The Month of May, like our Faith, is a time of transition, not completion

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION

Readings:  Acts 1: 1-11/Eph. 1:17-23

Psalm:  47

Gospel:  Mk. 16:15-20

The month of May could be viewed as a time of endings; a time of completion.  We see graduations in high schools and colleges.  We even see it in the 8th grade and kindergarten.  We honor those who gave their life for their country.  Here in this church and in churches across the country, young boys and girls receive communion for the first time, usually an indication for the completion of the PSR year.  And next week, with the Feast of Pentecost, the Easter season is concluded.  Each one of these is a time of celebration-in one way or another-and yet once they are done, we have a tendency to forget them as soon as they are done and go on with our lives as if nothing had happened.  It was as if the work to accomplish these moments were inconsequential. The month of May can be seen as a time of endings, but shouldn’t it be more than that?

We seem to have a four-part mindset of activity:  Anticipation, Preparation, Participation and Restoration.  We anticipate an event to happen.  We prepare our lives for that moment so we can be ready.  Then when the moment arrives, we live in the moment with such passion that it changes us permanently.  Then once it is over we quickly try to restore our lives back to where it was.  How much or how little we desire to restore it depends if we had a positive or negative experience.  Nowhere is that more prevalent than what was in the readings proclaimed today.

This has to be one of the rarest situations to happen in the Church year.  We have the same story proclaimed in two of the readings today.  Christ’s Ascension into Heaven is mentioned in the First Reading in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Gospel from St. Mark.  Each one begins about the same time period; the last moment of Christ upon the earth.  The disciples come together on the mountaintop with joy, sadness and a sense of anticipation, much like that they had done years before when they were waiting for the Messiah; a Messiah that will bring them glory that as a people they had enjoyed years before.

When they heard the words of Christ, they began to prepare for what they view is the moment of their nation’s return to earthly power.  So they put their faith in Jesus and participated in his crusade.  But the question remained:  Will he or won’t he?  Is he the one to bring Israel out of their oppression and back to her former glory?  When Jesus was captured and crucified, the disciples thought they were wrong.  But when Christ appeared to them after his resurrection, their hopes returned.  So, when they arrived on the mountaintop, Jesus was waiting for them.  But they still needed to know.  So they asked him “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

What were they asking?  To restore something means to bring back to a former, original or normal position or condition.  In other words, they are looking to go back to the point where their lives were untouched by outside influences. They wanted to go back to the era of King David; the era that they were just as influential as the Egyptians or even the Romans.  They wanted to be restored as their own country and rid themselves of their Roman occupiers.

But there is a problem with this idea of restoring.  It is a problem with anyone who encounters Jesus in their lives.  Those who have encountered Christ are changed forever.  They cannot be restored to where they were before because the prior self is gone, and the new self remains.  So when the disciples asked if he is to restore the kingdom to Israel, what they were asking could not be done, because what they wanted restored was gone forever.  What the Father will establish in its place will be a new heaven and a new earth.  When that will happen no one knows but the Father.  What they wanted could not be given to them, because what they had received by Christ and will receive from the Holy Spirit will be greater than any earthly king can give.

In the meantime, Christ gave them one more mission.  He tells them to go out into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.  Those who will believe and be baptized will be saved and those who refuse will be condemned.  Those who do believe will be identified as having the power to heal anyone, speak in any language, cast out the demons that people have in their lives and have the courage that if they were to be surrounded by serpents and given poison to drink, they could handle both without any harm to be done to them. And with that, he was raised into heaven.  The disciples were still looking, not knowing what to do, until the angels reminded them of his return.   They returned to Jerusalem, like Jesus asked them to and waited for “the promise of the father.”

Like those disciples, we are waiting for the return of the Messiah.  And like those disciples, we think that once he returns, things will get back to a place where we think things will be; where the world around us will be made great again. But those moments are gone and cannot be brought back.  Every time we encounter Christ-either in Church or at home or on the street-then our lives are totally changed for the better. We should not nor do we want our lives to go back before we have encountered Christ.

To have the desire to deny the existence of Christ would be a lie we say to God AND to ourselves.  There is no point of being here, receiving the sacraments or playing a part in the life of the Church; unless you have some narcissistic tendencies and this is the best way to exhibit them.  Christ is present everywhere, so each day our lives are changed in some way because of his presence in our lives.  It would be foolhardy to try to restore anything that has been changed by the love of Christ.

Much like we are forever changed in our encounter’s with Christ, so we are also changed whenever we decide to be with someone else for the rest of our lives.  A man and a woman, who completely and freely give of themselves to another are no longer their own person, but become a new identity.  And even further, when Man and Woman decide that they wish to have children in their lives-either by birth or adoption-they stop being just Man and Woman.  They are now Father and Mother. Today, we honor those women who said yes to the question of having children in their lives.

