Monday, July 7, 2008

for those who have been looking...

Here are the homilies from the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter. More to follow when I get the rest off of the desktop computer.

pax tecum

Easter - 4th Sunday

Easter – 4th Sunday

Acts 2:14, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20-25
John 10:1-10

Jesus said, “the shepherd calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.”

Many have heard about the image of Jesus as the good shepherd, and have often seen a picture of Jesus with a lamb draped across his shoulders.

But here we have this image of the shepherd who calls his own sheep by name, leading them.
It connotes both a long familiarity, trust, and ongoing action.

In a similar but even better way, God chooses us, calls us by name, and wants us to learn the right way to go. Recall the sacrament of baptism. What happens there? First, the name of the person is given to the priest, who then baptizes the person by their name into the name of God. In this divine exchange God calls us by name and then also gives us His name. We are adopted into God’s family by baptism and are called to a divine inheritance.

Jesus, the divine shepherd, calls each of us by name into his family.

Jesus, the divine shepherd, leads us where we are to go.

Jesus’ main purpose in his ministry was to build the kingdom of God. Therefore his love is a constructive love.
It is a love that gives knowledge to the ignorant.
It is a love that gives freedom to those who are in bondage.
It is a love that gives healing to those who are wounded and are in pain.
It is a love that gives meaning and significance to confusion.
It is a love that gives eternal life to all who had been doomed to death.
It is a love that gives perfection to everything disfigured by sin.

The voice of Jesus the good shepherd, calls us to follow him into knowledge, freedom, healing, meaning, and the perfection of eternal life. Sounds like a good place, doesn’t it? Want to go there?

Jesus, the divine shepherd, will lead us where we need to go.

He calls us. We need to listen to him.

Well, the key to following Him is to do something we all struggle with. It is that little word – obedience. But in order to be led by Jesus we need to learn obedience to him.

Obedience is a tough sell in our culture. Because we all want to be independent. We all want to be assertive and to be leaders. And so we mistakenly believe that those qualities are contrary to the ideal of obedience. But I submit to you that the strongest and best people are those who have learned the art of obedience. Obedience to God is, in its essence, a deep listening to God. It is a receptivity to God that is unencumbered by selfishness.

In order to truly be a disciple of Jesus we need to learn to listen to His voice and then obey his commands.

Our listening to the Lord is a spiritual listening through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Rarely does the Lord speak audibly to us in his own voice, though I have heard this voice once. And I know others who have heard the audible voice of the Lord. But most often the Lord speaks to us through the chosen instruments of his kingdom. There are three interdependent voices that we need to recognize and hear. And they are all present during mass.

The first is the Word of God. The bible. If you want to hear God’s voice then listen to the readings from the bible during mass. Take note, and God will speak to you through sacred scripture.

The second is the magisterium. The magisterium is the pope and the bishops – those men who are called to continue the work of the apostles. Their instruction to us is present in the mass. Consider - the way we celebrate mass today is the fruit of the work of the bishops during the second Vatican council. And from time to time they ask us to consider different parts of the mass in order to instruct us in how we are to live as Christians.

The third is sacred tradition. This is the voice of countless men and women who have preceeded us in faith and whose voices are present in the prayers and songs that we offer, and other ways that we pray and live out our faith.

The Lord speaks to us through the bible, the magisterium, and tradition. They are interconnected and together offer us proper understanding of how the Lord leads us to the fullness of life.

This also illuminates a certain crisis that we as believers face. We don’t always like what we hear being spoken to us in the word of God, by the magisterium, and in sacred tradition. When the Church tells us to welcome the stranger - and it conflicts with our politics, we get uneasy. When the church tells us that artificial contraception is a sin – and it conflicts with our sexual practices, we prefer to discount this teaching as irrelevant. When the church tells us to be holy, and we are busy with our own lives, we tend to think of holiness as quaint and mainly for dead saints. We’re just ordinary people, we like to say.

But that’s not the way it works. Jesus calls you and me to follow him. He wants us to trust him with our lives. He has a good plan for you and for me. So the question put to us is whether or not we choose to listen to his voice and to follow him.

He truly is the good shepherd. He won’t lead you wrong. In him you’ll find freedom, healing, meaning, and life to the full. And he is calling us all. Let’s follow him into the fullness of the kingdom.

Easter 3rd Sunday

Easter – third Sunday

“Jesus drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

Now, isn’t that an interesting scenario. Clopas and the other disciple couldn’t recognize Jesus. Before I go on, I want to speculate something about the other disciple. Here’s a clue. One of the Mary’s at the foot of the cross was the wife of Clopas. It is probable that the unnamed disciple here was Mary, the wife of Clopas. It is also possible that Mary is unnamed in this story so that you and I can identify with her. The unnamed disciple can also be the reader.

So Clopas and the other disciple don’t recognize Jesus. There he was. Resurrected from the dead. Walking with them, and they didn’t recognize him. Do you ever wonder why this is?

Well, this is what I want to talk about tonight. How to discover what prevents us from recognizing Jesus and what will help us to overcome that little problem. Actually, it is a big problem, as we are about to see.

The first issue is that Jesus is veiled supernaturally from them. They are prevented. Most of the resurrection appearances have him cloaked in mystery at first, and then only through a gradual recognition or through signs are the disciples then able to recognize him.

In Clopas and the other disciple’s case, Jesus points out a few things to them. Let’s consider the words of Jesus to them for a moment.

After they tell the resurrected Jesus the story of the death of the Jesus as they knew him, He had this to say. Listen.
Oh how foolish you are.
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.

Here Jesus shows them two problems that they have.

How foolish. The problem here is one of ignorance. In fact, foolishness and ignorance often go hand in hand. We often consider older people wiser because – they have been educated by life. We presume they have learned life’s lessons and know how to do the right things. Whereas youth and foolishness go hand in hand because of lack of experience or ignorance. So what were Clopas and the other disciple ignorant of? Well, this is where Jesus gave them a crash course in sacred scripture. It says that Jesus explained all that refered to him in Moses and all the prophets.

Which brings up an interesting point for us today. Ask yourself this question. How educated am I in holy scripture? How educated am I in the teaching of the church? How educated am I in the sacred tradition of the Church? You know, a lot of Catholics kind of just stopped learning these things after 8th grade and the sacrament of Confirmation. As if that were enough. Or we have been rather spotty in our study of the things of God. Ask yourself another question. Would Jesus consider me wise? Or foolish if he appeared to me? Could I even recognize him?

Another problem. Slow of heart to believe.
Jesus himself predicted for them over and over that he would rise from the dead. He kept telling his disciples of the kind of kingdom he wanted to inaugurate. But they had other ideas – mostly take Jesus’ words on face value. Whatever the problem they had blocked themselves from believing Jesus words about his own resurrection. Which makes one wonder what other problems in belief that they had.
And these were two disciples who stayed pretty close to Jesus – and if it were Mary, right at the foot of the cross.
Which makes you and me wonder. What are our problems with belief in the words of Jesus? His promises in scripture. His miracles. His teachings about how we are to live?
So many catholics think they can just pick and choose what to believe and reject from the deposit of faith in sacred scripture, apostolic teaching, and sacred tradition. We can be very slow to believe – especially in the most challenging teachings of our faith. Where are you stuck?

Their foolishness and their slowness to believe, I think, blocked them from seeing Christ.

So what changed it for them?

Three things really.

The first thing that changed it for them was the very presence of Christ. Whether they recognized him or not he was walking with them and listening to their story. And so we must also recognize through faith that Jesus also walks with us, whether we recognize his presence or not. He is with us. And his presence changes everything.
The second thing that changed it for them was sacred scripture. Jesus opened the scriptures to them, explaining it to them so that they could understand. And he shows us clearly that in order for us to overcome foolishness we MUST be educated in knowledge of our faith. Therefore we must learn scripture. We must learn the teaching of the Church. We must learn the sacred tradition of the Church. It is through these means that Christ himself teaches us what we need to know so that we can recognize him.
The third things that changed it for them was the Eucharist. It was in the breaking of the bread that Jesus, in that moment, was unveiled. They could finally see him and recognize his presence. In that moment, he vanished. In that moment, their unbelief was overcome and they could see him. This leads each believer to contemplate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Which is why Adoration is such a significant prayer. Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist leads us to a greater belief in his true presence. And where our belief is strengthened we can perceive him more and more clearly. Both in the breaking of the bread and in so many other ways.

