Homily for Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil.

The ground use to be much softer than it is today. I don’t mean in Jesus’ time. I mean in the ‘70s. I remember falling down in the 1970s and it hardly hurt at all. Today, it is much more painful and the only reason I can think of is that the ground today is much harder than it used to be. This is almost certainly an effect of global warming.

Christ tells the parable of a sower going out to sow. The seed falls on different types of ground; some make growth possible. Some make growth easy. And some make growth all but impossible.

The seed is the same; it is the ground that changes. The seed is the Word; we are the ground.

And good gardener will tell you that you have to prepare the ground and maintain it. You have to turn the soil over; you have to remove the rocks. You have to pull the weeds. You have to make the soil the best that it can be so that the seed can produce much fruit.

Why did Saint Frances become Saint Frances or Mother Theresa become Mother Theresa or Saint john Paul the Second become Saint John Paul the Second? Did they get a better Gospel than the rest of us and so they became saints? What about less famous but very holy people — do they have an advantage we don’t? Of course not. We all receive the same Gospel.

Most of those who are holy don’t become holy by accident. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Holiness comes from tending the ground and making sure the seed can grow. From pulling the weeds through our prayer life; through hauling the rocks away through confession; through making the ground fertile through frequent participation at Mass and reception of the Holy Eucharist: these are the things that make a person holy. Let us pray always for the grace and wisdom to be able gardeners of our own souls and so make the ground ready to receive the seed when the sower comes.

Homily for Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Were the Pharisees really plotting murder because Christ cured a man’s crippled hand on the Sabbath? Of course not; they were looking for an excuse.

There is a lot of anger in today’s Gospel reading. The Pharisees are angry at Christ because He is a threat to them. Christ is angry with the Pharisees because of the hardness of their hearts – because their own power and position are more important to them than doing the right thing is.

Anger itself is not automatically wrong. However, it is seldom right. Christ during His ministry on earth rarely became angry; when He did, his anger was justified. The Pharisees, it seems, spent much of their time angry at Him. Their anger was never justified.

Anger can make us do stupid things. It can make us say hurtful things to those we love… things we will quickly come to regret having said. It can make us plot the murder of our Lord and Savior; after all, every sin we commit is another blow driving the nails into His flesh and unchecked anger can drive us to commit sins in rapid succession.

Anger can also be a powerful motivator for change for the good. Anger can cause us to see a problem – to recognize an injustice – and motivate us to change it. This is not an anger that drives us to get even, but one that drives us to set things right. An anger that makes us determined that a given injustice or a given aggression will not stand and that justice must be restored.

Let us pray always for the wisdom of Christ when dealing with our own anger. Our Lord did not lash out unjustly and Our Lord does not seek gratification from the punishment of those who make Him angry. He seeks justice and the restoration of what is right; we, who desire to live according to the model Christ sets for us, can allow ourselves to seek no less. Anger for the sake of anger will become a wedge and is an offense against the Fifth Commandment, while anger controlled by reason for the sake of God’s righteousness will lead us closer to Our Lord… and this is how we learn to turn the other cheek.

Homily for Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and we hear a Gospel reading from Luke describing the event. Did you know that all four Gospels attest to the Baptism of Jesus? Anything that is covered in all four Gospels must certainly be important.

Why did Christ need to be baptized? This is a question that even John the Baptist asked. After all, Christ is the Son of God; what need would He have for baptism?

Baptism forgives sin. In baptism, all sin is washed away from us. But Christ is without sin, so He had no need for it to be washed away.

In baptism, we are made an adopted son or daughter of God. Christ had no need to be an adopted son of God; He is and always has been the true Son of God.

Through baptism, we are incorporated into the Church and made a part of the body of Christ. Jesus had no need to be incorporated into His own body; He is His own Body.

As a result of baptism, we are given a share in the universal priesthood of Christ. Christ doesn’t need a share in His priesthood; He possesses that priesthood in its perfection and in its entirety.

So… why was Christ baptized?

Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth teaches that baptism by John in the Jordan was a confession of sin and a statement that the one being baptized was ready to set aside an old, failed life and to receive a new life. Now, Jesus is without sin; His life is in no respect a failed one, and yet He chooses to, as His Holiness writes, blend “into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan.”

Christ’s desire for baptism confused John the Baptist, and it could easily confuse us if not for the fact that we can see Our Lord’s baptism through the lens of the cross, a luxury which was of course not available to John. In the Christian life, much that seems confusing or contradictory at first glance can be understood much more clearly when seen with Easter eyes.

Christ is beginning His journey to the Cross in baptism, in which it is not His sins that are washed away but rather the sins of all mankind that He takes on. We go into the waters of baptism and come out clean; Christ goes into the waters of baptism and takes on our dirt.

In His own baptism, Christ stepped into our place and takes on the weight of our guilt. In our baptism, we step into Christ’s place and are washed free of our guilt, coming out the adopted sons and daughters of God and a member of the Body of Christ.

I say that we become members of the Body of Christ very deliberately. When we receive communion, the minister holds up the Blessed Sacrament and says, “the Body of Christ.” We are a Eucharistic people; we are called to live Eucharistic lives. This means that we are called to live to the best of our ability a life that emulates Christ.

Christ was not simply a nice guy who did nice things and asked each of us to be nice to each other; nice is not the mark of salvation and it may well be that there are plenty of nice guys in hell. Christ laid down His life and shed His blood for us so that we can have life eternal.

A Eucharistic people is one that gives thanks to God in the model of Christ, our high priest, who offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice; a Eucharistic person is one who is grateful to God in such a way that it calls him to a conversion of life and a dedication of that life to his share in the priesthood of Christ… even to the point of giving up his own life in the service of God and his fellow man.

This is no small calling. This is not something easily obtained, but is done in steps as one grows in faith and becomes closer to Christ. It is the work of a lifetime and it is a task that can only be accomplished through participation in the divine life and cooperation with the grace that we are given. It is not by our own merit that we can be a truly Eucharistic people, but only with the aid of Our Lord. Let us pray always for the grace of God and the help we need to become the people we are called to be: a Eucharistic people… a people of Christ.

Homily for Wednesday, January 6, 2016

There you are… in the middle of a storm. Things are looking bad. The boat is probably going to sink. You are probably going to drown. And here comes Jesus, truckin’ along… walking on the water.

Would that get your attention? Would it make you wonder what was going on… how Jesus could walk on the water in the midst of a raging storm. It’s not what you might expect to see. It’s not within the normal human experience.

After all, only a short time before, Jesus had fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish… and had twelve basketsful left over. Scripture tells us the disciples had not understood the miracle of the loaves – and I don’t mean in the way we understand it, as a prefigurement of the Eucharist – but even a basic understanding: that this was a miracle done by the Son of God.

Scripture tells us that the hardness of their hearts prevented their seeing. A hardness of heart was also attributed to those who did not accept Jesus and who plotted His death.

Our own hardness of hear can cause us to miss much that is important in the spiritual life. Hardness of heart blinds us to the movement of God; it puts the emphasis on the natural world… on the circumstances and conditions at hand… and takes the focus off of our relationship with Christ. At its extreme, it prevents us from recognizing Christ for who He is: The Son of the Living God.

Sin and pride will harden our hearts. Repentance and humility are the cure; we must recognize our dependence on God and turn to Him to ask for His mercy, for, as we heard in the first reading today, God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. Let us never cease asking the Lord to take away foolish pride and give us the heart of Christ, a heart made for love as God intends., a heart made for love as God intends.

Homily for Wednesday, the Sixth Day of Christmas

Christ was recognized by the shepherds, who were among the simplest people. Christ was recognized by the Magi… the very wise, who sought Him from far off. And in today’s Gospel, we see that Christ is recognized by the prophetess Anna.

Anna was a very religious woman… one who had waited for Christ for a long time. In many ways, Anna reminds me of some of our most dedicated Chapel Warriors here at the Saint Pope John Paul the Great Perpetual Adoration Chapel… people who devote themselves day and night to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament here in the Chapel.

