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.

Monday, August 10, 2020

'Emergency' and schism: Father Leatherby of Sacramento

One of the ideas making the rounds these days -- although it isn't a new idea -- is that when things get bad enough, you are justified in doing things that otherwise would be wrong. I'll skip over the granular examination of this idea, other than to quote Pope St. John Paul II Paul VI: "it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf.Rom.3:8)."* What gets us in trouble is when we feel a kind of panic over things seemingly being out of control, so that we're tempted to take extreme action. 

Many Catholics feel this temptation as well, including priests. So consider the case of Father Jerry Leatherby, who has been declared excommunicate by his bishop, Jaime Soto of Sacramento. What did Father Leatherby do? According to the bishop's letter:

Fr. Leatherby has violated my instructions by offering Mass and teaching publicly to a number of the faithful. He has instructed them against the legitimacy of His Holiness, Pope Francis. He has substituted the Holy Father’s name with the name of his predecessor, and omitted my name during the recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer while offering Mass. After obstinately not responding to a number of my inquiries by telephone and correspondence, he has now confirmed his schismatic stance. Because of the grave scandal of these actions I have no recourse but to announce publicly the consequence of his decisions: He has brought upon himself an automatic latae sententiae excommunication.

What does Father Leatherby say of his actions? Here's a letter purporting to be in his own hand, in which he relates the following:

- Several years ago he was accused of unspecified misconduct with an adult female, and was suspended from active ministry.

- He violated "boundaries" with that woman and sincerely regrets those wrongs.

- Father Leatherby waited and continues to wait for the opportunity to defend himself; in the meantime, he felt terribly isolated, and has been unfairly and falsely accused of various things.

- He was "on the way out of the priesthood."

- When the covid virus struck, Father Leatherby judged the situation to be dire enough -- with the faithful unable to attend Mass and not partake of the sacraments -- that he should bring the Eucharist to people in individual cases.

- When this proved impractical, he began inviting people to join him at Mass, even as (a) public Masses in general were suspended, and (2) he himself was suspended from celebrating Mass publicly.

- He consciously omitted reference to Pope Francis in the Eucharistic prayer, choosing to offer Mass instead "in union with Pope Benedict" -- because he does not recognize Francis as the successor of Saint Peter.

I wouldn't blog about this sad case, except that this process of reasoning is not unusual: i.e., things are so bad that I'm not only permitted to do what otherwise I ought not to, but indeed, I am compelled. This is a very seductive temptation, and many of the faithful can be sucked in by it. But it is a temptation, and it is wrong. Let me illustrate why. 

(And, by the way, I know there is more to Father Leatherby's story; there's always more to every story. Was this connected to his father blowing the whistle on misconduct by others? Was the bishop unfair to Father Leatherby? Is Father's account of his situation accurate? I don't have access to enough information to answer those questions, so I'm not addressing them. Moreover, to the point I am making, they are finally irrelevant.)

Let us (for sake of argument) take at face value Father Leatherby's complaint that he has been treated unfairly; and respond that this is wrong, and those who have been unjust to him, if deliberate, have their own sins to repent of. I do not have a heart of stone, and I can only imagine this priest's suffering, and that makes me feel great sympathy. Nevertheless, those injustices cannot justify any injustice of his own, namely, disobedience and schism.

But it was an emergency! People weren't able to receive the sacraments! Indeed, and church law addresses this: a suspended, or even "laicized" priest can provide sacraments in danger of death; not in a case of generalized emergency. That's not what this priest did.

Look: I know a lot of the faithful think the bishops erred terribly in suspending the public celebration of the Mass, and other sacraments, in the context of the spread of Covid-19. Let me just point out that such actions are not unprecedented; St. Charles Borromeo did similar things in his time. And let's acknowledge that there's a big difference between saying no public Masses, versus no sacraments at all. I simply don't know what the Bishop of Sacramento decreed in this regard; I know what I and other priests in Ohio were told: no public Masses and other liturgies; but other sacraments could go on, with great care. So, for example, the sacraments of baptism, anointing and confession went on. Funerals happened, but with great restrictions; and I testify here and now that nothing in the directives I received said I could not give Holy Communion in individual cases. And Mass itself was not suspended, only being present at it by the faithful was suspended. These restrictions caused suffering, yes! But this is not a complete suspension of the sacraments. 

