Sunday, May 29, 2022

Ascension - Mass - Heaven (Sunday homily)

 The feast of the Ascension is NOT about Jesus leaving us. 

Rather, it’s about where Jesus wants to take us: 

he goes ahead and, as he said, he prepares a place for us.

The Ascension is about heaven; Jesus wants to take us to heaven.

It’s the exact same thing with Holy Mass.

It is about getting us to heaven.

Not everyone really gets this. 

For one, way too many people take heaven for granted.

And if you do that, Mass doesn’t really make much sense.

It would be like going into court, facing a trial, 

but there’s no chance of a guilty verdict. 

Then there’s no meaning. You could sleep through the whole case.

So it is for many people coming to Mass.

Since heaven is certain, Mass is a big bore.

Or we come expecting to hear something inspiring.

Or our goal is to reflect a little. Or to see friends.

A lot of people expect Mass to lift their mood.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these objectives; 

but none of these is the point of Mass.

Which means, by the way: if these goals don’t happen –

if you aren’t inspired, if you can’t have quiet reflection, 

if you don’t see any friendly faces, 

and you don’t come out of church feeling bubbly –

that doesn’t mean you, quote, “didn’t get anything out of Mass.”

It means, rather, you misunderstood what Mass is actually about.

The Mass is about getting us to heaven.

And that, in turn, means you and I must change; 

and that means, probably – Ha! Almost certainly – 

changing in a major way!

See? That’s why people prefer to think heaven is a lock.

Because then they don’t need to face the need to change.

What Holy Mass does, just like the Cross, is to confront us.

It is like a mirror, showing us our desperate need.

And only then is Jesus’ offering on the Cross good news!

You’re drowning! I’m here to save you! Good news!

But not if I say, “Who’s drowning? I’m not drowning! Cough! Cough!”

The point I’m trying to make here is this:

There is something powerful, electric, going on.

Something more dramatic than anything you and I can imagine.

We might think of a frightening thunderstorm, rocking the house.

Or the cascade of shocking news, hour upon hour on TV.

Or the real suffering of people in our own lives.

Still, beyond all these very real, very human trials,

is the greatest drama of all, which is no less real, 

despite being mostly invisible to us.

That is the fate of my soul, and yours, and the souls of humanity.

If you’ve ever been bored at Mass – I’ll confess and raise my hand!

Then I’m offering you a remedy.

Remind yourself what is at stake, what is actually happening, 

even though it is, as I said, not visible to us.

You can’t see him on the Cross. You can’t see him rising from death.

You can’t see him returning to his throne at the center of all things.

But let me point out what you do see, and hear, and say:

You hear Jesus say, “this is my body, given up for you.”

“This is the chalice of my blood, a new and eternal covenant.”

“This is for you,” he says.

In time, he then went to the Cross and offered himself.

And in mystical realm that embraces all time, 

this offering is not merely past; 

it’s past, and yet we’re present to it; it’s still active.

Holy Mass is our portal into this reality beyond time.

What you see, at Mass, is the priest raise up the Body and the Blood.

Very important: no longer merely bread or wine, but the Son of God! 

And the priest, and, in a way, the Son himself, and in a way, we – say,

“Through him, with him, in him”: this is the offering to the Father.

This is what gives us salvation! This is the entirety of our hope!

Again, this is hope for us if we will let God change us.

This is why receiving Holy Communion 

without repenting and confessing our mortal sins is so awful. 

It’s a sacrilege against this salvation, because we’re saying, in effect: 

I don’t need to change. God must change.

Now, we know all that happens at Mass. It’s so familiar.

But what if we didn’t?

What if you and I could hear and witness this as if for the first time,

as if we didn’t know what the outcome would be?

Ask God for that grace.

And as we recall his Ascension, this is not a “going away” party.

Rather, the Great High Priest is bringing the drama of salvation 

to the next chapter. 

This isn’t about him going from “here” to “there.”

Jesus hasn’t, really, gone anywhere.

It’s about him reorienting everything toward heaven.

Here’s there; he’s here. 

And right now is that phase of history 

in which “here” and “there” slowly become one.

That conversion of all things is what you and I must be part of.

Thank God, the Holy Spirit is poured into our lives to make it happen!

Our task – simple yet big enough – is to accept that help.

Then you and I we’ll be part of that glorious future. That’s heaven. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The City of God (Sunday homily)

 In the second reading we have the new Jerusalem, 

the city of God.

The thing about a city – or, even a rural area like ours –

is there is a lot of interdependence.

When I got up this morning, I wanted water, I turned the knob.

Food for lunch in the fridge. A/C hummed all night.

But all those wonderful things only happen 

because of those who run the water plant, 

maintain the electric lines, and who bring food to the store.  

The City of God works the same way. We belong together.

Our American way of thinking emphasizes individualism.

We like being free to do as we wish.

So a lot of Catholics tend to think about faith 

as being an individual thing.

And when we, or our bishops, talk about the obligations 

of being a Catholic, it doesn’t always register.

