Homilies Justice and Peace Ordinary Time

Memorial Day

Today’s readings: James 3:13-18; Psalm 72; Matthew 5:38-48

I was talking to one of our parishioners today who is on a local board that, among other things, hires police officers for their municipality. He was telling me how hard it is to find qualified people willing to serve these days. I wasn’t surprised to hear it. I’ve read a lot over the last several years about how people are not going into service-related professions any more. The priesthood is, of course, no stranger to that phenomenon.

So maybe it’s a little ironic that we spend today honoring those who have given their lives in service to our country. It’s a little like we’re saying “thanks for doing that, but please don’t ask me to serve.” And our Lord would admonish us for that kind of societal attitude; he didn’t give us the Gospel so that we could do nothing about it.

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the famous “but I say to you” sayings of Jesus. He takes very familiar religious practices of his day, and then cranks them up a notch. Believers are not supposed to be on autopilot; we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of others. If we’re asked to give, we have to do it expecting nothing in return. When we love, we are called to do it when it is completely inconvenient, and toward those who we might not prefer to love.

Service is not optional for the Christian disciple. Laying down our lives is simply doing what our Lord has shown us how to do. If he could die on the cross for us, we can die to ourselves and give our lives in service to others, so they might know God’s love and mercy.

We truly honor today those who have given their lives for our country. Without their sacrifice, we might not have the freedoms we enjoy today. If we would truly honor their service and their selflessness, then we have to set aside our selfish ambitions as Saint James encourages us in our first reading. To truly honor our fallen heroes, we have to make use of the freedom that they fought for in a way that frees others as well.

Most of all, we have to work to change the attitude of our society. We have to earnestly set aside selfish ambition and entitlement or become a society that is not truly free. If we’re slaves to ambition, then we will accomplish little individually or as a society. We have to pray for religious vocations and also vocations of service to our country and community. We have to encourage our children and grandchildren to give of themselves in their profession. That is what will make us truly free.

And that is what would honor our fallen service men and women most of all.

Easter Homilies

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today’s readings

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. That line from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians at the beginning of our second reading today says more about the Holy Spirit than we might catch at first.

Words contain a lot of power. We know that well, because lots of times we say the wrong things and we see how it upsets people we love. And equally we experience the power of someone saying just the right thing at the right time and we see how that expression of love changes everything. Words can convey a range of emotions from love to hate, and everything in between. Words can start an argument, but the right words can diffuse a really bad situation. We’ve seen it thousands of times.

Most of us receive the gift of speech at birth, and come into it during our childhood. We develop the gift of speech throughout our lives, perhaps learning foreign languages, or become skilled speakers. Speech is crucial to living in society.

But it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to say anything really good. The only way that we can say “Jesus is Lord,” as Saint Paul tells us, is by the Holy Spirit. The only way that we can witness to the faith, is by the Holy Spirit. That was true of the first Apostles. Remember what happened to them right after the events of Good Friday. They scattered. When they did speak, they put their foot in their mouths. Peter used his gift of speech to deny that he even knew the Lord, let alone witness to the Lord’s power to save. At that time, the Apostles couldn’t even wrap words around what was going on in their own minds, so they were never going to be able to spread the Gospel.

Until Pentecost. Receiving the gift of the promised Holy Spirit, the Advocate that Jesus promised to send them, they are able not only to preach the Gospel, but to preach it in a way that people who spoke different languages were all able to understand it. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit brings everything together for them, and now, only now, are they able to say that Jesus is Lord!

The absence of the Holy Spirit is unparalleled sadness. We can’t say – or do – anything really good without the advocacy of the Holy Spirit to inspire – literally breath into us – the goodness for which we were created. The sequence today proclaimed it well:

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

So when we receive the Holy Spirit, we are inspired to say and do good things too. The Holy Spirit will inspire us to speak many kinds of words in many situations. We can depend on the Spirit to give us the words when we don’t have them. Saint Paul teaches that the Spirit even prays in us when we can’t pray, expressing our needs in groanings when we can’t find the words to say. So the Holy Spirit will inspire us to speak…

  • Words of comfort to those who are going through difficult times. Maybe just by being with them and saying nothing at all.
  • Words of challenge when we are in a situation that is veering off course, and others are urging us to go the wrong way.
  • Words of correction when a child is acting out or not living up to their full potential.
  • Words of reconciliation when we seek to heal a broken relationship.
  • Words of vision when we are part of a group that is seeking to do something new.
  • Words of healing when we comfort another person who has been wronged by others.
  • Words of change when we stand up for what is right in a society that wants to do what it wants to do.
  • Words of mercy when we let go of a grudge, or forgive someone who has hurt us.

