Saturday, May 23, 2015

Come Holy Spirit - homily for Pentecost 2015

Easter-8:  Pentecost Sunday          Homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling              5-22-2015
Acts 2:1-11                Ps 104            Gal 5:16-25                Jn 20:19-23

Fear.  That was the starting point for the apostles on that first day of the week.  They were hidden away behind locked doors.  They were so afraid of the Jewish authorities.  The threat was real.  What they did to Jesus, they could likely do to the apostles with false accusations, a trial, horrific beatings, and death by crucifixion.  One could easily justify their outright terror of these things.

It’s only human.  We struggle with various fears and sufferings.  Some of us here are dealing with fear because of recently discovered illness.  Some of us here are struggling with broken families and shattered relationships.  Some of us struggle with addiction.  Some of us here are beset with troubles and challenges, upset stomachs and sleepless nights.  The temptation is always the same.  We want to lock ourselves away and try to get as far away from the pain as possible.  That’s what fear does.

But Jesus stood in their midst.  His great and glorious presence was among them.  Perhaps their first   After all, they ran from him in his great moment of need.  Peter denied him.  Judas betrayed him.  They all lost their courage when the test came.  And so it is often enough with us.  Remember when Adam and Eve caved to temptation?  When God came to the garden in the cool of the evening, they ran from him and hid.  Instead of running to him and seeking his love and mercy, out of fear and shame they ran and hid. 
instinct was more fear.

Our God has spent all of salvation history coming to us to stand in our midst.  Love and mercy have been shown to us over and over again.  In the instant when Jesus came to the apostles, before they even had a chance to hide in fear Jesus told them “peace be with you.”  Then he showed them his hands and side.  He showed them the scars from his wounds – the wounds of love that he endured for them and for us.

Something truly wonderful happens when we are in the presence of Jesus.  Everything changes.  Jesus has shown us that perfect love casts out all fear.  In the midst of their fears – and our fears – Jesus stands with us.  When he is with us there is no room for fear, only love. 

Apart from Jesus and his perfect love, the temptations of the evil one swirl around us.  St. Paul named those terrible things  He called them the works of the flesh.  They are: immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.  These things lock us away from the love of God.  These things are the opposite of the kingdom of God.  We all need to pray to get rid of every trace of such things within our lives and within our community.  They have no place in the presence of perfect love.
that we struggle with.

Know this, dear people - even when we struggle, Jesus comes to us.  Wonderful things happen when Jesus gives us his presence, his spirit, and his peace.  Listen to how St. Paul described the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We all need to pray to grow in these graces within our own lives and within our community.  This is the inheritance of the kingdom of God. 

Truly, with Jesus, everything changes.

So it is that on this great solemnity of Pentecost we pray for the fullness of the Holy Spirit to come to us.

When we are locked up by our fears. – Come Holy Spirit
When we struggle with illness and pain – Come Holy Spirit.
When we suffer because of broken families, broken dreams, and broken spirits. – Come Holy Spirit.
When we are ashamed because of the sins of our past.  – Come Holy Spirit.
When we are hurting because of wars, persecutions, and disasters.  – Come Holy Spirit.

Jesus is forever the hope of the world, the healing of the nations.

Come Holy Spirit, and breathe peace and forgiveness over us. 

Heal us.

Come Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Go and proclaim - homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension

May 16, 2015                        Homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling              The Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1:1-11                Ps 47              Eph 1:17-23              Mark 16:15-20

Today is that great feast day that completes the Paschal Mystery.  Now, let’s remember what the term, Paschal mystery, refers to - the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the ascension of Jesus.   Today completes the celebration of the Paschal Mystery with the great Solemnity of the Ascension.

This idea of the Paschal mystery is dynamic.    It is dynamic because of what Jesus has to say to us in this moment.  Let’s listen to his words from the gospel of Mark once again.
“Go into the whole world 
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;"

Those are amazing words.  We call this short speech Jesus gave at his Ascension “the Great Commission.”  His last words to us on earth were two commands to his disciples – and to us as well.  Now, remember when Jesus said this to his disciples – “if you love me then keep my commands.”  So if you love Jesus say “amen.” 

