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Homilies Lent

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”

That’s advice I wish I’d taken sometimes when I’ve been coming down with something and think, “oh, it’ll pass.”  The sick need a physician!

 Anyone who has battled an addiction will tell you how true this is.  You cannot make any progress is wellness in any aspect of life if you don’t admit you’re sick and accept help.  We all have difficulty doing that sometimes, I think, and much to our demise.

It’s important that we learn to do that in the spiritual life.  If you don’t think you need a physician for your spiritual life, congratulations, you can skip Lent.  In fact you don’t even need a Savior!  I say that in jest, but really it’s true.  Jesus is very clear today: he came to call sinners to conversion, and that includes all of us.  You and me, all of us, need conversion in our spiritual lives.  And the good news is that Jesus gives us Lent to do just that.  Be converted, be healed, be made whole so that the glory of Easter can brighten our lives.

So our reflection this morning is two-fold. First, where and how do I need the Divine Physician in my life right now? And second, invite him in and let him heal us.

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Homilies Lent

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

When it comes right down to it, we have a choice. We can choose life or death, blessing or curse, the way of the Cross or the way of the world. The choice that we make has huge consequences, eternal consequences. The stakes are big ones, and we must choose wisely.

The command from Deuteronomy is clear: “Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.”  The way of the Lord is life-giving, the way of the world is death.  The way of the Lord is blessing, the way of the world is curse.  The passing pleasures of the world are nothing compared to the eternal pleasures of God’s way. 

Jesus asks us today to make a choice to take up our crosses and follow him.  There is great suffering in the cross.  But, as he says, what profit is there for us if we gain the whole world but lose our very selves?  May we all this day renounce the hold the world has on us, and choose life, that we and our descendants might live.

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Homilies Lent

Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

Today we begin something really important.  And I don’t mean just the smudging of our foreheads with the ashes of burnt palms.  That’s just an outward sign.  What I mean is the inward activity those ashes represent, what our collect prayer today calls “this campaign of Christian service.”  This time of Lent is so important to us because it calls us to newness in our relationship with God, that relationship that brings us to the eternal reward for which we were created.

We have come here today for all sorts of reasons. But the most important reason we come to Church on this, the first day of Lent, is for what we celebrate on the day after Lent: the resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.  Through the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus has won for us salvation, and we have been blessed to be beneficiaries of that great gift.  All of our Lenten observance, then, is a preparation for the joy of Easter.

Lent calls us to repent, to break our ties with the sinfulness and the entanglements that are keeping us tethered to the world instead of free to live with our God and receive his gift of salvation.  Our Church offers us three ways to do that: fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  Giving things up, spending more time in prayer and devotion, dedicating ourselves to works of charity, all of these help us to deeply experience the love of Christ as we enter into deeper relationship with him.  That is Lent, and the time to begin it, as we are told, is now: Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!

And none of this, as the Gospel reminds us today, is to be done begrudgingly or half-heartedly.  None of it is to be done with the express purpose of letting the world see how great we are.  It is always to be done with great humility, but also with great joy.  Our acts of fasting, prayer, and charity should be a celebration of who God is in our lives, and a beautiful effort to strengthen our relationship with him.

It is my prayer that this Lent can be a forty-day retreat that will bring us all closer to God.  May we all hear the voice of the prophet Joel from today’s first reading: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart!”

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the disciples arguing among themselves because they find they don’t understand Jesus’ message. And then that degenerates into a further argument about which one of them was the greatest.  They’re doing an awful lot of arguing, and not nearly enough listening.

All of this arguing betrays a real lack of growth in faith among those disciples.  They probably felt like, since they were in Jesus’ inner-circle, they should have all the answers.  And perhaps they should, but to their defense, they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet.  In a real sense, they were still in formation, and they shouldn’t have been so afraid to ask Jesus for clarification, rather than start petty arguments.

Jesus’ lesson to them then comes from him putting a little child in their midst.  Receive a child like this in my name, he tells them, and you receive me.  What’s the point of that?  Well, receiving a child in Jesus’ name is an act of service, because a child can do nothing but receive at that point in their life.  So serving others in Jesus’ name, serving those who cannot serve you back, or at least in a way that they can’t return the favor, is what brings us to the Father.

I think the take-away for us is that trying to be smarter than everyone else isn’t what shows that we are faithful people.  Instead of arguing our point, we need to ask God to help us get the point.  And we have to be ready to act on our faith, serving others out of love for God, instead of arguing or debating what Jesus is making plain as day.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our readings today pick up the sermon that Jesus was giving in last week’s gospel.  Last week, he used the formula: “You have heard that it was said…  But I say to you…” to raise the bar on living the fifth, sixth and eighth commandments. Merely refraining from actual murder no longer means that we have not murdered in our heart.  Never having had an extra-marital affair doesn’t any longer mean that we haven’t committed sexual sin.  And never having lied under oath doesn’t mean we haven’t stretched the truth in ways that are sinful.  Disciples, people who believe in Christ, are expected to live differently: our faith looks like something, and that something is radical lives of integrity that set out to witness to God’s love in the world.

