Sunday, April 11, 2021

Doorway to Heaven (Divine Mercy Sunday homily)

 All during Lent we were on a pilgrimage to the Cross. 

Now we are at the empty tomb.

The next step on our journey? Heaven.

This is what our Faith is about: heaven.

Resurrection -- Easter -- the seven sacraments: 

Christ went through all that he went through, 

because he wants us with him in heaven.

So: What is heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 

says a number of things about heaven. 

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, 

and after any needed purification – that is, Purgatory – 

then we “live forever with Christ,” 

and we are “like God for ever, for [we] ‘see him as he is,’ face to face” (1023).

Heaven is “paradise with Christ”; 

it is the “perfect life with the Most Blessed Trinity,” 

with Mary, the angels and all the saints. 

Again, quoting the Catechism, 

“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment 

of the deepest human longings, 

the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).

But the key idea is that 

“To live in heaven is to be with Christ” (1025). 

So if you want to know what heaven is like, look at the Gospels. 

Look at the Apostles who spent their time with Jesus, 

And ask yourself: is that what you want?

Do you want to be with him?

Know this: Jesus Christ really wants you with him in heaven.

The Cross is the proof of that. Look what God went through.

If you ever wonder if God loves you, and more than that, 

if you wonder if he wants you to forgive you, look at the Cross.

Still: you and I have to choose this. 

And that choice we make today – and every day.

We don’t just wander our way to Heaven.

Heaven is a choice.

More than that: heaven isn’t only after death; heaven starts here.

This is what the first reading describes:

God’s people living changed lives. Heavenly lives.

If it is true that you and I begin to experience heaven in this life, 

then surely the opposite is true: 

that we can begin to experience hell on earth, too.

We might think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

He knew he had done wrong; he even expressed sorrow.

But what he did not do, that we know of, was ask for mercy.

If Judas went to hell – as I fear he did – 

His hell started for him long before he got there. 

Sadly, a lot of people are in a similar place:

They have decided they cannot change, 

they cannot leave habits of drink or anger, hatred or lust behind them.

There’s a secret about sin that no one ever tells you.

It starts out so nice. The being drunk feels good. The lust feels good. 

The self-righteous wrath feels so good. And it will, for a while.

But over time, it doesn’t make you feel as good as it did.

And you get to the point where it doesn’t make you even a little happy;

but you don’t know how to live without it.

Some of the most damnable words are: “I can’t change.”

That is a lie. The true statement would be, “I’ve stopped trying.”

Thank God Thomas did not rule out changing his mind.

Christ came back, just for him, and said, “put your hands in my side.” 

Our Lord Jesus will go to amazing lengths to rescue us.

The most beautiful sign of this is so simple, we miss it.

That is the sacrament of confession. 

When you and I are in the confessional, we are that thief on the cross. 

Absolution from a priest is to be in paradise. 

To be forgiven is our ticket to heaven.

But, what if I lose that grace through mortal sin, what do I do? 

I go back to Jesus, in the confessional, and I ask again.

I wonder if we shouldn’t put a sign on the confessional door:

“Doorway to heaven.” It’s true!

Of course, a lot of people get frustrated because,

even after you come from confession, you struggle with the same sins.

Indeed. That’s purgatory. No one escapes the way of the Cross.

But if we are willing, you and I can have our purgatory here.

It is not easy. It can be excruciatingly hard.

If you want become holy, 

Whatever else you do, keep coming to confession.

Some people avoid it, 

precisely because they keep tripping over the same sins. 

Here’s what I’m going to tell you. 

No matter what you think, if you keep coming to confession, 

You will change. It will happen. 

It will happen on God’s timetable and in his way, not yours.

He will make you a saint!

But not on the strength of you wanting it, which is puny;

But on the strength of His wanting it: which is everything.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Sacraments during Covid

This article caught my eye this morning and got me thinking back over the past year. A year ago we were in the midst of the Covid Crisis: public Masses were still forbidden around here, and for funerals, I was obliged to limit attendance to ten people, which was excruciating for the mourners. I recall one funeral when the doors of church were standing open, and in laws and grandchildren of the deceased were standing at the doors.

At the time, I was adamant that I would visit anyone, under any circumstances, to bring any sacrament. It was simply unthinkable to me -- then and now -- that anyone needing the anointing of the sick, confession, or the Holy Eucharist would be denied them. Several times I had to push and push to gain access to hospital rooms; one senior citizen facility was very accommodating. I don't judge; everyone involved was trying to keep people safe. But it was frustrating in the hospitals, because in each case, the patient had Covid and I did not; it was I who was taking the risk! As it happened, with God's grace, I was able to talk my way in each time, and I wore whatever gear they asked me to.

Maybe I was just too stupid, but I was never concerned about my own safety. Maybe I underestimated the risk to myself; I am overweight, so who knows, Covid might be the end of me if I were to get it (if I haven't; for all I know I did have it unawares, as some people report). But it just seemed to me then -- and now -- that this is what I signed up for; and really, this is a pretty good way for a priest to exit this life: "he died because he was visiting the sick." I don't know what death awaits me, but something does -- what is more certain? This might as well be the way I go. And I'm not saying I didn't take precautions; I am simply explaining why I didn't feel any particular fear about Covid.