I think this explains why so many don’t go to confession.

Why can’t we just tell God? 

And the answer is because our sins don’t just involve God, 

they involve his Body, the Church.

And so, also, our reconciliation is in and through the Church.

Most of us were born American citizens,

but if you talk to people who are naturalized, 

they’ll tell you about the many steps they took, 

and they’ll talk about how powerful it was 

to swear their allegiance and become a citizen.

Well, it’s even more true with baptism. 

That’s why we renew our baptismal vows at Easter, 

and why we profess our Creed each Sunday. 

And being a citizen in God’s City, the Church,

Means we live our lives in our Faith and by our Faith.

When you think of it that way, 

how can we have a part of our lives we live outside the City?

And yet, that’s where a lot of Catholics are. 

Go on the Internet--get outside; 

how we run our business, or treat other people, 

how we shop or how we vote: we go outside the City.

And this is why we come here every Lord’s Day.

This is where the city we are not yet--

but which God is fashioning us to be--is made present.

This city doesn’t have a mayor; we have a King.

And the King is here! Of course, we come!

If you read further in the book of Revelation, 

you’ll see that in the center of that City is a Tree, 

“the Tree of Life” – and it gives fruit 

“for the nations 12 months a year.”

That Tree is the Cross. 

That Tree, the Cross, is made present at every Mass on the altar.

The fruit of that tree is the Most Holy Eucharist!

This church, right here: we’re in the City of God right now!

Of course, we come!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Let Mary be your companion (May Crowning)

 We honor Mary, which is quite right to do, 

because of her amazing generosity: she said yes to God. 

We honor her because she acted at the great fulcrum of history: 

everything that matters for us hinged on her yes to heaven. 

So, we have St. Bernard, who wrote a moving appeal 

to the Blessed Mother, as if he – and all humanity – 

were watching in the wings as Gabriel came to her. 

He says, answer boldly, don’t be afraid to answer, we all beg it of you!

Or, we have a Protestant poet, Wordsworth, 

who described Mary as our “tainted nature’s solitary boast,” 

and I confess those words bring tears to my eyes 

every time I call them to mind.

My point being to describe – and defend – 

our extravagant honors to Mary.

I might add, in passing here, that sometimes our friends and family 

who are not Catholic do not understand this. 

They think it goes too far and they suggest we are worshipping Mary 

in a way that only God is to be worshipped.

I want to answer those objections, as someone who – 

when I was in my 20s – would have made those very same arguments! 

Because in my 20s, I was away from the Church 

and bought into many of those ideas.

Let me point out, first, that if you understand clearly 

what IS Catholic worship, 

you will realize how wrong it is to say we worship Mary.

What, after all, is the heart and center of Catholic worship? 

What are we all commanded to do at least on Sundays, 

but attend Holy Mass? And Holy Mass is offered every single day. 

Here is something you will never see; indeed, it makes me shudder 

to think of it: you will never, not ever, see a Catholic Mass 

offered TO Mary. 

When the priest lifts up the Body and Blood, what does he say: 

“Through him, with him, in him, O God almighty Father, 

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is YOURS, 

forever and ever.”

There it is: the Mass is offered TO THE FATHER, 

through JESUS, “in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Never, not ever, will you hear a priest say these words to MARY. 

Likewise, we believe that as the consummation of Mass – 

if we are in a state of grace, we receive the Eucharist – 

which is Jesus of course. 

But here’s a great way to explain our devotion to Mary. 

We worship Jesus – particularly in the Eucharist. 

But we know that without Mary, there would be no Eucharist. 

She gave us his Body and Blood, when she conceived him in her womb! 

So while we ADORE Jesus, we are GRATEFUL to Mary.

The other point I want to make is this. 

In a prayer of dedication used at baptisms, it says, “our love for you” – 

that is, Mary – “is only a participation in the love of Jesus for you.” There it is.

Who can doubt that Jesus’ own love for his mother 

must be more intense than a thousand suns? 

Each of us feels such great gratitude and love for our own parents, 

who can ever imagine Jesus feeling any less? 

Indeed, it surely must be far, far MORE than our love can ever be.

So I will just say that if you think Catholics get silly 

in our love for Mary, 

all you really have to do is think long and hard 

about how much Jesus must love his own mother. 

She who, after all, was mocked by people who ridiculed her claim 

that the Holy Spirit caused her pregnancy. 

She who suffered in so many ways 

as a result of being the mother of the Messiah, 

and the worst of it, of course, 

was seeing her son tortured and murdered. 

Who could ever bear such a thing?

And what son could see his mother so tormented, 

and not feel a gratitude and love beyond all description? 

If you think Jesus could behold that 

and not love Mary beyond all words, you are basically saying 

he had no human heart at all, but was some sort of emotionless robot.

So, our friends who mean well when they say we overdo it, 

while intending only to honor Jesus, actually end up – 

again, unintentionally – diminishing him. 

But back to the main point which is this.

Yes, we honor Mary, we thank her, we love her. 

