid of terror, afraid of those different from us, afraid of the immigrant and the refugee; afraid of many things. Into the midst of this fear, God speaks His calming words of love and peace, in the hopes that these will take root in our hearts; and define who we are as God’s people.

Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the small amount our neighbor owes us rather than the huge amount we owe to God, a debt which God has graciously cancelled through Christ. Think about this parable. In the old translation of this Gospel, the monetary amounts were specified. The servant refused to forgive a debt of 100 denarii, the modern equivalent of about $700. But the master forgave a debt of 10,000 talents that his servant owed him – the modern equivalent would be more than $7 billion. Clearly, Jesus was making a point that this is a debt that could never be repaid. And yet, the master forgave it. This is a symbol of the debt we owe God; a debt we likewise could never ever hope to repay. Yet God in his infinite mercy sent Jesus to forgive our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more for us than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor. He asks us to offer that same forgiveness to others, willingly.

Through the terrible events in our country 16 years ago, God reminded us that He is with us; that He is one of us. The French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” In the days, weeks and years that have followed, God has continually remained near to those who suffer, comforting those who are in pain, consoling those who grieve, forgiving those in need of mercy, speaking to the hearts of all His message of love and peace and comfort and healing; offering to us, His children, another way – the way of peace, a way that rejects the hatred of one against the other, a way that opens our eyes to see each other as brother and sister and friend. 

We need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this often, but Jesus took His wounds with Him to eternity. He is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him forever. He let Himself be injured because He loves us. These wounds of His: how real they were 16 years ago; and how real they are to us today.

So, have we changed? I don’t know. But, I dearly hope and pray that every day we become more fully who God calls us to be; that we are more clearly a people who believe in justice and compassion; in love and kindness; in forgiveness and mercy and prayer. And, that we are more keenly aware than ever that our God is close to us, comforting us, sheltering our pain in His wounds and giving us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day; a day bursting forth with new life.

My friends, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s








HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 10, 2017:

A man was walking on the beach praying when all of a sudden he said, “Lord grant me one wish.” Instantly, the clouds parted and a booming voice said, “Because you have been faithful to me, I will grant you a wish.” The man said, “Please build a bridge to Bermuda so I can drive over anytime I want to.” God answered, “That’s a very materialistic wish. Just think of the logistics; the supports required to reach the bottom of the ocean; the concrete and steel it would take. I can do it, but it is hard to justify. Take another moment to think of a wish that would honor and glorify me.” The man thought and finally said, “Lord, I wish that you could help men and women understand each other – how they each feel inside, what they are thinking, why they get mad or sad, and how they can make each other truly happy.” After a few minutes God responded, “How many lanes do you want on that bridge?”

We heard in Ezekiel today, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from [their] way I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a timeless question of us, “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today. As Christians, we know that we are called to be noticeably different than the rest of the world. To a world bent on greed, we are to be signs of selfless giving; to a world bent on violence and war, we are to be signs and instruments of peace; to a world bent on polarization and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and unity. And as we’ve seen recently in our country, to a world that continues to be bent on racism and prejudice, we are to be signs of acceptance, tolerance, welcome and care.

Consider these situations: First, a salesman for a limo service said to a father, “Your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said? Or, A mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do? Or finally: Suppose you heard your child’s best friend say, “If you need any answers on the math test, give me a signal.” If that was your child, would you ignore it, or would you have a talk with them?

I have no way of knowing what you would do in those cases, but I do know what Jesus would do. The answer is found in today’s readings which focus on the responsibility that every Christian has towards one another. As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help each other do what is right. Jesus told his followers, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world…Your light must shine brightly before others.”

Let us return to our situations. What should a follower of Jesus say to the salesman who encouraged the father to lie? Well this is a true story. The real father told the salesman, “I appreciate where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even if it works to his momentary disadvantage.” And what about the mother whose daughter stole the candy bar? Also a true story. The real mother had the child return the candy to the manager and apologize.

And, what about the children encouraging each other to cheat? Well, this too is a true story. Jerome Weidman, author of Hand of the Hunter, had this experience as a boy. As a child in school, his third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, gave her class a test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same strange answer to one question. The next day she asked the boys to remain after class, and without saying a word, wrote one sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay: “The measure of one’s real character is what they would do if they knew they would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other boys, but this was the single most important lesson of my life.”

