Sunday, January 23, 2022

Jesus gives you the best access (Sunday homily)

 First, let me say that I am still recovering from Covid. 

My energy levels are low. 

I’m very grateful for so many prayers and so much love, thank you! 

This will be a short homily.


Second, this is the weekend to announce 

the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 

I’ve written more about this in the bulletin. 


You know about this: 

it supports several very worthy causes in our archdiocese, 

and you’ve always been generous in supporting them. 

Remember that when we exceed the goal, 

a portion of that comes back to St. Remy 

and we use that for our youth programs.


Now let me talk about the readings. 

If you are enough of a bigshot in politics, 

you might be able to have dinner with the President to give him advice. 

If you write a big enough check, 

you can get one of those fancy suites 

at the Bengals stadium, protected from the weather, 

and have a waiter to bring you drinks and snacks whenever you want.


But notice what Jesus does. 

He doesn’t just call us VIPs who can sit close to him. 

He makes us part of him: members of his Body! 

What could be closer or more intimate? 




And it doesn’t require a million-dollar check. 

This privilege isn’t only for a few. 

Anyone, no matter how lowly or disreputable, can have this access.


And yet how many Catholics, treated so royally by Jesus, 

disregard his generosity? 

He asks that you and I come be with him once a week, 

but many find that too much to ask. 


Since you and I are a part of him, 

of course that calls for living holy lives – 

but we don’t want to be too different from the world around us. 

If people had to pay money for this access, 

perhaps they would value it more?


Remember what Saint Paul said to you today: 

“You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”


There is nothing anyone in the world can say, or do, 

to change that great honor and dignity! 

There is no one who can take away that good news! 


Sunday, January 09, 2022

Jesus' baptism and your identity (Sunday homily)

 Today we recall when Jesus showed up 

on the banks of the Jordan River and asked to be baptized.

We might wonder, first: why did he do this, 

and second, why is this important to us? What does it mean?


John was baptizing people as an act of repentance. 

They were confessing their sins along the way.

So: they were, in a sense, going to confession.

The shocker is to see the Lord Jesus get in that line.


Jesus puts himself squarely with us, in our situation. 

He does not hesitate at all.


This is also about Jesus showing himself as the new Adam.

The first Adam rebelled and failed to keep God’s law, 

and that set the whole, sorry story of human history in motion. 


Here, Jesus does the exact opposite.

This Adam is obedient. He fully does his Father’s will. 

And, most astounding, Jesus accepts the punishment for sin 

that otherwise was due to Adam and the rest of us.


So, when Jesus came to be baptized, he accepted 

his vocation as the faithful Son, the new Adam, the Messiah.


That included the Cross.

Remember something else John said on this occasion:

“Behold the Lamb of God”!


I hear you saying, “Fine, but what does this have to do with ME?”

When you and I were baptized, we became part of Jesus, 

born again of water and the Holy Spirit. 


So, I ask you: will you respond to God as Jesus did?

Will you embrace the life you have been given?

Will you take up the Cross? Will you be a witness to Jesus?


Maybe you never gave much thought to your baptism. 

Think about it now. 

At a certain point, each of us must decide 

to make the commitment of baptism our own. 


So, in case it wasn’t clear, this is why I sprinkled you with Holy Water. 

And, in case you never realized it, 

when we recite the Creed in a moment, 

you and I are confirming our baptism.


Something else happens when we are baptized.

You and I become part of Jesus, and we gain God as our Father.

Saint Paul said we become “heirs of hope of eternal life.”

When Paul calls us “heirs,” that is no metaphor.

He means that literally.


Children not only inherit all the stuff their parents owned, 

they inherit all that their parents are.


When children are conceived and born, 

What do people say? “You have your mother’s eyes!”

“You look just like your daddy!”

And as we grow to adulthood, like it or not, we become a lot like them.

So, to be “heirs” with Jesus, means that when the Father said, 

"You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,”

He didn’t only say it to Jesus. He said it to you and me, too!


That’s what the Father said – of you – when you were baptized.

It is what he says every time you and I go to confession.


Each of us has moments of doubt.

Maybe you are single and wondering, what does God have for me?

Are you called to be a priest or in religious life?

That seems so scary, and you may think, I’m not holy enough.


Or you are married

and you despair of ever being a good enough parent. 

Every mistake is always on your mind.


Perhaps you are a young person, and you hate being asked, 

“what are you going to do with your life?” Because you have no clue!


Let’s talk about how, in recent years, so many people are “coming out” 

and saying, “I’m gay,” or “I’m trans” and the like. 


So many of us are bewildered. We’re told, just say it’s great.

We react with jokes or just trying to wave it all away.


These developments are part of a much broader problem: 

more and more people simply do not know who they are. 

By that I mean: they are losing the thread of what it means 

to be human, as opposed to being just another animal.


They are losing the realization that they – we – are a child of God.

And by that, I mean, a God who relates to us 

and acts in our lives and wants you and I me to know him.


