Monday, December 27, 2010

HOMILY - Feast of the Holy Family (Year A)

Today, as we celebrate this Mass/Liturgy, we remember and honor families – especially the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) and also our own families. This Feast of the Holy Family started over 100 years ago, as an effort to counter society’s movement away from the Christian virtues and importance of the family, which is as true and important today as it was 100 years ago.
For Catholics, the household or family is the basic unit of the Church and so we call it the domestic Church. It is in THIS church – in the love between husband and wife and the love between parent and child – that we first form our faith in God; where we learn to know, love and serve God; and in which we receive our first glimpse or taste of the great joy God offers us. We can say with confidence that the joy we can experience in family life is just the tip of the iceberg for the joy God offers us in Heaven.
It is also in family life that we help others to accomplish this goal of our faith. Husbands and wives have as the goal of their marriage to help their spouse live a holy life and to get their spouse to Heaven. Parents are the first and best teachers of our faith to their children and make a promise at their child’s Baptism to do well in raising them Catholic so that their child will join them in Heaven some day.
Because of the value and importance of family in our faith life (not mention the social structure and stability of our communities and society), God blesses family life. This is God’s promise to us in today’s First Reading for those who live out the virtues of family life: atonement for sins and preservation from sin; that out prayers will be heard; stored up riches; will be gladdened with children; will live a long life; and will bring comfort.
But, as we know from our own families, family life is at times messy and complicated, a source of pain, hurt, difficulty and embarrassment. Family life is often NOT the Norman Rockwell picture of joy and happiness. In fact, we know from today’s Gospel that even the Holy Family had their challenges: the non-typical birth of their child, the dramatic flight into a foreign land, and living in fear.
So, as we live out our family lives and help others to do so, even in the midst of pain or fear, we must remember Paul’s words to us in today’s Second Reading: We are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. And so, we are called to live extra-ordinary lives; lives full of: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. We are called to put on love, that is, the bond of perfection; to let the peace of Christ control your hearts, And be thankful.
This is how we are called to live as Christian men and women. This is how we know God’s love for us and how we are to love God and others in return.
We learn, experience and share these virtues in family. In family, we practice and perfect these virtues. In doing so, we can then take these virtues to our places of work, our community, and to those in need. In doing so, we perfect our relationship with God which allows us to accomplish our goal: Heaven.
May God bless your family and you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

