Sunday, May 30, 2021

C.S. Lewis, Cicadas and the Holy Trinity (Sunday homily)


Maybe you are like me: you like to read news and opinion items online.

Also, I confess that I spend more time 

surfing for such things than I really need to. 

The result – for me, and maybe for you – 

is that sometimes we get too caught up in negativity and worry.

There’s a lot of negativity out there right now, don’t you think?

Folks who are unhappy with political trends, 

disillusioned with sports teams and the entertainment media,

and disappointed in how some of our bishops handle things.

These concerns are real: I’m not dismissing them.

However: there’s a need for perspective.

The author C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce, 

in which he imagines taking a trip from hell to heaven.

When he’s in hell, it seems like a vast city, miles and miles.

When he and others ride a bus up and out, 

that vast city turns out to be a tiny little speck and shadow of dirt, 

compared to the blinding brilliance of heaven. 

You’ll see the same thing in the Bible:

Humans build this great big tower in the city of Babel, 

they are so impressed! 

When God hears of it, he has to stoop WAY down to take a look!

In the Book of Revelation, there’s all this furious activity on earth,

people who are trying to overthrow God’s reign,

but in heaven, everything is calm and peaceful;

and when the final conflict comes, it’s over IMMEDIATELY.

By the way, how many times have you ever seen a TV show or movie, 

or read a book that is all about the End of the World,

and it’s told in the most lurid, frightening way?

People don’t read the Bible closely enough.

From a purely human point of view, it is a big deal;

But from Heaven’s point of view? 

All this storm and excitement is next to nothing, over and done, 

and then real life, the the life Jesus came to give, begins. 

We’ve just been through the Easter season, last week Pentecost, 

and today we focus on the Holy Trinity.

That’s a big subject, but I think there’s a way we can keep this simple.

God stooped down from heaven, becoming one of us – 

coming down into our lives, to bring us into the life of God.

One of the best expressions of this is so simple and routine, we miss it: 

and that is when you and I make the Sign of the Cross. 

We begin Mass with it and we end with it. 

You do it with holy water when you enter and leave.

Notice what we do: we say, 

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” 

as we mark ourselves with the Cross.

Here’s what that means:

Jesus came to bring you and me into the life of the Trinity;

The Cross is what puts us there; being baptized puts us there.

When you and I follow Jesus as our Lord and Savior,

then we are “surrounded,” as it were, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How amazing is it that God made it the Cross that puts us there?

The Cross was an act of unspeakable cruelty and ugliness and injustice.

So we look around and we see things that are wrong – 

and that’s real, you’re not mistaken! – then, remember, that’s the Cross.

God not only sees it, he put himself right there! On the Cross.

And that ugliness not only doesn’t defeat what is good and beautiful,

in a way that never stops leaving us breathless,

that ugliness becomes the heart and center 

of the greatest goodness and beauty of all.

Keep perspective: all the controversies and causes for sadness

are not bigger than the good world our good God has given us.

Look at these silly cicadas who pop out every 17 years.

They’re a nuisance, but they’re harmless and kind of fun.

If you’re a dog, a cat or a bird, 

it’s All-You-Can-Eat Thanksgiving Dinner!

And, it’ll all be behind us soon enough. 

The really amazing thing is, 

those cicadas been doing this for 50 million years. 

Every time they emerge, we humans are worked up about something;

but no matter what, they keep coming back. 

The world keeps going on despite all our drama.

In God’s time and way – not ours – it will all turn to heaven.

One day we will wake up in that Divine Life, that Trinity Life.

Hell is that little speck of a place that won’t accept that happiness.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

God goes out to bring us back (Pentecost homily)

 With today being Pentecost, it seems like a good time 

to share a little from St. Thomas Aquinas.

St. Thomas boiled down everything God is doing in his work 

both of creating humanity and even more, in saving us:

into two words: exitus and reditus; 

or, in English, “going out” and “coming back.”

And what Thomas meant was this: God “exits” 

or goes out of himself in creating us; 

the Father gives the Word, and everything comes into existence. 

We exist – this universe exists – 

solely because of this “going out” of God’s will, God’s power 

and above all, God’s love.

But humanity turned away and that brings corruption and decay:

So there is another exitus, another “going out”:

God the Son enters and becomes part of Creation!

