Thursday, June 21, 2018

About the Cardinal McCarrick situation: I am angry

Over the past two days, I’ve been digesting the news about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington. What is that news? Well, it’s in two parts:

- The first part was that he has been “credibly” accused of abusing a minor about 50 years ago.
- The second part is that this has occasioned stories about many more allegations of sexual activity on his part with priests and seminarians; meaning that it involved preying on subordinates.

Now, I don’t know if any of this is true. I hope none of it happened; but reading about this has made me sick in my stomach, and angry. Angry at the crimes themselves, if they happened; but even angrier at what seems to have been an “open secret” for many people for so many years.

Given what I’ve been reading, some of which was published at least eight years ago, it seems clear to me that this really was a pretty open “secret.” Which means that all the bishops – in Newark, in New York, in Metuchen, New Jersey and in Washington, D.C. – who are now issuing statements of “sadness” and “shock” – surely knew that McCarrick had been accused of misconduct before. We learned yesterday that at least two allegations, involving adults, had resulted in settlements. What else is there?

Someone might say, but this whole scandal business is old news. Where have you been, Father Fox? 

Where I’ve been is living with it. I remember where I was in 2002, when so much of this fecal matter hit the fan in the U.S. I was in the seminary, preparing for my final year. I was interviewed by the local paper for my reaction to the awful things we were all hearing about. And I remember what I said: that all I could do was strive to be a good, holy priest. Of course, there was and is more I can do; but that was my answer as a seminarian.

So why is this making me so angry, 16 years later? Because it is 16 years later, and we’re still dealing with cover-ups!

Every day – every single day – as a priest, I live with the consequences of the abominable crimes committed by a small number of priests and bishops, but which were facilitated by many bishops, either by active connivance, or by neglect, or by covering it up. This gets called a “priest” scandal, but that omits the obvious fact that there was a failure of oversight. Without excusing any priest’s crimes, I think the failure of oversight was more culpable, since it so often meant one perverted priest causing such a wide path of destruction.

Let me pause my rant here and say something about silence. If anyone wonders, I have not been silent. As a priest, I am required by law, and by Archdiocesan policy, to report any information I receive (outside the seal of confession) to proper authorities. In my 15 years as a priest, I have been given such information many times; and every single time I have reported it both to local law enforcement, and to the Archdiocese. There are ways this whole process is awkward, and I can go into that if desired. Many times the information was very sketchy, so I doubt what I passed along was much help; but I reported it.

At no time have I been aware of any priest or seminarian engaging in any misconduct – other than, of course, something I learned in the news media. Sometimes people voice suspicions, but I can’t take that seriously when there is a total absence of facts.

I mention all this simply because someone might be thinking, well, what about you, Father Fox? Have you been part of this culture of silence? This is my answer.

So back to the main theme of my rant. I’m angry about what looks like a continuing culture of silence. Look: I respect confidentiality. People need and expect a priest to be able to keep his mouth shut. People confess their sins to God, in the presence of a priest, only because they are assured we remain silent, and that is right. People come to us, outside the confessional, with troubles and embarrassing problems, and they only feel safe doing that because they count on our discretion. And they should be able to do that. I am very good at keeping secrets.

But that’s not what this is! This is something else. If I were a bishop, and this sort of information reached my ears, I would look into it. I wouldn’t wait for someone to find me; I’d find those who could give me first-hand information. It would be my job to make it easy for them to share their stories. What’s more, I would do what I could to get someone in Rome to take an interest as well.

Maybe the bishops who knew about these McCarrick stories did all these things. But very honestly, I doubt it. And if I were advising the bishops in the dioceses directly affected by all this, I would tell them: “Do you want people to believe you? You need to address whether you knew about all these stories, and how you responded to them. People are going to be very dubious that you could be utterly unaware of all these allegations.”

The whole Church suffers from these crimes and the wounds they cause. One of the wounds is that people lose trust and become cynical. Maybe I am naïve; maybe it’s just that I’ve been focusing on my parish and my ministry, and I usually don’t want to dabble in gossip and innuendo. But today, this really has me upset, and I believe our bishops, and those in Rome who are concerned with these things, absolutely must answer the concerns of the faithful about how much of this covering-up is still going on. Get all the poison out. The pope knows there are perverts in high places; he himself referred to a “gay lobby” in the Vatican. (And just to be clear, while a lot of this is homosexual corruption, not all of it is. There is heterosexual corruption too.) So it’s time to answer the question:

What are we doing about it?

There are so many other thoughts, but it will exhaust me to write them all down, and it would exhaust you to read them. It breaks my heart to think of people wondering if their priest is some sort of pervert, preying on kids. I recall the time an individual came to me, and revealed he had been abused by a priest, many years before, in that same parish. It broke my heart, and I begged him for forgiveness. Last night the seminarian staying here this summer and I took our “MC”s – that is, the older altar boys who lead the others – out for wings as a thank you for all they do. Does anyone think there was anything improper? It makes me ill to think of it.

How much of a problem are we talking about? Priests are men, prone to all temptations. Greed is surely a temptation, as is unholy ambition. So is the desire for approval. I am tempted to laziness, to seeking too many comforts, to gluttony, to pride and wrath and arrogance, and to lust. The story goes around of a man in confession asking the priest, “Father, do you ever get old enough that you don’t experience lustful thoughts?” “Yes,” the priest assured him – “about 30 seconds before you die!”

Maybe I am naïve, but I do believe most priests try to be faithful. But I am sure some are living in situations that are gravely immoral, either with wealth gotten through theft or deception, or with a girl- or boyfriend on the side, or with other perversions. I can imagine the rationalizations. And I have no doubt that some number of clergy have looked the other way regarding others’ misdeeds, either because of fear, which is somewhat understandable, or because of cynicism or laziness, which is far less so. Many more priests are wrestling with sin, just as you are, and trying their best with prayer and spiritual direction and the sacraments to overcome them.

Inevitably, someone will say, “This is why I left the Catholic Church!” or, “This is why you should!” That makes no sense to me. I was raised Catholic, I left at 19 and came back at 29. I came back not because I thought the Church had especially holy bishops and priests; no, not even because I thought the ordinary person in the pew was especially holy. No, I chose to re-embrace my Catholic Faith for one very simple reason: I became convinced that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, and I wanted to be in the Church that is his mystical Body.

It is not “okay” that the Church has so many wounds; but it is not a new problem. Rather, it is a very ancient problem. Jesus himself dealt with it from the very beginning. Throughout the history of the Faith, we always have individuals who cry out against the sins of Christians, clergy, religious and laity. It is almost a constant. And yes, many movements that broke away from Rome did so precisely because of immorality and corruption. Tell me: has any that made its own way conquered these problems? Show me.

While I was writing this, I heard the church bells ring three o’clock, telling me I needed to get over to lead the Divine Mercy chaplet and then hear confessions. To my surprise, there was a long line waiting for me. In between penitents, I found myself wondering why there was so many, unusual for a summer afternoon. Then a thought occurred to me: is God telling me something? I want to marinate in my anger, but perhaps caring for others is a better route.

So I come back to what I told that reporter in 2002: my best response to all this is to strive all the more for my own holiness. I am a sinful man, but I am trying to be faithful. Other priests too, many heroically. Pray for us and let us help each other in holiness. It may not seem fair, but while corruption taints other parts of the Body, the one thing no one can stop you and me from doing is to contribute that much more our own prayer and penance.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Kingdom comes, we know not how (Sunday homily)

There was a particular line in the Gospel that you could easily miss: 
A man scatters “seed on the land” and sleeps and rises,
“and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.”

Did you hear that? “He knows not how.”

Perhaps you say, but we do know; we know how to prepare the ground; 
we know what kind of seed to plant, how to fertilize it and when; 
and we know when to harvest.

The point Jesus is really making 
is that the process of growth happens in its own way and own time. 
No matter what we think or want, we aren’t in control.

We plant the seed, and then we wait. 

This is one of the hardest lessons to learn in life, 
and the most necessary: 
recognizing what we can do, and what we cannot.

The farmer isn’t in control, but he is not passive. 
We have a role to play – focus on that.

There are about 200 people in this church right now, 
And if I were to ask for a show of hands, 
I think I’d see most of them go up on this question:

Have you ever thought of ways that the world – or this country – 
or our Church – or your place of work – 
would be better? If only they did what you suggested?

Of course you have. It’s what we do.
“If only the Reds would do this and this…”
“If only the Pope…” If only, if only.

How’s that working out? They never call me!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t give input.
You’ve heard me ask many times for your feedback and suggestions.
I value it. And even if Congress and the President don’t want it, 
they need it, and it’s our duty as citizens to give it.

Rather, my point is that like the farmer, we can vote, we can speak up, 
we can give what we give, 
but in the end, the outcome will be beyond our control.

And the point Jesus is making is that the working out of his Kingdom – 
the salvation of souls and the transformation of society – 
Will surely and certainly come, but not as we wish or can even imagine:
We know not how.

That requires patience.
That requires humility.
And that is the challenge of hope, 
because hope isn’t about what we see, 
but on the contrary, hope is when we can’t see.

So if there’s something that has you worried:
The pope, the President, the direction of the country;
Your company, your family…

Jesus says: prepare the ground; plant the seed.
Pray; work. Sleep and rise. 
It will sprout and grow of its own accord; you know not how.

Then sometimes you and I are the seed.
God plants us. We don’t know what’s going on.

“What am I doing here? It’s dark! Wait, now it’s wet!
Oh, I don’t like that; I don’t want to be wet; I’m wet all over!

“Wait – what’s that? What is that? Oh, that smells really bad!
What is God doing to me?

“Oh now I’m moving; I’m going somewhere. 
And I was just getting used to that place; 
but now, I’m getting pushed up somewhere. 
Oh, it’s bright, bright, too bright, oohhhh! Ow!”

And so it goes. 

There is a plan. You and I have a part to play; 
and the difference you and I can make,
both in being the seed God plants,
and in the seeds we plant,
can be tremendous once we accept the fact 
that God’s work will happen, though we know not how.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

What a Gift! (Corpus Christi homily)

One value of today’s feast is to help us 
avoid taking the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood for granted. 
When someone grows up in a family with lots of advantages – 
when you and I grow up in a country with so many advantages –
there’s a danger of not realizing how different life 
is without all those blessings. 

We Catholics have such riches in our Faith, in the saints, 
in our many ways to pray, 
in the teaching office held by the pope and the bishops, 
in the sacraments, and above all, 
in the real, true presence of Jesus in the Mass and the Eucharist.
And here in Saint Remy, we have the blessing of a beautiful church, 
and a tradition of reverence.

This is a good time to talk about these blessings 
and how we maintain and cultivate them. 

Let me start with our church. 
It is well designed and beautifully adorned.
That doesn’t just happen. 
We’ve all been in places where folks made bad decisions. 
Happily, people before us here made good decisions.

But what makes the most difference is you.
Your silence, your desire for reverence, is huge!

I can tell you, I’ve been in churches where this has been lost;
Where people are visiting and talking as they would anywhere else.
Nothing wrong with visiting – but it destroys prayerfulness.


Again, I admire how folks pay attention to how you dress in church. 
It’s not a matter of wearing fancy clothes, 
but of mindfulness and modesty.

This is a good time to talk about how we receive Holy Communion. 
You know that there are two options: 
receiving on the tongue, or in the hand. 

What you may not know is that receiving on the tongue 
is the norm in the whole world, outside the U.S. 
And when permission was given to receive in the hand,
It was given with some expectations. 

First, that someone has both hands free. 
So, for example, sometimes someone will come for communion, 
and will be using one hand to hold a child, or to lean on a cane. 
In those cases, if he or she puts out one hand, I’ll whisper, 
“I’ll put it on your tongue.” 

The other expectation was that in receiving communion with our hands, 
we wouldn’t lessen our reverence for the Body of Christ. 
Receiving on the tongue naturally invites reverence. 
When we receive in the hand, it is easier to slip into a casual approach. 

So to those who wish to receive the Eucharist in the hand, 
how about lifting your hands up high? Make your hand a throne. 

If I gave you a fragile crystal bowl, worth thousands of dollars,
How would you carry it?
How precious do we consider the Sacred Body of Jesus to be?

Also, lifting up your hands makes it easier 
for those who are distributing Holy Communion.
Now, let me say something to those who follow 
the traditional practice of receiving on the tongue – 
which, as I said, I believe in very strongly,
and I warmly encourage everyone to embrace.

I don’t know how to say this without making you laugh, but—
you really have to do two things to make this work: 
first, you really have to open your mouth. 
And you have to stick out your tongue. 
This is the only time that’s not rude to do.

This next item applies to many of our younger parishioners: 
when you come to communion, however you receive it, you have to stop. Be stationary. 
Parents, you know what I mean. 

And I know, parents, you have a lot to manage, 
but I’d be very grateful if you can help your children 
remember these things, 
especially in lifting up their hands and standing still.

Earlier I described someone who grows up with great advantages. 
That really is us. 

After every Mass, we pray the St. Michael Prayer. 
We are praying it for our fellow Christians who are persecuted.

The other day I saw an item about a priest, 
Father Randall Roberts, who described “his experiences 
as an Air Force chaplain in Saudi Arabia 
where any public Christian activity is punishable by imprisonment.” 

The soldiers would spread the word that the priest 
was to celebrate Mass “in a remote area – 
an abandoned recreation shack encircled by a chain-link fence.”
Somehow, a foreign worker, one of millions in the country,
Came by, and “pressed himself against the other side of the fence.”

Here’s what Father Randall saw:

He appeared to be straining his whole body – or at least his heart –
through the chain-link fence, like water through a filter…
The sheer ecstasy in his face from being present
at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – though not able to move closer –
is an image that will be indelibly etched in my heart until I die.

I wasn’t there, but now, I will never forget that image.
And I hope you won’t, either.
Pray for that man, and the many millions like him, 
who are starving for what is so easy and available for us.

What a Gift you and I have been given!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Fire (Pentecost homily)

As you’ve heard me say nearly every Sunday during Easter Season, 
Easter is all about heaven. That’s why Jesus died and rose, 
in order to create for us a future with him.

So now we come to Pentecost, 
which is, if you will, the final “ingredient.” 
If you are fixing a recipe, you have to put in the last ingredient; 
if you don’t, then it won’t work.
Likewise, without Jesus giving the Holy Spirit, 
his plan for us would fail.

We receive the Holy Spirit first in baptism;
If our parents made that decision for us, 
Then later it falls to us to ratify that choice.

Our language about this can be misleading. 
We talk about “receiving” the Holy Spirit; 
But that’s not nearly strong enough.
We also “receive” a text on our phone:
We glance at it and go on our way.

But surely that’s not what we’re talking about here, right? 
Better would be the language the Bible uses:

The Prophet Ezekiel talks about dry, dead bones coming to life.
Saint Paul talks about a new birth.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, Jesus told Nicodemus: 
“you must be born again.” 

Or else, take notice of the detail from the book of Acts:
“Fire appeared, and … came to rest on each one of them.”

The key thing about fire is this: unless you contain it,
and it will transform everything it touches.

That is the reason Jesus gives the Holy Spirit: 
so that we will be transformed;
so that we will be changed entirely, and become heavenly.

We use the expression, “playing with Fire” – 
but God the Holy Spirit is not a plaything;
God does not share Himself with you, 
in order to be put on the shelf, or in your pocket, 
or worn around your neck like a religious medal.

Quite graciously, the Holy Spirit offers us a partnership; 
but only with you or me as the junior partner.
If we seek to contain the fire of the Holy Spirit, 
we will quite simply extinguish it.
The Holy Spirit is not an accessory or a hobby or a part-time thing.

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai,
he said that they had been written by the “finger of God.”
In the Gospels, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit in this way, 
which makes sense, because the Holy Spirit gives us the power 
to obey the law of God written in our hearts.

Now, let me illustrate the two ways we can go:
Either to silence God’s voice in our hearts; or to let God change us.

how this works, 
although I’m going to use a pretty rough image, I’m sorry.
As most of us know, there are some very dark places on the Internet, 
providing a flood of images that are both beguiling and poisonous.
And don’t let my delicate language deceive you.
If you think what I’m talking about is only a little bit naughty, 
and just here or there, I’m sorry, but that is not the case.

It is a massive flood and it is filthier than you can imagine.

People are consuming this sewage, and coming back daily for more.

Here’s the thing: no one who first sees these things is ever blasé. 

The reaction is always the same: 
we know in our gut that it is very wrong.
That is God’s Law written in our hearts: that is our conscience.

So: if everyone knows it’s wrong, why is it everywhere?

Why is smut such a major economic engine of the Internet?
The answer is because people fight the Holy Spirit;
Instead of nourishing and strengthening their conscience, 
they ignore it, turn down the volume, shout over it.
They put out the Fire.

Look at this terrible crime at the high school in Texas, 
unfortunately, not isolated, but another on a list of such crimes.
Everyone wants to know what the problem is; 
We all want to explain it.

The problem of evil isn’t so easy; I don’t want to oversimplify.
But I submit to you that at least one part of it we can identify.
We’d like to say these criminals are just delusional; 
but what do the people involved say? 
“He was entirely normal.” Not crazy.
So let me ask you: do you think these people, 
who do these horrible things, to their family, their classmates, 
were nourishing their conscience – or in the habit of smothering it? 

Most of us will never be that person; but the point is,
when we start down the road of ignoring God in our hearts, 
wherever you and I end up, we won’t be the person we were.
And it won’t be sudden: it will be series of small, easy steps.

Now let me make the point in a different way.
Let me tell you about Bernard Nathanson.
He played a key role in legalizing abortion,
Which has cost untold millions of lives.
He himself was responsible for 75,000 abortions.
And he was an atheist.

However tightly he shut out the voice of God,
over the years, he would see and hear people praying outside the abortion facility he ran.

Someone—many someones—prayed for his conversion.
Many someones talked to him about the Lord—
And many someones showed him the example
of living like a Christian.

After a long time, Bernard Nathanson
stopped committing abortions—
Some time later, he became a pro-life advocate.
Then, he started going to Mass.
And after many years, he was baptized and confirmed
And received the Body and Blood of the Lord.

So you see, it can go either way.

Now, there’s bad news and there is good news.
First the bad news: 
If you want to put out the Fire of the Holy Spirit, you can do it. 
There is darkness beyond the darkness; and we can decide to like it.

Or The good news is that* we can undo the damage. 
The Fire can be kindled anew. 
But it only works if you let God be in charge.
The habit of “no,” “not now,” “that’s too much!” and “later,” 
can be – and must be – 
replaced with “yes, Lord” and “whatever it takes!” 
and “now is the time.” 

The place to rekindle the Fire is first in the silence of our own hearts, 
and then in the sanctuary of the confessional.

I wish I could tell you that it takes only one good confession, 
and then the Fire runs wild, and all our battles are won.
But that rarely happens – because that would mean
we conquered one set of sins, only to be consumed by spiritual pride.

No, it is a painful mercy that conversion usually takes great patience.
What happens is that you and I are a kind of “reverse fire fighter.” 
The task of our local Russia volunteer fire department 
is gradually to contain and kill a fire. 
The bigger it is, the longer it takes.

But our job – with the Holy Spirit – 
is to help the Fire spread into every corner of our lives!
It takes time and daily choices: will I let the Fire of God go here? 
And here? And even here?
Will I unwrap my fingers gripping tightly this vice, 
this inordinate love, and let it be consumed and transformed?

It starts with a single “yes”; followed by about a million more!

* I made these changes after the 5 pm Mass.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Heaven: we already have it. Claim it (Ascension homily)

All during Easter season my homilies have talked about heaven, 
because that’s why Jesus came, suffered, died and rose – 
to open up a future for each of us to be with him forever.

So how appropriate that here we are, and what are we talking about? 
Jesus ascending to his throne in heaven.

That said, this feast of the Ascension 
is not simply about Jesus himself returning to heaven; 
if that’s all it were, then where is the hope?

Rather, Jesus goes, as he said, to prepare a place for us.
It’s about you and me going to heaven.

So let’s talk about this.

First, I want to make a small but important point. 
Notice that this happened 40 days after Jesus’ Resurrection.
So this really should have been observed last Thursday.
But some 30 years or so ago, most bishops in this country 
decided that it would be beneficial to observe this on Sunday, 
so more of the faithful could participate.
That’s why this is happening on Sunday.

Nevertheless, I think it’s important to explain something 
about our Christian Faith, and I want to do it in big, bold letters: 
we are not just telling stories.
Our Faith is built on facts: Jesus was born, he was crucified, 
he died and he rose from the dead, in a particular place and time;

People witnessed all these things, and they were prepared to die – 
very painful deaths – rather than deny what they saw.
Our Faith is built on facts; and if these things did not happen,
We are all wasting our time here.

