Sunday, May 22, 2016

God's Pet or God's Spouse (Holy Trinity homily)

Today is the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

When we talk about our believe that God is a Trinity--
God is Three while still being One--
We always wrestle with trying to explain this,
to ourselves and others.

But let me pose a different question: Why do we believe this?

And the answer is: because Jesus Christ told us this.
In so many places in the Gospels – such as today’s Gospel –
we hear Jesus referring to the Father, and to himself,
and to the Holy Spirit.
Even though he doesn’t use the term, “trinity,”
he makes clear that the Father is God, he himself is God,
and the Holy Spirit is God; yet not three gods, but one God.

So if someone asks you, why do you believe God is a trinity,
the answer is, because Jesus said so.
I believe it because I believe him.

Is it hard to explain exactly how it works? You bet.
But after all, we’re talking about God.
Why shouldn’t God’s nature baffle us?
That’s not the striking thing;
Instead, what’s remarkable is how much
of God’s mystery we can penetrate.

Look around at our world. Why, of all the animals,
is man uniquely so curious?

By all accounts, apes and dolphins are very bright animals.
They seem to like us. I don’t know why, but they do.
Yet they don’t seem overly curious about us.

Could it be that our unique capacity and longing for truth,
is a sign of God’s creation:
that God intends for us to seek to penetrate his mystery?
In other words,
maybe God created us to seek a relationship with him?

Now, we say that sort of thing: having a “relationship” with God.
Yet if we really think about it, does that even make sense?

I fixed breakfast this morning on my stove--
but I don’t have a “relationship” with my stove. Aren’t you glad?

I don’t have a pet--I like pets, but I’m too busy, I’d neglect it.
But for those who have pets, how do you describe that?
There’s a sort of relationship, and it’s real,
but it’s still pretty limited.

But let’s go with that. Is that what our relationship is to God?
Are we his pets?

The answer, if you really think about it, is no.
God gives us freedom you and I don’t give our pets.
But he also asks much more of us than a pet owner
asks of a dog or a cat.

Look at the Scriptures: God has bigger ambitions for us.
He calls us “friends”! The Son calls Mary, his creature, “Mother”!
He calls himself the Bridegroom--and we, his Church, his Bride.

And there it is. Bride and groom. A breathtaking image.
We wouldn’t dare to suggest it,
because it would seem blasphemous,
to suggest that sort of intimacy.
And that’s exactly what Islam accuses Christians of:
Blasphemy, because we state boldly that yes, we can have an intimate relationship with God.

We say it, because the Bible said it. Before Jesus said it,
God said it over and over throughout the Old Testament.

But how? How is this even possible?*

Saint Paul tells us in the second reading:
The Holy Spirit is poured into our lives.

God stoops down, and lifts us up,
into the life and love of the Trinity.

God isn’t a solitary other, infinitely distant from us.
Unapproachable. Unknowable. Always and forever far away.

Couples, you know what it is to strain your relationship.
How do heal it? Talk. Listen. Bend. Forgive.
What do we do with God: we go to him in confession.
We talk. He listens. We bend our stubborn will. He forgives.

In the Eucharist, he gives us his true Presence,
his own Body and Blood.
For us sinners! He came to us!
God the Son gives God’s own life to us!

So a practical person might ask:
OK, but what difference does it make?

It’s the difference between being God’s pet,
and being his intended, his beloved, his spouse.

You see, this explains everything about our Catholic Faith that often seems troublesome.

Why do we do penance? Why deny ourselves?
Why wait for marriage?
Why must marital love be open to life, all the time?
Why can’t marriage be two men or two women?
Why does God have so many rules?

Because we’re not God’s goldfish.
If I had a goldfish, I wouldn’t care about its choices.
But if you or I are engaged to be married--
does our future spouse--God--have reason to care?

You and I could be his Golden Retriever, doing neat tricks.
No. He’s preparing us, remaking us,
to be lifted up to realm of heaven.
To be filled with God’s love. Infinite. Pure.
Bursting with life. Never guarded, restrained, sterile.
More intense than all the stars of all the galaxies.

