Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hate or heaven (Sunday homily)

The first thing to say about this Gospel 
is that when our Lord Jesus talks about “offering no resistance,” 
he is not talking about life-and-death situations, 
and he is not talking about whether we protect someone else.

Rather, he is focusing on those situations 
where our own pride is ruffled. 
These are situations where we can make the choice – 
in the words of Bishop Fulton Sheen, 
between winning an argument, or winning a soul.

The second thing to say is that this is about generosity.
It’s one thing to be generous with money, and even with time.
But to be able to forebear bad treatment and unfairness; 
to be able to forgive someone who has wronged you? 

That is an extraordinary generosity. 
We might even call it a divine generosity; and in fact, that is what it is. 
This is exactly the generosity God practices all the time; 
toward every single one of us.

Have you come to that powerful awakening, 
of realizing down to the marrow of your bones 
just how much you have been forgiven?
Maybe it was God who was so incredibly generous toward you; 
or maybe a spouse; or maybe your parents?

I think this hits a lot of us at a certain point, 
where we realize just how ungrateful and sullen and selfish 
we were as kids; and yet our parents believed in us and stuck with us.
Many of us struggle to forgive the wrongs other commit against us.
I suggest revisiting, with some deep reflection, 
those moments when you were on the wrong side; you were guilty; 
you had to be forgiven – and you were.

The more alive that memory is for you – of being forgiven – 
the easier it will be to be generous with mercy toward others.

To put it another way: we can either have hate; or we can have heaven.
If you hold on to one, you must let go of the other.
And to repeat, this is a divine generosity;
Which might lead you to say, then it’s impossible for me, so why try?

From the moment you and I were baptized, 
we began on the journey to becoming divine ourselves.
Does that shock you? Yet that is what we believe as Christians.
To be a Christian is to have the Divine Trinity dwell in us.
To be united to Christ – to be a little Christ – to be part of him.

Is Jesus divine? Is he God? You know that he is!
Are you united to Jesus? Is that not what all our sacraments, all our faith is about? 
What else does it mean to be a Christian, 
what else does the Eucharist – Holy Communion – mean, but to be united to Jesus?

So however shocking or baffling it may be to consider, yes:
You and I are destined to be sharers in God’s life: to be divine.
That’s what heaven is. That’s where we’re headed.
However impossible it may seem, remember, 
that’s God’s specialty, making the impossible happen.

And that journey – to heaven and becoming heavenly – 
is why we have Lent. 
Lent is a spiritual boot-camp; it gives us a full-time course 
in the spiritual tools that we need the whole year long.

Lent is not about us spending only six weeks being truly Christian, 
and then going on vacation for the rest of the year. 
Oh, I don’t doubt there are people who think that will work. 
They are mistaken.

The process of becoming heavenly, of becoming a saint,
involves a lifetime of conversion, day-by-day, habit-by-habit.

So if you haven’t already, start thinking about your plan for Lent.
Some of us probably need to be more ambitious;
And to be honest, others of us maybe are taking on too much 
and driving ourselves and our families crazy.

Try to remember: our job is to cooperate with God; 
God himself is the one who will change us, 
softening our hearts and making us like himself.

Most of us know the tools. 
We can all think of something to give up, 
beyond skipping meat on Fridays and meals at other times.

For prayer, we have daily Mass;
Adoration all day on Thursdays; 
Stations of the Cross and Benediction on Thursday evening. 
Maybe you’ve never made the Rosary a regular thing;
Perhaps you’d like to step up to the Divine Mercy chaplet.
Of course we’ll have lots of times for confession;
And the church – by the way – is open from 5 in the morning till 9:30 pm every single night.

For this Lent, we have some booklets at the exits to help you.
One is a series of Rosary meditations.
The other is about something called “Lectio Divina,” 
which literally means, “divine reading,” and is all about taking Scripture, 
and being patient as you read and reflect on it.
Please help yourself to one or the other booklet.

And remember Lent is about being generous.
Giving money and time is awesome; there many ways to do both.
But maybe take a cue from the Gospel 
and aim to be generous in forbearance. 
Be free-spending with forgiveness.

Hate and vengeance can be hard to let go of;
But we must, if we want heaven.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Don't just know the rules. Know Jesus (Sunday homily).

This homily is going to be about rules.