Which leads us to the end result of growing in knowledge of faith and in strength of belief. It leads us into the heart of Communion. Clopas and the other disciple rushed back to Jerusalem – right to the apostles. The center of the Church Jesus established. They were in communion with the apostles and with the Lord, who had appeared also to the eleven.

And isn’t that what we ultimately want? To see Jesus? Oh that we are granted the wisdom and belief to see Jesus. Are not our hearts burning within us?

Easter Vigil 2008

Easter Vigil
March 22, 2008

Romans 6:3-11
Matthew 28:1-10

We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.
We have been reflecting on the death of the Lord Jesus all week long.

On Palm Sunday we read the story of his passion and death according to St. Matthew.

Good Friday at 3 p.m. we read the story from the gospel of John and commemorated his death by venerating the cross. Venerating the cross is not easy. It reminds us of our mortality. That we too must take up our cross and follow him.

Good Friday at 8 p.m. we venerated the burial of Jesus by placing candles before the tomb and placing our prayer intentions within the tomb. People wrote down their sins, their weaknesses, and their pain, to bury these things with the Lord. Many people stayed, praying, even crying.

All week many people came for the sacrament of penance. In offering up our sins and our shame to the Lord, we place them on his cross to be crucified with him. And many people received, with tears running down their cheeks, the consoling and healing words of Christ – I absolve you of your sins. Our sin and our shame was nailed to the cross with him, and buried with him.
We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.

If we have died with Christ, we shall also live with Christ.
All through the Easter season and, really, every Sunday and every day, we as Christians reflect on the meaning of living with Christ. It is not a one time event celebrated only on Easter.

Jesus taught us that living with Him means right here and right now, as well as in eternity. He taught us to pray for the kingdom to come ON EARTH just like it exists in heaven.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is right here and right now. To enter into the Kingdom of God we MUST have faith in Jesus and in the Church that he established. Faith made real through practice of the sacraments of Jesus’ new covenant. Faith made real by practical application of the love of God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love of neighbor as we love ourselves. This is the work of love.
If we have died with Christ, then we must live with Christ.

To live with Christ is to see him.
After his resurrection Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Then he appeared to the disciples. Down through the ages various believers have reported seeing visions of him or of hearing his voice.
If you had the opportunity to see Jesus – I mean really see him, would you want to?
Then remember, seeing him will challenge you to the core. Consider:

For Mary Magdalene and the other Mary – He told them not to be afraid and to announce his resurrection to the other disciples. They did as he asked and became the first evangelists.
For Saint Peter – Jesus charged him to lead the apostles and asked him – do you love me? Then feed my sheep. He did as Jesus asked and became the first pope.
For Mother Theresa – Jesus spoke to her and showed her His presence in what she described as “the distressing disguise of the poor.” She did as Jesus asked and became a sign of His love to the poor of Calcutta and, subsequently, a sign of the love of Jesus to people all over the world.
To live with Christ is to see him.

Do you want to hear his voice? Then hear his voice in the Word proclaimed and in the prayers and sacraments of the Church. Put into practice what you hear. Blessed are those who have ears to hear, and really hear it.
Do you want to see him? Then see his presence in the Holy Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity? See his presence in his Holy Church. See his presence in the least of these his brothers and sisters who we are called to love through humble service. Blessed are those who have eyes to see, and really see Him.
Do you want to live with him? Then put to death all sin and shame that it may die with him. Take on the life he asks us to live in his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. For his Kingdom is the Church. The Church is his bride – the one for whom he laid down his life.
For you. For us all. That we may rise to new life in Him.

Permit me now, to say a few words to our brothers and sisters who do not speak English.

Celebramos hoy en esta noche la significancia de la muerte y resurrección del Señor. El bautismo que celebramos en esta misa es nuestra incorporación en la muerte de Jesús. Es decir, que nuestros pecados muere con Jesús. Por esto el bautismo es necesario. Tambien el sacramento de penitencia. Y porque?

Que podemos realmente vivir. Vivir con Cristo. Cuando celebramos la resurrección de Cristo celebramos una realidad presente. Cristo esta resucitado que nosotros podemos vivir con el.
El viva por su Palabra que proclamamos. Y en esta misa proclamemos MUCHO. Que escuchamos a sus palabras que podemos vivir sus mensajes a nosotros.

El viva en la Eucaristía – presente a nosotros en su cuerpo y sangre, alma y divinidad. Que recibimos su presencia que podemos vivir su vida aquí en la tierra como estará en los cielos.

El viva con nosotros cuando amamos a Dios con todo corazon, alma, mente, y fuerza. El viva con nosotros cuando amamos a nuestros próximos.

El viva que podemos temer no mas pero tener el gozo de sus promesas a nosotros. Vida nueva por el bautismo. Vida eterna por la cruz y la resurrección.

Viva Jesús
Viva Cristo Rey
Viva Cristo Resucitado
Viva Cristo Glorificado.

Lent - 5th Sunday

Lent – 5th Sunday
March 9, 2008

Ezekiel 37:12-14
Romans 8:8-11
John 11:1-45

Here we are at the 5th Sunday of Lent - almost finished with our Lenten journey. Easter is almost here.

The story of the raising of Lazarus in the gospel of John is the third major miracle story presented to us during the Lenten season. In the gospel of John it is also the last sign that Jesus performs pointing to his role as messiah. Once again, we are called upon to reflect on its meaning in light of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and eucharist as celebrations of the paschal mystery.

The central question presented here for us is the one Jesus posed to Martha. He said; “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

The death and life presented to us are spiritual concepts. While Jesus raised Lazarus’ body from death in this event, at some point in time after that, he once again died. His body now sleeps in death, awaiting the final resurrection promised to us by Jesus and by the prophets.

The readings are full of the promise of resurrection. Ezekiel prophesies how the Lord will open our graves that we may rise from them. St. Paul writes about the bright promise given to us at baptism. God himself will conquer our sin and death and give life to our mortal bodies.

We also know through what scripture and the church teaches that all human beings will be raised from the dead. Some will be raised to live joyfully forever in the presence of God. Others will be raised to eternal separation from God in the punishment of hell.

The question of belief is, therefore, very practical.

Those who believe in Jesus will do as he calls them. Those who don’t believe in him will, in the long run, show themselves as children of corruption.

And what is belief in Jesus? Belief is the true essence of life. Life of the eternal sort produces fruit that goes beyond mere physicality. Belief in Jesus by truly doing what he tells us produces a radical kind of love that transcends. Consider: the greatest humanitarians have always been people of faith. Mother Theresa, St. Martin de Porres, Martin Luther King Jr., St. Katherine Drexell, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, are all examples of people living heroic lives of faith who left a legacy of pure love. And we believe that their spirits rest forever in God. Their works were works of the spirit. The fruit of their works was always love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
And what is the fruit of having no faith? Think of the institutions set up that deny God’s existence. The Soviet Union was established in 1917 and its official creed was that God does not exist. It set out to destroy the Church. It was a source of murder, violence, corruption, and poverty. Consider modern capitalism. The era of “greed is good” has not left us. The pursuit of money as a God devalues the dignity of all human life and always results in the creation of a culture of death. Abortion, euthanasia, and every other assault against the dignity of human life is the eventual fruit of a life in the absence of the one true God.

The great test of our day is to live within all the temptations of this world and then to choose on a daily basis whether or not we truly believe in Jesus. Will we make a radical “yes” to him and then do as he calls us? This is what it means to live out the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Holy Eucharist.

He calls us to love God. Will we?
He calls us to love one another. Will we?
He calls us to follow his commands as handed to us through scripture and tradition. Will we?
He calls us from death to life in the spirit. Will we?

Jesus’ question to Martha is also his question to us right now.
“I am the resurrection and the life;
Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lenth - 4th Sunday

Lent – 4th Sunday
March 2, 2008

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

I am the light of the world, says the Lord. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.

And so is the faith we proclaim as Catholic Christians. It is not just a faith in a philosophy or a doctrine, but most especially a faith in a person. The person of Jesus – the light in our darkness.

