White Mass for Healthcare Workers

Today’s readings: Lamentations 3:17-26 | Romans 8:18-30 | Mark 16:15-20

One of the most important things I’ve ever learned about the healing ministry of the Church is summed up in one of the lines in our Gospel reading this evening:

“They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

And let’s notice carefully who Jesus says will do these things.  Is it just Jesus himself, or the apostles, or great saints?  Is it only priests or people who do ministry?  No, not at all.  It’s all of us believers.  

These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.

This is really the basis for all of the Church’s teaching on healing.  At the core of our belief is that believers have the ability to do great things, not of their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Those who believe are so caught up in the life and activity of God that their gifts go out and accomplish God’s purpose in the world.  That is what we celebrate tonight.  That believers in the field of healthcare put their gifts and talents at the service of God’s desire for healing.

Tonight we also call on God’s grace and blessing to healthcare workers, because while their work is never easy, the COVID-19 pandemic only makes things more difficult.  In some ways, healthcare workers are the only faces the sick get to see in these days, because visits from family, friends, even priests is severely limited, if not impossible.  All of us know the value of those visits.  The psychological boost of seeing friendly faces, hearing comforting words, and partaking in prayer and the sacraments does a lot in the healing process, and now those remedies are not that available.  This places a great deal of added strain on those who are working endless shifts and doing their best to be the face of compassion to those in their care.

While the rest of us can never know the burden healthcare workers bear in these days, we can enter into solidarity through prayer and encouragement.  It’s up to all of us to hold up the healers, to be the face of Christ to them, whose hands, words, and hearts Christ is using right now to do his healing work.  Tonight we will offer a blessing to them and entreat our God to keep them well, keep them strong, and help them put an end to this pandemic disease that causes the misery they see daily, once and for all.

We could have read tonight from many Gospel passages in which our Lord heals someone of an illness.  And to those who have watched someone die of this illness many times, those readings may have echoed hollow in some ways.  If God can heal a leper in Jesus’ day, why can’t he heal this poor woman gasping for breath in her last days?  If he can make a lame man walk or stop a twelve-year hemorrhage, why can’t this poor man get up out of his bed and be well?  Those are hard questions, and we all grapple with the implications of that all the time: if not for patients, then for loved ones.  Illness and death are completely unfair.  Sometimes the healer does everything possible and still the patient dies.

Those are horrible times, but know this.  Know that God weeps with you.  Because while he allows sickness, disease, war, hunger, poverty, sin, and death, he never wills them.  The consequences of our fallen world take nothing away from God’s love for us, nor does he inflict them on us.  Even in our darkest moments, God walks with us and enables us to do all we can.  On those occasions when all you can do is not enough to make a person well, know that all that you do gives healing in other ways.  In these days especially, your care for them may be the only Jesus they get to see right now.  Our God who never wants anyone to die alone and uncared for is using you in these moments to give comfort and grace.  That’s an amazing privilege.

And the support you receive from many other workers is part of God’s healing work in the world too.  The sick must be fed, and have clean linens and clean rooms.  Broken equipment needs to be fixed.  Facilities need to be adapted so that they can be used in ways they weren’t originally intended for.  This all takes the work of dedicated workers who, like the doctors, nurses and other care givers, are putting themselves at risk in order to take care of those who are sick.  It takes a village to heal the sick and to comfort the dying.  God’s healing grace is active in every person who answers the call to work among the sick.

Today’s readings paint the picture of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Saint Paul writes to the Roman Church in a time of persecution, and he takes note of the sufferings that many of them were enduring.  In all of that, he calls on them to have hope in God.  Hoping is more than just a wish upon a star: hope is a theological virtue that, while never denying what’s going on, knows that the power of God is never limited by suffering.  We may not see the immediate fruits of hope, but then that’s not how hope works: hope never loses confidence that God is in control.  The writer of Lamentations speaks of hope as well, insisting that he has reason to have hope because God’s faithful mercy is renewed each morning.

