Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Pentecost = everything we need (Sunday homily)

 Many – maybe most – of us are usually too busy this time of year

to realize what a big deal Pentecost is.

We have Christmas: God becoming one of us, among us;

Good Friday and Easter: Jesus dies for us, and rises from the dead;

And then we have Pentecost:

Jesus gives you and me the Holy Spirit; God living in us.

The only thing remaining is the journey back to God,

which is our daily life as Christians.

And in case it’s not crystal-clear:

Jesus has given you and me everything we need

to make that journey safely.

Tonight, you and I are welcoming ____ to join us on that journey.

She was drawn by the Holy Spirit –

and by the example of Catholics around her –

to want the gift of faith she saw in us!

Think about that: your example of faith matters.

Either you and I are giving a good example, or a bad one.

The people around us aren’t likely to read the Catechism;

instead, they learn and decide about Catholicism

from what they see in you and me.

This is a good time to talk a little about the journey we –

in our group of three parishes –

are making together as a “family of parishes.”

We are at 11 months, and my perspective is that

with God’s grace,

and a lot of cooperation and openness by our parishioners,

This has been less perilous than it might have been.

As you and I press forward, and become a family together,

That spirit of generosity you’ve shown will serve us well.

A lot of us are praying! Thank you! Keep doing it!

Let me highlight something you and I can do this year;

something I’m announcing today in the bulletin:

It’s time to start praying for the Holy Spirit’s help

to choose a name for our family of parishes!

Please read what I wrote in the bulletin, and watch for more details.

But the basic idea is that from now till August, we will pray:

Pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire us in this decision.

At the feast of the Assumption in August,

everyone will be invited to suggest a name for our family,

and then, from All Saints to Christmas,

we will narrow it down and finally choose a name together.

The future is always unknown and some worry – some worry too much.

I’ve learned that nothing I can say can stop worriers from worrying.

I will simply say again:  

Pentecost reminds us that Jesus has given us

everything you and I need to make the journey safely.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Longing for heaven (Ascension homily)

 Today’s feast of the Ascension is often misunderstood.

To put it bluntly: this feast is NOT about Jesus leaving us. 

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

he goes ahead of us, to heaven. And that’s the point:

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

There are two ways you and I can go wrong here.

First, a lot of folks take going to heaven for granted, 

pretty much no matter what. 

And that makes a lot of Christianity incomprehensible.

If everyone’s headed to heaven, there’s no real urgency.

No need to change; no need for conversion or confession.

In fact, no need for the Mass or prayer.

I might point out that while lots of people say, 

“don’t worry, we’ll all meet in heaven,” 

The Lord Jesus is notably not someone who says that.

Jesus doesn’t say, “go to sleep,” he says, “Wake up!”

He never says, “set the cruise control,” he says, “Watch and pray!”

That’s what he said in today’s readings to the Apostles.

In a few days he would give them the Holy Spirit.

Till then, they were to watch and pray;

After that, everything changes.

The other way we can miss the point is not taking heaven seriously.

This world demands our constant attention.

The electric bill doesn’t pay itself.

The boss will notice if you don’t come back from the weekend.

Still, Jesus wants us to lift our gaze regularly.

the reason he gave us the Holy Spirit and the Mass,

the reason he tells us to watch and pray,

and the reason he ascended to heaven,

was all to turn our longing for eternal life.

Lots of things in this life are pretty awesome:

That’s a foretaste of heaven.

But many other things in this world aren’t so good.

Now, if those rough parts are purgatory, that’s hopeful.

But: if this world is as good as it gets, isn’t that kind of sad?

If I’m as good as I can get;

If the best years for my knees and my eyes are behind me?

That is very sad.

The challenge is this: how can you and I long for heaven 

if we have no inkling of what it might be like?

Now, there are many things Jesus tells us about heaven. 

The Book of Revelation describes heaven.

Many saints have written about heaven.

The great poet Dante wrote about hell, purgatory, and Paradise.

So, there’s a lot we could draw from.

I’d like to suggest some spiritual homework:

Take some time to think about this: What IS heaven like?

Maybe look for some reading material.

What if – as the military slogan goes –

You and I really could be “all we can be”?

Really to be full of the Holy Spirit; really generous; really peaceful.