God chose us as his one and only. Forever.

* After I wrote this, I realized I left out a point I intended to make: namely, that because God himself is a community of love, this makes divine love meaningful. If God were solitary how would God love? But God is three persons, and truly loves; and we are raised up into that communion of love. I added this point when I gave this homily.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The two ways the Holy Spirit helps us (Pentecost homily)

I want to begin with a statement not from today’s readings, 
but from last week, 
when we recalled Jesus’ ascending to his throne in heaven. 
Last week, we heard Jesus say to the Apostles: 
“Stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” – 
that power is the Holy Spirit; 
and the giving of that power is what Pentecost is about.

What does this Power do?

In the reading from Paul, he emphasizes power to change – 
the power to be a different person.

Recently I read a book called “Living the Truth in Love” –
it examined issues regarding the attraction
sometimes people of the same sex feel toward each other.

And part of the book included stories of people
who had “lived that life”; they had rejected God,
and in some cases, they were Catholics who rejected their baptism.

But they found their way back to the Faith,
and they found the power to live chaste lives,
according to the teaching of Jesus Christ.
And not feeling empty, because of what they’d given up;
but living full lives, full of God’s love.

That is “power from on high.”

One of the things the men and women I read about emphasized
was important for them was the power of the sacrament of confession. 

These folks, just like most, if not all, of us, know what it is like to try, and fail; 
try, and fail; try and fail again.
And many times, the temptation is to give up.

I know someone – actually, several someones –
who faced an addiction to ugly materials on the Internet.
Same story: always stumbling.
And at one point, he just came to believe
he would never overcome his bad habit.
And for a time, he didn’t even go to confession.

But a funny thing happened.
He may have given up on the power of the Holy Spirit,
but the Holy Spirit didn’t give up on him. He started back,
going to confession.
He looked around for ideas, and ways, to break his pornography habit. 

And step by step, he was able to overcome it, and leave it behind.
As I said, I know several people who can tell that story.

Power from on high.

But I don’t want to make it sound easy to change; it’s not.
It would make things so easy if only the Holy Spirit
would just take over, and change us, while we just watched.
But it doesn’t happen that way.
Peter and the Apostles received the fullness of the Holy Spirit
only after first making a choice to follow Jesus –
and in most cases, to leave everything behind –
and they had to go through the dark night of the Cross.
And even after that, they were gathered together,
and praying intensely, before the outpouring came.

The Power will come –
but it won’t let us off the hook from doing our part.

When Jesus told the Apostles to pray for that power,
there was something else at work.
He said: “you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem,
in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

So this is the other power the Holy Spirit gives us: to bear witness.

That group of believers that was gathered in the upper room,
in Jerusalem, that day, was the Apostles, the Blessed Mother,
and some other believers, 120 people in total.

One hundred and twenty people,
versus the religious establishment of their day.
One hundred and twenty, against the might of the Roman Empire.
A hundred and twenty people, facing the whole world.

Who prevailed? Not the world; but the Power from on High!

The same Holy Spirit who powered the Church 

outward and forward from that day till now, 
is giving his strength to martyrs right now.

If ever you think you can’t find the strength
to speak up for your faith, and take a stand,
think of the Christians who are suffering so terribly
throughout the world right now.
The Holy Spirit is giving them courage, and he will do the same for you, 

if you ask, and if you really want it.

I want to describe two opportunities we will have, in Russia,
to bear witness.
In two weeks it will be Corpus Christi,
and as before, we’ll have a procession with the Blessed Sacrament.

Think of what a powerful statement it makes,
especially to our neighbors who aren’t Catholic,
or who aren’t active in their faith, when they see a huge turnout
to honor our Lord in the Eucharist.

And I want to give a special invitation
to an event for all the men of the parish, of all ages.

As I mentioned in the bulletin, I want to revive an ancient tradition,
in which the parish priest, and the men of the parish,
walk the boundaries of the parish.
The purpose was both to reach out to the people of the parish,
as well as to pray for the parish.

I’m asking men and boys – all ages –
to join me on Friday, June 24, at 5:30 pm.
We’ll meet here,
and then we have transportation out to Redmond Road,
and we’ll walk for 90 minutes.