And in any case, none this has any bearing on Father Leatherby, because he, himself, was suspended. He may believe this suspension was unjust; nevertheless, he was bound to obey it.

And let me say out loud what I suspect, but cannot prove, because it's a counterfactual: had Father Leatherby merely brought Holy Communion to people in individual cases, and along the way heard confessions or given anointing, this would not have come to a head. What surely forced the bishop's hand was celebrating Masses with up to 350 people present -- during a pandemic when all other public Masses were suspended! -- and omitting Pope Francis's name from the canon. Father Leatherby may think he had no other choice, but he is simply wrong in that belief.

What about the pope? Is Francis really so terrible that Father Leatherby (and others) are justified in refusing to recognize him?

In a word: NO. This is exact same temptation and same error.

Let us consider several scenarios, which which I stress are hypothetical. In no way am I accusing Pope Francis of anything. But let's spin out the scenarios based on what others find troubling, and therefore, lead them to entertain Father Leatherby's line of thinking.

What if Pope Francis believes and allows terrible things, or does them himself?

Tell me: when were we promised that no pope would ever sin, even gravely? When were promised no pope would publicly engage in scandalous behavior, or encourage others to do so? This largely recapitulates Protestant attacks on the papacy: they point to examples (real or exaggerated or false) of bad popes and say the papacy must be false. And what has always been our response? That when the Lord Jesus entrusted Peter (and his successors) with special authority, it was to govern, and teach, and that when the pope would teach publicly, in a formal way, he would be preserved from error (i.e., infallibility). You can look all this up in the Catechism; we don't believe that popes can't be terrible people who sin gravely, or even -- shocking to consider -- they, themselves, might voice erroneous ideas, or tolerate those who do.

When Peter denied Jesus, were the Apostles justified in rejecting Peter as the head of the college? How about when Paul confronted Peter about his cowardly behavior regarding Gentile believers and those who demanded those believers be circumcised (see Paul's letter to the Galatians)? No: despite his failures, Peter was still pope.

And in any case -- and I do mean, any case -- what necessity compels you, or me, or any priest, or any Catholic, to render a judgment on whether Francis is pope? The college of cardinals met and elected him, after Benedict, before the world, resigned. Please do not waste everyone's time with conspiracy theories and obscure claims of knowledge! Even if you are right, how can you be sure? And how can I be sure? Do you actually think God operates this way? That he expects you to search the cobwebby crevices of the Internet and patch together a Rube Goldbergian theory to explain why Benedict is still pope? Or maybe the last pope was John Paul II? Or Paul VI? Or Pius XII? See where this goes? What sort of God do you think we serve, that he faults us for not putting faith in such tales?

Remember: most Christians, up to the present moment, have never had access to such abundance of information as many of us engorge ourselves with. So even those who think they are well informed, can only say they are well informed about the present times; they do not have comparable information about the past, and therefore, they are wrong when they breathlessly say, "this is the worst EVER!" How can they know? And how can they really know they have even the full story about present things? Ah, see the problem with giving credence to "hidden hands" and unseen explanations? 

The college of cardinals elected a pope, who calls himself Francis. As far as I can see, and as far as my bishop -- who I am convinced is a bishop (or maybe not! See where this leads us?) -- can see, Francis is pope, and so I recognize him. If these fantastical claims of widespread conspiracy are true, then the sin lies with the conspiracists, not with the faithful who manifest humble obedience.

If Pope Francis or my bishop -- or yours -- says or does something you or I cannot stomach, then do not stomach them. That is, weigh them, applying the most charitable reading, make sure you have all the facts, and if you don't agree, then...don't agree. I don't have to publicize all these things -- nor do you -- but if asked, I try my best to be charitable, truthful, prudent and humble. That means say no more than necessary, give the benefit of the doubt, allow that you may be mistaken, and be respectful. 

If the pope, or the bishop, or president or governor or mayor tells you to do something you must not do, or forbids you to do something truly necessary, then we must disobey. But these circumstances are actually extremely rare. 

