Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Justice Plan and the Mercy Plan (Sunday homily)

 So: what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 


Let’s talk about forgiveness. It comes up all the time: people say, 

“Oh, it is so hard to forgive.” Of course it is hard. That’s the point.


Now, let’s be clear what forgiveness is and is not. 

Forgiveness does not mean the other person did not hurt you, 

nor does it minimize the wrong. 

Forgiveness means you are letting go of that person 

and giving him or her to God. 

Let God take care of justice and repayment.


Let me also add, that forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. 

Just like the person who chooses to give up smoking. 

She knows she did the right thing, 

but still feels terrible about it, for a while at least.

That’s normal.


So, how do we forgive? 

Here are some things that might help us get there.


First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 

And I mean, more than once. Ask, ask and ask again.


We can’t do it on our own; we can’t do anything on our own. 

This is a humbling truth we may take a lifetime to learn. 

Do you think you need God’s help only now and then?

  

This is a good time to remember something 

The American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories;

Namely, that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 

It may not make you feel good.

But God’s grace will always bring you closer to him.

Remember: the purest expression of grace is the Cross!


A second point: if you want the power to forgive, 

pray for the people who hurt you. 

Again: not just once, but over and over.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” That’s how you start. 


A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 

That’s right; think about hell.


I suspect a lot of people don’t take hell seriously.

They figure only people like Hitler go there, that’s it.


The trouble is, Jesus certainly takes hell seriously,

And he is always warning ordinary people about hell.


A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 

try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 


Let’s try (count to ten).


When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing someone in hell. 

Right? Because you don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 

That means wishing those people in hell. 


Or, do you mean you want God to forgive, while you refuse? 

That means you want God and that person to be friends, 

but you don’t want to be part of it? 


Then that means you are sending yourself to hell. 


If you want to go to heaven, 

and you want those other people to go to heaven, 

our grudges and hurts can’t go to heaven. They go to hell!

And if we hold on to them, so will we.


See, God has two plans for humanity. 

He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan, 

and they are both on display in this Gospel. 


What’s the Justice Plan?


Well, that’s where we are measured by strict justice; 

no excuses, no mulligans, no leeway. We get precisely what we deserve. 

So, if you have wronged no one, and have a perfect score, 

you can apply for the Justice Plan.


Don’t like that? No problem. God also offers the Mercy Plan. 

God will forgive: absolutely anything and everything. 

That first servant owed a debt that, in today’s dollars, 

would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.


But there is a condition: to gain the Mercy Plan,

you and I must apply the Mercy Plan to everyone else, 

without exception. 

Not because it’s easy, not because they deserve it, 

not because they are good enough, 

not for just certain categories,

and no, not even only if they ask for it. They don’t have to ask for it!


It is Jesus, the Supreme Judge, who commands it. 

You want mercy? Show mercy, even to your enemies.


In a moment, in our presence, 

the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 

you and I will witness it! – and then we will have the opportunity 

to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. 


And if we do that, you and I are accepting the Mercy Plan. 

We’re receiving infinite, precious, eternal-life-giving Mercy!


Do you want Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.


Sunday, September 06, 2020

Practicing trust as we watch over each other (Sunday homily)

 The first reading – about a watchman, looking out for Israel –

got me thinking: who is our watchman?

Who is supposed to be looking out for us, 

warning this community against danger?


I guess that would include me, as the pastor of this parish.

It would include our mayor and school superintendent 

and those who work with them.

And for each of our families, it’s you mom and dads.


We have this virus which has been hanging around too long,

and we’re all sick and tired of it, but it hasn’t gone away.

On the contrary, just in the last couple of weeks, 

it’s finally showing up in Russia.


I find myself wondering if I failed to be vigilant enough.

Our seminarian, Isaiah, is going to be quarantined 

because he sat with someone at breakfast last week; 

he’s living in one part of the rectory, and I’m at the other end.


And while it doesn’t appear that I have to quarantine, 

I’ll take a few extra precautions for the next week or so.