For anyone who can’t walk the whole way, we’ll have a ride for you.
And while we walk and ride, we will be praying.
Then we’ll return here for a cookout.

Why am I giving this call to men in particular?
Because there is a need for men to provide spiritual leadership,
and this is your invitation.
The task of men is to guard, to guide, and to give.
I am asking you to join me
in praying for everyone in our parish boundaries.
Over several years, we’ll eventually walk the entire 25 miles
it takes to circle the parish. Will you join me?

The power from on high – the Holy Spirit – is still being poured out.
But remember, Jesus was counting on his disciples, then,
to pray and do what the Holy Spirit led them to do.
It’s the same today.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

'Where's Jesus?' Three answers (Ascension homily)

This homily didn't have a text, but I followed a mental outline. It varied from Mass to Mass. What follows is an approximation of what I said at least at one Mass, if not all.

Today we observe the Ascension...I explained how bishops decided to observe on Sunday, although the actual event was on a Thursday, 40 days after the Resurrection.

This feast raises a question: Where's Jesus? He was here, but he ascended. Where is he?

The obvious answer is, "he's in heaven." And that's true, and I want to come back to that. But there are two other answers.

Second answer? He is in the people you and I are sent to serve. I recalled the passage in Matthew 25, with the sheep and goats, and those who feed the hungry, clothed the naked, etc., did it for Jesus; and the opposite with the goats: they did not do these things for Jesus, because they neglected the "least of my brothers." I pointed out that Jesus included those in prison, and people in prison are usually bad people. So there is no limit -- we are told to serve Jesus is every single person, without exception.

I also linked this to the Gospel telling us to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Our witness of the Gospel has no credibility if we do not meet people's hunger and thirst and so forth.

The third answer, to "where is Jesus?" Is in the Eucharist. And I explained that as important as it is to recognize the Eucharist is Jesus' true and real presence, his Body and Blood, the point of the Eucharist is to unite us with Jesus; so we become part of him. This extends his Mystical Body throughout the world.

And then I circled back and talked about Jesus in heaven; which means, a human being, like us, sits on the throne of heaven. Human nature could not be exalted higher than that. I pointed out Jesus did not disrobe from his humanity when he ascended, but took it with him. And I pointed out the implications...

Human dignity is divine dignity. Every human being, from the first moment of conception to natural death, possesses this dignity. I talked about assaults on life at the beginning, especially disabled children, and also about the spread of "assisted suicide." I pointed out that it is a lie to say these laws are about remedying pain; there are many ways to help people in pain -- sometimes the government gets in the way -- and that the evidence shows more often, people resort to "assiste suicide" because they are sad, discouraged and without hope. And I predicted that if too many doctors and nurses and hospitals refused to go along, government will come back and force doctors and hospitals to provide this "right."

I also explained that the great confrontation, which is now upon us, is what Pope St. John Paul predicted, the confrontation between Church and anti-Church, Gospel and anti-Gospel, and it is about the design and dignity of human nature. At one of the Masses, I talked about torture, and how this is unacceptable because it both degrades the dignity of the one being tortured, as well as those who are tasked to carry it out.

I concluded by talking about our goal -- which is heaven. I don't recall just how I worded my conclusion.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

What is a deacon? (Sunday homily)

This is going to be pretty minimal, I apologize. My homily this past weekend was not much connected to the readings. We had a member of our parish ordained as a deacon on Saturday, and so I explained what a deacon is, the origins of deacons, and how their participation in the sacrament of holy orders is the same as, and distinct from, that of bishops and priests.

I pointed out that deacons, like bishops and priests, receives holy orders. I am a deacon. Archbishop Schnurr is a deacon. All priests and bishops are first ordained deacons.

The word deacon comes from Greek, diakonos, which appears in the New Testament, and means "servant." The Lord Jesus uses this word of himself, as well as telling us that if we would be first, we must be the servant of all.