And so we have three cases where people spoke up. They heeded Jesus’ instruction to help their brothers and sisters live the Christian life. They took Ezekiel seriously, “If you do not you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked, I will hold you responsible.” They took St. Paul’s seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, they took Jesus’ seriously, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”

Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good people to remain silent.” The people in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness and godliness; and they invite us to follow their example. And, it seems as though there could not be a more poignant moment in our world to be reminded of these truths once again. As racism and prejudice once again rear their ugly heads in our midst; as our concern for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, is once again strained; as war, violence, and terror become part of our day-to-day; it is important to remember that for us these are not political issues, they are issues of faith. “Love does no evil to the neighbor,” and of course, everyone is our neighbor.

Make no mistake about the importance of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is part of the fabric from which we were woven by God. God’s plan for you and me, and for everyone, includes being our brother’s keeper. So, the question is whether or not we actually keep our brother or sister, whether or not we look out for them, whether or not their welfare is our concern, whether or not we reach out and share faith and help meet the needs we see around us every day, whether or not we speak up with God’s words of love when evil raises its presence in our midst.

As I wrote in the bulletin two weeks ago, “Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.” Or as St. Paul said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Why do we suffer?













HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 3, 2017:

Eugene Orowitz was a skinny, 100-pound sophomore at Collingswood High School in New Jersey in the 1950s. One day in gym class, the coach was teaching everyone how to throw a javelin. One by one, the students threw the six-foot-long spear. The longest throw was 30 yards. Finally, the coach looked over to Eugene and said, “You want to try?” Eugene nodded, and the other kids laughed. But as he stood there, a strange feeling came over him. Holding the javelin, he imagined himself as a young warrior about to enter into a battle. He raised the javelin, took six quick steps and let it fly. It soared eventually crashing into the empty bleachers – twice as far as anyone else. When Eugene retrieved the javelin, the tip was broken. The coach said, “It’s no good to us now. You might as well take it home.” That summer Eugene began throwing the javelin in a vacant lot. Some days, for as long as six hours. By his senior year, Eugene threw the javelin 211 feet – farther than any other high schooler in the nation. He was given a scholarship to college and dreamed of the Olympics. Then one day, while throwing, he tore the ligaments in his shoulder putting an end to his throwing, his scholarship, and his dreams. It was as if God had slapped him in the face just as he was realizing his dreams. Eugene dropped out of college and took a job at a warehouse.

This story raises a question echoed in our Scriptures today: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does He let suffering touch the lives of good people who don’t deserve it? We heard this from Jeremiah. Why did God let a good man like Jeremiah be ridiculed? We heard his frustration, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” And, why did God let tragedy take the prize from the hands of Eugene Orowitz after he had worked so hard to win it?

Jesus gives us the answer in today’s Gospel when He says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What Jesus is saying is hard to believe, even a bit crazy, to someone who doesn’t have faith. “Whoever accepts suffering and misfortune for my sake will find a whole new life.” And it will not be only in the world to come. It will be right here in this world, as well. And Jesus tells us that the life we find with Him will be a far richer than the one we leave behind.

My friends, God doesn’t cause tragedy; He doesn’t harm us; or cause harm in the world; He doesn’t give people cancer or cause drunk driving accidents; He doesn’t cause or condone the wars we engage in. He didn’t wage a hurricane because He was angry with Texas, or send devastating floods to Southeast Asia this week because they had displeased Him. These horrible things aren’t God’s will; in fact they are the opposite of God’s will. But, in the midst of tragedy, God can use even those challenging situations to guide us to newer and better lives.

Let’s go back to the story of Eugene Orowitz. We left him working in a warehouse his dreams seemingly crushed. But, one day, Eugene met a struggling actor who asked him for some help with his lines. Eugene got interested in acting himself and enrolled in a class. His big break came when he was cast as Little Joe in the popular TV western “Bonanza.” Later, he got the leading role in other TV shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” You might know Eugene Orowitz better by his stage name, Michael Landon. And in his success, he came to realize that the most important thing that happened in his life was the day he tore those ligaments in his shoulder, even if it seemed like his dreams had ended that day. What seemed like the worst tragedy of his life was in fact one that led to incredible blessings and fortune; a life that far surpassed the dreams he once held.

