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Homilies Saints

Saint John Bosco, Priest

Today’s readings

Saint John Bosco was a master catechist and a priest who was concerned with the whole person of the young people he taught: he wanted them to fill both their minds and their souls.  John was encouraged to enter the priesthood for the specific purpose of teaching young boys and forming them in the faith.  This began with a poor orphan, who John prepared for First Holy Communion.  Then he was able to gather a small community and teach them the Catechism.  He worked for a time as a chaplain of a hospice for working girls, and later opened an oratory – a kind of school – for boys which had over 150 students.  The needs of teaching them also encouraged John to open a publishing house to print the catechetical and educational materials used in the classrooms.

He was known for his preaching, and that helped him to extend his ministry by forming a religious community – the Salesians – to concentrate on education and mission work in 1859.  He later formed a group of Salesian Sisters to teach girls. By teaching children self worth through education and job training, John was able to also teach the children of their own worth in the eyes of God.

Saint John Bosco was tireless in his devotion to teaching this truth to young people. In today’s Eucharist, may our thanksgiving be for the teachers in our lives. And especially during this Catholic Schools Week, perhaps we can also commend the teachers and catechists of today’s young people to the patronage of Saint John Bosco.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This is a tough text from the Gospel today.  Jesus says that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness…”  This seems to be an incongruous statement from Jesus, who came to be all about forgiveness.  That he would withhold it from any sinner is shocking, I think.

But we have to remember what it is that Jesus was addressing here.  The scribes who had come from Jerusalem catch up with Jesus and begin to make trouble for him.  They are being obstinate in their unbelief, even to the point of being intellectually dishonest.  They know that Satan cannot — would not — cast himself out, but that’s just what they’re accusing Jesus of being and doing.  They would rather say foolish things than to believe that Jesus came to cast out sin and forgive sinners and address the fundamental issues of human existence.

Salvation and forgiveness are a gift, and gifts must be accepted.  If one refuses to be forgiven, he or she will never have forgiveness.  That is the infamous sin against the Holy Spirit.  If one refuses to believe that he or she needs a Savior, then he or she will never come at last to eternity.

May we always remember how much we need our Savior, and always give thanks for the demons he casts out.

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Homilies Jesus Christ Ordinary Time

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Sunday of the Word of God

Today’s Readings
Pope Francis’s “motu proprio” APERUIT ILLIS, instituting the Sunday of the Word of God

About fifteen years ago now, my home parish put on a production of the musical Godspell, and somehow I found myself part of the cast.  If you’ve ever seen the musical, you know that it is based on the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel that we are reading during this current Church year.  I remember the first song of the musical was kind of strange to me at the time.  It’s called “Tower of Babel” and the lyrics are a hodge-podge of lots of philosophies and philosophers throughout time.  I didn’t get, at the time, the significance of the song, but I do now.  “Tower of Babel” represents the various schools of thought about God, over time.  It shows how philosophy at its worst has been an attempt to figure out God by going over God’s head, by leaving God out of the picture completely.

The song ends abruptly and goes right into the second song of the musical, “Prepare Ye,” of which the major lyric is “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  The message that we can take from that is that the useless, and in some ways sinful, babbling of the pagan philosophers was once and for all settled by Jesus Christ.  If we want to know the meaning of life, if we want to know who God is, we have only to look to Jesus.  That’s true of most things in life.

That’s what is happening in today’s Liturgy of the Word too.  The people in the first reading and in the Gospel have found themselves in darkness.  Zebulun and Naphtali have been degraded.  They have been punished for their sinfulness, the sin being that they thought they didn’t need God.  They thought they could get by on their own cleverness, making alliances with people who believed in strange gods and worshiped idols.  So now they find themselves in a tower of Babel, occupied by the people with whom they tried to ally themselves.  Today’s first reading tells them that this subjection – well deserved as it certainly was – is coming to an end.  The people who have dwelt in darkness are about to see a great light.