The Holy Spirit will give us the right words for all of this at the right time, and we will be able to speak them in a way that everyone who needs to understand them can understand them. We may never be able to speak multiple languages – God knows I can’t! – but in the Holy Spirit we will be able to proclaim that Jesus is Lord in our words and actions and no one will be able to miss the significance of that – everyone will understand it.

Easter Homilies

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the greatest obstacles to the Christian life is comparing ourselves to others. The Fathers of the Church all warn against that practice, and urge us to keep our eyes on our own relationship with God.  The essence of discipleship is doing what we were put here to do, we ourselves.  We discern that vocation by reflecting on our own gifts and talents, given to us by God, by prayerfully meditating on God’s will for us, and then engaging in conversation with the Church to see how best to use those talents and gifts.  That’s the process of discernment, which is always aided by the working of the Holy Spirit, and a worthy exercise on this eve of Pentecost.

What causes us to get off track, though, is looking at other people and what they are doing, or the gifts they have, or the opportunities they have received.  We might be envious of their gifts or the opportunities they have to use them.  We may see what they are doing and think we can do it better.  We might be frustrated that they don’t do what we would do if we were in their place.  And all of that is nonsense.  It’s pride, and it’s destructive.  It will ruin the Christian life and leave us bitter people.

That’s the correction Jesus made to Peter.  Poor Peter was getting it all wrong once again.  He thought Jesus was revealing secrets to John that he wanted to know also.  But whatever it was that Jesus said to John as they reclined at table that night was none of Peter’s business, nor was it ours.  Peter had a specific job to do, just as John did, and so do we.  If we are serious about our discipleship, then we would do well to take our eyes off what others are doing or saying or experiencing, and instead focus on the wonderful gifts and opportunities we have right in front of us.  As for what other people are up to, as Jesus said, “what concern is that of yours?”

And so we pray this morning for the grace of discernment, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of being able to mind our own business, spiritually speaking.


School Graduation

Readings: Proverbs 3:13-35; Psalm 145; Philippians 2:1-5; Luke 6:27-38

Tonight as we come together to celebrate the Eucharist as a class for the last time, I would imagine you are experiencing a great many emotions. You may be feeling happy, even relieved, as you come to this milestone. Many of you have been at Notre Dame School for as many as ten years, and so this accomplishment has been a long time coming. You might also be feeling sad that you’re leaving behind some friends as they go to other high schools, or even uneasy because you’ll be heading into unknown territory. I’m sure you’re also feeling proud of the success you’ve had here at Notre Dame, particularly proud of the success that has led you to graduation this evening.

Success is the thing that everyone wants for you. Your parents want you to be successful, your teachers will be proud when you are successful. Even God wants you to be successful. But all those people may have different ideas of what success looks like. Some might see success as getting into a prestigious college. Others measure it by how much money you’ll eventually make. Maybe you will want to be the famous athlete, or the President of the United States. You might find success in inventing some new technology, or finding a cure for a disease. Success looks like a lot of different things.

Many people have written on what success is. Dale Carnegie wrote, “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.” I could go on and on quoting all sorts of famous people who have given their opinion on how to be successful, but I thought I might stop there and instead focus on what success looks like for disciples of the Lord.

Take a look at the Cross. Because that’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ. It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams. It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return. That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too. He laid down his life for us, and we are called to do the same for others. We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.

