Sunday, April 21, 2019

God always gets the last word (Easter homily)

Six weeks ago we began Lent. 
And about an hour ago, we began the story of Creation, and – 
more importantly, the redemption of the human race.
So many stories of what God has done!
Why are these stories, and these words, the ones we recall tonight?

We heard God create a perfect world.
But we know that humanity sinned and defaced that beauty. 
Above all, the beauty and glory of what it means to be human.
And we heard about God’s call to Abraham, 
And his deliverance of slaves from Egypt.

Along the way, we heard about human failing coming back to the fore.
God’s People, brought into freedom, go back into slavery and exile.

But the main thing we heard – and this is what it’s all about – is this:
God gets the last word!

God had the first word: “Let there be light.”
And after all the human words, such as, “I will not obey,” or, 
“It’s too late for me!” God’s last word is:
“He is not here, he is risen from the dead! Alleluia!”

All this past week, I’ve been hearing confessions.
And as you probably know, many times we come to confession, 
and especially if it’s been a long time, 
or we have so much on our conscience, we can find ourselves wondering, 
How can God forgive? How can he love me that much?

The Cross, is his “I love you” written in the precious blood of the Lamb.
The empty tomb is his underlining and exclamation point that says, 
“And I really mean it, and I can do it!”

And in the sacraments – in baptism, in confirmation, 
in the Holy Eucharist, in confession, in the anointing of the sick, 
and in the sacraments that empower our vocation, 
either for marriage or for holy orders, 
God says, “I am with you always, until the end of the age!”

Why are you here? Why are you here?

Well, you might say, I’m here every week. 
Or, you might say, well, it’s Easter, so I thought I’d come. 
Or, my grandmother made me come!

But there is another reason. God is speaking to you.
Sometimes his voice sounds a lot like your grandmother!
God brought you here for a reason, I can only guess at it.
But maybe it is to tell you that your life, as good as it is, is his gift.
And if it’s not so good, it can be better.
But if Christ isn’t part of it, there’s a big hole that nothing can fill.

Last week, as we all know, the great cathedral of Notre Dame 
caught fire, and for several hours, 
it looked as though it would be completely destroyed.

Something amazing happened.
All this happened in France. You may not realize it, 
but France is a militantly secular country, 
and only a few people go to Mass.
And yet the whole country of France held its breath and, 
I bet some of those unbelievers even prayed!

Why? Because it’s an old and beautiful building? 
That’s part of it, but it isn’t the whole story.

I think folks saw something they’d taken for granted, 
because it was always there, 
and then, suddenly, they realized how fragile it was; 
and if they weren’t careful, they could lose it.

And that something isn’t just a church, 
but what inhabits that church: and that is Faith.
The whole world watched and wondered,
And I think a lot of people heard something in their heart:
That was God saying, I’m still here, I’m here for you.
And maybe you heard that in your heart this week, too?

So to return to my main theme: God gets the last word.
Oh, we argue with him; we try to talk over him, 
and we do a lot of things to drown out the voice of conscience.

Yet God keeps speaking, keeps inviting: will you come to me?
Will you let me forgive you? 
Will you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in your life? 
Will you live a new life, shaped not by the world’s standards, 
but by the word and example and life and power of Jesus Christ?

Will you let me accompany you, day by day?
Will you walk with me, not only the way of the Cross,
But all the way to heaven?

Tonight, a member of our community, 
a second-grade girl named M____, has heard God call her, 
and she is answering his invitation.

Tonight, she will be baptized, she will be confirmed, and she will, 
beginning tonight, share in the Body and Blood of Jesus.

I don’t know if you realize it, but of all the sacraments, 
baptism is the one that Easter is about most of all.
Easter is Jesus’ rising from the dead.
Easter is an empty grave – and when it comes right down to it, 
either that really happened, or it didn’t.

If he didn’t really rise from the dead, then this is all a waste of time.
But if he did – and I’m here to tell you he did! 
And if so, then that’s power, power for you and for me!
That’s what baptism is: claiming that resurrection power!

Here’s something else baptism is.
God is, in a sense, having the first word – 
because in baptism, we are spoken into life by God.
In baptism you and I are born a new person.
Born into God’s Family. Born as citizens of heaven.
Born of the Holy Spirit!

But even in this sacrament of baptism, 
there is a sense in which God gets the last word, too. 
I’ve seen it, in my own life, and I’ve seen it in others.