Dramatist Paul Claudel said that, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus said it this way to us today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” So, if we are a young person who dreamed of making the team, but got cut, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He promises He will lead us to a better life. If we are someone who dreamed of being a success in business, or having the world’s greatest family, or greatest marriage, but ended up with none of these, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He will mend your broken dreams and lead you to a renewed appreciation of life that you never dreamed possible. He will fill your suffering with His presence.

“Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” My friends, let us have the courage to lose ourselves in the life that Jesus has planned for us. May Jesus fill all of the moments of our lives – the joys and triumphs, the pains and sorrows – with His loving presence. Let us live for God alone.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

We are what the Church is made of









HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, August 27, 2017:

Four years ago when Pope Benedict did the stunning act of resigning from the papacy, he showed us a model of humility. And in his final public address, he said, “I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but the Lord’s. It is He, who steers her. For this reason, today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.”

Pope Benedict had the humility to take that unprecedented step because he knew something important – that the church belongs to Christ. And this is the heart of our Gospel today. We hear two familiar passages today. The question about Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” And the powerful proclamation to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

We often explore both of these in complex theological terms that tell us something about the nature of Jesus as God and man, and the nature of the church and role of the papacy. But somehow, I don’t think Jesus was engaged in deep theology when He asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” or made the statement, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Instead, I think Jesus was taking the opportunity to get his friends to think about something different. Who are we? What are we about? His words were not theological, they were relational and loving. And so, today is a good day for each of us to think about these same simple questions. To think about who Jesus is to us and in turn, who are we and what are we about as the people who follow Him?

Like Pope Benedict, we know that the Church isn’t ours – it belongs to Jesus. And that’s important to acknowledge because since Jesus is in charge, we can be sure that the Church will go on. It will always be a beacon of hope and compassion, of love and acceptance, of reconciliation and healing. No matter how often we may fail at conveying that message, Jesus is always here to remind us who we are. As Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

Today’s passage tells us that Jesus is the one who builds His church. “Upon you I will build my church.” He is the Master Builder who has the building plan in His hands. But, if Jesus is the builder of the church, where do we come in? We come in exactly where Peter comes in. Together with Peter, and countless others, we are what the Church is made of. Each of us – you and me – are what Jesus uses to build His Church. Peter is the foundation rock, but we are the individual stones with which the church is built. Peter himself wrote in his first letter, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” Our job is to allow God to use us. So, the question we could ask ourselves today is: "How is God using me to build up the church?" No matter how what kind of stone we may be, the Master Builder can still use us to do something beautiful.

There is a story of a famous stained-glass artist who was commissioned to make a huge portrait of Christ for a cathedral in France. He first laid all of the glass pieces out on the floor of the cathedral. Among the many large pieces of glass was a small, clear piece no bigger than a fingernail. As the stained-glass portrait was assembled, that little piece remained on the floor. On the day of the window's completion the entire city gathered to witness the unveiling. The artist pulled down the cloth cover and the crowd gasped at the beauty of the colorful window glowing in the sunlight. But, something was missing, the portrait was unfinished. The great artist then walked over to where the little clear piece of glass lay, picked it up, and placed it in the portrait, right in the center of Jesus' eye. As the sun hit that little piece, it gave off a dazzling sparkle. The work of art was now complete.

My friends, in the grand design of building the church of God, each one of us could consider ourselves to be that small but indispensable piece of glass. We are the stones that show God’s love to those who need it in the world – we share that love with the homeless, the hungry, the addict, the grieving, and the lost. We are the stones of God’s presence today to show His kindness, compassion, forgiveness and healing. In this way, we work with God to continue to build the church day-by-day, stone-by-stone. Without each one of us, the church is not complete.

“Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

My friends, you and I are what the church is made of. So, let us allow God to use us as the living stones that make up His church so that His love and care for the world shines before everyone who sees each of us.

