Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jesus the migrant, Jesus the homeless, Jesus the refugee










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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Do not be afraid!"















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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas and please join me again: Silent Night…

Saturday, December 23, 2017

What's in a name?












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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

I have a secret for you!

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Made new!












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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Wake up!!!!









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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

You be Jesus!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 26, 2017:

A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”





At the beginning of this month, on All Saints Day, I asked everyone if they want to go to Heaven when their time on earth was done. Because, of course, a saint is simply someone who lived a life worthy of Heaven. Luckily, everyone raised their hands. After all, Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. Although we all want to get to Heaven, we probably don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about what it takes to get there. What does a life worthy of Heaven look like? Does it simply mean being a baptized Catholic, is that enough? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation? Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily or fulfilled certain devotional practices? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?

Well, on this last day of our Church year, as we celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage gives us the answer to this question. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven and who will not. He gives us this image of a King separating people into two categories – sheep and goats. And guess what we want to be? We want to be sheep! The sheep are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.

Here is the criteria for Heaven Jesus gives us: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is through the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.

The question for us today is this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to have hearts led by compassion, to see everyone as a brother or sister, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. Or do we have categories in our hearts where we have decided that some people are unworthy of our love and concern – like the immigrant or the refugee, the gay or lesbian person, the homeless or the drug addict, just to name a few groups that are often the recipients of something other than our compassion.

Jesus calls us to love without restriction, and today we live in a society that encourages us to fear those who are different from us, to exclude those on the margins, to respond with vengeance instead of seeking the ways of peace together. This leads us every day to be more divided, and we see the scourge of racism and prejudice coming more into the forefront.

Pope Francis said last year, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. None of this makes us enemies. Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy.”

It isn’t easy to love the way Christ loves. It calls us to take risks, it invites us to be vulnerable as we reach out to those in our world. But, it also makes all the difference. It calls us to live a life worthy of Heaven. The more we allow Christ to transform us, the more He changes the direction of our love – away from ourselves and always towards others.

St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood today, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go out from this place and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy or unworthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so loved by us. As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.

So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here. Let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let God fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let Jesus transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.

Little David was right, you be Jesus, and you, and you, and you – and it will bring us all the way to Heaven.

May the Lord give you peace.

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.