A lot of the anger and dislocation in our society is a product of this:

that people who were created to be loved, are starved for that love.

Without stable, secure, family love, they don’t know who they are.


Sooner or later, each of us will meet a family member or friend 

who says he or she can’t relate comfortably with the opposite sex.

They are so disoriented 

that they don’t know if they are male or female.


Don’t dismiss them. Embrace them! Walk with them. And tell them:

Jesus got in line with you! He takes up your cross with you!

The Holy Spirit came down on you!

And the Father says to you: “You are my beloved child. 

With you I am well pleased!”


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Truly home (Christmas homily)

 This time of year, there is a strong emphasis on “home.”

It’s great to have our college students and many others back again.

Welcome home!


Many years ago, a singer named Perry Como sang a song, 

“Home for the Holidays.” 

Like so many Christmas songs, it was catchy and made you feel good, 

but otherwise, it doesn’t seem to say much.


Yet the more I thought about it, 

I realized there is a lot more to that idea of “home” and Christmas.


It isn’t just some of us who are away from home.

Every single one of us is.


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And he created a place for humanity – to be home with him. 

The Book of Genesis calls that the “garden.”

That’s a good name; that sounds like someplace we want to be.


As we know, our first parents were not content to stay there.

Their lack of trust led them to sin and they chose a path away;

They left the Garden; they left home.


And all the rest of the story is God longing to bring us home!

He called to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses.

God made covenants with them, to give them – and us –

what the cold world of time cannot give us:

Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.


In the Gospel of John, while Jesus is talking to his fellow Jews,

He says something odd: 

“Your Father Abraham saw my day and rejoiced in it.”

What could that mean?


It means this:

That when God called out to Abraham, saying, “I’m here, I’m here!”

In that call was a promise that God would one day really be here – 

for Abraham and everyone else – not just in a prophecy or a ritual, 

but in flesh and blood. 


In other words, it’s always been about the Incarnation: 

God becoming one of us.


And it’s always been about the Cross, 

because what does it mean to say God is with us,

if it doesn’t include the full measure of suffering and death?


Even so: dying with us is cold consolation, if that’s the end.

I’m dying, you’re dying? We’re all dead.


So it was always about Resurrection, which means,

not Jesus rising and escaping our humanity,

but Jesus rising and living, forever, in our humanity!

That gives his name, Emmanuel, God-with-us, even more meaning.

 

God came and made his home with us in our exile;

always with us, often hidden, often ignored.

Or else, despised and rejected: on the Cross, and down to the present.


This is his birthday. How many will have a great party, but ignore him?

How sad that so many people know the word, “Christmas,” 

but not what it refers to?

What good is a “season of lights” 

that is about no more than electricity or candles?


God came to make his home with us, for one more purpose:

To bring you and me home: home to him.

Remember what I’ve been saying all Advent: this is about the Kingdom.

This is about our forever-after.


That is “joy to the world”;

Only God’s life filling our lives can mean “peace on earth.” 


And what you and I see before our eyes – 

what the prophets and patriarchs

could only glimpse darkly, as in a mirror – 

that is what makes us fall silent on this (Christmas) night.


This church, this place, 

this circle of familiar faces, is our home – for now.

Yet we are not yet home, and God is not content to leave us here.


With baptism, you and I became citizens, not of this place,

But of that Place – of heaven.


In the incarnation, God became man;

By faith in Jesus, following him, you and I will become God!

Sharers in everything God has to share, even his own infinite life!


All the sacraments serve to restore us and to prepare us, 

to make us long all the more for our true home,

the home of which this home is a shadow and a promise.


I am so glad you are here. We are all glad to be together.

We all try so hard to make Christmas special,

to make everything sparkle and glow.


As hard as we try, it is never enough. It never can be.

Christmas isn’t about satisfying our longing,

but rather making us hunger and thirst all the more:

We want to go home! 

To be with Jesus, not just for a few golden hours, but forever.


Sunday, December 19, 2021

Grace is the hidden power of the Kingdom (Sunday homily)

 As you have heard me say at least once in recent weeks, 

Advent is fundamentally about the Kingdom of Christ, 

not merely about Christmas. 


I say that because Christmas itself is only important 

because it’s about the Kingdom.

That’s why Jesus was born: his Kingdom is sill being formed.


So, it may sound strange, 

but even with Christmas so close, keep your gaze on the far horizon!


A great day of justice and fulfillment still lies ahead.

Every time you and I get angry about suffering 

Or dispirited by injustice,

that is yet another reminder to look, not back, but forward.


And what I want to highlight today is the hidden power of the Kingdom: that power is grace.


What is grace? 

Grace is God’s own life and love, 

at work in the world, and in us, to change us and make us like God.


This is my Android tablet. I don’t use it as much as I used to,

and I haven’t plugged it in lately. As a result, it has no juice. It’s dead.


What electricity does for this device 

is a lot like what grace does for you and me. 

Without God’s grace, you and I would not merely be dead; 

in fact, without grace, we would not “be,” at all! 