The grace and power of our baptism is always there, 
and I’ve seen people who, at the end of their lives – 
and maybe they put God on the back burner for a long time – 
yet what happened in them so long before is still with them, 
when God claimed them, changed them, 
and made them his own, and they remember.

That’s not a guarantee. People can turn away forever, and they do.
Nevertheless, there is a power in baptism, 
because God is speaking, and God is acting.

So, in a moment, M____ will be baptized and confirmed.
She’s heard God speak and she wants what God has for her!

Then, a moment after that, you and I have the opportunity 
to follow her good example, and claim again what is already ours.
We’ll renew our own baptism. You and I will remember who we are.
Who spoke to us once, and again, and is speaking to us now.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Christian Passover (Holy Thursday homily)

It’s important to peel back the centuries of our own tradition 
to reveal what lies at the root 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. 
Did you see what is overhead? A full moon.

The lamb was one year old and “without blemish”; 
and notice, the lamb was obtained several days before, 
and lived with the family until the day of sacrifice? 
Why is this important? 
Because it symbolized the lamb being part of the household. 

Then, with the whole assembly present, the lamb was slaughtered. 
Elsewhere in Scripture, it makes clear, not a bone is to be broken.

The blood of the lamb is then spread over the doorposts, 
to symbolize protection from divine judgment. 
Scripture scholar Brant Pitre – 
whose work I am drawing on for these details – 
points out that when the blood was spread on the doorposts, 
it would stain the wood, providing a permanent sign.

And then, finally, the flesh of the lamb was eaten. 
This completed the sacrifice.

At the same meal, there were “bitter herbs” recalling slavery in Egypt, 
and unleavened bread and wine.

On Sunday, we recalled how Jesus entered Jerusalem, 
along with probably a million other faithful to keep the Passover. 
The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, 
says there may have been as many as two million. 
With such numbers, that means quite a lot of lambs were sacrificed: 
perhaps two hundred thousand or more. 

History records that 
all the thousands of priests of Israel were present, 
and they had a well-practiced system of doing this. 
Without being too graphic, just stop and realize: 
there would have been a lot of blood. 
It would have been powerfully present.

Now, I want to compare all that with what happened 
when Jesus gathered with his apostles. 
In all that Jesus said and did at the supper, 
he never mentions the lamb. 
Instead, he takes the bread, and says, 
“this is my body, given up for you.” 

If you were listening closely to the Passion of Luke on Sunday, 
you heard mention of Jesus taking a cup of wine not once, but twice. 
In fact, in the Passover meal, there were four cups of wine shared.

The first cup that was prepared: I say, “prepared,” 
because it was mixed with water. Does that ring a bell? 
Watch what I do at the altar in a few minutes. 
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 then the account 
of what God did for his people in Egypt, in the exodus, was recounted, 
and the father would explain the meaning of what they did. 
And isn’t that what I’m doing now?

After this, the meal would be eaten. 
And then when the meal was finished, the father would share the “cup of blessing.” 
Then those present would sing several psalms, 
and then the Passover was concluded with the fourth cup, 
called the “cup of praise,” and it completed the sacrificial meal.

If you noticed what Paul just told us, 
Jesus took the cup “after supper” – 
meaning, this was the third cup. 
Which raises a question that scholars wrestle with:  
what about the fourth and final cup?

Well, if you are here tomorrow, Good Friday, 
you will hear these words in the Passion we will all read together:

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

I want you to notice that tonight, we will not finish this Mass. 
There will be no final blessing. 
We will go on a procession – recalling Jesus and the Apostles leaving the Upper Room, 
and going to the Garden of Gethsemane. 
In turns, we will keep watch with the Lord all night. 
Tomorrow, we will recall how the Lamb of God was slain.

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. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Silence before the Son of God on the Cross (Palm Sunday homily)

Every year on Palm Sunday, part of me – and maybe you, too – 
has so much to say in response. 
But another part of me says: What is there to say?
There is only silence before the Son of God on the Cross.

on the other hand, when we behold the Son of God on the Cross,
it seems the only response can be silence.

But real, true, extended silence? That is hard to do, 
with family and work and sports and farms and businesses to tend to.

All I can do is to challenge you to TRY.
Kids? Spouses? Parents? Maybe you can help.
This might be a good time to say, “I’ll leave them alone this week.”
Let’s give each other the gift of silence this week.

Maybe your Lent has been good, or maybe it hasn’t been so good.

But every day, every breath, is another opportunity.
This Holy Week is such a gift.
We will have confessions 
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – 
see the bulletin for the times.

