Sunday, November 28, 2021

What is 'Kingdom Justice'? (Sunday homily)

 As I said last week, this time of year – Advent and Christmas – 

is all about pointing toward the Kingdom Jesus will one day establish.

Today, I want to talk about the first reading mentions: JUSTICE.

What is Kingdom Justice?

God’s Justice is complete in a way human justice cannot be.

We have a “justice system”: 

police, courts, lawyers, judges, and prisons.

It isn’t perfect; it gets abused sometimes.

“We the people” are ultimately in charge,

and if we get mad enough, and mobilized enough,

you and I can change those laws and the judges and the prosecutors.

This is a good time to make a key point:

As Christians, it is our duty 

to bring as much of God’s justice as we can into this world. 

You and I cannot make this world perfect, 

but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better than it is.

And one of the things we will answer for, before God, 

is whether we made any attempts, whether we ever lifted our voice, 

or put ourselves out to bring more justice, more healing, in our world.

Even when our system of justice is at its best,

no human process or punishment can undo the injuries done.

At the end of the road, we send someone to prison,

or perhaps even execute someone.

As you know, the last several popes and our bishops 

have called for abolition of the death penalty if possible.

The reason is not that some people don’t deserve the worst penalty – 

because some certainly do deserve it –

but because killing people, if we don’t have to, 

doesn’t help us respect the dignity of human life.

But the main point I want to make is that in the end, 

the most our justice system can do is punish. 

We call prisons “penitentiaries,” in hope of bringing reform. 

But if you take a close look at prison life – if you can stomach it – 

you will see how powerless you and I are at bringing true justice.

Terrible people go to prison and they hone their skills at evil.

The good news is that some people do experience grace in prison.

They hit bottom and finally call out to God.

God’s justice isn’t only punishment, but healing.

God’s justice is holiness and wholeness.

There is no criminal so vile that God does not long to restore.

It’s very hard to comprehend how God does this.

There is both the human side and the God side of the process.

The part we understand is that sin and wrong do need punishment, 

there do need to be consequences. 

Sometimes – I emphasize, sometimes – this happens in this life.

People may seem to get off easy, but God is not fooled.

This is the mercy of purgatory – and I emphasize, mercy!  

Purgatory is the perfect example of God’s justice, 

in contrast to human justice,  

because purgatory isn’t only punishment, it is healing.

Think of the thief on the cross, dying next to Jesus.

We don’t know what crimes he committed, 

but they could be the most horrendous you can imagine. 

The human side was, he was punished – terribly!

But then there’s the divine side:

God was nailed to the Cross next to that thief!

It wasn’t an accident: Jesus chose to die with and for that man!

That’s the God side. You and I could never pay what we owe.

God pays for us!

Two criminals died with Jesus that day, on either side.

One rejected him and all he offered.

The other cried out for mercy and was told, 

This day you will be with me in Paradise!

Does that mean the good thief had no purgatory?

No. He was crucified, so that may have been his purgatory.

Or, for all we know, his purgatory and ours 

takes but an instant in earthly terms. 

So finally, we come to the frightening scene in the Gospel.

The upheaval it shows is what happens when God’s Justice meets worldly injustice! 

But notice Jesus says, you and I can stand before him, unafraid! 


On that day, we need not be ashamed, 

if we chose to stand for His Justice, and to live it,

while we wait and pray for the coming of his Kingdom.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

To enter the Kingdom requires radical conversion (Christ the King homily)

 Today is the feast of Christ the King and then we go into Advent.

I know you’ve heard people say, 

Advent is about preparing for Christmas.

But the truth is, Advent isn’t primarily about Christmas.

When you hear the readings next week,

they are going to sound a lot like this week’s readings,.

and they aren’t about the birth of Jesus.

Rather, we heard just now about the end of time,

when Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,

brings down the final curtain on this world.

The truth is, Advent does NOT point to Christmas.

Advent and Christmas both point to what today is about: the Kingdom.

So, I decided that would be a good theme for a series of homilies.

As we head toward Christmas, I invite you to reflect on the Kingdom.

What is the Kingdom?  What do we mean by that?

We’ll have some Bible-study materials available from Scott Hahn, 

which will fill in a lot of interesting background from the Scriptures.