I won’t be distributing Holy Communion, 

so I ask for an extra helper to come forward.


Meanwhile, our school is trying very hard to be vigilant; so is the mayor.

And they, in turn, must rely on state authorities 

who provide the guidance on how best to manage these things.


All this involves the question of trust: do we trust each other?


It doesn’t take long before trust breaks down.

There’s not a lot of trust for the governor and his staff;

or for the people in Washington.

Does anyone trust the media anymore?


So when the governor – and the Archbishop – 

ask us to wear masks and not crowd together,

a lot of people don’t want to listen.


I see friends of mine on Facebook circulating things 

about how this is all fake, the numbers are all skewed, 

and masks are terrible – and forgive me for asking, but: 

why do trust these sources you’re circulating?


I get pills at the pharmacy and I trust they will give me the right ones. 

What else can I do? 


It’s not about blind trust, or unconditional trust.

It’s just that, like it or not, we simply can’t function 

without a fair amount of trust; there is no choice. 


So when it comes to the governor or the Archbishop,

Or the school or your boss – or me, your pastor –

it is 1,000% certain that everyone involved is going to make mistakes.


The reason we follow our leaders isn’t because they are so wise, 

or so beyond reproach; that rarely happens.


You and I listen and try to cooperate 

because a nation, a society, cannot function without trust;

and it’s the same for this community.


And right now, with greater incidents of this virus,

some of the trust we take for granted is fraying.


The easy thing at a moment like this is to see who is to blame.

Who didn’t enforce precautions well enough? Who didn’t listen?


This is a really good time to notice something else Jesus gives us: 

a way to combat the special virus of gossip.


Notice Jesus’ advice is the opposite of what we prefer to do.

Jesus says, go directly to that person.

We would much rather go talk to everyone else about it.


Understandable, but it only makes things worse.


This covid virus is a serious thing. Most of us will be fine,

but some are vulnerable;

and going the extra mile, if for no other reason but 

to ease the anxieties of others 

sounds to me like a pretty Christian thing to do.


So, to that end, I want to reiterate some of the precautions, 

which we’ve been slack about lately.


I ask that we keep the ropes on the pews in place 

and continue to spread out.

Some of us may have to sit outside, 

that avoids crowding into the back of the church.

I am not going to force anyone to wear a mask, I’m just asking.


If you are able, maybe come to Mass during the week instead.


And when it comes to events at the hall, we have hard limits.

If you have an issue with that, don’t blame our hall manager,

blame me: I’m the one setting the policy.


Also, for those who distribute Holy Communion, 

please use hand sanitizer, please wear a mask,

and please frequently sanitize your fingers 

with the disinfectant provided in these silver bowls.


This virus problem has gone on way too long, and we’re all frustrated.

It won’t go on forever. 


And this I can say with absolute confidence:

If you and I keep praying and keep close to Jesus,

These trials WILL help us grow in holiness.


It is already happening in ways we can’t see yet.

But I can tell you: more people are coming to confession, 

all during this period.

Keep good cheer and good humor.

And let’s each be a watchman looking out for each other.


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Let's talk about fear (Sunday homily)

 Why did Peter react as he did – in this Gospel?


Was he afraid? Because, if Jesus was going to be arrested and killed, 

it would be natural for Peter and the other disciples 

to fear being killed along with him.


And after all, when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied the Lord, 

and all but one of the other apostles ran away. 


“Fear” is a really good subject to talk about right now, 

between the concerns about the Covid virus, 

and what’s happening in the economy, 

and the violence and disorder in so many places, 

and a national election on top of all that. 


I’ll say again what I’ve said before: 

if you find you are weighed down with fear, or anger, 

maybe turn off the TV news? 

Maybe spend less time on social media? 


This is a good time to recall the virtue of prudence, 

which is not the same thing as fear, 

but I think a lot of people are lumping them together.


Prudence is how we try to keep some balance, 

And make careful choices – but prudence always keeps its head. 

