Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Peace with God means peace with yourself (Sunday homily)

When we are children, we all have those moments 

when we are trying to get mom or dad’s attention. 

Look, mom! Look! Look! LOOK!!

Of course, our parents want to look and see what we’re doing;

But they might be driving, or fixing dinner, 

or getting other work done, and they can’t always look. 

They might even get irritated.

But let me tell you something, 

and this is true no matter how young, or how old, you are: 

parents never stop wanting to look at their children. Never.

Whenever I have a baptism, afterward, I ask to hold the baby.

You know what happens: if the baby is peaceful and content 

in her mother or father’s embrace, she getting agitated and cries. 

Then, when I give the baby back, he’s calm again.

That infant recognizes his parents, but doesn’t recognize me.

That connection literally begins with conception, 

and cultivated in a thousand ways from that point on.

That complex reality of love and trust and interdependence

is absolutely necessary for each of us to be healthy and balanced.

Not just as children but throughout our lives.

On the other hand, some children do not experience this, early in life, and that can leave a wound that it can take a long time to heal.

What I’m describing happens both on this natural plain, 

and on the supernatural level.

All this came to mind because of what happens in the Gospel:

People jostling for the best seats; not because they are most comfortable, 

but because they gain the attention of the host.

They want to impress, or they need to push some agenda.

But consider: if you have a solid relationship with the host, 

why do you need to do any of that?

This is the key to true humility: knowing who you are; 

having that peaceful, confident relationship with God.

What passes for humility – downing myself, denying our gifts – 

is actually false humility.

Accepting mistreatment, being a doormat – 

is not only false humility, it is a destructive distortion. 

True humility comes from having that good relationship with God, 

and therefore, having security and confidence. 

That enables you and me to acknowledge our gifts 

and accept our weaknesses. We know who we are in God.

Then there’s no need to impress anyone.

So, the natural next question is, how do I get to that place?

Just as baptized child needs to be in his or her parents’ arms,

So you and I need to have a strong relationship with God.

Without that, we have a spiritual wound, an insecurity.

We don’t fully know who we are.

That friendship with God requires more than an hour a week.

It needs periodic apologies and patching things up;

In spiritual terms: a regular examination of ourselves,

And frequent use of the sacrament of confession.

Today is a good day to ask: do I have that friendship with God?

And to do the work to build that friendship.

Then any seat in the house is the best seat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Q&A with the Lord your God (Sunday homily)

 Perhaps you have noticed there are times when 

someone asks Jesus something, 

but his response doesn’t really answer the question!

Rather, Jesus answers the question that should have been asked.

So, today, “Someone asked him, Lord, will only a few be saved?”

Pay attention to how Jesus responds.

He refers to a narrow gate—so that sounds like “few,” right?

But, later, he refers to people coming from east and west, 

north and south—that sounds like a lot.

So the question Jesus actually answered was, 

not “how many” are saved; but simply, how to be saved.

And that is by striving to enter the “narrow gate.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the gate, 

and whoever enters through Me will be saved.”

So, why is the gate is “narrow”? That sounds bad.

But remember why cities had gates: 

because they also had walls, to keep out threats.

A narrow gate means you can see clearly who comes and goes.

That is perfectly apt for Judgment Day:

no one will slip anonymously into the Kingdom. 

One by one, you and I will meet the gaze of Jesus our King, 

and either he knows us, or not.

A narrow gate doesn’t mean only few enter; 

it means you have to be patient and wait your turn.

It also means that while you might squeeze in,

Nothing you bring with you, will.

Not bad habits and attachments to food or booze or the Internet.

Nor the baggage of unforgiveness and recrimination.

All that must be left outside, or else we are left outside.

Notice also what our Lord said:

“Many will attempt to enter, but won’t be strong enough.”

In fact, none of us is “strong enough”! No one!

You and I have got to drive out of our minds  

every last trace of the idea that anyone 

gets to heaven because we’re good enough!

No one can be “good enough”; no one can be strong enough.

You and I get there by grace, which makes us fit for heaven.

Remember the lost sheep – how did it get back home?

The Lord puts it on his shoulders.

Only Jesus is “strong enough”—and he will carry us through!

Till now, there’s a word I haven’t uttered: hell.

Is hell real? Jesus knows that it is. He talks about it a LOT.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that people will be cast out, 

because he never knew them.

That means there was never a true friendship.

What’s more, when you and I arrive at the narrow gate, 

will we actually be willing to leave behind whatever we brought along? 

People assume that there will always be a chance to repent, later.

But let’s be candid: as the years go by, 

we not only get hardening of arteries;

even more, you and I also get hardening of habits and attitudes.

“Later, later, later” pretty easily turns into “never.”

Assuming you can always repent later is called “presumption.”

And it leads to a hardness of heart.

So, what about hell?

The conclusion I reach is this:

No one is “sent to hell” so much as people turn away from heaven.

We “refuse” heaven by refusing the graces God gives us.

The most dangerous spiritual place to be 

is not being constantly in line for confession, 

having failed over and over, and feeling as weak as a kitten.

No, the dangerous frame of mind is to think, 

I don’t need conversion. I’m just fine.

But the good news, which Jesus puts right in front of us, is:

There is a way to heaven; it’s narrow, but wide enough for two; 

Jesus, carrying you.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

A choice between what is easy and what is right (Sunday homily)

 If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will recognize 

these words of Dumbledore: 

“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time 

when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

The words of Jesus in the Gospel hit us like bucket of icy water. 

He brings division. People will be set against each other. 

This is nothing like how so many people imagine Jesus, 

giving everyone a hug and a peace sign.

It is true that Jesus opens his arms to anyone. He forgives every sin.

That portrait is accurate. But it is not the entire truth.

Remember Jesus also made a whip out of cords

and drove people out of his Father’s temple.

The thing people miss about that episode is this: 

If that’s how Jesus reacts to impurity in a physical building, 

that he predicted would be destroyed…

Then, how do you suppose he reacts to impurity 

in the temple of our lives, the temple of God that you and I are?

The Cross of Jesus Christ represents ultimate mercy, 

but at the very same time, it represents the ultimate choice.

The Cross looms ahead of each of us, in the middle of the path.

You and I must go to one side or the other,

with the sheep or the goats. 

With the criminal who in an instant of faith became a saint, 

or the thief who reviles Jesus in despair.

One of my favorite books is by C.S. Lewis, called The Silver Chair; 

it is part of his “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

At the climactic moment, the evil queen 

is trying to cast a spell over our heroes.

As she plays soothing music, she tells them 

there’s nothing to fight about, there’s no problem, 

just relax, go to sleep, go to sleep.

And there are voices in our culture doing the exact same thing.

There isn’t any actual truth, they say, it’s all just our own preferences.

The only real mortal sin is to say things that are unpleasant, 

that might “trigger” someone.

Calm down, just do as you please, choose a person truth…

Go to sleep, go to sleep…

Now picture Jeremiah, or any of the saints.

Think of Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life in witness today: 

how do you suppose they react?

They don’t go to sleep. They lift up Jesus Christ!

The purpose is not to offend, to pick a fight.

The crucifix is not a weapon; it is a revelation; and an invitation.

But sooner or later, either we speak what others crave to hear;

Or else, what they need to hear. What is easy; or what is right.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Be ready (Sunday homily)

 This Gospel is read as part of the vigil prayers, for a funeral, 

which usually takes place at the funeral home. 

It’s easy to see why, because it offers us such an assurance: 

if we are ready for Jesus when he comes to us, 

he will not only take us to heaven, 

but he, the Lord, will actually wait on us! 

As I often say after I read this, at the funeral home, 

if you hadn’t heard me just read that from the Gospel, 

you might not believe God had made such a promise. But there it is.

So, these readings invite us to think about being ready – 

ready for God to call us. 

And it calls to mind what we used to call “a happy death” – 

that is, a well-provided-for death. 

So let’s talk about what that is.

A well-provided-for death means 

we have the chance to go to confession, 

and to receive the sacrament of anointing, 

and above all, to receive the Holy Eucharist. 

A well-provided-for death means 

we can make our peace with others 

and face eternity with a clean conscience. 

An especially beautiful way this happens 

is when family are gathered with the person who is dying, 

and they are praying together. 

If the priest is called – not necessarily at the exact moment, 

but in the last few weeks or days – 

then he can help the family with all this.

When this happens, it is a beautiful thing, 

not only for the one who is facing eternity, but for everyone. 

Now, here’s the thing. We don’t always get a warning. What then?

Well, then it comes down to how we live our daily lives, doesn’t it? 

My grandmother had a saying: “being a Catholic can be a hard life – 

but an easy death.” By that, she meant a faithful, practicing Catholic.

What’s “hard” about it?

Forgiving is hard. Keeping custody of the eyes is hard. 

Being honest and guarding our tongues is hard. 

Putting God first can be hard.

But, in another sense, it’s not hard at all. 

How to be faithful isn’t a secret. And we have a lot of help. 

That’s what the Church, the Body of Christ, is for. 

If you’re trying to live a Christian life, don’t try to do it alone. 

That makes it harder. 

Instead, seek out other practicing Catholics, and support one another. 

If you’re running with folks who are out late drinking and partying, 

guess what you’re probably going to end up doing? 

This is why God gave us each other, and above all, 

it’s why he gave us the saints, especially Mary, the Mother of God. 

If you ever think, I don’t know how to be a good Catholic, 

then take a long, hard look at the saints. 

Pick one. Who is your own patron saint? Don’t know? You can find out. 

Ask your parents if they had a saint in mind when they named you. 

If not, then look up your own name, 

and find out what saints had that name. 

And if that doesn’t work, then you can just pick a saint, 

and make him or her your patron saint. 

Patron saints are not like girlfriends or boyfriends – 

you can have as many as you want, and they don’t get jealous!

The thing about heaven, we’re not going to end up there by surprise. 

And we won’t get there by being kidnapped. If we get to heaven, 

it will be because we aimed to get there; we wanted to be there; 

because that’s the treasure we wanted most of all.

So, you and I can take our chances 

and hope we’ll get a chance to go to confession in your final hour; 

or, we can get to confession every month. 

You can hope that you’ll have a priest bring you holy communion 

at the end; or, you can receive Jesus’ Body and Blood each Sunday, 

or even daily, if you want. 

We can hope we’ll make peace with others, someday, or…

Well, you get the idea.

Is today my last day? Is it yours? We can’t know. But we can be ready.