HOMILY - Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI recalled God’s plan of love and life on the occasion of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, in which we celebrate that Mary was conceived and remained always “full of grace.” He stated that “In the midst of life's trials…Mary, the Mother of Christ, tells us that Grace is greater than sin…and that Grace is able to transform evil into goodness.” It was Mary, full of grace, who said “yes” to God without hesitation or conditions and who remained sinless and faithful even in the face of great fear and tragedy in her life. Each of us are called to follow her example and live lives of love, service and holiness - strengthened and encouraged by God’s grace.
We celebrate with joy in this Liturgy on the Third Sunday of Advent Jesus Christ’s birth, passion, death and resurrection, which happened so that we might know fully God’s love. And, we eagerly await now his second coming in which he will, at the end of time as we know it, defeat sin and death forever. Today, we rejoice and give thanks for Jesus Christ who, as we read in today’s Gospel, gives sight to the blind, helps the lame walk, cleanses the leaper, gives hearing to the deaf, raises the dead, and proclaims the good news to the poor. Jesus’ words and actions fulfill both what Isaiah prophesied in today’s First Reading – that God has not abandoned us, but is with us - AND fulfills what was hoped for in the Responsorial Psalm: that the Lord will come and save us.
I believe that John the Baptist knew this. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah – the fulfillment of everything that the Jewish people had long awaited. It was John who leapt in his mother’s womb when he heard Mary’s voice; it was John who Baptized Jesus in the Jordan; it was John who prepared the way for Jesus; and it was John who suffered in prison for speaking God’s truth to Herod. Jesus says of John in today’s Gospel: “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.”
However, maybe John, in a moment of human weakness, sat in prison and was discouraged and doubting who Jesus was, realizing that Jesus was maybe not exactly who he thought Jesus was or who he wanted Jesus to be. So, maybe, that is why he sent his disciples to Jesus. I can just image that Jesus’ words and actions, which were reported back to John, must have been a source of great comfort and encouragement.
It occurs to me however, that maybe, just maybe, John, filled with God’s grace, did not question or doubt who Jesus truly was. Maybe in the humility and simplicity of a prison cell – not distracted by the temptations and pressures of the world – John was clear and confident in who Jesus was. Maybe in that prison cell John was liberated from his own personal wants and expectations and saw perfectly God’s plan for him and us.
And, so, maybe John, who truly makes clear the way for the Lord, asks his question not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of his own disciples. Maybe they were the ones disheartened and feeling abandoned and in need Jesus’ encouragement. And, maybe John’s question was for our benefit, too. That is, John may have asked this question so that we too might know Jesus and be encouraged by what we read in the Gospels AND from what we ‘hear and see’ now living and in action in Christ’s Body: the Church. That through the proclamation of Sacred Scripture, reception of the Sacraments, and in service to those in need – in experiencing Christ in each of these ways - we may know that Jesus is the ‘one’ and share this good news with others. It is in what we now ‘hear and see’ that we have the courage, the wisdom, the faith to reject sin in our lives and grow stronger in our love and service to God and each other. It is in what we now ‘hear and see’ that we might be more holy men and women and in doing so, experience a great joy God offers us now and eternally. This is a source of great joy – a reason to rejoice.
So our challenge this Advent is to be more like Mary the Mother of Jesus and John the Baptist in our relation to Christ. First, we must liberate ourselves from sin that keeps us from seeing clearly who God is and what God is calling us to do. A great first step is to participate in our parish’s penance service tomorrow/this evening at 5:00 pm. I invite you to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to experience the joy that comes from seeing clearly who God is and what God is calling us to do. Second, we must ensure that we are following God’s plan of love. While I am not recommending a stay in prison, I do suggest that we make time everyday for prayer to discern God’s call – to slow down our busy lives for just a couple of minutes and focus our attention, our thoughts, our actions on Christ coming into our lives and the pure joy that we experience when we follow God’s will for us. Matthew Kelly in his CD, A Call to Joy, which just so happens to be available in the Gathering Space, suggests that we start with just 10 minutes a day in prayer. If you set aside 10 minutes everyday in quite prayer, doing so patiently and without complaint (as James instructs in the Second Reading), I promise you, you will find greater peace and joy in your life.
This Advent challenge is not easy – facing our selfishness and reordering our lives away from our own wants to what God has planned for us is difficult. So, as Isaiah urges us to do, let us strengthen our feeble hands, make firm our weak knees; be strong, fear not! Trust that with God’s grace, any sin or evil in our life will be transformed into goodness. For this reason, my friends, I say to you: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Homily - Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

There are times that I do procrastinate or avoid doing something. Maybe out of embarrassment, fear or to avoid conflict, I will delay doing or saying something that I know that I need to do. I suspect that each of us experience this in our life. A more dramatic example of this might be: do I continue to enable a loved one who is an alcoholic or who is depressed? OR do I make the intervention – however difficult and painful that might be for everyone – with the hope that the person will address their addiction or mental health issue and the get help they need. This may play out in more or less dramatic ways in our daily lives, like: confronting a spouse about a problem affecting your marriage; or ‘blowing the whistle’ at work regarding an illegal or unethical practice of your company; or standing up to a bully at school or work.
At some point in these situations, we will have to make a decision – what is better – to keep procrastinating and the consequences that follow by not doing what I need to do OR to experience the temporary embarrassment or conflict that I am trying to avoid in the short-term with the sure knowledge that there is a better outcome awaiting us in the future.
In a way, this is what today’s readings set up for us. As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the readings focus our attention on the reality of our lives here on earth and our goal for eternal happiness. Our Catholic Faith teaches us that:
• Immediately after death, each person comes before God and is judged individually by how they have lived their life and then enter either heaven (perfect joy with God), Purgatory (a state of purification before entrance into Heaven), or hell (eternal separation from God).
• We believe in the resurrection of the dead – that our bodies will rise to new life, just Jesus did, and will be united with our soul.
• We believe that at the end of time Christ will return in glory over sin and death - this is the profession of faith we will make in a just a couple of minutes: “[Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end” and we will repeat when we pray in the Our Father: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
• And we believe that there will be a final judgment when all are assembled before God to receive eternal life or punishment – we must seek eternal life and avoid eternal punishment.
We are reminded of these truths by the strong, even harsh words, in today’s readings:
• We read in the First Reading that: “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts.”
• In today's Gospel, we are told of the signs of the end: the appearance of false messiahs and false calculators of time and place; wars and international conflicts; and natural disasters with cosmic terror. And as Christians, we will be persecuted. Hatred, betrayal by relatives and friends, and even death awaits us.
However, and more important, today’s readings also remind us that our God is a God full of love and mercy – a God who “comes to rule the earth with justice,” as we just sung in the Responsorial Psalm. Our God wants nothing more than to share his love and mercy with us and to give us what ever we need to experience this love and mercy. In fact, it is God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who promises us in today’s Gospel that if we enter into this relationship, he “shall give [us] a wisdom in speaking that all [our] adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute” and “not a hair on [our] head will be destroyed. By [our] perseverance [we] will secure [our] lives.” God does not want to destroy us but to save us, protect us and restore us in relationship with him – now and eternally!
So, we have a choice: do we persevere or not. Do we persevere in the face of challenge and difficulty in being a Catholic today as we await Jesus’ second coming or not? Do we continually give thanks and praise to God or not? Do we work hard to provide for our family and self (as St. Paul urges in today’s Second reading) or not? Do we uphold the life and dignity of every person or not? And do we protect and serve all people, especially the weak and the poor, or not? Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel that it will not be easy. But this is what we are called to do, made to do, and is required of us to obtain Heaven.
And so, I do believe and trust in exactly what Father Kavanagh preached last weekend – that is, in the virtue of Hope. It is with the virtue of Hope that we can persevere “to the end” in the face of great adversity AND obtain the joy of heaven. It is hope for the happiness, the joy, the peace of eternal life that sustains in times of abandonment, keeps us from discouragement, and focuses our actions and words away from selfishness and sin and towards loving and serving God.
Hope is a gift from God, through the Grace of the Holy Spirit. To be open to this gift we must root ourselves in the presence of God – in God’s love: by experiencing the sacraments, reading scripture, in fellowship and community with the Church. We have to continually grow deeper in our relationship with God. One wonderful and new way to do this in our parish is through the Lighthouse Catholic Media kiosk in the Gathering Space. The kiosk contains CDs and brochures on topics of meaning and relevance to our daily faith lives. Take time to visit the kiosk or visit the parish website and join the CD of the month club. If not this, then find something or someone else to help you grow in your relationship with God – to strengthen your Hope in eternal life with Him.
Today’s first reading concludes with these words: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” My friends, fear God’s awesome power, which will destroy all evil and fear eternal separation from God. But love our God in whom alone we can have life and happiness! Experience the healing rays of God’s love and mercy now and eternally. Have hope!
May God bless you.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homily - Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