But let’s start with words you and I pray daily, 

“thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

First, notice those words from the Lord’s Prayer:

We pray that when Jesus reigns, earth and heaven will be united, 

and God’s ways will rule earth the same way God rules heaven.

That’s not true now.

Also, did you notice in the opening prayer, 

it referred to “restor(ing) all things, 

and freeing “the whole creation…from slavery”?

In a few minutes, when I am at the altar, 

you’ll hear reference to “a kingdom of truth and life…

a kingdom of holiness and grace…justice, love and peace.”

These are some glimpses of what the Kingdom is about.

Let’s focus in on the Gospel, because it shows, if you will,

the two Kingdoms face-to-face: the Kingdom of this world, 

and the Kingdom of God.

It’s a shame this Gospel reading stops where it does.

After Jesus said, “I came to bear witness to the truth,”

what did Pilate say back, remember? “What is truth?”

If that isn’t the perfect statement of this world’s values!

It’s a shame to say it, but just because CNN, NBC, and even Fox, 

all call themselves “News,” 

that is no guarantee that what they disseminate 

has any close connection to the truth!

It’s not just the media! There are a lot of us who are oh-so-ready 

to believe and spread dirt when it confirms our biases. 

What do we say? “Oh, I just knew it!”

In a kingdom of truth, justice and love, 

we are SLOW to believe the worst. 

And even slower to repeat it, and never revel in it.

Keep looking at this confrontation between Pilate and Jesus.

Pilate has thousands of soldiers at his command.

He can – and will – have Jesus beaten and killed.

And he’s just one part of a vast machine of cruelty.

That’s worldly power. That’s the Kingdom of Man.

And yet Pilate hesitates. 

He is standing before a reality he cannot comprehend.

Why doesn’t this “king” defend himself? 

How could he possibly defeat almighty Rome?

And how can this Jesus be so calm, while I am quaking?

Did Pilate realize that all the things 

he counted as “strength” were utterly powerless?

Jesus is unshaken because he knows Pilate’s moment will be brief.

The same with Rome and every other human ambition.

His strategy is not to break backs but to change hearts.

His army is the martyrs. His most powerful weapon is forgiveness!

Jesus was barely comprehensible to Pilate, 

but that should not surprise us. 

When you look out through worldly eyes, 

God’s ways are, indeed, going to look very strange.

So, this week’s lesson of the Kingdom 

is that to enter it means conversion. 

Meaning, you see differently. 

And you end up at sharp angles to worldly values.

I am not talking about a slight course correction.

A lot of folks think to be a Christian just means 

adding a little prayer and religious talk, 

a baptism here, a first communion and confirmation there, 

and putting in some hours at Mass through the year

if it doesn’t conflict with something that is actually important!

Doing just enough to keep your spouse happy and look respectable.

Boy, are they wrong! They could never stand before Pilate!

And I don’t even mean the Pilate in the Gospel.

How about the Pilate at work who says, “so, you’re a Catholic, huh?”

Or at school who mocks the Rosary to see if anyone says anything.

The Kingdom of Pilate is respectable. It’s how the world works.

Or you can have that so-called king who is abandoned, 

who the crowd is laughing at, 

who looks like a freak compared to Pilate!

Sunday, November 14, 2021

What is the very best sign God can give? (Sunday homily)

 Throughout time, there have always been people scavenging 

for every possible clue for God’s timetable for the future.

Today’s Gospel is, as they say, “red meat” for that hunger. 

People want to know how this world will end, and the new ushered in.

In short, people want signs. Show me a sign, they kept telling Jesus.

In our time, if people hear about a statue crying,

or someone shares a picture of a miraculous tortilla,

everyone comes from all over to see it.

And these things can be genuine. Or not. I can’t say.

What I can say is this. You want a sign?

Jesus has already given you and me 

the best of all signs, the absolute best. 

There is nothing greater he can still give than what he’s already given. 

He came. He died. He rose from the dead!

He sent his Apostles and others in his name,

telling them: “Do THIS in memory of me.”

I’m talking about the Holy Mass. The Most Holy Eucharist!

You want a sign?

That’s the absolute best you can get.

There is no need for anything more. 

Jesus’ gift of the Eucharist 

is as full and complete a confirmation as God can give.

The only “more” we can hope for is heaven itself. 

This weekend we are having Forty Hours, 

with the Lord Jesus on the altar to adore.

Use your imagination now.