May the Lord give you peace!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hate cannot be allowed to win

HATE CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO WIN. It is almost unthinkable that we as a nation find ourselves in this same place again. As I saw the images of scores of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others spewing hateful slogans and carrying torches in the streets of Charlottesville, it was an image that I had hoped was lost to history. It recalled the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938 when German Nazi’s ferociously removed Jewish people from their homes into concentration camps. It was reminiscent of pictures from at least 100 years ago of the KKK marching similarly throughout the South, including arching on our nation’s capital.

This is also a moment when it is crystal clear what people of faith are called to do. Some have called for dialogue saying that both sides should come together and discuss their differences in a civil manner. But, with all due respect to dialogue, this is not a time for dialogue. There are not two equally valid sides to this debate that dialogue will shed light on. Racism is a clear evil and we do not dialogue with evil. We don’t find compromise with evil. To dialogue with evil is to validate its argument as worthy of consideration.

Instead, this is a moment that is calling forth the fullness and strength of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are all being called upon to stand up, to publicly renounce, to reject this resurgent sin once again. We are called to speak up and speak out in peaceful, prayerful, and non-violent ways. Martin Luther King Jr., famously and correctly said, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the one who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Our faith is based on a simple yet powerful notion – that all people are created by God and because of that possess an inherent dignity that cannot be taken away. Because of this we are all brothers and sisters in God’s great family and that is true if we are black or white, if we are rich or poor, if we are gay or straight, American or not, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or atheist. Nothing can change this or take it away. This is our faith. And we must stand up and be heard especially when anyone wants to offer an ideology that counters or denies this truth.

We know that this evil is not limited to our own shores as we have watched yet another terror attack, this time in Barcelona. Our prayers are with all of those who have been killed or injured through these acts of evil. And we pray for all of those who have the courage to stand up in the face of evil to denounce it, to reject it to call it out, and to work so that our world may be a better, more loving, kind, and united place.

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.

- Fr. Tom

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Get out of the boat!

HOMILY FOR THE 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 13, 2017:

Roger Bannister and John Landy were two runners who within days of each other were first to break the four-minute mile in the 1950s. Shortly after this feat, a race was held between the two to see who was, in fact, the fastest. As the race began Landy led Bannister all the way into the final leg. Then he did something he should not have done. He glanced over his shoulder to see how far behind his competitor was. That was all Bannister needed. He shot past Landy and won the race.

In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus call out to Peter to come to him across the water. Because Peter believed in Jesus, he stepped out of the boat onto the water. Peter found himself doing the impossible, simply because he believed in Jesus. If Jesus believed Peter could walk on water, then Peter believed it too. But, just like John Landy, Peter became alarmed as he walked across the water. For a brief moment, he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked down at the turbulent water below. And Peter began to sink.



We, too, are all really a bit like Peter. Jesus has called each of us to be His followers in our modern world. But trying to follow Jesus today is almost like trying to walk on water. It can feel as though it is next to impossible. But Jesus believes that we can do it. Most of us have had times in our lives when we have powerfully experienced the presence of Jesus. We treasure these encounters. We live for these moments. But, like Peter, at other times we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and turned away to other things. We’ve become occupied with the normal daily activities of our lives, our families, our children, our jobs. We have taken our eyes off of Jesus because of the pains and challenges in life; the struggles and the difficulties that we face. And we, like Peter, have sometimes lost our balance and felt like we were sinking.

In the early days of sailing, a boy went to sea to learn to be a sailor. One day when the sea was stormy, he was told to climb to the top of the mast. The first half of the climb was easy. The boy kept his eyes fixed on the sky. But halfway to the top, he made a mistake. He looked down at the stormy waters. He grew dizzy and was in danger of falling. An old sailor saw what was happening and called out, “Look back to the sky, boy! Look back to the sky!” The boy followed the advice and finished his climb safely.