Many times we Catholics, and Christians in general, 
are accused of being all about rules. 
A lot of times, that’s what it all seems to be about.

It is true that many times the rules get a lot of the emphasis.
For one reason, rules are extremely helpful.
A child may or may not grasp why something is dangerous, 
even after you patiently explain it. 
So mom or dad just says, “don’t touch!”

When I was in the seminary, Father Mike Seger – 
who has now gone to eternity – 
taught me something very valuable which I will now share with you.
He explained that, quote, “rules exist to protect values.”
Let me repeat that: “rules exist to protect values.”

The truth is, very often it isn’t higher-ups who are saying, 
“here’s the rule, follow it.” 
Rather, it’s you and me preferring to boil it all down to a rule, 
because that’s a lot easier.

Think of two employees at a place of business.  

The first employee is very precise. 
Work starts at 7:30, so she’s there right at 7:30. 
And she’s at the door at the stroke of quitting time.
Coffee break? 
She takes it, and knows exactly how many minutes are allotted.
Otherwise, she is at her work station, carefully completing her tasks.
She knows what her job is – and what it isn’t.
She’s the one who says, “I’m sorry, but that’s not my job.”

The second employee really likes her job and is grateful for it.
She feels a sense of obligation to her employer and to her customers. 
She wants to do well herself, and she wants the company to do well.
So: she makes sure to show up first thing, 
and doesn’t mind eating lunch at her desk. 

If the boss needs someone to pitch in on a project or to stay late, 
she is willing. 
If she sees a problem, she speaks up and tries to help find a solution, 
before it gets out of hand.

Both these employees are honest and do their work.
What’s the difference?
One is all about the rules. She knows them backwards and forwards.
The other is all about the mission. What are we here for?

It’s so easy to focus on the rules: 
How many minutes before communion can I have a snack?
How far is too far with my girlfriend?
How many drinks before I’ve had too much?

Rules are necessary, like guardrails; 
but who drives with your car skidding along the guardrail? 

So when it comes to your daily spiritual life,
Or when it comes to taking part in Holy Mass, 
or the sacrament of confession, 
the rules can be helpful – but they aren’t the point!

Scripture scholar John Bergsma, who I quote from time to time,
superbly summarizes the point of this Gospel. 
The Pharisees, he said, were pursuing 
“a righteousness that said, 
‘What is the least I have to do and the most I can get away with, 
and still not formally break the divine command?’ 

“Jesus attitude . . . is rather, ‘What is most pleasing to God?  
That is the only thing I desire to do.’”

It’s so easy to focus on the rules.
But what gives us life is JESUS!
Rules are worthwhile, they help us.
But they cannot save us.
For that we need is Jesus himself.
Focus on him. Talk to him. Know him.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Salt & light: it's pretty simple (Sunday homily)

I have been under the weather this week, and I'm starting to bounce back.
Sometimes the Scripture readings can be a little obscure, but today?
Does anyone really need me to explain about helping the poor?
About being a good influence on our society?
About sharing your light, rather than hiding it?

There are lots of useful things I could say, but the truth is,
It’s all up to you.
You can hear, and nod and move on; or you can decide,
“Today, I’m finally going to make a move and DO something!”

I’ll mention the Catholic Ministries Appeal one last time.
It is an obvious way you can be salt and light, 
especially for people who need food and shelter 
and some measure of justice.

There are pledge cards and envelopes in the pews 
if you want to make a pledge right now, 
and return it in the collection plate today, 
or else drop it off later, or mail it in.

I’m going to sit down for a few moments.
You can either make that pledge, 
or else think about some other resolution you want to make today,
so that you can show the power of Jesus Christ’s love in our world.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Right here, right now (Sunday homily)

Today’s feast is celebrated every year, 
but it only falls on Sunday every once in a while. 
The formal name is the “Presentation of the Lord”;
Another name is “Candlemas,” because of the candles of course.

But why candles?
On one level it’s kind of obvious: 
Jesus comes to the temple, and he is the Light of the World.

But let’s you and I drill down on that, shall we?

When Jesus was born, he looked like any other baby.
When the Apostles met him, they encountered a man like them.
Jesus ate and drank, he worked and got tired and had to rest.

Then, on one occasion, 
Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain, 
and he was, quote, “transfigured” before their eyes.
The Gospels say that he was brilliantly bright.
The apostles fell to the ground; 
maybe the sight scorched their eyes?