If the monstrance were on the altar right now, 

you would see the pale, white disc of the Sacred Host. 

This truly is Jesus’ Body and Blood. No shilly-shallying around. 

The Eucharist is Jesus, himself.

Yes, while retaining the physical qualities of bread or wine, 

but after all, would you really prefer to see bloody flesh?

In your mind, see the Sacred Host, as if he were on the altar now.

And what if you and I could step up to the monstrance, 

and do what Alice in the story, Alice in Wonderland, did.

Remember that? She drew close to the mirror and stepped through it.

What if somehow you and I could “step into” 

the monstrance on the altar, and pass beyond?

Where would we be? The answer is heaven! Heaven!

You want a “sign”? The Eucharist is Jesus: 

the fullness of God and all his promises. There is nothing more.

On Christmas we might look around for one more present.

But no, there is nothing more to look for than the Eucharist!

So, if you ever have said, God give me a sign!

Show me, prove to me, that you love me, 

that I matter, that I can dare to hope: 

the Most Holy Eucharist is that sign!

This is “Vocations Awareness” week.

Everyone knows we need more priests, more religious.

There are so many young men I’ve watched grow up.

From my perspective, I think you’d be fine priests, and I’ve told you so.

I stop bringing it up when you bring your fiancé by to meet me!

But I can’t really know. Only God can give that call.

What I want to say is, men, if you want to make a difference,

if you want to leave a legacy and change lives,

being a priest is an awesome way to do it.

And you are privileged to be right there, at the altar – 

and, just as much, at the Upper Room, 

and at the Cross, and at the empty tomb.

He is the “Sign” of all signs.

You get to be the bringer, the sharer, of this Sign.

I won’t kid you. There’s work. There’s sadness and sacrifice.

There’s times of tedium and misunderstanding.

But, oh what a life! You get to be his companion along the way!

And I want to say about the religious life for brothers and sisters.

The task of those in religious life is likewise to be a sign.

Not THE Sign; that’s Jesus. You are the “sign of the Sign.”

Your vows are all about trying to live – as fully as possible – 

a life full of heaven while here on earth.

Now, I’m going to say here something “politically incorrect.”

Some of our religious orders have lost their way.

Don’t let that discourage you. 

There are many communities that are 

full of zeal and joy to know Jesus and make him known.

To serve others in so many ways.

They don’t hide who they are, 

and the center of their common life is the Holy Eucharist.

It’s not for everyone. But if some part of you longs for…MORE, 

then maybe it’s the religious life you hunger for.

And if you don’t at least TRY it, you’ll always wonder, what if?

If you call me, I’ll get you connected.

Don’t worry, they don’t lock you in the convent or seminary!

And I’m not going to start calling you like a telemarketer!

In a moment, we’ll witness the wonder of Jesus offering himself 

on the Cross and at the same time, on the altar.

And then if we are ready, spiritually – I mean, in a state of grace – 

He gives himself to us. Total gift. All of God and heaven.

All of love. All of hope. All there is to give!

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

If the National (not very) Catholic Reporter could be embarrassed...

This article, "What makes our bishops think they own the Eucharist?" would do it. Alas. 

Let's look at this penetrating commentary together, shall we?

To be fair, headlines are usually written by the editor, who clearly was too busy, or else he/she/they/it/erm would surely have seen greater merit in other options:

"You can't make me!"

"Who died and made you the boss of us, bishops?"

"I know you are but what am I?"

But if we ascribe to this mindset a seriousness that is doubtfully there, we might translate this headline to, "Why do the bishops think they get to make these decisions?" But of course, that takes Marianne Duddy-Burke nowhere she wants to go. Who did Jesus put in charge of his Church? The Apostles. And guess who succeeds them? Er ... the bishops? But gosh, the NCR still has a lot of space to fill; now what?

Ms./Mr./Mx. Duddy-Burke is terribly concerned with people not receiving Holy Communion if they "support legal abortion" or redefining marriage and other things. But Duddy-Burke thinks it's entirely too silly a question to even ask why any of these things (or anything else) would even raise an issue of someone not being allowed to receive Holy Communion. Which raises the first question I'd want to ask these folks who get the vapors at the thought of a politician or anyone being denied communion:

"Are there ever any circumstances under which a bishop rightfully ought to bar giving someone Holy Communion?" But of course Duddy-Burke and the NCR crowd never, never poses this question. Why so incurious?