To those mothers who have come before us; to those who are here today; and to those who will say yes in the time to come; may our hearts and prayers go out to each and every one of you for your courage and love for each and every one of us.  When Mary said yes at the Annunciation, she did not know what being the Mother of God would entail.  At the Nativity it is said that she understood all of these things and carried them in her heart.  At the crucifixion, that heart was pierced with the pain of watching her son die in front of her.  And in this month of May, the month we honor her and all mothers, we honor her as Queen of Heaven and Earth.  May is an unusual month.  But it is not a month of completion, but a time of transition.  And it is from the love given to us from our mothers do we find the love of God here on earth.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

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In a world full of gossip, true communication is the key toward salvation.

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Author’s Note:  This is the Homily for last week.  Unfortunately, I had trouble with my router and could not use the internet for a few days.  So here we go!

 

HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: Acts 9:26-31/1 Jn. 3:18-24

Psalm:  22:26-28, 30-32

Gospel:  Jn. 15:1-8

 

            I remember as a kid playing a game in school called “Telephone.”  Someone would have a simple message and whisper it in the ear of one person and they would whisper it in the ear of the next person until it reached the other end of the room.  By the time it got there, though, the message was nowhere near what the message was in the first place.  Words would get changed or removed or extra words would be put in just because the person didn’t make out what they heard at first.  It was a fun game as a kid and was a good learning tool for critical listening.  We all like to hear good stories, and the more we add to them the better they are.  In some odd way, when we add something to the story, it is as if we give endorsement of what a person does as showing something that is  greater than they are or have shown before.

The art of communication can lift a person to heights unimagined.  They can also bring a person down to the depths of the netherworld. The most dangerous form of communication is known by the word gossip.  We as a society can gossip on the smallest thing:  how a person looks, how they walk, how they talk, how they act, etc.  Just the slightest word toward someone can make the difference in another’s eyes if they are the greatest or the least among us all.

Now here comes the hard part.  Say, for example, that a person who was not the best person in the world.  They have finally realized it and are trying to make amends and turn their life around by helping the same people who they caused so much pain.  How would you react?  Would you still hold grudges?  Would you distrust them?  Would you still gossip about them by adding on to the things they had done in the past, making them worse than they actually were?  This was the scene in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  The reputation of Paul had preceded him.  The disciples in Jerusalem still saw him as Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of Christians.  He was a faker; a con artist trying to find the “inner circle” and rid Jerusalem of this group forever.

The gossip of what he had done was going on at a furious pace, and I imagine that a lot of extra embellishment on top of those things that Paul had actually done.  If you want to really bury a person’s reputation, don’t just use the facts; be sure to add a bit of sweetener that sounds like something they would do.  It took Barnabas, one of their group who later accompanied him in his mission, to proclaim Saul’s conversion.  He was now Paul, just a Christian as they were as well as under threat of death as they were.  Just as it is today as it was then, being a follower of Christ is not all rainbows and happiness.  It is a conversion experience that can require everything from us, including our lives.

Why did Barnabas do it?  I think he was being the example of John’s words from the Second Reading today.  John admonishes his readers that we should “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”  How do we do that?  John says we do that by keeping his commandment:  “We should believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us.”   In John’s Gospel, God prunes the branch from Jesus so that it can bear more fruit.  That is all that Barnabas was doing; being that branch that God pruned so that Paul could grow as the fruit of the vine.  Barnabas stood up for him by speaking the truth of what he was and what he became and destroying every story that was nothing more than gossip.

Gossip can be just as dangerous as an act of terrorism.  Pope Francis last December made that comparison.  It creates distrust when speaking badly of someone behind their backs. “It is a kind of terrorism,” he said, “destroying everything.”[1]  He made that same point again during Easter Week when he stated that when we gossip, particularly as we leave Mass, the gifts we are given had not been received in the way God wanted.  Francis said. “Jesus enters in our hearts and in our flesh so that we may express in our lives the sacrament we received in faith.  But if we leave the church gossiping, saying ‘Look at this one, look at that one,’ with a loose tongue, the Mass has not entered into my heart.”[2]  Gossip can take us away from God just as fast as any act of sin that we can commit, because it damages the life of another.  Francis suggests that if the urge to gossip comes up that we bite our tongues.  “You might harm your tongue,” he says, “but you won’t harm your brother or sister.”[3]