And so we faithful ones forge on in hope, knowing that COVID-19 is not forever.  Nothing gets to be forever except God’s grace and mercy and love.  And so, while disease is a fearsome thing, we don’t owe it our fear.  If we use that energy instead to hope in God’s goodness, and know that he is at work in us, he can then use us to renew the face of the earth. Even now, the Spirit groans within us, giving voice to our deepest longings, as we wait for our bodies to be redeemed, and our prayers to be answered, and our illnesses to be healed.

And we continue to trust in our Lord who promised that believers would lay hands on the sick and they would recover.  Whether they recover their health, or recover their faith, or recover their relationships, they will recover what God intends them to recover.  That’s not up to us, any of us.  Hoping in God, however, and trusting in the faithfulness that renews us each day, I urge you all to continue to lay hands on the sick, put your gifts at the service of God’s mercy, and trust that he will recover what needs to be recovered.  The Lord always makes good on his promises when we live out of hope.

Because Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Easter Homilies

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

At our core, we all want peace and security in our lives.  We don’t want rough waters, or pain, or discord in our families, and that’s all understandable.  Certainly we have more than enough of those things in there shelter in place days, and that’s to say nothing of those who suffer from the coronavirus, or those who toil on the front lines these days.  I think that’s something of the same sentiment that is behind our Scripture readings today.

The Jewish people, the elders and the scribes, the religious establishment of the time, had their laws and customs, and for them, following those laws and customs represented a peaceful and secure life.  So they were not at all open to any kind of teaching that challenged their thinking.  Stephen points out that whenever a prophet called them to a deeper reality, a deeper sense of God’s call, rather than accept that teaching and reform their lives, their ancestors instead murdered those prophets.  And so their response was to prove his point.  They could not accept Stephen’s own prophecy that Christ in his glory was the key to human salvation.  So they stone him to death, with the tacit approval of a man named Saul, a man for whom God had future plans.

The crowd in the Gospel reading wants peace and security too.  They had recently been fed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  But they had missed the point.  They wanted just the bread they could eat for today; they didn’t get and didn’t want to get the bread Jesus really wanted them to have – the bread of eternal life.  And so they ask today for another feeding sign.  Just like Moses was able to provide bread from heaven, they wanted Jesus to feed their physical hunger too.  But Jesus is more interested in their spiritual hunger, and longs to provide that in himself, he who is the bread of life.

So if all we hunger for is peace and security, bread for today, then we will certainly miss receiving the Bread of Life, a far greater reality.  Our hearts have to be open, and our desires have to be for the deepest longings.  And very often, those deep longings take a lot more waiting and effort than the bread for today.  If we remember to long for the One who wishes to give us his very self, we can receive everything we truly need.  “I am the bread of life,” he says to us.  “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  In him, we will never need anything more.

Because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Homilies

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is a perplexing one, to be sure.  But in the light of Easter, we can see that Jesus was proclaiming that God is doing something new.  Not only that, but God wants us all to be part of that new thing.  Addressing Nicodemus, Jesus said that the old ways of worshipping and living were no longer sufficient, and really no longer needed.  God was looking not just for people’s obedience, but also, mostly, for their hearts.

We see those hearts at work in the early Christian community.  The reading from Acts this morning tells us that the believers cared for one another deeply, and were generous in that care.  “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.”  They were even selling their possessions to give to those who were in need.  Nobody felt needy, nobody felt cheated, nobody felt like they were doing more than their share.  People were worshipping not just with their minds, but also with their hearts, and their worshipping didn’t stop when they left the worship place.

So the same has to be true for us, we who have known the Lord for so long.  We have to be willing to give of our hearts, to believe not just when we’re in church, but also when we are out there, living our lives.  That’s especially true now that most of us can’t be in church for worship, but instead have to watch it on Facebook or television.  The pandemic gives us the opportunity, and even the nudge to make our faith the real viral thing.  So we have to trust God to take care of us when we stick our neck out to help someone else.  We have to trust that even when we are doing more than other people are, God will take care of the equity of it all and never be outdone in generosity.  We have to worship not just with our minds but also with our hearts.

Because Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!


