Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The City of God (Sunday homily)

 In the second reading we have the new Jerusalem, 

the city of God.

The thing about a city – or, even a rural area like ours –

is there is a lot of interdependence.

When I got up this morning, I wanted water, I turned the knob.

Food for lunch in the fridge. A/C hummed all night.

But all those wonderful things only happen 

because of those who run the water plant, 

maintain the electric lines, and who bring food to the store.  

The City of God works the same way. We belong together.

Our American way of thinking emphasizes individualism.

We like being free to do as we wish.

So a lot of Catholics tend to think about faith 

as being an individual thing.

And when we, or our bishops, talk about the obligations 

of being a Catholic, it doesn’t always register.

I think this explains why so many don’t go to confession.

Why can’t we just tell God? 

And the answer is because our sins don’t just involve God, 

they involve his Body, the Church.

And so, also, our reconciliation is in and through the Church.

Most of us were born American citizens,

but if you talk to people who are naturalized, 

they’ll tell you about the many steps they took, 

and they’ll talk about how powerful it was 

to swear their allegiance and become a citizen.

Well, it’s even more true with baptism. 

That’s why we renew our baptismal vows at Easter, 

and why we profess our Creed each Sunday. 

And being a citizen in God’s City, the Church,

Means we live our lives in our Faith and by our Faith.

When you think of it that way, 

how can we have a part of our lives we live outside the City?

And yet, that’s where a lot of Catholics are. 

Go on the Internet--get outside; 

how we run our business, or treat other people, 

how we shop or how we vote: we go outside the City.

And this is why we come here every Lord’s Day.

This is where the city we are not yet--

but which God is fashioning us to be--is made present.

This city doesn’t have a mayor; we have a King.

And the King is here! Of course, we come!

If you read further in the book of Revelation, 

you’ll see that in the center of that City is a Tree, 

“the Tree of Life” – and it gives fruit 

“for the nations 12 months a year.”

That Tree is the Cross. 

That Tree, the Cross, is made present at every Mass on the altar.

The fruit of that tree is the Most Holy Eucharist!

This church, right here: we’re in the City of God right now!

Of course, we come!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Let Mary be your companion (May Crowning)

 We honor Mary, which is quite right to do, 

because of her amazing generosity: she said yes to God. 

We honor her because she acted at the great fulcrum of history: 

everything that matters for us hinged on her yes to heaven. 

So, we have St. Bernard, who wrote a moving appeal 

to the Blessed Mother, as if he – and all humanity – 

were watching in the wings as Gabriel came to her. 

He says, answer boldly, don’t be afraid to answer, we all beg it of you!

Or, we have a Protestant poet, Wordsworth, 

who described Mary as our “tainted nature’s solitary boast,” 

and I confess those words bring tears to my eyes 

every time I call them to mind.

My point being to describe – and defend – 

our extravagant honors to Mary.

I might add, in passing here, that sometimes our friends and family 

who are not Catholic do not understand this. 

They think it goes too far and they suggest we are worshipping Mary 

in a way that only God is to be worshipped.

I want to answer those objections, as someone who – 

when I was in my 20s – would have made those very same arguments! 

Because in my 20s, I was away from the Church 

and bought into many of those ideas.

Let me point out, first, that if you understand clearly 

what IS Catholic worship, 

you will realize how wrong it is to say we worship Mary.

What, after all, is the heart and center of Catholic worship? 

What are we all commanded to do at least on Sundays, 

but attend Holy Mass? And Holy Mass is offered every single day. 

Here is something you will never see; indeed, it makes me shudder 

to think of it: you will never, not ever, see a Catholic Mass 

offered TO Mary. 

When the priest lifts up the Body and Blood, what does he say: 

“Through him, with him, in him, O God almighty Father, 

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is YOURS, 

forever and ever.”

There it is: the Mass is offered TO THE FATHER, 

through JESUS, “in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Never, not ever, will you hear a priest say these words to MARY. 

Likewise, we believe that as the consummation of Mass – 

if we are in a state of grace, we receive the Eucharist – 

which is Jesus of course. 

But here’s a great way to explain our devotion to Mary. 

We worship Jesus – particularly in the Eucharist. 

But we know that without Mary, there would be no Eucharist. 

She gave us his Body and Blood, when she conceived him in her womb! 