The same is true in another sense for Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee in today’s Gospel.  These men have been fishermen all their lives.  Reading the Gospels and seeing how infrequently they catch anything unless Jesus helps them, we might wonder how successful they were at their craft.  But the point is that fishing is all they’ve ever known.  These are not learned men, nor are they known for their charisma or ability to lead people.  But these are the men who Jesus calls as apostles.  One wonders if they had any previous about Jesus, because on seeing him and hearing him and recognizing the Light of the World, they drop everything, turn their backs on the people and work they have always known, and follow Jesus, whose future they absolutely could never have imagined.

All of this is good news for us. Because we too dwell in darkness at times, don’t we? We can turn on the news and see reports of men and women dying in war, crime and violence in our communities, corruption in government, and maybe worst of all right now, sniping between political candidates!  Then there is the rampant disrespect for life through the horrific sin of abortion, as well as euthanasia, hunger and homelessness, racism and hatred, and so much more.  Add to that the darkness in our own lives: illness of a family member or death of a loved one, difficulty in relating to family members, and even our own sinfulness.  Sometimes it doesn’t take much imagination to know that our world is a very dark place indeed.

But the Liturgy today speaks to us the truth that into all of this darkness, the Light of Christ has dawned and illumined that darkness in ways that forever change our world and forever change us.  One of the Communion antiphons for today’s Liturgy speaks of that change.  Quoting Jesus in the Gospel of John, it says this:

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.  

There is an antidote available for the darkness in our world and in our hearts, and that antidote is Jesus Christ.  The limits that are part and parcel of our human existence are no match for the light that is God’s glory manifested in Christ.  This is what we mean by the Epiphany, and we continue to live in the light of the Epiphany in these opening days of Ordinary Time.  Now that Jesus Christ has come into the world, nothing on earth can obscure the vision of God’s glory that we see in our Savior.

Pope Francis has made this particular Sunday each year a celebration of the Word of God.  He means for us to spend time opening the Scriptures and finding the manifold riches that are there.  That’s what our Mass is always about.  Read carefully through the order of Mass and you’ll find scripture in every part of it.  Not just in the Liturgy of the Word – that’s a given, but in each and every one of the prayers of Mass.  Catholic worship isn’t something someone made up, it is literally a celebration of the Word of God from beginning to end.  And that makes sense, when you think about it: if we are called to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” as one of the dismissal formulas invites us, we can do that with confidence because we have just been fed on the Gospel in every part of our Mass.

The Mass, too, is an Epiphany celebration at every point of the liturgical year.  Because when we’re attentive to the Word of God and the prayer of the Mass, we can’t possibly miss Jesus present among us.  So Pope Francis on this Sunday of the Word of God encourages us to devote ourselves to God’s word: to join a Bible study – we have that here at Saint Mary’s, to help others break open the word by leading that part of the RCIA, to teaching the scriptures to children in our school and religious education programs, to proclaiming the Word at Mass.  Do any one of those things, sisters and brothers, and I guarantee you’ll grow in your knowledge of scripture.  And, turning a famous saying of Saint Jerome around to the positive, knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ.

Jesus came to be good news for us.  He is the Word of God incarnate among us, not just two thousand years ago, but even now if we would give ourselves over to loving the scriptures.  So for those of us who feel like every day is a struggle of some sort, and who wonder if this life really means anything, the Good news is that Jesus has come to give meaning to our struggles and to walk with us as we go through them. For those of us who are called to ministries for which we might feel unqualified – as catechists, Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, RCIA team members, small group leaders or retreat leaders – we can look to the Apostles and see that those fishermen were transformed from the darkness of their limited life to the light of what they were able to accomplish in Christ Jesus. Wherever we feel darkness in our lives, the Good News for us is that Christ’s Epiphany – his manifestation into our world and into our lives – has overcome all that.

As the Psalmist sings for us today, the Lord truly is our light and our salvation.

Categories
Homilies Saints

Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saint Francis de Sales was born in the Savoy region of France-Italy in 1567.  His priesthood had him work diligently for the restoration of Catholicism in his homeland, reclaiming it from the clutches of the protestant reformation.  He became bishop of Geneva, and was known for his writings, work and example.  Astonishingly, he says that it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, a problem no one ever suspected he had, because he was known for his good nature and kindness.  His perennial meekness and sunny disposition won for him the title of “Gentleman Saint.”