This week we have a bit more of the same, but this time expressed in terms of positive behavior.  Christian disciples, he tells us, are not just to refrain from anything that would tear down another’s life, they are not just to refrain from seeing people as objects, nor are they just to refrain from lying.  They are to go beyond all that and give of themselves, even when it doesn’t seem like they would strictly be required to do so.  Disciples are to give of themselves even when they themselves have been wronged.  They are to do more than the law requires and offer no resistance to evil.  Disciples are even to love their enemies, for heaven’s sake!

So what we are seeing over these two weekends’ Scriptures are a completely new message for the people of Israel.  Hopefully the message is not a new one for us, but it is, we have to admit, one of which we need to be reminded from time to time.  Because it’s really easy to get caught up in our own entitlement, and looking out for number one, and doing what seems best for us.  But disciples are called to a different kind of life, one that leads ultimately to the kingdom of heaven.  If we’re ever going to attain that eternal reward, we have to bring everyone with us that we can.  And to do that, sometimes we’re going to have to let someone else win the argument, or see the good in someone who isn’t presenting a real good side right now.  We might even have to go so far as to love and pray for those who are working against us, and trust God to work it all out.

And the thing is, God is trustworthy to work it all out, but sometimes we don’t have faith enough to let him do that.  That’s something we have to work on every day.  Because if the only one we ever trust in is ourselves, we are destined for a pretty bad end.  Even the brightest and best of us have limited ability, and none of us can ever make up to God for the offenses of our sins.  So our ability to be okay in bad times goes only as far as we can manage, unless we trust in the Father’s care.

Today, we have a video from our bishop about the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal.  The diocese serves almost 700,000 Catholics in our seven-county area.  Some of the other ways the appeal helps us is by funding Young Adult and Youth Ministry programs, by nights of shelter and housing were provided to the homeless through Catholic Charities.  The Catholic Schools Office assists and gives direction to our own school and others, and is assisting us as we search for a new principal for our school, and the office of Faith Formation helps train and direct catechists.

I know you’re hearing about our capital campaign.  I appreciate all that you are doing to support that as well as our weekly offertory.  The diocese assists us in so many ways, and so many of the poor and needy depend on their work.  So I just ask you to be as generous as you can.  Our ushers will now pass out the pledge envelopes, and I ask you to please fill it out as we watch the video.  We will then collect them right after the video.  If you wish to take the envelope home and pray about it, you can return it next week.  Thank you for doing that.

Our Psalmist today reminds us that “The Lord is kind and merciful,” which is the theme of this year’s CMAA.  God is never outdone in generosity, and so when we extend ourselves to those in need, when we give above and beyond what is strictly required, when we love those who maybe don’t love us, and even pray for our enemies, we can trust that God will give us all that we need and bless us in ways that we may never have expected.  Trust in the Father’s care: that’s what our Scriptures and this year’s appeal ask us to do.  It’s sound advice, and I pray that we would all take note of it!

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Saint James today encourages us to consider it all joy when we experience trial.  I don’t know about you, but that’s not the emotion I usually find in frustrating or fearful circumstances.  And considering that the people to whom James was writing were probably being persecuted, they probably weren’t overjoyed at their trials either.  But the spiritual principle is that when one’s faith is tested, ones learns perseverance, and learns to trust in God.

But that presupposes that we will remain faithful in the midst of trial.  The minute we stop looking to our Lord for help in times of difficulty, perseverance and trust in God go right down the tubes.  The Pharisees in the Gospel had not yet learned faithfulness.  They kept their eyes on the minutiae of the Law instead of on God, and so they lost sight of faith and everything that was of true importance.  They were fearful; they wanted a sign, but they would never get a sign because they were always looking in places other than God.

Faithfulness is a difficult thing. When we are tested, it’s so easy to want to throw in the towel and leave behind everything we believe in. I have been there myself, but thankfully I still had prayer and people praying for me. I think we’re all in that place at some time or another in our lives. It’s easy to be faithful when there are no trials, but faith in times of trial produces the perseverance and lively faith that gets us through life. And we definitely should consider that all joy.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the most basic spiritual principles is that the Christian life looks like something.  The Christian looks like something.  Perhaps we ought to change that to “looks like someone,” that someone of course being Jesus Christ.