Let’s look at the first command:  “Go into the whole world.
Jesus’ heart burns with love and mercy for the whole world.  When he ascended to heaven that didn’t mean that he left the world.  On the contrary, our almighty God is all-present in the world that he loves so much.  The ascension of Jesus from this 3 dimensional earthly existence into what we might call the 7 dimensional heavenly existence means that he became even more present to the world and to his disciples.  Jesus calls all of his followers to go with him into the world - to bring the message of his love and mercy to every creature.

Jesus shows us how to do this.  The gospel gives us many stories where Jesus encountered people.  Sometimes he encountered them in large groups through preaching and teaching.  Many times he encountered them in amazing one on one situations.  Remember the woman at the well?  Remember the man born blind?  Remember the paralytic carried by 4 friends to Jesus?  We are given story after story where Jesus changed the world one person at a time.  This is where the message of the love and mercy of Jesus gets practical.  Many times the command “go into the whole world” means that we go into somebody else’s world with the gospel message.

Now, let’s understand what it really means to go into somebody else’s world.  Especially when we are really doing what Jesus asks us to do, which is to go out and find the lost.  The lost are living messy and complicated lives.  The lost struggle with sin, isolation, addiction, and meaninglessness.  The lost pursue false lives through social media and worship money and sports far more than God.  The lost can be living violent and dangerous lives.  When we enter into their lives, it’s messy.  And the door only opens to enter into somebody else’s world when we go with Jesus.  The love and humility of Jesus opens doors.  The compassion of Jesus opens doors.  Prayer and the gentle power of the Holy Spirit opens doors.  Indeed, Jesus calls us to go with him into the whole world.  After all, Jesus entered into the mess of our own world.  He does this one heart at a time.

Truth be told, we are the lost who Jesus came to save.  Don’t we long for someone to come and find us?  To enter into our personal world and bring the love and mercy of Jesus into the dark places of our own existence?  We are recipients of the great commission just as much as we are also sent as witnesses of the great commission.  Dear good people – heed the call of Jesus with humility and love.  Go into the whole world.

This leads us to the 2nd command that Jesus gives us.  Proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

Here again, we have an awesome image of the love of Jesus for the whole world – for all of Jesus’ precious creation.  Every person around us is infinitely loved by God!  Our own conversion of heart means that our capacity to love each and every person also grows.  St. Teresa of Avila once asked Jesus to show her how much she loved him.  His response was rather challenging.  He said this to her, “you love me as much as the person you love the least.”  Wow!  May our capacity for love grow.

Because love leads us to proclamation.  When we experience the love of the Lord for us and we share in his love for the world, we can’t hold back in talking about the love and mercy of Jesus.  As Catholics, we aren’t called merely to preach this, though it is essential to speak the message.  We need to know our faith very well so that we can share our faith with others.  But words mean nothing if we don’t live the meaning of the message.

Remember the corporal works of Mercy?  Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless.  Visit the sick.  Visit the imprisoned.  Bury the dead.
Remember the spiritual works of Mercy?  Instruct the ignorant.  Counsel the doubtful.  Admonish sinners.  Bear wrongs patiently.  Forgive offenses willingly.  Comfort the afflicted.  Pray for the living and the dead. 

Yes, dear people.  Proclaim the gospel in words.  Share the stories of the gospel.  Speak of the teaching of the church.  Bring the liberating message of the gospel that proclaims the life and dignity of each human person.  This message becomes real when we live the gospel through the works of mercy.  The mercy of Jesus operating in our own lives gives more eloquent testimony than anything else. 

Of course, to do any of this, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us.  This is why Jesus instructed his disciples to pray to receive the Holy Spirit.  And this is why, on this great solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, we also dedicate ourselves to praying for a new Pentecost.  St. John Paul prophesied about this when he prayed for a new Pentecost in the world.  And so we pray:

Come Holy Spirit, and renew each and every heart. 
Come Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

I am the vine, you are the branches - homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter

Easter – 5th Sunday                                                                 May 3, 2015
Acts 9:26-31               Ps 22               1 Jn 3:18-24                Jn 15:1-8

I am the vine, you are the branches.