I invite you to be part of Holy Thursday, 
Good Friday and Holy Saturday evening – 
This is the heart of the heart of our Faith.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Instead of call-out culture, how about confession? (Sunday homily)

Have you ever heard of the “call out culture”?
This is something happening more and more today.

It is when you do something someone else is offended by,
so that other person goes on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, 
or some other website, and “calls you out.”

Here’s an example. Just the other day, a young guy down in Mississippi 
went out hunting for wild turkey. He bagged an unusual white one.
The local newspaper did a story.

Somehow, Keith Olbermann, 
who you may know from MSNBC and ESPN, 
saw the story, and thought this was terrible. 
So then he posted something on Twitter saying this guy was horrible,
Gave the man’s name, and said, I quote,  
“make sure the rest of his life is a living hell.”

That’s “calling someone out.”
Guess what happened next? 
Lots of other people thought that was terrible, 
so then more people started denouncing and “calling out” Olbermann.
That’s what the Pharisees were doing, and it’s the same mindset.
No mercy, no forgiveness – the offender must be driven out.
And if Jesus doesn’t agree with them, he’ll get the same treatment.
And by the way, Mr. Olbermann did apologize, to his credit.

Here’s the missing piece, which Jesus supplies:
Repentance. Conversion. Redemption.

Sometimes people will try to twist this story 
into saying that Jesus didn’t care about the sin; 
that that was the Pharisees’ preoccupation.

On the contrary: Jesus cares very much about sin. 
He knows full well how destructive sin is.
The key difference between Jesus and the Pharisees 
is that they disagree on the remedy.

Jesus’ remedy is conversion.
“Repent,” he said, “for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me,” 
he announced in his home town,
“to proclaim liberty” and a “year acceptable to the Lord.”

“Conversion.” Turning around; reorienting our life.
It’s not a surface thing – it goes to the core.

Notice in the first reading: God is not interested in looking back 
at the failures of his people.
In previous chapters of Isaiah, God hit them hard, 
telling them all the ways they had gone wrong. 
But not to destroy them, 
but to wake them up and get them on the right road.

To those people, he said, 
Look at the way I’m creating for you!
Look at the rivers of water I’m giving you!
And to the woman in the Gospel he said: 
Go free of condemnation; go and sin no more.
I’m going to keep inviting you to come to confession.
I need it; I wanted to go this past week, but I didn’t get there.
Pray for me that I can get there this coming week,
While I keep praying for you to seek out this grace as well.

If you look in the bulletin, you’ll see:
Wednesday evening from 5:45 pm to 6:10.
Thursday, 3 to 4 pm and again from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.
Saturday from 9 to 10 am and 3:30 to 4:45 pm.

Nearby parishes have lots of times, too, 
and some have penance services.

Here at St. Remy, during Holy Week, we will have confessions 
on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 
and you are welcome; but be warned, 
it may be like Wal-Mart the day before Christmas!
Maybe don’t wait till the last minute.

If you are thinking, Gosh, it’s been so long, I’ve forgotten how!
First of all, the priest will help you.

Second, the main thing is to examine yourself.
In the pews, in the blue binders that look like this,
In the back of the binder, is a booklet that looks like this.
Look in the back, you’ll see everything you need.
Especially look at the examination of conscience.
It’s all laid out there in plain language.

Maybe you’re thinking, it’s just too awkward, I’m too embarrassed.
Let me tell you about the best confession I ever made in my life.
It was Lent of 1991. Ten years before I had left the Catholic Church. 
That’s a long story I’ll save for another time.

But for ten years I was wrestling with what I believed, 
And inch by inch, God brought me back, closer and closer,
Till one day, I was driving past a Catholic Church, 
and I remember hearing a voice speak in my heart, and it was Jesus, and he asked:
“What holds you back?”

All those years, I’d had a mental “list” of questions and issues.
But in that instant, I answered the Lord, “Nothing.”

About two days later, I walked into that Catholic Church,
I got in line like everyone else, and I began my confession,
“Bless me father, for I have sinned. 
It has been ten years since my last confession.” 

I told the priest I’d left the Church, been baptized in another church, 
rejected teachings of the Church; and that I’d missed Mass.
I recounted my sins against each of the Ten Commandments 
just as I’d been taught long before.

You know how long it took? Probably five minutes or so.
Then I said,“for these and all my sins which I cannot remember, 
I ask pardon of God and penance of you Father.”