What did Anna, the Magi, and the shepherds have in common? For one, they shared a willingness to see Our Lord. They were not blinded by false expectations. Their minds were not darkened by an instance to seek the savior they wanted – not the one they needed.

You see, Israel waited for a warrior king… it had no expectation of a suffering servant. They wanted to have their enemies conquered for them; they were not looking to be given the model for conquering their own passions… their own desires. They wanted others to bend to their will; God wanted to reshape them according to His will.

Many today still seek a personal Jesus who will change others… who will make others more like us. There is no such Jesus. The Jesus we should seek is the one who will change us… who will make us more like Him. And that means letting go and trusting in the Lord… in believing that He knows better than we do what is best and that He will guide us to that.

It is a huge commitment to be an Anna, or a Magi, or a Shepherd. It is a huge commitment to follow the authentic Christ. Any fool can be a Herod or a Scribe and seek a God who will change others. It takes true wisdom and humility to seek a God who brings change to us, first.

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

December 12, 2015

At Christmas time, we reflect on the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And well we should; it is one of the most important celebrations in the Church year because it commemorates the day God was born as a tiny baby in a cave in Bethlehem.

In high school, I knew a young man who, though Christian, did not celebrate Christmas. His particular protestant sect taught — and he was eager to explain at any opportunity — that there is no evidence that Christ was actually born on December 25th. Therefore, they did not celebrate Christmas, and everyone else was misguided for celebrating Christmas.

He was finally silenced by a young lady who, upon hearing his claim, cocked her head to the side, looked at him like he had sprouted a second head, and said: “We celebrate because it happened, not when it happened.”

Both believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our savior. Both were speaking of the same event: the birth of Our Lord. And both, I am willing to presume, at some level believed that the event deserved to be remembered. But both had a vastly different perception of the remembrance. One, because the actual date was not known to him, believed that a commemoration was pointless. For the other, the mere fact that we know it did happen was all the evidence required for Christmas.

Perspective can be defined as a particular way of viewing something… an attitude toward something. Simply: a point of view. In this case, it’s the same event but a vastly different perspective.

I would like to remind you of the story of a young man from a very rural desert region. You’ve probably all heard this story, although it might have faded some from memory. It happened long ago. This young man had some mental issues, it seems. He, by his own public admission, was known to have tortured and killed small animals for fun. In his late teens, he met up with a somewhat sketchy religious figure — not Christian — who was largely mistrusted by those few people in the region. He was rapidly radicalized and soon teamed up with a known criminal with whom he plotted a terrorist attack against a military base that resulted in many, many deaths and the further unstabling of an already unstable area.

Star Wars has been in the news a lot here, lately. Well, that’s the story of Luke Skywalker’s attack on the Death Star… told from the perspective of the Empire. Same story. Same facts. Same events, even if they are a work of fiction. But two radically different perspectives.

And why would I tell such a story? Simple: perspective is a dangerous thing. There are facts; there are human events. But, there is one Truth: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Unfortunately, there are many, many perspectives that color that truth. That reshape it… and that rob it of real truth.

We can be sure and certain of few things in this world. The television peddles fear and mistrust. That is not the truth. Society tells us to doubt… to view others as our competition, or… worse… or enemies. That, too, is not the truth.

We can be truly certain of only that which the Church teaches: that we are to love God and we are to love our neighbor as our self. That Christ was born in a manger, lived among us, and was crucified for our sins. That we have been given a short time on earth and that at the end of our life, we will be judged by God, who is love, and we will be judged on how well we loved. There is no love without response to God’s grace.

Today we remember the Holy Family, which for us is a model of Christian love. Let us during the Christmas season make it our focus to live as Paul encourages us; to Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.

Let us make it our business to put aside difference… to put aside fear… and to see in all of those around us the face of Christ; to recognize the dignity of the other, because that dignity is equal to our own. Jesus Christ loves every man, woman, and child on this planet. God considers every person to be of equal dignity and equal worth. That is the truth, regardless of our perspective.