So while we ADORE Jesus, we are GRATEFUL to Mary.

The other point I want to make is this. 

In a prayer of dedication used at baptisms, it says, “our love for you” – 

that is, Mary – “is only a participation in the love of Jesus for you.” There it is.

Who can doubt that Jesus’ own love for his mother 

must be more intense than a thousand suns? 

Each of us feels such great gratitude and love for our own parents, 

who can ever imagine Jesus feeling any less? 

Indeed, it surely must be far, far MORE than our love can ever be.

So I will just say that if you think Catholics get silly 

in our love for Mary, 

all you really have to do is think long and hard 

about how much Jesus must love his own mother. 

She who, after all, was mocked by people who ridiculed her claim 

that the Holy Spirit caused her pregnancy. 

She who suffered in so many ways 

as a result of being the mother of the Messiah, 

and the worst of it, of course, 

was seeing her son tortured and murdered. 

Who could ever bear such a thing?

And what son could see his mother so tormented, 

and not feel a gratitude and love beyond all description? 

If you think Jesus could behold that 

and not love Mary beyond all words, you are basically saying 

he had no human heart at all, but was some sort of emotionless robot.

So, our friends who mean well when they say we overdo it, 

while intending only to honor Jesus, actually end up – 

again, unintentionally – diminishing him. 

But back to the main point which is this.

Yes, we honor Mary, we thank her, we love her. 

But do not make the mistake of thinking she is unapproachable. 

That she is simply to be admired. That would, indeed, go too far.

Mary is a companion, as are all the saints. 

As we are called to be to each other. 

The Scriptures always show her companionship. 

Immediately, she went to visit Elizabeth and Zachariah, 

no doubt because she learned her relative was six months pregnant. 

She accompanied Joseph and Jesus to Egypt 

and to Jerusalem for Passover. 

She and Joseph searched for Jesus when he was missing. 

After Joseph died, 

Mary was with her son and his companions constantly, 

right up until the day he died. 

She was with the apostles, praying for the Holy Spirit, 

in the days after Jesus ascended into heaven. 

And remember, Jesus gave Mary to the Apostle John to care for, 

and tradition tells us that is what he did, 

until her life on earth ended and her body was taken to heaven.

Surely she, too, cared for John?

What I invite you to do is remember this prayer book in the pews – 

on page XX you will find a litany to Mary. 

Some of the titles are obscure – 

although you can look them up online if you like – 

but many are perfectly understandable. 

They are invitations for you 

to see her as a companion in your own troubles:

“Mother most amiable” – that means friendly

“Mother of good counsel” – she will always give you good advice

“Mother of mercy” – 

she will always welcome you and help you seek out her son for forgiveness.

“Mother most prudent” – 

no one has a more level head and calm disposition. 

She’s been through a lot!

“Virgin most powerful” – her Son is God and he’s always listens to her!

She is a companion when you are sick, when you are afraid, 

and when you have lost your way. 

She knows what sorrow is, what missing someone you love feels like, 

and she knows the heartache of losing someone you love. 

She was there when Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist, 

she helped take care of Zachariah, she cared for Joseph until he died,

 and she stood at the foot of the Cross. 

There is no trial, no fear, no pain, she doesn’t know.

Let her be your companion.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

What should Peter say to a transgender sanhedrin? (Sunday homily)

When we hear in the first reading, 

the Apostles saying what the Lord sent them to say, 

and they are met with hostility...

Let’s hit the obvious point: 2,000 years and nothing has changed.

You and I face the same choice as Peter: Do we obey God or men?

An urgent case right now is what’s happening in the medical field.

There are powerful forces, including in the federal government, 

who believe doctors, nurses, pharmacists, 

and others in the health profession, 

must not be allowed to refuse to take part in an abortion, 

or in a suicide, 

or in providing drugs or surgery that facilitate someone to say, 

I’m not a girl anymore, I’m a boy, or vice-versa.

I’m going to take a couple of minutes on the transgender question, 

because this is still pretty new, it’s confusing, 

and people don’t know how to respond.

A great deal of what you hear on transgender issues 

is propaganda and outright lies.

They refer to so-called “transgender medicine.”

No! It’s not medicine, it’s abuse, it’s quackery, it’s magical thinking.