My friends, if we have found ourselves being swallowed by the stormy waves of life, it is a good time to ask if our focus in on Jesus, or perhaps we, too, have looked away. Today’s Gospel calls us to return our gaze into the loving eyes of our Savior. To focus on Jesus who knows that we can accomplish even the seemingly impossible, if we maintain our focus on Him. We hear the cry of the old sailor to “Look up to the sky” and find there our Lord who believes in all that we can accomplish with and through Him. We should do what Peter did and cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save us,"reach out to Him in our need and Jesus will reach out His hand and save us, as He saved Peter. The hand of Jesus will reach into the challenges of our lives and lift us from our challenges; and restore us to His love and grace.

The message of this spectacular Gospel story today is simple. If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of our lives and our world, we have to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him. But, there’s also another powerful message for us in this encounter. This Gospel isn’t only about what Peter did wrong. He also did something very right. After all, he walked on water! The boat was full of the disciples. It wasn’t Peter alone. But, only he did the miraculous and joined Jesus in this spectacular moment. Peter alone, was willing to take the risk. Peter alone was willing to get out of the boat and embrace even the impossible. His willingness to take a risk for Jesus gave him access to the miraculous. The rest of the disciples didn’t experience this wonder. They huddled in fear. They sought only for Jesus to bring them comfort against the storm. But Peter got out of the boat. He did this for one overwhelming reason – not because it would be exciting, but Peter got out of the boat because that was where Jesus was and the only place Peter wanted to be was with his Lord.

Jesus is extending His hand to each one of us today. He wants us to get out of the boat with Him. He wants us to leave the merely comfortable, to step up against our fears, and to have the courage to join Him wherever it is that He wants to take us. If we have that courage, just like Peter, we will never be the same. Jesus will take us to new places, new experiences, encounters with new people – all of which will allow us to experience God in new and powerful ways. They might even allow us to experience the miraculous.

So, if you want to walk on water, first, you have to get out of the boat. And if you keep your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, you can’t imagine what God will have in store. Let’s get out of the boat and walk with Jesus.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Transform me, Lord












HOMILY FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD, August 6, 2017:

Many years ago, for one summer, I got to be a member of the Fighting Irish as I took summer courses at the famous University of Notre Dame. At the center of Notre Dame’s campus is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Every day, I would pray there and like most Catholics, I would always sit in the same spot, next to the same person. For weeks, this man and I didn’t speak to each other beyond a nod of the head and the sign of peace. But, every day I noticed what a beautiful singing voice he had. After about a month, I thought to myself, “Maybe no one has ever affirmed his singing.” So, after Mass one day, I introduced myself and said to him, “I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this before, but you really have a beautiful voice. You should consider using that gift that God has given you.” A small smile crossed his face, he shook my hand and said, “Hi Tom. My name is Michael Joncas.” Now, you may not recognize that name right away, but Michael Joncas is one of the most famous Catholic composers today. He has written such beautiful hymns as, “Take and Eat,” “When We Eat This Bread,” and most famously “On Eagle’s Wings.” I, of course, turned 20 shades of red and finally said, “Well, I guess you are making good use of that gift.”

But, in that moment, I instantly saw this man in a different light. It was a revelation that changed forever the way I would look at him. And, once I knew who he really was – once I had a fuller picture of his true identity – I wanted to stay there with him as long as I could and talk about liturgy and music and theChurch. But, eventually we had to return to get on with our day.Something like this is happening in our Gospel today. Peter, James and John, went up the mountain with Jesus to pray. But, they went up with the Jesus they already knew – a spectacular Jesus to be sure, one who heals, forgives, preaches with authority – but they hadn’t seen anything yet. Before their very eyes, Jesus is transfigured into unbelievable glory, and he is joined by Moses and Elijah – the three of them representing the fullness of God’s divine revelation. Their immediate reaction, “It is good that we are here!” They would never look at Jesus in the same way again, and wanted to hold on to that moment for as long as they could.

We are not unlike them. We too long for moments when God reveals Himself to us. Transfiguration is not only what we hear in the Gospel. It is something we can experience regularly in our lives. It is what takes place in this and every Mass if we open our minds, our hearts, our lives to it. Just think about it. God’s Word starts out as mere ink on a page, but it is transfigured through the Lector proclaiming it into a revelation of God - God’s message for us - that takes root in our hearts. The Eucharist starts out as nothing more than simple bread and wine, but it too is transfigured through the hands of the priest and the work of the Holy Spirit into the very presence of Jesus in our midst – His true Body and Blood – and once received, that presence of Jesus is within us. And, our reaction each and every Sunday should be: “It is good that we are here! Can we stay forever?”