Prudence doesn’t give up and doesn’t run away;

Prudence doesn’t panic; prudence keeps calm and finds another way.


Because, after all, the rock beneath prudence is faith.


Now, just to be clear, taking precautions doesn’t mean you lack faith. 

Is it a lack of faith to put on a seatbelt? 

That sounds more like presumption.

Remember when the devil tempted Jesus and said,

Jump off the temple, the angels will save you!

And Jesus said, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.


Faith is having trust and confidence in God, first and last;

Not that he’ll prevent all trouble, but that trouble can’t separate us.

That trust, that faith, is what keeps us calm, no matter what.

The apostles were slow to learn this, but eventually they did: 

that if they are with Jesus, there is NOTHING to fear.


This makes me think of Maximilian Kolbe, who was in a death camp.

The worst place on earth; hell on earth.

And yet he kept calm, how? Because he knew Jesus was with him;

And nothing the Nazis could do to him could change that.


Thinking again about Good Friday:

Did you ever notice that while we know the apostles ran away,

we know nothing about what they were doing, 

and even more, what they were thinking? 


They had been with Jesus day and night for three years,

and I wonder if – when they ran and hid – 

that sudden separation from Jesus horrified them far more 

than their fear of suffering, and even death?


Because after the Resurrection, they never ran away again.

They all faced death for Jesus, with complete calm.


Notice in today’s Gospel, Jesus doubles down on the Cross 

after Peter says what he says. 

Not only is the Cross in view for Jesus, 

the cross lies ahead for you and me.

There is no other way.


It’s not that our Lord is cruel; 

Rather, Jesus knows we will cling to everything: 

our stuff – and the more we have, the more we cling to it – 

or to our health, or our careers, 

or our expectations about the election, 

or our grudges and hurts, and above all, to our pride! 


We cling to it all, and only when we let go can we take hold of Christ!

That’s what the Cross does for us: it means letting go, 

and finally, all we have left is Christ. 


So: we’re riding a roller-coaster these days. Keep calm.

There’s nothing that can happen to any of us or all of us together 

that is bigger than Jesus, that is more than Jesus can handle. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

What you are and what your mission is (Sunday homily)

Every year at this time, we remember the solemn dedication

of this church as a sacred place.


That idea of a place – a building – being sacred and set apart – 

is very important, but it’s not that common in our American society.

We are more likely to treat a building as merely functional:

Maybe something sacred happens there, 

but the building itself isn’t necessarily important. 


This reflects the predominant religious culture of our country,

which is deeply Protestant. 

Most Protestant traditions simply don’t have this concept 

of a place being permanently and essentially holy. 


In fact, when the Protestant “Reformation” spread,

there was a concerted effort to undo this sense of sacred place,

because it was so deeply Catholic; that’s why so many ancient churches 

were either destroyed, or stripped bare.


So, back to the present: if you visit many Protestant churches, 

don’t be surprised to see people drinking coffee during the “service.”

I am not mocking them; they are being true to their understanding. 


Let’s admit that this mindset has found its way into Catholic parishes. 

This happened for two reasons.

First, in recent decades, there was a concerted effort 

by some of our bishops and priests 

to emulate what they saw in these Protestant churches.


So has this happened to you?

You’re on vacation, and you go hunting for the nearby Catholic church, 

and you almost drive past it: why?

Church A, Church B, Church C – they all look the same?


Then you step inside, and you look around:

Everything is kind of plain, no votive candles, barely any statues, 

instead of an altar there’s just this big table, 

and you can’t figure out where the tabernacle is. 

Later, you find Jesus down the hall in a room with a couple of chairs.


To be fair, this didn’t start in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Go back to the 1950s when there was a baby boom,

and the suburbs exploded, and bishops were racing 

to build parishes and parish schools right and left.


Many times they would build a “church” 

that they intended would later be the gym or a cafeteria –

so it wouldn’t really look or feel like a church; it would be…”functional.”