For example, the Archbishop wants me to wear a mask at various times, including when celebrating the sacraments. You or I may think this misguided or silly, but it does not violate any moral law, and therefore, I have no just basis to object: so I wear the mask out of obedience. When I get out of breath, I take it off. 

The Archbishop, after all, is doing this out of obedience to civil authority. The bishops are accused of being cowardly toward government, but this is more than I know, as I cannot read their souls. If they are, then they will answer for that before God. But what is plain enough -- and it really is enough -- is that they are practicing the exact same virtue of obedience. Public authorities have the responsibility of safeguarding public health, and so they issue orders to do this or that in response to a pandemic. Maybe their advisors are misguided; perhaps their motives are tainted, or they are overreacting. Is it possible their policies are uneven and unjust? Certainly. And thus there is recourse: we can speak out, we can seek legal redress, and we can seek to minimize, in legal and moral ways, the negative consequences.

Let me close by pointing out two things that get overlooked with this sort of thinking. First, we miss that that all this is a temptation; the enemy always wants to sow discord and use these circumstances to lead us into vice. How often we use "stress" and "this is an exceptional situation" as an excuse for any number of sins! Don't play the devil's game.

Second, when we are casting about for rationales for doing things we otherwise must not do, we treat with contempt those avenues that are always open to us, and which no one can shut: the power of prayer and personal holiness. I don't mean to pick on Father Leatherby, who I think has suffered greatly and I suspect is in agony over his choices; I pray for him to find the right path. But it is not true that he had no choice, no other recourse, and it is simply never true for us. Nothing keeps us from growing in our own holiness, and nothing keeps us from fervent prayer, but we ourselves. What does it say that we think these options aren't sufficient?

*I always thought it was JPII, in Veritatis Splendor, but it turns out he simply quoted Paul VI. Maybe you thought the same.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

What if there had been no storm? (Sunday homily)

There’s a word for what is happening in all the readings; 
for Elijah, for Saint Paul, and for Saint Peter: that word is discouragement. 
So: if you feel discouraged or disheartened, you are in good company. 

In the first reading, Elijah has fled to the mountain because he is discouraged. 
He tried to spark revival of faith, and the queen seeks to kill him. 
He feels very alone and overwhelmed. 

Paul is “in anguish” for his fellow Jews who have resisted the message of Jesus Christ. 

Peter is disheartened by the storm raging around him, and he begins to sink. 

There is a cure for discouragement, and the readings also tell us what that is as well: 
Staying close to Jesus. 

Notice what happened in the Gospel: 
When Peter kept his thoughts and focus on Jesus, 
He had courage and boldness, and no fear. What went wrong? 

When he looked away – at the storm. Then he sank. 

I think a lot of us have made that mistake too. 

A lot of us keep up with the news, and that’s important; 
You and I need to be well informed. 
But I will confess, here and now, that I overdo it, 
And I know I’m not the only one. 

My strategy is I almost never watch TV news, and only listen to a little radio. 
God bless them, but what do they do? 
They tell us that you and I need to be all worked up! 
You had better be mad! And you’d better be scared

Even when the news is good, they make it sound bad. 

So while some of us do need to get better informed,
others of us could do with a fast from Fox News or MSNBC.
And, I might add, this applies to other people’s outrage.
Some people aren’t happy unless they are mad about something;
And they want to make you mad about it, too.

Don’t let their storms draw your attention from Jesus. 

These strange and frustrating times are getting in the way 
of a lot of things we want to do. 
Worse is how many people have lost work, 
And there is too much uncertainty and disruption. 
Still, try to keep an even keel. 

In 1940, things were terrible. 
The world was at war and evil was on the march. 
The Great Depression had been going on for a decade. 
And if you lived then, and anyone had told you 
what the next five years of war would bring, you would have been terrified! 

And then, if they’d told you what the five years after that would bring: 
victory, peace, prosperity and amazing accomplishments; 
you would have thought it was nonsense. 

We can’t see through the storm, why try? 
Jesus is right here with us, walking straight through it. 
The storms and trouble can do a lot of damage, 
But there’s one thing they can never do: 
Keep Jesus from coming to us in our struggle. 