In the Liturgy of the Hours, which clergy and others pray each day, today there is a reading from a section of Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constituition on the Church in the Modern World from Vatican II.  The line that jumped out at me was this one: “Man’s worth is greater because of what he is than because of what he has.”  So the Christian doesn’t look like her or his possessions; doesn’t look like what he does, but rather what he is.  And what she or he is is what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus gives us the images of salt and light, and I think those are very familiar images for us to grasp.  We all use salt and light every day, and it is interesting to hear Jesus say that that is what we are.  Anyone who cooks, or even anyone who eats, will tell you of the value of salt.  I like to watch the television show Chopped on the Food Network.  On that show, four chefs compete to make something edible of a basket of disparate and perhaps even bizarre ingredients.  Then three judges sample their dishes and decide who is not moving on to the next round; they are “chopped.”  At the end, one of them wins a bunch of money.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen on that show get “chopped” because they under-seasoned their food.  A pinch of salt might be what got between them and ten thousand dollars!

So the Christian is salt for the world; we are called to season the world with joy and goodness and concern for the poor and genuine love, based on the Gospel.  But Jesus wonders what would happen if that salt were to lose its flavor.  Now I can’t imagine salt losing its saltiness.  In fact, I googled this one time and found a chemist who took this question on.  He indicated that salt, in its crystalline form, is pretty stable; it doesn’t lose its flavor.  So Jesus was using, as he often does, hyperbole to get our attention.  Suppose for the moment that salt could lose its saltiness: what would it then be good for?  Well, nothing, of course.

But Jesus seems to be saying that we, as the salt for the world, could lose our saltiness.  For example, we could become under-seasoned by skipping Mass to attend a sports event or sleep in.  We could become under-seasoned by neglecting our prayer life.  We could become under-seasoned by watching the wrong things on TV or surfing the wrong sites on the internet.  We could become under-seasoned by holding on to relationships that are sinful.  And when that starts to happen, our ability to season our world with the presence of Christ is diminished, little by little.  Our salt loses its saltiness.

And then we have the image of light.  When I preach this text for children, I often ask them how many of them are or ever had been afraid of the dark.  Lots of hands go up, as you can well imagine.  I think that’s probably true of all of us on some level; the darkness is a scary place.  There are all sorts of obstacles in the dark that could cause us to trip and fall, and you never know what might befall you on a dark and scary road.  All of us have had those experiences when we are in the dark, and it’s not a fun place to be.

So what do you do when you find yourself in the dark?  Well, you turn on the light, of course. The light changes everything: you can see the obstacles over which you might have fallen.  Anything lurking in the dark will now be identified in the light.  Sometimes a quick look around with the lights on will assure you that that noise you heard was just the house settling, or the furnace firing up, or something similarly innocuous.  The light just makes you feel a little safer.

And so we are called to be light too.  We don’t need much time to think about how dark our world can be at times.  We see on television the news about war and crime and terrorism and new diseases and things we shouldn’t be eating.  We hear about children bullying one another and people stalking others on the internet.  A quick moment of reflection reminds us of our own sinfulness; the bad that we have done and the good we have failed to do.  Darkness in our world can be pretty pervasive at times, and it makes the world a rather frightening place.

But we have the light.  We’ve been exposed to the light.  We have come alive in Jesus, the Light of the world – that’s what we celebrated last weekend during our feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  As those gifted with the Light of the world, we become people of light.  We become light for the world too.  Jesus insists that our light should shine so brightly that we affect the darkness of our world, completely overcoming that darkness with the Light of Christ.  He insists that we are now that city, set on a hill, that cannot be hidden.  

St. Therese of Liseaux used to talk about doing little things with great love for the glory of God.  She found joy in her “Little Way” and it has inspired so many people ever since.  Our Liturgy today calls us to do little things and big things, all for God’s glory.  It calls us to be salt for a world grown bland with despair and light for a world dwelling in a very dark place.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us how to do it:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…

If neglecting our prayer life and our integrity causes us to lose our saltiness, if giving in to shame and despair puts out our light, then we can never do what we were created for.  But we have been given salt and light to season and light our world.  We are the city set on the hill for all the watching world to see.  Would that they might see us doing little things and big things, all for the glory of God.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There is a lot of anguish in the readings today, isn’t there?  Most markedly is the anguish of King David, mourning the death of his son Absalom.  His anguish was most surprising to his army, because they had been fighting Absalom’s thugs who were helping him to overthrow the government of David.  But even though Absalom was seeking his father’s life, Absalom is still his son, and his death is no occasion for joy.

Then there is the anguish of Jairus, the synagogue official, whose daughter was near death when he reached out to Jesus.  It becomes more distressing when, on the way to heal his daughter, they are confronted with the anguish of the hemorrhagic woman, who had been suffering for twelve years, at “the hands of many doctors,” who had apparently done nothing for her but take her money.  Knowing that he had healed someone, he stopped to reach out to her so as to heal her spirit.  All of which becomes even more distressing as they reach Jairus’s daughter, who has just died.