Over the next few Sunday’s, churches across America will welcome our youngest into the Church by inviting them to the Table of the Lord in their First Holy Communion.  They are the new fruit that comes from our branches.  So, it is our responsibility to be the kind of branches from the vine that produces good fruit by being the example that is expected so that they will carry on the faith as they grow older rather than the one that God cuts away and throws into the fire.  This day is as much about us as it is about them.  Let us recall that day in our lives, remember the joy it brought us, and keep that in our hearts by being the good fruit that, like Paul, brings those around into the comforting arms of God.  The phone is ringing; the message is sent; will you be the one who hears it and pass it on as it was passed on to you?  With the Grace of God, there is no doubt.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YO DO THIS WEEK

 

[1] Cindy Wooden. “Pope Francis:  avoid ‘terrorism’ of gossip” in Catholic Herald December 2, 2017 (http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/12/02/pope-francis-avoid-terrorism-of-gossip/)

[2] Junno Arocho Esteves, via Catholic New Service “Leave Mass praising God, not gossiping about other, pope says”  in National Catholic Reporter April 4, 2018 (https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/francis-chronicles/leave-mass-praising-god-not-gossiping-about-others-pope-says)

[3] Wooden.

In times of sorrow do we understand the need to “Rejoice and be Glad.”

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HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings:  Acts 3:13-15, 17-19/1 Jn. 2:1-5

Psalm:  4:2, 4, 7-9

Gospel:  Lk. 24:35-48

 

Some of you may have heard that Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation entitled “Gaudete et Exsultate” or, in English, “Rejoice and be glad.”  It is the custom that the first few words of a Church document become the title.  Where did this title come from?  They came from the 5th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount.  The Sermon established Jesus’ mission on Earth.  He wanted to assure the crowds that listened to him that he was not there to remove and replace the Law and the Prophets, but to bring them to their fullness.

For starters, the sermon began with a way to show that what we do for others has positive or negative consequences.  When he looked at those who were curious about him, he spoke not in demands like they have heard other rabbi’s and temple priests in quoting the 10 Commandments, but in blessings:  blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, and so one.  But at the end of these compliments, he gives an especially pointed blessing for those who decide to become his disciple that it would not all be peaches and cream.   It will be a time of hatred, rebukes, and loss of friends and loved ones because of accepting the teachings of Jesus as the way of satisfaction on earth as well as salvation in Heaven.

But it is not so much that being a disciple is just to read and understand these teachings, it is using them in their daily lives when things are going poorly just as much as they are going well. In the Gospel proclaimed today, we see an example of how belief in Christ can be forgotten whenever we are at our lowest.  It starts with two disciples, the same two that were on the road to Emmaus, recounting how they saw Jesus on their way; how he talked to them, asked them questions and sat down to eat with them.  They came back to the Upper Room to tell the apostles.  This was just hours after the women came back from the tomb saying Jesus was gone, angels told them that he had risen and Peter had gone to see for himself.  Even with all that, the disciples had trouble grasping the concept of Jesus being raised from the dead.  It was as if in their grief, their thoughts returned to the teachings of their childhood-the teachings of the Chief Priests and Scribes-and forgotten all that they heard from Jesus.

It was in these moments of sadness and confusion that Jesus appeared to them.  When he did, he saw the need to remind them of how they got to this point.  He explained to them all that he had revealed before, concluding with what they are seeing at that very moment.  He was not imaginary, for they recognized him when he revealed himself.  He was not a ghost, for he asked for food.  His words were not contradictory, for he gave them the same message that he had done so many times before.  Like something out of film noir, Jesus brought together “the usual suspects” to reveal to them the truth of the matter:  That what he did and what he said is now the mission that we are called to do.

It was a sentiment expressed in the Second Reading from the 1st Letter of John.  He reminded his readers that in order to avoid sin, we need to keep his commandments.  To do that, we still have to remember that Jesus is our advocate.  And the message that he gave is the means by which we keep them.  Peter continued this message in his words from the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  Peter told them that Jesus was the one that was glorified by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And even though Jesus was killed out of ignorance, he was the one that the Prophets had foretold.  The better we understand the message of Christ, the better we see his face in the world around us.

Christ’s call for us is to achieve holiness.  It is also the goal for Pope Francis when he published this Exhortation.  Francis said “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”[1] Both are asking us to look at being a disciple of Christ in a deeper way than we have had in our lifetimes.  We do that by being more focused on what we do in our lives so that we are examples of Christ to the world.  Like Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (and even in the teachings of John the Baptist) Francis gives concrete examples of being holy in our daily lives.

