Sunday, November 29, 2020

God wants to forgive you! (Sunday homily)

 I want to make three points in this homily.

First, I want to explain what Advent is really about – 

it’s not exactly what you may think.

We often say Advent is about preparing for Christmas, 

but that’s not exactly right. 

After all, what do the readings we just heard 

have to do with Christmas? It’s hard to see, isn’t it?

That’s because what Advent is primarily about 

is preparing for eternity; 

and only about Christmas, to the extent that Christmas, too, 

is also about eternity. 

So look again at the readings – 

doesn’t that explanation make a better fit? 

These are about eternity!

The second thing I want to call to your attention 

has to do with the details of that first reading. 

This is such a powerful passage, it is deeply moving: 

God’s people are crying out to heaven for God’s grace:

“Why do you let us wander, O LORD…

 why do you let us “harden our hearts”? 

They are asking for the help of God’s grace, to be converted! 

It’s such a powerful prayer, isn’t it what so many of us pray? 

This prayer, this prophecy by Isaiah, do you know how it is fulfilled?

In the sacraments of the Church.

Beginning in baptism, the sacraments open us up 

to all the graces we need to be saved, 

beginning with the grace of conversion. 

But, as much as we’d like it so, this is not a one-and-done process.

Nevertheless, the desire we want to have in us, to grow in us – 

the desire for what God wants – 

that comes from the Holy Spirit, 

and it comes through living the sacramental life.

So, I’m going to make a pitch I’ve made before:

This Advent, decide you want to begin a new habit, 

of coming regularly – if not frequently – to confession.

Sometimes people will object, 

“but I don’t know what to say in confession!”

All I can say is, unless you are treating everyone around you just right – 

then I’m guessing there’s plenty to say. 

Start there, with how you get along with your family, your spouse, 

your kids, your coworkers.

There will be extra opportunities during Advent, 

on top of the six hours we regularly have of confessions. 

Here’s the final point to make: 

God wants to forgive us! God wants to forgive us!

Why do I make that point so strongly? 

Because over and over I hear people express deep fear, 

that maybe I didn’t confess my sins exactly right, 

or maybe I didn’t remember it exactly right, 

maybe I need to do it all over again. And again. And again! 

And I want to ask: Do you think God is setting you up to fail? 

Do you imagine God is playing tricks on you, 

as if we were all in some cosmic game show – 

and if you or I answer wrong, whoops! Oh, too bad!? 

Stop and think about who you really think God is.

And so I repeat: God wants to forgive us. He wants to help us.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

It's about the full truth of being human -- and our ordinary choices (Christ the King homily)

 Looking at, and thinking about, 

this Gospel passage about the sheep and the goats, 

it’s easy enough to see how this fits today’s feast of Christ the King:

Here he is, the King, summoning us before him for judgment.

How you and I treat one another 

is how we treat the Lord Jesus, for good or ill.

That right there is a pretty powerful realization.

I remember vividly one day, before I was a priest, 

before I was even in the seminary,

And I had gone to my parish for confession. 

As I was driving back home, for whatever reason, 

this passage came forcefully to mind; and all of a sudden, 

I was thinking about all manner of ordinary things, 

but through this lens: it wasn’t to other people 

I’d been rude while driving, or who I had refused to help, 

or had insulted or spoken ill of; it was the Lord himself!

And even though I’d just been to confession a few minutes before, 

I felt like turning around and going right back!

So if nothing else, let that sink in: 

how you and I treat each other, and strangers, 

in Jesus’ eyes, is how we treat him. A powerful, powerful thought. 

Life-changing if it really sinks in.

Still, there is another way the kingship of Jesus is shown 

in this passage – do you see it?

It’s specifically in the actions of the sheep: 

they feed and clothe and comfort those who are in need. 

This shows the Kingdom, because when Jesus reigns completely, 

over every kingdom and in every heart, 

there will be no hunger, no deprivation, no one left out.

A powerful sign of the Kingdom is when you and I do these works;

and it is a betrayal of Christ to neglect them.