The disciples wanted Jesus to get in the boat with them. 
That was what they knew; it was as much security as they could have. 
But notice: Jesus didn’t really want that; 
He wanted them to get out of the boat! Peter did it! 
And, although he walked on water only briefly before failing, 
I have no doubt he remembered that experience, 
That exhilaration, that victory! 
And even his failure didn’t erase it; 

And his later victories of faith built on this. 
But what if there had been a storm? 
 Then Peter would never have stepped out.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

'Accept no substitutes' (Sunday homily)

Notice the question 
Saint Paul asked you in the second reading:
“What will separate us from the love of Christ?”

First he reminds us what will NOT separate us: 
“anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, 
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” He could have said, 
war or election results or economic downturn or Covid-19.

Therefore, what he left out is the answer, i.e., what CAN separate: 
And that is us, you and me.
Our choices can, indeed, separate us from the love of Christ.

How often we focus our energy on things we cannot change, 
rather than on what actually is in our own power, namely:
my heart; my thoughts, my reactions, my choices.

This calls to mind a prayer I often pray, and recommend to others:
“Lord, give me the ‘want-to’”; Give me the desire.
Of course, what I’m really referring to is the Holy Spirit:
He is the “want-to,” the desire, that we receive in baptism;
He draws us always to Jesus, always to be close to him.

Day by day you and I get distracted by other things, 
and it is the Holy Spirit who calls us back, every time, 
to the love of Christ.

Of course, you’re here – that “want-to” has brought you here. 
I’m not just patting you on the back. I’m calling attention 
to the work of God and the action of grace in your life. Notice this!
It is the Holy Spirit, within your heart, that thirsts for God;
And as needed, He will prompt you to realize distance has crept in,
and prod you to draw close again.

This will sound paradoxical, but:
Where our usual goal is to make hunger go away,
Here, it is exactly the opposite.
You and I must stay hungry; indeed, grow hungrier still.
Ravenous; panting and desperate for God!

Isaiah warns us, how easy to feed our God-hunger 
with the wrong stuff. 
How dangerous that is! 

Right now, many aren’t coming to Mass for very good reasons – 
because of health concerns or lack of seating.
Totally understandable.
But let me say out loud what many of us wonder about:
That when the Covid crisis passes, some people won’t be back.

All I can say to you, and encourage you to repeat to others, is:
Only Jesus truly feeds us. Only Jesus makes sense of life.
Only He is solid; everything else can fail.

One day, soon or late, all that I love in this world will fade away.
Same for you: and each of us will be alone. 
You and God, you and Jesus Christ.
Either we will be able to say, “I sought you, you fed me”;
Or he will say, “I never knew you.” 

How good and generous Jesus is to you and me!
Those little nudges from the Holy Spirit,  
that keep on track, or get back where we need to be.
“Pick up the Rosary!” he murmurs, or “turn off the computer!”
Or, “get to confession” or, “Come spend time with Me!”

How good Jesus is to us!
Jesus gives us his own words in the Scriptures.
Once Bibles were rare and few could read them. 
Now everyone can breathe the pure oxygen of God’s Word 
as often and as much as we want. 

How good the Lord Jesus is to you and me!
He also gives us the saints. 
We don’t always know how to live the right way, so we learn from them.
They accompany us, they pray for us, they encourage us.
No matter how alone you may feel, you are never alone.
There is a great crowd of witnesses with you every day!

How good Jesus is to us!
He gives us the sacraments, above all, the Eucharist.
The Mass brings us to Calvary, with Mary and John.
Notice in the Gospel, Jesus said, gather every bit of bread,
And each Apostle had a full basket. What did they do with it?
Maybe they gave it away in the next town,
Or maybe that was their own food for the next couple of days?

See how they treasured what was mere, ordinary bread, 
and why not? It came [miraculously]* from the hand of Jesus himself!
Now see what Jesus gives us: not bread at all – but His Body, his Blood, 
taken from his side, pierced on the Cross, so we can live forever! 

How good Jesus is to us!
There's an old TV slogan, from advertising, and it went like this:
“Accept no substitutes!” 

* Added at several Masses.