I’m now going to state, not theology or faith, but biological fact; 

as much a fact as that this planet is round, and we circle the sun:

human beings are either a boy or a girl.  

In extremely rare situations there can be some physical ambiguity, 

but the fundamental male or female identity is still there.

And there are all manner of ways people’s thinking or self-perception 

can be out of sync with themselves or the world around them.

So, people feeling at odds with their physical bodies is not fake.

It’s not a joke. This a difficult trial deserving real help.

Even so, whether you are male or female is not a choice or a mindset.

And no surgery, no drug, nothing can undo the basic biological fact.

By the way, this isn’t the only way this happens in life, 

that we long to change something about ourselves, but we cannot.

Some things we can change. Others are beyond our control.

If the latter, it becomes a matter of better or worse ways 

to carry our cross and make peace with the hand we’ve been dealt.

One more key detail: this whole thing is largely aimed at children.

Again, children. Not just under 18, but pre-puberty.

And you should know that counselors and psychologists 

and other medical personnel are being told, 

that if a child comes to you, you must – MUST – “affirm only.”

What does that mean?

It means you are not allowed to assist that child 

to get back to a place of self-acceptance. 

Instead, you can only say, OK, you are now a boy, 

here’s a drug, here’s a surgery, your life is altered forever.

All before you hit 15 years old.

All that is only one way you and I must be Peter today,

and obey God rather than men. 

There are lots of other hard things our Lord had to say: 

about money, about possessions, about the poor,

about clearing my own eye before dealing with your flaws.

And sooner or later, you and I aren’t actually Peter being brave.

We’re the Sanhedrin saying, I don’t want to hear that!

Notice Jesus asked Peter about his love three times.

They were using two different words translated as “love.”

Jesus was asking, Do you love me with a go-to-the-cross love?

Peter comes back with a, yeah-you’re-kind-of-cool “love.”

Peter’s love was weak, but Jesus built on that, 

and Peter ultimately did go to the cross.

Give Jesus your little bit of love and he will get you there.

When you and I face our Sanhedrin, our “stop saying that” moments, 

there is no excuse to forget that we want the good, 

including the final good of heaven, for each person we disagree with. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Mercy, Resurrection, Eucharist Junction (Sunday homily)

 So, this Sunday we focus on three things.

First, the Mercy of God since this is Divine Mercy Sunday. 

Second, the Resurrection. 

And third, about the Holy Eucharist, because our second graders are making their first Holy Communion.

Let’s start with God’s mercy, because that’s what it’s all about.

Why did God do any of the things he did for us? 

Come to earth, take up the cross, give us the sacraments?

It’s all mercy, it’s all about saving us, changing us, making us saints.

So, what I’m going to say next is just for some people here, 

because some good folks, who are trying SO hard, 

need to stop and, if you will, press their nose to that image of MERCY. 

Let me explain it this way: we humans have a NEED:

we are alienated from God. 

God responds with a GIFT: that is, his Mercy. 

So, again, NEED and GIFT.

Some folks don’t really take their need seriously. 

As a result, they undervalue the gift.  

So, if you think pretty much EVERYONE goes to heaven, 

then where’s the urgent need?

Meanwhile, there are others, some of whom are here;

And you focus so intensely on your NEED – 

“I am so sinful, I am so, so far from what God wants!” – 

that you don’t focus enough on the GIFT.

Remember what St. Faustina said: “Jesus I TRUST in you!”

Take an example from the Apostle Thomas. 

He started out looking at his doubts and fears; i.e., at himself.

Jesus tells him, don’t look at yourself, look at ME: 

see my wounds, touch them. Believe in ME. 

When you and I get overly anxious about our sins, it’s the same.

Yes: take a few minutes to examine yourself. But then stop! 

Shift your gaze from your own failings, 

from your impossibility and look at JESUS: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

This is where his Resurrection is so important. 

Jesus rising from the dead proves everything he said was true. 

Every word.

No wonder Thomas fell to his knees and said: “my Lord and my God”!

Second, when he shows us his resurrected body, 

Jesus isn’t just “showing off”: “Look at what I have!”

He’s showing what is, and will be, OURS.

Lots of Christians are mixed up on this point. 

They think our goal is to ESCAPE this life.

So, they think the body doesn’t matter after they die.

No, no! Jesus did not come to lead an escape from this world,

But rather, to lead the REDEMPTION and healing of this world.