Because, of course, that again leads somewhere they do not want to go; namely, to a discussion of just what those situations might be; and why facilitating the destruction of unborn children isn't worthy to include in that list.

Instead, Duddy-Burke takes us on a tour of church history. According to her, in those happy, olden-golden days of yore, "What we now know as Holy Communion originated in a home-based religious ritual, the Passover Seder, which is still a sacred celebration marked by Jews and friends in their homes."

And, of course, there was never any question of allowing absolutely everyone to take part in the Passover seder -- everyone knows that! Right?

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: This is the Passover statute. No foreigner may eat of it. However, every slave bought for money you will circumcise; then he may eat of it. But no tenant or hired worker may eat of it. It must be eaten in one house; you may not take any of its meat outside the house.k You shall not break any of its bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate this feast. If any alien residing among you would celebrate the Passover for the LORD, all his males must be circumcised, and then he may join in its celebration just like the natives. But no one who is uncircumcised may eat of it (Exodus 12:43-48).

Oops. Well, maybe Duddy-Burke needs to do a little more studying. She/he/yrm may want to check out the Didache, from the period she is describing:

But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs  (Chapter 9).

Or St. Justin Martyr:

The Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. 

Oops again!

Well, Duddy-Burke is not faint of heart, and plows on, rejecting seeing "the Eucharist ... as something we 'receive,' rather than something we are vitally and essentially part of creating, sharing, and responding to. Something we are — the body of Christ." Not wrong; but a little fuzzy. She also laments that the Eucharist came to be "administered only by the clerical caste," whereas rightfully, quoting theologian Thomas Groome, the Eucharist "is the work of the whole community. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the community, the assembly acts in union with Christ to realize again the Risen One's eucharistic presence in its midst."

Say, did you notice something? No mention of a priest being involved in the Eucharist! How about that! Look again: it's the "whole community," the "assembly," "in union with Christ" that confects the Eucharist.

How about that! I can go to brunch on Sundays!

But this raises a question for Duddy-Burke: if you don't need a priest to have the Eucharist, why are you complaining? According to you, you can stay home, with your friends, and have a nice seder-sort-of-meal, and have the Eucharist. No meanie bishops being mean to "shroud" everything with "mystery and taboo." Scary!

Seriously: why does Duddy-Burke even care what those dastardly bishops and their "clerical caste" have to say? Everyone can have the Eucharist any way he/she/gorm wants!

Shorter Duddy-Burke article:

D-B: You mean, terrible bishops, you won't let me and my friends have the Eucharist!
Bishops: But you just said you don't need us; you can celebrate the Eucharist without us.
D-B: Haters! (Blocked on twitter.)

Sunday, November 07, 2021

What will you put at risk for Christ? (Sunday homily)

 The Gospel we just heard poses a very simple question, 

but it cuts deep, right to our very core: 

how much are you and I willing to give to Jesus Christ?

It’s not necessarily a matter of money. 

The widow in the Gospel didn’t just give a donation. 

As Jesus said, she gave everything she had to live on. 

She put everything on the line.

How much will we put on the line?

Blessed John Newman, the great English protestant 

who became Catholic, gave a sermon one time 

in which he posed a similar question. 

He asked whether we are really putting anything at risk for our faith. 

And he made the point that quite a lot of us 

probably would make most of the same decisions, 

whether we believe in Jesus Christ or not. 

We would probably have the same job, the same life, and so forth.

That is really quite a question, isn’t it?

What can you and I point to in our choices, in our lives,

that really is different, because we follow Jesus?

Many of our parents have rejected contraception, 

and made other sacrifices in welcoming more children 

and in making sure they have time to be with their children,

to give them every advantage as followers of Jesus.

They are thinking not only of this world, but the world to come.

There are spouses who struggle, but they hang in, to keep their vows.

I can imagine there are folks in business who have made decisions 

that no one else knows about, taking a loss or forgoing extra profit.

There are probably many stories that could be told – 

but we don’t tell the stories – 

about forgiving a wrong, enduring mockery, taking the harder path, 

because of the words of Christ and for love of him.

Still, there’s that widow. Not a rich person. A poor widow. 

She gave not just something, but everything she had.