But Jesus is the enemy of death and anguish, so he heals the hemorrhagic woman, he raises the daughter of Jairus with a word of command, and he teaches us the essential truth that faith is essential to healing.  David had faith and poured out his heart to God in our psalm today, and was eventually given peace.  Jairus had faith, and found out that death is not more powerful than God.  The hemorrhagic woman had faith and found that God’s love can bind up the wounds of so many years.

Whatever our anguish is today, may we bring it to God, trusting as David did: “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.”

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Christmas Jesus Christ The Church Year

The Presentation of the Lord

Today’s readings

Who is this king of glory?
The 
Lord of hosts; he is the king of glory.

Today we celebrate the traditional end of the Christmas season with this feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  The current liturgical end of the Christmas season was back on January 12th, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  But the older tradition reflected what we have seen in the readings for the Sundays ever since, and that is remnants of the Epiphany, or manifestation of who Christ is in our world.  On Epiphany, Jesus was manifested to the Magi as priest, prophet and king.  On the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus was baptized as the eternal Son of the Father, with whom the Father was well-pleased.  Today, Jesus is manifested as a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, as the king of glory.

Like Epiphany, this feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a feast of light.  On Epiphany the world was illumined by a star that pointed to the true Light of the world.  Today, a world grown dark is illumined by that true Light and the glory of God sheds light on the whole world: Gentiles and Israelites alike.  So today, the Church has always blessed candles, which we did at the beginning of Mass today.  The reason the Church lights candles is always to draw our attention to Christ our Light, in the midst of whatever darkness the world throws at us.  This feast is a foreshadowing of the Easter Vigil, when the deacon proclaims in a darkened church, “Lumen Christi,” “The Light of Christ,” and the Church responds, “Deo Gratias,” “Thanks be to God.”  Today is a foretaste of Easter, when the true Light of the World, Christ our Light, will definitively conquer every darkness.

And so you will be invited today to purchase some of the candles we just blessed to take into your home.  Traditionally these blessed candles have been used in many ways: to be a sign of Christ’s presence when the priest is called to anoint a dying loved one; to be lit during a storm to remind us of Jesus who had power to conquer every storm; to be lit when the family gathers for prayer so that we remember that whenever we gather in Christ’s name, he is there in our midst.  Every family should have blessed candles in their home because every family has times when Christ’s light needs to be shown brightly.

Those blessed candles which remind us of the presence of our Savior in good times and in bad remind us that we, too are meant to be the light of Christ.  And we are called to be the light because the world has times of darkness too.  The world needs us to be the light that scatters the darkness of apathy by looking in on a sick neighbor or bringing a meal to a family that has suffered the death of a loved one.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of ignorance by mentoring a young person, or opening our home to a foster child, or being a catechist.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of racism by standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, no matter where they’ve come from.  We have to be the light that scatters the darkness of death by taking every opportunity to oppose abortion, euthanasia, and any endeavor that cheapens human life.  We have to be the light that scatters the sadness of a spiritually bereft world by joyfully living our faith and standing up for what we believe.  The world needs the light of Christ, and you might be the only candle someone sees on a given day.  Be the light, friends: be Christ’s presence.  People of faith don’t have any other option than that.

The Methodist minister William L. Watkinson once said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  We can look at the darkness of our world – and there is plenty of it! – and shake our heads and walk away in sadness, but that doesn’t shed any light.  We have to acknowledge the darkness and remember, as the Gospel of John proclaims, “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  We are Catholics and we believe and proclaim that there is no darkness on earth that Christ our Light can’t overcome with the brightness of his glory.  It is up to us to light the candle that helps others to see that glory.

In today’s Gospel reading, Simeon and Anna experienced the power of the Light of the World.  They had been waiting and praying and fasting for the day of his appearance, and those prayers were answered.  The Lord came suddenly to the temple, as Malachi prophesied, and they could now be at peace.  But that appearance of the Lord requires a response: one doesn’t just experience the light and remain the same.  Christ our light is that refiner’s fire that purifies the lives of his chosen ones so that they might go out and shed light on our dark world.

And I don’t mean for this to just be an academic or poetic discussion.  The light of Christ is not a mere metaphor.  Being the light for the world isn’t just a “yeah, maybe I should do that some day” kind of thing.  Every baptized one, according to her or his station in life, is called to actively shed light on the world.  So let’s take a few moments to pray with this.

  • Call to mind a darkness that you have noticed, either in your life, in your community, or in the world: a darkness that affects you or those around you.
  • Take a moment to talk with Jesus about that darkness and let him know your concern.
  • Listen for Jesus as he acknowledges the darkness and accepts your concern.  
  • Ask him for the grace to shed some light, small or big, on that darkness.  Listen for him to tell you what he wants you to do.
  • If you don’t hear that call right away, bring it to your prayer this week.  Ask Jesus for grace to be the light.