Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today on the Fourth Sun­day of Advent we hear in the read­ings of promis­es. In the first read­ing, a promise is made: God tells David that a descen­dant will be raised up as his heir, and that David’s house and king­dom will endure; that his throne shall stand firm for­ev­er.

In today’s Gospel, we see that promise kept. The angel Gabriel declares to Mary that she will con­ceive and bear a son and name him Jesus, that her son will be called the Son of the Most High and that God will give Him the throne of David to rule for­ev­er, and of his King­dom there will be no end.

God makes a promise and God keeps a promise because God always keeps His promis­es. But there is some­thing deep­er, and amaz­ing, going on here. Mary is not with­out choice: she agrees to become the moth­er of God. She agrees to become the Taber­na­cle that will con­ceive and bear Jesus, the Sav­ior of all mankind.

The Gospel tells us that Mary said, “Behold, I am the hand­maid of the Lord. May it be done to me accord­ing to your word.”

These are per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant words ever spo­ken by a human being. In say­ing that I am mak­ing a some­what arti­fi­cial dis­tinc­tion between Jesus and Mary; Jesus is ful­ly God and ful­ly man. Mary, though giv­en spe­cial graces, is sole­ly human.

Eve lis­tened to the words of the Ser­pent and was tempt­ed through pride into Orig­i­nal Sin; her hus­band Adam in his weak­ness fol­lowed her into that sin. Togeth­er, they changed the fate of all who came after them, and as a result we still fight the bat­tle against pride and sin today.

Mary, how­ev­er, lis­tened to the words of God deliv­ered by an angel and respond­ed with humil­i­ty. She agreed not to gain some­thing, but to give some­thing: to give life to the Son of God, to make it pos­si­ble for God to take on human flesh and dwell among us. Mary, in her agree­ment to God’s sav­ing plan, opened a path for all of us to find sal­va­tion. Eve’s pride made it nec­es­sary for us to find sal­va­tion; Mary’s humil­i­ty made it pos­si­ble for us to find sal­va­tion.

You and I fight that same bat­tle every day. We may not be in a posi­tion to fight it in a way that has con­se­quences for all of mankind, but the con­se­quences for us as indi­vid­u­als can­not be over­state. Pride will lead us to self­ish­ness and sin; humil­i­ty will lead us to sac­ri­fice and sal­va­tion.

Now lets take a step to the side and con­sid­er this: What is a Taber­na­cle? I said a moment ago that Mary agreed to become the Taber­na­cle that would con­ceive and bear Jesus. Here in our sanc­tu­ary the met­al box that sits behind the altar is also called a taber­na­cle.

In the ancient Hebrew world, a “taber­na­cle” (in Hebrew, Mishkan) is a mov­able dwelling. It is, basi­cal­ly, a tent. But to King David, it was a very spe­cial kind of tent; it was the tent that held the ark of God. David was upset that, as he said, “Here I am liv­ing in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”

A taber­na­cle; and then, the Taber­na­cle. It held the Holy of Holies and was the endur­ing sym­bol to the peo­ple of God that the Lord was with them.

A taber­na­cle serves a very spe­cial pur­pose: it serves as the home of God. The ark of God dwelled in a tent. The Christ was con­ceived and grew to infan­cy in Mary’s womb. Here today our taber­na­cle holds the con­se­crat­ed hosts – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divin­i­ty of Christ.

I invite all of you to take a look at the Taber­na­cle. Not a good, hard look; although, that might be worth doing also. No – I want you to take a squin­ty look. A blur­ry look. If you’re like me, you can just take off your glass­es. If you are blessed with good eye­sight, now is not the time for it.

Squint, and con­sid­er shape and col­or. Lines. Then think about what that taber­na­cle hold – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divin­i­ty of Christ. After Mass, when you go out to the park­ing lot, pause for a moment and look back at the church build­ing. Squint. Con­sid­er shape and col­or. Lines. You should notice a sim­i­lar­i­ty.

Now think about what the church holds: peo­ple who come faith­ful­ly week after week to hear the Word of God and to receive the Word made Flesh – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divin­i­ty of Christ. We become Taber­na­cles of Christ by what we con­sume; we become a dwelling place for our Lord and Sav­ior.

When Mass ends today, the last thing I will say before we all depart is, “Go in peace, glo­ri­fy­ing the Lord by your life.” These aren’t just nice words; these are key to the future of this parish here in Ray­town and, real­ly, to the church through­out the world.

When we live our faith, we become taber­na­cles of holi­ness, just like Mary. We fol­low her exam­ple and hope in our own small way to live up to the mod­el she pro­vides. Go in peace, glo­ri­fy­ing the Lord by your life. Live your faith, let oth­ers see your joy. This is the bea­con of hope that might lead anoth­er to Christ… might save a sin­ner from damna­tion. Does the world seem dark to you? Does it seem like the cards are stacked against us? Good! Rejoice! A world in dark­ness is all the more oppor­tu­ni­ty for your light to shine. Embrace holi­ness. Live holi­ness, just as the Vir­gin Mary lived holi­ness. When you are tempt­ed, ask Mary for her inter­ven­tion. Ask her to give you strength. Ask for her help. And let oth­ers see your joy, the joy that is found in our Sav­ior and His promise of sal­va­tion. If we all do this – if we all tru­ly live our faith and invite oth­ers to share our joy – we will fill this parish to over­flow­ing

Homily for The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

There are good peo­ple and there are bad peo­ple in the world. I hope that rev­e­la­tion doesn’t come as a shock to any­one: there are good peo­ple and there are bad peo­ple.