During this Christmas season, let us dedicate ourselves to laying aside differences and living the Truth. That is the life to which we are called. Our Christian dignity deserves no less. Let us see everyone, from the person in the pew beside us to the stranger on the street as all being members of one holy family. Let us ask God to let the peace of Christ control our hearts and to unite us all in one family — one body — with unity and love. Amen.

Homily for Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Everyone thinks that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child should be named after Zechariah, his father, because that is what you do. That’s tradition. I am named after my father and he in turn is named after his father. My sister was named after my grandmother. My cousin is named after his father and his younger brother after their maternal grandfather. Tradition.

So it came as a surprise to those present when John was named that he wasn’t named Little Zechy. He was named John, even though there were none of Zechariah’s relatives or ancestors who had that name.

But if amazement was their feeling at the child’s name, fear was what the felt when Zechariah’s speech returned and he immediately began praising the Lord.

Fear is not an uncommon emotion at an unexpected encounter with God. When we unexpectedly encounter a power so far beyond us that we cannot even begin to comprehend it, it is natural to be afraid if we are not prepared.

It is good to be prepared.

God can come to us in many unexpected ways… He can also come to others in unexpected ways. When we are ready to hear God calling us — and He might call us with a whisper or He might call us with a shout — that call will not be so unexpected and that call will be less frightening than it might have been otherwise. When we witness God calling another, that call, too, will seem less unexpected when we understand at least in some small way how the Lord works.

Preparation comes from prayer, from reflection, from meditation, from making ourselves accustomed to the presence of God. It comes from time spent at Mass and time spent at the adoration chapel. It comes from making ourselves quiet so that we can hear the call of the Lord.

Advent, itself, is a time of preparation. In these few remaining hours of Advent, let us listen for the voice of the Lord, who is coming and whose coming cannot be stopped. Let us prepare ourselves so that we meet Him not in fear, but so that we greet Him as our Lord and Savior, who offers us eternal life in His Holy Kingdom.

Homily for Sunday, December 6, 2015 — The Second Sunday of Advent

The Bible is inerrant in matters of faith and morals. Simply put, it contains what we need to know as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. When read with the eyes of faith and within the teaching of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, it cannot lead us astray.

The Bible is a collection of writings, and it is a collection of many different kinds of writing. It contains histories, songs, prayers, biographies, letters, legal documents, parables, and other types of literature.

Today we are having a pop quiz. How many people think today’s Gospel reading started off “Long, long ago in a land far, far away, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert”?

It didn’t start off that way. Long, long ago in a land far, far away is how fairy tales start off. Today’s Gospel reading starts off In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

Today’s Gospel reading begins with a time and a place; it begins with a litany of rules – the men who ruled the Holy Land – and, indeed, the world – at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.

Tiberius Caeser succeeded to the throne of the Emperor of Rome in 14 A.D. and he reigned until 37 A.D. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from 26 to 36 AD; history remembers him as a greedy and ruthless man with little regard for the people he governed. Herod, or Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, ruled from 4 BC to 39 AD. His brother, Philip, ruled in the territory north and east of the Sea of Galilea from 4 BC to 34 AD.

In addition to the state of the civil government, Luke also records the religious leadership of Palestine at the time. Annas had been high priest for eleven years between 6 and 15 AD, when he was deposed by the Roman rulers. He was succeeded by various members of his family over the next three years, until his son-in-law Caiaphas became high priest, a position he would hold for 18 years. Though Annas had been deposed by the Romans, the people of Palestine had no great love for their overlords and Annas continued to have considerable influence for the rest of his life.

This Gospel reading begins not like a fairy tale, but like a news report. The reason for this is that it is not a fairy tale. Rather, it reports actual events from a specific time.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Not all of the Bible can be taken literally. This is a simple fact. This does not mean that there are parts of the Bible that are unimportant or that lack meaning. It simply means that there are parts of the Bible that have the whole of their meaning outside of literal events. However, there are also parts of the Bible – and great parts of the Gospel – that do record actual events… that do tell us what really happened… and communicate their meaning both in the events they record and the reality those events represent.

