Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

When we think about prophets and prophecy, I think our minds always take us to ancient days. All the prophets we can think of lived many centuries ago: Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos and all the rest, right up to John the Baptist who was the last of the prophets of old and the beginning of the prophecy of the new kingdom. All of it culminating in the person of Jesus Christ, whose prophecy was the voice of God himself. But I think our readings today call us to look at prophecy in a new light, and to be open to the fact that there are many more prophets than we can think of right away, prophets that are a bit more contemporary than Moses and Elijah and all the others.

For Moses, prophecy was a huge task. He bore the responsibility of bringing God’s message of salvation to a people who had become used to living without it. He was to inaugurate the covenant between God and a people who had largely forgotten about God, or certainly thought God had forgotten about them. His prophetic burden was great, but God offered to take some of his prophetic spirit and bestow it on the seventy elders. So seventy were chosen, a list was drawn up, and a ceremony was prepared.

Two of their number – Eldad and Medad – were missing from the group during the ceremony, but the spirit was given to them anyway. But this had Joshua all bent out of shape. How could they be prophesying when they had not taken part in the ritual? So he complains about it to Moses, who clearly does not share his concern. He accuses Joshua of jealousy and says to him, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Moses’ vision for the ministry was bigger than himself, bigger than Joshua, bigger than even the chosen seventy. And he makes a good point here. What if every one of God’s people knew God well enough to prophesy in God’s name? What if all of us who claim to follow God could speak out for God’s concern for the needy, the marginalized and the dispossessed? The world would certainly be a much different place. Joshua’s concern was that the rules be followed. Moses’ concern was that God’s work be done.

And so there’s a rather obvious parallel in the first part of today’s Gospel. This time it’s John who is all bent out of shape. Someone was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and even worse, whoever it was was apparently successful! Jesus, of course, does not share John’s concern. Jesus’ vision of salvation was bigger than John’s. If demons are being cast out in Jesus’ name, what does it matter who is doing it? If people are being healed from the grasp of the evil one and brought back to the family of God, well then, praise God!

I think the point here that we need to get is that true prophecy doesn’t always fit into a neat little box. During the rite of baptism, the person who has just been baptized is anointed with the sacred Chrism oil – the oil that anoints us in the image of Jesus as priest, prophet and king. It is part of our baptismal calling for all of the people of the Lord to be prophets. And so we really ought to be hearing the word of the Lord all the time, from every person in our lives. God gives us all people who are prophetic witnesses to us: people who say and live what they believe. They might be our parents or our children, the colleague at work, the person who sits next to us in math class, or even the neighbor who seems to always want to talk our ear off. At the basic level, one of the most important questions that arises in today’s Liturgy of the Word is, who are the prophets among us? Who is it in our lives that has been so gifted with the spirit that they challenge us to be better people and live better lives?

But as much as we have those kind of prophetic voices in our lives, there are also the other voices. These are the voices of our culture that drag us down to the depths of brokenness, debauchery and despair. That, I think is what Jesus meant by all that drastic surgery he talked about at the end of the Gospel reading today.

I don’t think any of us needs to chop off a hand, but instead chop off some of the things those hands do. Maybe it’s a business deal that is not worthy of our vocation as Christians. Or it could be a sinful activity that we need to abandon. We probably shouldn’t lop off a foot. But we may indeed need to cut out of our lives some of the places those feet take us. Whether they’re actual places or situations that provide occasions for sin, they must go. I’m not suggesting that you gouge out an eye. But maybe cut out some of the things that those eyes see. Whether it’s places on the internet we ought not go, or television shows or movies that we should not see, we need to turn away from those voices. Some people may find that they need to get rid of the computer or television, or put them in a more public spot, or find an activity that takes them away from those things. It may be hard to do without them, but better that than being so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget about God. Better to live without these things than to be forever without God.

Prophecy is a huge responsibility. Being open to that prophecy is a challenge to humility. We might be the prophets, or we might be the ones hearing the prophets, but in either case we have work to do. Prophets need to be faithful to God’s spirit, and hearers need to be open to the word and ready to act on it. Prophecy nearly always calls us to a radical change. May God help us to recognize the prophets among us, and make us ready to hear the word of the Lord.

Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!

Homilies Jesus Christ Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, I think Herod was asking the right question.  Sure, he was asking it for all the wrong reasons, but still, it is the right question.  And that question is, “Who is Jesus?”