Francis asks “Are you married?  Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church.  Do you work for a living?  Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters.  Are you a parent or a grandparent?  Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus.  Are you in a position of authority?  Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”[2]   While this may sound easy, it is somewhat harder than we think.  But we should never think we cannot attain this sense of holiness because it is too much to ask or that another has done it in a certain way.  Francis goes on to say “There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us.  The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts…”[3]

There are many more things that are in this document for us to ponder.  But its purpose is the same as Christ’s purpose while on earth.  To be holy, we strive to be the best we can in the ordinary so that others can see the extraordinary that is inside each and every one of us.  One more time from Francis, “We are called to be holy by living our lives with the love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.” [4]  By doing what we do day in and day out, our lives can be truly blessed and then we will hear Christ say at the end of the day, “Peace be with you.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

[1] Gaudete et Exsultate, 2.

[2] Gaudete et Exsultate, 14.

[3] Gaudete et Exsultate, 11.

[4] Gaudete et Exsultate, 14.

The 2018 Lenten Season: A Post-Mortem

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            This Lenten Season has been one of the most unusual that I have encountered in recent memory.  While Lent is to be a time of personal reflection and repentance, these past 40 days and 40 nights had become much more, both in the life of the Church and within society.  We saw young lives taken away by violence, only to view the survivors of that tragedy rally for their classmates to enact meaningful change at the same time critics question the authenticity of their convictions.  How we react to sorrow and grief is just as important on we react to joy and happiness.  When we understand that, then we can truly appreciate the meaning of Lent.

            The word Lent comes from Old English meaning “spring season.”  As anyone who lives in Mid-America knows that the weather in springtime can incredibly unpredictable.  It starts in cold and darkness.  The snow on the ground starts to melt, the temperatures begin to warm up, but not before a few serious storms (not to mention Tornadoes) will come through and ravage the land.  In fact, this year marked the 70th Commemoration of my hometown, Bunker Hill, Illinois, was practically levelled by a Tornado.  To this day, the town has not recovered.  Springtime is not just green grass, growing flowers and birds returning.  It is also the path by which those things are allowed to occur.  Much like the phrase “April Showers bring May flowers” the joy of Easter can only be experienced until the sorrow of Lent is complete.

            This Lenten Season had been one of contradictions.  Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a day of fasting, abstinence and wearing of ashes on our head fell on the feast day of St. Valentine, a day of love and romance.  Palm Sunday, the day that commemorated Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem with swaying of palms and lying of cloaks on the road was the same day as the traditional feast of the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel came in silence to a Virgin named Mary sitting alone in her home and telling her that she would be the Mother of God.

            This might seem to be an oddity, and admittingly, an amazing one at that.  Yet then again, if we looked at the Scriptures, we would find even more instances of contradictions.  God created Man and Woman in his own image.  But when they wanted to be equal to wisdom as God, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden.  When Moses saw the Burning Bush, God told him that he would be the deliverer of the Hebrews from Egypt.  But when he attempted to give these same Hebrews water from the side of a mountain, God kept him from entering the Promised Land.  When John the Baptist began his ministry, he promoted the forgiveness of sins to attain the grace of God.  But when he attempted to change the heart of King Herod, he was killed due to the hatred of the Queen.  Our faith is based on contradiction, yet even in those contradictions do we see our salvation presenting itself to the entire world. 

            When the contradictions get the best of us, sometimes it is best to step back, walk away and listen to that voice within yourself in order to bring clarity in our lives.  Lent is the time for us to do that.  When Jesus went into the desert, he used this time to gain a better understanding of how he was to minister to his Father’s creation.  He understood what it meant to be an observant Jew as well as the Son of God, but how was he to explain this image effectively to those around him?  The many noises that were being emanated in Israel were making everyone nervous and uptight.  Jesus could feel those emotions and it was putting a strain on Jesus.  His human side was being pulled away from his divine side, for lack of a better term. 

            During his time studying the Scriptures, he began to understand what his Father’s actions on the world had done, such as The Great Flood that destroyed the earth, with only Noah, his family and the animals enclosed in the ark.  Jesus looked at the world around him and saw the factions that had taken control over the Children of God:  The Priests, Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees.  Even the Roman occupiers of the land had a great influence over the minds and hearts of those whom God had chosen for his own.  The Israelites were losing their focus; their identity of what it meant to be in covenant with God.  So it would stand to reason that Jesus, being all Man as well as all God, would be feeling it as well.  In order to keep Jesus’ focus on what he was sent to do, the Holy Spirit grabbed him and sent him to the desert.  For 40 days, Jesus was secluded to gain the wisdom he needed to speak with the people.  It gave him the time he needed to get a perspective on what was going on, what he needed to do, how to do it and when it would be time to return to his Father in heaven. What Lent is to do for us is to “recreate” that time in the desert for our own personal sanity so we can move forward in our journey to paradise.