Having said that, let’s be clear about something else, 

because the point I just made can be manipulated.

There are a lot of people who want to boil the Christian Faith 

down, if you will, to social work.

In case you haven’t noticed, 

this is especially popular with many politicians: 

they will gladly call attention to their Catholic Faith, 

but they will leave out pretty significant parts of the Faith.

Feed the hungry? Sure, here’s a government program!

Defend the lives of the unborn? Defend the truth about marriage?

Oh no, can’t do that! Somehow, that’s illegitimate.

The point I’m making is that this is not only about material needs. 

That approach ends up deforming our understanding 

of what it means to be human: 

only this part matters, while this part, not so much.

That does violence to the truth of what God created, 

and there’s no way that can be squared with this Gospel.

Let me specify exactly what I’m talking about:

The fact of the human race being male and female, 

made for each other. 

And please note my precise language: this is a fact, a scientific fact;

it is not a religious doctrine! Those who want to make a revolution, 

want to suggest that this is merely a matter of our quaint beliefs, 

our outdated beliefs, but no: 

you’re male, you’re female, those are facts.

From this basic premise flows the true nature of marriage.

And also: that being male and female are not mere choices.

It should have been a scandal when Joe Biden, during the campaign, 

said he was in favor of an 8-year-old child boy deciding he is a girl, 

and therefore, the parent should give that child body-distorting drugs, 

and perhaps, later even surgery, to “confirm” this confusion.

So, I realize this puts us in a tough spot, 

because these ideas are winning everywhere, 

and if you and I oppose them, we’re called “bigots.”

It’s getting worse by the day.

But there is no way the King can or will approve of us 

giving people food and clothes, sure – 

but meanwhile giving our approval, or remaining silent, 

while people do mad things to themselves, 

wrecking themselves and each other. 

And since I mentioned Mr. Biden: it’s no secret 

he didn’t get many votes around here, and a lot of us are pretty upset 

at the idea he may be our next President.

It’s easy to have faith when things go right; 

the challenge is keeping an even keel when things go wrong.

Nothing happened on Election Day, or any other day,

that Jesus Christ doesn’t know about, and cannot direct as he chooses, as he chooses. 

As a priest-friend of mine says, “there’s a reason it’s called ‘faith.’”

So that highlights one more task each of us has:

Keeping steady, and keeping faithful, with the tasks before us.

One of those tasks is to pray for those who hold public office,

and to continue to speak out and be heard by them.

Notice once more: this Gospel does not show 

Jesus holding the sheep and goats accountable 

for the big-picture outcome.

No, he holds them accountable for choices they made

day-by-day in their ordinary lives.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Ways to make great results of modest things (Sunday homily)

 In the first reading, you have a wife and mother 

who is attentive and faithful in small things. 

The result is a powerful impact on her family and beyond. 

In the gospel, we have two servants 

who are attentive and faithful in small things. 

But let me highlight something else – did you notice? 

Between the first two servants, there was a possibility of envy, 

because one is more celebrated and more successful 

than the other. 

Even so, there is no resentment, and the runner-up is not dispirited.

Then there is the final servant, who rejects the Lord’s gift. 

He is fearful and perhaps proud. 

There is a kind of false humility that is really pride: 

that says, I am not good enough, I don’t dare, 

I should hold back, and is consumed by timidity and fretfulness. 

As I said, this masquerades as humility – “oh, poor me, nothing me!” 

But it really is pride, because it’s me looking at, focusing on, ME, 

rather than focusing on God.

This mindset, by the way, is related to scrupulosity, 

which some people wrestle with. 

Here is the connection: with scrupulosity, 

one problem with scrupulosity is too much self-focus: 

in this case, focusing on our sinfulness -- excessively. 

God never calls us to look at self, self, self, self, 

either in pride of our own accomplishments – 

or in precisely and repeatedly detailing our failings. 

Remember what we talked about with the saints in heaven: 

our focus, our gaze, must always shift back to the Lord, 

not on ourselves!