I recounted the origins from Acts. I explained the meaning of some of the rituals that happened at the Ordination Mass, and what they mean. I pointed out some of the distinct things a deacon does at Mass, and why, such as: proclaiming the Gospel (always), reading the prayers of the faithful, and assisting at the altar.

Sorry, I had rather brief notes, and I can't find them at the moment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The nuptial meaning of the Eucharist; the eucharistic meaning of marriage (Sunday homily)

Note: this homily, with some adjustments, was given at a Mass marking a couple's 25 years of marriage, as well as the First Communion Mass.

This week I was reading an article entitled, 
The Cosmic and Eucharistic Meaning of the Openness to Life.” 
That’s a mouthful! But the point it made is fairly straightforward. 

That there is a likeness between God’s plan for creation – 
how he made people and families – and God’s plan for salvation – 
how he came to be with us, and he died on the cross, 
and he gives himself to us in the Holy Mass and the Eucharist.

In the second reading, from the Book of Revelation, 
we heard about a “new heaven and a new earth,” and in that new creation, 
there is a city; but it’s also called “ bride,” 
prepared and “adorned for her husband.”

Think about any weddings you have been to. 
The bride is always beautifully adorned. 
The groom is usually standing up front, and in the back, the doors open, and wow! 

I’m usually standing near the groom, 
and I can usually get a good view of both the groom’s face, as he sees his bride, 
and the bride’s face as well. It’s a wonderful moment.

So this city, that’s also a bride, who is that? In fact, that is us. 
Jesus many times called himself the “Bridegroom” – 
and the bride he came for is us. We are his Church; we are the one he loves.

A man who seeks a bride has to do many things. 
He has to focus all his attention on her. 
He’s not going to win his lady if he doesn’t treat her as the most important thing. 
And he, himself, has to be the best he can be. 
Perhaps I’m old fashioned in this, and maybe things have changed, but – 
before I was a priest, when I was still thinking about marriage, 
if I asked a girl out, I dressed up. I put my best foot forward.

When a groom wins his bride – when she says “yes, I’ll marry you,” 
the groom has to be ready: he has to be able to provide for her; 
they have to have a home together. 
After they are married, they begin a new life. 
And everything that belonged to the groom, he gives and shares with his beloved.

The point is, all this is what Jesus has done for us. 
Has Jesus given us his best? Has he given us his all? How do we know?

You see, this is why we have the Cross. And it’s why we have the Eucharist. 
If ever we wonder, does Jesus really love us? Really? How can I be sure? 
Look at the Cross. He did that for only one reason – to win his people; to win us.

And, as if that were not enough, he gives us a constant reminder. 
He gives us his Body as often as we want in the Holy Eucharist.

There are some parallels here I want to hint at, 
but for delicacy’s sake, not spell out. 

But we know that the marriage of a man and a woman is ratified 
when they say “yes” to each other at the altar; 
yet there is a special moment that comes later. 
And I want you to notice that Jesus came, 
Jesus spoke to us, his beloved, many words; 
but the consummation of the marriage came when? On the cross. 
When he gave absolutely everything, holding nothing back. 
He poured himself out completely.

Husbands and wives can, and do, renew their covenant 
in a thousand different ways. 
And, if you don’t mind me saying so, it is a very foolish husband and wife 
who do not look for ways, day in and day out, to show each other, 
and tell each other, they love each other. 

I have many memories of my parents, but one I always treasure 
is the many times I saw my father come home from work, 
and my mom and dad would kiss and hug. 

Still, there is one special way that a husband and wife renew their covenant. 
It is God’s design; and what’s especially wonderful about this design 
is the wonderful gift that parents are sometimes given: and that is children!

It is a strange thing that something so basic 
that even a child can understand, should be forgotten, today, by so many. 
Namely, that married love, by its very nature, longs to bear fruit. 

Or, to put it in very basic terms, when you have a husband and a wife, 
the very nature of that relationship is that they want, and hope, to be, what? 
A father and a mother. A family. 

Not all are blessed with children, but when they are, 
and they see their own eyes and ears and nose, their body and blood – 
they know this is the best thing they have ever done, 
and nothing they will ever do will be more important, and more special. 
This is what the love God gave them – 
built into their hearts and bodies and souls – aimed for.