            To make a retreat is to get away from the problems of the world so we can listen to the voice of God.  Yet no matter how much we try to get away from them, our problems and concerns are waiting for us when we get back.  Yet how we handle those problems is the difference between being in control of them or is the slave of them.  I had heard a description of how Satan temps us.  It was not by offering large fortunes or extreme power.  It was by showing us the things that could have been if we had chosen different paths.  If one looks at the Temptation of Christ by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11/Mk. 1:12-13/Lk.4:1-13) in this manner instead of what we have normally read as an enticement to serve Satan, then we can see how Satan entices us in the same way he enticed Jesus.  For example, Jesus was hungry, and Satan appealed to his sense of hunger.  When Satan wanted him to give a demonstration of his power, he appealed to his vanity.  And when Satan offered Jesus an offer of power that he did not have, it was an appeal to his greed.  To Jesus, all of those temptations could have accelerated his plans to become the Messiah in the spiritual as well as the terrestrial plane.  But he also knew any one of those temptations would distract from the mission that he had already planned.  It is not enough that we step back and gain perspective in our lives.  It also takes the courage to know that the choices we make are the ones that make the most sense for us in our quest toward salvation. 

            For those who mentor anyone realize that at some point in this relationship that the mentored leaves the mentor and goes on their own.  Whether they are a parent, teacher or pastor, every lesson they give is presented so that the one who is being taught can use those lessons during their lives and, eventually, pass on those lessons to someone else.  In John’s Gospel (12:20-33) there were some Greeks who were in Jerusalem for Passover who asked to see Jesus. They were not the Chosen People.  The Messiah was only for those whom God called.  Yet Jesus’ words were so inspiring that they transcended those who they were for and has spread out amongst the known world. 

            It was at this point, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  Once his message went out beyond the border walls of the Jewish society, Jesus knew that it was time for the final moments of his life to begin.  In order for his message to spread further, he had to be that grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that it would produce much fruit.  That is the task of a mentor:  to be a trusted advisor and friend.  And when the time comes that the student should go on, it is the duty of the mentor to bid them well.  To do otherwise is to be nothing more than a leader of a cult.  They try to act in the place of God, but when that moment comes, the perks of being God are not there.  For the mentor to see their student to go on their way, knowing that they have taught them well, and see that student become a mentor of others, then they have the satisfaction that their work was not in vain. 

            Once we are done with the contradictions of Lent, we come upon the final contradiction of faith:  Easter.  On the calendar, Easter 2018, the day we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead falls on April Fool’s Day, a day dedicated for jokes and pranks to be played on one another.  Yet as the story is presented, I have wondered if this year the connection would not be appropriate?  The Gospel of John (20:1-9) states that it was Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning.  She was visibly upset after all of the events that had occurred in the past few days.  So it must have been truly upsetting to see that the stone that was in front of the tomb had been moved and the body of the one that she adored was gone.  Was this some sort of prank?  Did someone grab his body?  Did the Romans, or worse, the Chief Priests steal his body to discredit Jesus’ disciples?

            Mary ran back to the Upper Room where the Apostles were hiding and told them what she had seen.  Peter and the “Disciple whom Jesus loved” went to the tomb.  They saw the burial cloth lying in the tomb, with the head covering setting somewhere else.  At the time, they were just a befuddled, but later put the pieces together.  Any doubts that they had regarding the true identity of Jesus had gone.  He had indeed risen from the dead.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God.  The act of despair and ridicule to those who were there has now become the act of joy and happiness for all of eternity.  How’s that for an April Fool’s prank!?!

            Now comes the hard part.  What are we to do?  Jesus has risen.  We are the benefactors of that miracle.  And as benefactors, we have an obligation to continue the mission of Jesus and those with whom he had loved.  This is not a day of celebration just to be forgotten the next day.  It is a wake-up call from Christ that we are the ones that he entrusts to carry the Good News to all the earth.  Those who have been called to ministry can only do so much.  It is as much a responsibility to the laity as it is to the ordained to proclaim witness to the Paschal Mystery in thought, word and deed.

            Every year during the Chrism Mass, the Bishop asks the priests in his care to renew the promises they made at their ordination.  During the Mass, everyone present renews their baptismal promises when they recite the Creed.  During the Easter Season, this would be a good time to take a look at the Creed and see how it relates to your life.  For those who have questions or concerns regarding the Creed and your life, then take as much time or study needed to find those answers.  No one is forcing anyone to accept it.  But what they can do is understand it.  Only from understanding something can intelligent dialogue begin which results in effective resolutions.