As a former athlete and now coaching my son’s fifth grade football team, I can appreciate a good pep talk. I know first-hand the power that a few select words can have on the mind and spirit to help focus and motivate one into action on the field of play. And certainly movies and T.V. shows have perfected the drama and emotion of a good pre-game, locker room pep talk. A fiery talk by the coach, a thrown hat or chair, the cheer of the players, and then the storming onto the field filled with cheerleaders and the marching band, surrounded by bleachers packed with cheering fans.

However, maybe some of the best pep talks have been one-to-one: player-to-coach, teacher-to-student, friend-to-friend, spouse-to-spouse, parent-to-child, and sibling-to-sibling. It is the words of a loved one that can best offer comfort in a time of sadness, hope in a time of despair, encouragement in a time of doubt, focus in a time of disarray, and confidence in a time of fear. And this is what we hear about in today’s readings. God speaking to the prophet Habakkuk, Paul writing to his friend Timothy, and Jesus speaking to his beloved Apostles. These are all essentially pep talks geared to a target audience AND to us - focusing us, encouraging us, challenging us to be the holy men and women we are called to be, to love and serve as God commands us.

In today’s Gospel, the Apostles ask Jesus to “Increase their faith.” They are asking for help. They are physically tired from their journey with Jesus up to Jerusalem and mentally and emotionally exhausted trying to comprehend all that Jesus has said and done AND what they are being asked to do: to love and forgive as they have never done before! The Apostles are also reacting to Jesus’ warning that immediately proceeds today’s Gospel passage, in which Jesus says: “woe to the person through whom sin occurs; it would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea.” The Apostles knew their human weaknesses and were worried that they did not have enough faith to live as they were called to live.

Jesus’ reply is simple and direct – even with the smallest amount of faith you can do great things. He was not being critical or comical, but rather he was offering hope and encouragement. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds, while the mulberry tree has a deep and extensive root system and thus extremely difficult to uproot. But with even the smallest of faith, Jesus is telling us that we can do great things, things beyond imagination, like uprooting a tree and throwing it into the sea.

Then, in today’s first reading, God offers encouragement to the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet is frustrated for two reasons. First, he sees the world around him in collapse (violence, ruin, destruction, misery, strife and discord); and second, God is silent in the midst of it all. When God responds, he offers reassurance to the prophet and to us – that God will fulfill his promise of salvation, but now is not the time and so we need to be patient for it will surely come and we will not be disappointed. It is also significant that God asks the prophet to write this down. We are a visual people and so it helps our faith and the faith of others to see and remain focused on what God promises.

