Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Heads up!" Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

Advent – 1                 Homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling              November 29, 2015
Jeremiah 33:14-16   Psalm 25        1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2    Luke 21:25-28,34-36

Happy New Liturgical year everybody!  It is Advent once again.  Today we begin intense preparation for the coming of Jesus.  Advent is the Holy Spirit’s way of saying to us all – “heads up!”  Jesus is coming soon!

The gospel of Luke is our spiritual guide for the new liturgical year.  All through this year St. Luke will help us to become better disciples of Jesus.  Today Jesus gives us this message of preparation.  So let’s take a look at what our “heads up” is for this Sunday.

1.  Jesus said, “There will be signs.”  Jesus talked about lots of signs in the world heralding his coming.  Nature will proclaim it.  Signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.  Remember -- it was this way at his birth.  Consider – this past year we saw the closest conjunction of Jupiter and Venus since around the time of Jesus – so much so that even the secular press called it “the Bethlehem Star.”  Consider – this past year and a half we have had 4 lunar eclipses, sometimes called a “blood moon.  This was a rather rare phenomena called a lunar tetrad.  There has been lots of buzz about this on social media.  And there have been other signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.    Jesus assured us that there will be further accompanying signs to herald his second coming.  For sure – there will be signs.

2.  It will come at just the right time.  When Jesus was born, it was in the fullness of time.  His coming heralded the advent of the new and eternal covenant established through his death and resurrection.  When he comes again, it will be at just the right time.  Jesus said that, “the nations will be in dismay.”  It seems like the time is becoming ripe for the second coming of Jesus.  St. Faustina, the great mystic of the 20th century wrote of this age being a special time of mercy.  On December 8 we celebrate the Year of Mercy – a special invitation to enter through his door of Mercy.  Afterwards he will come as the just judge.   It is the same for us individually - he comes in mercy and justice at the end of our own time.

Now, some people react individually to these words of Jesus with fear. Jesus says that, “nations will be in dismay.  People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” In fact, one can see elements of this prophecy unfolding in various places in the world today.  For those who don’t know the ways of God, they will have mortal fear of what is happening now and what is coming soon. 

Not so for the disciple who listens to these next words of Jesus.  For those who have faith in Jesus, he gives these words of encouragement.  “Stand up, raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”  So heads up folks!  This second part of the homily is focused on how to wait in joyful hope for the coming of Jesus.

First, Jesus gives a warning to his own disciples.  He said “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.”  This is a problem for many people.  The practice of faith becomes lax.  People drift away from the church.  Jesus cites two reasons for why people get spiritually drowsy.

1.  First – “Carousing and drunkenness.”  That is to say, people get caught up in feeding their own appetites. The entertainment empires make massive profits from our endless appetite for pleasure and entertainment.  So let’s check ourselves.  Do we have a tendency to “numb out” through excessive entertainment?  Are we too attached to our smart phones?  The internet?  Excessive food?  Do we use narcotics or alcohol to try and feel better?  Do we use people for personal pleasure through sexual excess or manipulation?  All of these things are a kind of “carousing and drunkenness” and make us spiritually drowsy – opening the door to spiritual death.

2.  Second - “anxieties of daily life.”  People get caught up in over-work - the desire for profit or success at all costs.  We get distracted by the daily struggle to make a living.  Meanwhile because of injustices the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Once again we have been subjected to our national shame that is the Black Friday shopping orgy.  In all of this we forget the spiritual life.  We neglect the things that are truly important.  And so we drift away from closeness to Jesus and His Church.  Through the anxieties of daily life we are distracted - spiritually drowsy, opening the door to spiritual death.

After this warning Jesus gives his disciples two things to do.  “Be Vigilant.  And Pray.”

Vigilance.  It is not a fearful watching.  To understand vigilance, let’s look at the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians to see the fuller message here.  St. Paul says, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”  The practice of love and kindness is an important form of vigilance.  Consider that the loving person is always vigilant in caring for others.  They are prepared to care for others, providing food, shelter, and encouragement.  If you want to be a “prepper” in this age – then St. Paul’s example is the Christian way of doing it.  This kind of vigilance – being prepared to care for others, is always pleasing to God.  The vigilant person knows how to prepare in fulfilling the call to love and care for others.  Jesus said it.  Let’s do it.  Be vigilant.