            Christ is risen!  He left the world in good hands-ours.  Now is the time to start using those hands to do the task of God.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

 

 

             

St. Patrick shows us the way to see Jesus

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HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF LENT

            Readings:  Jer. 31:31-34/Heb. 5:7-9

            Psalm:  51:3-4, 13-15

            Gospel:  Jn. 12:20-33

 

There is a tale in Celtic Folklore of two sisters; the daughters of the Irish King of Connaught.[1] They were no more than children and spent their days laughing and playing throughout the castle grounds. It was their routine every morning to go to the nearby pond hidden in the woods so they could bathe.  One morning, the two girls started hearing strange voices outside of their window.  When they looked out, they saw a number of tents pitched in the direction of their pond.  Those strange sounds that woke them up were coming from those tents.  The sisters were confused and slightly upset.  So they got dressed and made their way toward the encampment. When the sisters came to the camp, the voices that they were hearing were coming from the center tent.  They had not heard these strange sounds before.  Being pagans, the girls were not familiar with the Latin language nor the Divine Office prayers being said inside that tent.

Once the voices stopped, a man came out of the tent and looked at the two girls.  After a few moments, the older girl asked him “Who are you and where do you come from?”  The man that she asked turned out to be St. Patrick.  Patrick stood there for a moment.  Then he said to the two, “We have more important things to tell you than just our names and where we come from.  We know who the one true God whom you should adore is.”  At once the faces of the girls lit up and began to ask Patrick all sorts of questions, and Patrick answered every one.  When all the questions were answered, Patrick led them to that pool where they bathed and gave them their baptism.  After their baptism, the two girls were very still and began to pray while Patrick began to prepare to say Mass.  Just before Mass began, the elder sister said to Patrick, “I want to see Jesus Christ now!”  The younger sister agreed, saying “I want to be with Him in His home forever and ever.”  Patrick did not expect to convert anyone, but when one requires to see Jesus, a true disciple of Christ cannot say no.

As much as the sisters desired to see Jesus in the presence of Patrick, the Greeks in the Gospel proclaimed today from St. John desired to seek Jesus when they approached Philip during Passover.  Like the sisters, the Greeks were new to their belief of Jesus and desired to see him face-to-face.  The faith of God was spreading beyond those who had been chosen, it was now going out beyond their world to touch those who were once known to be undesirable.

If someone came to me and said that someone wanted to see me, I think the last thing I would say would be, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  What do you think he meant by this?  What was so important about the Greeks that Jesus would act like this?  This moment signified that God’s message had gone beyond the Jews and to those who were never part of the Chosen People. Like the two sisters, the Greeks wanted to see the Jesus that they knew but never met.  Once his message went out beyond the border walls of their society, Jesus knew that it was time for the final moments of his life to begin.  In order for his message to spread further, he had to be that grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that it will produce much fruit.

It is not so much his duty to his Father, but it is our mission to do the same in our lives:  to allow our current selves to be no more and produce the fruit of our new lives so that others may be fruitful as well.  He could have said no.  He could have just given the company line like all the other rabbi’s in the area.  But he knew that this was not why he was on earth.  But he was still scared.  “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?  Father save me from this hour?”  Paul tells us his decision in the Second Reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews.  “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  That decision came from Jesus’ loyalty, his obedience to his Father and their combined mission.  Jesus said that “it was for this purpose that (he) came to this hour.” So he cries out “Father, glorify your name.”  And God responded. “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

Jesus was fulfilling the new covenant that was mentioned in the First Reading today from Jeremiah.  This would not be like the covenant God made with Israel before.  It would not be an external covenant but an internal one.  “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord.  All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”

To be in covenant with God means that you are ready, willing and able to be his disciple throughout the rest of your life, no matter how long or how short that can be.  When the two sisters asked to see God and be in his home right then and there, Patrick had to tell them they could only see God after death.  Yet if they lived a good life, then they would be able to see God in Paradise.  Once they got done talking, Patrick got ready to say Mass.

And what a lovely day that it was.  As the Mass went on, the birds were singing, the rushing of the water in the stream seemed louder than usual, and there was a breeze rustling the branches.  It was about a perfect a day these two girls could have had to be at their first Mass.  When the time came for communion, Patrick asked the two girls to come forward first so they could receive Jesus, where he would reside in them for the first time, just as his words were written upon their hearts.  After a few moments, when Patrick was clearing up the altar, he turned around and saw the two girls lying on the grass with a look of joy on their faces.  For they were no more with Patrick and his disciples; God had heard their pleas to be with him and his son.  He gathered them up to himself in Heaven.  The girls who longed for God died of longing.  They are the examples of God’s new covenant with his people.  Not a people of culture but a people of faith.  If we are not a people of faith, then our covenant with God has been broken, again.  Jesus knew it.  Jeremiah knew it.  Paul knew it.  Patrick knew it.  And now we know it.