Easter Homilies

The Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)

Today’s readings

I know there is a hunger out there, a hunger for the Eucharist, a hunger for being here at church, a hunger for the community we are missing.  But part of me wonders a bit about where that is coming from.  I mean, prior to a month ago, we were open every day of the week, and there were plenty of empty spaces.  So what is it that makes people hunger for the Eucharist more now than when it was available?  Or what makes us miss being together so much more now than when we could be?

Maybe our motives are grand ones.  Perhaps, for those who have been away, they find they can’t get enough of the Word of God and his Real Presence in the Eucharist – I hope that’s the case!  Or maybe we need to be together with the community in order for our faith to make sense and our life to be on track.  Certainly weeks without that possibility might highlight how important that is and make us yearn to return to it.  For some, maybe we know that our presence in the worshipping community isn’t just about us, but rather about all of us being together, that there would be no community without all of us present.  

But maybe our motives aren’t quite so lofty.  Maybe, at some level, we’re here because of fear.  And these days, there’s plenty of fear to go around.  Certainly we can agree there’s fear of contracting COVID-19, fear of losing jobs because of the downturn in the economy, fear that being sequestered in our homes highlights the brokenness of a family situation. That stuff is real, and there’s a lot of it out there.  And then there are the usual fears.  Fear that our lives aren’t going the way we’d like them to.  Fear that family problems are not getting resolved.  Fear that our jobs are unfulfilling or our relationships are in disarray.  Fear that our lives are empty spiritually, and we don’t know where to find our Lord.  Fear that missing Mass will lead us to hell.  Fear that if we don’t get out we’ll be lonely.  I think if we’re honest, there’s a little fear in all of us, and at some level, that fear wants us to be here.

And if you find that’s the case for you, you have ten patron saints locked up in that room.  They too had a great deal of fear.  Fear that they too might be led to the cross by the same people who took Jesus there.  There was certainly some reality to that fear, and I think we can all understand it.  But I also think it’s significant to realize that the Eleven, all of whom lived closely with Jesus for three years, were not yet able to overcome their fears and pursue the mission of Jesus.  Instead, they gather in a locked room, mourning their friend, confused about the empty tomb and stories of his appearances, and fearful for their own lives.  We whose lives are filled with fear right now definitely have the Apostles as our kindred spirits.

The truth is that, like the Apostles, it doesn’t matter why we want to be in Church today.  The important thing is that at least we long for it.  At least in our fear we did not hide away and refuse to be brought into the light.  Because there are many who have left us, aren’t there?  Many have had enough of church scandals and have decided to take their spiritual business elsewhere.  Many have been hurt in all kinds of ways and have not found immediate healing in the Church. Many have been influenced by the allurements of the world and the false comforts of pop psychology and have given up on a religion that makes demands of them.  Many have left us, but at least we are here, at least we have gathered, albeit in fear, albeit locked up in our own little rooms, but definitely in the path of our Lord who longs to be among us in our fear and to say, “Peace be with you.”

The peace that Jesus imparts is not just the absence of conflict in our lives.  It is instead a real peace, a peace from the inside of us out.  A peace that affects our body, mind and spirit.  A peace that brings us into communion with one another and most especially with God for whom we were created and redeemed.  The peace that the Ten had upon seeing their Risen Lord, the peace that Thomas had just one week later, is the same peace that our Risen Lord offers to all of us fearful disciples who gather together as a refuge against the storms and uncertainties of our own lives.  That peace is a peace that invites us to reach out like Thomas did and touch our Lord as we receive his very Body and Blood in all his Divine Mercy.

That peace is not some passive greeting that rests upon us and goes no further.  Whenever we are gifted with any blessing, it is never intended only for us.  We who have been gifted and healed and transformed by the peace of our Risen Lord are called just like the Eleven to continue to write the story of Jesus so that others may see and believe.  We now become the peace of Christ to reach out to a world that appears to be hopelessly un-peaceful, and in a very critical crossroads.  We must extend that peace by reaching out to touch those who are sick, or poor, or lonely, or despairing, or doubtful, or fearful, or grieving, or fallen away.  Our own presence in and among our loved ones, and in and among the world must be a presence that is rooted in the Risen Lord and steeped in his peace.  Now more than ever.  We must be the ones who help a doubting world to no longer be unbelieving but believe.