And so for the believer, success might look like becoming a missionary to bring God’s love to people in faraway lands. Or it might look like finding the cure for a disease without harming the unborn. Believers in Christ could become politicians too; helping to make the world a better place by standing up for what is right. Successful believers could become priests or religious sisters or brothers. They might even be parents who raise their children to respect others and have a strong relationship with God. They could be owners of businesses that practice their trade with integrity and a concern for those in need.

One thing is certain: successful believers will always have to sacrifice. Selfishness does not have a place in the life of a disciple and it will never even lead to real happiness anyway. A successful disciple might have to pass on a business deal because it looks shady, and trust God to give them something way better. Or she might give up a couple of years of her career in order to devote some time to working with the poor. A successful parent might have to put some of his or her plans on hold in order to raise a family. But successful disciples aren’t doormats either; they merely give of themselves and trust in God to give them real happiness.

And God does want you to be happy. In fact if you’re ever finding yourself unhappy in life – and most of us will be there at some point or another – stop and see if maybe you’re not doing what God wants you to do. Because, in my life, I will absolutely witness that the happiest times have been the times when I’ve stopped doing my own thing and listened to God. God is love, God is mercy, God is truth and beauty and grace, and he never wants anything for his children but the very best – just like any good parent.

Our Gospel tonight makes this all very clear. Jesus tells his disciples, which you well know includes every one of us here, to do everything I just said: love your enemies, do good to everyone, give when you don’t have to, love the people that are hard to love, give expecting nothing back. All of this stuff is sacrifice beyond belief. But then he makes a promise: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing…” When we give of ourselves and let go of the things that hold us back, then our hands are empty and ready to receive the enormous good gifts that God has in store for us. That, my friends, is real success.

For all these years, we have tried to give you the tools to grow into the people you were meant to become. If you remember these things and use them and grow in them, you will be successful, happy and blessed. The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there, because getting to heaven is the ultimate badge of success; it’s the greatest measure of our having become who we were meant to be. I hope that you will be reasonably happy in this life, but I really want you to be eternally happy with Christ in heaven one day. I look forward to seeing the great people you will surely become as you continue to be involved here at Notre Dame in the years to come. May God bless you in every moment of your lives. And don’t ever forget where your spiritual home is: right here at Notre Dame, because I really don’t want this to be goodbye.

Easter Homilies

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word represents a kind of wrap-up to the lives of St. Paul and Jesus, respectively. They both have completed the mission for which they had been sent, and both are now giving the mission back to God who would continue it as He alone saw fit. Paul’s mission had been one of conversion, beginning with his own, and then reaching out to the Gentiles he met traveling far and wide. Now he did not know what would happen to him, only that the Holy Spirit kept telling him it was to be an end filled with hardship, from which Paul refused to shrink.

Jesus, one with the Father from the beginning, had come from the Father and was now going back to the Father. He brought God’s love to bear on the aberrations of sin and death and had drawn disciples into the mission to continue the work. It could not continue unless he returned to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit upon them. Doing that has brought the Gospel into every nation and into the lives of millions. He too faced an end filled with hardship, from which he refused to shrink.

We disciples will come to our own ends as well. Will we too be able to give the mission back to the Father, confident that we’ve done it as best we could, and confident that it would be continued as God saw fit? Have our days sometimes been filled with hardship, and if so, have we also refused to shrink from it? We disciples are part of the mission that God has in the world. We take it for a time and will eventually have to hand it back over. Please God, may we all be able to do so with confidence that God’s will has been done in us!

Easter Homilies

The Ascension of Our Lord

Today’s readings

When I was on my pastoral internship in seminary, my supervisor and I talked about the fact that our Liturgy is very wordy. Think about it: all of the prayers and readings and songs – it’s a lot of words to take in in an hour or less, but we do it all the time. So once in a while, I like to reflect on what are the important words in the Mass. We have the words of institution of the Eucharist – those are extremely important. The proclamation of the Scriptures, especially the Gospel, well we can’t discount those either. And let’s not forget the Creed, the words of which were the cause of many arguments and literally fights over the centuries – those words are very carefully chosen.

