Sunday, March 26, 2023

Why doesn't Jesus spare us from suffering? (Sunday homily)

 Hearing this reading can raise an uncomfortable question in our minds. 

That is: if Jesus was willing to do this for Lazarus and others 

we hear about in the Gospels, why doesn’t he do it for us? 

Someone we love gets sick, and not only does our loved one 

go through so many trials, so does everyone around them. 

I could paint a picture, but we all know how awful this is.

And, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, 

your turn to be where Martha and Mary were – 

to say the same things they said, 

to feel their bone-weariness and to shed their tears?

 That moment eventually comes for each of us.

So you or I might easily ask with Martha: 

Lord, why didn’t you come sooner?

The hard truth is, you and I are not promised 

to be saved FROM suffering. 

If only, if only! But that’s not the deal. 

As we approach Holy Week and Good Friday, 

instead of avoiding this topic, let’s you and I face it squarely. 

The Cross puts suffering right in the center.

No, let me say that differently. 

Suffering was already at the center of human experience. 

What Christ does is put God and his salvation right there, 

in the middle of human pain. 

Jesus puts himself there. On the Cross, of course!

So, yes: Jesus could have spared Lazarus and Mary and Martha.

He could spare each of us. (Shrug.)

This calls to mind one of the great temptations today; 

and we see it in Europe, and in Canada, and it’s spreading in our country:

The idea that you and I should just die rather than suffer.

So we’re seeing spreading efforts 

to make it legal to give people a drug to kill them.

I’m not minimizing pain and suffering. 

But what you and I must say clearly is that it is false – false! – 

to claim that human life is made worthless by suffering.

We saw something of that during Covid. We isolated from one another. 

Many of our elderly were cut off from all personal contact 

with friends and loved ones. And what happened? 

We were trying to keep them “safe” – that’s laudable. 

But it was damaging! 

People – not just the elderly, but at all ages – 

were depressed, disoriented, overcome with sadness. 

Here again, we learn: 

life isn’t better when all danger and suffering are kept at bay. 

I realize this could sound callous but:

Sometimes the trials and suffering you and I experience – 

like Martha, like Mary, like Lazarus – 

aren’t something to be saved from – 

because they are what ends up saving us!

And that may be one reason why Jesus didn’t come and rescue Lazarus, 

and why he doesn’t simply spare us from the same path.

He isn’t just saving you and me for more of this life – 

but for eternal life.

As you and I enter the home stretch of Lent, and approach Holy Week, 

now is a great time to ask ourselves: 

do I really want to hang on to this life – 

which will slip away no matter what, or:

Will I walk with Jesus the road of dying to self, 

dying to this world, that I may share in his Resurrection? 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Why not run to confession? (Sunday homily)

 Of all the people in the Gospel who couldn’t see,

the one man who was healed:

Did you notice, he was only one who,

without question or delay,

simply went and did as the Lord said?

Everyone else tried to analyze, argue or deny.

That’s not to say we can’t ask questions.

If your or I saw someone who was blind, now able to see,

we’d have questions as well.

Yet, there comes a point when we know:

no more delays—just go!

When I was 19, I left the Catholic Church,

And joined another church. I came back 10 years later.

Over that time, I had questions,

I debated and wrestled—and that was right.

But, there came a moment, and I remember it vividly.

It was during Lent: as I drove home from work one day,

past a Catholic church, I heard the question in my head:

“What holds you back?” And I knew: “Nothing, Lord.”

A day or two later,

I went to confession for the first time in 10 years.

So, how about you? Are you holding back, or delaying,

on something you know the Lord wants you to do?

For a lot of us, that’s what happens

with the sacrament of penance.

It’s no great mystery why that happens.

Not many of us want to admit our sins,

especially to another human being.

Maybe we get discouraged,

Or we rationalize, I’m doing pretty good.

I go through exactly the same thing.

Again, the blind man could have had all the same feelings.

Did you notice, he didn’t ask to be healed?

Maybe he’d gotten used to it, or had given up hope.

He could have asked, “why this business with the clay?

Can’t you heal me without that?”

Instead, he simply went and did what the Lord asked.