That leads to the Cross where God “empties” himself, as it were, surrendering to suffering and death.

But all this is about the reditus, the “going back”; 

the bringing back of creation and specifically, US, to the life of God!

So when Jesus ascends – as we recalled last week – he doesn’t go alone.

Our human nature went with him to heaven.

Where Jesus the head goes, we are promised to follow.

Now we come to Pentecost:

the “going out” of the Holy Spirit, which also means a new creation; 

we human beings are remade.

It the beginning, God breathed life into Adam.

On Pentecost, the Father “breathed” the Holy Spirit, 

into those who have been redeemed by the Son:

these re-created people, together, are “the Church,” 

the Body of Christ, who is the new Adam.

In one way, of course, Pentecost happened once in history;

but in another way, Pentecost happens over and over, 

every time someone is baptized.

And then again, it happens in every Mass.

Do you see what’s up on the ceiling over the altar? A dove.

That signifies that only with an ongoing Pentecost 

does anything really powerful or supernatural happen.

Only when the Holy Spirit goes out from God 

does any sacrament do anything:

and only when the Holy Spirit comes down on this altar,

does bread and wine become the true and real presence of Jesus.

This is a good time to look at the Eucharist,

Because the Eucharist shows us what we are and what we will be.

Bread and wine come to the altar; ordinary bread and wine, not fancy.

At Father Puthoff’s first Mass last week, 

Father Amberger explained that the bread and wine 

we bring to the altar is rather poor, even embarrassing!

But that’s the point: the offering of our own selves is, honestly, 

even more meagre and embarrassing.

You and I come to Mass, maybe we don’t really want to be here;

Maybe we are counting the minutes till we leave, 

Just going through the motions – and yes, I include myself here!

That’s who we are as frail, sinful people: we’re a poor offering!

But God works with that: down comes the Holy Spirit!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, after the consecration, 

the Body and Blood still have every appearance of bread and wine;

and this can be a challenge to our faith.

What do newly baptized Christians look like?

What do people fresh out of confession act like?

We trust that despite appearances,

the bread and wine truly and really become Jesus.

It’s even harder to see, yet necessary to believe, that similarly,

baptism and absolution in confession and reception of the Eucharist 

and the other sacraments truly make a real change in us.

We live in time and everything happens to us frame-by-frame;

God is eternal, and what seems to take forever to us 

is a blink of the eye for the Holy Trinity.

Parents get an inkling of this when you look at your children and think, 

oh, it was just the other day when they were babies – 

except that “other day” was a year, ten years, 18 years ago!

The Eucharist shows us what you and I are destined to be:

We are brought back into the Holy Trinity;

You and I are transformed into the Body of Christ!

Saint Augustine said, regarding receiving Holy Communion:

“Become what you receive.”

So today we pause to contemplate the work of the Holy Spirit

as He goes out from the Trinity, and renews and recreates everything; 

and we human beings are the primary recipient of this recreation.

No matter who you are, or where you are in your journey…

you may see your sins pile up to heaven;

or you look around at a world that seems spinning out of control…

you may think you haven’t got even a single clue on life or the future;

and you find it impossible to believe 

God can make you into anything worthwhile… 

No matter where you think you are, or how long a journey lies ahead,

the one place you know you are is in the loving gaze of your Father.

God created a beautiful world and put you into it;

then he put himself into you; 

so that you will be brought completely and fully 

into the fullness of God’s own life!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Leaving on a jet plane (Ascension + Confirmation homily)

I want to talk about the sacrament of confirmation today;
But we’re recalling the Ascension – so what’s the connection?

Well, it’s easier when you and I clear away the wrong ideas 
about the Ascension and get straight what’s going on.

A lot of the focus is, “Jesus gets to go back to heaven. Good for him!”
But that misses the point. Jesus in heaven is good for US. Why?
Remember, Jesus has made us part of him.
What did we hear just the other day? 
“I am the Vine, you are…the branches”:
We’re the body, he’s the head. We’re one with him.

There are plenty of times we find that hard to grasp;
And when you and I don’t act like we’re part of Jesus.
But that is what our Faith is, that’s what it is all about.
Therefore, where he goes, we go. He brings us along.