But sometimes it took a while to build the “real” church – 

Or they never got around to it –

And a generation or two grew up with this same functional mindset.


So given this context, what we do this weekend 

is all the more important:

to remind ourselves about this Catholic way 

of claiming parts of this world for heaven.


This is what the temple, mentioned in the scriptures, was:

Heaven on earth – a kind of re-experiencing of Paradise,

where God and humanity walked together.


So notice when Jesus purifies the temple, 

he is furious that this sacred, heavenly place – 

has been turned into what? A “marketplace.”


There’s nothing wrong with a marketplace.

But this place is consecrated for one, specific thing:

to make sacrifice to God; to enter into his Presence.


And then Jesus makes a cryptic comment,

that the Apostles later realize refers to himself:

He, Jesus, is the true and final temple;

the one the Jerusalem temple was meant to foreshadow.


That old temple was, in fact, destroyed;

and the temple of Jesus’ body was, indeed, raised up in three days.

Think of it: could any “temple” or church be more sacred 

than the Body of Jesus itself? 


When you and I think in those terms, 

there is absolutely no room for any functional or worldly mindset.


But now, as we think about it, how exactly is Jesus’ Body a temple?

A building you can walk into, kneel down and pray.


But Jesus’ Body as a temple: how does that work?


The answer is, there is no other sacrifice – no doves or sheep – 

because Jesus himself is the sacrifice; he’s the Lamb of God.

To pray in the “Temple of Jesus” is simply to be in union with him, 

to pray as he prays…


And how do we do that? That’s baptism!

Saint Peter tells us, in another place, you and I become “living stones”!


So back to where I started: you know what’s not merely functional?

Not just this church; YOU! You aren’t merely functional!

You and I are sacred; we’ve been claimed; set apart;

we are destined for heaven, and indeed, in a mysterious but true way, you and I are already there! 


Yes, we can forget that, and profane ourselves;

But the fact remains that Jesus has claimed us,

And he wants us to be part of the temple of his Body.


Meanwhile, Jesus is still setting living stones in place.

In some paradoxical way, the temple isn’t complete.

Our mission is to help him gather those “stones” – 

those people – he intends to consecrate and set in place.


And that is why, 174 years ago, this parish was founded, here;

to gather living stones, here.

And it’s why we’re still here; Jesus is still building his Church!


What’s your mission, today, tomorrow and every day?

No matter who you are, no matter how young or old, 

no matter what limits you face,

can you help this happen? Of course!


You are a living stone: it’s not about your “function,” 

But what you are; so be faithful.


You are a witness: 

either you and I add beauty to his Temple, or we detract from it. 

Let people see who you really are, 

sacred and set apart to show Christ to the world.

That’s how we gather the stones and build his Temple.


Note: I don't know why Blogger imposes this formatting on me -- i.e., the double-spacing you can see above. The only way I know to get rid of it is laborious and I just don't have time for that right now. If anyone has a suggestion, I'll be grateful for it. Feel free to post a comment.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

You are the Chosen People and a chosen witness (Sunday homily)

Several years ago, while making a trip to the Holy Land, 
 I changed planes in France, and while waiting for my flight, 
a group of Orthodox Jewish men arrive at the gate. 
As they, too, waited, they gathered in a corner to pray together. 
Like you would be, I was curious, but I did not want to stare. 
Above all, I respected and admired their zeal. 

In the second reading, Saint Paul tells us that to be a Christian 
means being grafted into the “vine” of Israel. 
The Jewish People are God’s Chosen People, 
and one of the things Jesus came to do was to extend that chosenness to all humanity. 
That’s what the first reading foresees. 
Keep this in mind as we look at this strange episode in the Gospel. 

Lots of people think Jesus is denigrating this woman, 
and that he is not interested in welcoming her. 
But that misreads what’s going on. So why does he speak this way? 

One of the main things the Gospels show us is how the Apostles grow in faith – 
and how Jesus repeatedly challenges their narrowness. 
That’s what’s happening here. 