I suspect the written letters from Paul to Timothy had the same effect. In today’s second reading Paul writes with authority – not by virtue of title or position, but by the experience of having endured hardship and pain, including being in jail from where he writes this letter, as well as the peace and love he experiences in God. It is with this authority that he can both encourage his audience “to stir into flame the gift of God” – a gift of power, love, and self-control – AND to challenge them to bear hardship with the strength that comes from God. Paul is essentially saying that each one of us: be confident, you can endure any problem because God dwells in you, by your Baptism in Christ, God has given you all that you need. How true and how wonderful this is!

Jesus’ pep talk continues with his second parable in today’s Gospel. He reminds us that our relationship with God calls us to make ordinary in our lives what society views as extra-ordinary (to love and serve generously and without reservation and to seek forgiveness and be merciful toward others). Juese is telling us that we can never be excessive in self-LESS-ly loving and forgiving others. This is the point of Jesus’ second parable. If we do what we are called to do, what we are made to do, if we do all that we are suppose to do as Christians, than we are unprofitable servants- we are ‘without need’ of anything else. We are in need of nothing more.

Next Sunday evening, Jerry Freewalt from the Diocese’s office of social concerns will be speaking to us about how we can live out Christian lives of service to others, especially those in greatest need. To live lives as unprofitable servants. I invite you to pray Evening Prayer with us before his presentation and then attend the presentation and learn how the diocese serves those in need and how you can help.

Yes, to be a Christian is difficult and requires hard work – God knows this. Don't harden your hearts, but take courage from today’s readings (from these mini-pep talks) and know that God does provide all that you need – God has given you the gift of faith. Like the Apostles, ask for more faith and God will provide!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Homily - Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

I invite you to join us next Sunday for the parish’s second annual Peace Celebration. Details are in the bulletin. So, I just want to encourage you to bring family and friends to hear Father Wagner and enjoy a wonderful evening together.
[10:00 am Mass - Welcome PSR families, thank teachers, and thank parents]
In today’s First Reading, God is deservedly mad because of the behavior of the Israelites and wants to punish them. It is Moses who intercedes on behalf of the Israelite people by reminding God of all God has done for Israel and the promises God has made to them. Moses’ appeal to God’s steadfast compassion and love prevails and, in the end, God does show his great mercy to the Israelites.
Moses advocacy foreshadows the work of Christ. It is Jesus Christ, on the cross, who prays: “Father, forgive them.” And it Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us. And so, while we correctly direct our prayers to the Father, we pray through the Son who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
We can trust that Jesus will ask the Father to provide what we need. We can trust Jesus because Jesus loves us – he died for us! We can also trust that Jesus will intercede for us because it is Jesus who knows our human weaknesses, our pains, our sufferings and wants us to be free of them to experience the joy that only the Father can offer us.
We can also trust that Jesus will perfectly intercede for us because it is Jesus who knows the Father’s great love for us and is always obedient to the Father, who wills that the truth of his love be shared with all. It is God, who is like the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to seek out the one lost sheep, or like the woman who will go to great expense and energy to find a lost coin, or like the loving father who patiently waits for his lost son to return. This is our loving God!
What I also like about today’s First Reading is that it reminds us that God not only loves us, shows great mercy towards us, and is willing to go to great lengths for us, but he also ever-present and wants a personal relationship with us. When we read closely the story of the golden calf, the Israelites were not necessarily worshipping another god, rather they were trying to fill a need or desire to have that personal experience or intimacy with God – this is maybe the same void that we can feel in our own lives with God, especially with the loss or absence of a loved one, but also in our day-to-day routines.
So, the golden calf was for the Israelites something that represented God – to whom they might express their trust. And it is easy for us to act like the Israelites did. While we may not take all of our jewelry and melt it into a calf, we do use things and (even) people to fill the emptiness we feel in our lives when we alienate ourselves from God’s love. And this is exactly what the readings for the past several weeks have challenged us to consider – how do our possessions and relationships block us from our relationship with God. The truth is that only God can bring us the peace, the joy, the happiness that we desire.
As today’s readings reminds us, the emptiness that we may feel is not because of God, but because of our own choice to rebel against or reject God’s love. It is God, who is ever-present – taking the initiative to be in relationship with us. In fact, it is our loving God, who gives us Moses and prophets; who gave us his Son. It is our loving God who gives us the Church to continue what Jesus started and to ensure that we always know God’s love. And it is our loving God who gives us the Sacraments so that we may personally experience God and be filled with his grace to live great and holy lives.
All this is done to draw us closer to Him – to bring us closer to the joy we were made to experience. The choice is ours to make. So seek first the peace, the joy, the love that God offers you.
This week, pray for the grace from God to grow in your relationship with Him and to remove any distraction from that relationship. God WILL respond with love and mercy and WILL provide you with what you need to grow in relationship with him. ALSO, pray with confidence that your prayers will be heard by the Father through his Son, who is perfectly and constantly interceding for us.
May God bless you.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Homily - Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