Now, you could rea­son­ably say, “But Dea­con! Nobody is entire­ly good or entire­ly bad. We all have good and bad ele­ments.” And in that you would be right. But I’m not talk­ing about the life-long indi­vid­ual strug­gle to choose the good and avoid the bad. I’m not talk­ing about our need to, as Paul writes, work out our own sal­va­tion in fear and trem­bling.

I’m talk­ing about the sim­ple fact that when Christ comes in His glo­ry, He will sep­a­rate the sheep from the goats. This does not mean our Lord and Sav­ior is tak­ing up micro-farm­ing and ani­mal hus­bandry. It means there are good peo­ple and there are bad peo­ple in the world, and each group is des­tined for a dif­fer­ent end.

When the Son of Man comes in his glo­ry,

and all the angels with him,

he will sit upon his glo­ri­ous throne,

and all the nations will be assem­bled before him.

And he will sep­a­rate them one from anoth­er,

as a shep­herd sep­a­rates the sheep from the goats.

At the end, we are judged. Every­body. And we are sep­a­rat­ed into two groups: the good and the bad. The sheep and the goats. To the sheep, Our Lord invites them to inher­it the king­dom pre­pared for them from the foun­da­tion of the world. He says, “For I was hun­gry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you wel­comed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you vis­it­ed me.”

And those on His right are con­fused by His words. In their hon­esty, they ask Him when they did any of those very mer­i­to­ri­ous things. Jesus tells them, “Amen, I say to you, what­ev­er you did for one of the least broth­ers of mine, you did for me.”

And to those on His left, the goats, the ones not mak­ing the cut, Our Lord orders them to Depart from me, you accursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels. If you believe noth­ing else I ever say, believe this: That is a judge­ment you do not want to hear Our Lord pro­nounce upon you. There is noth­ing more ter­ri­fy­ing than that.

When I was very young, an alarm would sound, and we would duck and cov­er. I lived most of my child­hood believ­ing the nukes would be com­ing any day. That we would all go out in an incan­des­cent glow, and I was afraid of that. I hit my late teens and ear­ly twen­ties, and I start­ed to think less about nuclear anni­hi­la­tion and more about zom­bies. Now, zom­bies aren’t real­ly scary. At least, not to me. I think I could real­ly come into my own in a good zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. In fact, I use to fig­ure that might be exact­ly what I need­ed to real­ly kick start my career.

Now, I’m old­er still. And zom­bies have lost most of their fas­ci­na­tion. But I look at my wheel­chair. And I look at the over­all state of my health. And I think a lot more about the nat­ur­al end of my life and my own par­tic­u­lar judge­ment. I hope it’s still anoth­er forty years off… but it could come at any time. You don’t need a wheel­chair and poor health for that to be true: for any of us, death can come long before we are pre­pared for it. And the thing that ter­ri­fies me the most – more than zom­bies and more than atom­ic oblit­er­a­tion – is that Christ would say to me at my judge­ment, Depart from me, you accursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels. Zom­bies and nukes are a minor incon­ve­nience. They hap­pen; they’re over; you move on. Eter­nal damna­tion isn’t some­thing that gets bet­ter or goes away. There is noth­ing in all of exis­tence, seen or unseen, that is worse than being in Hell.

But for those on the Lord’s left, the bad ones, the goats, that is exact­ly what hap­pens. Depart from me, you accursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels.

And why is this ter­ri­ble judge­ment hand­ed down? Christ says, “For I was hun­gry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; a stranger and you gave me no wel­come; naked and you gave me no cloth­ing; ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.”

And those receiv­ing the sen­tence, in typ­i­cal goat fash­ion, have an excuse. “Whoa, Lord! Hold up. We went to church every Sun­day. We put our dol­lar in the bas­ket. When did we not do those things?”

And Christ’s response is, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

I am not going to tell you to feed the hun­gry or give drink to the thirsty and you will go to heav­en. I am not going to tell you to wel­come the stranger and you will go to heav­en. I am not going to tell you to clothe the naked or vis­it the sick and those in prison and you will go to heav­en. Those are all good acts and you would be wise to do them, but that isn’t the point. Heav­en isn’t a reward sys­tem where you rack up points and buy your way in.

So, what is the dif­fer­ence between heav­en and damna­tion? Those judged good saw some­thing miss­ing or wrong in the world, and they — for the love of God and the love of neigh­bor — made it their respon­si­bil­i­ty to right that wrong. Those judged evil saw the same some­thing miss­ing or wrong in the world, and they — for the love of self and the god of con­ve­nience — made an excuse.

We are made to know God, to love God, and to serve God; and, to love our neigh­bor as our­self. God entrust­ed the stew­ard­ship of the world to us… to human beings. The dif­fer­ence between damna­tion and sal­va­tion lies in act­ing upon our love of God and liv­ing our Catholic faith because it is the right thing to do. Excus­es will not get us into heav­en; they will most cer­tain­ly get us into the fires of hell. But our love of God and our love of neigh­bor will lead us to live our faith… to see the wrongs in the world and to work to make them right, not because it’s easy but because it is just. Our faith will lead us to stand up in oppo­si­tion to evil even in the face of ter­ror and say bold­ly, “This is wrong. I will not accept it. And I will do every­thing in my pow­er to stop it.”

And that is the dif­fer­ence between the sheep and the goats, the good and the bad. And every one of us decides which one we are.