He, and he alone, was healed.

So—for the sacrament of penance—just go!

There are a lot of opportunities for confession this week, 

and every week through to the Easter Vigil.

Just look in the bulletin – it’s all there!

The other priests and I are eager to provide you 

the spiritual healing that comes in the sacrament of penance.

The blind man in the Gospel,

after the Lord put clay over his eyes,

and sent him to the pool:

what might he have been thinking?

I don’t know, but: if he felt certain he would be healed,

then we can be sure his heart swelled with hope.

He didn’t walk, he ran to that pool!

Well then, the same for us:

Even as we pray, and confront our sins,

and ask God to help us change,

You and I really can be completely sure

God will forgive and heal us.

So why not rush to receive God’s grace in confession?

Sunday, March 12, 2023

What is justification? (Sunday homily)

 The second reading mentions “justification” – 

we don’t talk about this often, 

so you might wonder just what that is.

From the Council of Trent and the Catechism we learn that 

"Justification is not only the remission of sins, 

but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.”*

In other words, justification not only forgives us, but changes us.

And if we don’t change, what good is forgiveness?

The life of God is poured into our hearts and our lives.

In a word, we become saints. This happens in baptism.

Baptism! Ah, now you know why we heard the first reading 

and the Gospel, all about water. 

Of course, Jesus wasn’t just talking about ordinary water, 

but the water of the Holy Spirit.

And you and I receive this water first in baptism.

At this Mass, among us, there are those friends or family members, 

who have been drawn here by that same grace of God.

And that work of God acts through you – each of us –

 as we live our lives as Catholics, bearing witness.

This is one powerful way our own growth in holiness matters;

Either people see that the Gospel changes us – or they don’t see it!

These our friends and family will be born again in baptism soon.

So this is even more a good time to talk about baptism.

And as I said, in baptism you and I are justified; we become saints.

This coincides with something else baptism does: 

it creates a new reality both in ourselves 

and in our relationship with God.

As I said, the life of God enters us; and you can turn that around:

In baptism, you and enter into the inner life of God!

When we sign ourselves, notice: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”

That signifies that you or I are “surrounded” by the Blessed Trinity!

Baptism is the moment we fully and truly become children of God.

Now, the mystery to all this is the working out of grace in our lives.

A true revolution happens in us at the moment of baptism:

total forgiveness, total adoption, total sanctification.

And yet, this explosion of grace in each of us 

Doesn’t usually bring an instant change.

More often, each of us still has a zig-zaggy path to heaven.

The thing is, justification makes us truly free – free to say yes to God; 

how it plays out is that our lives are a long chain 

of daily, even hourly, yesses. Mixed with nos. 

Thank God, when you or I betray our baptism in mortal sin,

baptism is renewed in the sacrament of confession.

St. Therese, the Little Flower, got frustrated 

that she confessed the same sins over and over; 

till she realized that if she won that battle too quickly, 

she would fall prey to spiritual pride!

Not just baptism, but all the sacraments are about 

thirsting for the water – the divine life – God gives.

Yet notice Jesus himself thirsted; 

this is the amazing thing that is absolutely certain:

God himself thirsts infinitely for souls, 

and whatever path to sanctity each of us treads, long or short, 

straight or twisty, easy or rough – 

God’s unwavering purpose is that each of us will be glorious saints!

Saint Augustine said that the justification of sinners 

“is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth," 

because "heaven and earth will pass away 

but the salvation and justification of the elect . . . will not pass away."

Some of us look ahead to baptism; others of us are invited 

to wake up again to that glorious gift we may have taken for granted.

This time of Lent is when, despite all our busyness,

you and I sit at the well again and say, 

Lord, give me this water always!

* This question of what justification is lies at the heart of the shipwreck of western Christianity in the so-called Reformation. 

Martin Luther insisted that justification was merely "forensic"; that is to say, God merely declared a sinner righteous, yet that sinner actually remained unholy. Note: this contradicts what Trent said and what the Catholic Church teaches, namely that in justification God does not merely say we are holy, but we become holy. 