Let me tell you, if I as a priest heard a confession like that, 
I think I’d probably cry with joy! 

That priest who heard my confession – whose name I do not know –
Spoke a few words, which I cannot recall.
But he gave me absolution!
And the next Sunday, 
I received the Holy Eucharist for the first time in ten years.
Yes, it really is just that easy.

(Here I made the point that what was really important was that I kept going to confession. Once every ten years wasn't my point! And I said that, had I not kept going to confession, month after month, I would not be a priest, and probably wouldn't be a Catholic today. I talked about the pill I take every day -- I may not feel any different, but it helps, and it wouldn't work if I didn't take it regularly.)

God forgets what lies behind; he urges us to strain forward
for the prize, which is Jesus Christ himself!

What holds you back?

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Confession: get up and go! There's the Father (Sunday homily)

If you have ever wondered what God is like – 
what our Father in heaven is really like – 
this parable is where you must begin and end. 

Jesus is showing us, in a powerful and moving way –
Who God the Father really is.

I will do what I can with this passage, but not well enough.
Please, whenever you can, re-read this passage in Luke Chapter 15.
Again: Luke, Chapter 15. Read it and reflect on it. 
It will speak powerfully to you, if only you give it time.

Which of these two children do you want to be?
Would you like to seek high adventure on the road? 
Or stay close to home?

Would you enjoy spending money freely? Or working hard every day?
Do you want to end up with nothing? Feeding pigs and envying them?
Or would you rather be the brother 
who thinks he never did anything wrong?
Who can’t think of anything his Father ever gave him?

Do you want to see the Father run toward you, overjoyed to see you?
Wrap his arms around you – crying for so long to mourn over you, 
but now, with bursting joy to have you back again?

Well…are you prepared to open your heart and abase yourself,
Confessing openly your sins? 

Or do you find yourself unable to think of a reason to go to confession?
You see, every one of us is, at one time or another, either son.
Have you ever wandered away from God?
Or, do you see yourself as the good person, who doesn’t do that?
You are one of these children – or both.

As I’ve said before, as Deacon Meyer said last week, 
Lent is all about conversion. 
If you aren’t thinking about, praying about, 
working toward your own conversion, 
you are missing entirely what Lent is.

Of course, maybe you need no conversion? Then Lent makes no sense.
The Mass and the sacraments make no sense.
Our Catholic Faith makes no sense; because it is for sinners; 
for people who stumble and fail and get frustrated because they do.

We’re halfway to Good Friday and the Cross, 
to Resurrection and the empty tomb.
If you’ve stumbled during the first half of Lent, don’t give up, get up!
Don’t be ashamed to struggle – our Father is not ashamed of you!

And in case I wasn’t obvious enough:
If you want to experience the Father Jesus shows us in the Gospel, 
COME TO CONFESSION!

None of the reasons not to go make any sense. Not one of them.

It must have felt awful for that younger son, day by day, 
realizing how foolish he’d been, 
how rotten he’d been toward his Father; 
and as his life spiraled down, each day was a fresh opportunity 
to reproach himself and rehash all his mistakes.

But as bad as that was, there is worse:
You are safe at home, and when you think about your lost brother,
all you do is dwell on how he wronged you, and your Father.
Rehearsing that, day by day. Stoking resentment and anger.

Both sons went wrong. But only one goes to confession 
and experiences God’s endless, unbelievable, tidal wave of love and forgiveness.

And I want to pause here and make one point in bold, CAPITAL LETTERS
WITH UNDERLINING AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!

When you and I confess our sins to God, and he forgives,
They are gone. Gone, gone, gone-issimus gone;
Gone to the maximum gone-ness;
Goniest, goney-gone gone!

Get that? Where are those sins? What happened to them?
God forgave them and they are GONE!

No, people don’t do that for you. But God does. That’s Good News!

In the first reading, Joshua and the rest of God’s People 
crossed the Jordan and left behind, forever, 
the reproach of slavery in Egypt.
They entered into a new land and a new life.
That is us, led by Jesus. 
And if passing through the Red Sea was a symbol of baptism, 
What might it mean that they later passed through the Jordan?
Maybe that’s the forgiveness of the sacrament of confession.

So again, Lent is your time and mine to make a similar journey.
And if you feel like you’re going in circles? “I’ve been here before!”
God’s People said in the desert, a lot!
Our job isn’t really to know the way; 
and even if we doubt we can make it, that’s not the worst thing. 