So the Ascension is not, “Bye Jesus, see you at the end of the world!”
But rather, Jesus says, “Let’s finish the trip: all aboard!”

So with that in mind, how does confirmation fit in?
Let’s keep going with the “going on a trip” analogy.
You get on an airplane, they check your ticket, right? 

That’s baptism: baptism puts you on the plane.
It’s a long flight, so they’ll feed you:
But this airplane food is the best: the Holy Eucharist!

What do they say when you get in your seat and about to take off?
Buckle your seat belt, right? Why? It may be bumpy. You’ll be OK.
And that’s confirmation! 
Confirmation lets you know: you’re where you belong, you’re solid.

Actually, confirmation does even more.
It unlocks the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit in each of us,
so that whatever our role on that airplane, we’ll have what we need.
Maybe you’re the pilot or navigator; or one of the flight attendants…

Maybe that’s what I am! I come around to see if you’re OK;
I give you the Holy Eucharist; if you’re feeling sick I anoint you!

Even as a passenger on the plane, you have a job to do.

Have you ever had to calm another passenger?
If there’s an emergency, you’re a doctor, you’re a nurse, you’re a priest:
They need your skills and your calm and your courage.
Confirmation is that sacrament that says, 
you’re part of the team, you’re ready to do your part.

Now, the good news is that on Jesus Airlines, the plane will get there! 
There are bumps and detours and complaints 
and the passengers don’t always behave well.
Nevertheless, the plane will get there.
Confirmation is all about empowering each of us to do our part.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

God's messy icon (Sunday homily)

 I want to start by talking about art – like a portrait or a mosaic; 

or, to use a term I’ll come back to in a moment, an icon.

What I’m describing is more than a snapshot or reproduction.

I can take a photo of you – click, done! Pretty simple. One dimension.

But art – whether with a camera or brush or chisel or something else – 

brings discovery of hidden depths 

and reveals something always there but not seen at first glance.

This is why really beautiful and profound art can seize our attention: 

it leads us into something bottomless in meaning: we stare and stare.

So with that in mind, let me quote something Pope Francis said 

in his encyclical, Amoris Laetitia: 

“The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon…

capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.”

This is a point Pope Saint John Paul II also made:

the family is an icon of the Holy Trinity. 

As awesome as all Creation, the stars of the universe are,

only the human being is made in the, quote, “image and likeness” of God; 

and that image and likeness is most fully revealed, 

not in a solitary human being, 

but when a man and woman are in communion; in a relationship. 

In a word, “family”; which begins with the couple, but – 

now circling back to Pope Francis’ words, 

a couple that “loves and begets life.”

Because a couple that doesn’t love, and isn’t open to life,

is not an icon at all, but the opposite: if you will, an “anti-icon” of God.

Last week I said I was going through each sacrament, so:

this week it is matrimony.

And while this Gospel isn’t focused on marriage, it sure applies:

Because when Jesus talks about love, 

he’s talking about, first, the divine love of the Trinity – 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – 

and this love reaching out to humanity 

and drawing us up into that divine love and life of God himself.

That’s what Jesus is saying: “as the Father loves me” – 

that’s divine love – “so I love you” – 

Jesus, coming down to our level, and catches us up into that divine love.

And then, if it’s totally clear yet, he says:

This love – human-becoming-divine love, is how we love one another.

Do you have a pet? You love your pet? 

That love is real; but try as you might, 

you can’t lift that faithful companion up to the human level.

And as real as the gap is between us and our pets, 

it’s nothing compared to the infinite distance between us and God.

You and I are not God’s “pets”! 

That would be a lot easier: we get fed, have fun, but no responsibility.

But that’s not God’s plan for us:

you and I are to be lifted up into the full reality of God’s own life.

We don’t have to understand what that means;

only take Jesus at his word that he has nothing less than that for us.

So we come back to the family.

Human beings made in God’s image:

we’re a receptacle, if you will, waiting for the Holy Spirit, 

to bring us all the way into that fullness of life.

And the icon that God painted is the family: father, mother, children.

That’s the lovely account; but we know the less-beautiful reality:

family life isn’t idyllic; 

couples do not endlessly gaze dewy-eyed at each other!