Notice, the Lord lets the Apostles speak first. What do they say? “Send her away”; 
That’s what they said last week about the hungry crowds: “Send them away.” 

What you hear Jesus say, out loud, is what’s in the Apostle’s hearts. 
He says it out loud, precisely to draw out this woman’s greater faith. 
Jesus knew all along what he was going to do for her; 
but he also wants to get the Apostles past their narrow vision. 
And, if you read ahead to the Book of Acts, they get there; 
but here, they are still stumbling. 

All these readings in different ways give us a vision: 
one day, all that divides us, all the issues of race and history, 
language, and past hurts and hates, will no longer matter. 

In Bible times, the idea that Jews and Gentiles could be one was CRAZY! 
Two thousand years later, we’re not there yet. 
Meanwhile, of course, we’ve discovered other ways to be prejudiced. 
One of the easiest things we humans do – and love to do – 
is to divide up against each other. 

Look at the yelling people do over this virus. 
It’s not real, it’s overblown, some say. 
Others are shocked by a lack of vigilance and get into fights at stores. 

Meanwhile there are forces in our country 
who want to turn black against white, rural against urban. 
Lots of us don’t even want to admit who we’ll vote for. 

I am not trivializing these issues. 
But see how much you and I are like those people back then? 
Overcoming these things will be impossible without God’s help. 

Meanwhile, back to those men I saw in the airport. 
In a real way, you and I have the exact same vocation: 
Keep praying. Keep faithful. Keep bearing witness. 
Don’t be afraid to stand out.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Mary's victory and ours (Assumption homily)


The first reading from Revelation presents vivid images— 
it helps if we try to see what it’s describing: 
A sign in heaven: the ark of the covenant—a woman, with child! 
But the scene does not stay peaceful: a huge, red dragon. 
The dragon with seven crowns stands for all that tries to rule us, 
to displace Christ as the true king. 
And this fake king still sweeps away a third of the stars of heaven,
and seems poised to devour the Child. 

Does it not often seem that evil is winning? 
Do we not often fear that our hope will be devoured?
We wonder why God doesn’t win the way we think he should. 

But God acts, and saves the Child, and the Woman flees to the desert. 
This of course is Jesus, and his mother Mary.
She is also an image of the Church, because she is Jesus’ first and best disciple. 
She is a symbol of us, challenged by evil, yet faithfully waiting. 

So what does all this have to do with the Feast of the Assumption?
Today, you and I celebrate Mary’s complete victory – she is home! 
At the same time, we are reassured the same victory lies ahead for us.

When I was a seminarian, I spent a year in Piqua as an intern – 
 just as Isaiah Callan will be doing here, starting in a week or so. 
Often I would give lessons to the school children – 
again, as Isaiah will also be doing. 
One day my task was to explain what we believe about Mary to first graders. 
Not an easy task! 

So I arranged a skit. One child would be the Angel Gabriel; 
one child would be Mary; and to one child, I said, 
“you’re Jesus in heaven; watch as Gabriel asks Mary to have you as a baby. 
Listen for Mary’s answer—and without words, show your reaction. 
So: Gabriel asked, then Mary said, “yes,” 
And then the child who was “Jesus” started jumping up for joy! 

There it is, even a child gets it: we Christians ache with love for Mary. 
And Jesus gets it too; how can a grateful Son not lavish gifts on his mother? 
We believe, as St. John Damascene said, 
It was necessary that she who had preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth 
should also have her body kept free from all corruption after death; 
It was necessary that she who had carried the Creator as a child on her breast 
should dwell in the tabernacles of God. 
It was necessary that she who had gazed on her crucified Son 
and been pierced in the heart by the sword of sorrow… 
should contemplate him seated with the Father. 
It was necessary that the Mother of God should share the possessions of her Son, 
and be venerated by every creature as the Mother and handmaid of God. 

 As Mary herself said: “All generations will call me blessed.” 
Today you and I happily fulfill that prophecy.