Last week we heard the story of the woman at the well from the gospel of John and reflected on its sacramental character.

This week we are asked once again by the Church to hear these readings in light of the celebration of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist which we will celebrate in a most special way at the Easter vigil.

Today is the story of the healing of the man born blind.
In some sense, the story is very simple. The man born blind represents all of us in our spiritual blindness. We are all born with it. The man born blind is anointed by Jesus with the clay that he makes, and then he washes in the pool of siloam. This ritual washing reminds us of the sacrament of baptism. After Jesus heals his physical sight, the man comes to have faith in Jesus and so he is spiritually enlightened. He comes to know Jesus as the light of the world.
On the other hand, the Pharisees, though they can see physically, remain spiritually blind. They refuse to have faith.

For us who prepare for the great celebration of Easter, the call of this gospel is two fold.
We need Jesus to save us from our own works of darkness. Where our eye looks with judgment toward another person, we need Jesus to illumine us with his mercy. Where our eye looks down on another person, we need Jesus to come show us the dignity of each human person. Where our eye looks lustfully at another person, we need Jesus to show us the beauty and freedom of chastity. When our vision is darkened by the lack of faith, we need Jesus to ignite a brilliant light of faith in our souls. Therefore St. Paul writes to the Ephesians telling them to “take no part in the fruitless works of darkness. We need Jesus to save us from our own works of darkness.

Jesus comes to make us the light of the world. Remember. He who is the light of the world said this to his disciples. You are the light of the world. And the Lord wants us to shine brightly for him to the whole world.

Shine for him.
When people practice hatred, let our love increase for them.
When people offend us, let us forgive them endlessly
When people are full of unbelief, let us plant seeds of faith in them
Shine for him.
When people are in despair, may we speak hope to them
When people are full of sadness, let us bring joy to them

Shine for him.
When people live in darkness, may we be light for them.

And we can only do that when Jesus is our love, our forgiveness, our belief, our hope, our joy, and our light.

He is the light of the world. To truly follow him is to have the light of life.

Lent - 3rd Sunday

Lent – 3rd Sunday
February 24, 2008

Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2,5-8
John 4:5-42

This weekend, and the next two weekend liturgies present these longer readings from the gospel of John. Each one is a reflection on the paschal mystery – that is, the death and resurrection of the Lord. Each one, therefore, also asks us to think about the meaning of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.

So let’s take a look at today’s gospel, the story of the woman at the well, and see what it tells us about the meaning of baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion – the three sacraments of initiation.

So first, let’s revisit the story. Jesus meets the woman at the well, asks for a drink, and then they have this little bout of friendly verbal banter in the form of little riddles. You can almost see them having some fun with it, talking about water, then living water, and then getting a drink. Until, of course, Jesus throws in the zinger about stating the woman’s history with six different men. Then the conversation turns more serious and Jesus begins telling her about salvation. She gets all excited, forgets about the well water, runs off, tells the people of the town to come and listen to the rabbi at the well. The disciples show up while she runs off and Jesus tells more riddles to his disciples about food to eat that they don’t know about. In the end, the people in the town listen to Jesus and come to faith in him.

Now, let’s learn what to do with this story.

The first symbol is the “living water.” It refers both to the sacrament of Baptism and to the Holy Spirit conferred in baptism and confirmation and all the gifts we receive from those sacraments.

When Jesus begins to explain living water to the woman he does so by explaining worship. This is the fundamental purpose for our creation. To be in relationship with God. We are in relationship with God by receiving His gift to us and then offering it back with thanksgiving. Let me say that again. We are in relationship with God by receiving his gifts to us and then offering them back with thanksgiving. This is the essence of worship. We do this at mass. In fact, the word, “eucharist” means “to give thanks and praise” That’s what we do at mass. And the mass teaches us about a fundamental attitude we can apply to everything we do. To worship in Spirit is to truthfully acknowledge God’s gifts to us and give thanks. Therefore, in everything, give thanks to God.

So, our first Lenten instruction is this: Worship God in spirit and truth. How? By giving thanks in everything. This is worship in spirit and in truth.

The second symbol is the “Food which you do not know” and has the double meaning of the Eucharist and to the effect of the Eucharist in our lives.
The story of the Last Supper in the gospel of John does not include the institution narrative but does, however, uniquely include the story of the washing of feet. That is to say, Eucharist turned into action. After all, we Catholics believe the biblical truth that we are saved by both faith and works.

So Jesus talks about the food that means doing the will of God and finishing his work. Then he gives the example of the harvest – obviously referring not to crops but to people. Helping other people come to faith in Jesus.

This brings us to the second Lenten instruction which is: Help others people come to faith in Jesus.
How? Helping them to receive the living water of baptism and the Holy Spirit. To receive the true food of the Eucharist that strengthens us to do God’s will.
Consider: Have you ever helped somebody to convert to faith in Jesus and to be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Eucharist? Pray to the Holy Spirit to give you the opportunity to help others come to faith in Jesus.

The third symbol in the story is the woman at the well. She represents sinful humanity in need of salvation. Notice that she was there getting water in the heat of the day, not in the morning when the respectable women of the town would gather together. She was obviously something of an outcast in her town. Jesus talks to her – in and of itself something remarkable to her because this simply was not done. Then, Jesus tells her of her sins, but not in a way that judges or condemns her – even more remarkable. He just says that he knows her and repeats his offer of living water. The water of worship that wipes away past sins. That washes away guilt and regret. The water of the Holy Spirit that brings us into communion with God and with the saints. The flow of the Holy Spirit that sends us to tell others about how Jesus saves us from our sins. The woman at the well – with shame turned to joyful hope – became the first evangelist for her town.

Our third Lenten instruction. No more regrets. For Jesus has redeemed us by his death and resurrection. He has given us the living water of the Holy Spirit and bread from heaven – his own body and blood. He brings us into communion with our Heavenly Father along with all the saints. Jesus makes all things new.

Come, let us worship in spirit and in truth.

Lent - 2nd Sunday

Lent – 2nd Sunday
February 17

Genesis 12:1-4a
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Matthew 17:1-9

Do you ever get bummed out by Lent?

Some people really do. The whole idea of making the Church bare for mass. The whole idea of fasting and other personally chosen deprivations. The whole focus on repentance – reminding us that we are, in fact, sinners in need of salvation. For some people this time of year can get rather depressing.

Let’s add to the fact that it is February – traditionally one of the most depressing months of the year. Spring is trying to get here but February is generally colder, grayer, and damper than most other months.

Lent is a time of annual review. How have we done spiritually this past year? What do we need to repent of? What actions do we need to incorporate in our lives to fulfill the gospel Lenten call of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer?

February and Lent sometimes seem like they are that time of the year that we just have to slog through in order to get to the good stuff. And in a sense, that is true.

Consider the trajectory of the readings during Lent. Combine the readings all together and we get a long reflection on the meaning of the sacrament of baptism. It is connected with Jesus journey to the cross. That gut wrenching experience of Good Friday.

Jesus says over and over during Lent that the Son of man must suffer and be put to death. And on the third day he will rise from the dead.

And then he tells his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. Depressing thought. For if we will be his disciples then we must take that journey to Jerusalem along with him. We have to be willing to face difficulty and opposition for the sake of the gospel. We have to be willing to suffer. And we all have to face our own imminent deaths. For sooner or later we will all die. We will all have our own personal Good Friday, facing the deaths of loved ones and then finally our own death.

It’s no wonder that Lent can get so stark and bleak sometimes.

And so that’s why today’s gospel is so important in the Lenten cycle. This story of the transfiguration – where the disciples have a vision of Jesus in all his amazing glory conversing with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet. This is a little token, a foretaste, of what will come after Good Friday.

And, of course, Peter, James, and John didn’t get it at all. For this reason Jesus told them to be quiet about it until after the resurrection. And God the Father’s command to them? Very simply – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

The same message and the same voice when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan. The second theophany of the Holy Trinity in the gospel story. Amazingly important.

And for two reasons.

God wants us to see. This story is where God shows us a small foretaste of the glory that he has prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Just as Jesus was revealed in his glory to the disciples, the other underwritten message is that we who believe and are saved by him may participate in his resurrection when he raises our mortal bodies from the grave.