Actually, the only thing you and I have to do is let Jesus lead us.
And when the Holy Spirit says – as he said to the younger son – 
“it’s time to get up and go!” That’s what we do.
Look! There’s the Father, waiting.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

'The Scandal' and the Cross (Sunday homily)

There was a news item last week concerning an opinion survey.
It found that a shocking number of Catholics 
have considered giving up their Catholic Faith, 
in light of reports about scandalous behavior 
by priests and neglect and coverups by bishops.

I have several reactions to this.
Part of me is shocked that so many people 
would consider leaving their Catholic Faith behind.
For those who rarely come to Mass rarely, it was almost half.
For people who attend Mass weekly, it was over 20%.
That’s a lot of people. That’s both shocking and discouraging.

At the same time, there actually is something positive in this.
People are paying attention. 
They are thinking about how this affects them. That is good!

This is not Pope Francis’ Church, or Archbishop Schnurr’s Church,
Or mine. The Catholic Faith belongs to ALL of us.
So while I understand the anger and the questioning – I’m angry too! – 
the answer is not to walk away, but to fight!

Let me connect this to the readings a little; 
and as a bonus, I can explain that first reading, 
which is pretty obscure.

No doubt you’re wondering what is up 
with the “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch,”
which passed between cut-up animal carcasses!

Oh, and just to lighten things a little.
You may remember that at one time, 
this used to be translated, a “smoking brazier” – 
which sometimes readers didn’t pronounce correctly, 
and so it ended up sounding like an article of clothing, 
and isn’t that a dramatic image!?

So, anyway, dead animals and a flaming torch – what’s up with that?
The ritual was that you cut up the animals, 
and then, by walking between them,
it means, “may this happen to me if I break my word.”

The flaming torch? That stands for God.
In other words, God the Almighty was pledging himself to Abraham, 
may I die rather than break my word!

Abraham must have wondered, how can God pay with his life?
But of course, you and I know the answer to that!
We know Jesus, who is God-become-man, who paid with his life!

That’s what’s going on behind the Gospel reading.
Just before he gives his Apostles this vision,
He had told them: they are on the way to Jerusalem, to the Cross.
That’s the “exodus” that he discusses with Moses and Elijah.

And that Exodus – that Passover – is what the Eucharist is all about.
Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, and we eat his body and blood.
And notice: God went beyond his word:
Because he kept his promise to Abraham; and still he died on the Cross!

This sacrifice of the Cross – this is what the Holy Mass is.
This is what we are privileged to share in each time we’re here.

So here’s the thing about these discouraging news items.
First, no matter what else you and I feel about all this,
The fact remains that this Faith, our Faith, is all about Jesus.
He came, he gave his life for us, 
and he shares his Body and Blood with us.
God help me, God help me, but I can never leave that!

A second point. A parishioner said to me last week: 
maybe this is what a purification looks like?

As awful as it is to see all filth aired out, it is needed.
And the upside is that this helps keep the pressure on
the pope and the bishops. 

I do not say that with any disrespect.
Archbishop Schnurr has said he wants to be held accountable, 
and he wants other bishops held accountable.
The more he hears from you? That helps him.

The Holy Father, I think, is surrounded by people who tell him, 
this is just a few loud voices in the U.S.
The more you and I speak up, that will help the pope be strong.

What else do we do? This is the hardest work:
To help purify the Church, each of us must ourselves grow in holiness.
You might say, but it’s the bishops, the priests, 
who need to be holier! And you are absolutely right. 
But let me tell you, when a lazy priest or a business-as-usual bishop 
spends time with the faithful who are fired up?
Something has to give. 

One of the benefits for me being here is that you challenge me.
Lots of parish priests have a half-hour, or an hour of confessions.
When I arrived here, his parish had over five hours a week,
and you wanted even more! 

For me, sitting in the confessional challenges me 
to reflect on my own sins, and it keeps me going to confession.
I thank you for that.

So, you and I, like Jesus and the Apostles in the Gospel, 
are drawing near Jerusalem. We are headed toward the Cross.
What we do in solemn ritual during Lent 
is what each of us lives with every single day. 
That’s why we do it here, so our lives make sense.

Every generation of Christians, in every culture, 
lives in the shadow of that Cross. 
For so many, it has been persecution.
For you and me, it is this excruciating purification.

Keep praying that God purifies his Church. His bishops and priests.
And remember what this Mass is.
Remember that when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus to our lips, 
that is God keeping his solemn pledge to us.