Oh, and while I’m on that idea, a reminder: 

this is what our annual Forty Hours Devotion does for us: 

a chance to re-train our gaze 

on Jesus in a particular way, 

so it radiates that much more through everything else in our lives.

So please don’t miss the opportunity to turn your gaze to our Eucharistic Lord, 

on the altar, today and tomorrow. 

And don’t forget our Solemn Closing at 4 PM Sunday, 

and you will have a chance to hear our seminarian, Isaiah Callan, 

share a reflection on the Lord. 

It’s going to be great, and I know we all want to support him.

The word “talent” in the Gospel can be misleading, 

because we use that word to mean ability; 

but at the time the Gospel was written, 

the word simply referred to a certain amount of silver – 

in other words, money. 

So really, the parable is about having readiness 

to use whatever resources we have, 

whether time, money or personal gifts; 

but not on how much or how little.

This business of faithfulness in small things, to bring great results – 

isn’t this what you and I are doing with our parish? 

This is the point of our religious education, 

our youth activities, our kids clubs – 

we are trying take the resources of greatest value to us – 

our children and our Faith and our future – and bring about increase.

Some can feel as though they have very little to offer. 

Many times I have talked to people in their later years, 

who aren’t mobile and active as they once were,

and they will say, “I don’t know why I’m still here.” 

All I can say is that, however limited you may feel you are,

you still do have something to offer the Lord, even in a small way. 

Remember that Jesus makes great things of meager offerings. 

Beware the temptation to say, like the third servant, 

“I don’t have enough to work with, so I won’t do anything.”

Another way you and I live this parable is in sharing our faith.

It is in small things, small details, 

that we will bring people back to the Faith, 

or bring people for the first time. 

The way to share the Faith, and bring increase, is by our friendship, 

our openness, our welcome, and by giving simple but sincere answers 

to the questions: why are you a Catholic? 

What does your Faith do in your life? 

How we answer that is how we give an invitation for others.  

And then you and I will be able to say, on Judgment Day,

“Lord, you gave me five, and here I brought you five more!”

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Will you have the reserves you need in time of crisis? (Sunday homily)


(Click on image to go to its source.)

This parable is one that I have found difficult to unravel 

over the years. Maybe you have too. 

This past week, I drew a lot of insights from an article 

by a Protestant professor named Jack Crabtree

He points out that the two groups of virgins 

are alike in almost every respect. 

They are all invited to the wedding;

they are all carrying lamps; they all bring some oil. 

They all fall asleep; and they all wake up at the same time.

And – here is the key detail – if the Bridegroom had come right away, 

all these young women would have entered together into the wedding.

What stands out is that five of them 

were equipped for the unexpected; 

they were prepared to wait and wait and wait. 

A surprise turn of events did not throw them off.

So, what made the difference for those who made it into the wedding –

that is, into the Kingdom, into salvation?

What enabled those five virgins to stay calm and collected, 

despite being thrown a curve-ball?

They had that extra reservoir of oil; 

that is, they were well rooted in the Lord.

Where does that come from?

The hard truth is that you and I are our habits, either good or bad.

If you face a crisis, what is your first instinct? Is it:

(a) To cry and hope someone else fixes it?

(b) To figure out your excuse, and who to blame?

(c) To go back to bed and pretend it’s not happening?

Or, how about:

(d) To pray?

(e) To look around for who needs help first? To run to the fire?

(f) Or, to seek counsel from the wisest people available?

(g) To draw from what you learned from the saints, or the Bible?

You and I first imitate our habits – good or bad – from others;

but we end up cultivating them ourselves, producing in our lives either 

a well-tended garden of useful things, or an untamed patch of weeds. 

If you don’t develop the habit of prayer ahead of time,

what makes you think you’ll have that extra oil when trouble hits?

What we want, of course, are good habits, or virtues:

the three supreme virtues are: Faith, Hope and Love.

There are many vices opposed to these, among them:

Self-pride, cynicism, doubt and despair, and selfishness.

We also refer to the “cardinal,” or hinge, virtues of

Courage, Temperance, Justice and Prudence;

and again, there are many contrary vices,

such as faint-heartedness, self-indulgence, wrath, greed and laziness.

