Sunday, December 29, 2019

Wounded families can be holy families (Sunday homily)

This time of year, we all have those picture-perfect 
images of families – celebrating the ideal Christmas – 
that are impossible to live up to. 

Our families aren’t perfect, and sometimes are cause for tears, 
especially when we’re together.
So it was with my family, growing up; maybe yours, too. 

On this Feast of the Holy Family, 
let’s acknowledge some things:
Sometimes, in church, we talk so much about married life, 
we neglect those who are single, 
or those whose married life together has been shattered.

We often don’t know what to say. 
Well, we could start with, “I’m not going to judge you; 
and I do want to welcome you!”

Some people don’t “fit the mold”; 
some can’t marry as God and nature define marriage. 
It’s not our place to redefine marriage; 
but it is certainly our place—indeed, our obligation before God—
to embrace everyone without mockery, 
without ugliness, as Christ in our midst!

Let me just say here something that may not be obvious.
The conflict in our time – between what marriage has always been, 
and how our contemporary culture has re-engineered it – 
is ultimately about diverging ideas of what happiness is;
and that leads to vastly different understandings of what marriage is. 
Look: everyone wants to be happy. 
No one in his right mind refuses happiness.

One view – which is almost completely triumphant today – 
is that you and I “create” happiness, 
as we create our own lives, our own truth.

With so many today persuaded of this, of course they will say,
Why can’t marriage leave children out?
Who says marriage is forever?
And why can’t we redefine marriage to suit ourselves?

The older view – which is basically Biblical – 
is that, instead of creating happiness,
you and I find happiness along the way;
That is, along the way to pursuing other things,
Like faithfulness, duty, generosity and courage.

The really hard lesson to learn is that 
when we make “being happy” the central thing, 
we may only achieve at best a pale imitation; or else, not at all.

On the other hand, when you and I set out to give ourselves away, 
True happiness comes to us, usually mixed with burning tears.

So when we talk about the Holy Family, 
it is not the family of self-creation and self-fulfillment.
The point of focusing on the Holy Family is not that it’s ideal;
But that this is how God entered our very broken, human family.

Christ knows well how “dysfunctional” our families can be. 
That’s exactly why he came!

Things happen in our families and our homes we don’t like to talk about: 
Alcoholism or other addictions; 
anger, emotional abuse or physical violence; 
depression or other emotional problems. 

Yes, Christ took a beating on the Cross; 
but he never inflicted such abuse on anyone—and neither should we!

To make matters worse, some of these issues aren’t dealt with openly, 
but instead become shameful secrets, wounds that never heal.

Don’t we call this the season of Light? 
Christ offers his Light to heal these wounds. 
Will we let him?

Christ, who came to carry the Cross 
of all our human sinfulness, 
will give you courage and walk beside each of us 
on our own Way of the Cross. Will we let him?

Our second reading talks about the role 
each of us has in our families. 

Christ is the child among us—should he witness 
parents berating and demeaning each other?

Christ the teenager: we have no idea what music he liked. 
But do you think he would have tolerated music 
that demeans women and exults violence?

Christ was a worker; 
but he did not make work an excuse to neglect his family.

Christ the man saw women as Images of God, 
not as servants, or imaginary partners on the Internet.

Men, are you and I “man enough” 
to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ?

And Christ the healer never shamed anyone he met; 
not the prostitute, not the tax-collector, 
not the leper or the alien.

And he will never shame nor despise any of us 
for our sins, our wounds, our secrets…whatever they may be.

Yes, our families are far from the ideal. 
But this is the great human family Jesus chose to make his own!
Precisely by welcoming Jesus into this mess is how
We make our families “holy families.”
Not because they look like a Christmas card, 
but because we let Christ bring courage, 
and healing, and hope:

Not to the families of our dreams, 
but to the real family life we actually have.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

I'll be home for Christmas -- in heaven! (Christmas homily)

This time of year, there is a strong emphasis on “home.”
It’s great to have our college students and many others back again.

Many times I’ll meet people after Christmas Mass 
who are strangers to me;
then I learn that while they grew up here and moved away, 
this parish is home to them – to you – 
and it is I who am the stranger.

Many years ago, a singer named Perry Como sang a song, 
“Home for the Holidays.” 
Like so many Christmas songs, it was catchy and made you feel good, 
but otherwise, it doesn’t seem to say much.

Yet the more I thought about it, 
I realized there is a lot more to that idea of “home” and Christmas.