This is a quality that I’m sure we all wish more people had, and perhaps we wish we had it as well.  I know I have to work on that every day, or it would be easy to let the frustrations of running a large place like Saint Mary’s cause me to give in to anger.  So for all of us who seek to overcome a quick temper, or overcome the disposition to say something we wish we hadn’t, or the tendency to press “send” on a tersely-written email, Saint Francis de Sales is our patron.  Saint Francis is also known to be the patron of the deaf, since he devised a kind of sign language in order to teach the deaf about God.  His beautiful writings have inspired many in their faith and earned him the title of Doctor of the Church.

Saint Francis was known to work on behalf of the poor, and even to be something of an ascetic himself.  He encouraged devotion in every person, regardless of their walk in life.  He writes: “I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman.  But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.”

In a moment we will offer our gifts, and pray for gifts and grace to lead a holy life.  Following the example of Saint Francis de Sales, maybe we can call on God for meekness, and humility, and patience. As St. Francis de Sales tells us: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.” Who wouldn’t want to look at the world that way?

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s first reading, we hear about the amazing power of spiritual friendship, through the lens of the relationship of Jonathan and David.  If it were not for Jonathan, Saul would have murdered David, if not in the story we heard today, then in many other occasions that we read in the books of Samuel.  This was just the beginning, it was only going to get worse.  The Lord’s rejection of Saul would drive him to madness, and, as many insecure people do, he would do everything possible to sabotage the one who was making him look bad.  

But Jonathan’s intervened, and made some good points about the fact that David risked his life for Saul, and that Saul delighted in the victory David won for him.  Because of Jonathan’s intervention, Saul’s anger was tempered, and David lived to become king.

Now, note that I’m not just extolling friendship alone here.  I think we can agree that friendship is a good thing, even a gift.  But I said this reading was about the amazing power of spiritual friendship.  Spiritual friendship has its basis in God’s grace, and is a special gift from God.  A spiritual friendship is a kind of companionship in which the companions, in their affection for one another, lead each other to God.  Jonathan and David did that in many ways, and the fruit of that was that Jonathan protected David’s vocation to be king.  Spiritual friends do that – they always bring out the best in each other; they help each other become what God created them to be.

Spiritual friendship is a very special gift, and it involves two people who have a strong relationship with God and an understanding that love means willing the good of the other.  If you have a spiritual friendship, it’s a very great blessing.  Give your friendships some prayerful thought today; pause and be grateful for those who have been spiritual friends to you.  Think of those who have helped you become who you are; those whose encouragement has brought you closer to God.  May God bless those who have been a blessing to us.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Saturday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the continued Epiphany of Jesus manifested as one who identifies with sinners. That is not, of course, to say that he was a sinner; quite the contrary, because we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. In this Gospel passage, though, we see that he is certainly concerned with calling sinners to the Kingdom, and concerned enough that he will be known to be in their company. He eats with them, talks with them, walks with them.

This of course, riles the Pharisees.  And, to be fair, for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community.  But Jesus distancing himself from sinners would only reinforce the barrier that sin puts between us and God.  Not eating with sinners means there is no redemption.  So nothing that we have done can put us so far away from God that we are beyond God’s reach.  And God does reach out to us, in tangible ways, in sacramental ways, in the person of Jesus and through the ministry of the Church.

Sin is a terrible thing.  It’s often cyclical.  Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees – and others – make sinners feel unworthy; but also does the guilt that comes from inside the sinner.   The more one sins, the less worthy one often feels of God’s love, and so the more does that person turn away from God, and then they sin more, feel less worthy, turn away again, and so on, and so on, and so on.

But Jesus won’t have any of that – he has come to put an end to that cycle once and for all.  Jesus is the One who walks into the midst of sinners, sits down with them and has a meal.  He is the divine physician healing our souls, and those who do not sin do not need his ministry.  But we sinners do, so thanks be to God for the manifestation of Jesus as one who came to dine with sinners.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

My eldest niece is now in college; I can’t believe how time has flown. But back when she was little, she knew how to wrap Uncle Patrick around her little finger. I remember one time when we were out at the mall, she said something like, “If you want, you can buy me a cookie.” It reminded me of the way the leper approached Jesus in today’s Gospel.  And my niece found out that I did indeed want to buy her a cookie!