This is a good time to address what’s on the minds of many of us:

the uncertain outcome of the presidential election.

Some are really worked up about it.

Let me just say this – and you may not like hearing this but it’s true:

the election is now out of our hands!

Did you reflect and pray and vote?

Did you try to be a good influence on others? 

Then: well done, good and faithful servant!

You carried out your duty as a citizen and as a disciple.

You did your part; and now it is in God’s hands; not yours.

All you can do at this point is pray and wait and carry on.

Some people – and you know who you are – 

carry the weight of it all, as if the outcome were all on you.

But God never made you responsible 

for the decisions of 150 million people.

Each of the ten virgins was responsible for herself.

I just want to ask gently, 

if the election, or something else, is really bothering you,

are you forgetting in whose hands this all rests? Not yours!

This is when we dig deep and cultivate the virtue of faith and of hope.

God’s expectations aren’t that mysterious or complicated. 

Note: I did not say what God asks is always easy; 

but I am saying, it’s not an obscure riddle.

Each day is a gift. The best, first thing to do each day 

is to remember your Savior and offer your day to him, 

whatever may come. 

Greet him first each morning and last each night.

Get to confession regularly; you’ll find your reservoirs getting deeper.

Walk with him and talk with him as you carry out your daily tasks. 

When day is done, do a look back, ask pardon and give thanks;

and then sleep the sleep of the well-prepared waiting for the Kingdom,

tomorrow, next week, next year, or whenever the Lord chooses.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Here's why I'm not worried about Trump v. Biden

A lot of folks are really worked up right now about whether President Trump will prevail in the counting (and counting...and counting) of ballots, or will former Vice President Joseph Biden end up being declared the winner.

I'm not worried about this, here's why.

If Biden prevails -- fair or not, I'm skipping that question for now -- it is virtually certain that he will face a Senate controlled by the GOP, and a House that has a very narrow Democratic majority. (There is a very slim chance of the GOP taking the House, but don't bet on that.) Are you worried about those two Senate seats in Georgia? I am not. No crystal ball, but nothing will turn out Republican voters in Georgia as well as Biden being seen as the winner. 

This means a President Biden will be very constrained in what he can do. Yes, he can issue executive orders and make appointments. Yes, he can unravel some of the regulatory reform carried out by President Trump. So, yes, he can have some impact. To his everlasting shame, he will certainly take steps to have more babies die from abortion; and he will do what he can to see that children who are confused about their sexual identity are confirmed in that confusion, given drugs that will wreck their bodies as their puberty is disrupted, all in a triumph of "transgender" hocus-pocus over real science. 

So, let's acknowledge right off the bat there are real negatives, no one can deny that.

Oh, and I might as well here acknowledge that, for many reasons, many of us will need strong stomachs for the next few months if Biden prevails. The celebrations by various folks will be hard to bear. That all this is in any way dressed up as Catholic makes me vomit a little in my mouth, you too. You and I can just guess which roman collars will show up for the party and be anointed the Voice of (the right sort of) Catholics. So all this will be a bit of purgatory for us. Fortify yourself.

But any sweeping legislation, such as socialized medicine, or a tax hike, or the Green New Deal, or breaking the filibuster, expanding the Supreme Court, adding new states, on and on? All DOA. (Even a bare Democratic majority in the Senate makes all that extremely unlikely, and a GOP majority even more so.)

Meanwhile, who do you think is going to be mobilized, energized, activated, chomping at the bit for the next election? His opposition. 

Meanwhile, note that with the exception of the Senate, there were no "coattails" for Biden. His party lost both in the House and in state races, with more to come in 2022. How can I be so sanguine? Because that's the historic pattern. When one party wins the White House, generally the other party does well in Congress and state races. It was especially true under Clinton and then under Obama. The GOP already has strong control over state houses, and that will only grow during the next two elections.

Or President Trump pulls it out, and I got (and if you were unhappy about Biden, you got) what you voted for. He keeps on appointing good judges and pursues other good policies as he can. But the deadlock in Congress continues, so don't expect much more.