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Across the street from us is a large ceme­tery in which are buried many good peo­ple. And prob­a­bly some bad ones. Want to know some­thing they all shared in com­mon dur­ing their lives? They all believe at some lev­el that the world would end in their life­time. It’s human nature.

We can know intel­lec­tu­al­ly that it’s prob­a­bly not going to hap­pen. We can tell our­selves that the ceme­ter­ies of the world are full of peo­ple whose lives end­ed before the Sec­ond Com­ing and that one day we will join them, almost cer­tain­ly before Christ returns and the final judg­ment is ren­dered.

Still, there’s a part of us that believes we will be here until the end… and that’s fine, because at some point some­one is going to be right. A lot of some­ones are going to be right. Because it does end. The day of the Lord comes, as Paul writes, like a thief in the night.

Read­ings in recent weeks have served to remind us to be watch­ful, be awake, be sober, be wise. They have remind­ed us to remain in the light and to be ready. In today’s sec­ond read­ing, Paul writes that When peo­ple are say­ing, “Peace and secu­ri­ty,” then sud­den dis­as­ter comes upon them … and they will not escape.

Be vig­i­lant. Be watch­ful. Be awake. Be ready. Be sober and be wise. Be all of these things, but more than any­thing else be not afraid.

We have no need of fear, for our strength comes from the Lord. Paul writes that all of you are chil­dren of the light and chil­dren of the day. And our strength comes from the light and from the Lord who made the light and made the day. And who made us, and desires that none of us be lost.

We can look around at our world, and there is plen­ty to make us fear. We are sur­round­ed by mad­ness. Babies mur­dered in the womb. Chil­dren starv­ing in a world where moun­tains of food are thrown away dai­ly. Drug fueled crime that is the stuff of night­mares.

Are peo­ple say­ing, “peace and secu­ri­ty”? Yes. Are they believ­able? Not very. And yet in the face of all this, I tell you: be not afraid. Why? Because our peace and our secu­ri­ty is our faith in God. Our love for God. And – most impor­tant­ly – God’s love for us.

Will the state of the world get worse? Prob­a­bly. Short of divine inter­ven­tion or every Chris­t­ian in the world pray­ing the Rosary as if his or her life depends on it, it seems like­ly things will get worse. Some things. But some things also get bet­ter. Which do you want to be a part of?

Do you want to be respon­si­ble for things get­ting worse or for things get­ting bet­ter? Have you ever asked your­self that ques­tion – seri­ous­ly asked it – and made your­self answer it? It’s worth ask­ing.

When have you made the world worse? And it doesn’t have to be on the scale of geno­cide; every sin­gle sin counts, even the small­est unchar­i­ta­ble thought. When have you made the world bet­ter? Again, you don’t have to sur­pass Moth­er There­sa in acts of char­i­ty to make the world bet­ter; a sim­ple kind word to a stranger is enough. Do they bal­ance?

I hope they don’t. The ser­vant in today’s Gospel who was giv­en one tal­ent mere­ly bal­anced. He returned nei­ther more nor less, and for that he was called use­less and thrown into the dark­ness.

The oth­er two ser­vants were giv­en an amount based on the master’s judg­ment of their abil­i­ty and each of them returned twice what they were giv­en. For this, they were reward­ed and giv­en even more.

So, ask your­self: What have I been giv­en? What good have I enjoyed in my life? What has God entrust­ed me with? And then ask your­self, what have I done to dou­ble that which I have been giv­en so that good may be returned to God for the glo­ry of God. By doing our own acts of good when and where we can, we can all of us change the face of the world. We can’t afford to wait for any­one else to start it, because it starts with you and it starts with me.

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

We all make deci­sions; we all make choic­es. Some­times we make good choic­es. Some­times we make bad choic­es. A friend of mine and his wife adopt­ed three young chil­dren. That state­ment should make the Catholic heart beam. It is a hero­ic act of virtue to take on respon­si­bil­i­ty to raise three young chil­dren who come from a dif­fi­cult place. It takes great grace to wel­come three strangers into your heart and love them like they are your own. But this is not a hap­py sto­ry.

My point today is not to cel­e­brate my friend and his wife or to describe the suc­cess­es of their fam­i­ly, although they cer­tain­ly deserve it. Today, I’d like to tell you a lit­tle bit about the children’s moth­er.

The adop­tion effort was a long process and there were many choic­es made. There were no fathers in the pic­ture and the moth­er had a long his­to­ry of drug abuse. The moth­er made the choice to give the chil­dren up for adop­tion in hopes that they would have a bet­ter life with­out her than they would with her.

Think about that for a moment, because it’s trag­ic: a moth­er who is in such a bad place because of a long path of choic­es and deci­sions that she decides her chil­dren are bet­ter off with­out her than they are with her. And to the best of my abil­i­ty to dis­cern, she was right.

The chil­dren were adopt­ed. Years passed. The youngest child, who was an infant at the time of adop­tion, is now start­ing school. Of course the moth­er want­ed to see her chil­dren… to have some sort of rela­tion­ship with them, even if she couldn’t raise them. And my friends were open to that, with only one con­di­tion: she had to be clean. No drugs. In short, she had to make the hard choic­es and deci­sions to over­come her addic­tion.

And that brings us to last Fri­day. I wish I could tell you there was a hap­py reunion. There was not. The children’s bio­log­i­cal mother’s mor­tal remains were found under a bridge off I‑35, and the cause of death was a drug over­dose.  