In other words, I’d like to suggest that in that moment,
they saw, as much as human eyes could see, 
what it really means to say Jesus is “the Light of the World.”

You and I don’t dare stare at the sun – it sears our eyes.
And yet Jesus, our Lord, is vastly more luminous,
more full of power and fire!
All the suns and stars and galaxies are but a little candle next to him!

When we say, “a Light for revelation” came into the temple…
Realize how intense and awesome that Light truly was!
If the sun in our sky could somehow enter this church,
maybe that gives a sense of it.

So we hold these candles, 
and they don’t seem like much compared to Jesus’ Light.
But that’s the way we are as sinful human beings.
These little candles are an apt symbol of what we bring:
Only a little bit; only a small sacrifice;
and we’re tempted to think, it doesn’t matter.

But in the temple that day, that’s what nearly everyone  
thought about Joseph, Mary and Jesus! They didn’t matter.
Only two people – Simeon and Anna – grasped the truth.

Part of that truth is that when Jesus’ infinite light joins ours,
we take on his brightness; you and I cannot dim his glory. 
Fear not!

This is as good a time as any to remind you that it’s time 
to make our own commitments to the Catholic Ministries Appeal.
By now you should have gotten a mailing about it.

You know the projects it pays for:
Caring for our retired priests;
Caring for the poor and needy, including in Shelby County;
Supporting a Catholic presence in prisons, hospitals and colleges;
Supporting our seminary and our vocations programs, and more.

There are cards and envelopes in the pews, if you need one.
Your pledge, like your candle, may not seem like much,
But united to Christ and all our other candles, it is a bright light!

There’s something else here, and it has to do with Jesus’ priesthood.
The first reading describes the Lord coming to purify the temple, 
and to offer a pure, all-powerful sacrifice worthy of God.

(At 9 am Mass, I inserted an explanation about offering Mass ad orientem, which we do at this Mass, explaining that the temple's great door faced east, hence when the Lord Jesus came to the temple, he entered from the east. Thus, when we offer Mass, we face "spiritual east," not necessarily geographic east, in hope of the Lord coming to us. We all face the Lord; "you are not my hope, that's why I don't face you; and I'm not your hope; we face together toward the Lord.")

This is a foreshadowing of what would happen on Good Friday;
And what is made present in every single Mass.

It is not too strong to say that right here, right now, we are there.
Every single Mass, you and I are there, 
with Jesus, offering himself as the Lamb of God.

So: are you and I like most people in that temple that day,
Ho-hum, nothing special?
Or, are do we see as Simeon and Anna, recognizing the Lord is here?

I know, you might be frustrated because you try, 
yet with kids and diaper bags and the cares of daily life,  
it seems impossible to do more than to “get through” Mass.

If that’s you; if you’re harried and hassled, my word for you is this:
Just be here, and trust Him.
His light is here, and he will shine on you, in you, and it’ll happen.
Not in a day; not on our timetable; but in his time.
Present yourself to the Lord and let him accept that offering.
But you’ll be a glorious saint one day. He’ll do it, not you.

Or, maybe you’re here, and you think, boring!
I don’t like the music; this homily is no good!
I don’t like the people sitting around me…
My answer is: you’re right! 

Six years ago, right about this time, I was in the Holy Land,
and I visited the very places where Jesus was crucified,
and nearby, the tomb where his dead body was placed,
and then on the third day, where He rose from the dead.
I was there! I kissed the stone on which he lay,
and we also had Holy Mass there – the stone was the altar!

As far as Mass goes, on this side of heaven, that’s as good as it gets.
Still, you know what? You visit a place like that, 
and you can actually be disappointed, because it’s so…human.
People were coming and going, I was trying not to trip or hit my head;
It was a lot of pushing and rushing, and then we headed on.

However: I kept reeling myself back in,
Reminding myself of where I was, and what happened there.
In other words, it’s a choice.
A good attitude, a bad attitude; to be awed or to be cynical:
it’s a choice we make.

I will never forget that trip to the Holy Land, and yet:
Right here, right now, it’s every bit as real and holy,
because the Light of the World, Jesus our High Priest,
Comes here at every single Mass and fills this temple with his glory.

And whether that light fills the temple of your life is up to you.