So, even after death our body is sacred. 

And we will have it back, new and improved: what Jesus shows us.

Now we come to the Most Holy Eucharist. 

We talked about mercy, 

and we talked about sharing Jesus’ resurrected life. 

This – and more – is what the Most Holy Eucharist is.

Don’t miss the connection: 

On the first Easter, Jesus SHOWS us his risen, live-forever-body. 

Then at each Mass he GIVES us his flesh and his blood, his very self.

The connection is absolutely necessary.

Very important: what he GIVES us is identical to what he SHOWS us. 

What lies ahead for Jesus’ disciples is far more than we may realize.

I wonder if many imagine, in the New Creation, Jesus is on the throne, 

and we’re like his pets, gathered at his feet.

No! Jesus told the Apostles that they would sit on thrones beside him. 

Everything Jesus has, everything Jesus IS, he GIVES, he SHARES,

and in giving us himself, he changes us to become ONE with him. 

This is why there can be no question 

that the Eucharist is more than mere bread and wine. 

It is not merely a symbol or a reminder. 

The Eucharist is precisely what Jesus said, what Saint Paul said, 

what the first Christians all said and believed: 

the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. 

Very simply, the Eucharist IS Jesus. 

Yes, it keeps the appearance of bread and wine 

because isn’t that more approachable than the alternative?

If the Eucharist is not Jesus, then what does he give us?

Bread? If I eat too much bread, I get fat. 

Too much wine, I get sleepy and then a headache.

These cannot save me. I need Jesus and nothing else will do.

Jesus gives us HIMSELF, and his TOTAL self. 

That’s what the Eucharist is. You don’t have to see it. 

And you don’t have to take my word for it. 

Believe the one who came to earth to take up the Cross,

who came back from the dead, all for you, all for me.

Believe him when he says, “This is my Body…This is my Blood.”

Sunday, April 17, 2022

What will you choose to live for? (Easter homily)

 All over the world, Catholics and other Christians 

are marking this night, this day, the day that the Lord has made. 

The day Jesus came back from the dead, 

conquering sin and defeating death, 

and opening the path for us to heaven. 

That is why Alleluia belongs to this day: praise the Lord! 

This is the day of victory!

But what victory, exactly? What is this triumph? 

Are we claiming that we will not die? We know that we will. 

Our victory is that we know what lies ahead for us: 

not a grave, but heaven!

And what do we mean by this defeat of sin? 

I still struggle with sin. I’m guessing you do, too. 

But we have seen God weigh into the battle – for us and with us. 

All our sins have been nailed to the cross – 

and when Jesus died on that cross, 

so did our sins and all our condemnation! 

So remember: when you go to confession, and the priest gives you absolution, 

all that power of Jesus’ blood is poured out for you.

Never doubt, never waver: all your sins are forgiven forever: 

Gone, gone, gone!

No one else can take away sin but Jesus. 

As we say at each Mass: 

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

This is that day!

Not everyone celebrates this victory tonight. 

Lots of people in our world either do not know what Jesus did, 

or they do not care. They do not believe. 

Many in our own country have only a passing awareness. 

The story of who Jesus is and what he did 

has become a steady, background buzz in their ears. 

Perhaps they were raised as Christians, but they have turned away, 

or tuned out. Maybe someone hurt them.

They may take more notice of the wrongs of Christians, 

And the saving work of Christ is a little distant.  

Some just sort of drifted and haven’t found their way back.

What can we say?

Each of us must choose what we will believe, what we will live for. 

Lots of people live for enjoyment, for fulfillment, for pleasure. 

This sounds worse than it is. 

God created us, and pleasure, 

a desire for the new and exciting, is built into us. 

But these are blessings of a good life; 

they aren’t enough to be the focus of life. 

There comes a point when we realize: 

I can live for me, or I can live for others. 

Those who choose self, who live for themselves, 

that’s all they have in the end: themselves, and nothing else.

Many people give everything to their careers, to sports, to causes. 

Then there are those who devote everything to their family or country. 

Even then, there remains a question.

In loving our country, or loving our family, what do we want for them? 

Obviously, the kind of country America is, the things we stand for, matters most, doesn’t it?

Likewise, far more important than our children’s physical health or material success,

 is the state of their soul, and what they value most?