As we come to the end of the Lenten Season and move on to Easter, let us keep that in mind whenever we go about our lives; not just here at Mass or coming before God in the sacraments, but every moment of every day.  Sometimes we win; sometimes we lose.  But when there are those moments when we turn away from God, we know that God does not turn away from us.  Scriptures say, “If we remain faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot betray himself.”[2]  Let us do what we can to be as faithful to him as he is to us.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

[1] Curtayne, Alice. Twenty Tales of Irish Saints. (Manchester, NH:  Sophia Institute Press, 2004), pp. 3-7.

[2] 2 Tim. 2:13.

The Journey of Lent takes us to the reality of Sign and Wisdom

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HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings:  Ex. 20:1-17/1Cor. 1:22-25

Psalm:  19:8-11

Gospel:  John 2:13-25

            Today, I have to admit something.  I am sad.  I am sad for our nation.  I am sad for our State (Illinois).  I am sad for our Church. We seem to be in some state of flux; unsure of where we are going and unsure of what will happen when we arrive.  Each day, the innocence I had as a child is taken from me and the fears and concerns of my parents and their generation are placed on my shoulders.  I know that I am not the only one who feels this way, but the burdens that were given to my generation have been compounded by events that no one had expected to be in their lifetimes.  It is as if I had eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, my eyes were slowly opened, and wish I’d stay blind.

            Over the past few weeks we have seen children who are killed, deciders who have deceived and the rest of the world get herded into divided pastures by the sound of a voice singing a familiar tune that was eerily similar, but not quite exactly as they remember.  What we know to be true has been replaced with a false reality.  That is the main point I want to talk about:  reality.  When we were not looking, our realities had been taken away. They were then given to others who replaced them with their own versions of reality and telling us “this is reality” rather than finding it out for ourselves.  Rather than seeing only one reality, we are given several different ones, claiming to be the only one.  These realities, while numerous, are generally shown only two ways:  signs and wisdom.  We all want proof that the direction we are going is the right one.  So, those who hold this new reality will give it out in one form or another, but they all boil down to signs and wisdom.

            This problem is not just our problem. They are also displayed in the Scriptures, as well.  Last week, we saw the Signs from God in the saving of Isaac.  We heard Jesus being transfigured in front of Peter, James and John.  In the search for wisdom, we hear today from the Book of Exodus the first time God’s Commandments were proclaimed.  And when we read from the Gospel of Matthew, there is one phrase that is interspersed throughout:  “This happened to fulfill what was spoken through the Prophet.” 

            Paul recognized this conflict when he wrote to the Church in Corinth:  “(The) Jews demand signs and the Greeks look for wisdom.”  We look for God in our own way, kind of like us doing something with our right hand or left hand.  But when we only search for God in only one way, our discovery is well short of the true reality.  So, after Jesus tossed the money changers and animal sellers out of the Temple, the Jews demanded a sign.  Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Now, do you think what Jesus said was sign or was it wisdom?  To the Jews in the Temple, it was sign.  To those who read the story later, it was wisdom.  When John proclaimed this story in his Gospel, he revealed the meaning of Christ’s words:  “When he was raised from the dead, (Jesus’) disciples remembered that he said this, and they came to believe the Scriptures and the word Jesus had spoken.”

            So, did Jesus give a sign, or did he proclaim wisdom?  I hope you think by now that what Jesus gave was both.  Paul says so in today’s reading.  Prior to this section that we heard, Paul concerned himself with those other prophets who were confusing the Church in Corinth.  Paul reminds them of his mission.  A mission that comes from the one thing that confounds us all:  The Crucifixion.  Paul says “We proclaim Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  It is from this form of execution, this act of humiliation that would be the focus of our salvation.

            It is a question we ask of us today?  Why do we display the crucifix instead of just a cross?  The cross is only a sign of the resurrection.  The corpus (the body on the cross) is the wisdom of his sacrifice.  By having both together, sign and wisdom are now one.  It is no longer a symbol or an image.  It is the Paschal Mystery:  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus which is present in the Eucharist.  Each time we present ourselves for communion, or sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, we move beyond the signs, the wisdom, and the factions; in fact, we move beyond everything that is on earth that keeps us from the reality which is God’s love for us.