But back to the main theme:
You and I see Jesus return to heaven, 
and it means you and I are going there.
More than that: it means, in a real sense, we are already there.

Howso? Because you and I are part of Jesus.
How many ways does Jesus have to make this clear?
He calls himself the Bridegroom, and the Church is his Bride.

Jesus calls himself the head, and we are his body.
He is the Vine, we are the branches.
As Saint Paul describes in the second reading, 
we share the same Holy Spirit, 
and all the explosive power and life 
that comes from having God’s Spirit within us.

The point I want to make is that there really is no separation.
The Body of Christ is not a dead body, scattered here and there, 
but a living Body – intact and full of life.

So the conclusion is inescapable: if Jesus is in heaven (and he is), 
then in some true sense, so are we!

Now, just to be clear: you and I have heaven, we have it now; 
but we can lose it. So it’s something you and I must grab and hold on to.
That insight is what set off Saint Paul.
In the second reading, you can hear how excited he was about this. 
Readers will often complain in the sacristy 
that Paul wrote these long sentences – and they are right. 

But if you think about it, that’s exactly what happens 
when someone is erupting with excitement. 
It’s an explosion of words.
Saint Paul realizes: he – and each of us – is already in heaven!
Or, maybe to put it another way, you and I already have heaven; 
we just don’t realize it. 

The difference between really grasping that, and not, 
is the difference between being an on-fire, all-in, filled-with-joy Saint of God,
And being a bored, sometime pew-sitter, 
who can’t wait to get out of church 
because he or she can’t see what it’s all about.

Some of you are here, right now. Maybe you’re half-listening right now!
That’s OK, I’m not offended; but for about 90 seconds, 
WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Listen just for 90 seconds, OK?

Jesus is real, Jesus is here, and what he offers is pure life.
There’s a smorgasbord of life laid before you; 
yet you can still starve if you can’t be bothered to reach out for it. 
That’s not your parents, that’s not your wife or husband;
It’s not my fault, or someone else’s, who failed you. THAT’S ON YOU.

It’s totally normal to be in a situation where you don’t get it.
It’s confusing, or boring, or whatever. Everybody goes through that.
Whatever you love, whatever gets you excited, still takes effort. 
You have to put some work in.
So this notion that when it comes to your Faith, 
someone has to do it all for you, cut up all your food in little pieces?
Feed it to you? Sorry, that’s bogus. That’s an excuse.

Do you like steak? I like steak. 
And if someone puts a hot, juicy steak in front of me,
I’m not going to say, “Oh, no one cut it up, so I can’t eat it! So unfair!”
Dude: I’m eating it if I have to use my bare hands!

My point being that when what I just told you sinks in:
You and I are already in heaven – just claim it!
Then you’re going to grab that steak and chow down.
It’s yours. Claim it! Don’t let anyone or anything keep you from it!

If you are in school, and you go to religious education, 
and something doesn’t make sense? 
Ask and keep asking! “No, tell me again.”

Here’s a “problem” no one has ever brought me:
“We have a student who keeps demanding more.”
Or, “Father! In front of church, 
we have parents and senior citizens picketing! 
They are demanding more opportunities to learn their Faith.”

Don’t get me wrong: our parishioners are great 
for seeking to grow in the Faith. 

The argument I’m making is that no one should be going hungry.
There’s plenty here, and if anyone isn’t getting enough; 
if there’s something I can do, our parish can do, that we’re not?
Please, just tell me. “Father! We need…we want…” Tell me.
We will find a way. You are already in heaven.
Heaven is already yours. Come and get it!

Jesus told his disciples – he told us – to ask for more, and keep asking.
“Ask and you shall receive,” he promised. Hold him to that promise!
He will absolutely keep it.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

What does it mean to be God's friend? (Sunday homily)

In the Gospel, three times we heard Jesus call us his friends. 
“Friends” – that’s very striking. So let’s drill into that.

First of all, how do we even do that?
God is so beyond, how do we have a friendship with God?
I can’t invite God over to play Euchre; I can’t help God repair his barn. 