At this moment, I really think I’m in the way; 

I’m interrupting a conversation 

which is really between each of us, and Jesus himself. 

He’s the one who makes the invitation.

He is the one who calls us: 

come, follow me – and Peter and Andrew, James and John 

left their nets; their livelihood; everything they had.

Jesus calls you. 

Your Creator and Redeemer speaks to you as only he can. 

He has prepared your life and given you your gifts. 

What will you answer?

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Who (or what) do you love? (Sunday homily)

Let’s dive into this Gospel reading a bit with a couple of questions.

First, what actually does it mean to “love”?

Answer: love is not a mere emotion, a rush of blood to your . . . face.

It’s not simply a flutter in your stomach. 

Love is a choice.

Love is a fundamental commitment to the good of the other person.

So, whether I am talking about loving my family, my friends, 

my country, a stranger, or even my enemy, it’s the same: 

willing the good of the other person.

But now we have a puzzle: how does this apply to God?

When you and I say we “love” God, how, exactly?

What good can I will for God?

God has every perfection; he needs nothing at all, 

that I can either give him or want him to have.

Part of the answer is that God points us to our fellow man, as if to say, 

I don’t need anything; but look around: 

there are hungry people, folks who are in crisis,

children who are abandoned, 

people suffering from poverty or injustice or violence. 

You want to love Me, God says? Love them in my name.

So, today, after Mass, you can do this 

by picking up some pans and recipes for making casseroles.

I think it’s a good guess that of the 700 hundred or so folks 

who will come to Mass here this weekend, 

at least half of us are old enough to make a casserole. 

Two casseroles aren’t much harder than one.

Making even four casseroles isn’t that difficult.

So, I really think St. Remy could generate 1,000 casseroles.

Let’s see if we can hit 500 this time!

That said, there are those who have tried to boil down 

the first commandment, “Love God,” 

to the second commandment, “Love they neighbor.”

But if that were all there is to it, then Jesus would have said that.

So there’s still the question: how do you and I actually love God?

And I think part of the answer has to be, to love God as God, meaning, 

to adore God, to worship God, to bend the knee to him.

Thus, the first of the Ten Commandments says, 

“I am the Lord your God; you shall not have any other gods.”

There are those who say, I don’t see why I am obligated to go to Mass, 

I don’t need this – and I suspect some here have said this at times:

the answer is, Yes, you and I do need to go to Mass.

I’d like to take more time on this next point, but I will say briefly,

Notice I said, go to MASS, not merely, “go to church.”

It’s not about the building but about Jesus offering himself for us 

to the Father. That’s what Holy Mass IS.

Reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, meditating on God’s Creation – 

these are good things, but nothing compares to the Holy Mass.

Many people have legitimate challenges in getting to Mass, 

but a lot of the time, it’s because the wrong thing is put first.

Humanity needs to worship God. 

If we do not worship God, we will end up worshipping something worse.

Or as Bob Dylan sang, “You gotta serve somebody.”

My German ancestors ran around the Black Forest 

worshipping nature and trees. Sound familiar?

We are all in favor of safeguarding the environment, 

but do you think some people take it too far?

There’s actually a thing called the “Extinction Movement.”

You know what that’s about? Our extinction: no more humans!

No, we don’t have temples with idols dotting the landscape, 

but that doesn’t mean you and I aren’t tempted to worship other gods.

It can be money or success or power or wrath, 

but eventually it gets revealed as worshipping ourselves, our own will.

We Americans love to emphasize freedom, 

but that too can become an idol. 

Consider how the self-will has been lifted so high, 

that if you make a joke I don’t like, that’s called “violence.”

Consider the “transgender” phenomenon. 

Let’s acknowledge that real people are experiencing 

an alienation from themselves – it’s not clear why, 

but it really happens and it creates real pain and suffering.

So, I’m not making light of this.

That said, we’re at a point where the supposed answer is,

you and I get to create a bubble of our own reality around ourselves.

I’m going to change my pronouns, and you must agree! 

We’re making a god of the will to the point 

that I can create my own universe, 

superior to the objective world around us!

People experiencing gender confusion deserve better than that.

What happens when we don’t worship God? We worship something else.

And you may scoff and say, that doesn’t affect me, 

but our government is determined that it will. 

And that’s only one way we go wrong.

To repeat: if you and I don’t worship the one, true God, 

then we will worship something else.