God wants us to see these things yet to come. Even in the midst of our slogging through Lent. Fasting reveals to us the importance of the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Eucharist and in heaven. Almsgiving reveals to us God’s great generosity working through us. Prayer brings us into more intimate union with God. These actions open our eyes to see spiritually these things are truly glorious. The unveiling of things yet to come.

God wants us to hear. Did you hear God’s command to Peter, James, and John? “Listen to him”. Boy, that’s a tough one. In our frenetically paced lives it gets increasingly difficult to make ourselves listen. Too many things to think about. Too many things to do. Lots of stuff to analyze. We need to really listen. To hear more deeply God’s messages to us in our lives.

God wants to show you things. God wants to tell you things. All in the name of preparing you to fully enter into his heavenly kingdom. And how many times do we miss these fantastic revelations of God because we have no eyes to see and no ears to hear? Too busy? Too selfish? Too sinful?

So here’s a radical idea to lift your lent. Do this and you will honestly look forward to Lent every year. Ask God to open your eyes to see and open your ears to hear all this lent. And begin taking note in a little journal of the things you see and hear each day that inspire you. Remember, inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit.

When you do this the Holy Spirit will show you the glory of the resurrection. You will hear Jesus speak to you. And you will fulfill the commands given to us by God in this reading.
Rise, and do not be afraid.
Listen to him.

Lent - 1st Sunday

Lent – 1st Sunday
February 10, 2008

Genesis 2:7-9,3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Everybody faces it. We’ve been dealing with it since Adam and Eve in the garden. It’s the whole idea that there are things that are bad for us or bad for others that nevertheless look very appealing to do.

Food is great. But if we eat too much or eat the wrong stuff our health gets affected.
Sex is great. But if we have it with the wrong people or in the wrong way then the family and society are destabilized and public health is compromised.
Power is great. But if we abuse it then lots of people get hurt and we ourselves become dehumanized as we dehumanize others.

And so it goes. Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. But instead of receiving this godly identity as a gift from God, they decided to grasp it for themselves. They listened to a lie, took the forbidden fruit for themselves, and the rest is history. We, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve keep trying to grab a hold of the things we want. Tendencies toward pride and fear and greed keep the old cycle of temptation going.

And yet God in his graciousness sent us a gift through Jesus. Today we are going to learn how to overcome temptation by meditating on the temptations of Jesus.
Let’s take a look at his situation. He has been alone in the desert fasting and praying. In this situation he is probably at his weakest moment. Think about it. For those who are involved in recovery groups they have a little saying that when you are “hungry, angry, lonely, and tired” you need to HALT. These situations leave us vulnerable to our addictions and our temptations.
Certainly Jesus was hungry, lonely, and tired.
And then the temptations came
If you are the Son of God, then turn stones to bread.
If you are the Son of God, then jump from the parapet.
I’ll give you everything if you worship me.

What a sequence.
The first and most basic temptation the devil had was to strike at Jesus identity as the Son of God. Notice how he puts it to the question? Then he suggests something innocent enough. Turn stones to bread. But the whole idea here was to strike at Jesus core identity. And he strikes through the temptations of appetite. That is why people fall into sins of the appetite. They first believe a lie about their own identity. We believe that we are not loved. So we look for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places. We use food, drugs, sex, and other entertainments to mask our inner doubts. We believe the lie.

How did Jesus overcome? He never doubted who he was. He was grounded through prayer and knowledge of the Word of God. He was ready for this temptation and he overcame.

The second basic temptation the devil had was to strike at Jesus’ relevance in ministry. He takes Jesus to the parapet of the temple. This is the center of worship. This is a high place both literally and spiritually. And he says, just jump and see if the angels catch you. Satan even quotes scripture here. Satan strikes through the temptations of security and relevance.
This is how people fall into sins of insecurity and fear. We begin believing the lie that we are not loved or wanted or are important and so we do risky things to get noticed and to get attention. We believe the lie.

How did Jesus overcome? He never doubted his role. He was grounded in his identity through prayer and through knowledge. He was ready for this temptation and he overcame.

The third basic temptation the devil had was to strike and Jesus power and authority. He shows Jesus the world and promises to give it all to him in exchange for a little worship. Remember, Satan wants to be God and wants to be worshipped. For that matter, so do some people. So many people become willing to sell their very souls for power, money, and influence. All manner of evil and human misery come from these temptations.

How did Jesus overcome? He was solidly grounded in the idea that power and influence are ultimately a gift from God. You can’t grasp at these things. Rather, one must receive them with open hands from God and then return them to God. This is the fundamental idea of worship.

Our identity, our relevance in life, and our power are ultimately gifts from God. The problem is that we constantly forget that fact. And so we try to grab hold of them for ourselves. But Jesus teaches us through his example that all these things are a gift we can receive with open hands.

So do you want to know how to overcome temptation? Do what Jesus did. The long and consistent practice of three things:
Prayer. He was completely grounded in his identity through prayer. That’s what it does for us. We know God and therefore we know who we are in God.
Fasting: Jesus became disciplined with his appetites. He ruled his body. His body did not rule him.
Bible. Jesus knew the word of God from memory. This gave him tools to call to mind when faced with temptation.
These three things – prayer, fasting, and the bible will strengthen you by God’s grace to overcome. Victory over sin and death is God’s gift to us through Jesus. Through the open hands of faith we can receive it.

Ordinary Time - 4th Sunday

Ordinary Time – 4th Sunday
Stewardship Sunday
February 3, 2008

Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
1 Cor 1:26-31
Matthew 5:1-12a

Blessed are they.
This is probably the most famous passage from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. The Beatitudes. Nine blessings given by Jesus for these attitudes and actions of his followers.

This is at once both familiar and also greatly misunderstood.

For example – let’s look at the first Beatitude – Blessed are the poor in spirit. Why would poverty of spirit be a blessing? What does that mean?

I would like to submit to you that all of these beatitudes are a sequence describing the process of conversion for believers. Illumination leads to interior convictions which leads to charitable action for the sake of the gospel.

Let’s take a look and see how this sequence works.

The first three have to do with attitude.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. What this means is the believer’s first realization of his or her own poverty of spirit. We can not save ourselves from sin solely by our own works. This is the first realization of the futility of our own actions apart from God. We are commanded to love God and love our neighbor, but we have to understand that apart from the grace of God we can not do it. So when we realize that we need God to save us and we ask for it, then something wonderful happens. A blessing comes. The kingdom of heaven is yours. But you’ve got to know your poverty of spirit first.

When we truly know our poverty of spirit, then another blessing comes.
Blessed are they who mourn. Mourning naturally follows the realization of poverty of spirit. This is sorrow for our sins and for the sins of the world. It is a good thing to feel bad about sin. To mourn. For when we mourn our sins and when we go to God, then we receive the promise. We will be comforted. And the blessing comes.

Next comes meekness. Who of us can be prideful if we experience poverty of spirit and the sorrow that follows? Meekness is being grounded in the solid reality of the human condition and our utter need for God. And when we are meek, then the blessing comes. The meek shall inherit the earth.

The next four have to do with actions.

Let’s list them now.
blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the clean of heart
Blessed are the peacemakers

See here how the experience of initial conversion leads each believer to good works. Here we can see clearly how Jesus teaches that we are saved by faith and works. Works of righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace are the natural expressions of those who profess faith in Jesus. And they will receive the blessings. They will be satisfied by God. They will receive mercy. They will see God. And they will be called Children of God.

The final two are about the believer’s encounter with evil in the world.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. To persevere in goodness the face of overwhelming evil is not easy. But those who hold to their faith and continue in their good works are promised the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. These are the folks who are actively and vigorously persecuted because of their faith. They suffer greatly and many become martyrs. Jesus’ blessing for them is that they will receive a great reward in heaven.

So you can see here the sequence of the Beatitudes.
Blessings come with the first steps of our faith. Our interior reality changes when we recognize sin, mourn our sin, and become humble before God.
Blessings come with the works that are the natural expression of faith. Our interior reality will lead to our work to change the world.
And blessings come when the conviction of faith remains true despite temptation and persecution.