Choic­es and deci­sions. These are core to who we are. Con­sid­er one of our reli­gious sis­ters – what makes her dif­fer­ent than the moth­er I just described? Bio­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences are minor; the real dif­fer­ence is the series of choic­es and deci­sions that car­ried them through life to the place they are now. You could per­haps argue that envi­ron­ment plays a key role, and to some extent it does. But when you talk about envi­ron­ment all you real­ly mean are the choic­es and deci­sions made by pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions that still impact us today, just as our choic­es and deci­sions will impact future gen­er­a­tions.

And what is the dif­fer­ence between the reli­gious sis­ter and the deceased moth­er? Jesus loves them both equal­ly, and so you and I should also. To do any less is to fail Jesus and the call he makes to us. I would argue that in our reli­gious sis­ters, you see a shin­ing exam­ple of the result of the cul­ture of life while in the deceased moth­er, you see a trag­ic vic­tim of the cul­ture of death.

What does any of this have to do with today’s Gospel? Every­thing. Today’s Gospel is all about choic­es and deci­sions, and the impor­tance of right­ly choos­ing. In today’s Gospel, we see played out a bat­tle of the cul­ture of death against the cul­ture of life. This is a bat­tle as old as man, and a bat­tle we will all fight until God calls us to our eter­nal home.

It has been argued that today’s Gospel gives us license to make deci­sions in our busi­ness life, or in our social life, or in our polit­i­cal life that are counter to the deci­sions we would make in our reli­gious life. Such an argu­ment is entire­ly wrong. First­ly, because to even pose the ques­tion neces­si­tates frag­ment­ing our­self into a col­lec­tion of com­pet­ing inter­ests, which is an absurd propo­si­tion. We are all of us human beings and as such we have one life. We aren’t com­put­ers with a col­lec­tion of pro­grams all com­pet­ing for run­time. We have one life, and it should be lived for life… not for death.

Sec­ond, the argu­ment depends on there being any case where some­thing can be giv­en a high­er pri­or­i­ty than God Him­self. There is no dif­fer­ence between liv­ing a life for God and liv­ing a life for the cul­ture of life. Like­wise, sup­port­ing the cul­ture of death means act­ing against God, and that is nev­er a moral act.

The Phar­isees think they will trick Jesus. If He sup­ports pay­ing tax­es, He sup­ports a Roman occu­pa­tion of the Holy Land and He sup­ports a for­eign, and pagan, emper­or. Not a good look for a Mes­si­ah. If he doesn’t sup­port pay­ing tax­es, then he’s a rebel out to tear down the gov­ern­ment and the Romans will do the Phar­isees’ dirty work for them. It’s a no-win sit­u­a­tion.

Of course, Jesus wins.

He turns the tables on the Phar­isees. He asks to see the coin with which the tax­es are paid and the Phar­isees have no trou­ble pro­duc­ing it. They have it ready at hand. Their argu­ment is begin­ning to crack at the seams.

Jesus asks who’s pic­ture is on the coin and the Phar­isees respond that it is Caesar’s. Their ques­tion had to do with the law­ful­ness in terms of God’s law in pay­ing tax­es, but here they are with a coin that depicts a per­son dei­fied by the pagans. A graven image and a pagan sym­bol is cer­tain­ly counter to the law of God. Their argu­ment is begin­ning to crum­ble.

And when Our Lord tells them to give unto Cae­sar what belongs to Cae­sar and unto God what belongs to God, their argu­ment is com­plete­ly destroyed. He isn’t telling them there is a valid divi­sion between their polit­i­cal life and their reli­gious life; He is telling them exact­ly the oppo­site. He is telling them that noth­ing is more impor­tant than their reli­gious life. Pre­cise­ly the same is true for you and me.

Jesus didn’t give us wig­gle room to say, “The Church teach­es this but I think that.” What we are called to do is to live our life – our one, uni­fied life – for Our Lord and to always make our choic­es and deci­sions in such a way that we advance the King­dom of God and nev­er sup­port a cul­ture of death.

Let’s revis­it the children’s bio­log­i­cal moth­er for just a moment. I would nev­er pre­sume to judge the state of anoth­er person’s soul. I want to make that absolute­ly clear. How­ev­er, I under­stand intel­lec­tu­al­ly that in a life that ends with a drug over­dose under a bridge, bad deci­sions were made along the way. Now, I don’t know what any of those deci­sions might have been. Every­thing I know about that moth­er I have told you today.

Yet I also know that the moth­er made three choic­es for life – one for the birth of each of her chil­dren – and three sac­ri­fi­cial choic­es in love: to give each of them up so that they might have a bet­ter life than she had. And there is great mer­it in each of those choic­es, because they were made in love for life. That is pre­cise­ly what God calls each one of us to do.

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

You are made for eter­nal life and you will have eter­nal life. We know that there are four things that come when our mor­tal life comes to an end: death, judg­ment, heav­en, and hell. We will all see three out of the four. We will die; we will be judged. And based on God’s judge­ment, we will spend eter­ni­ty either with God in heav­en or cut off from God in hell. We work, pray, and hope for heav­en; we can have con­fi­dence that we will be judged fair­ly not on our own mer­it, but on our faith. Because our God is both per­fect­ly mer­ci­ful and also per­fect­ly just, He gives us Christ as our sav­ior so that we can be saved through the mer­it of Our Lord.

That’s Cat­e­chism 101, right? We all know that. But let’s apply it through the read­ings we hear today.