But there is one word that I think is the most important, and I bet it’s going to surprise you. Because that word is “GO.” Go: we have to wait all the way to the end of Mass to hear the deacon or priest say it. “Go in peace.” Because it’s way at the end of Mass, I wonder if some people ever get to hear it. But whether we hear it or not, it’s kind of a throw-away, or it seems so. But it’s not. It’s not just a word of dismissal kind of like “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.” It’s not just a word to get us out of the church and on to the next thing in life.

I think it’s a word of mission. We’re singing a hymn with “Go” in the title today, and I think it catches the spirit of what the word “Go” means in our Liturgy. And we hear that spirit in our Gospel today. Jesus tells the disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” That was what the disciples were to do. They weren’t supposed to just stand there staring up into the sky: they were supposed to GO and do the work of salvation until Jesus returned in glory.

Obviously, the command that was given to those first disciples is one that we are supposed to get as well. We are supposed to GO and preach the gospel in what we say and what we do. We are supposed to GO and baptize people by leading them to the faith in our witness. We are supposed to GO in peace, glorifying the Lord by our lives. We are supposed to GO and announce the gospel of the Lord. We do that by volunteering at the parish, looking in on a sick or elderly neighbor, living lives of integrity in the workplace. We do that by striving to be Christ-like to every person we meet.

So I hope that you’ll hear that word “GO” at the end of Mass differently now than perhaps you have before. I hope that you’ll hear it as a calling, as a challenge, and as a sacred duty. I hope you’ll take up the call to GO and make the world into the Kingdom of God among us.

Homilies Saints

Saint Matthias, Apostle

We don’t really know much about St. Matthias.  We have no idea the qualifications  that led to his being nominated as one of two possibilities to take Judas’s position among the Twelve Apostles.  But clearly, they would have nominated a holy and faithful man, and then they left the deciding up to the Holy Spirit.  Praying, they cast lots, and the lots selected Matthias, who then became one of the Twelve.  He is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, so we don’t know much about his ministry.

What is striking about the selection of St. Matthias though is that this is the first of the disciples or Apostles that was not selected directly by Jesus.  Jesus selected all of the original Twelve, but Matthias is the first to be selected by the fledgling Church on the authority passed on by Jesus himself.  They act not on their own, but on the authority of Jesus, being led by the Holy Spirit for the glory of God the Father.
A similar process has been repeated through the ages, over and over again, to select men to be popes, bishops, priests and deacons, and men and women for religious communities.  The process begins with prayer and ends with thanksgiving and glory to God.  People propose the candidates as being noted for holiness and ability, but it is God who makes the final choice.
Today we praise God for the Twelve Apostles, of which Matthias was one.  We praise God for the authority of the Apostles which has echoed through the ages giving guidance to the Church.  We praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit who is active in all our decision making.

Easter Homilies

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

I don’t know if you were counting or not, but between the second reading and the Gospel, the word “love” was used in one form or another eighteen times. So it’s pretty easy to see where the Church is leading us in today’s Liturgy of the Word. Love is a theme that runs through John’s Gospel and the letters of Saint John: John’s point is that the Gospel is summed up in that God is love.

Now we get all kinds of notions about what love is and what it’s not.  Our culture feeds us mostly false notions, unfortunately, and it gets confusing because love can mean so many different things.  I can say, “cookies are my favorite food – I love cookies!” and that’s obviously not the kind of love Jesus wants us to know about today.  When we say “love” in our language, we could mean an attraction, like puppy love, or we could mean that we like something a lot, or we might even be referring to sex.  And none of that is adequate to convey the kind of love that is the hallmark of Jesus’ disciples.

So I think we should look at the Greek word which is being translated “love” here.  That word is agapeAgape is the love of God, or love that comes from God.  It is outwardly expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, who came to show the depth of God’s love by dying on the Cross to pay the price for our many sins.  So that’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about today; it’s kind of a benchmark of love that he is putting out there for our consideration.