The problem is that our eyes and our hearts are too often shielded from God’s presence right in front of us. They get shielded by our own concerns and struggles; shielded by our own hurts and pains; shielded even by the familiarity of experiencing Mass over and over again. But that doesn’t change what happens here - God wants to reveal Himself to us. Jesus wants us to hear His Words for us, to see and receive His Body and Blood. Why? So, that we too can be transfigured into what God wants us to be; so that we can go forth from this place and transfigure our homes, our workplace, our community, our relationships, into that glorious and holy reality that Jesus came here to share with us.

Transfiguration is an experience, a glimpse, of the full glory of God in Jesus. When Jesus arrived at the mountain top His appearance changed and literally shone brightly with God’s glory. Jesus shone with the glory that caused Moses to shine that day on the mountain when the 10 Commandments were given to him from Heaven. He shone with the glory that carried Elijah up to Heaven's height - gone from this world, but alive in the next. He shone with the glory of His own baptismal day, when His Father's voice was heard to say: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" - and indeed those words first uttered at the River are repeated on the Mountaintop of Transfiguration.

As we today ascend this mountaintop where God wants to reveal Himself to us, let us shake whatever shields our minds and hearts from seeing Him. Let us leave this place radiant from our encounter with the God who loves us. “It is good that we are here.” Let us behold God’s glory and bring that glory to everyone we meet.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A taste of Heaven









HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 30, 2017:

A teacher, a tax collector, and a politician wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question. St. Peter addressed the teacher first, “What was the name of that ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.” The teacher answered, “That’s easy, the Titanic.” St. Peter let her in. He then looked at the tax collector asking, “How many people died on the ship?” He was a fan of the History Channel and answered, “1,228.” St. Peter let him in too. Then, turning to the politician, St. Peter said, “Name them.”

That joke could be a commentary on our current political climate, but it also raises an important question: Have you ever thought about what Heaven is like? Most of us, at one point or another, have wondered, is there a Heaven and what is it like? Jesus explores this in our Gospel today; and gives us a positive answer about Heaven (yes, there is a Heaven!) and some insight about what it is like.

This passage called to mind for me the very first time that I was in the presence of a Pope. It was 15 years ago and I was at a Wednesday Audience with Saint Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. At that audience, the Pope reflected on the same passage we have today. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.”

His comments mirror those that we hear from Jesus today. Heaven is clearly one of Jesus’ favorite topics, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel. In His first sermon in Matthew, Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And, in the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, it should be a favorite of ours too.

We often think about Heaven in extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, all the food you can eat and not gain an ounce! We imagine some sort of celestial castle nestled in the clouds, twinkling stars and bright rainbows. Angels everywhere, zooming around God’s throne; the air alive with the sound of magnificent music.

But, notice that Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very ordinary things. Jesus presents us with a farmer sowing seeds, weeds in a field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly, and familiar. We pray this every time we say, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as it in heaven.”

So, what is this taste of Heaven that we can experience here on earth? The answer is right here in our Church. The closest we come to this dual dimension of heaven and earth is the Church and the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our union with God in heaven and with humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven among all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the budding forth of that Kingdom.”

Now we are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy their treasure. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross. And far from hiding this treasure, God shares them with us freely. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes down and sanctifies our gifts; we sing with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.” Our treasure, our precious pearl of membership in the Church is the gift that all the money in the world could never buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s intense love and true presence leading us to eternal life.

Saint John Paul said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were open to His love…will enjoy communion with God which is the goal of human existence.” We get a taste of Heaven on earth through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, a great foretaste of the happiness and peace and union we will one day know forever with God in Heaven.

St. Therese of Lisieux said, “It is not to remain in a golden ciborium that Jesus comes down each day from Heaven, but to find another Heaven, the Heaven of our soul in which He takes delight." My friends, “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”

May the Lord give you peace!