The first read­ing tells us sev­er­al impor­tant things. Seek the Lord while He may be found; call Him while He is near. God is all good; we find Him in doing good. We will not find Him in doing evil, and so we must for­sake evil thoughts and actions. It isn’t enough to act accord­ing to our fall­en nature; we must act accord­ing to our high­er nature: to what God calls us to be.

Also, we must seek God. We must active­ly look for Him – search Him out in doing good and think­ing good. We must advance the King­dom of God on earth if we want to find Him. We can’t sim­ply stum­ble through life hop­ing for the best. We must active­ly look – active­ly do – God’s will, which is always for the good.

God’s thoughts and ways are so high above us that the search is not always easy, but the rewards are worth all of the effort it takes and more, for as the psalm tells us The Lord is near to all who call upon Him.

In the sec­ond read­ing, Paul is writ­ing about the same ideas. Life is Christ and death is gain. In liv­ing, Paul will con­tin­ue to labor for the Lord and his work will pro­duce fruit. It did in his life­time; it has in the cen­turies since. For those of us hear­ing his words today, it still does and it will con­tin­ue to pro­duce fruit long after you and I are gone. This is God’s plan. To bor­row a phrase from a pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion show: this is the Way. The true Way in which is found the Way, the Truth, and the Light. It is true for Paul and it is as true for us. Our works, our thoughts, and our prayers can pro­duce great fruit for the King­dom of God, if only we con­duct our­selves in a way wor­thy of the Gospel of Christ.

Even the verse before the Gospel gives us insight into this mys­tery: Open our hearts, O Lord, to lis­ten to the words of your Son.

Open our hearts, Lord. Today, tomor­row, and always and let us hear the Gospel. Let it enter us and trans­form us. Let it make us what You call us to be and let it lead us through our thoughts, words, and deeds ever clos­er to You and Your Holy King­dom. Let it inspire us to know You, to love You, and to serve You in this life. Most of all, let it lead us to You in the life to come so that we may be with you for­ev­er in Heav­en. Alleluia, indeed.

The Gospel read­ing today fol­lows the same pat­tern we’ve seen in recent Sun­days. Jesus is describ­ing the king­dom of heav­en to us in terms of a para­ble. The king­dom of heav­en is like a landown­er who went out at dawn to hire labor­ers for his vine­yard. He went to the mar­ket­place and found labor­ers who were there, wait­ing to be hired. He didn’t pick a ran­dom loca­tion; he didn’t beat around the bush­es hop­ing to scare up labor­ers. He went to where they labor­ers could be found wait­ing for him… to where the labor­ers were seek­ing him, and he hired them to do work – to pro­duce some­thing good – for him. And in exchange he promised them the usu­al dai­ly wage. Then he went out again and again and again, doing the same until at the end of the day, he had some work­ers who had labored all day and some who had labored only a few hours. Yet at the end of the day, they all received the same pay­ment – the same reward – for the fruit of their labor.

Like the landown­er, God seeks us. Like the labor­ers, we seek Him. Some of us find Him ear­ly; some find Him much lat­er. The reward is the same for all of us, and it is the reward for which we all hope: life eter­nal in heav­en with our Lord. We can­not and we must not feel cheat­ed when those who find God very late in life are invit­ed to the same ban­quet in heav­en for which we long. In fact, we should feel exact­ly the oppo­site. It is not those who come to know our Lord ear­ly who should feel as if their life was less than it could have been – it is those who come late. Yes, some­times work­ing for the king­dom does feel like a bur­den and a labor, but it is a labor in which we can find incred­i­ble joy… now and when our earth­ly work comes to an end and our eyes are opened to the great­est mys­tery of all. Then, it will not be unrea­son­able to look back on our lives with regret that per­haps we didn’t work longer and hard­er for the king­dom. For­give us our sins, what we have done and what we have failed to do.

Final­ly, one more very impor­tant point: seek­ing God where He may be found is the wise path. It is the eas­i­est and best path. It is not the only path. If we want to accom­plish some­thing good we should take the most direct path pos­si­ble. But we should nev­er despair of God’s mer­cy, for God’s mer­cy is with­out end. Those who wan­der from the path will be called back to it, if only their hearts are open to that call.

At the end of our life, we will face our judge – the one true, per­fect Judge… the One whose love and mer­cy is with­out end, and whose jus­tice is per­fect. Know­ing this, we should devote our­selves to con­duct­ing our lives in a way wor­thy of the Gospel – in the way God calls every one of us to be – so that we may receive the reward of heav­en and live for­ev­er with God.

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

It has been a strange week. The entire work week was dom­i­nat­ed by talk of the coro­n­avirus and COVID-19. My cowork­ers seemed to be solid­ly divid­ed into two camps: those who thought the whole thing was no big deal, just media induced hys­te­ria over some­thing no dif­fer­ent than the com­mon cold and those who were con­vinced that in a month’s time, there would be eight peo­ple in need for every exist­ing  hos­pi­tal bed.

Sev­er­al times through­out the week, Bish­op sent updat­ed guide­lines and reg­u­la­tions for Mass and oth­er gath­er­ings at the church. There was noth­ing rad­i­cal in these: hand­wash­ing, a sus­pen­sion for all but the cel­e­brat­ing priest and any con­cel­e­brat­ing priests from receiv­ing Holy Com­mu­nion from the chal­ice, refrain­ing from hold­ing hands or shak­ing hands dur­ing the Sign of Peace. Things like that. But the speed and fre­quen­cy with which they came told me the dio­cese views this as a rapid­ly evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion, and that they are doing a good job of stay­ing on top of it.

On Thurs­day, the com­pa­ny I work for made a sud­den, end-of-day announce­ment that the build­ing was closed. None but an extreme­ly small skele­ton crew would be on site. Every­one else would be expect­ed to con­tin­ue to work from home.

But, for me, the strangest thing of all has been wit­ness­ing, albeit from a safe dis­tance, the aver­age American’s citizen’s rela­tion­ship with toi­let paper. Now, to be fair, I haven’t actu­al­ly been in a store in months. It’s just too dif­fi­cult to take a wheel­chair into a store to go gro­cery shop­ping and I can’t walk far enough to make it around the super­mar­ket. But, if I can believe what peo­ple are say­ing, then pan­ic buy­ing has result­ed in a short­age of toi­let paper and emp­ty shelves in the stores. Turns out, you can learn a lot about a per­son from their rela­tion­ship with toi­let paper.

All this left me won­der­ing: has there been any pan­ic buy­ing of Bibles? As I thought about what I would say today, I won­dered if I would be say­ing it to a larg­er-than-usu­al con­gre­ga­tion, thanks to peo­ple who might oth­er­wise not attend church being afraid now and decid­ing it might be a good time to get right with God; a small­er-than-usu­al con­gre­ga­tions, because peo­ple were stay­ing home afraid they might become sick; or the reg­u­lar peo­ple that I see week after week here at Our Lady of Lour­des.

And, hon­est­ly, what I ful­ly expect­ed was to see the reg­u­lar peo­ple who I see every week, minus pos­si­bly a few who’s health makes stay­ing home a pru­dent deci­sion. Why? Because that is the nature of faith.

Faith is not root­ed in fear. To be sure, there was an uptick in church atten­dance fol­low­ing 9/11 from those who sought com­fort in time of cri­sis. But that uptick was brief, because a faith moti­vat­ed by fear of death is not a faith that will endure; death waits for all of us. It could be today; it could be eighty years from now. But life is short, and death is cer­tain. You don’t need faith to know that and hav­ing faith will not keep it from being true.

Faith is a joy when times are good, and a com­fort when times are bad. But true faith comes not from fear… it comes from hope, and the sure and cer­tain belief that Christ died so that we may inher­it life eter­nal. In today’s sec­ond read­ing, St. Paul writes, “And hope does not dis­ap­point, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spir­it who has been giv­en to us.”

Beau­ti­ful. The love of God fills our hearts through the inter­ces­sion of the Holy Spir­it. This is one of the rewards of faith, and I don’t mean any­thing as mer­ce­nary as God loves us because we have faith. God loves every­one; God’s love and mer­cy is not con­di­tioned on any­thing in us. God loves the sin­ner and the saint.

But because we have faith, and because through that faith we have belief, we are able to respond to God in a spe­cial way. We can expe­ri­ence the love God has for us now, in this life – in this moment – because our souls are ready for it. Faith brings us to the holy altar, and from it the Holy Spir­it fills our hearts with love. Our love and long­ing for God and God’s love and long­ing for us meet in a holy union that has the pow­er to change us and to change our lives, every day… in every sit­u­a­tion… in every­thing we do.

And yet, even so, it is mere­ly a fore­shad­ow­ing of what is to come. We see the reward of faith now in our lov­ing spir­i­tu­al union with our cre­ator. We know that union will be made per­fect in our life that is to come.

That per­fect union is not the end; it is not sim­ply a prize for a life well lived. It’s not some­thing that is earned in heav­en for good behav­ior here on earth. It is a part of our jour­ney – our entire jour­ney – that begins and the moment of our con­cep­tion and con­tin­ues through­out our life. Every­one is born; every­one lives; every­one dies and is judged. We all have that in com­mon. After judge­ment, our jour­ney doesn’t end. It con­tin­ues, and for those judged wor­thy of the King­dom of Heav­en, it con­tin­ues as an union of love through­out eter­ni­ty with God.

In today’s Gospel read­ing, we hear that many of the Samar­i­tans came to believe because of the tes­ti­mo­ny of the woman at the well. Yet many more came to believe because of the words of Christ. “We no longer believe because of your word,” Scrip­ture tells us; “for we have heard for our­selves, and we know that this is tru­ly the sav­ior of the world.”

Faith is not born of fear. It comes through an encounter with Christ, and a rela­tion­ship with God who loves us. This is why – even when times are uncer­tain – we can say with con­fi­dence: Pray, hope, and do not be afraid.

And if we’re hon­est, times are always uncer­tain. God gives us the intel­li­gence and the wis­dom – and, impor­tant­ly, the free­dom – to act with pru­dence and to live not in fear, but in faith.

Are we allowed to be wor­ried about the uncer­tain­ties? Of course. Not to be wor­ried would be fool­ish. Are we allowed to take steps to mit­i­gate pos­si­ble bad out­come? Of course! Not to do so would be impru­dent. To be fool­ish and impru­dent is to act against the will of God. And yet, no mat­ter how uncer­tain things may be, we know that our faith will endure, because it is a faith born from love, and true love nev­er dies.

So pray, hope, but nev­er let fear destroy your Chris­t­ian joy. Let God’s love fill your heart and know that at the hour of your death you will see the reward of your hope and the ful­fill­ment of your prayers. That is where faith leads us. It doesn’t car­ry us away from fear; it car­ries us toward God. And on that path, we need nev­er fear what the world might do to us.

Homily for Sunday, 19 January 2020

He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is com­ing after me who ranks ahead of me because he exist­ed before me.’

We all know that Jesus Christ is ful­ly God and ful­ly man. We know that; the Church teach­es it and we believe it to be true. It is fact, beyond ques­tion and with­out doubt. Christ is the Son of God, the Sec­ond Per­son of the Holy Trin­i­ty. It is through Him that we are saved, and our sins are for­giv­en. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; with­out Him, no one is saved.

Today, though, I want to focus pri­mar­i­ly on Jesus Christ, the man… the son of Mary and known to many of His con­tem­po­raries as a carpenter’s son. I want to focus less on the Christ who raised the dead, made the blind see, and made lame men walk and more on the man Jesus, who trav­eled through­out the Holy Land with His dis­ci­ples, liv­ing the Word He preached.

Now, some­one might object that Christ can­not be divid­ed into His com­po­nent parts, and cer­tain­ly that would be true. Such is not my goal. My goal is to ask and hope­ful­ly answer a very sim­ple ques­tion: What does it mean to be a man?

How can a male per­son become a man… become the ide­al man… become the man he is meant to be? Who is more man­ly, Chester­ton or Chuck Nor­ris? Who is clos­er to the ide­al of man­hood, Ram­bo or the Holy Father?

Since this is a homi­ly and not a film review, you’ve prob­a­bly guessed the answer already. But, why is that the case? It’s very sim­ply: cat­e­chism 101. We are cre­at­ed to know God, to love God, and to serve God in this life and to be with Him for­ev­er in heav­en. And how do the males of our species attain this? By becom­ing the ide­al man – a catholic man. And what does the word “catholic” mean? It means uni­ver­sal.

We become ide­al men by becom­ing uni­ver­sal men. And who is the exem­plar of uni­ver­sal man­hood? We know, of course, the answer… it’s Jesus Christ.

A boy becomes the man he will be by imi­ta­tion. He sees the behav­ior of men he respects, and he mod­els that behav­ior. It could be his father or grand­fa­ther, uncles, teach­ers, scout lead­ers… men sit­ting in the pews at church. This isn’t a process that has to end with child­hood. We learn behav­ior from the com­mu­ni­ties of which we are a part. If you spend your time in a seedy bar, you will learn seedy behav­ior. If you spend your time with crim­i­nals, you will learn to com­mit crimes. If you spend your time with sin­ners, your heart will turn to sin.

But if you spend your time with saints, you will learn to be a saint. So, we men should all spend all our time at church, because that’s where you find the saints, right? Hmm… Per­haps…. But per­haps not. If only it were that sim­ple.

Man­hood comes with a warn­ing, and the warn­ing is twofold. First, men: guard your behav­ior, because oth­ers are watch­ing you. They are not watch­ing to judge you. They are watch­ing to learn from you. Be absolute­ly cer­tain that the exam­ple you give them by they way you live your life is a wor­thy mod­el to give. Your sal­va­tion depends on it, and so does the sal­va­tion of your sons, your nephews, even men who are new to a com­mu­ni­ty of which you are a part. Nev­er get­ting a sec­ond chance to make a first impres­sion pales in com­par­i­son to repeat­ed­ly mak­ing the wrong impres­sion. We lead and we teach less by our words and more by our exam­ple and we owe it to those who watch us to be worth watch­ing.

Sec­ond, men: guard your hearts and guard your minds. Be care­ful what you set them on, and make sure what you do set them on is wor­thy of the King­dom of Heav­en. Life isn’t a rehearsal; it isn’t a prac­tice run. You get one shot to become the man you are meant to be. Make cer­tain that man is one who Our Lord will wel­come into His King­dom at the end of your life, because if you don’t you have utter­ly failed as a man.

Gen­tle­men, I’ll dou­ble down on that one: work out your own sal­va­tion with fear and trem­bling or face the fact that you have utter­ly failed to become a man. Male souls in hell are a mere mock­ery of man­hood; you are des­tined for so much more.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the ide­al man – the per­fect man – the uni­ver­sal man, and he was meek and hum­ble of heart. But at the same time, he stood up for what is right, refus­ing to let the mon­ey­chang­ers in the Tem­ple go unchal­lenged. He is a man of per­fect patience; He wants what is best for oth­ers, and He helps them real­ize that. And, of course, He is a man of great courage and prin­ci­ple. He lived and He died for what He knew to be true so that you and I could come to believe.

Gen­tle­men, that is the man that you and I are called to be. For our eter­nal good and for the good of those we love, we can afford to be noth­ing less. So, walk with Our Lord and walk with those who love Him; become like Him, and teach oth­ers to do the same.

There are some who say our world has gone ter­ri­ble astray. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know if it is then it is your fault and it is my fault, because that is what we were will­ing to set­tle for. I also know that if it’s going to get bet­ter, it’s you and it’s me who are going to make it bet­ter, because we will accept noth­ing less. We lift our­selves up and we lift up our sons, our broth­ers, and – some­times – even our fathers, because that is what a man does… a real man… a uni­ver­sal man. And, gen­tle­men, that is pre­cise­ly what we are des­tined to be.

Homily for The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

And Mary kept all these things, reflect­ing on them in her heart.

What does it mean to be the moth­er of God? How do you become the Moth­er of God? What does that even mean?