It is God’s grace that causes you to exist, me to exist,

this world to exist, for this world to reveal him to us,

and ultimately, for him to come into this world to save you and me.


The same grace that filled Mary from her first moment 

is what sent Gabriel to her at the appointed time.

And then in Elizabeth, and in the unborn child, John, all grace at work!


You may not think you are important, 

just as people didn’t think that little town of Bethlehem was important.

But God’s grace decided differently.


It is grace that stirs up your heart to long for God, 

to know you need him and to turn to him in repentance.

It is God’s grace that lifts your heart when you hear his word.


It was grace that led your parents to bring you to be baptized,

and through that baptism, grace entered your life 

and made you a child of God.


The great struggle of this world is between sin and grace.

Sin corrupts and destroys, but grace brings us back to life and, 

more than that, leads us to eternal life, life beyond life.


Grace is the hidden power at work in the world.

It is the greatest power in the world;

And that power is given to you, day by day – 

in every possible way, but above all in the sacraments – 

to bring you safely home.


To be a Christian is not only to believe in that hidden mystery, 

but to know that with certainty that grace is real, 

to see what otherwise remains unseen, 

and because of that, to find courage, hope, and joy, no matter what.


That’s why it’s important to celebrate Christmas as a down-payment: 

a foretaste of all that lies ahead.


It’s so fitting that we decorate everything with lights.

And it’s not too late to add more! 


Why?

Because every added light is a small step toward the brilliance 

of the Kingdom in which each of us is a citizen. 

Although we haven’t been there yet, that kingdom is our home.

It is where we belong. It is where we are heading.


Sunday, December 12, 2021

John the Baptist and Kingdom Joy (Sunday homily)

When John was stomping around on the banks of the Jordan, 

he was a spectacle. 

He wore strange clothes – camel hair – and he ate locusts. 

Just to be clear: that’s not just weird today, 

that was strange back then.


And John knew that. 

He was like the people you meet who are in religious life. 

They wear funny clothes, just like I wear a cassock: 

it makes you stand out. That’s part of the point.


John was trying to make clear that he stood apart. 

When you make the Sign of the Cross in a restaurant, 

you’re doing the same, 

which is why some people don’t want to be seen saying grace.


John was willing to be a spectacle. 

And you can just imagine some number of the people who came out, 

came for that reason, to see a show.

I can just picture some teenage boys, standing off to one side, 

whispering and snickering, can’t you?


And then John would pick somebody out in the crowd.

He’d fix his eyes right on you, pinning you to the wall!

“You soldier! You farmer! You student! You parent! 

You came to see me dump water on people 

but one is coming after me who's going to pour fire!

Are you ready for Him?”



And notice when John was challenging people, 

the Gospel said it was “good news”: why? 


The keynote of this Sunday, 

in the readings and in the prayers, is joy, rejoicing. 

That's what the rose-colored vestments signify. 


Let me just explain that joy isn't the same as feeling up,

being in a good mood, being all sparkly and bubbly.


If you've lost someone you love, if you have work problems, 

family problems, health problems, or other issues, 

it can be really hard to be chirpy and cheerful, 

especially at this time of year. 


So, just to be clear, that’s OK.

You have permission not to be all Suzy Sunshine. 

Because joy isn’t about a mood or your personality.

It’s down deep, like bedrock, and it doesn’t change from day to day.


This is where what John the Baptist was saying ties in.

What John was offering is the path to true joy:

getting right with God; getting right with your parents, your family, 

your friends, and the people you work with.


So now, this is my John the Baptist-spectacle moment.

I want to do whatever it takes to grab you.


What do you think?


Should I march up and down the aisle like a TV preacher, 

hooting and hollering? That could be fun!

Oh, what a scandal! People would talk!


The point is, I want you to hear that invitation.

This sermon isn’t for someone else, it’s for YOU. 

I may not be able to look everyone in the eye, 

but the Holy Spirit can speak to you in a way I cannot.


You want that true joy, that deep-down joy?

Go to confession. 


John would have said, get baptized.

And if you’ve never been baptized, 

then talk to me about becoming a Christian. 


But most of us are already baptized, 

so, for us, it’s renewing that new birth.

That’s what confession is.


Knowing you are at peace with God, at peace with others?

That is joy!


And don’t wait till the last minute. 

It’s the same every year, right in the last few days, 

it’s like check-out at Wal-Mart!

It’s OK, But I’m saying, if you come THIS week,

you can get a jump on last-minute rush. 


Don’t worry that you can’t remember how. I’ll help you!

You know what my best Christmas gift is?

Someone comes to confession, it’s been a long time,

he or she is really burdened, overwhelmed, 

and then gets to be quit of it all! In a few minutes! 

Every priest will tell you; we can sense that huge weight sliding off!


I’m not saying, come to confession for me.

I’m saying, you’re waiting in line, sweating, all churned up,

and you’re wondering, what will the priest think? 

I’m thinking, this is a really good day! God just made my week!

That’s joy for me; that’s joy for you!



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! 

How?


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.