So how can married life be that icon?

And that’s the transformation that grace brings.

Grace is God’s life, poured into our lives, to make us like God;

and don’t be fooled by the pretty language:

grace is messy and painful and sloooow!

So if you find your own, personal journey of grace frustrating?

Fear not! That’s just it works. and the same with family, only moreso.

The struggles – of couples to stay in love, to deepen their love, 

and of parents, trying to be generous in welcoming children – is real.

Holy Matrimony is the messiest of sacraments!

There are so many possible points here, but time won’t allow it.

But first, however challenging, how can this icon of divine love – 

which a couple is – not be about life? So: it’s man and woman. Period.

And, how can that icon not be open to life? 

We use this euphemism, we call it “protection,” right?

Protection from what? From LIFE. 

Another point: isn’t it obvious that 

married couples can’t just coast through,

and – this is hard to say – must not harden their hearts to each other.

God’s destination is indeed beautiful, 

but we all know what ugliness can happen along the way.

And the message here is not – I repeat, IS NOT – 

that one spouse is obliged simply to put up with ugliness and cruelty.

Sometimes things get broken; and we don’t know how to fix them: because we aren’t God. 

That brings us to the Cross. Thank God for the Cross!

The Cross is for all those people 

who have messes that are, let’s say, “un-clean-up-able”;

whose wreckage seems unsalvageable:

because on the Cross, Jesus’ wounds aren’t “fixed,” right? He dies!

They kill him and that seems to be the end. Defeated. Done. Final.

No! He dies but rises again. And notice: he still has his wounds!

So I confess I do not know how some family struggles get healed.

But here’s what you and I both know is true: the Cross is our hope!

In the words of St. Francis, “in dying we are born to eternal life!”

And it is the very messiness of the sacrament of marriage and family that this truth is revealed.

Each of us enters life in a family – and it’s messy;

from the very first moment, and all the way through: messy!

But God chose this reality as the icon that manifest 

how his Divine Love enters and overcomes and transforms.

Thank you mothers; thank you couples, for being the icon of hope!

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Jesus with us is the ultimate healing (Sunday homily)

 You may not have noticed, but every Sunday since Easter, 

we’ve looked at a different sacrament. 

Baptism on Easter; Confession on Divine Mercy Sunday. 

The Holy Eucharist a week later, 

when our second graders made their First Communion. 

Last Sunday, Deacon Ethan Hoying 

gave an outstanding homily on Holy Orders. 

And as he explained, bringing the sacraments to God’s People 

is what bishops, priests and deacons are meant to do, 

because the reason men become priests and deacons 

is to get people to heaven; 

and the sacraments are God’s toolbox for getting to heaven.

So now you’re wondering, what’s this week’s sacrament?

When I thought about this Gospel – it speaks of “pruning,” 

which sounds painful, 

and people being cut off from the life of the vine,

that made me think of what happens when we’re ill.

So as you might guess: 

I’m going to talk about the Sacrament of Anointing

Let’s talk about what it’s like to be really sick.

Until you have been there, it’s hard to appreciate 

what a blow it can be when you lose your health.

Not just that you can’t do something or that you feel bad; 

but you’re cut off from others or from your normal routine. 

In fact, you’re cut off from yourself, as you’ve known yourself.

What do people say? “I don’t feel like myself.”

Every kid knows what that’s like to spend several days in bed, 

while you know your friends are swimming 

or playing baseball or riding their bikes. 

Even two or three days of that is torture.

But, at that age, you assume you’ll get back out there sooner or later.

Later in life, at a certain point, you get laid low, and then you wonder: 

will I get back to who I was? 

Losing that sense of yourself can be devastating,

when you suddenly can’t be who you’ve always been.

You can feel as worthless as branch thrown aside to wither.

So it’s really important to hear what Jesus said and let it sink in; 

and doubly, triply important, when you’re sick or weakened by age:

“Without me you can do nothing.”

As important a gift as good health is, that isn’t what gives us value.

What makes you and me count is that Jesus chose us;

Jesus came for us; Jesus died for us; 

Jesus wants you and me to be part of him, now and forever!

The Sacrament of Anointing is meant for those 

who are facing serious illness, serious threats to their life.