Prayer.  When we humbly kneel before God in prayer, then we can withstand anything.  God himself strengthens us.  The time of tribulation is upon the earth and is coming increasingly, like the pangs of birth.  In this, the true disciple of Jesus knows that as these signs come, our redemption is quite near.  Jesus himself comes to rescue us.  The praying disciple will know these things, because that person is intent on hearing the voice of Jesus our Good Shepherd.  The person who loves Jesus will seek him in prayer.   Jesus said it.  Let’s do it.  Pray.

May we as followers of Jesus greet these signs of the times with heads raised high, confident that God always keeps his promises.  Our redemption is at hand.  The fullness of God’s kingdom is very near now.

It truly is Advent once again - the coming of our God in glory to save us.  We are the people who wait in joyful hope.  So, good people, “heads up!”  Jesus is coming soon. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Christ the King - homily 11-22-2015

Christ the King – Solemnity        homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling             November 22, 2015
Daniel 7:13-14                 Psalm 93               Rev. 1:5-8              John 18:33-37

Today’s liturgy, the Solemnity of Christ the King, is the Sunday where we complete the liturgical year.  And in the end of the liturgical year, indeed the end of all things, what we celebrate is that Jesus is Lord of all.  To celebrate this truth we have listened to the 18th chapter of the gospel of John.  Verses 33-37.  The conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.

Here Pilate asked Jesus point blank.  “Are you the King of the Jews?”  And so Jesus explained to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world.  Pilate did not understand.  But Jesus concluded his explanation with something very curious which I want repeat for all to hear.  Jesus said this: 

“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. 
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Jesus’ mission is to testify to the truth - the truth of His love for us and his plan of salvation for us. 

Jesus the Messiah was foretold in all of sacred scripture.  He was the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.  His life, death, and resurrection, is total fulfillment of Sacred Scripture.  Throughout sacred scripture, Jesus gives testimony to the truth.

Jesus, the Bread that Came Down from Heaven, inaugurated a New Covenant by his death and resurrection.  The New Covenant between God and Man has seven signs – that is to say, seven sacraments.  Seven seals by which God’s holy people are saved by Grace.  Throughout Sacred Tradition celebrated by the church, Jesus gives testimony to the truth.

Jesus, who is the head of the church, provided leaders for the church through the apostles and their successors.  These were and are the ones called by him to proclaim the truths that he gave to us.  Jesus speaks through this teaching authority of the church, the apostles and their successors, to give testimony to the truth.

We have three sure witnesses to the truth that Jesus speaks about in his gospel.  Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Teaching Authority of the Church.  Always remember this.  When doubts come about our own faith, remember these three witnesses.  They are like three strong pillars supporting one another.  When we depend upon these three witnesses given to us by Christ, then we will never waver.

Jesus said that “everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Now, here is something important for us to remember.  If Jesus says that there are people who listen to his voice, then that means that Jesus wants to speak to each of us.  And we all need to be equipped to really listen to the voice of Jesus.  And how do we do that?
Well, first of all – to listen to the voice of Jesus is to really hear what Jesus has already said.  Jesus has spoken to us in sacred scripture.  Jesus has spoken to us in sacred tradition.  And Jesus has spoken to us through the teaching of the Church.  May each of us make a commitment to reading the bible.  May each of us commit to reading the teaching of the church.  Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great way to start.  And may each of us commit to regular practice of the traditions of the church, particularly prayer and the sacraments.

And secondly – to listen to the voice of Jesus is to really hear what Jesus is saying to the church today.  And while there is much that can be said about listening to the voice of Jesus speaking to us today, let’s pick one thing to focus on right now – the Mass.   Jesus wants to speak clearly to us through the Mass.

But it’s hard to really listen.  And so we come up with excuses about why we can’t.  So people say things like: The Mass is too long, we should get out of here in less than an hour.  Or Father talks too fast, I don’t understand.  OR he preaches too long.  Or the music is too slow.  Or the music is too fast.  Or the person next to me is a grouch – they’re all hypocrites.  Or there was a kid running down the aisle throwing cheerios.  Or the church is too cold.  Or the church is too hot.  Etc.  We all can come up with excuses till the cows come home.  But in the end the only way to truly listen to Jesus is this: – that our souls are so united with Jesus that none of these things matter.  And when we are that committed, then the time will come when we will see the glory of Jesus revealed at Mass, and our tired excuses fade away into irrelevance.  The fact of the matter is, Jesus desires with all his heart to speak personally to each of us.  Do we desire to listen?