What Herod was hearing about Jesus is pretty much what the disciples told Jesus when Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?”  Elijah, or one of the prophets, or maybe even John the Baptist.  But Herod was the one who killed John so he knew that couldn’t be it, so who is he really?  Herod kept trying to see him, and of course, he’d have more than ample opportunity soon enough, after Jesus is arrested.

So we have the question too.  Oh, we know well enough – intellectually – who Jesus is, but we still have to answer that question in our hearts.  Who is Jesus for us?  We know he is not just some prophet; that he is not like anyone who lived before or after him.  But have we stopped being intrigued by the question, have we lost our fascination with Jesus?  Herod kept trying to see Jesus, and it’s the right instinct, or at least it is for us.  We have to keep trying to see him too, whether that takes us to a rereading of the Gospels or to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or to contemplative prayer or even to service to the poor.  Whatever the case, fascination with Jesus is the right way to go, and we have to let ourselves be intrigued by the question again.  Who is Jesus for us?

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There’s a principle in the spiritual life known in Greek as kenosis. Nobody likes to talk about it. It’s nicer to talk about the consolations of prayer and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and things like that. But nobody likes to talk about kenosis because, in English, we would translate that something like “self-emptying.” That means making all the stuff we like or tolerate in us to go away, so that we can be filled up with God. Now, the being filled up with God isn’t so bad; I think most people would like that. But getting rid of the stuff that’s in there so that we can be filled up with God isn’t so great.

Kenosis is what today’s Liturgy of the Word is all about. The first reading is from the book of Wisdom, which was composed about fifty years before the birth of Jesus. In today’s selection from that book, the Wisdom writer speaks of the just one, who is a foreshadowing of Jesus. The just one is obnoxious to the unjust, because his example challenges them and his words accuse them. Nobody likes to have that kind of thing thrown in their face, and so they plot to take the just one’s life, which is exactly what will happen to Jesus.

And that’s what Jesus tells his Apostles. In the Gospel reading, he takes them aside and confides something he doesn’t want to be widely known, at least not yet. He says that he will be handed over to men who will kill him, and then three days later he will rise. That’s what we call the Paschal Mystery, and unfortunately not even those Apostles were ready to hear it. Instead, they engage in a frivolous argument about who was the greatest among them. Can you imagine their embarrassment when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about along the way?

I can just imagine Jesus’ anguish as he reflected on that truth, knowing that the end was coming near and that he would die a horrifying death, and not even his closest friends could offer him a kind word. And so he confronts them about their embarrassing argument and tells them that the one who would wish to be the greatest must be the lowest of all, serving all the rest. That was true for him, and it would be true for them too. That’s kenosis.

So if the Apostles couldn’t handle a message of kenosis, then it’s going to be challenging for the rest of us too. Because our society doesn’t teach us to want to be the last of all and the servant of all. Our society tells us to look out for ourselves and take care of number one. Our society tells us to strive for every honor and glory for ourselves, to be known as the greatest, much like the Apostles wanted to be in that silly argument. We even hear about the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” in which televangelists and other preachers tell people how much God wants them to be rich and famous. Here’s a tip: God doesn’t care if we’re rich and famous or not, he just wants us to take care of others.

So if we want to enter the Kingdom, we’re going to have to empty ourselves out and get rid of all that nonsense. Because nothing that looks like our earthly glory and honor and prosperity will fit into heaven. We have to pour out the sin, the selfish ambition, the conceited entitlement and instead be filled up with Christ. That’s what kenosis looks like for us. And whether we like to talk about it or not, it’s the only way we’re getting into heaven.

Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s been a while now since I was thought of as “too young.” I remember on my ordination as a deacon, on my way to priesthood, the first reading was from the prophet Jeremiah in which he protests to the Lord that he is too young to prophesy. Bishop Kaffer, of happy memory, in his homily basically said, “you’re not too young at all; it’s about time we are here ordaining you!” So when I hear today’s letter from Saint Paul to Saint Timothy, I think it’s interesting that he enjoins him not to let anyone look down on his youth.

Now for those of us who don’t have that problem, maybe we have another. Maybe we let people look down on our age, or our experience, or whatever. Maybe we come up with all sorts of excuses as to why people wouldn’t listen to us anyway, so why bother trying to teach them? Since we have all been gifted by the Lord in some way, we have to use that gift, and not worry about people dismissing us because we aren’t the same as they are. God works in all of us, and we have to persevere in our task, so that we will save both ourselves and others.