As you can see, I take the long view, and I suggest you do the same. Politics is, like baseball, a long game. Like chess, it pays to look not at the next move, but at the next ten or 20. Where will be in 2022 and 2024, 2026 and 2028. Very frankly, I was rather concerned about how things would play out if Trump got re-elected, for three reasons: (1) few presidents have had more successful second terms, for various reasons, one of which is that (2) they tend to lose control entirely of Congress, and their opposition grows stronger and stronger in Congress, and then, (3) the historical pattern is that Republican presidents tend to be followed by Democratic ones. So while I voted for Trump this year, I didn't like the prospect of the other party ending up being pretty strong in Congress going into 2024, at which point the Democrats would be poised to take everything.

So again, while I voted for Trump, if he does not return to the White House, I like how the board is set for the next several cycles. If I were Biden and Senator Harris, I wouldn't like my "victory." This is not the "blue wave" they were all promised.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Trump, Biden and Jesus (All Saints homily)

 The first reading is about what this feast day is about, 

and that is heaven. To be a saint is to be in heaven. 

To be in heaven – do you want to be in heaven someday? 

Well, to be in heaven, is to be a saint. 

So, unless you plan on going to hell, 

then you and I and all of us will be saints.

What does it mean to be a saint? 

Today’s readings give us lots of information. 

So one thing you could do is save these readings in particular,

And you could frame a daily plan around them:

“Today I’m going to try to keep my heart clean,” or

“My project for the week is to be merciful.”

That would be a great way to get to heaven.

I want to point out three specific details.

First: what the beatitudes of the Gospel are all about 

is not being satisfied by this world, 

but rather anchoring your hope in the next.

The worst thing this world can do to you and me isn’t losing a job 

or money or our health or an election or even our life.

No, the worst thing the world can do to us 

is make us happy and content and tell our conscience, “go to sleep!”

So Jesus tells us: be poor in spirit. Be mournful. Be meek.

If we hunger for heaven, we will be satisfied.

That will lead you to confession and help you know what to say.

And it will lead you to the Eucharist 

and know that Holy Communion is not a “what” but a “Who.” 

It’s not a ritual we do, but it is – however hard it is to realize – 

a taste of heaven.

Now notice the second detail:

notice they came out of a “time of great distress.”

Who doesn’t hate all the disruption caused by the virus?

And who isn’t sick of seeing violence in our city’s streets?

What about all the political yelling and turmoil?

We would all like things to be calm – to be, quote, “normal.”

The Book of Revelation is full of turmoil and conflict. 

It is, at times, frightening. But it was written for Christians, 

both in the beginning and through time, to realize:

You don’t have to be afraid of these things, 

because they will not keep you from being close to Jesus Christ.

It’s like the guy who wants to give up cigarettes or start working out, 

and whoops, there’s a problem at work, so he puts it off.

Then it’s Thanksgiving, and he says, “I’ll wait till the holidays are over.”

Then it’s January, and too cold. So it goes; there’s always an excuse.

This world is a wonderful place, but it is also a spiritual battlefield,

and we don’t get to coast through and have it all handed to us.

Lots of us are all worked up about the election.

I’m not saying the election isn’t important; it is. Be sure to vote!

But do you think the saints in heaven are losing sleep over it?

No! And that leads to the third detail: where is their gaze?

The saints stand “before the Lamb”: their gaze is fixed on Christ.

Nothing that happens on Election Day or any day thereafter 

will change this truth, that Jesus Christ is the King. He is the Lord.

He is the only savior the world will ever have.

You and I hope for the best, and work for the best, in this world,

but history goes as it goes. Nations rise and fall.

Eventually – in God’s own time – all this will fade away.

You and I are guaranteed nothing in this world, other than this – 

and this is all we need – that in this world we can become saints.

Like you, I’ll watch the election results, and not get enough sleep.

But before you do, come to St. Remy Church, 

because we’ll have adoration of the Lord 

all night Monday and through the day.

Like the saints, let’s keep our gaze on King Jesus.