It isn’t just some of us who are away from home.
Every single one of us is.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
And he created a place for humanity – to be home with him. 
The Book of Genesis calls that the “garden.”
That’s a good name; that sounds like someplace we want to be.

As we know, our first parents were not content to stay there.
Their lack of trust led them to sin and they chose a path away;
They left the Garden; they left home.

And all the rest of the story is God longing to bring us home!
He called to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses.
God made covenants with them, to give them – and us –
What the cold world of time cannot give us:
Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.

In the Gospel of John, while Jesus is talking to his fellow Jews,
He says something odd: 
“Your Father Abraham saw my day and rejoiced in it.”
What could that mean?

It means this:
That when God called out to Abraham, saying, “I’m here, I’m here!”
In that call was a promise that God would one day be here – 
for Abraham and everyone else – not just in a prophecy or ritual, 
but in flesh and blood. 

In other words, it’s always been about the Incarnation: 
God becoming one of us.

And it’s always been about the Cross, 
because what does it mean to say God is with us,
if it doesn’t include the full measure of suffering and death?

Even so: dying with us is cold consolation, if that’s the end.
I’m dying, you’re dying? We’re all dead.

So it was always about Resurrection, which means,
Not Jesus rising and escaping our humanity,
But Jesus rising and living, forever, in our humanity!
What a way for God to make his home with us!
And as those annoying commercials always say, “Wait: there’s more!”

God came and made his home with us, in our exile;
Always with us, often hidden, often ignored;
Or else, despised and rejected: on the Cross, and down to the present.

This is his birthday. How many will have a great party, but ignore him?
How sad that so many people know the word, “Christmas,” 
but not what it refers to?
What good is a “season of lights” 
That is about no more than electricity or candles?

God came to make his home with us, for one more purpose:
To bring you and me home: home to him.
That is “joy to the world”;
Only God’s life filling our lives can mean “Peace on earth.” 

And what you and I see before our eyes – 
what the prophets and patriarchs
could only glimpse darkly, as in a mirror – 
that is what makes us fall silent on this (Christmas) night.

This church, this place, 
this circle of familiar faces, is our home – for now.
Yet we are not yet home, and God is not content to leave us here.

With baptism, you and I became citizens, not of this place,
But of that Place – of heaven.

In the incarnation, God became man;
By faith in Jesus, following him, you and I will become God!
Sharers in everything God has to share, even his own infinite life!

All the sacraments serve to restore us and to prepare us, 
to make us long all the more for our true home,
the home of which this home is a shadow and a promise.

I am so glad you are here. We are all glad to be together.
We all try so hard to make Christmas special,
to make everything sparkle and glow;

As hard as we try, it is never enough. It never can be.
Christmas isn’t about satisfying our longing,
but rather making us hunger and thirst all the more:
We want to go home! 
To be with Jesus, not just for a few golden hours, but forever.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Less Ahaz, much more Joseph (Sunday homily)

There are two very different men in the readings.
There’s a pretty clear contrast.

Ahaz knows what he needs, what he wants, what he is going to do.
He is not going to ask for help.
No one can tell him anything. 

And then there’s Joseph. He feels all the same emotions, 
but there’s one, key difference: he prays. He listens.
He can admit he is wrong.
He is not too proud to ask for help.
Joseph can change direction, 
even if it is humiliating, which it probably was.

There’s a lot more Ahaz in me than I want to admit. A whole lot more.

Ahaz refused God’s help; but God had a “Plan B.”
The plan went forward, but I wonder what “Plan A” looked like?

What keeps you and I me from the Plan A’s is usually pride.
Fear of looking ridiculous. Anger often goes with that.
And sin and being too stubborn to go to confession.
Making excuses for not praying, or rushing my prayers.

Or we get to a certain point in our lives 
and we’re old dogs who aren’t going to learn any new tricks.
We might think of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist.
When God came to him, he said, “I’m too old.”

Thankfully, Zachariah had his “Come to Jesus” moment 
and got back on track. No need for Plan B that time!

So, this is really simple: who will you be? 
Ahaz, who refused to listen?
Zachariah, who needed a whack upside his head to wake him up?
Or Joseph, who God could talk to? 
Joseph, who wasn’t too proud to listen and change?

Of course, when I put it that way…

You want to be Joseph? Be Joseph
Imitate his chastity and self-control, 
because that teaches us to put others’ needs ahead of our wants.