Homilies Jesus Christ

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today’s readings

In a lot of ways, this is a strange feast we are celebrating today. Think about it. This is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which in Jesus’ day would have been as big an oxymoron as one could possibly imagine. It’s like us saying that we are going to celebrate the exaltation of a lethal injection chamber. There is nothing exalted about an instrument of execution: it’s tortuous, humiliating, and as dark as one can get.

So to get from that to where we are now is nothing short of a miracle. A miracle, of course, of the highest order! God used this instrument of punishment to remit the punishment we deserved for our sins. God used the epitome of darkness to bathe the world in unfathomable light.

And he didn’t have to. The cross is what we deserved for our many sins. Today’s first reading gives us just a glimpse into the problem. The Israelites, fresh from deliverance from slavery in Egypt, are making their way through the desert. Along the way, they pause to complain that God’s food, which he provided in the desert, wasn’t good enough for them. They had chosen slavery over deliverance; food that perishes over food that endures unto eternal life.

But we’re there too, right? We often choose the wrong kind of food, get off the path, and choose slavery to our vices and sins over new life in Christ. In fact it was because of all that that Jesus came to us in the first place. God noticed our brokenness and would not let us remain dead in sin. So to put an end to that cycle of sin and death, he sent his only Son to us to die on the cross, paying the price for our sins. But that death may no longer have power over us, he raised him up, cheating the cross and the evil one of their power, and exalting the Holy Cross to the instrument not of our death, but of our salvation.

Because of the Cross, all of our sadness has been overcome. Disease, pain, death, and sin – none of these have ultimate power over us. Just as Jesus suffered on that Cross, so we too may have to suffer in the trials that this life brings us. But Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us, a place where there will be no more sadness, death or pain, a place where we can live in the radiant light of God for all eternity. Because of the Cross, we have hope, a hope that can never be taken away.

The Cross is indeed a very strange way to save the world, but the triumph that came into the world through the One who suffered on the cross is immeasurable. As our Gospel reminds us today, all of this happened because God so loved the world.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

Homilies Ordinary Time

9-11: Taking the Wooden Beams Out of Our Eyes

Today’s readings

When I hear today’s Gospel reading, I think about my dad. When he was alive, he was a guy who seemed to know everyone. Anywhere we went, he’d find someone he knew, even on vacation! But he wouldn’t just know their names, he’d also know something about them. He would know their talents, stuff they were good at; he’d also sometimes know if they were going through some kind of difficulty or hard time. But most often, he always was able to see what was good in them.

That’s the kind of thing I think Jesus wants us to do in our Gospel reading. He wants us to know each other as brothers and sisters, instead of seeing everyone’s faults and sins and downfalls. Because we all have those things. And if we focus on them, we’ll never be the children of God we were created to be. He uses the hyperbole of seeing a splinter in the other person’s eye but missing the wooden beam in our own. We all have sins and downfalls, but we all have grace and blessing. We’ve got to look for that, look for the best in people, because that’s what makes us children of God.

Fourteen years ago today, right around this time in the morning, I was in my room in seminary. Most of the other guys in my class had a class at that time, but I didn’t. So I was working on some homework, and then decided to go online and read some of the news. The first headline I saw said something like “Airplane Collides with World Trade Center.” I turned on the television and saw the tower down, and thought it had to be some kind of horrible accident. Then I saw the second plane fly into the second tower, and at that point everyone knew something terrible was happening. I will never forget that horrible moment.

Over the course of the following days, we came to know that over three thousand people died that day, including many police and fire fighters. And our world has changed a lot ever since: there is more security when you get on an airplane, more security everywhere, it seems. And if we would listen to what Jesus is telling us today, maybe things like this wouldn’t have to happen.

Even this week, a Sikh man was attacked right near here in Darien, because the attacker thought he was a terrorist. We have to learn to take the wooden beams out of our eyes so that we can see each other as brothers and sisters. Only then will we become everything that God intends for us.

Today on this fourteenth anniversary of 9-11, we should do a lot of things. We should study what happened that day so that we won’t repeat the mistakes that were made. We should remember those who gave their lives that day, especially those who tried to help the victims, and we should pray for ourselves and all people that we can become peaceful people who love the Lord and see each other as brothers and sisters, without all those splinters or beams in our eyes.