Really balanced and disciplined and virtuous?

What would that be like?

Here’s an image I have of heaven.

You and I all have those moments that seem so perfect:

A perfect time at the beach, or a perfect game with our friends;

a perfect cup of coffee or bowl of cereal on a beautiful morning, 

the sun, the sky, the breeze, everything is just right.

It only lasts for some bit; then the coffee is all gone, 

or if you have more, you won’t enjoy it.

The sun rises higher and gets too hot;

Or it gets too late, and your friends have to go home.

Those are foretastes.

And what St. Augustine somewhere described 

was a moment that will last, not just a moment, but forever. 

And he said, that’s heaven!

There’s my image of heaven.

What’s yours?

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The package of gifts that is the 'Paschal Mystery' (Sunday homily)

 There is a big picture to what is going on in the readings. 

Let me try to sketch it out for you.

You will often hear in the prayers at Mass a term, “Paschal Mystery.”

And you may not want to admit, you’re not sure what that means.

Here’s what it means. There is a whole package – a series – 

of good things God has done for us.

God planned to come among us – as one of us – to bring hope and life. 

Not just limited to this world, but eternal life.

Part of that plan always was for Jesus to take the path of suffering, all the way to the Cross.

His death on the Cross takes away our sins. 

Of course he could have done it another way, 

but that is the way God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – decided would be best.

Jesus rose from the dead in his human body. That’s the Resurrection. 

That’s essential because that proves his word is true, 

and it shows us the eternal life you and I will have.

After his resurrection, Jesus sets in motion more of the plan: 

the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

And with the gift of the Holy Spirit comes 

the empowering of the Apostles; the Body of Christ, 

the community of believers on earth, which we call the Church. 

Through the Apostles and the Church, 

we have the seven sacraments – each giving us divine life. 

And the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers the Apostles – 

and their successors, the bishops – 

to be the messengers of Christ’s teaching. 

That doesn’t mean the bishops are better than you and I are, 

or less sinful, or smarter, or anything else. 

It means that for the benefit of the faithful – you and me – as needed, 

God keeps them on track. 

We’d like it if God prevented bishops from making any bad decisions! 

Parish priests as well! But that’s a lot to ask. 

So instead, what God does is keep the bishops – the pope in particular – 

from teaching error in matters of faith and morals.

This is where we often use the term, “magisterium,” 

which means the bishops’ role of teaching; 

and the term “infallibility,” which means God’s guardrails 

to keep the Church from going into the ditch.

So – think of all this as a lot of gifts, all in nice wrapping paper.

All these gifts are part of the “Paschal Mystery.”

And, really, there’s still more: that which lies ahead, 

which is when all the faithful have been gathered into the Kingdom, 

and we have a new heavens and a new earth. 

All that, together, makes up the Paschal Mystery.

This whole package is what the Holy Mass – on the Lord’s Day, Sunday – 

exists to make real for each of us, 

so that you and I don’t get lost and disconnected.

Occasionally I see an ad on TV or the Internet that says,

you need more fruit, more vegetables, 

and since that’s hard, here’s a capsule! 

Take this every day, and you get it all!

And, in a sense, that’s what the sacraments are for you and me.

They are the “capsule” that “contains” all these gifts God has for us.

Baptism: you take that “capsule” just one time; now God lives in you!

Confirmation, which we see in the first reading, 

“seals” all God’s gifts in us with the Holy Spirit. 

We only need that once.

Confession: take that frequently, as needed, 

to revive the life of God in us, 

when you and I wound or even kill it with venial or mortal sin.

And then we come to the Eucharist – 

which many of our children are receiving today for the first time.

Like a vitamin pill, the Sacred Host is small; 

sometimes people who can’t swallow 

will take even smaller portion of the Host.

And when you and I receive the Precious Blood, we only need a sip.

The full reality of what – and Who – the Eucharist is,

far exceeds anything our minds can grasp.

Sometimes people will say, maybe second grade is too early, 

because you are too young to understand it.

But let me tell you: NO ONE can truthfully claim 

to understand the gift of the Eucharist! 

Here’s better news: you don’t have to pass a test!

That’s why I emphasize that God’s gift is really a bundle of gifts, 

and ultimately, it’s all the Gift of God himself.