In a dark and damp cellar in Cologne, Germany, where thousands of Jews once hid from Nazi torment, an inscription was discovered not long after the end of World War II. Scrawled across a stone wall by an anonymous author were the words: "I believe in the sun even when it's not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent."
These words undoubtedly served as a prayer against the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust. And, it was likely a source of hope and encouragement in something bigger, better, greater for the author and all who read it in their time of great fear, pain and suffering. And the same can be said of today’s readings.
Like the words scrawled in the cellar, the words that open today’s second reading tell us what faith DOES. Faith gives us “the realization (or assurance) of what is hoped for and evidence (or inner conviction) of things not seen.” Faith offers us trust and confidence even when we lack the clarity and understanding we desire.
Our faith is in WHO God is: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And we will stand together in just a couple of minutes to make our profession of faith IN our God. Our faith is also in WHAT God does for us. It is God, who from the fullness of his love addresses us as his friends, who made us, who saves us, provides for us, delivers, and protects us – so that we might taste, here and now, the joy, the happiness, the peace that he offers us eternally. Our faith is also in WHAT we do: in faith, through the grace of God, we completely submit to God’s love, we assent to God’s will. This response to God, we call "the obedience of faith."
Today’s readings offer wonderful examples of such obedience of faith. Today’s first reading from Wisdom praises the faith of the Israelite people, who ‘with sure knowledge’ trusted in God’s promise to Abraham that they would be delivered out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt through the Exodus and be given their ultimate freedom. In the second reading, we read of the great faith of Abraham.
By faith in God, Abraham obeyed when he was called by God to leave everything and go out to a foreign land. By faith in God, Abraham’s wife Sarah was given to conceive the son in their old age. And by faith in God, Abraham offered his only son in sacrifice.
Our faith is a source of hope and encouragement and it makes us want to be ready. By readiness I mean an eagerness, a hopefulness for what is to come, for what is promised. And like the Israelites in today’s first reading or Abraham who we recalled in the second reading or the servant-in-waiting in today’s gospel, we must be ready, we must be prepared. Prepared for God’s promise to be fulfilled, which for us, is the second coming of Christ, who will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil. As Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, we “must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
And so we must take to heart Jesus’ instructions to free ourselves from any distractions. We cannot let fear, anger, pride, or greed distract us. We must conform our thoughts, words and actions to the ‘master’s will’ so that we avoid the same punishment as the servant in today’s Gospel “who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations or act in accord with his will.” We must trust in God’s love and his promise of eternal life; and we must hope to share of the inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.
Our faith is a personal act and not always perfect. Our faith is also not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. We have received our faith, not only from the grace of God, but also from the example and encouragement of others. We are called, by our Baptism, to hand our faith on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I can help support the faith of others. And so, we must take to heart Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
So, I ask you: Who in your life is lacking faith in God? Who lacks a trust or confidence in God? Who in your life could benefit from your faith?
In faith, pray for them. But even better let your faith be an example and a source of encouragement and hope for them. Allow your words and actions to bring hope to their life. Let your trust in God, allow their faith to grow.
May God bless you and those that you need your faith example.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Homily - Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

In today’s Gospel, the author Luke uses a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer to lay it right out for us: What’s our goal: eternal life. What we must do to inherit eternal life: follow God’s command - You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. If we do this Jesus promises us that we will live. How wonderful!

Seems easy enough, right – to love God and others. But as we know, it isn’t. Sometimes in our pain, our suffering, our grief we have a hard time loving God. Fortunately or coincidentally, this Thursday, Sister Mauryeen O’Brien, who was the former principal of our parish school and a renowned author and speaker on bereavement, will be speaking to the parish about how we can work through the process of grief when someone we love dies and at the same time grow in our relationship with God. We will meet in the Gathering Space at 7:00 p.m. I invite you and encourage you to bring a friend.

