Sunday, January 28, 2018

Our true identity as the Church (Sunday homily)

The readings give us an opportunity to talk about what a prophet is.
But stay tuned – it’s also about who we are.

In the first reading, when Moses says a “prophet” 
would come after him, this doesn’t refer only to one person, but many. 

Look all through the Old Testament: 
you will find one figure after another 
to whom God gave the gifts and inspiration necessary 
for them to lead his people forward. 

Now, there are a couple of things to notice about all those figures. 
First, they didn’t all make good use of the gifts God gave them. 
One of the really tragic figures is Samson. 
He was given spiritual gifts of wisdom, and physical strength, 
which he squandered.
Or there is King David, who also made terrible mistakes,
but also showed great repentance.

The other thing to realize is that all these Old Testament figures 
foreshadow the final prophet and king, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Notice the Gospel shows us something 
you never saw anywhere before in Scripture. 
None of the Old Testament prophets 
ever exercised authority over demons. 

Only Jesus Christ does this. 
It’s a powerful sign that he is, of course, 
more than just a prophet, but God himself, become man.

After Jesus comes, something else changes. 
There are no more prophets.
Instead, the Lord calls the Apostles; 
and they are the foundation of the Church.

They go out in his name and – notice – 
Apostles do have authority over demons.
To this day, this is an attribute of the Church.
Christ gave his Church authority over evil.
It’s one of the proofs of who and what the Church is: 
The Body of Christ, the Voice of Christ, on earth.

Now, when I talk about power evil, I don’t just mean exorcism, 
which the entertainment industry finds so fascinating. 

Baptism is an exorcism: did you realize that?
Baptism casts out evil and welcomes in the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, going to confession. 

And when we use holy water, that’s a prayer against evil. 
And recall what we pray after each Mass: 
asking Saint Michael to cast down “Satan, and all evil spirits.” 
Indeed, all our prayer is rooted in this power 
that belongs to us as members of Christ.
There is a Protestant hymn 
that talks about “power in the Blood of Christ.” It’s true!

And there is also power in the Name of Jesus.
That’s why the devil wants us to misuse Jesus’ Name; 
to take what is precious and mighty and cast it aside as if it is nothing. 

This shows us who we are, as Christians, in the world. 
When Moses spoke to the people, 
he spoke about “a” prophet in their midst. 
And we believe that this was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

But realize that Jesus’ presence on earth, by his design, 
continues in the Church – which we call the Body of Christ.

Look again at what happens in baptism. 
The person baptized is anointed with chrism, 
and the prayer talks about how we receive a share 
in Jesus’ identity as priest, prophet and king.

Every one of us has a share in that. We’re a mighty force! 

We’re tempted to think we don’t make enough of a difference. 
On one level, that’s true, 
because so many Christians don’t realize who they are. 
We don’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Now, if you hear me saying that, and you think, 
OK, but how do I live in the power of the Holy Spirit? What do I do?

My answer may surprise you, but it’s actually really simple:
Go to confession. Go soon, and go regularly.
Go, not only to have your sins forgiven – great as that is!
But go also to chart a new path.

Confession does two things for us: take away all our sins. 
And I do mean “all”! 
And, second, confession gives us the grace to change.

A lot of people will say, but I don’t feel like I’m changing.
The thing is, change is hard, and usually, slow. 
And in our modern age, you and I don’t want either hard or slow. 
We want “click” and “now”!
But if you make frequent use of confession, 
and if you go with a true desire to change, you will change.
But it will probably be painful and costly,
And it will require patience and perseverance.
And that is the process of letting the Holy Spirit be in charge. 

So to return to my main theme, 
about the true identity of the Church; 
that we are Christ’s Presence on earth; 
we have authority, in his name, to defeat evil.

Remember that any time you feel overpowered or discouraged.

Remember that when you are tempted to sin. Christ needs you!

Whether we face opposition for doing what is right, 
or we are tempted to give up, 
I think the right response is what Jesus says in the Gospel: 
Shut up, devil, and get out of the way!

God didn’t give us the power of the Holy Spirit to be passive,
but to make a difference. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

How St. Remy changed his world; and how you and I can change ours (Sunday homily)

Today we celebrate our patron, Saint Remy. 
His feast day actually falls on January 13, 
but we are able to move it to Sunday. 
Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Saint Remy – 
or, Remigius, as he would have called himself. 
I suspect many of us don’t know much about him.