God doesn’t need or expect you and me to “understand” fully.

It’s good to try, and God helps us go deeper and higher.

Even in heaven, you and I will still gaze at Jesus and realize,

there is still more of the gift to unwrap and discover.

Today is when our second graders unwrap one of the gifts.

As they do – as each of us is privileged to be with them,

this is a moment for us adults to learn from our second graders.

Boys and girls, pray for the rest of us, 

that each of us will follow your good example of hungering for Jesus, 

your reverence, and your capacity for wonder.

Sometimes we get where we think, “I’ve seen it all.”

What a mistake! There’s always more to the Gift.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

What communion *really* means (Sunday homily)

 Notice what’s going on in the readings…

Saint Peter told us that God is building a very special house: 

you and I are “living stones.”

Then, notice Jesus also mentions a house: 

the Father’s House, and it has lots and lots of rooms.

And Jesus also told us that the way to get there is he, himself. 

He’s the heavenly GPS.

But then notice, with all that hopeful talk, there is a problem.

We heard it in the first reading.

Prejudice and division among the first Christians: 

“We! They! They’re different; we don’t like them! It’s unfair!”

Ha! Some things never change! 

This makes a point: if the business of turning people into saints, 

and making this world the Paradise God wants it to be, were easy, 

then the job would have been finished a long, long time ago!

So, for example, maybe Jesus wouldn’t have created the sacraments; 

he could have just sent us a membership card.

But he didn’t do that. 

And notice, while we only get baptized once, 

we don’t only go to confession once;

we don’t take part in Mass only once, and receive the Eucharist once;

at least, that’s not how it is meant to work.

He knew we’d need a lot more than that.

Today some of our children will have their First Holy Communion.

But I want to explain something you may not realize.

In reality, you have already had communion.

I say that because in the full, real sense,

Our communion begins with baptism.

“Communion” isn’t just an event on a calendar; 

It isn’t just a special occasion.

“Communion” is actually a simple word that means “union with.”

What we really mean is that “communion” 

is that state of fundamentally being together; being one.

The perfect, fullest communion is God himself: 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are totally, completely one.

The reason Jesus does all he’s doing is to share that total, 

complete oneness of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, with us.

And again, if that were a simple thing, it would be like, 

“I’m taking a shower, presto-chango, yay, now I’m a saint!”

But instead, it’s a journey. The seed of faith is planted and grows.

Baptism, confirmation, frequent confession, Sunday Mass,

Our family, our friends, we pray together, we help each other…

And little by little, you and I go from being chunky blocks 

with sharp edges that can’t fit together – “ouch!”…

To well-shaped stones that fit; that cooperate.

And the mortar that holds it all together is love.

I don’t just mean the emotion, the feeling; that’s not the whole story.

Love is a choice, a series of choices, that don’t always feel good.

Boys and girls, your parents get up every day, 

usually earlier than they want to.

They work hard to make a home and provide what you need.

There are a lot things our parents would love to have; 

but what the family needs comes first.

When my mom did the laundry, or my dad paid the bills,

They didn’t feel exactly…”good.” 

But those – and a million other choices my parents, 

and your parents make – equals love.

It’s hard to become truly loving and truly generous.

And notice, Peter didn’t call us marshmallows – which are soft!

He called us “stones.” They’re hard!

It takes a lot of hammer blows and patience to reshape that stone.

And if a stone has feelings, that would hurt!

So maybe now we can understand better why Jesus did what he did.

He didn’t just send you and me a card; 

he didn’t just say, “here are the instructions.” 

No. God himself came to us, as one of us.

He said, I’m going to lay down my life for you – and he died!

That’s not love-talk, that’s love-action. The fullest possible.

And now, in the Mass, and the Eucharist, 

he continues to lay down his life for you and me.

That’s why this isn’t just bread or wine. What’s the value of that?

No: this truly is Jesus giving us EVERYTHING. His own self!

And the Eucharist is the heavenly food that – if received in faith – 

will change us, making us heavenly. 

So, dear children, realize that today isn’t about just this day.

This isn’t “one-and-done.” Communion, by it’s very nature, 

can’t leave us off on our own, but draws us in, closer and closer…

To heaven!