Let’s start with what we mean when we say, “the Moth­er of God.” Mary, a girl prob­a­bly from Tzip­pori, near Nazareth, was born in the first cen­tu­ry BC and was a Galilean Jew. She was the daugh­ter of Joachim and Anne. She was betrothed to Joseph but before they lived togeth­er – as a vir­gin – she con­ceived by the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it and, in Beth­le­hem, gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God and the Third Per­son of the Holy Trin­i­ty. Jesus if ful­ly God and ful­ly man.

As Jesus is God, Mary – His moth­er – is the Moth­er of God, the Theotokos, the most mer­i­to­ri­ous saint and a woman unique­ly select­ed for the role of Moth­er of God since before time began. When we say Mary is the Moth­er of God, we affirm Mary’s moth­er­hood of Jesus and Our Lord’s sta­tus as ful­ly God. To deny either is heresy, so don’t do that, Mary is the Moth­er of God.

And how did Mary become the Moth­er of God? It’s not like that’s a job that shows up in the news­pa­per. No, she was select­ed by God and her­self immac­u­late­ly con­ceived through the mer­it of Jesus Christ to pre­pare the way for Christ: to pre­pare the per­fect taber­na­cle to hold Our Lord before His birth at Beth­le­hem. But beyond select­ed, she agreed; that’s very impor­tant. She agreed know­ing that there could and would be con­se­quences.

What if Joseph didn’t accept that the child was from God? What if she was stoned to death for being an unwed moth­er? What if she was reject­ed and dri­ven away from her home? The list of what-if’s goes on and on. But Mary didn’t do a cost-ben­e­fit study. She didn’t make a list of pros and cons. She didn’t even hes­i­tate as long as it has tak­en me to describe this brief out­line of what she had to fear if she agreed.

She agreed. And why? Because she trust­ed in God. Mary believed in God’s good­ness and she trust­ed in His prov­i­dence. God asked; she agreed, because that is what you do when you have the right rela­tion­ship with God. You fol­low what he has planned for you.

And that, real­ly, is a very impor­tant les­son we can learn from Mary: God calls all of us to fol­low the path He has laid out for us. We should all strive to be like Mary and fol­low that path with­out hes­i­ta­tion, with­out stop­ping to weigh the pros and the cons, and – most impor­tant­ly – with­out fear. God has a plan for each an every one of us, and that plan is what is absolute­ly best for us. No one of us can come up with a bet­ter plan than what God has already made. I promise you that.

And how do we know what God is call­ing us to? Well, we could wait for the Archangel Gabriel to show up and tell us direct­ly. But that could be a long wait. Besides, you don’t real­ly want an Archangel show­ing up at your house and pro­claim­ing God’s mes­sage to you direct­ly; that’s ter­ri­fy­ing. I don’t care what you may have seen in the movies or on tv, scrip­ture makes clear that encoun­ters with the angel­ic are fright­en­ing.

A far less fright­en­ing way is this: lis­ten. If that doesn’t work, then lis­ten bet­ter. Put away the phone, turn off the tele­vi­sion and the radio, park the car. Skip the Chiefs’ game. Sur­round your­self with qui­et and with still­ness. Take time – take as long as it takes – and real­ly, real­ly lis­ten. Put your­self in the pres­ence of God and be ready to hear Him.

Lis­ten­ing can start with prayer, and it should. Let me give you an exam­ple: in the months before I was ordained a dea­con, I was won­der­ing how to be the best dea­con I could be. Not the best dea­con in the world; just the best I could be. I knew God was call­ing me to the dia­conate, but I didn’t real­ly know what came next… what would hap­pen after my nose hit the mar­ble and the bish­op ordained me.

So I was sit­ting here in the church in ado­ra­tion before the Blessed Sacra­ment and I asked sim­ply this: “God, how can I be the best dea­con I can be?”

Then I stopped talk­ing. I didn’t offer sug­ges­tions. I didn’t think about what oth­er dea­cons do. I didn’t pon­der the pos­si­bil­i­ties. I shut up, and I wait­ed. And that time I didn’t have to wait long, though that is not always the case. God gave me an answer, just as clear­ly as if it had been deliv­ered by an Archangel. It wasn’t the answer I expect­ed; it wasn’t an answer I under­stood imme­di­ate­ly. Like Mary, I had to keep God’s answer in my heart and pon­der it, strug­gling with it until I under­stood what God was telling me. And I am still in a process of com­ing to under­stand.

And what did God tell me? That’s not the impor­tant part here; this isn’t about me. The answer I received is not the answer you will receive any more than the ques­tion I asked is the ques­tion you will ask. The vital thing is to ask, and to be ready to hear the answer. And, like Mary, to say ‘Yes’ to God, who desires only good things for us.

We all have a call­ing and a mis­sion. Mary was called to be the Moth­er of God. I am called to a min­istry of ser­vice. Per­haps you know what you are called to; per­haps you are still dis­cern­ing. Regard­less, it is good to check in – even if you do know – and to take time with God and to just ask, and to be ready to wait and lis­ten for the answer… to be ready to be giv­en the next step, the next mis­sion, the next goal, the next assign­ment.

Final­ly, devel­op a rela­tion­ship with Mary. Pray with her. Ask her to inter­cede for you, to help you become a mod­el of Chris­t­ian virtue: of puri­ty, chasti­ty, and obe­di­ence. Ask her to show you how to trust in the Lord not just as far as feels safe, but total­ly… to trust in God not as far as soci­ety approves, but com­plete­ly. Be wild. Be a rad­i­cal: just like Mary.