Notice, this design shows up in other ways. 
Some couples go and find a child to adopt, just as Jesus came to seek us out. 
When children grow up, the parents are still life-givers in other ways, 
with their grandchildren, their neighbors, everyone they meet. 
Not everyone marries; not everyone has children of their own; 
but every one of us has built into us a design to be a life-giver, 
which, if we choose, will be the most costly and thrilling thing we ever do 
with our lives: to be a man or a woman for others.

Isn’t that what priests and religious brothers and sisters do?

Jesus loves his Church. He gives himself totally to us; 
and we give ourselves entirely to Him. 
That love bears fruit. It is all of us. 

And just as spouses need a special way to renew their love, 
so we have that special way in the Holy Mass, and the Eucharist. 
Jesus gives us his Body and Blood. 

This is how you know I love you, he says. Not only because I tell you, 
but I show you. I give myself completely to you. 
I hold nothing back, Jesus tells us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How to hear the Shepherd's Voice (Sunday homily)

(What follows are notes. When I delivered this homily, I filled in a fair amount.)

How can we be sure the voice we are listening to is really Jesus’?

First, I want to make a distinction between the voices we hear from outside, and the voice we hear within. One aspect of that “voice within” is our conscience. We hear a lot about conscience, but let’s be clear. Our conscience can be deformed – if we silence it, if we torture our conscience by rationalizing wrong into right, and if we seek voices that will tell us what we want to hear.

So that makes it all the more important to know: what are the resources where we can be sure we’re hearing Jesus’ voice “from the outside”?

Let’s talk about the voices that are outside us, that we can be sure about:

- The Scriptures
- The teaching of the Church
- The way we pray as Catholics – meaning, the Mass, as well as devotions such as the Rosary, the Sacred Heart devotion, the Divine Mercy.
- The lives of the saints are the best commentary on the Gospels.

Let me call attention to what I didn’t cite:

- Blogs and websites where people are arguing and attacking and complaining.
- Angry groups that have agendas they want the Church to pursue.
- People who are pessimistic and worriers.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying any of these people are bad people, or that you shouldn’t be friends with them, or talk to them, or hear what they have to say. What I am saying is that all these points of view can only give us a part of the truth. And I do think that we can become a little “hardened” in our point of view.

And part of the reason why some of these voices can be a problem is that we take all that fury and worry into our own hearts and minds, and the noise from without is turned into noise within. I’ve told this story before, but I recall my mother – when she was a young woman during World War II – she came home from work, and her mother was frantic. “What’s wrong?” “There were seven ships sunk today – I heard it on the radio!” In fact, my grandmother had heard the same report, of one ship sunk, over and over, all day long. If we tune into those voices that are telling us how terrible things are, over and over, where will that leave us?

The world has trouble. We want to be well informed. But some people think they are supposed to carry the weight of the whole world’s troubles on their backs. Who says?

OK, now I want to talk more about the voice within, and how we hear that. Conscience is only part of that voice within. The most important voice we hear in our hearts is Jesus himself – and we can hear his voice within ourselves if we want to; but it seldom just comes out of the blue.

So how do we hear his voice in our hearts?

If I am sitting with you, and you are speaking – and if you are, let us say, soft-spoken, do you think I’m going to hear you very well, if:

- The windows and doors are open and there’s noise from outside
- The TV is on with a Reds game I’m keeping one eye on
- I have a computer or a phone in my hand, and I’m checking emails and writing texts.

If you want to hear Jesus speak to you, you’re going to have to close the door, turn off the TV, and shut off the technology. I don’t mean never use them; I mean, give yourself some real silence.

I realize for many, especially when you have children to care for, this can be hard. Do what you can. But I believe for many of us, it’s not that we can’t do it, as much as we don’t especially want to. We always find reasons to put it off.

But remember, we’re not just tuning into silence or gazing into an empty sky. Jesus is clear: he wants us to hear him. He is speaking! The great enemy of our conversation with Jesus is noise and distraction, not just from outside, but within our own hearts and minds. We need silence; if only for a few minutes