So, good people. Let us consider our calling by considering the works that come from our faith. As promised last Sunday, today is stewardship renewal. Let’s take a few minutes to consider our blessings and how we will express them in the ministry of this parish.

For our guests this (evening / morning), spend a few minutes in prayer for the parishioners of Annunciation as they recommit to the stewardship of time, talent, and treasure.

Last week all parishioners at mass were given a time and talent directory in order to become familiar with the ministry activities of the parish for this year. Hopefully, you had a chance to think about what you want to do in the parish this year. Today you received an intention form to fill out during mass. Please take a moment to write in your personal information at the top of the sheet and at the bottom of the sheet. We will use this to update our parish census.

Now, look at the bottom right hand corner where it mentions the Sunday offering. Since ministry can’t happen without financial support, let’s fill this in. We will use the figures you give us to establish the budget for next year.
If you are wondering what figure to put in there, then consider your gift by the percentages. If you give 5% of your income to the parish and then 5% of your income to other charities, then you will fulfill the biblical tithe. Also, please know that we keep your information private. But we need to know your intention so that we can figure out how to support the parish ministries.

Now let’s look at the big middle section. These are all the parish ministries happening this year. Please take a moment to fill in your commitment to either continue in a ministry or to begin in a new one. If you wish to resign from a ministry, please indicate that as well. Sometimes it is good make changes every so often.

Now that you have filled this out, you may turn it in with the today’s collection. If you need more time, then please feel free to take the time you need.

Dear people, blessed are you. Let’s build the kingdom of God.

new posts

Dear friends,
I am once again woefully behind on posting. Seems when the blogsite is out of sight that it gets out of mind. Thanks to a friend who recently asked me if I am posting because he wanted to see the Lenten homilies. So here they are, from the 4th Sunday Ordinary through Laetare Lent. I have enjoyed preaching this Lent, and do hope that you have enjoyed listening and reading.
peace of Christ,
Fr. Bill

Sunday, January 27, 2008

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 1-27-2008

Ordinary Time – 3rd Sunday
January 27, 2008

Isaiah 8:23-9:3
1 Cor 1:10-13,17
Matthew 4:12-23

The Word of the Lord. We say it after every reading. The Gospel of the Lord – we say after each reading of the gospel. This Word and Good News has power, according to our faith. It brings life and light to us. In Matthew Chapter 4 we hear two powerful commands from Jesus.

The first command is this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This are the first words of His call to every one to become his disciples. He spoke it to the crowds 2000 years ago, and he speaks the same words to us today. These words are universal.

Repent. We all know what it means. Turn away from sin. Believe the gospel. Live the commands of Jesus. We all know the areas where we fall short. Because we still sin. We still aren’t perfectly united with the Lord.

Repent. The follower of Jesus is a person who continues to practice repentance so as to strive for holiness of life. Because the goal is to become holy. To be united with Christ in this world and in the next.

Repent. One of the benefits of practicing repentance is that it begins to really open our eyes to see the Kingdom of God alive all around us. Sin darkens our comprehension. Sin limits our vision. Sin stunts our spiritual growth. But repentance from sin brings light, vision, and the fullness of the kingdom.

I would like to name three things that Christians can do to practice repentance. Do these things to live the Kingdom of God to which Jesus calls us.

Repentance practice #1. Formation of Conscience. We all know that we are supposed to follow our consciences. But if our conscience is going to provide good leadership then it needs to be a well equipped conscience. Your conscience gets equipped with knowledge and reason. Think about it this way. Nobody wants to follow a leader who is ignorant and has bad judgment. That can only go to a bad end. So form your conscience through study of the bible and the teachings of the Church. Kids, go to CCD every Sunday. Teens, go to youth group regularly. Parents. Work with your kids. While they are learning you will learn too. All adults. Study your faith every week. Think you are too busy? Try the Catholic CD’s we have in the vestibule. Listening to those in the car will equip you with good teaching and good stories. The development of knowledge and reason is a lifelong task. Everybody. Form your conscience.

Repentance practice #2. Examination of Conscience. If our conscience has some content and reason to it then we have some tools to work with in reflecting on our lives. Do this every night before bed. Spend a little time in prayer and in reflection on the day. Give God thanks for the light and grace given during the day. Ask God for pardon for the sins committed during the day. In that way we can rest in God’s peace during the night. Repentance practice #2. Examination of Conscience.

Repentance practice #3. The Sacrament of Penance. Jesus considered the practice of penance so important that he sacramentalized it for us. He gave the Apostles the power to forgive or to retain sins. This same power is shared with the priests of the Church. This power is given so that we all can confess our sins and be forgiven 77 x7 times. As many times as we need until that sin is worked out of our lives and is replaced by God’s love and peace. The Sacrament of Penance is a great gift of God to us. It is grace to overcome sin. Make use of it, good people. It brings us peace of heart. Repentance practice #3. The sacrament of Penance.

Listen once again to the first command of Jesus and take it to heart. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Now listen to the second command of Jesus. This was to Peter and Andrew. But make no mistake - it is also for us. Listen to his words. “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

For Peter and Andrew this meant the vocation to be apostles and high priests of the New Covenant. The greatest decision of their lives was to take this word of Jesus to heart. So they dropped their nets and began following him. Jesus made them new. Slowly but surely the new creation Jesus made through those words formed them into the men who would change the world.

Come after me. Jesus says it to you and me today.

Come after me. Each of us has a vocation that is God’s unique call in our lives. God made us for a good purpose. God has given each of us a new hope.

Come after me. For some people here this command of the Lord means a re-dedication of your life to the Lord. Because you haven’t been following him lately. So repent. Rededicate. Renew. Give yourself to Jesus once again.

Come after me. For others here this command of the Lord means a radical change in your life. Like Peter and Andrew, you need to drop what you are doing. You need to leave the past behind and take a new direction. You may need to leave everything familiar behind. Responding to this call will change your life. It may very well change the world.

Truly I tell you, the words of Jesus have the power to change everything. So hear them again with fresh ears.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Some election year points by Archbishop Chaput

This election year's chief ecclesiastical contribution to the nation's public square will come with the release of the Doubleday volume of said title by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver... which not a few are awaiting with bated breath.While the exact pub-date of Render Unto Caesar hasn't yet surfaced, the Capuchin prelate offers something of a preview: "10 points" of faithful citizenship in his current column for the archdiocesan weekly (emphases original):

Personal witness is always the best proof of what we claim to believe. And this year, like every other year, with or without an election, we need to apply the idea of Catholic witness in a special way to our public life as citizens. We might find it useful to remember 10 simple points as we move toward November.

1. George Orwell said that one of the biggest dangers for modern democratic life is dishonest political language. Dishonest language leads to dishonest politics — which then leads to bad public policy and bad law. So we need to speak and act in a spirit of truth.

2. “Catholic” is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. We can choose to be something else, but if we choose to call ourselves Catholic, than that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act. We can’t truthfully claim to be Catholic and then act like we’re not.

3. Being a Catholic is a bit like being married. We have a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ that’s very similar to being a spouse. And that has consequences. If a man says he loves his wife, his wife will want to see the evidence in his love and fidelity. The same applies to our relationship with God. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to show that by our love for the Church and our fidelity to what she teaches and believes. Otherwise we’re just fooling ourselves, because God certainly won’t be fooled.

4. The Church is not a political organism. She has no interest in partisanship because getting power or running governments is not what she’s about, and the more closely she identifies herself with any single party, the fewer people she can effectively reach.

5. However, Scripture and Catholic teaching do have public consequences because they guide us in how we should act in relation to one another. Loving God requires that we also love the people He created, which means we need to treat them with justice, charity and mercy. Being a Catholic involves solidarity with other people. The Catholic faith has social justice implications — and that means it also has cultural, economic and political implications. The Catholic faith is never primarily about politics; but Catholic social action — including political action — is a natural byproduct of the Church’s moral message. We can’t call ourselves Catholic, and then simply stand by while immigrants get mistreated, or the poor get robbed, or unborn children get killed. The Catholic faith is always personal, but never private. If our faith is real, then it will bear fruit in our public decisions and behaviors, including our political choices.