We also know that it is not easy to love others as we should. Sure it is easy to love our spouse, our children, our parents and siblings, our friends – most of the time. But to love a stranger or even our enemies is a whole other thing. So, it can be argued that the lawyers’ question – who is my neighbor whom I should love – is a legitimate question.
Moses reminds us in today’s first reading that God’s command to love “…is not too mysterious and remote…It is not up in the sky…Nor is it across the sea…No, it is something very near to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts; we have only to carry it out." And as we sung in today’s Responsorial Psalm: The law of the LORD refreshes the soul and it causes our soul to rejoice.

To love then is part of who we are – our very being and fiber, in our mouths and hearts, it brings us peace and joy. It is what we are made to do. We naturally desire to love and be loved. AND, it is for this reason that we feel such great pain when we sin – when we offend God and others, when we don't love as we are called to love.

However, just like the priest and the Levite in today’s Gospel, we can easily find reasons to not love as we should.

But remember, we were made to love and called to love with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.

So I am struck by the line that Luke attributes to the Samaritan when he came upon the victim: he “was moved with compassion at the sight.” To make his general point of helping others, the author Luke could have just jumped to the fact that the Samaritan helped the victim, his neighbor.

Luke didn’t, he first states that the Samaritan was moved by compassion and THEN, because of his compassion for the victim, he flooded the victim with love: pouring oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them; lifting him up on his own animal, taking him to an inn, and caring for him with his own money.

This expression of compassion is important because for the Samaritan and for each one of us, we can’t really love OR act upon that love, if we don’t first have compassion.

Compassion is really the combination of two things: empathy and mercy. To have empathy we self-LESS-ly look to the needs of others, we actually put our self in the place of another, to walk their shoes, we identify with the thoughts and feelings of another. And then we show mercy. To be merciful is to treat someone better than they might deserve. Without passing judgment we treat others not as their words or actions might merit, but by the standard of how we wanted to be treated.

To show compassion is to suffer with the wounded and the suffering, to share their pain and agony. Compassion demands that we move outside our comfort zone as we reach out to others in need. It means that we get our hands and even our reputations dirty.

This is how Jesus, the Good Samaritan par excellence, showed compassion. Although he was God, he did not hesitate to humble himself to the point of becoming a man, welcoming the poor and the outcast, curing the sick, suffering for our sins, and giving his life for us.

So how do we show such compassion? We must recognize the dignity, the goodness, the humanity of our neighbor. We must acknowledge that every person, regardless of the color of their skin, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, religious creed is a creature of God – loved by God and to be loved by each one of us. Our love for others must be as wide as God's love. No one is excluded. God's love is also full of mercy and is unconditional. So we must be with others.