Luther famously used the image of a hill of dung, covered in newfallen snow. Other "reformers" followed him in this, and this largely remains a bone of contention between Catholic and Protestant.

The reason this was so important to Luther and others was that if a sinner becomes righteous (rather than merely treated as such), then -- to him and other Protestants -- this would suggest that the sinner-made-righteous can claim that righteousness as his own and not a gift from Christ. The Catholic way of seeing it (and I suspect the Orthodox, but I don't wish to speak for them), is that it can be both a gift of Christ, that by being given, becomes ours.

 As it happens, in recent years, a major Lutheran body, after many years, joined with the Catholic Church in adopting a common statement that greatly narrows the area of dispute and then concedes, the remaining differences do not justify separation between Catholic and Protestant. Alas, 500 years too late!

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Jesus is Abram's destination - and ours (Sunday homily)

 In the first reading, God says to Abram, get up and go. 

Go where? That’s a little vague. But the key word is GO.

In the Gospel, it almost precisely the opposite. 

God is saying, HERE. This is my Son. 

In other words, Jesus is the destination, 

the “where” Abram was ultimately sent.

This season of Lent orginated as the last weeks of prayer and fasting 

for people who would be become Catholics at the Easter Vigil. 

They realized the day of their baptism, 

their confirmation and their first Holy Communion 

was the most important day of their lives.

They also knew that being baptized 

was putting their neck on the chopping block. 

This is happening right now in Nigeria, Africa, 

among many other places.

Therefore, if you and I are going to risk our lives, 

we have to know: is Jesus the real deal? 

Is faith in Jesus really necessary? 

This was the Apostles’ quandary as well.

So that raises a thorny question: Is Jesus the only way to salvation? 

It’s a really big question and short answer won’t be enough. 

Can we agree that there will be more to say 

than I will be able to say, today?

That said, the short answer, as clear as I can offer, is…

Yes, Jesus is necessary for salvation. 

That’s why he is the Savior. That’s why he went to the Cross. 

None of it would make any sense if there was no real need; 

if any god, any religion, would do.

Why would God tell Abram to abandon everything familiar to him, 

if praying to the gods of Baal and Aphrodite, would work as well? 

When God’s people came out of Egypt, 

every time it got hard, they wanted to go back. 

And they preferred a golden calf to the God who delivered them. 

Why didn’t God tell Moses, don’t worry, it’s all the same?

Of course, all that raises the question, 

so what about people who don’t believe in God? Don’t believe in Jesus? 

Don’t belong to the Catholic Church? Are they lost?

Again, here’s a short answer where a much fuller one is needed.

There are several ways to explain it, here’s my own way: 

Everyone – I mean, everyone – who ultimately is saved, 

will be in the Kingdom because of Jesus. 

Jesus died for them, and his grace is what brought them safely home.  

That doesn’t mean it is automatic, but it means:

Yes, Jesus is the one and only Savior of humanity.

Now: many of those folks may be surprised when they get there, 

to learn that it was Jesus all along. But they will make it.

We might think of this as God providing an ordinary path,

which is faith in Jesus, and the fullness of that is the Catholic Faith.

That said, Jesus has ways of working in people’s lives 

that go beyond what we might call the “ordinary,” the primary, path. 

You and I, like Jesus, point out this primary path, 

but we don’t forget that God’s ways go beyond what you and I can see.

For example, suppose you oversleep and you don’t show up 

for a big test; if you don’t pass that test, you flunk.  

You might gain mercy and your teacher gives you a make-up. 

Or, she might not. You can’t assume that; 

but such “Plan Bs” happen in life. 

And they happen in the spiritual life. 

The mystery of how God works in each human heart 

cannot be reduced to a formula. 

It is wrong to say, that if you aren’t baptized, you have no hope.

Likewise, it is wrong to say, none of this really matters, 

everyone makes it to heaven. 

So, that’s my too-brief explanation.

There remains the invitation of God: do we say yes or no? 

We have many people around the world and in our parishes,

who are preparing now for baptism at Easter. 

Encourage them, pray for them, 

as they weigh the greatest question of all: 

Who is Jesus? Will I give him my all?