This was the point of the Incarnation – of God becoming human.
Did the Apostles play cards with Jesus? I don’t know; 
but they did help him with his work, and he with theirs.
They ate and drank and traveled and joked together.

God became human so that we humans could be friends with God.

But what kind of friends?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle – 
who was great because of thought of so many things 
before anyone else did – 
figured out that there are three types of friends.

The first type are those who are merely “useful” – 
so we might think of people at the stores we visit, 
or who deliver things to us.
We might not really know them, yet we are friendly, 
precisely because we do business.

The second sort of friend are those just for pleasure: 
for example, others in a hobby or a club.

But true friendship requires more.
Aristotle said true friendship is oriented to what is good; 
Friends love the good in each other, and love the same good together.

In short, what makes a true friendship is virtue.
If I seek what is good, 
I am drawn to others who love those good things. 
If I don’t have virtue in me, I won’t be drawn to them;
And they won’t be drawn to me.
What would we have in common?

Notice, this is what Jesus is telling us. He says, 
“you are my friends if you do what I command you.”
In other words, love what I love.
See as good what I, your Lord, see as good.

If you have noticed, many of my homilies this Easter  
have been about heaven. 
Jesus’ death and resurrection are about bringing us to heaven.

And this Gospel is also about heaven.

A lot of people think gaining heaven is like passing a test.
I have to get the right answers. I have to know the right things.
I have to be good enough. 
If I’m in a state of mortal sin and I die, I go to hell. 
I better go to confession to get good enough again.

Now, it is absolutely true that if we are in mortal sin, 
and we don’t repent, and we die, yes we will go to hell for eternity.
That is true, and it is frightening, 
and that is an excellent reason to get to confession right away.

Nevertheless, it is still not about passing a test!
It’s about being friends with God.
That’s why we also call confession the sacrament of reconciliation.
And what did Aristotle say? Friends love the good together.

If you want to be a friend of God, love what God loves.
This is important, because if we are honest, we don’t always do that.

People will ask, why should someone go to hell 
for this or that reason. And this is why.
Every day you and I face the choice: do I love the things God loves, 
or do I love and do what I prefer, regardless of what God says?

Jesus is going his way, and he says, come with me, be my companion!
And what do we say?
How about, “Will it take more than an hour on Sunday?”
“Can we schedule it around these other priorities?”
Or, we might tell Jesus, “Maybe later; I’m busy right now.” 
Or, how about, “Can I just meet you there?”

I suspect that’s where a lot of people are.
They won’t spend time with Jesus along the way, 
they’ll just meet him “later” in heaven.
But what makes you think you will want to be with him then, 
if you don’t want to be with him now?


Of course, that raises the question, can someone be in heaven, 
even if they don’t know Jesus in this life?

There’s a longer answer, but here’s a manageable one.
When people seek the Good and live by it, they will discover, 
in the end, that it was Jesus all along.

That’s for other folks, not us. We know who Jesus is.
No excuse for us. Jesus invites us to be friends.
Not once-a-week acquaintances.
Not someone we “do business with” – meaning, here’s my tithe, Lord, 
now I expect a good harvest and no family problems this year.

As you know, I’ve been talking about our parish priorities – 
although I haven’t mentioned them in a bit. 
We’ve been focused on Lent and Easter.

Let me remind you of three of those priorities:
To provide a “better welcome” to those not part of our parish;
To foster “more disciples” – 
that is, to help each other to know and serve Jesus better; 
And to “seek out” those in our families and neighborhoods 
who aren’t believers, or aren’t practicing, and draw them to Christ.

Here’s the thing: there’s no way anyone can do this 
unless you are a friend of Jesus in that full sense.

My barber is a good guy – but I don’t tell everyone I meet 
that they should go to my barber!
However: if he changed my life? Then I would!
So if it’s, “I go to church, yeah…it’s what I do…”:
That’s not very compelling.

On the other hand, how about:
“My life is better, my life has been changed, because of my Friend”: 
that is a compelling story; 
I want to hear that story, and so do many others!

Some days, honestly, I don’t even want you to see me up here. 
What I mean is, it’s not about me. 
Not about my words or funny comments.
Maybe I said something good, or maybe I said something “off.”
It doesn’t matter.

It’s really only about what Jesus himself said. 
You hear him; his words:
“I want you to be my friend. Come with me. Join me.”