6. Each of us needs to follow his or her own properly formed conscience. But conscience doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. It’s not a matter of personal opinion or preference. If our conscience has the habit of telling us what we want to hear on difficult issues, then it’s probably badly formed. A healthy conscience is the voice of God’s truth in our hearts, and it should usually make us uncomfortable, because none of us is yet a saint. The way we get a healthy conscience is by submitting it and shaping it to the will of God; and the way we find God’s will is by opening our hearts to the counsel and guidance of the Church that Jesus left us. If we find ourselves disagreeing as Catholics with the Catholic teaching of our Church on a serious matter, it’s probably not the Church that’s wrong. The problem is much more likely with us.

7. But how do we make good political choices when so many different issues are so important and complex? The first principle of Christian social thought is: Don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing somebody else to do it. The right to life is the foundation of every other human right. The reason the abortion issue is so foundational is not because Catholics love little babies — although we certainly do — but because revoking the personhood of unborn children makes every other definition of personhood and human rights politically contingent.

8. So can a Catholic in good conscience support a “pro-choice” candidate? The answer is: I can’t and I won’t. But I do know some serious Catholics — people whom I admire — who will. I think their reasoning is mistaken. But at the very least they do sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain. And even more importantly: They don’t keep quiet about it; they don’t give up their efforts to end permissive abortion; they keep lobbying their party and their elected representatives to change their pro-abortion views and protect the unborn. Catholics can support “pro-choice” candidates if they support them despite — not because of — their “pro-choice” views. But they also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it.

9. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life — which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.

10. Lastly, the heart of truly “faithful” citizenship is this: We’re better citizens when we’re more faithful Catholics. The more authentically Catholic we are in our lives, choices, actions and convictions, the more truly we will contribute to the moral and political life of our nation.

January 19, 2008

Dear ones,

I've been really behind on my posting, so here is the rest of my Advent and Christmas season homilies. I look forward to reading your comments.

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time – 2nd Sunday
January 20, 2008
National Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
1 Cor 1:1-3
John 1:20-34

Here we are, back to regular old green ordinary time. Enjoy it while it is here, because it’s not going to last. After two more Sundays we begin Lent. Can you believe it? A short respite between the celebrations of the Christmas season and the austerity of Lent.

But these green Sundays are so full of life for us, so pay attention to them and enjoy them. Green is about growing spiritually in the ordinariness of life. This week is one of those themed weeks – National Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

To begin opening this idea up, let’s take a look at the 2nd reading. We heard a mere three verses from 1 Corinthians, but they are packed with significance. In these verses they give clues to what Paul will address in the rest of the letter. And I submit to you that these three verses pack a real punch when dealing with Christian unity.

So, Paul addresses the Church in Corinth and calls them people who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy. He links their holiness to all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, pay attention to this reality – people of Annunciation Church. You have been sanctified in Christ Jesus by your baptism. People of God, you are called to holiness. Your call to holiness is connected with all people of good will in the world who call upon the name of Jesus. For that reason alone we must dedicate ourselves to prayer for Christian unity. For our prayer will lead us to work of unity.

How do we do that? Let’s now turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Numbers 820-822 concern themselves with our work towards unity.

First, let’s understand what the Church says that unity is not.
Unity is not the idea that all paths lead to the same goal. Thus the Church does not view all religions as being equal. If we taught that then we would have to abandon the idea of objective truth. And we can’t do that because Jesus taught objective truths. Jesus made the claim that he himself is the way and the truth and the life. Therefore all paths are not equal and do not lead to the same goal. This is relativism. It is an error. It is a lie that leads us away from the truth.

Sacred scripture teaches us that Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the very beginning. The Roman Catholic Church is the only Christian denomination which clearly traces its roots all the way back to Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles. All other denominations have split away from this one foundation. But this gift of unity given by Jesus to the Church remains within the Church as something it can never lose. In a universal sense.

However, you and I as members of the Church can either promote unity or we can lose it. Like the parable of the talents, we must exercise the gift of unity. An unused gift is one that is taken and given to someone who will actually do something with it.

So, what do we do to exercise this gift? The catechism gives us seven items. Listen carefully.
A permanent renewal of the Church. The Church is “semper reformandi” that is to say, it must always be continually renewed. Be continually refreshed by the Holy Spirit.
Conversion of heart. We must be converted and live holier lives. If unfaithfulness to the gospel causes divisions, then our faithfulness to Jesus and his teachings brings about unity within the parish and among all those who claim Jesus as Lord.
Prayer in Common. We must seek opportunities to pray both within our parish and to be inviting to all people of good will. These opportunities bring us to a change of heart and holiness of life.
Community. When we come to know one another as friends we can more easily seek the truth of Jesus Christ together.
Ecumenical Formation. We as Catholics need to be clear about what we believe and develop skills for sharing what we know in a respectful and friendly manner.
Dialogue. We as Catholics must seek opportunities to share the reason for our hope with others. Through these holy conversations we draw ever closer to the truth.
Collaboration. Among Christians of good will, we can do works of service together in building up the common good.

Those are seven very clear things that we can commit ourselves to both as individuals and as a parish. However, one final thing is clear to me. Christian Unity is bigger than we are. It is bigger than the reach even of the Roman Catholic Church. Christians have been factioned for the past one thousand years. While the Catholic Church has been doggedly persistent in maintaining unity through the ministry of the bishops and fidelity to the apostolic tradition, we’ve witnessed an almost hopeless factionalism in the past five hundred years.

Several years ago a local pastor at one of the protestant Churches decided to visit us for daily mass during lent. I remember how excited our daily mass crowd was to host this local pastor. I also was pleased that the pastor could be with us. I was pleased because I respected this person as someone who loved God and was dedicated to serving God. This person was both pastoral and intelligent and whose company we all enjoyed. And it was always great except at communion time. Because it was during this holy sacrament of unity that we were regularly reminded that our denominations were not one. That our communion was divided. Each time this pastor came forward at communion time, and I imparted the blessing rather than the Eucharist, I felt a painful twinge. Everything in me desired to give the Eucharist. But we can only give and receive the Eucharist honestly. It signifies unity. And both of us knew that this was not the case between our denominations.

Ultimately, Christian Unity is going to be the work of Christ himself. Only he can make the sad divisions among us to cease. Only he can work the miracle of making us one body and one spirit.

For this reason John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

And he will. Someday his triumph will be completed. Meanwhile we pray for unity. And we wait in joyful hope.


January 6, 2008

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

So said the magi from the east to King Herod as they neared the end of their journey. Of course, the child was not in the royal court of Herod, but was in Bethlehem, as the chief priests and scribes indicated was prophesied. When they got to Bethlehem, they gave homage and they gave gifts. What does this story mean?

The clue comes, of course, from the name of this feast day. Epiphany. It is a great word. It means “manifestation or illuminating realization.” It’s symbol is the star. The light that guided them to their destination – the manifestation of God in the baby Jesus.

All these senses of epiphany come together in this story from the gospel of Matthew. God himself was revealed to the world through the birth of Jesus. An epiphany of God. The understanding of God’s intention was also present. An epiphany of God’s intention. It all came together.

God sent his only son as savior of the world. Not just for the Jews, the children of the promises to Abraham, but to all the nations. The magi symbolize all the nations of the world, coming to adore Jesus. This is truly a catholic vision of God’s plan.

Of course, we all knew this more or less. Does it have anything to do with us today?

Well, interestingly enough, the bishops have declared the week of January 6 to be National Migration Week. All Catholics are called upon to think about the issues around immigration in this country. And it does have a connection with this feast day.

Consider the experience of the Magi. They journeyed from their homeland as pilgrims seeking the Christ. They faced danger, political intrigue, and plots from the Herodian court. And they were
Consider the experience of the Holy Family. After the visit of the Magi they were forced to flee Herod’s murderous intentions, became refugees and immigrants, and lived in the land of Egypt for a time. Their experience is the experience of all refugees and migrants.

For that reason alone every Catholic in the United States of America should be sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and refugees.

You know, one of the things I am most proud of in our parish is the broad based support for the Hispanic immigrants in our parish and in our county. This parish has given courageous support through prayer, through advocacy, and through welcoming the strangers in our midst. I am proud to be a part of this ministry in this parish. Those we have welcomed are no longer strangers, but friends who are among us.