And so here is an encouragement and a challenge.  Let’s commit ourselves in this next liturgical year to focus on truly listening to the voice of Jesus.  How?
1.  Ask Jesus to open our ears to hear what he is saying.  Before every Mass ask Jesus to send his Holy Spirit to open our ears to hear his words.  And since we know that he really wants to speak to us, this is an easy prayer to have answered.  Step #1.  Ask Jesus.

2.  come to Mass expecting to hear something.  Jesus will speak.  Maybe in one of the scriptures.  Or one of the prayers.  Or a song.  Or a homily.  Or in the silence.  Jesus will speak.  Perhaps with words.  Perhaps with a vision.  Perhaps with an inspired idea.  Jesus will speak, if the ears of our hearts are opened.  Step two – expect in faith to hear something.

3.  Write down the inspiration.  Seriously, start a spiritual journal.  Bring it to Mass – that’s perfectly ok.  Write down those inspirations every week.  Over time, we will be amazed at how Jesus is truly speaking to our hearts at Mass.  So step #3 – since the voice of Jesus is truly important, write down the inspiration.

When we truly listen to Jesus speaking to us in the Mass, then these words of his will be fulfilled in our own hearing.  For Jesus said, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

"The Last Days" OT 33 homily 11-15-2015

OT-33 Sunday                       homily:  Fr. Bill Bowling                    Nov 15, 2015
Dn 12:1-3                  Ps 16              Heb 10:11-14,18                  Mk 13:24-32

The last days are upon us.  The prophet Daniel describes it with these words.  “It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since the nations began until that time.”  Jesus describes this time in the gospel with these words.  “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

Apocalyptic imaginations abound.  On the History Channel or Discovery Channel, various doomsday docudramas abound.  One program called “supervolcano” describes how the world would come to a crashing halt if the Yellowstone Caldera erupted.  A website I recently discovered called “” presents a theory that world governments are manipulating the weather and are causing ecological collapse in an effort to contain global warming. Then there are those who present the theory that certain financial doom is imminent because of the global debt load.

From the political point of view, we have been watching chaos spread throughout the middle-east and into Europe.  Film-footage of refugees on foot streaming into western nations have been on our television screens.  On Friday we were shocked to receive news of the terrorist attacks in Parish France.  War and instability continue to spread and many say that we live in dangerous times.

From the religious point of view, there are many alleged mystics and visionaries who claim that we are in the last days of the present age, and on the cusp of a new era.  Various people claim that they have received messages from Jesus, or the Blessed Mother, or angels.  From the visionaries in Fatima, to the Divine Mercy messages, to the alleged messages from Medjugorje, a host of others join their voices to say that we are living at the end of the age.

Many points of view line up – the ecological position, the political position, and the religious position seem to proclaim that we are in the last days.

And so we are.  We might as well admit it.  For it has been this way since the Resurrection of Jesus and will increasingly become this way.  We are in the last days.

Furthermore, our own personal last day is rapidly approaching.  Each and every person in this room will someday die – some sooner, and some later.  No one can escape our own personal tribulation and our own death.  We can then definitively say that both in our personal lives and in our lives as a global community, the end is coming.

There is a very important point about all of this – one which Jesus wisely brings to our attention in today’s gospel.  No one knows the day or the hour.  We neither know this about our own lives, nor do we know it about the world either. 

So how do we respond to all of these things?  This is easy.  The three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love mark our way.

Consider, when Jesus spoke of the great tribulation and the end of the age, he described how “he would send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”  What a great promise!

And who are the elect?  These are the ones marked with the sign of faith– who have both received the great sign of baptism – or who desire it.  And we know that God himself desires salvation for everyone.  Those marked with the great sign of faith and who are the elect are the ones who choose to live according to the grace of baptism.  These are the ones who strive to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and who love their neighbor as they love themselves.  These are the people who live according to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

What of the tribulation that Jesus mentioned?  Certainly it is the case that from time to time each of us will face a time of tribulation, a time of personal purification.  And certainly it is the case that nations, and even the entire world pass through tribulations, much of which we bring on ourselves because of sin. 

The bible tells us that Jesus came to conquer our sin and our death.  The bible promises that we are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.  The bible promises that God offers us the gracious gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus.  Remember the words of Jesus in today’s gospel.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

When our minds and hearts are transformed by knowledge of these things, we cease to fear those times when we must carry the cross of suffering.  We can let go of fear when we understand that we are the people who wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As we proclaimed in today’s psalm – “you are my inheritance, O Lord.”