Brothers and sisters, we have completed our time of penance. 

You and I have faced the reality of our own sinfulness 

and, even more than that, our own radical dependence. 

You and I cannot live a day, not an hour, without God’s help and grace. 

This is the day you and I renew our decision for Jesus Christ.

And maybe you’re thinking, when did I ever make that decision? 

It was made for me when I was baptized. I’ve sort of tagged along.

Then, today is your day to speak for yourself: I choose Christ!

That’s what we do each year when we renew our baptismal vows.

But do not be too quick to answer. 

In many places in the world, to be a Christian can cost you your life.

In our country, it may cost you a friendship or a promotion. 

More and more men and women faithful to Christ 

are being shut out of the medical and health professions. 

Or you may face derision and embarrassment. 

The question is before you.  

We will live our lives for something – what will you choose?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The deep meaning of our Christian Passover (Holy Thursday homily)

It is necessary to peel back the layers of tradition 
to reveal the full meaning of what we do tonight.*

The first reading describes the Passover, 
celebrated by the Jewish People. 
It speaks of the “the fourteenth day of the month” – 
that is, fourteen days after a new moon, which means, a full moon. 
The moon will be full this weekend.

The lamb was one year old and “without blemish”; 
it was obtained several days before and lived with the family.  
Why is this important? 
This points to Jesus, who became a member of the Jewish household, 
a member of the human family.

Then, with the whole assembly present, the lamb was slaughtered. 
When we come to church tomorrow, what do we recall?
Jesus is crucified with the whole assembly present.

The blood of the lamb is then spread over the doorposts.
This is protection from divine judgment. 

By the way: when you and I are baptized, 
that’s when the blood of the Lamb covers us! 
When we fall back into mortal sin, confession renews it.

And then after the lamb is sacrificed, its flesh was eaten. 
This was necessary to complete the sacrifice.
But only those who were members of the household could eat the lamb.
This is why only those baptized and in a state of grace 
receive Holy Communion at Mass. 

Now, let’s drill into the details of the Last Supper, 
which was Jesus’ Passover with his chosen twelve apostles. 
He’s acting as the head of a family. 

I already pointed out how central the lamb is to the Passover.
But the accounts of Jesus’ Last Supper never mention a lamb.
Instead, he takes the bread, and says, 
“this is my body, given up for you.” 

And of course, there was a cup of wine.
In fact, there were four cups of wine.

The first cup that was prepared with water added. 
Ring a bell? You’ve seen me do that.
This was called the “cup of sanctification,” 
and the father began the meal with a prayer, over this cup, 
and the food is brought to the table.

The second was the cup of “proclamation” – 
it was prepared, but not drunk right away; 
because while the food was on the table,
the father would tell the account of what God did 
for his people in Egypt, in the exodus.

By the way, when these events were “remembered,”
the understanding was that in remembering, you were present!
You were actually brought there spiritually, through the meal.

So, when Jesus says to the Apostles, “do this in memory of me,”
two things:

First, he knows that all of us would be coming after in years to come.
He made a plan for each of us to be part of his Passover.
That means Jesus planned for what we call Holy Mass,
and for priests to offer this sacrifice.

And second, our “remembering” here, not quite 2,000 years later,
likewise makes you and me truly present: 
in the Upper Room, at Calvary, at the empty tomb.

Now, back to the Passover.
After everyone ate, the father would share the third cup, 
called the “cup of blessing.” 
And Saint Paul just told us that this was the cup Jesus took up, 
and said, “This is my Blood.”

I said earlier there were four, where’s the last one?

Tomorrow, you and I will hear these words in the Gospel of John:

After this…Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine….
They put a sponge soaked in wine…up to his mouth. 
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” 
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

So we don’t finish this Mass tonight. No final blessing.
We do go on a procession – to the side altar – recalling the Garden.

Oh, I meant to give you one more detail. 
In Jesus’ time, when the lamb was prepared for the meal, 
in order to roast it, do you know how they did it? 
They took two skewers, made of wood. 
One was speared through the torso, from head to tail. 
The other was speared through both shoulders. A cross.

Tomorrow we will worship the Cross on which our Savior, 
our Lamb of God, was slain. This is our Passover. It begins tonight. 

* All these details come from Scripture scholar Brant Pitre.