Imitate his prayer – oh, and he was busy, too;
he didn’t live a life of leisure. 
Joseph wasn’t too proud to confess his sins.
Joseph asked for God’s help – and he got it.
It was still a rough life, 
but God let him safely through and safely home.

And the reason Joseph had courage to take that path
Was not because that courage came out of nowhere,
But because he’d been faithful and practiced virtue all along;
That made him ready when his moment came.

If God gives you an inspiration or a task, don’t turn away from it. 
Don’t say, “I’m too old,” “I’m too young,” or “Now’s not the time.” 
We turn away from those graces, thinking we can always do it later.
But later doesn’t always come.
Don’t be Ahaz. Be Joseph. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

New film helps you see what Mass really is

It's called "The Veil Removed." Simply awesome! See it here.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

If you're discouraged, you don't have to be alone (Sunday homily)

In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus puts before us
the life and example of his friend and cousin, John the Baptist. 
That is very striking when you think about it.

But then I realized: that’s what Jesus does all the time.
That’s what it means to be a saint: someone Jesus can point to and say:
Here is how it works. This is what holiness looks like.

And as I thought about John the Baptist, a book came to mind.
You’ve heard of it: The Lord of the Rings.
Maybe you’ve read it; but if you haven’t, 
It’s about a particular ring that is immensely powerful,
and therefore involves great temptation for all concerned.

And it’s about certain people who must undertake 
a journey and a task of the greatest peril. 
Everything depends on their courage and self-sacrifice 
and their perseverance.

Time after time, the right thing to do seems to be madness,
Because it means saying no to pride and power and ego.
And in case the point is not obvious:
This, too, it what it means to be a saint.
In God’s Providence, anything is possible; but generally speaking, 
the path of a saint is one of plodding along faithfully.

John the Baptist was the last in a long line of faithful witnesses.
From Noah and Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, 
Moses and Joshua, some – but not enough – of the kings;
Ezra and Nehemiah; Samuel and all the prophets and many more.
Each one was a link in a long chain, and the last witness was John,
Who said not, the Messiah will come someday, but rather:
Here is right now: Behold the Lamb of God!

So often you and I feel that we don’t count very much.
And on a planet of seven billion souls, and in the long march of history,
Maybe it’s true: you and I are just one brief blip.
Who will remember us?

Jesus! Jesus will remember you and me.

John the Baptist really only had one task: be faithful. That was it!
And of course, that’s my task and yours, too.

John’s question to Jesus is a little startling. Was he wavering?
He has been faithful, and now he is in prison, 
and maybe he wonders if it was all a colossal mistake?

And Jesus sends a message. In short: hang in there, John!
Don’t give up. You weren’t wrong. 

If you get discouraged, Jesus has the same word for you.
You aren’t wrong to be faithful.
And if you need some company, invite Jesus along.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Anchor your hope in heaven (Sunday homily)

In the second reading, St. Paul spoke about hope.
Elsewhere in this same letter, Paul explained that 
the gaze of hope is fixed on that which lies ahead--
it isn’t something you already have.
Hope looks forward.

But then the question comes to mind:
just what do we fix our hope on?
Is it really true that heaven is what we are hoping for?

A few years ago, I saw a survey about the British people,
that something like a quarter of them say,
well, there might be a God,
but they don’t think they can know anything about God for sure.

What that means is that if we have some hope of good after this life,
it ends up being pretty vague.  

In the meantime, what we see around us,
what we can obtain here, all that is pretty definite.
How can we help doing that? 
I don’t really what heaven, or God, or eternity, looks like. Do you?
So it’s very difficult to have any concrete ideas.
Meanwhile, you and I know exactly what dinner looks like. 

The danger is that we become people without hope--
because instead of having our focus on what lies ahead,
we focus on what this life offers – and what’s left to hope for?

Pope Francis, in the letter he wrote a few years ago,
called the “Joy of the Gospel,”
talks about the “great danger in today’s world,
pervaded as it is by consumerism,”
is that we end up with a “complacent yet covetous heart”;

Where our “interior life becomes caught up
in its own interests and concerns,” and there’s no room left;
And we can’t hear God speak to us.

This is where the strange practice of celibacy fits in.
Lots of people simply don’t get it. 
Why should brothers and sisters and priests remain celibate?
The answer is that it is a sign of what we hope for.