As his name suggests, Remigius was a Roman; 
he lived in northern part of the province of Gaul,
in an area near the border between France and Belgium. 
As a boy, Remy was very bright and well read; 
he was renowned for his learning and his holiness. 
When he was 22, he was nominated to be bishop – 
and he wasn’t even a priest!

Remy was born in AD 437. 
He lived at a time when Roman society was falling apart. 
Imagine that: your country is dissolving; 
people with different language and customs and religion 
are taking over.
These new people were the Franks, who came from Germany.
Their king was Clovis. 

How easy it would have been for Bishop Remy to fear
and even hate Clovis. And maybe he would have, 
had St. Remy been mainly about being Roman. 
But instead, Remy was first and foremost a Christian.

You and I are proud to be Americans. 
But our first loyalty is to Christ. 
We would hate ever to have to choose, but it can happen.

Under President Obama, we were put in that position. 
Our government was saying that good Americans 
are in favor of contraception, 
and will help the government distribute them. 
Our government was saying that good Americans 
are in favor of same-sex “marriage” and in the misdirected, 
immoral sexual behavior which that is really about.

And yes, we’ve gotten something of a breather under this President; 
but less has changed than you may think. 
The prevailing values and beliefs of our society, and our government, 
are growing less Christian, and more pagan, every day.

St. Remigius had a choice; he remembered his mission.
He fostered good relations with the Franks. 
He may well have been influenced 
by Saint Paul’s words in the second reading: 
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 

Because Remy made himself available to the Lord, 
not only was King Clovis baptized; 
3,000 other of his cohort were baptized that same day. 
That set the whole kingdom on the path to becoming Catholic; 
and thus the future nation of France.

And that, in turn, played a huge role in all history since.

When you and I think about the changing nature of our society, 
all kinds of reactions can follow:
Discouragement, resignation, fear and anger.

I don’t know if Bishop Remy was ever discouraged. 
He probably was, at times, as are we all.
What we do know is he did not resign himself; he did not retreat.

Again, we don’t know what special challenges 
he and his fellow Christians faced at that time. 
Yet we do know that his main response – his daily plan – 
was really no different from ours.

Whenever we talk about evangelization – 
about sharing our Faith – a lot of people will be intimidated, and say,
“I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to do!”
It’s not about saying or doing any special thing.
It’s simply about being who you are, 
and sharing yourself with others.

How did Remy win Clovis and his fellow invaders?
It was pretty simple, really. 
He sought them out; he offered friendship.

One of the things that impressed King Clovis 
was the way of life the Christians lived. 
He saw their dedication to prayer and the generous way 
they responded to people’s needs.

Every year around this time, 
we talk about the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 
Remember, this is the way our Archdiocese does the very things 
that so impressed the unbelievers in St. Remy’s time.

This fund helps many who are poor and without resources.
It provides food and utility help for people who need it, as well as
counseling and family assistance through Catholic Social Services. 

Part of it goes to provide for our retired priests. 
Part of it helps with outreach to colleges, prisons and hospitals. 
And a portion of it supports our seminary and our vocation programs.
And all of it – every dollar – stays in our Archdiocese.

I will be traveling next weekend. 
Some parishes will play a recorded message from the Archbishop. 
Here, we’ll put the text of his remarks in the bulletin instead, 
and we’ll talk more about it when I get back.

The Catholic Ministries Appeal is just one of many ways 
you and I can do in a practical way 
what we prayed in today’s psalm: 
“Here we are, Lord. We come to do your will.”

Sunday, January 07, 2018

'See the light--be the light' (Epiphany homily)

This is going to sound hokey, but: 
the title of my homily is: “See the light – be the light.”

We start with the Magi, these Wise Men, these seekers, in the Gospel. 
They saw the light. A star caught their attention, and they followed it.

God has a lot of ways to get our attention. 
It may not have happened to you, but it has happened to a lot of us. 
A lot of folks here can remember a time when God set them straight, 
turned them around, answered a prayer. You may not want to tell too many people, 
but you would even say, “yes, I heard words. I really did.”