The last days are continually upon us, which means that the Day of the Lord, the day of our salvation, quickly approaches. 

And so we are encouraged.  We are encouraged to remain vigilant at all times and to pray.  We are encouraged when we take up the mystery of faith and say “we proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.”

What Does Real Faith Look Like? OT 32nd Sunday homily Nov 8, 2015

OT 32nd Sunday                                                                                             Nov 8, 2015
1 Kings 17:10-16      Psalm 146      Hebrews 9:24-28      Mark 12:38-44

What does real faith look like?  That is a central question from the scriptures this weekend.  And this is a question we all need to ask from time to time.  Am I practicing a real faith?  Or am I just going through the motions?

Let’s take a look at how the scriptures answer this question.  In the gospel Jesus offers us the negative example first.  He says– “beware of the scribes…”  And exactly what should we beware of?  Two things.

1.  Beware of the scribes because their prayers are fake.  They may look good by putting on long robes and taking the best seats in the synagogues.  They may put on a good show by reciting lengthy prayers.  But their hearts are not sincere.  And that principle is just as true then as it is now.  If it is just for show – if it is fake, then look out! 

Beware brothers and sisters.  Don’t be like the scribes.  Don’t be a religious fake.

2.  Beware of the scribes because they take advantage of people.  Jesus cites a very specific example – they devour the houses of widows…  Widows in ancient times served as an example of a person in society who is weak and vulnerable.  And people of faith are supposed to protect the weak and the vulnerable.  But instead of doing that, these fakes would take advantage of the poor, using up their resources, even their houses, and leaving them with nothing.   The fake religious abused the poor and vulnerable back then.  And the fake religious do the same today.

Beware brothers and sisters.  Don’t be like the scribes.  Don’t take advantage of the poor.

No matter how religious a person may appear to be, if their prayer is insincere and their actions are selfish, then their faith is dead.  And Jesus gives the most chilling warning – they will receive a very severe condemnation.”

This is just as true today as it was when Jesus said it first to his disciples.  So listen closely people of God.  Jesus is telling us -- beware of these things.

So what are we supposed to do?  What does that real faith look like?  This weekend scripture offers us the example of a prophet and two widows.

1.  Elijah the prophet.  Elijah is an example of a man whose faith was sincere.  Elijah was devoted.  He was faithful to the sacred scriptures, sacred tradition, and to the authentic teaching the faith.  So much so that in his role as prophet he was constantly calling Israel to repent and to practice the real faith.  This was difficult for him because most of society, especially the leadership of the day, had turned away from the real faith.  Even when Elijah faced the worst opposition from king Ahab and queen Jezebel and all the priests and prophets of the false religions, Elijah didn’t waver.  He stayed true.  His heart stayed close to God.  His mind stayed true to sacred scripture and sacred tradition.  And his soul stayed faithful. 

Let us pray that God will give us the grace to be more like Elijah the prophet - with sincere faith.

2.  The two widows.  These faithful widows are the example of courageous trust.  Both of these women were in dire straits.  The first – the widow of Zarepath – wasn’t even of the Jewish faith.  But she received Elijah the prophet with hospitality, offering him a cup of water.  And when he asked for a bit of bread, she shared with him the very last that she had, while invoking the God of Israel.  Elijah told her – do not be afraid.  Because of her courageous trust God rewarded her by providing for her throughout that terrible year of drought.  Her jar of flour never went empty nor did her jar of oil run dry.

The second, the widow at the temple, is our other example of courageous trust.  Jesus observed her along with the others putting their tithes into the temple treasury.  And he noted that she gave from her poverty.  Which means that she gave with trust that God would provide for her just as God did for the widow of Zarepath.

Let us pray that God will give us the grace to be more like the two widows - with courageous trust.

Both the prophet Elijah and the two widows point the way to Jesus himself.  Because Jesus offers us the example of a heart truly united with God the Father.  Jesus offers us the example of courageous trust.  He gives everything for love of God and for all of us, even to the point of the cross.  He is our great high priest, revealing the resurrection and eternal life to us.

This is why we have a true and sincere faith in Jesus. 
This is why we have the courage to trust in him.
This is why we have the confidence to do whatever he asks of us.

So back to the first question – what does real faith look like?  Let’s continue to follow Jesus who shows us the way.