            God’s reality is not humanity’s.  As Paul reminds us “… (T)he foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  When we forgo human associations and instead stay focused on God, all divisions will cease.  During this Lenten Season, now is the time for us to focus on moving beyond our divisions and embrace our connection to God and his Church.  It can be especially hard to do that, considering we are heading towards the upcoming Primaries, but this is the best time for us to set this example to our families, our friends and even ourselves.  Let today be the start of our moving forward toward the true reality that is God’s love and mercy toward us and his creation.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

To move through Lent requires a sense of stability

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HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings:  Gen. 9:8-15/1Peter 3:18-22

Psalm:  25:4-9

Gospel:  Mk. 1:12-15

 

As we enter into this Lenten Season, we begin a time of reflection and repentance.  We reflect upon those things that take us away from God and then strive to gain his repentance for that distance.  When we move away from God, it means that we move away from that which connects us to God and His creation and go searching for it in other places.  We will go online to look for it, but all we see is visual pollution.  We will show our desire to belong by putting bumper stickers on our cars or those magnets along the back, but more often than not what we get from others is disappointment and disdain.  Sometimes we will look to sports for a connection, and for a time there is some connection.  But after a while the conversation becomes so detailed and complicated that those connections get too heavy to bear for someone who just wanted to enjoy the game with a favorite team. When we try to act in the place of God, God will allow us to do so.  But when that moment comes, the perks of being God do not come along.  And as we move away from him we find that our stability, our family, our community and even our personality goes away and when we see ourselves in the mirror, we can’t even recognize our own reflection.

When Jesus was called into the desert, he understood that same sort of desire that we all strive for:  that connection with God and his creation.  Even though he was the Son of God, Jesus felt those desires and despairs during his time on earth.  He understood that as he studied the scriptures.  He would have read about Noah and the Flood.  He realized what His Father did to the world when he allowed the waters to cover the earth so only a few would survive. He looked at the world around him and saw the factions that had taken control over the Children of God:  The Priests, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, even the Roman occupiers of the land had influence over the minds and thoughts of those of whom God had chosen for his own.  The Israelites had lost their focus; their identity of what it meant to be in covenant with God.  And perhaps Jesus, being all man as well as all God, was feeling it as well.

No matter which Gospel is read that Church year (Matthew, Mark or Luke), the First Sunday of Lent is always the same story:  Jesus’ call into the desert where he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.  This year, the Gospel is from St. Mark.  While the other two Gospels go into great detail what happened during this time, all Mark states is that Jesus was driven in the desert and tempted by Satan.  What sort of temptations could Jesus have in the desert?  We believe he went out to prepare for what was going to happen when he began his ministry.  The Spirit wanted him to connect with his Father, but what was going on in the world was beginning to take its toll.  Satan tempted him with other thoughts and ideas as to how his ministry was to be.  Satan wanted him to be an earthly Messiah, not a spiritual one.

Yet despite all of his efforts, Satan could not break that connection between Jesus and His Father.  In fact, I believe it made it stronger.  How?  By remembering his connection to God through the covenant God had with his children. After the Flood, God spoke to Noah and established a covenant with him, his descendants and all the living creatures on the earth.  God promised never again to destroy the earth. As a sign of this covenant, God placed his bow in the sky whenever the rains came.  While today we understand how a rainbow is conceived, it is comforting to note that no matter how divisive we are with ourselves, and even with God, Our Father in Heaven will not deliberately destroy his creation. It was for this reason that the Spirit called Jesus into the desert; to get an understanding of these feelings and how to deal with them as he was to begin his ministry.  The covenant God made with Noah now becomes the covenant Jesus makes with his descendants.

How we deal with those temptations in our lives is just as important as to how Jesus dealt with his.  While our temptations (we could just call them “enticements”) can cause us to move away from God, they also move us away from being ourselves in a world that is more focused on small-group conformity rather than universal community.  We can be ourselves in community rather than having blind obedience to small-group extreme orthodoxy.  When we take a step back from the enticements of belonging, we can view the acceptance of that which we are already apart:  Children of God.  And no thought or person or group that moves us away from that, no matter how close they seem to be to it, can take that away from us.  We just have to have the patience to see it, accept it and embrace it with our whole heart, our whole mind and our whole soul.

This journey of discovery and acceptance of connecting to God is highlighted in the lives of those who are in religious orders.  In the Benedictine Tradition, for example, they take vows of poverty, celibacy, obedience and one other vow:  a vow of stability.  This vow is one that commits the person to one community.  They focus on their salvation while resisting all desires to move from one place to the next and entrust God’s mercy to live in community with those who know them and be accepted as they are.  It is an interesting concept that could be used in the world today.  How often are we moving from job to job or place to place because they just did not fit who WE are rather than we getting along with THEM?  To be sure this is something worth considering during this Lenten Season.  To be stable means we know WHO we are, WHAT we want and WHERE we want to be.  Our Lenten reflections will help us in that regard so that when we see the error or our ways, our repentance from going astray from God will be genuine, life-giving and connected.  We should never have to be looking for a connection to God.  We already have one.   We just have to have the stability to find it.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK