Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Focus (Sunday homily)

As I reflected on these readings from Scripture, one word came to mind: focus.

In the first reading, we have Saint Elijah seeking out the man 
God had chosen as his successor, Elisha. Elisha is focused: 
by slaughtering his oxen and giving away the food, 
he shut the door on ever going back 
on his resolve to be the Lord’s prophet.

Then in the Gospel, we see Jesus totally focused on Jerusalem. 
He knows what will happen there: 
he will give his life as a ransom for many. 
James and John’s focus is somewhere else. 

They remind me of a saying a friend of mine has: 
“Keep your eye on the main chance; 
don’t stop to kick every barking dog.” 
James and John are stopping to kick the Samaritans; 
Jesus is keeping his eye on Jerusalem, 
and the Cross, and the salvation of the world.

And what Paul says in the second reading is likewise about focus. 
His advice could be restated as following: 
the reason you don’t want to give into temptations 
and be drawn aside by pleasure, and desires of the flesh, 
is because they will keep you from gaining eternal life.
Keep moving! Keep focused! 
Keep your eye on the main chance, which is heaven!

So when we see Jesus’ conversations with people in the Gospel, 
we might be a little put off by what he says. 
“Let the dead bury the dead,” he says to one man. 

Was Jesus saying that the man shouldn’t care for his dying father? 
Or, if the father was already dead, he shouldn’t give him a funeral? 
That is, after all, one of the corporal works of mercy.

No, I think what’s going on is that Jesus sees these folks’ hearts. 
He knows the man’s heart is divided. 
He kind of wants to follow Jesus; but he holds back. 
Remember, Jesus had a conversation like this with another man – 
a rich young man, who wanted to follow the Lord. 
And Jesus told him: go, sell all you have, and give it to the poor – 
then, come and follow me. And you will have treasure in heaven.
And do you recall what happened? 
The man did not go away and sell his things; 
instead, it says, he went away sad – because he had many possessions.

It’s all about focus. Jesus tells us: 
if you set your hand to the plow and turn back, 
you aren’t fit for the Kingdom. 
I shouldn’t talk about these things, 
because the closest I have come to putting my hand to a plow 
was driving Dave York’s combine – 
but I was driving over stubble, where I couldn’t do any real harm! 
But I noticed when Dave drove that combine, 
even as he was explaining about his farm, 
he kept a steady eye forward; 
he was making sure he didn’t fail to gather any of the corn. 
And I would imagine, when plowing, you want to look ahead, 
to focus on the task, 
rather than looking back to admire your handiwork. 
And in the process, make a mess of things.

What is the task Jesus has for us to focus on? It is the Kingdom. 
You and I are united with Jesus in this life, heading for eternity. 
Don’t let anything slow you down! 
Don’t let sin and bad habits and distractions 
come between us and Jesus.

Our mission is to get to heaven,
and bring as many others with us as we can. 
To the extent that we can, 
we bring the law of the Kingdom into this world – 
because Jesus isn’t just king of heaven, 
he is the rightful king of this world as well.

But we keep our focus. 

So, for example, a lot of us are paying attention 
to national and world events; 
there are elections later this year that are important, 
and we have a voice and a vote. 
God calls us to live in this world according to the truth of Christ, 
but you and I are in this world as wayfarers, as pilgrims. 
We aren’t going to make a paradise on this earth. 

So, while we pay attention, we don’t get bogged down. 
Don’t get angry; don’t get worked up. 
If you find that happening, turn off the TV, and instead, get prayed up! 
Keep our focus on Jesus! 
He is the only one who will save us, no one else.

Last Friday, I was so happy to see 
over a hundred men and boys of all ages come out 
for our first Men’s Prayer Walk. 
It was a good time of friendship; and the cookout was great, 
with good food and games. 
But what was the focus? 
Prayer; and lifting up Jesus Christ before our community, 
and praying for him to bless the people of our parish. 

I walked right behind the older boys 
who were taking turns lifting up the Cross. That was the focus. 
And it seemed like all those taking part understood that.

This coming Friday, we have a group of folks 
who are going to be keeping vigil in the church, 
after the First Friday Mass. 
They will be praying for conversion, seeking to consecrate themselves, 
and our world, more deeply to the Two Hearts: 
the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 
You are welcome to come and join in. 
Our focus is Jesus – bringing him, as much as we can, to our world; 
and bringing as many people in our families, 
and our community, to Jesus. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

First 'Men's Prayer Walk' a Success!

Yesterday afternoon, Saint Remy Parish revived a tradition from medieval England, and brought it to the fields surrounding the farm community of Russia, Ohio.

Over 100 men and boys answered my invitation to exercise spiritual leadership and guardianship over the parish with a "Men's Prayer Walk." So, yes, this was specifically pitched to men. (One girl did make it, however: a father brought his infant daughter along.)

Where did this come from?

Some time back, I came across an ancient practice -- still observed in some parts of England and Wales -- called "Beating the Bounds." As Wikipedia describes it, "A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands." Mindful that I was pastor in a rural parish, this idea struck me as something we could do.

It also occurred to me that this would be a great way to call men -- of all ages -- to exercise spiritual leadership; to exercise their tasks of guarding, guiding and giving. And, I thought it might help build friendships and comraderie.

So, several months back, I began describing the idea to a few people, and they liked it. They helped me develop it further. At one point, I planned it for a Saturday morning; but I was persuaded that a Friday evening would work better. So, we settled on the following plan. We would meet by 5:30 pm behind the priest's house and climb onto a hay wagon, which would take us out to the northern boundary of the parish. There we would begin our walk. Anyone who couldn't walk could stay on the wagon; and we also had a couple of other vehicles available. After walking for an hour -- during which we prayed ten decades of the Rosary, two litanies, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and a consecration to the Sacred Heart -- we climbed back on the hay wagons, and headed back to my back yard for a cookout.

I involved several men of the parish as my "wise men": one took charge of transportation; one took responsibility for food and drink, and a third handled set up and clean up. Several others pitched in with help and ideas -- such as games for the boys (what a great idea!).

My hope and plan was for 50 participants; we more than doubled that. Several men who took part didn't walk; instead, they rode in a golf cart. A number of the boys were in strollers, and some ended up riding their dads' back part or most of the time.

One of the ideas I came up with was to give the boys chalk, and a diagram for them to draw on the street as we went along. What I came up with looked like this:

S.     R.
 2  |  0
 1  |  6
O. P. N.

And in case you are wondering, that is meant to show a cross, surrounded by this year's date, and the words, Sancte Remigii, ora pro nobis, or in English, Saint Remy, pray for us.

Well, the boys really took to that, as I hoped! The only miscue on my part was I didn't plan for enough prayers; I prepared a handout, and we ripped through those prayers in about 35 minutes. So with the help of our recently ordained deacon, we added another set of mysteries, and sang "Immaculate Mary" and "How Great Thou Art." And we had some silence in between.

After an hour, we'd walked about 2.5 miles, then got back on the hay wagons and rode back for a cookout, with the last stragglers leaving after 10 pm. Everyone had a great time. Several young, unmarried guys were really enthusiastic, saying that they were going to see that more of their friends joined us next year.

And there will be a next year: I haven't set the date, but it will be June, and we'll pick up roughly where we left off, and walk another 2-3 miles; and so forth, until we walk the entire circumference of the parish, which is about 25 miles. I figure it will take 9 years or so.

There were many blessings, which make me thing the Lord looked with favor on our endeavor. The weather was perfect; there were no traffic problems (or any others), and a parishioner came to me the day before, offering some fresh ground beef for hamburgers -- as much as we could possibly want.

I might here explain, especially for the benefit of St. Remy Parish, that the actual northern boundary wasn't the road on which we walked, but a quarter-mile north; but that ran through the fields. In olden days, I imagine they would have walked through the fields, because it was rather important to know and maintain those boundaries in those days. The exact boundaries matter less to us today, but it is still worthwhile to have a sense of responsibility for the people of the parish.

And, for the benefit of our parishioners, here are the boundaries of our parish. The northern boundary extends from a quarter-mile west of Darke-Shelby County Road, and a quarter mile north of Redmond Road. Beyond State Route 48, that line continues until it meets Loramie-Washington Road, which is the eastern boundary. The line continues all the way south to Miami-Shelby County Road; and the southern boundary runs along that road, until it reaches a point a quarter-mile west of Darke-Shelby. For those who know the area, this means that our parish includes Dawson, Houston and Mt. Jefferson areas, as well as Russia and the surrounding areas.

Of course you want pictures. Here are some. This first one shows all the men, with the boys running ahead. I'm in there somewhere.


One of our boys carrying the cross. They took turns.


Here's one of our boys using the diagram I gave them to "chalk the walk."


Another of the boys letting people know we'd been there.


Here I am, with the deacon to my right, and the seminarian to my left. If anyone wonders why we didn't wear vestments...well, it was about 85 degrees, and we were in the sun for over an hour.











Sunday, June 05, 2016

Jesus spent A LOT of time with the poor and overlooked. Do you? (Sunday homily)

The similarities between the first reading, 
with Elijah, and the Gospel, with our Lord, 
are obvious and striking. 

Elijah visits a widow, with a dying son. 
Jesus meets a widow at the funeral of her dead son. 
This is not an accident. 

There are a couple of things you can discover, 
if you are able to take time to read and really study the Gospels:

First, Jesus himself was deeply familiar with the Scriptures – 
what we call the Old Testament. 
Of course he is God, so that means, as a member of the Holy Trinity, 
he inspired the human authors. 
But if you approach the Gospels simply taking Jesus as a man, 
you can’t help noticing how fully imbued he was with Sacred Scripture.

Second, Jesus was very conscious of who he was, 
and what his mission was – and how everything he said and did 
represented a fulfillment of Sacred Scripture.

One of the things you will sometimes find people claiming – 
you’ll see it in films, or TV shows about Jesus, 
or even in scholarly articles and books about him – 
is that he only slowly became aware that he is God. 
So there was a recent movie about Jesus as a boy – 
I didn’t see it, but apparently it took this approach; 
it showed Jesus only gradually realizing he was the Messiah, 
and that he was God.

That’s not what Scripture shows, however. 
Here, Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing, and why. 
By performing this miracle – raising a widow’s son from the dead – 
he knows he is doing something only the great prophet Elijah did. 

If this were an isolated case, this wouldn’t be so clear. 
However, look at the whole story of what Jesus said and did. 
He performed healings, which fulfilled what Isaiah foretold. 
He fed the multitudes, which recalls not only the Manna in the desert, 
but also a miracle by the prophet Elisha. 
He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey – fulfilling yet another prophecy. 
I could go on, but you get the idea. 
Jesus both knew the Scriptures very well, 
and he very deliberately chose 
to do all manner of things in line with them. Why?

Because, of course, that is how he helps people to see 
that he is the Messiah, the hope of Israel.
But also, Jesus is saying, I’m like Elijah, only I’m more than Elijah. 
When Elijah performs this miracle, notice what he does. 
He calls out to God, saying, O Lord, please do this! 
Elijah has no power to heal this boy, and he knows it. 

But Jesus does not pray. He commands! 
Just as God said, “Let there be light” – and it was so; 
here, Jesus, God in human flesh, commands the boy to rise; 
and it was so!

There’s another detail here, and it’s the one I hope to leave you with. 
Notice, the widow did not seek out Jesus. 
In other miracles, people seek Jesus for help. 
But here, Jesus seeks her out. 

After all, it says he made a special trip to this place. 
I have no doubt he went there with this very purpose. 
And upon meeting the funeral procession, he seeks out the widow: 
he has compassion on her.

Even in our time, a widow who lost her only son would be in trouble. 
Those of us who have farms and businesses can appreciate that. 
But in those times, there wasn’t any Social Security. 
She would have been in a very bad way. 

And this recalls something that is also very clear in the Gospels – 
something Pope Francis has pointed out: 
how often and how insistently 
Jesus seeks out those who are poor and powerless.

Here in this community, you and I are extraordinarily blessed. 
We are a close community. 
We have a strong parish, strong family life. 
You or I may not consider ourselves “rich,” 
but compared to what so many go through…we’re rich. 

We are also rich in faith and devotion. 
Last week we had our Corpus Christi Procession, 
and the 11 am Mass was packed; the attendance was strong. 
We had high school seniors – graduating that day! – 
who were at the Mass, and took part in the procession.