I can say that; I will say that. 
When I was 19, I was in my first year of college, 
and I was at a point in my life 
when I was starting really to ask questions about God, 
about being a Christian. And I was going to a Bible study. 
And out of the blue, I heard Christ speak in my heart. 
I can’t really put it into words, but it was clear: 
he was calling me to follow him, 
just like he did with Peter and Andrew, James and John and others.

That’s what happened to me. Other people have different experiences. 
Maybe not dramatic; but one way or the other, God gets your attention.
For these Seekers in the Gospel, it was a star. 
They saw the light, and they followed it.

If you’re thinking, I’m not sure I’ve ever had that experience, 
that may be true. It hasn’t happened for you yet. 
But consider this: is it possible God’s been speaking, and you missed it?
Because a lot of times, we know what God’s saying. 
We aren’t ready to listen. 
To put it into the terms of this Gospel, who knows 
if many other people saw that star; 
but they didn’t do anything about it?
These Seekers did. 

So they followed the light, and it led them to the Light: the True Light.
They brought treasure; but indeed, they were led to Treasure.
Nothing they brought Jesus could equal 
what Jesus himself offered them.

So: here we are. We were led here today. 
Maybe your parents didn’t give you a choice.
Maybe it’s just habit.
But there are people here I know were determined to come. 
It fills me with admiration, because I know some of you 
have aches and pains and it’s cold; and if it were sleeting and snowing and blowing, 
you’d still be here! 

In 15 years as a priest, I’ve learned that 
no matter how bad the weather is – it could be “Snowapocalypse” – 
and there will be two or three intrepid souls in the pews on Sunday.
You know who you are. You are like the Magi, following the star. 
Remember, Jesus said: “Ask, and you shall receive!”

Seek the Light; receive the Light.

But now let’s notice what the other readings talked about. 
Isaiah told us that the Light would shine first on his people, Israel. 
But then, the light would shine to the world. 
“Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.
[L]ook about; they all gather and come to you…from afar.”

How does the Light reach the whole world? That’s your part, and mine.
The Wise Men in the Gospel did their part. 
We have no record of it, but tradition tells us 
they went from Bethlehem and spread the light.
They finished their time on earth and were called to eternity.

Likewise the Apostles, and those who knew them 
and heard their witness.
Generation by generation, the light has been passed to you.

Children, do you know what happened when you were baptized? 
The priest handed a light – a lit candle – to your godparent. 
And that godparent’s job, with your parents and family, 
is to get that light of faith into your hands, so it’s not theirs, 
but yours.

When I was a kid, I found my baptismal candle, 
and I didn’t really appreciate its meaning; I burned it up. 
I’m sorry I did that; I wish I had it today. 
It stands for the light you and I receive in baptism, 
and no matter what anyone says or does, 
nothing can put it out, Only you and I can do that.

And, thankfully, if we do, God gives us back that light 
when we go to confession. God wants us filled with light.
Each one of us is then that light someone else needs to see!
OK, so how does that work, exactly?

It isn’t something we “do,” like going to work, 
or completing our assignments for school, 
or even like coming to Mass each week.

Sometimes people will say, “OK I want to share Christ with others! 
So what do I say? I don’t know how to handle this or that situation! What do I do then?”

It’s not mainly what you say or do; 
it’s a matter of who you are.
To put it in theological terms, it starts not with our efforts, 
but God’s grace. 
Christ brings the light – it lives in us. 

This candle? This is me. This is my life, your life.
But the light? (Light candle.) The candle can’t do that for itself.
That comes from Christ. Let him change you. 

To our eyes it may seem small, maybe almost invisible.
Don’t worry about it. That’s God’s work. 
Be the light. Let it happen in you.
You and I will not know, until eternity, 
how even the smallest words or actions of ours 
can set great things in motion. 

When you are out and about, eating a meal, don’t be afraid 
to make the sign of the cross and say grace. 
It’s a small thing, but powerful.
We’re giving out blessed chalk today with a prayer, 
so you can mark your house as belonging to Christ. 
It’s a nice old tradition, and if you have kids, they’ll love it. 

It’s a reminder that each year belongs to Jesus:
This is the year of the Lord, 2018.

Small acts of kindness; everyday faithfulness, 
when witnessed by others, over time 
become a blazing sign of God’s grace.

You and I are here: we have followed the light, 
whether we knew it or not, here we are. 
Christ brought you here to change you.
To be light through you.