One of the things I am most proud of in our country is that we are all a country of immigrants. Americans are people from every race, nationality, culture, and language. We get placed into the national “melting pot” and each new addition adds new seasoning to who we are. Our national identity is being continuously formed. In this sense it is a little bit like heaven. We come from everywhere.

Of course, the best earthly example of heaven is the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because it is the only institution that literally consists of people from every country, nation, language, and race. It is the Kingdom of God on earth – pointing to the eternal reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.

One of the interesting conundrums we face is when political interests conflict with religious interests. In this case sometimes our American identity conflicts with our Catholic identity.

Let me give two examples.
Catholic Social Teaching principal #1. the life and dignity of the human person. We believe and teach that human life has dignity and worth from conception until natural death. Thus legalized abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics, and the death penalty contradict the teaching of the Church on the life and dignity of the human person. The Church’s teaching is pretty clear on these issues.
Catholic Social Teaching principal #6. Solidarity. We believe and teach that we are one human family, irregardless of language, race, or culture. We are our brother’s keeper in this shrinking world. We are all connected. The core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of peace and justice. Thus, racism, sexism, poverty, and war are all serious issues. The Church makes some pretty clear statements about these issues.

So let me return to the theme of this week. Immigration. The Life and dignity of the human person and the theme of solidarity converge on this issue fairly clearly. The bishops of this nation, in accord with the teachings of the Holy Father, have spoken clearly about immigration reform for the sake of the immigrants who are among us.

And yet, we Catholics in the parishes and the pews are very divided about this issue. Consider. There are 65 million people in the United States who call them Catholic. If we understood the social teaching of the Catholic Church and were united with our bishops on these issues, do you think we would make a difference? You bet we would. Our problem is that we identify too much with Republicans or with Democrats and not nearly enough with the Kingdom of God.

The Roman Catholic Church is a sleeping giant in this nation. I would love to see it wake up and find its moral voice. Our current laws allow human life to be ripped from the womb. We need an epiphany. Our current laws actually encourage a permanent underclass because of our terrible immigration laws. Families are divided. I witness these things first hand. We need an epiphany.

The fact of the matter is this. Our Lord Jesus Christ was nearly murdered as an infant. Thus he shows solidarity with infants and children. Our Lord Jesus Christ was a refugee and immigrant. Thus he shows solidarity with refugees and immigrants. Our Lord Jesus Christ was executed by the state. Thus he shows solidarity and compassion for lawbreakers and evildoers who are executed.

He comes to save us all and to gather us into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us do him homage.

Holy Family

Holy Family – Feast of
December 30, 2007

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Colosians 3:12-21

Today is the 5th (6th) day of Christmas – and it is not the feast of five golden rings (six geese a laying). Instead, it is the feast of the Holy Family.

On this day we have Joseph, Mary, and Jesus - the Holy Family – as an image for our contemplation. Lots of times our experience of the Holy Family is in nativity scenes or holy cards or statues. They always look so beautiful and peaceful.

But the scriptures show us that what they confronted some serious difficulties. They had a rocky start due to Mary’s pregnancy – the holy family nearly ended in divorce at the very beginning. Then they had to travel in Mary’s 9th month. A crazy despotic king was after them when Jesus was about two years old. They became immigrants and refugees and lived in Egypt for a few years. These were hardly peaceful circumstances. And yet, they were the holy family who lived in peace and in unity.

How did they do it? For that matter, how can we do it? How can our families be holy families?
After all, the odds are against us, if you look at national statistics.

Just getting a family started and then trying to keep it together can be a daunting task.

The scriptures give us some good practical examples of how to be a holy family.

From both the book of Sirach and from the letter to the Colossians the key word is respect. Respect for parents. Respect between husbands and wives. The truth is that respect can carry us a long way toward the exercise of greater virtues in our lives. St. Thomas Aquinas said that grace builds on nature. So when we exercise natural virtue, it provides more room for the supernatural virtues. Respect is a natural virtue.

Good old fashioned manners are a marvelous way to practice the virtue of respect. From “please” and “thank you” to the finer points of acting like ladies and gentlemen, the virtue of respect can be the glue that holds together a family, just as it is the glue that can hold together a society.

All of us know that there has been a rise in uncivil public behavior through this past generation. Course language, course gestures, course humor, and an increasing lack of respect has affected our society to the point that uncivil behavior has been accepted as quite normal.

You want to have an affect on family life and on society? Do something counter cultural and cultivate formal manners. They give us practical means of respect. Not sure what to work on? Have a family meeting and make a list of civil behaviors to cultivate in the family. Behaviors that exemplify respect in the way we talk and dress and inter-act. Then, help each other in positive ways to work on respectful behavior. All of us can work on this in the coming year.

Of course, God wants us to go deeper than just manners. After all, even good manners can become stiff and cold. That’s not appealing either.

Listen to the words of St. Paul. He said this: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another… and over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts.”

Wow. How many people would like to live in a family that had all that going on? Pretty good, huh?

Husbands, love and cherish your wives in the way that she would like to be loved and cherished. Wives, love and respect your husbands in the way that he would like to be loved and respected. Not sure what that is? Easy. Ask each other. Give each other concrete examples. Decide what you want to work on as a family for next year and then make a plan to work on it. Parents, the best gift you will ever give your children is to show them how to love and respect another person. You show them and they will give it back to you. The same is true with priests and parishes. We are all in this together.

Pray together as a family. In order to have the supernatural virtues of love and joy and peace we need to give God space to work in our families. Pray together every day. The rosary and scripture reading are two very good tools for family prayer. The Church gives us lots of options here. But pray together.

We need holy families. The world desperately needs holy families that are filed with heartfelt compassion, humility, patience, love, and peace. God’s plan for your family and for mine is that we grow that way. Then we are a sign of hope and a source of strength for others.

Just like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are a sign of hope and a source of strength for us.


Christmas 2007

This reading from the gospel of Luke retells the eternal story of the birth of Jesus. Here before us we have the (living) nativity scene to help us remember that God became a little baby, was born of the virgin Mary at Christmas, and came with a mission to save us.

Tonight I want us to think about the people who are present at the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph – aware of God’s plan and obedient to it. In awe of God who was physically present with them – and yet helpless like a little baby. Imagine how they must have looked with love and adoration at Jesus after he was born.

And then there are the shepherds. The angels announced the good news to them and so off they went in obedience to the message. They made the sacrifice and traveled through the countryside in order to see Jesus. And to adore him.

Obedience and adoration. These are the examples of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds for us to think about this Christmas.

So let’s unwrap the idea of obedience and adoration a little bit.

We’ll talk about obedience first. I want to tell you want this means. Now, for those of you who have heard me say this before, it’s a good reminder. And for those who haven’t it’s a good insight. Obedience comes from the latin root ob audire. It is a verb and it means – “to listen. Or to give ear to” So the very idea of obedience comes from attentive listening.
Mary and Joseph and the shepherds all listened to God’s invitation and responded positively. They were open to the idea and went along with it.

So now I want to say that listening to God is a very important thing for us to think about this Christmas. Because Christmas is about obedience to God’s good plan for each of us.

Now, if God had something important to say to you, then would you be open to listening to it? Yes or yes?

Would you like to know how you can listen to God?

First, you have to decide that you want to listen. So make a commitment at this mass tonight give lots of time this year to listening to God.

Second, you have to use the time effectively to listen to God. So here are some things you can do.
Make a commitment to attend mass every Sunday. Now, there are already two reactions to this one in the congregation. The first is this – I already go. Tell me something new. The second is this – the last time I went the priest was boring, or said something I disagreed with, or I got totally distracted by that kid running in the aisle throwing cheerios, or that grouchy person said something mean to me, or… get the idea. Lots of little reasons. But it’s not about the priest or the music or the kid or the grouch or any of those other things. It is about God. And if you make the commitment to attend mass every Sunday to listen to God then you will have a good chance of actually hearing something.

Now, that you have decided to commit – or re-commit to mass every Sunday, then do this. Pray to the Holy Spirit before mass starts to give you one message from the mass that you need. Now, I guarantee you that if you do this then you are going to get messages that will be powerful. They will change your life. Somewhere during the mass, in the reading or the homily or the songs or the prayers, the Holy Spirit will make a little light go off in your head and you will think to yourself – that’s it!