And, I might add, for the most part, there wasn't any great difficulty. Confession is absolutely no problem; there need be no physical contact, I only need to be present to the penitent (no you can't go to confession over the phone or the Internet). And both the anointing and Holy Communion can be given while wearing masks and gloves. Yes, there is some risk, but let's not overstate things. And I ask once again: you're going to die at some point, what sort of death do you want? What sort of life do you want? Like Richard Blaine, "I'm no good at being noble, but"...

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Christ or Nothing (Easter homily)

 If you are over the age of 40, you may not realize 

just how much the world you see around you 

is not the world those under 20 experience.

I know what you are thinking: but it’s the same world! It is indeed.

However: what is different for a growing number of people, 

especially those who are younger, 

is that more and more people are coming to distrust 

the world around them. 

To doubt more deeply what seems to be real. 

To give up on thinking the world can make sense.

In the 1960s, holding up two fingers like this was “the peace sign.”

In the 1980s, a lot of people had tee shirts 

with a big smiley face that said, “Have a nice day.”

More recently it is the “Coexist” bumper sticker, 

with lots of religious symbols side-by-side.

But I think the symbolic gesture 

that best defines the times ahead is the shrug,

which means, who knows, and who cares?

It’s the exact same sentiment of Pontius Pilate,

when Jesus stood before him, said, “What is truth?”

So if you’re in your 20s or younger, I want to talk to you.

What do people say: “Everyone has his own truth”?

This is the safe thing to say.

But if there are eight billion different “truths” in the world,

For each human soul, then there is no solid truth at all;

And that is a dark world indeed – closed off from hope.

And I ask you: is that really the world you live in?

When you turn the key, why do you assume the car will start?

If you let go of a book, why do you expect it will fall?

And the answer is simple: Truth Exists!

There are those – and they are everywhere –

who seek to confuse us: 

who tell us that male and female aren’t real,

and to say that 2 + 2 = 4 is oppression,

who want to convince you that there is no place to soar,

no foundations to discover beneath us.

They tell us, all that matters are our own desires – 

which we satisfy for a time, and then we are gone.

The meaning of what we do here tonight is this:

You and I will not be seduced, silenced, or defeated:

God is real; this is his world, and you and I belong to Him!

No matter what may discourage you: think of the Cross.

Consider the humiliation of the Son of God, compared with yours?

How triumphant his executioners seemed!

How hopeless his cause must have seemed – no one would listen!

Now, of course, there is a whisper, you can hear it, admit it:

The voice says, “But it’s all fantasy: it’s all made up!”

Really? And why would the Apostles make up this story?

More to the point: why would each of them, one by one, 

face a terrible death for a lie they, themselves, invented?

The choice you and I face is not – as many claim – 

between a God who oppresses us, 

and setting ourselves free to be anything we want.

It might seem so at first; but it is a fraud! 

If there is no Savior, no Truth, no God that exists apart from me,

then all I have is “my truth,” which is no more solid than I am!

And I am locked in the prison of myself, and there is no key.

But thanks be to God that though they tried to seal Jesus in the tomb, they could not! 

He has risen from the dead!

Jesus lives! He is real! 

And he gives each of us a task – not an easy one, 

it was never easy – but it is important: it’s to share in his mission of saving souls.

Nothing is more important!

Tonight we gather in darkness, but we each had a light;

I don’t mean the candles: I mean the light of our own faith, 

Which may not seem like much, but it is ours, 

and we can let it fade; or let the Holy Spirit keep it burning,

and when fed by God’s Fire, nothing can put it out!

Tonight, _________ is going to be baptized.

You don’t have a lit candle yet, because that it is in baptism

That the Light of Christ is given to you for the first time.

And before you can be baptized, you make a choice.

I’ll ask you some questions in a moment, in the back,

But I’ll explain those questions right now:

Do you choose the darkness that has no meaning, 

with Satan as the king of that realm? 

Or do you choose Jesus Christ, who gives you light, who is the Light, 

and who – beginning in baptism and with all the sacraments,

all the way till heaven, is going to turn You into his Light?

To be a saint is to be made Light, a sharer in all Jesus is?

The rest of us have this moment to remember our baptism, 

and whether we made the most of Lent, 

or else we just wandered in here, today:

What do we choose?

Xave, I want to thank you for giving each of us a good example.

And I want to invite you sometime to make a trip down to Piqua, 

and visit St. Boniface Church there. 

To the right side of the altar, you’ll see a picture of a boy, 

a little older than you, but a lot like you.

He was from Mexico and his name was Jose Sanchez.

And like you’re doing tonight, he chose to follow Jesus Christ.

Only you should know that he paid a huge price for his faith.

They took his life; but he knew they really couldn’t,

Because the Light of Christ in him, no one can take away!

And his last words before entering heaven were, “Viva Christo Rey!”

Christ the King LIVES!