Catholic Social Teaching Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers Family, Community and Participation Homilies Ordinary Time Solidarity

Labor Day

Today’s readings

The scribes and the Pharisees had it all wrong, of course. Their idea of labor and the Sabbath was all corrupted with their own greed and desire for self-righteousness. And so, even though these readings are the ones the Church gives us for Monday of the Twenty-third week in Ordinary Time, they work pretty well for us on Labor Day too. The scribes and Pharisees were defending a very literalist view of the Sabbath. For them, no work could be done on the Sabbath: not buying and selling, not cooking or cleaning, not laboring or planting or reaping. But unfortunately, they tossed out the baby with the bathwater: they did not even permit themselves to perform works of mercy on the Sabbath, and that’s where Jesus had a problem with their piety.

Saint Paul tells the Colossians in our first reading that he labored constantly for their salvation. For Saint Paul, there wasn’t a Sabbath from preaching the Gospel and saving souls. So for Jesus and Saint Paul, Labor was a cooperation with God’s creative and salvific work in the world, and the Sabbath was a respite from the works of the world so as to be reconnected with and refreshed by God. That’s how it always was intended, and sadly, the scribes and Pharisees had messed it all up.

I was reading yesterday on DNAinfo that Labor Day has its roots in Chicago. In the year 1894, almost 4,000 Pullman Company workers striked after their wages were cut but rent for company housing remained the same. The strike led to railway issues throughout the country as workers refused to use Pullman cars on trains, damaged tracks and attacked workers who had replaced them at work. Eventually, more than 100,000 workers across the United States walked off their jobs. Federal courts and troops were used to stop the strike, and union leader Eugene Debs faced federal charges (though most were later dropped and he was sentenced to six months). Labor Day was designated a federal holiday shortly after the Pullman Strike ended in 1894 as a way to appease labor activists.

Labor Day has always been a time for us to get the idea of work and Sabbath correct in our own day. Work was not given to us by God as a punishment, but as a way to achieve the best that humanity could become, by partnering with God himself to build up the kingdom of God. When we get it wrong, work can be damaging to families: either through unemployment, or underemployment, or work that demeans the laborer, or work that takes the laborer away from his family. Work, properly understood, as taught by our Church, provides a living and dignity for the worker, and sustenance for the family. Pope Francis writes in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, “Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment” (no. 128).

In their Labor Day Statement this year, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops takes note of the toll that labor inequality and unemployment have on the family, as well as the woundedness of the human family caused by greed and indifference to the needs of the poor and those marginalized by society. They write that the path forward has to consist of individual and communal action, standing in solidarity with families in need. They write: “Our faith calling to love one another impels us to share that vision of charity and justice with others, and to go forth and encounter those at the margins. Through collective action and movements, we have to recommit ourselves to our brothers and sisters around the world in the human family, and build systems and structures that nurture family formation and stability in our own homes and neighborhoods. Sufficient decent work that honors dignity and families is a necessary component of the task before us, and it is the Catholic way.”

The Psalmist says today: “Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from him comes my hope.” Resting in God is our true Sabbath, and when we do that, we will be in solidarity with those in need, laboring for God in doing works of mercy and spreading the Gospel in our words and our deeds.

Anointing of the Sick Homilies Ordinary Time Sacraments

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Ephphatha!

Today’s readings

Jesus’ ministry on earth was all about healing.  In today’s gospel, he heals a man who has been deaf and mute with the word of command: “Ephphatha!” – “Be opened!”  So you’ve heard me talk about this kind of thing before. The healing is not here just for us to say “how nice for that deaf and mute man.” The healing he intends, the command, “Be opened!” is for us too.  Mark brings us this story in his Gospel because Ephphatha is what Jesus is about.  He is about healing, and opening up a way for those who have been at odds with God to be back in relationship with him.  So whether the obstacle has been a physical illness or a spiritual one, he commands ephphatha, that the way be opened and the obstacle obliterated, and the illness of the broken one bound up and the way made straight for the person to be in communion with God.

St. James today invites us to take a look at the issue from another angle.  Have we pre-judged people who are not like us when they come to the Church, or to us in any way?  Do we look down on those who don’t dress like us, or don’t speak like us, or don’t act like us?  Do these people have illness that needs to be healed?  Or is it we that have the illness, being unable to see them as Christ does, as brothers and sisters and children of God?  So whatever the illness is today, whether it is ours or someone else’s, Jesus commands it: ephphatha, be opened, that nothing may be an obstacle to the love of God and the healing of Jesus Christ.