Jesus instructs the lawyer at the end of today’s Gospel to "Go and do likewise." To be compassionate, to love and care for others – just not friends and family, but everyone! And so it is with you and me. We must acknowledge the dignity and goodness of those around us – our spouse, our children or parents or siblings, our co-workers, as well as the homeless person, the illegal immigrant, the unwed mother, the prisoner. We must put aside our assumptions and prejudices and view every person as a creature of God – a person of dignity, goodness and love. Then filled with empathy and mercy, we can give self-LESS-ly of ourselves to others. We can do what we desire to do naturally – what is in our mouths and hearts, what brings us joy and peace: To love with all our heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind.
If we do this, we are promised life – eternal life.
So, I say to you: Go and do likewise, so that you may live!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homily - Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Pope Benedict XVI declared the past twelve months the Year for Priests. It has been a unique and wonderful opportunity for us to recognize and to honor priests in the Church worldwide and in this Diocese, who transform our lives by bringing Christ to us, especially in the holy sacraments. We are truly blessed here at Our Lady of Peace. Both our pastor, Father Kavanagh, and Monsignor McFarland are wonderful examples of humility, obedience, faith and service to God and the Church. This past Friday, Father Kavanagh celebrated his 27th Anniversary of his Ordination to the priesthood and back on May 28, Monsignor McFarland celebrated his 55th Anniversary. Please join me in applauding their yes to God’s call to the priesthood. [Applause.]
The conclusion of the Year for Priest, combined with today’s readings, has me thinking more about my work. My ‘day job’ for the past 10 years has been is as an attorney for a foundation that raises money for legal services for the poor. Our long-time and founding executive director, the person who hired me, retired earlier this year and we are now in the search for a new executive director. This transition has challenged me to consider what I do, how I do it, and why – something of a professional ‘gut-check.’ I suspect that there are others here going through a similar transition in their life – professionally, maybe in their marriage or a personal relationship, maybe for our recent graduates trying to decide what to do next.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be spending some time in prayer and in talking with others as I discern what God is calling me to do in my professional life – that is, how I am to provide for my family while also using my God-given talents and skills to help others. I will certainly place my trust in God and pray for the grace of wisdom and courage to follow God’s will, not my own.
I have to believe that each of the individuals we read about in today’s readings went through a similar process in their faith life. The woman from today’s Gospel who floods Jesus with her love, Simon the Pharisee whose home Jesus visits, the Apostle Paul, and King David.
We don’t know for certain what caused the woman in today’s Gospel to show such great love and attention to Jesus – the bathing of his feet with her tears, the wiping them dry with her hair, the kissing and anointing of his feet. It is likely that the experience of forgiveness by God for her many sins causes her to respond as she does. Being reconciled with God, she shows Jesus, the Son of God, such great love. She is bursting with joy, which can only come with being freed and transformed by God’s love.
Simon, the host of the dinner party, on the other hand, when face-to-face with an all-loving and all-merciful God appears unable to move beyond his own pride and self-righteousness to experience the joy offered him.
Like the woman in today’s Gospel it is the Apostle Paul, who with great zeal proclaims the Good News in today’s second reading. We are familiar with his dramatic conversion experience – the bolt of lighting, the fall from the horse, his loss of sight and recovery. Paul’s deep faith and passion required him to reconcile with his sorted past, too. And it is through his transformation that he is able to proclaim with authority that our justification – our freedom from sin and reconciliation with God – comes by faith, not by anything we can say or do independent of God’s free gift of love and mercy.
And then there is King David, whose baggage is as great as any ones – lust and adultery, murder and greed – better than reality TV! But here is the wonderful thing: in the face of God’s great love and mercy, David acknowledges his sin and is forgiven! David was not abandoned by God, but instead he is transformed by God’s love and finds new life.
We too can find new life in God’s great love and mercy. Admittedly, it is often difficult to find God’s love and mercy in the chaos and crisis of our daily lives; but God is there, in love with us and waiting for us, waiting to provide us with opportunities for us to know his love and mercy, to be restored in relationship with him, and to experience the joy and peace we were made to experience.
Like the disciples we read about at the end of today’s Gospel, we are called to follow Jesus’ example of humility, obedience, faith and service to God, to proclaim the good news to others, and give freely of their resources. We can do this by having faith in an all-loving and all-merciful God who forgives our sins and offers us peace, just as he did for the sinful woman in today’s Gospel.
Be at peace my friends, for we have a great and loving God!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Homily - Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C)

We hear the very beginning and the conclusion (or resolution) to a wonderful story in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles – a (maybe the) defining moment in the early Church after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is the event of today’s first reading in which the Church doors were opened wide to all – Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles) – in which we became truly and literally a universal or catholic church.
See, there were many Christian Jews – Jews who had converted to Christianity – who had a misplaced understanding of our relationship with God. They thought, that adherence to rules (especially God given rules) defined our relationship with God. While rules are important and even necessary, our relationship with God is defined by faith, not simply an adherence to a set of rules.
We must have faith – a confidence and trust – in God the Father (our Creator), in his son Jesus Christ (our Savior), and the Holy Spirit (the fountain of God’s grace). It is faith that allows us to know and experience the great joy, peace, and love our God desires for us and offers to us here, now and eternally.
Faith flows from the grace of God. Grace is the courage, the wisdom, the patience to seek and grow in relationship with God. Grace is a gift from God – it is the gift from God promised by Christ in today’s Gospel. Grace is also a free gift from God, not something we can earn or merit. Finally, grace is made available to all, not a select few or elite – and this is what is reported to us in today’s first reading. Through grace we grow in faith, we grow in our relationship with God.
One of the most wonderful aspects of the story from today’s first reading, is of the impact that the faith of the Gentile-converts had on those who already believed. The Gentile-converts were filled with grace from the Holy Spirit. It was the strong and enthusiastic faith of the Gentile-converts that so impressed and inspired Paul and Barnabas. And it was the personal experiences of leaders like the Apostle Peter, who also witnessed the great faith of the Gentiles, which resulted in the greater understanding: that it is by faith that we are in relationship with God and that this relationship is for all mankind.
This story has caused me to wonder, and I invite you to ask this question of yourself: does my faith inspire others?
What I am asking of myself is whether my faith offers me an inner peace and joy, grounded in a deep trust in God, that is visible to others in what I say and do. What I am asking myself is whether I possess a hope in something bigger and better than what I know now or can possibly know AND whether others can see in all that I do and say is reflected in this hope.
This is the faith that we are called to experience – this is the relationship with God that we were made to experience – this relationship of faith that defines who we are - and it is this relationship that we are called to share with others.
As we begin this new week, Let us pray for each other that when our faith grows weak or falters, that we may be strengthened by the experience of God personally in Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments.
In such encounters with God, let us pray that we receive the grace from God that we need.
Filled with grace from the Holy Spirit, let us pray that our actions and words naturally flow towards the praise and thanksgiving for God and to the service of God and others.
Let us pray that through our faith, we may inspire others to a deeper relationship with God and so together we may experience the joy, the peace, the love that God desire for everyone.
May God bless you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Homily - Second Sunday of Easter (Year C)

