Sunday, February 21, 2021

The most important day of your life (Sunday homily)

 What do you think was the most important day of your life?

Was it the day you were born? 

Or maybe when you graduated from school? 

Or when you met your sweetheart? Or when you were married?

Or do you have four or five most important days: 

when each of your children were born?

Was mine when I was ordained as a priest?

No: as very special as all those are, 

none of those was the most important day of your life. 

The most important day of your life – and mine – 

was the day we were baptized;

because that is when you were given eternal life!

You and I were joined to the life of the Holy Trinity

And we became citizens of heaven.

That changes everything.

What does that have to do with the flood in the first reading?

The flood washes away everything that is hostile to the life of God; 

everything that separates and distracts us from God.

And that is what baptism does, too.

So how do we get from a flood to the desert?

When you wash away everything that commands our attention, 

that seems urgent but actually isn’t as important as we think; 

when all that is gone, what’s left? 

The confrontation between good and evil that we see in the Gospel.

But what’s important is that it is Jesus facing the devil. 

He’s squaring off in the battle each of us faces.

The point is, he’s facing our enemy – on our behalf.

When humanity faced the devil the first time, what happened?

We lost. Our hope was destroyed.

So, as St. John Henry Newman said, 

“A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.”

You and I still face our ancient foe, day by day;

but we need not do so alone. Jesus wades into battle on our behalf!

That’s what Good Friday and the Cross are about. 

Jesus had a choice; he said, let the cup pass, 

but if not, thy will be done! 

Once again, that is what baptism is about:

you and I being joined to Jesus: we take up his cross;

And he takes up the battle on our behalf.

That’s why we recall our own baptism today, 

and why we will do that in a solemn way in six weeks on Easter.

Someone once told me, always have an action item in a homily.

So here it is: you have six weeks of Lent 

to discover the power and reality of your own baptism – 

the most important day of your life.

Go to confession: return to the purity of your baptism.

Renew the vows made for you; make them for yourself.

On the day of your baptism, you were set on the path toward heaven. 

It’s always a good idea to recheck your heavenly GPS

And make sure you know where you are headed. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

What is the leprosy God cares about -- and why? (Sunday homily)

 Let’s start this homily with the leprosy described in the readings.

Leprosy is a skin disease; it’s fairly uncommon today, 

and it is curable today. 

So for us in rural Ohio in 2021, leprosy is no threat to our community.

But in Moses’ time, there was no known cure; 

and when unchecked, leprosy would not only leave you disfigured, 

it could cost you fingers, toes, and finally, your life.

So it was obviously a big deal.

But the real leprosy God cares about – 

and wants you and me to care about – 

isn’t something that disfigures our bodies, but our souls. 

That, of course, is sin.

There is a huge mistake many people make about sin.

They – we – think of sin as mainly something you and I do.

It’s like breaking a traffic law: you went too fast, 

you rolled through a stop sign. 

Oops, yeah, I know I shouldn’t have done it. 

Let me pay my fine. 

So when this mindset is applied to the spiritual life, it’s like,

“Yep, I drank too much Friday night, let me go to confession.

Pay the fine. I’m clear, let’s move on.”

What’s missing entirely is the awareness that sin 

isn’t only something I do;

like leprosy, it is something that becomes part of me!

Not only will this spiritual leprosy will change me;

if I don’t confront it, it will ruin me.

Here’s where leprosy isn’t a strong enough image;

because where leprosy infects your skin and maybe other organs,

sin corrupts our hearts and minds and transforms our very selves.

Sin contaminates how you and I see things; what we care about.

Sin is a leprosy of the soul.

Here’s another thing: one of the reasons leprosy is bad 

is because you stop feeling. 

Your nerves don’t work so well:

so someone with leprosy might put her hand in fire and not realize it.

And that’s what sin does to us: 

you can put yourself into worse and worse peril and no longer care.

Now, I’ve reached the point in this sermon where I wish

I could take half of you listening over here, and say one thing;

and meanwhile, take half of you over here, and say something else.

So with everyone listening at the same time,

Please realize some of what I’m going to say doesn’t apply to you, 

but to someone else here, OK? That’s really important.

Because when it comes to sin and repentance and change,

some people are like, “I’m on cruise control, I’ve got this,” 

and they aren’t really taking things seriously enough.

They aren’t examining themselves…enough.

These folks could use to step up their spiritual life.

If this is you, you’re that guy who is driving,

and someone in the car is saying, “hmm…there’s a stop sign up ahead…”

Then, a little louder, “dude, you DO see that stop sign, right?”

Finally your friend is all in your face and you’re screeching to a stop, 

and you’re saying, “Hey, why didn’t you tell me?”

So I’m telling you. The Lord is telling you: wake up. 

Time to step it up!

But that’s only some folks.