Since the readings lead us to a place of healing, I want to take this opportunity to speak of one of the sacraments of healing, namely the Anointing of the Sick. I want to do that because I think it’s a sacrament we don’t think of much, until someone is near death, and that’s not what the Anointing of the Sick is all about. In the days prior to Vatican II, that was the understanding of the Sacrament. It was called Extreme Unction, Latin for “Last Anointing” and that’s not what it was supposed to be all about.

The impetus for the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick comes from the letter of Saint James. It says: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15) The sacrament is about healing: physical, sure, but also spiritual. Having God’s presence in the sacrament with us in our time of illness is of great value – just ask anyone who’s been through it!

So I’d like to identify a few times when it would be appropriate to have the Anointing of the Sick. The first is before surgery that is either life threatening itself, or is for the healing of some illness or injury. Very often people will call, and they might come to a daily Mass before their surgery or the weekend before their surgery, and I’ll anoint them after Mass. This is a wonderful time to receive the sacrament, because they’ve just been to Mass and have received the Eucharist. The combination of those sacraments is a great source of grace and healing.

Another time someone might be anointed is if they’ve come to the hospital with a life-threatening illness or injury, perhaps even after an accident. Or perhaps a patient is hospitalized for an addiction or mental illness. Very often there’s a priest on call at the hospital who can do that, or if it’s one of the local hospitals here, I’ll be called to go over. Being anointed at that time of crisis can be a great source of peace to both the patient and their loved ones.

Another time for the Anointing is when a patient is home bound, or after they’ve come home from having surgery and there is going to be a long time of rehabilitation. Then I might come to the person’s home, anoint them, and then we can arrange for a parishioner to come give them Holy Communion each week. We have a number of parishioners who help us with that ministry, and it keeps the patient connected to the parish and to the Lord during difficult days. I always like to say, when you’re well, you can come to us, and when you’re sick, we can come to you.

The final time for the Anointing is the one that most people think of, and that is near death. At the time of death, we have what is known as the Last Rites. The Last Rites are a combination of three sacraments: the sacrament of Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, and Viaticum, which is Latin for “bread for the journey,” one’s last Communion. If at all possible, it’s good if the patient is well enough to participate in all three sacraments, but very often that’s not the case. Then we just do what we can of them and trust in God’s mercy.

It’s important that we know about the illness so that we can care for the patient. In today’s society that means a family member or the patient themselves, must call us. Hospitals can’t do that any more, due to privacy laws. So it’s very important that we know, and know soon enough that we can respond. With only one priest at the parish, it’s hard for me to respond at the spur of the moment because of other things going on, but I do want to be there. And if, unfortunately, a patient dies before the priest can get there, there are still prayers we can do. Sometimes we don’t know that the patient is going so quickly. I had that happen just recently, and we still prayed and I was there to spend some time with the family.

The healing work of Christ is what the Church is all about. Today, he Jesus continues to work through the Church to bring healing to all those who need it. He cries out “Ephphatha” that we might all be opened up to his healing work and that every obstacle to relationship with him might be broken down.

Homilies Saints

Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” These are words Saint Gregory took to heart. He was one of the foremost theologians and thinkers in Church history, and did much to spread the Gospel in an orthodox way throughout the world.

St. Gregory showed a great deal of promise at a young age. He had a stellar political career, becoming prefect of Rome before the age of thirty. After a short time, he resigned his office and dedicated his life to the priesthood. He joined a Benedictine monastery and became abbot, founding several other monasteries during his time there. Eventually he was called to become the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, and he dedicated his papal ministry to reforming the Church, the Liturgy, and its priests. He spent a good deal of time and money ransoming political prisoners of the Lombards, and helped to stabilize the social climate somewhat during a time of great strife in the medieval world. He always stood ready to renounce his own ambitions to follow Christ, and spoke of himself as unworthy of the grace God had given him.

Gregory gave himself to Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel reading, “from now on you will be catching men.” He is a wonderful model for all of us on spreading the Gospel through faithful prayer and participation in the Sacraments. The medieval world and the Church owe a great deal to Gregory’s faithful ministry, and for this we call him “Gregory the Great.”