You know, the most amazing thing about this miracle isn’t really the miracle itself.  Sure, cleansing someone of leprosy is a big deal.  But for me, the real miracle here surrounds those first three words the leper says to Jesus, “If you wish…”  “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Isn’t it true that we so often wonder about God’s will for our lives?  Especially when we’re going through something tragic, or chronically frustrating, we can wonder how this all fits into God’s plan for us.  If God wishes, he can cleanse us, forgive us, heal us, turn our lives around.

And here the poor leper finds out that healing is indeed God’s will for him.  But not just the kind of healing that wipes out leprosy.  Sure, that’s what everyone saw.  But the real healing happened in that leper’s heart.  He surely wondered if God cared about him at all, and in Jesus’ healing words – “I do will it” – he found out that God cared for him greatly.

Not all of us are going to have this kind of miraculous encounter with God.  But we certainly all ask the question “what does God will for me?” at some point in our lives.  As we come to the Eucharist today, perhaps we all can ask that sort of question.  Reaching out to receive our Lord, may we pray “If you wish, you can feed me.”  “If you wish, you can pour out your blood to wipe away my sins.”  “If you wish, you can strengthen my faith.”  “If you wish you can make me new.”  What does God wish to do in your life?

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Baptism Christmas Homilies

The Baptism of Our Lord

Today’s readings

I think we have to be a little bit careful about how we read and hear today’s readings.  We’re still in the Christmas season – at the end of it, actually – and, more precisely, we’re at the octave day of the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, in which we started to see Jesus revealing himself, manifesting himself, to the world.  Today’s readings for the Baptism of our Lord are Epiphany readings, too, because they show us even more about who Jesus is and why he came.  This feast is another Epiphany, another manifestation of Jesus in the flesh.

So I say that we have to be careful about how we hear these readings because I think they can lead us to define Jesus by what he does.  And that’s a start, but it’s just inadequate.  Let me explain what I mean.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us about the Suffering Servant, and he says that that suffering servant is one who would “open the eyes of the blind … bring out prisoners from confinement …. and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  So it’s easy to see Jesus as the suffering servant who would bring about justice.  This in itself is pretty huge, but again, if we define Jesus as a justice-bringer, then he’s just a glorified judge or legislator.  But Jesus is the true Suffering Servant: the one who would come and serve the people while himself suffering the effects of the peoples’ sins, dying the death of a criminal up there on that Cross.  Jesus did in fact came to suffer and die for us, to pay the price for our many sins.  So far from being a judge or legislator, he also stands in place of the condemned – that would be us – and pays the price we deserve for our own lack of justice.

In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus “… went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  Going about doing good and healing those who are suffering is a great thing.  But if we see Jesus merely in this way, then he’s nothing more than a glorified social worker or physician – there’s nothing special about that.  But during this year of grace, we will see Jesus as the divine physician who heals us from the inside out and makes us fit for heaven.  That is the real healing he intends.  He won’t be just a food service worker, but instead the one who spreads the lavish feast that becomes food for the journey to heaven, where we are called to the heavenly banquet.

And we know this is hard because we get confused about our own identities all the time.  We can easily define ourselves or especially others by what we or they do.  “He’s a computer programmer … she’s an attorney … he’s a retail worker.”  Or we may even go so far as to define ourselves or others by superficial factors like nationality or sexual identity.  We may even select the pronouns we want people to use when they refer to us.  None of this is adequate; it all falls short of saying who we really are.  In fact, it clouds who we were created to be, and it flies in the face of the way our Creator God sees us.

So we’re in a quandary.  If we don’t know who we are, it will be pretty hard for us to see who Jesus is.  If we define ourselves by what we do, then we’re definitely going to look to Jesus to fill a role for us, perhaps a different role depending on where life has us at the moment.  But it’s all inadequate, and more than a little confusing.

That is, until we hear the words of God the Father in today’s Gospel.  With Jesus coming up out of the river Jordan, the Father boldly proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  So Jesus isn’t what he does: he is what he was begotten: the Son of God, who is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit from before time began and until eternity.  Because of this, his interaction with us is life-changing.  Maybe he will heal us of this or that current ailment, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely heal us from the inside out, and if we let him, he will lead us to heaven.  Maybe he will help us with a family issue that has us up half the night every day, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will certainly give us a strength we never expected that will help us through it.  All we have to do is stop seeing Jesus for what he does, stop expecting him to fill a role, and instead enter into relationship with him as the Son of God who in his very person is everything that pleases his heavenly Father.