So here’s the point I want to make. 
When Jesus walked the earth, 
he made a point to seek out those who were on the margins, 
those who might easily be overlooked, 
or who might be looked down upon. He sought out the poor.

You and I are his disciples. We want to be with him. 
So we might ask ourselves: am I seeking out those in need? 
Am I reaching out to those who might otherwise be forgotten?

About 800 or so people 
will come to Mass this weekend and hear these words. 
If every one of us accepts this mission: 
I will look around to see who – 
in my neighborhood, at work, at church, in school, in our community – 
is most in need, who might be easy to look past, rather than talk to. 
And I will reach out. I will seek them out.

And can we commit to take another step?
In this corner of Shelby County, there are people in need, 
but not a whole lot, and not the greatest need. 
Jesus didn’t just stay in Nazareth. 
He went looking for this widow. 
There are great apostolates to people in need in Sidney, 
in Piqua, in Troy and Dayton. 
I know many of us have helped provide food, and supplies, 
and donations; many have volunteered. 
What I’m suggesting is that we can do more. 

Jesus spent a lot of time seeking out the poor. A lot of time. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Priesthood, the Mass & the Eucharist (Corpus Christi homily)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, which is Latin;
translated, it means, the Body of Christ.
Until 40 years ago, there was another feast for the Precious Blood of Christ,
which was on July 1.
But really, today, what we are focusing on today is the whole Eucharist –
the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you look closely at the readings, they are more about something else:
and that is the priesthood.
Both the Genesis reading and the Gospel mention bread or wine;
but that isn’t the Eucharist – not yet. 

Let’s look at Genesis first. What we do see is a priest:
Melchizedek, who makes an offering of bread and wine.
Now, what really is a priest? A priest has one, essential role:
it is to sanctify the people of God.

A priest is a mediator: a go-between from God to us, and us to God. 
And at the center of that, the priest offers sacrifice.
That’s what Melchizedek did. Notice the psalm we prayed.
It said: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
This psalm is a dialogue between God and King David –
and it is God who says this to David.
But of course, David died; so in what sense is this true?
It was understood as a prophecy: his descendant would be that “priest forever” –
and we know who that is: Jesus Christ!

This is important background for what happens at the Last Supper.
Jesus says to the Apostles: This is my body, this is my blood…
“do this in remembrance of me.”
The Greek word that Paul uses for “remembrance” is very special: 
anamnesis.
This not only means “remember,” but more like, 

“remember-by-making-real-and-present-here-and-now.” 
When God’s People kept the Passover down through the centuries, it was an anamnesis — 
the saving actions of God were made real and present in their midst. 
The word was used in the (Greek) Old Testament to refer to sacrifice. 
So the full sense of what Jesus said to the Apostles is this: 
You are to offer a sacrifice that makes my sacrifice on the Cross real and present, 
wherever you are. 

 And of course, that is what the Holy Mass is.
And if the Apostles offer a sacrifice, that makes them – and their successors – priests. 
We cannot rightly understand the Eucharist without the priesthood. 
In fact, there simply is no Eucharist without the priesthood. 

And so this is why I must now explain some things that we don’t talk about often. 
And I don’t do this to be hard on anyone, but to clarify confusion 
about what we believe as Catholics about the priesthood, and the Mass, and the Eucharist, 
and what the various Protestant churches believe, 
which many of our friends and relatives belong to. 

The sad reality is that when the Protestant Reformation took place, 
every single group that emerged in those days rejected three things 
which we believe Christ taught: first, that the Holy Mass is truly a sacrifice – an anamnesis; second, that there is a sacramental priesthood, handed down through the church; 
and third, that the Eucharist is the true and real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ 
as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches teach. 

Now, I know many times we have conversations,
or we visit folks at their places of worship,
and our Protestant friends will talk about communion, 
or the Lord’s Supper, in very similar ways. 
Or they’ll come to our Mass, and say, I believe that. 

Now, I know many times we have conversations, or we visit folks at their places of worship, 
and our Protestant friends will talk about communion, 
or the Lord’s Supper, in very similar ways. 
Or they’ll come to our Mass, and say, I believe that. 
And, I think quite a lot of individual members of these churches do believe things 
about the Eucharist that goes beyond what their churches believe corporately. 
And, I might add, I am not doubting their sincerity, or their devotion, to our Lord. 