If you’re on your way to a once-in-a-lifetime dinner,
Would you stop to eat on the way? Of course not.
So when people see us priests and religious 
passing up something great – which marriage is – 
then it points to the something greater still
we must be looking forward to.

Celibacy means casting our anchor all the way to heaven.
Not everyone is called to celibacy; 
but every Christian, in his or her own way, 
is called to give some sign of that same hope – 
that our hope lies ahead, not here.

That’s what you and I do when we obey God’s law; 
when we embrace penance; when we reject worry;
when you and I care for the poor, expecting nothing back;
and when we choose forgiveness and reconciliation over vengeance.
Those are ways we tell the world: 
You and I are looking forward to something better.

And, speaking of our religious sisters, 
remember them in the second collection today; 
this is for their retirement fund, which needs bolstering. 

Many here were taught by nuns, 
including in Russia School at one time!
This is a way we can repay them.

One more point about hope.
It seems to me that if we are looking for something,
It’s a lot harder if we have no idea what it looks like.

If someone told you there was a mineral  
in the ground around here that’s very valuable,
and if you wanted to start collecting it, 
what would be the first thing you’d do?

Wouldn’t you find out everything you could about this stuff,
what it was like, and how to get it?

Well, there’s a place called heaven 
and Jesus is our only way to get there. 
So our first step is kind of obvious, isn’t it?

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Is Jesus coming? He is here now! (Sunday homily)

In the first reading we hear a prophecy of Isaiah: 
all nations shall stream toward “the mountain of the Lord’s house.” 
And perhaps you’re wondering to what that refers.

Well, let’s figure it out.

It refers to the “Lord’s House” – that means the temple,
In Jerusalem, built on Mount Zion.
That of course is where Jesus gathered with his Apostles 
on the night before he died; and the next day, he completed his “Mass” 
with his suffering and death on the Cross.

So if you’re wondering how that prophecy is to be fulfilled: 
the answer is in the Holy Mass – what we are doing right now!

Isaiah said that the Word of the Lord would go forth from Zion – 
and it did, especially after the Day of Pentecost;
And that all the nations would stream to the Lord’s House –
And that, too, has happened; 
the Holy Mass is offered throughout the world, 
in every language and nation and tongue, 
even when it is very risky for people to take part.

So it is wonderful to consider that this passage has been, 
and is being, fulfilled, even as we gather here for Holy Mass!

The emphasis in the Gospel – and in Advent generally –
is on watchfulness for the coming of Jesus.
In a word, Advent is about eternity.
You might say, but I thought it is about Christmas?
But you see, Christmas, too, is about eternity, about heaven,
Because with Christmas, heaven bursts forth on earth,
And we begin to see heaven among us.

So when you and I talk about Jesus’ coming,
It’s not as if he’s now absent from the world. 
People will say, “he’s coming back – as if, he’s not here.
I think the reason many people talk that way
Is because they don’t realize Jesus is here, right now:
He never left!

They don’t know what the sacraments are:
That the Holy Spirit enters us in baptism and confirmation;
That Jesus stands with us, in suffering and pain, 
in the anointing of the sick; 
that marriage makes real, in a flesh-and-blood way, 
the love of Jesus for his people.

People don’t realize that Christ truly acts through the priesthood;
And they simply don’t know the truth of what the Holy Mass is, 
Of what the Eucharist is: Jesus is here!

It’s really easy for us as Catholics to take all this for granted;
But we must not! These are astounding gifts! Jesus is with us!

So our task as Catholics isn’t to talk about Jesus coming as if he isn't here now – 
because he is here now! – but rather, Jesus coming to reign reigning.* 
He is king now, yet he is among us with the greatest patience.
He has the right to command, and yet he continues to invite.

There will come a time when he will take his throne at last,
And the time for his people to hear, and repent, and receive him,
Will finally come to an end. 

This is our opportunity: to get our own hearts and lives ready.
The witness of our own readiness – our own seriousness and urgency – 
is what will help others to wake up and get serious, too.

I think of the whole issue of global warming and climate change.
Whatever you think about that subject, consider this:
We have movie stars and celebrities who talk about how urgent it is, 
and everyone should live simply – but what do they do?
They live like kings and fly all over the world on private jets.
They aren’t very convincing witnesses.

Well: we have lots of people around us who don’t take Jesus seriously.
They don’t know that Jesus is here, now.
Well: are you and I convincing witnesses?

* I made these changes at all Masses for clarity.