To really see what Jesus meant by love in today’s Gospel, all we have to do is to look at Jesus. His command is that his disciples – including us, of course – should “Love one another as I have loved you.”  And the operative phrase there is: “as I have loved you.”   Meaning, in the same way I have loved you.  And we can see how far Jesus took that – all the way to the cross.  He loved us enough to take our sins upon himself and nail them to the cross, dying to pay the price for those sins, and being raised from the dead to smash the power of those sins to control our eternity.  So the love that Jesus is talking about here is sacrificial.  And he says it rather plainly in one of my favorite pieces of Holy Scripture: “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This sacrificial quality a vital property of agape love.

And the disciples clearly were called to that kind of sacrificial love.  They were persecuted, thrown out of the synagogues, beaten for stirring up trouble, put to death for their faith in Christ.  Like their Savior, they laid down their lives for their friends. That is what disciples do. And so, we disciples hear that same command too.   We may never be asked to literally lay down our lives for those we love, but we are called on to give up our own self-interests, our own selfishness, our own comforts, for the sake of others.

We celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, and this whole instruction on sacrificial, agape love could not be more appropriate.  Mothers are called upon in their vocation to form a bond with their children based on sacrificial love.  Good mothers lay down their lives in the process of bearing children, and then do it over and over again throughout their children’s lives as they nurture them, educate them, protect them and encourage them, finally teaching them, one hopes, that kind of agape love that is the essence of all of our vocations.

So we’re going to look for opportunities this week to love sacrificially.  Doing a chore that’s not our job and not making a big thing of it.  Finding an opportunity to encourage a spouse or child with a kind word that we haven’t offered in a long time.  Picking the neighbor’s trashcan up out of the street when it’s been a windy day.  It doesn’t matter how big or small the thing is we do, what matters is the love we put into it.  Mother Theresa once said, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I do know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will NOT ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’  Rather he will ask, ‘How much LOVE did you put into what you did?’”

When we are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to love, there is no way we can miss the joy that Jesus wants us to have today.  “Love one another as I have loved you” might be a big challenge, but it absolutely will be the greatest joy of our lives.

Easter Homilies

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Just in case we thought living the Christian life of discipleship was going to be a rosy celebration of joy every single day, our Lord gives us a dose of reality today. He points out that if we find ourselves hated by the world, we have to remember that the world hated him first. If the world hates our Lord, then those of us who purport to follow after him have to expect that the world will hate us too.

In fact, one might say that being hated by the world was a kind of litmus test of discipleship. If we are not actually hated by the world, one might wonder if we are truly living the Gospel, witnessing to the Truth and worshipping rightly. Because all of those hallmarks of discipleship necessarily cost something, and if we’re not paying the price, we’re not doing it right.

So for us, being hated by the world might look like being passed over for a promotion or some other honor because we value time with our family over endless hours at work. It might look like being the object of unkind gossip because we value Sunday as a day of worship and family rest instead of having our children involved in all kinds of sports or artistic endeavors on the Lord’s day. It might look like skipping the latest gadget or the glitzier car so that we can be kind to the poor. The world will hate us because our commitment to Jesus will challenge their commitment to selfishness.

We Christians live in the world, but we do not belong to the world. Our witness, our living, has to be at a different level. If we find ourselves fitting in nicely, it might just be that we’re doing it wrong.

Easter Homilies

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

In our first reading this morning, we have from the Acts of the Apostles a rather defining moment for the early Church. Jesus hadn’t given them a precise rule book of how to make the Church develop: he simply sent them out to baptize. But he also told them to make disciples of all the nations, and that’s what’s at stake in today’s reading. Because the nations didn’t observe all the laws that the Jews did. And so admitting non-Jews to the Church meant deciding whether they had to be circumcised, and whether they had to observe all the other laws of the Old Testament.

Well, obviously, this little mini-council, swayed by the great stories of Paul and Barnabas, decided that the Spirit could call anyone to be disciples, and they shouldn’t get in the way. So they decide to impose very little upon them, outside of avoiding idol worship and unlawful marriage. And then the Psalmist’s prophecy, “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations” came to pass. If it weren’t for this little council, we wouldn’t be Christians today. Praise God for the movement of the Spirit.

And now the command comes to us: we have to be the ones to proclaim God’s deeds to everyone, and not to make distinctions that marginalize other people. God’s will is not fulfilled until every heart has the opportunity to respond to his love.