Still, there is no getting around the fact that the Christian movements 
that we loosely call Protestant or Evangelical
have fundamentally different beliefs on these matters, 
even if some language sounds similar. 

And this is at the heart of why when we Catholics attend a Protestant worship service, 
we do not receive communion in their churches; and why, when we have Mass,
only Catholics in a state of grace are to receive the Eucharist. 

*(Remember what I said, there are three things here. First is the priesthood. 
Only in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches do you have a sacramental priesthood. 
While the Anglican or Episcopal churches will use the term “priest,” 
if you dig deeper, you’ll find out that the Anglican understanding of their ordained ministers
is essentially the same as that of the other Protestant movements.
Meanwhile, other Christian bodies make no bones about it:
they don’t have priests, because they don’t believe in a priesthood, 
apart from what we all share in baptism. 

(Similarly, you may find the word “Mass” used occasionally
by some other Protestant churches; but not often.
In any case, they don’t believe it’s truly a sacrifice, as we do. 
The leaders of the Protestant movement insisted that there is no continuation, 
or making-present, of the Sacrifice of the Cross; it’s all in the past. 

(And, then, third – and as a result of these first two differences –
among our fellow Christians, there are a wide variety of beliefs about communion, 
or the Lord’s Supper, even if some language sounds similar. 
After all, we’re reading the same Bible, but reaching very different conclusions.)

Sometimes, we will try to be agreeable, and say, oh well, we all believe about the same thing. 
But consider this. Lots of Lutherans, lots of Evangelicals, lots of Mennonites and others, 
have paid a great price for their own, particular beliefs. Many have died for them. 
It’s not really respectful to suggest that, in the end, 
they sacrificed, or died, over a mere quibble. 

One way to see clearly the difference between how Catholics understand the Eucharist,
and how our Protestant brethren understand communion, is to ask this question:
What happens to the items they use in communion after the Sunday service ends?
What do they do with what remains? 

You see what happens here: the Eucharist is treated with the greatest reverence, 
and placed in the tabernacle; otherwise, what remains is consumed. 
And then, we adore – that is, we give worship 
which only God can be given, to the Eucharist. What does that tell you?
That we mean what we say: this really is Jesus!

But if you visit many of these other churches, rarely will you see a tabernacle.
And many of our fellow Christians will say,
It’s only bread and wine – or grape juice – It’s only a symbol, nothing more. 

So let me conclude with some practical suggestions for ourselves,
in how we approach the Eucharist, so that we can fully express what we believe. 

First, while the bishops in this country allow receiving in the hand as an option,
there is a lot to be said for the traditional and ancient practice
that prevails throughout the world, which is to receive on the tongue.
When I am at the altar, I am careful 
not to allow even small fragments of the Host to be lost.
That’s why we use the patens, and that’s why I carefully wipe them off. 
I do find small fragments there – we use them for a reason. 
So to those who receive in the hand, may I ask:
do you carefully check to see if any small portion
of the sacred Host is left on your hands?

Second, I notice sometimes people will refer to receiving “the Eucharist” in the center,
and then receiving “the wine” over to the side. 
But when you come up for communion, there is no wine up here. 
We know it is the true Blood of Jesus Christ!

Several weeks ago, a first grader asked me: 
how many “bodies” does the bowl you use at Mass, hold? He got it: 
the hosts we distribute ceased to be bread when Jesus, 
 through the priest, called them, “My Body.” And it’s the same for the chalice. 

Of course, some say, it’s only bread and wine. 
And from time to time, Heaven sends a miracle to set us straight. 
Recently in Poland, one such miracle occurred: 
During Mass a host was found bleeding, and upon scientific examination,
it was found to be human flesh. 
Jesus, in his consideration for us, 
allows the Eucharist to keep its prior appearance, 
because the alternative isn’t so nice. 

But Jesus meant what he said: This is My Blood, shed for you. 
Because we believe this, we will bring Jesus to the streets of Russia 
right after the 11 am Mass. I hope you will join us.

* After the 5 pm Mass, I mostly left out this section for brevity's sake.

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.