Final step. When you hear that little message – tell me, are you going to remember it? Well, for the vast majority of us who get distracted and whose memories have sprung fatal leaks, you need to write it down. So get yourself a little Christmas present this year and buy a journal. Write these little messages from mass down in your journal. You need to write this stuff down in order to remember it. And I guarantee you that when you start to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to you, you won’t be wondering if that was it. These messages that the Holy Spirit gives are tailor made for you. They will knock your socks off with their power. They will be simple and clear. All you have to do is make the commitment to listen. God will bring the inspiration and then the light bulb will go off in your head.

So here are the steps. 1. Commit to mass every Sunday. 2. Pray to the Holy Spirit to speak to you. 3. Write down what you hear.

If you start accumulating these little messages from God to you during mass, then you will find that the mass changes from something strange or boring to something that becomes as important to your life as food. And food’s pretty important. Try not eating for a week. Spiritual food is also just as important.

Do you want joy in your heart?
Then be like Mary and Joseph – come to Jesus. Listen, and adore.

Do you want peace in your heart?
Then be like the shepherds – come to Jesus. Listen, and adore

Do you want wisdom – a better way of thinking and acting?
Then be like the saints down through the ages. – come to Jesus. Listen, and adore.

Oh come let us adore him, Oh come let us adore him, Oh come let us adore him. Christ the Lord.

Advent - 3rd Sunday

3rd Advent

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.

Patience is one of those tough virtues. Especially at this time of the year when life seems to go into hyper-drive. Students are strung out because of finals. Holiday shoppers are rushing to finish their purchases. Diminishing light leaves people more susceptible to depression and grumpiness. Winter weather tends to snarl up our plans. In the midst of all these distractions we are called to patience.

Be patient. This is the word for the 3rd Sunday of Advent.
On the first Sunday of Advent we heard the admonition to Stay Awake and be Prepared.
On the 2nd Sunday of Advent we were instructed to Repent. The Kingdom of God is near.
Today. Be patient.

And what for, exactly? Notice that the letter of James ties patience to the coming of the Lord. The coming of the Lord is in the sacraments when the Church worships. The coming of the Lord is at the end of our lives when we die and then are judged. And the coming of the Lord is at the end of time when he returns again in glory. Our patience is tied to the events of the coming of the Lord.

How do we practice this patience?
I suggest that the practice of patience is supported by the instructions we have received in the previous two Sundays. Stay awake. Be Prepared. Repent. Practicing these instructions helps us to wait for the coming of the Lord. I’ll take this moment to remind the assembly that we are celebrating the sacrament of penance next Thursday in a special liturgy. If you haven’t gone to confession yet – this will be a great opportunity. Stay awake and be prepared. Repent. Be patient.

James said that in order to wait patiently we need to make our hearts firm. Making our hearts firm means that we know what we believe and that we stick to it. For example, if you believe that you love someone, then you stick to it, no matter what. Love doesn’t quit. In like manner, patiently waiting for the Lord means you know your faith in the Lord and you stick to it. Do you know your faith in the Lord? More or less? Make your heart firm. Grow in knowledge of your faith and stick to it.

James also said this: do not complain about one another, that you may not be judged. Here is a great way to practice patience. Make your home, your car, and your workplace free of complaining about one another. No whining, complaining, criticisms, negative talk, or gossip.
Now, this one is tough. We human beings love to complain. Started when we learned to pout at age 2 ½ and then just got more sophisticated with age. But we all know the results of complaining about each other. We get angry with each other and then we have distrust, divisions, dissentions, and on and on it goes. Have we been there before? It’s never good, is it. Listen to St. James. Don’t complain about each other.

Too hard a habit to break? Try this as a habit breaker. Put a think rubber band around your wrist. Every time you complain, snap the rubber band.
Some of us are already thinking about the blisters we’d get. But after they heal I bet the level of complaining in the community would dramatically decline.
Make your hearts firm. Don’t complain about each other.

Stay awake and be prepared.
Be patient.

All of this has a purpose. Remember, we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because the coming of the Lord is drawing near. It’s coming. When it happens the words of the prophet Isaiah will be fulfilled when he said:
“Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned in everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”

So, my good people, for the time being:
Stay awake and be prepared
Be patient - waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.

Advent - Second Sunday

2nd Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2007

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

This basic, simple message comes to us loudly and clearly every Advent. John the Baptist, the prophet of the messiah, says clearly to the people that they must repent. The messiah is coming. He will come to judge – gathering the wheat into the barn – and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Notice the responses of the people.
The good response, which many participated in, was to acknowledge their sins and then be baptized by John in the river.

Notice the example of John in this passage. John symbolized doing penance. First, notice how he fasted. His diet during this time consisted of – locusts and wild honey.
Think about it. How many here would like to go on a special fast where the only food you ate was bugs and honey. Notice what he wore. Camel’s hair.
As a member of a priestly family, he had access to clothes and was heir to his father’s place as a priest in the temple in Jerusalem. Priests wore good clothes.
John wore itchy camel hair. John did penance and he fasted.

Notice who gives the wrong response to John’s message. The Pharisees and Saducees. They refused to acknowledge sin. They refused the baptism of John. They refused penance and fasting. And so John warned them that judgement was coming.

Add all this up and it is a very strong message. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Repent is an interesting word. It comes from the latin “pentare” – which means “to think.” Put the prefix “re” in front of it and we get the English word “repent.” Literally it means –re-think.

And isn’t that the issue – that we need to “re-think” our lives. To get out of our heads the wrong thinking that brings us to sin. To get into our heads the right way of thinking so that we practice virtue.

Last week we heard the message – stay awake. Be prepared.
This week we hear the message – repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.

We need to hear this message at this time of year.
Did you hear the examples that John gives of what is coming?
The axe and the tree. The ax lies at the root of the tree. Those that do not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
The winnowing fan. He clears his threshing floor and gather the wheat into the barn. But the chaff will be burned.

All of this adds up to some serious stuff.
Stay awake. Be Prepared. Repent. The kingdom of God is at hand.

During Advent we make ourselves conscious of the first coming of Christ at the incarnation in Bethlehem. What a sweet event. Christmas.

During Advent we also make ourselves conscious of the second coming of Christ in glory. Remember what we acclaim during the Eucharistic prayer. Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus come in glory.

Jesus is coming again soon. He will come again to this earth in glory. And maybe we are living in the last days. Maybe it will be this year. Or next year. Or in the next ten. Who knows.

I do know one thing. I guarantee that he will come again for every person in this room within 120 years. And for a lot of us it is going to be a lot sooner than that. Count the days and months and years. Jesus is coming. Stay awake. Be Prepared. Repent. The kingdom of God is at hand.

So what are we supposed to do?

Well, I just happen to have some ideas from scripture.
Do what John did to prepare. Penances. He wore camel hair and ate bugs and honey. Anybody game for that? Too severe for you? Think it through. A penance is designed to help us remember the way in which our minds need to be changed. John needed to be focused on his mission and courageous enough to stand up to the Pharisees and to Herod. He had to avoid pandering and political correctness. Camel’s hair, bugs, and honey helped him do that. What will help each of us to avoid our particular temptations and to focus on our mission? Figure it out. Do penance.
Do what St. Paul suggests. Here are two ideas from him:
He mentions the “encouragement of scriptures”. Read the scripture so that you can be encouraged in hope. Simple. But the bible helps us to change our way of thinking. Get more of it in your head. Read the scriptures.
He also mentions this: “welcome one another as Christ welcomed you.” There is nothing like the practice of Christian hospitality in preparation for Christmas. Remember that when you get caught in a traffic jam in front of Mall St. Matthews. Welcome one another as Christ welcomes you.

While all of this may sound a little severe, just remember this. These acts of faith. Penance, Reading the bible. Christian hospitality. All help us to focus on the kingdom of God which is among us now and which is prepared for us for all eternity. A kingdom of justice and faithfulness. A kingdom of peace and love. A kingdom of eternal glory. It is here. And it is coming.
So…Stay awake. Be Prepared. Repent. For the kingdom of heaven it at hand.