When we do that – when we enter into relationship with Christ – he will give us identity too.  And not just the paltry identity of what we do or our nationality or whatever, but the real identity that God created us with – our identity as sons and daughters of God.  No matter how we define ourselves, or worse, how others may seek to define us, no one can take away our identity as beloved children of God.  It is our task to live that identity with authenticity, which can be hard to do.  But thank God he gives us himself and gives us the Church to help us on the way to him.  

Central to our identity as children of God is our own baptism.  In baptism, we are united with Christ who was baptized too, who sanctified the waters that baptized us, who identified himself with us at his own baptism.  We ought to take baptism more seriously than many people do.  We ought to select godparents who live their identity as children of God so that our children might have role models.  We ought to seek to live our baptism by revering Christ before all else, by living the Gospel, by leading others to Christ in our words and example, by constantly seeking the Sacraments of the Church, and by looking forward every day to that great day when Christ will lead us to eternal life.  We sons and daughters of God live for that day when he tells us that with us, too, he is well-pleased.

Categories
Christmas Homilies

Friday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Today, as we continue to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, we see another Epiphany, another manifestation of our Lord.  Each of these manifestations tells us a little more about who Jesus is and what he came to do in our world.  Today we see Jesus manifested as healer.

“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  What a wonderful profession of faith!  Here is a man, full of leprosy, who has been in pain and ostracized for perhaps a good portion of his life.  He perhaps has heard about Jesus and was eager to see if he would do what no one has been able to do for him.  No one would even touch a leper, for fear of contracting the disease.  So he has been forced to live with it for all this time.

But Jesus isn’t going to be limited by anything, so he does it: he touches the man and says, “I do will it.”  Healing is the will of our Father, and Jesus came to do the Father’s work.  Responding to the man’s faith, Jesus is able to do in him what no one else could do, or even would do.

But a lot of people have come and gone who would have done the same.  Why is it that everyone is not healed?  Certainly you know of people who have suffered, perhaps you have even suffered yourself, praying and praying all to no avail.  

That’s a hard question, and it’s one that often gets cited by those who reject a life of faith.  But we know in our heart of hearts that there’s all kinds of healing.  And what God intends for us may be far different, perhaps far more important to our salvation, than the healing of a disease.  

In any case, whether the disease goes away or not, the person of faith is always given what God intends for her or him.  And that person never walks through suffering alone, because we know that our Lord suffered greatly on that Cross.  So, joining our sufferings to Christ’s, we have him to help us with our own cross, whatever it may be.  Whether God intends our disease to go away or not, he always wills our salvation, which in the end is the essence of what he came to do. 

Today Christ is manifested as healer.  Healer of our bodies, perhaps.  But healer of our souls to make them fit for heaven, for sure.

Categories
Christmas Homilies

Thursday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures continue to reveal Christ manifested in the flesh, and the way his manifestation looks today is like love.  We have the great joy of continuing our reading from the first letter of John today, and, as I mentioned on Tuesday, John is always about love.  Today John gives us a discerning test, so that we can see if a person is of God.  The test is whether that person loves his or her brothers and sisters.  Because one cannot claim to love God who is so very much beyond us, if we cannot love the brother or sister who is right in front of us.

That can prove to be a very daunting test to be sure.  Because I don’t think I’m too far out on a limb to say we’re not very often irritated by the God who is beyond us, but are often irritated by the brother or sister who is always right there in our face!  Still, the commandment is clear: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Jesus Christ is the personification of God’s love for us.  God came to be among us not in some kind of ethereal nature, but with a human face and a human heart, and a love that overcomes all the flaws of our flesh.  It is that love that sets us free.  In Jesus, all the prophecies of deliverance are fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus says, “because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

And if our own love for our brothers and sisters can transcend our petty day-to-day irritations, or even our deep-seated hurts and resentments, than maybe we can set people free, and even set ourselves free, and make Jesus incarnate in the world yet again.