Meanwhile, there are folks – and you know who you are! –

And what I just said is the absolute LAST thing you need to hear!

Because you’re at the other end of the spectrum.

Some folks don’t come to confession enough.

Other folks have turned confession into a torture chamber.

God love you, and he does! And I love you too! 

And I’m telling you, I’m begging you: 

stop tormenting yourself, in the name of Jesus, stop!

Some folks come to confession and treat God as a tax auditor.

God’s going to catch me not getting that right, and then I’m toast!   

So I’ll go ahead and declare that’s a mortal sin, just to cover my bases.

The point of confession is not to pay enough spiritual taxes 

to keep the heavenly IRS off your back!

God’s great purpose is not to catch you and me doing something wrong; 

rather, it is to help you and me to become the beautiful, 

heaven-ready saint that he longs for us to be.

Let me say that again:

God’s purpose is not to catch you doing wrong!

But to give you and me the grace we need to be saints forever!

So where some folks need to get moving;

Other folks, you need to relax a little.

Lent starts Wednesday. 

Now is the time to ask yourself two questions:

Do I really believe God is rooting for me, 

working hard on my behalf, to make it to heaven?

And second, what change is God calling me to make 

to help me along the way? 

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Combating sloth on our journey to heaven (Sunday homily)

 We’ve all heard of the seven deadly sins, I hope?

Just to remind you, they are: 

pride, envy, wrath, greed, gluttony, lust, 

and there’s one more we don’t talk about much: sloth. What is that?

Sloth is more than merely being lazy, although that’s part of it.

This is the sin of indifference and lack of interest; of not caring.

It can poison our zeal for doing the things we need to do:

Praying, going regularly to confession, being faithful to our obligations,

and caring about the needs of others.

Saint Augustine talked once about how this life is a journey.

Sometimes, as for Job in the first reading,  

it is a “drudgery,” and a lack of hope.

When Job speaks of “months of misery,

and troubled nights,” 

I think that’s how a lot of people feel right now!

That discouragement can be lead us to one kind of spiritual sloth:

That “why bother” sort of attitude, 

where we just feel like we have no reason to keep going.

But you and I are on a journey through this world. 

If you are driving home, maybe it’s a beautiful day 

and you love seeing the scenery along the way.

Or maybe it’s sleet and snow, you can’t see,

And you’re white-knuckling it 

as you and other drivers slip-and-slide along I-75.

Either way, remember: 

the point of the drive home isn’t the drive, but home itself!’

Funny thing is, this is where a rough ride through storms 

is actually less bad than a beautiful drive. Why?

Because one of the spiritual dangers each of us face –

On our “drive home” to heaven –

Is that we fall too much in love with things along the way, 

and forget where we are headed.

That, too, is a kind of spiritual sloth:

gradually falling in love with this world and all it offers,

can make us gradually forget our first love, who is Jesus Christ.

Either way, sloth is simply not caring; 

either from being too sad; or from being too content.

One way we can identify sloth in our lives:

If we so content with where we are, 

that we’re not actively thinking about where we’re going to be next.

So there’s the problem. What do we do about it?

Well, these readings give us some remedies.

Notice Jesus is busy taking care of other people.

If it seems like you’re carrying the weight of the world,

if you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself,

one of the best remedies is to check in with people who need help.

In a few weeks we’ll have another casserole crusade to send good, 

home-cooked food to feed people who lives can be pretty rough.

If you go to the Bethany Center in Piqua, or the soup kitchen in Sidney, 

you’ll see all kinds of folks, young and old, 

including parents bringing children.

I’ll wager most of us have never been in that situation.

Do you want to help those kids get a good meal? Of course you do!

Well, then, sign up when the time comes to make casseroles!

Another remedy for sloth is how Paul just keeps to his task.

He says, I’ve got a job to do. Maybe I feel like it, maybe I don’t – 

but I get down to work all the same.

Paul remembers why he’s doing it: he’s thinking of home; of heaven.

A third remedy: when you’re discouraged and tempted to slack off, 

it’s time to double-down. 

If you don’t want to get out of bed to go to the gym,

what does your workout buddy do? Gets on your case, right?

You don’t feel like praying? That’s when you pray more.

Someone will say, “but I don’t feel like praying!”…

as if feelings are all that important? They aren’t!

Kids, I’ve got a secret to tell you, ready?

A lot of times, your dad and your mom 

don’t feel like getting up at 5 or 6 am to go to work. 

They don’t feel like making supper.

They don’t feel like helping you with your homework

Or even leading the family Rosary.

But they do it anyway. It’s not about feeling. It’s about love.

Love is a choice, not a feeling; we choose to love God,

We choose to love people in our lives,

Whether we feel it…or not.

So, sure, it’s nice if when our spiritual lives include good feels;

But a lot of times, that doesn’t happen.

Just keep going. We’ve got a journey ahead of us.