Today’s reading falls into that second category. John, in point of fact, went through the region of the Jordan and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This happened. It began at a specific time, as we see from this reading. It also ended at a specific time, when John the Baptist was arrested and thereby prevented from continuing to deliver his message. It started when God called him and it ended when the world silenced him.

But – and there is a but – it ended only in terms of that it literally happened. It literally began and it literally came to an end. Beyond that, though, and transcending the end of his ministry, the message of John the Baptist lives on for us today. It has literal meaning as a historical curiosity, but far more importantly it has spiritual meaning because the message of John the Baptist lives on and is present to us today.

We are now in the Season of Advent; we are at the beginning of the second week of the anticipation of the arrival of Our Lord. It is time for us to make straight our paths. It is time for the valleys of our lives to be filled and the mountains to be made low.

It is time for our own winding roads to be made straight and smooth, and for those roads to carry us toward Our Lord and Savior. Those who desire to see the salvation of God must prepare themselves, just as was true for those who heard John the Baptist proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Let us take the time this Advent season to reflect on our own lives, both spiritual and physical. Let us recognize our shortcomings and respond to the Baptist’s call to repentance. Let us recognize our need for forgiveness, both forgiveness by God for our sins and forgiveness from our neighbors for the wrongs we have done. Most of all, let us all examine our hearts and make smooth the path for Christ so that He can come into our lives and walk with us on our journey toward salvation, for without Him we are lost indeed.

Homily for Sunday, November 15, 2015 – the 33rd in Ordinary Time

The liturgical year is drawing to a close.; we are only a few weeks away from Advent and the beginning of the new Church year. This is the time of year when we hear readings from the prophets and from the evangelists about tribulations… about times unsurpassed in distress… about the stars falling from the sky and the powers in heaven being shaken.

These readings are given for out instruction, but some people make them an obsession. There are always those who claim to have discovered a secret that lets them know when the world will end and Jesus will come again.

This isn’t a surprise. Holy Scripture warns us of false prophets and of false messiahs. I have long believed that almost everyone thinks at some level that the world will end in his lifetime. The next time you drive past a cemetery, take a moment to reflect on all of the many people who were wrong on that count. Probably, the world will not end in our life time. Probably, the world can endure quite nicely without any one of us being there to help it along.

Now, I’m not saying the world will never end or that Jesus will never return. It will end; He will be there when it does. But do you want to know a secret?

Jesus will be there; He’s already here.

He is with us in the proclamation of His Holy Word. He is with us in the prayers and songs of Mass. He is with us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. He is present in Father acting in the Person of Christ at the consecration. And He is present in each and every one of us and in our brothers and sisters around the world, who make up the Body of Christ.

We should worry less about the end of the world and think more about the end of our own life. We should worry less about seeing Christ coming on a cloud with bands of angels and prepare more for meeting Him at the end of our own allotted time on this earth.

It is wise to recognize that our time on earth is limited; it is prudent to prepare for our own end. The Church teaches us that there are Four Last Things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Every one of us will see three of them. We will all die; we will all be judged. We will all ultimately find ourselves spending eternity in one of two places: heaven or hell.

We should – we must – prepare for our own end. It may come sooner; it may come later… but there is one guarantee: we will be there when it does. Not a single one of us will miss attending our own death.

The end of the world will come also, but many have died without seeing it and many more are likely to die before it comes. Besides, if you are ready for your own judgment, you will be ready for the world’s judgment should you happen to live to see it.

A fascination with the end of the world is, really, at its core a fascination with the world. We should not let the world that is passing away distract us from that which endures forever: the love God has for us and the love we should have for God. Let us pray especially during these last days of the liturgical year for the strength and the wisdom to live our lives in friendship with Christ and in a state of grace, so that when we come to the end of our earthly journey we can take our place in the company of saints in heaven, which is the end that God desires for each one of us.