This is one of those great “I AM” statements Jesus makes in the Gospel of John. Christians find lots of comfort in this image.  The idea of this intimate connection with God reminds us that God wants to be intimately connected with us – like the vine and the branch – an integral part of the plant.  So it is that God wants to be completely connected with us, and we with Him.  Furthermore, God wants to bear fruit through us.  Not only does God want to be connected to us, but God wants to work through us.

Down through the ages Jesus has spoken his good news through the Church.  We have lots of stories of the saints who have done this in and through Jesus.  Saints who were so connected with Jesus that they changed their world.  Remember the stories about St. Francis of Asisi?  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton?  St. Francis Xavier?  St. Theresa of Calcutta? Who is your favorite saint?  These were some of the people who bore fruit in their lives because they believed in Jesus, loved one another, and followed the commands of Jesus.

Jesus is calling us, you and me, to bear fruit.  He is the vine and we are the branches.

Jesus also gives us a warning in this gospel passage.  Just as the branch can’t bear fruit if it isn’t connected to the vine, neither can we bear fruit if we aren’t connected to Jesus.  In fact, Jesus says these words of warning:  “anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people with gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.”  And this is so true.  God is the source of all being, and whether we believe or not, our life flows from the true source of life – God.  We who are Christians have the great privilege of knowing this truth.  We know the one who is truth – Jesus himself.  It is an amazing thing to give witness to our life in Jesus by bearing the fruit of the gospel.

So.  How do we stay connected to Jesus like the branch is connected to the vine.  How do we bear the fruit that Jesus wants us to bear.  Scripture shows us a couple of things we can do.  Let’s turn to 1 John 3:18-24 to understand this better. 

1st John says this:  “God’s commandment is this; we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Believe means that we say something is true so that it affects our lives.  For example, those who believe that taking a daily shower is important for personal hygiene and social acceptance, will shower daily.  Those who don’t believe in a daily shower won’t take a daily shower.  And probably won’t be socially popular.  But what about the person who says that a daily shower is important but never takes a shower anyway?  Does that person really believe?  Obviously - “no.”  Just so, if we profess that Jesus is Lord, then he must become our own Lord and Savior.  The evidence will be seen in our lives if we really believe. 

Remain in him, believe, and bear fruit.

1st John says that “we should love one another just as he commanded us.” 

Love is evidence of our belief in Jesus.  However, we’re not talking about warm fuzzy emotions.  Instead, we speak of love as a decision, an act of the will.  This is the kind of love that demands patience, kindness, an even temper, a willingness to put others first.  This is the kind of love that will impel us to lay our lives down for others.  This is the kind of love that Jesus had - when he laid down his life even for those who rejected him, condemned him, and crucified him.  That’s not “warm-fuzzy”  That’s self sacrificial.  Jesus said we should love one another. 

Remain in him, love, and bear fruit.

1st John says that “those who keep His commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.” 

Now, in the gospels, we find many of the commands of Jesus.  Proactive commands like, repent, believe, convert, pray, do not be afraid, love, and so forth.  There are also restrictive commands like, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, and so forth.  In order to follow the commands of Jesus we need to study them and understand them.  So listen to scripture at Mass.  Pick up some of those good CD’s and Books we have available in the back of Church.  Join one of our bible study groups or faith sharing groups.  Crack open those bibles at home and read, study, and understand.  And having studied these things, meditated upon these things – put the gospel into action.  Live the words of Jesus in practical ways, every day. 

Remain in him, keep his commandments, and bear fruit.

Finally, if we want to really be able to believe, love, and follow his commandments, then the key to all that is prayer.  Prayer inspires us to believe in Jesus.  Prayer teaches us to love like Jesus.  Prayer gives us desire to follow the commandments Jesus has given us.  Our lives will bear much good fruit, and we will truly and forever become his disciples.

For Jesus said:  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.  By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”