Thursday, April 01, 2021

'You are there' (Holy Thursday homily)

 A few years ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,

And I had the awesome privilege of walking the streets of Jerusalem 

along the real, original Way of the Cross;

And I was able to be at the place of the Last Supper, 

and the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha, and the empty tomb.

I was with other priests, and we had Mass – at Calvary! Right there!

Now, because it is God’s work and not merely a human work,

The Mass is the Mass is the Mass, wherever and whenever.

Every single Mass brings us to Calvary – every single one.

Nevertheless, when you and I come to this evening, this time of year, 

if we realize what we’re doing, there is something electric about it.

All of Lent has been a journey to this moment. 

We have prayed, fasted and shared our blessings with others, 

so that we, like the Apostles, 

can prepare to celebrate the Passover with the Lord.

Normally the Passover was celebrated as a family event; 

instead, Jesus was keeping the Passover with these chosen men. 

No one else was present.

The Passover, remember, was first celebrated in Egypt.

God’s People were slaves; and on the night of the Passover, 

God executed judgment against Egypt, and Israel left in haste.

But in order to understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 

it helps to recall what happens when God brings his People to Mt. Sinai.

There, God instructs Moses not only in the Ten Commandments, 

but also in all the details of how they are to worship God; 

how the place of worship is to be arranged,

how the altar is to be constructed, 

and how the sacrifices are to be offered.

After all this, Moses leads the elders of Israel up Sinai, 

to ratify the covenant. And the Scripture says, 

“They saw God, and they ate and drank” the sacrifice.

Think about that in relation to the Last Supper – and the Mass:

“They saw God and they ate and drank.”

Did you ever wonder why the altar is traditionally elevated?

As at Sinai, we go up to see God.

In a few minutes, I will go up this altar, and as your priest – 

on your behalf – I will address our 

“Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God” – the God of Sinai.

And when we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” 

we are joining host of angels adoring Almighty God!

The same angels who saw Calvary happen with amazement.

When some of us were kids, there was a TV show, 

“You are there,” and it took you back to some moment in the past.

But this is way beyond any TV show.

You and I, brothers and sisters, we are there!

At Calvary, and also, in heaven – all at once.

So before offering the sacrifice, the priest acknowledges 

the Virgin Mary, the Queen Mother.

Traditionally, the priest bows his head to the left toward Mary; 

and then forward, toward Christ. 

The priest then says, “Graciously accept this oblation” –

 what is an oblation? 

An oblation is an offering of food and wine, from the people to God.

It stands for you. You, and your prayers, works, joys and sufferings, 

go to the altar in that bread and wine.

The priest extends his hands like this. 

That is meant to suggest a dove – that is, the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, God’s Fire would come down upon the sacrifice. 

On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Fire came down upon the Church.

In the Mass, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our human offerings

“become for us the Body and Blood of [the] beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

The priest then recalls the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.

And what becomes so clear when the priest and the people 

face the same way, 

is that every word of this prayer is addressed to God.

Yes, at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles.

But the next day, on the Cross, 

he actually offers his Body and Blood to the Father. 

His Body is broken; his blood is poured out.

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples would not have been surprised 

had the Lord pointed to the body of the lamb – on the table – 

to talk about covenant and sacrifice.

But then Jesus took up, not the flesh of the lamb,

But rather, the bread and the wine, and said:

This is my Body, given for you, this is my Blood, 

of the new and eternal covenant – eat and drink!

This was new. No one had ever done that before.

Then on Calvary, on the Cross, he completes the sacrifice.

He takes a last sip of wine, offered on a sponge and says, “

It is finished.”

And after the Resurrection, he showed himself alive,

that’s when the Apostles understood; and our Holy Mass is the result.

We do this sacrifice, as he commanded, in memory of Him.

Notice the priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.

While this allows you to adore the Lord, that is not the primary reason.

Rather, the Body and Blood are lifted up to the Father.

This is a Sacrifice: Christ offered himself to the Father.

The priest offers Christ – and us – to the Father.

Also, the separation of body and blood – recalls his death.

When the priest later puts a part of the Sacred Host into the chalice,

That signifies Christ’s Body and Blood being “together” – 

pointing to his Resurrection.

There’s one more detail worth reflecting on.

When this happens, the priest sings, “Mystery of Faith.”

The origin of this part of the prayer is unclear, but – 

It’s kind of like a big, flashing sign that says,

“This, this – right here, this! This is the moment!

This is the mystery; this is pulsing heart of the whole thing!”

After this the priest begs the Father 

to accept this “pure victim, this holy victim.”

Of course the Father will accept this Sacrifice; 

and yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 

Everything in the Old Testament led to this.

This moment – I mean, tonight; and I mean, the Mass; 

and, the moment when Jesus once offered himself;

and, that moment is made present for us here at this Mass –

This moment is the pivot point of all history.

There are so many people who long to be here, but cannot;

Many watch over the Internet.

How sad that there are others who don’t realize what the Mass is.

Tonight, you and I are there in Jerusalem.

We are there at the Cross.

The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 

The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.