Nowhere does the Church say you must wait until your final breaths; 

but that’s often how people think of this sacrament.

That’s how the movies depict it – 

because a priest will give the sacrament of anointing 

even right at the end. Why?

Because this sacrament is intended for healing.

Physical healing is possible – I’ve seen it happen.

So precisely when things are desperate, 

of course we’ll pray for a miracle. That’s what Christians do. 

So one takeaway here, for everyone; please remember this:

Anyone facing a serious illness or condition can be anointed.

By “serious” I mean, a situation that is dangerous, uncertain.

You don’t have to wait and wait. Call me if you want this sacrament.

This sacrament offers healing; the most important healing 

is knowing Jesus is right there with you.

“I am the Vine,” he says: “you are the branches.”

That’s a very comforting thought, isn’t it? 

Especially when you put that together with the Cross;

Because it means he’s where we are.

You’re in trouble: he’s there; you’re sick, he’s with you.

If you’re dying – and that day lies ahead for everyone – 

You are not alone!

What does Jesus want? “Remain in me,” he tells us.

That is what our Faith is all about.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Why can't a Protestant come to Communion (Part 5)

After I posted a link on Facebook to my series of posts entitled, "Why can't a Protestant come to Communion," I got a question on Facebook about it -- the gist of which was, but didn't Jesus offer himself to everyone? So how is what we do with Holy Communion consistent with that.

So I thought I'd share, here, what my response was, edited a little and hopefully improved as a result:

Let me ask you to examine your premises. You say, "...not sharing Jesus’s body and blood with everyone at Mass [is] ... not what Jesus did... He gave Himself to all who came to Him." But is this true? Did Jesus actually give his Body and Blood to "all who came to him"? And also, how do you, in the year 2021, even know such a thing? You might say, the Bible - but there is a lot the Bible doesn't tell us, so that's not enough. Here's what we do know: that the first Christians did not do what you claim Jesus did. They absolutely did not give the Holy Eucharist to anyone whether they were baptized, whether they were Christians, or not. This we do know very well. 

The early Christians did what Catholics and Orthodox (and many Protestants) do today: admit to the Holy Eucharist those who are baptized and who are "in communion" with the Church. That's what the early Church did. Now, I ask you this: who, presumably, is likely to have a better handle on what Jesus himself wanted, and what the Apostles themselves did: those early Christians? Or you and me, 2,000 years later? I think the answer is obvious: those early Christians are far more likely to be in sync with Jesus and the Apostles, because they were there.

Now, as I said, the Bible does not present itself as answering all the questions about what Jesus said and did; on the contrary, in the Gospel of John, it says that Jesus said and did lots of things that aren't mentioned. These were shared with the Apostles but not written down. 

But let's look at what the Bible does say. Only one time for certain (but maybe 2 or 3 times) Jesus actually gave his Body and Blood to others. That was the Last Supper. And notice what it said: he gave it "to his disciples" -- who he chose carefully beforehand, and specifically invited to that meal. Those disciples had been with him up to 3 years before that event. 

So on that Scriptural record, it is simply not true to say that Jesus gave his Body and Blood to anyone and everyone. Not so. He carefully chose a specific group and gathered them and then said, "Take, eat, this is my Body..." You could argue that after the Resurrection, he again shared his Body and Blood with the same group, based on the Gospels, but that can be debated. But what nowhere appears in Scripture is Jesus giving his Body and Blood to anyone and everyone. The stories of the sharing of bread and fish is not a sharing to the Holy Eucharist, but a foreshadowing of it. 

Also, remember that "Last" (or really, "First") Supper was a celebration of the Passover, which Jesus remade into the "new and everlasting covenant." It's not clear to English-speakers because we use the term "Easter," but almost all the rest of the Christians in the world call it "Passover"! So it is worthwhile to go into the Bible and the traditions of the Jewish people to discover the roots of Passover. And what you will find was that once again, it wasn't just anyone and everyone who could share in the Passover; you had to be circumcised and become part of the Household of Israel. No, I'm not advocating circumcision! But I'm saying that this goes to your supposition that Jesus shared the Eucharist with everyone and anyone. That's not what the Passover was, and that's not -- from all evidence we have -- how the early Christians understood the new Passover, which we call the Mass.