I love the statement in today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.” The “many signs and wonders” attributed to the Apostles, which are detailed in today’s reading and throughout the Acts of the Apostles, remind us that the Lord is always at work in His Church through the ministry of its member, as a means to uplift and strengthen His Church.
I especially love the beautiful statement that the Apostles were ‘esteemed’ by the people – that they were greatly admired and respected. This admiration and respect does and should follow to the successors of the apostles: the bishops. We are very fortunate to have many good and holy bishops who are called to uplift and strengthen the members of the church entrusted to them. We are blessed in our diocese to have a wonderful bishop, Frederick Campbell, and bishop emeritus, James Griffin. We are also blessed to have strong bishops across the country who have shown great leadership, for example, in the hard fight in the health care reform bill for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.
This is at the same time, however, that terrible revelations of sexual abuse in Ireland and Germany have again rocked the Catholic Church and the office of bishop. Catholic priest James Martin, in a recent article, summarizes well how these horrible crimes could have happened and how the bishops have dealt with the issue so poorly, or not at all. For the most part, Father Martin lists in his article the findings of the National Review Board, which studied this issue in the United States back in 2003. He stresses (and I agree) that whatever is offered as reasons for the abuse and it’s cover-up, they are not excuses – there are no excuses for these crimes.

Father Martin offers two causes for why the Church had so many abusive priests. The first reason is improper screening for candidates to the priesthood, and the second reason is poor formation or training of clergy. Much has changed in terms of screening and formation since many of the priests accused of past abuses were ordained. I can attest to this in my own screening and formation to the diaconate (and I am certain the same for Deacon Irion in his formation to the priesthood).
Father Martin goes on to list the board's analysis of the second question: Why did the church’s leaders respond to the problem so poorly for so many years? The list includes:
1. That bishops were among those still in the dark about this dark side of human behavior, and simply were at a loss to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.
2. That many bishops sought to protect the faithful from "scandal" by concealing evidence of abusive priests, which ironically created a greater scandal.
3. The threat of litigation caused many bishop to adopt an adversarial stance, in order to protect the many good and important institutions of the church, such as parishes, schools, hospitals, and other social services programs.
4. Some bishops failed to comprehend the magnitude of the harm suffered by victims.
5. Many bishops relied too heavily on the flawed advice of psychiatrists, psychologists and lawyers when making decisions.
6. Many bishops avoided confronting abusive priests.
7. Many bishops placed the interests of priests above those of victims. AND
8. Canon law made removal of priests from ministry very difficult (and certainly not quick).
I share this with you for two reasons. First, because it is my hope that we, clergy and laity together, can learn from these mistakes and ensure that this never happens again. I am confident that through the leadership of our bishops in the United States, we can protect the dignity and safety of all members of the Body of Christ, the Church. This is the responsibility of each one of us.
Second, like the Apostles and disciples huddled together in that locked room, we can find peace in the face of crisis. Remember there was a crisis on the day of the Resurrection – the Apostles and disciples were scared and confused, their leader was just crucified and died on a cross, and they worried that they were next – that’s why they locked themselves in the room.
Just as Jesus came and stood in the midst of his disciples, he comes to us and says to us: “Peace be with you.” In our brokenness, pain, fear and hurt, it is Jesus’ who comes to us through the locked rooms we place ourselves in. He offers us his forgiveness and invites us to reconcile with him and each other. It is Jesus who is the source of peace in our hearts. And it is Jesus who gives us his Holy Spirit to help us live in His peace.
In our brokenness, pain, fear and hurt, it is Jesus who is patient with us, just as he was with Thomas. When there is crisis in our family, our Church, or our community and our faith falters or grows weak, Jesus does not abandon us, but continuously calls us to a renewed faith and holiness. We celebrate this gift in a special way this Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. It is with this gift of God’s love that we can sing with confidence, as we did in today’s Psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”
The Gospel writer John, writes his gospel so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief [we] may have life in his name.” This Easter season, may each of us come to a deeper belief in Jesus Christ. May we, like Thomas proclaim: “My Lord and my God!” as we experience Christ personally in the Sacraments and in each other. In faith, may we share in the peace Jesus offers us now and eternally.