But do not make the mistake of thinking she is unapproachable. 

That she is simply to be admired. That would, indeed, go too far.

Mary is a companion, as are all the saints. 

As we are called to be to each other. 

The Scriptures always show her companionship. 

Immediately, she went to visit Elizabeth and Zachariah, 

no doubt because she learned her relative was six months pregnant. 

She accompanied Joseph and Jesus to Egypt 

and to Jerusalem for Passover. 

She and Joseph searched for Jesus when he was missing. 

After Joseph died, 

Mary was with her son and his companions constantly, 

right up until the day he died. 

She was with the apostles, praying for the Holy Spirit, 

in the days after Jesus ascended into heaven. 

And remember, Jesus gave Mary to the Apostle John to care for, 

and tradition tells us that is what he did, 

until her life on earth ended and her body was taken to heaven.

Surely she, too, cared for John?

What I invite you to do is remember this prayer book in the pews – 

on page XX you will find a litany to Mary. 

Some of the titles are obscure – 

although you can look them up online if you like – 

but many are perfectly understandable. 

They are invitations for you 

to see her as a companion in your own troubles:

“Mother most amiable” – that means friendly

“Mother of good counsel” – she will always give you good advice

“Mother of mercy” – 

she will always welcome you and help you seek out her son for forgiveness.

“Mother most prudent” – 

no one has a more level head and calm disposition. 

She’s been through a lot!

“Virgin most powerful” – her Son is God and he’s always listens to her!

She is a companion when you are sick, when you are afraid, 

and when you have lost your way. 

She knows what sorrow is, what missing someone you love feels like, 

and she knows the heartache of losing someone you love. 

She was there when Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist, 

she helped take care of Zachariah, she cared for Joseph until he died,

 and she stood at the foot of the Cross. 

There is no trial, no fear, no pain, she doesn’t know.

Let her be your companion.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

What should Peter say to a transgender sanhedrin? (Sunday homily)

When we hear in the first reading, 

the Apostles saying what the Lord sent them to say, 

and they are met with hostility...

Let’s hit the obvious point: 2,000 years and nothing has changed.

You and I face the same choice as Peter: Do we obey God or men?

An urgent case right now is what’s happening in the medical field.

There are powerful forces, including in the federal government, 

who believe doctors, nurses, pharmacists, 

and others in the health profession, 

must not be allowed to refuse to take part in an abortion, 

or in a suicide, 

or in providing drugs or surgery that facilitate someone to say, 

I’m not a girl anymore, I’m a boy, or vice-versa.

I’m going to take a couple of minutes on the transgender question, 

because this is still pretty new, it’s confusing, 

and people don’t know how to respond.

A great deal of what you hear on transgender issues 

is propaganda and outright lies.

They refer to so-called “transgender medicine.”

No! It’s not medicine, it’s abuse, it’s quackery, it’s magical thinking.

I’m now going to state, not theology or faith, but biological fact; 

as much a fact as that this planet is round, and we circle the sun:

human beings are either a boy or a girl.  

In extremely rare situations there can be some physical ambiguity, 

but the fundamental male or female identity is still there.

And there are all manner of ways people’s thinking or self-perception 

can be out of sync with themselves or the world around them.

So, people feeling at odds with their physical bodies is not fake.

It’s not a joke. This a difficult trial deserving real help.

Even so, whether you are male or female is not a choice or a mindset.

And no surgery, no drug, nothing can undo the basic biological fact.

By the way, this isn’t the only way this happens in life, 

that we long to change something about ourselves, but we cannot.

Some things we can change. Others are beyond our control.

If the latter, it becomes a matter of better or worse ways 

to carry our cross and make peace with the hand we’ve been dealt.

One more key detail: this whole thing is largely aimed at children.

Again, children. Not just under 18, but pre-puberty.

And you should know that counselors and psychologists 

and other medical personnel are being told, 

that if a child comes to you, you must – MUST – “affirm only.”

What does that mean?

It means you are not allowed to assist that child 

to get back to a place of self-acceptance. 

Instead, you can only say, OK, you are now a boy, 

here’s a drug, here’s a surgery, your life is altered forever.

All before you hit 15 years old.

All that is only one way you and I must be Peter today,

and obey God rather than men. 

There are lots of other hard things our Lord had to say: 

about money, about possessions, about the poor,

about clearing my own eye before dealing with your flaws.

And sooner or later, you and I aren’t actually Peter being brave.

We’re the Sanhedrin saying, I don’t want to hear that!

Notice Jesus asked Peter about his love three times.

They were using two different words translated as “love.”

Jesus was asking, Do you love me with a go-to-the-cross love?

Peter comes back with a, yeah-you’re-kind-of-cool “love.”

Peter’s love was weak, but Jesus built on that, 

and Peter ultimately did go to the cross.

Give Jesus your little bit of love and he will get you there.

When you and I face our Sanhedrin, our “stop saying that” moments, 

there is no excuse to forget that we want the good, 

including the final good of heaven, for each person we disagree with.