We have gathered today, albeit remotely, for all kinds of reasons.  We may have tuned in here in doubt and fear, but as we approach our Lord in Spiritual Communion, as we yearn for the very Body and Blood of our Lord who invites us to reach out and touch him in all his brokenness and woundedness, as we go forth to glorify the Lord this day, may we do all that, not in doubt and fear, but instead in belief and peace.  

Peace be with you.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter Homilies

Easter Thursday

Today’s readings

Can you imagine how the disciples were feeling at this point?  Prior to today’s Gospel selection, the women found the empty tomb, Peter has seen the Lord, and the two disciples had experienced him in the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus.  Their minds were most likely reeling with excitement; trying to get a grip on the things he had said to them while he was still with them.  I’m sure they were trying to figure out what all this meant, what they needed to do next.

Maybe that’s why the Lord’s initial words to them are “Peace be with you.” And apparently it didn’t work right away, because they think they’re seeing a ghost. After he eats some fish and speaks to them of the Scriptures, he sends them on mission with the words: “You are witnesses of these things.”  That’s the key message today.

The peace that Jesus gives them is not the absence of conflict.  That they will be witnesses to the fulfillment of the Scriptures will be anything but peaceful for them.  They will have to make sacrifices – sacrifices of their very lives – to witness as Jesus calls them to, but that’s what apostles do.  They are now beginning to understand the significance of what has happened among them, and they must go forward to do what they had been chosen to do.

When we are called upon to make the decision to follow God’s call in our lives, we too will have to sacrifice.  Not our lives, probably, but we will have to sacrifice our own comfort, our control over our own lives, our own point of view, perhaps even our choice of how to live our lives.  But just like the disciples, we must remember what we have been chosen to do, and follow where we are being led.

We are witnesses of these things too, we are called to live and proclaim the Gospel.  May we too receive the peace of Christ that we might focus on our call.

Because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Homilies

The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Today’s readings

Considering all that we have been through since Lent began, it seems in some ways like time has stood still.  I saw a meme on Facebook that said “2020 is a unique leap year.  It had 29 days in February, 300 days in March, and 5 years in April.”  Sheltered in place, and fearing a mysterious illness, it seems like time is standing still.  When you can’t do what you usually do, it’s easy to perceive time that way.

We English-speakers have just one word for time, but other languages have more; those languages recognize the different kinds of time.  Most notably for us, because it is reflected in the New Testament, the Greek language has at least two kinds of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the kind of time you can measure.  It’s a day or a week or even the timeline of a project at work.  Kairos on the other hand can be thought of as quality time: a summer afternoon spent with your family, a visit to a sick loved one, or a chance encounter with an old friend.  

El mundo a veces ve al tiempo de una manera bastante cínica.  Pero así es como Dios ve el tiempo: “Cristo ayer y hoy, el principio y el fin, el Alfa y la Omega, todo el tiempo le pertenece a él, y toda la eternidad, para él sea la gloria y el poder por los siglos de los siglos.  Amén.” Esas palabras, de la bendición de la vela al comienzo de la liturgia de esta noche, son palabras importantes, incluso valientes para que ofrezcamos en esta noche santísima. La vigilia de esta noche proclama que todo tiempo es santo, santificado por nuestro Dios que ha  caminado con nosotros durante nuestros días de ayer, permanece con nosotros hoy y continuará con nosotros en nuestro mañana. No hay un solo momento de nuestra vida, ni un solo momento de nuestra historia que no sea sagrado porque cada momento ha sido, es, y siempre estará lleno de la presencia de nuestro Dios, que es la santidad misma. Es por eso que nos reunimos a celebrar en esta noche santísima.

It’s important to keep these kinds of time in mind because the world sometimes sees time in a rather cynical way.   But here’s how God sees time: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age and for ever.  Amen.”  Those words, from the blessing of the candle at the beginning of tonight’s liturgy, are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night.  Tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows.  There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.  That’s what we gather to celebrate on this most holy night.

I think there is often a temptation to come to the conclusion that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong; that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave.  But we know that’s not how this works: again, this is cynicism and it has no basis in truth.  Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident.  The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along.  Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray.  But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell.  He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life.  That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.

Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation, God’s saving action in the world throughout all time.  Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us.  God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all.  Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good.  Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the Red Sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own.  The prophet Ezekiel foretells the recreation all humanity will experience as they come to know Christ and are filled with the Spirit.  St. Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom.  And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Lord.

We Christians have been spared the necessity of cynicism.  Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us forever, even until the end of the world.  And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too he has sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament.  We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world.  Tonight we recall these three Sacraments of Initiation and recommit ourselves to the promises of our baptism, and long for the day when all can be fed together by the Eucharist once again.

Creo que Dios está haciendo algo importante en este momento en particular.  Hay suficiente tristeza en este momento como para durarnos toda la vida.  Pero si nos enfocamos en esa tristeza, podemos perdernos de lo que Dios está haciendo entre nosotros.  En estos días, me ha llamado especialmente la atención la invitación a detenerme y reflexionar sobre lo que es realmente importante.  ¿Dónde quiero estar cuando todo esto termine?  ¿Cómo es mi relación con el Señor, con mi familia, mis hermanos sacerdotes, mis seminaristas, mis compañeros de trabajo, mis feligreses? ¿Cómo se verá todo eso cuando todo esto termine?  Mucho de eso depende de mí.  Si me mantengo saludable, tendré la oportunidad de comenzar de nuevo, para hacer un mejor uso de mi tiempo de tal manera que eleve mis acciones de una manera acertada.  Y el momento de comenzar a pensar en eso, reflexionar sobre eso, es ahora.  En esta noche santísima, Cristo nos ha llevado a la plenitud de la hora gloriosa, cuando se levantó sobre el pecado y la muerte, para llevarnos a todos a la promesa de la vida eterna.  Eso tiene que significar algo para nosotros.

I believe that God is doing something important with this particular time.  There is enough sadness going around right now to last us our entire lives long.  But if we focus on that sadness, we might miss what God is doing among us.  In these days, I’ve been particularly struck by an invitation to stop and reflect on what is really important.  Where do I want to be when all this is over?  How is my relationship with the Lord, with my family, my brother priests, my seminarians, my coworkers, my parishioners – how is all of that going to look when all this is over?  A lot of that is up to me.  If I remain healthy, I’m going to have the opportunity to start again, to make better use of my chronos in such a way that it elevates my kairos.  And the time to start thinking about that, reflecting on that, is right now.  On this most holy night, Christ has brought us to the fullness of the glorious hour when he rose up over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.  That needs to mean something for us.

And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness.  The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that Deacon Ramon sang when we entered the sanctuary tonight, tells us: “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.  The sanctifying power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”  What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here, albeit virtually, in this church; not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place.  Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation.  Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!

And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place.  Brightened by our kairos together tonight, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world.  That is our ministry in the world.  That is our call as believers.  That is our vocation as disciples.  

Y así, después de pasar esta hora de ser santificados en esta vigilia, pronto seremos enviados para ayudar a santificar nuestro propio tiempo y lugar.  Animados por los tiempos perfectos de Dios, juntos esta noche, ahora nos convertimos en una llama para iluminar nuestro mundo oscuro.  Ese es nuestro ministerio en el mundo.  Ese es nuestro llamado como creyentes.  Esa es nuestra vocación como discípulos.

“May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star.  The one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.”

 ¡Cristo ha resucitado!  ¡Él ha resucitado!  ¡Aleluya!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Homilies Lent

Tuesday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading always leaves me with a chill running down my spine.  Those four words: “And it was night” grab me every time.  These are the words that come just after Judas takes the morsel and leaves the gathering.  But let’s be clear: the evangelist didn’t include those words to tell us what time it was.  In John’s Gospel, there is an overriding theme of light and darkness.  The light and darkness, of course, refer to the evil of the world that is opposed by the light of Christ.

So when John says, “and it was night,” he is telling us that this was the hour of darkness, the hour when evil would come to its apparent climax.  This is the time when all of the sins of the world have converged upon our Lord and he will take them to the Cross.  The darkness of our sinfulness has made it a very, very dark night indeed.

Maybe we can relate to the darkness in a more tangible way these days.  With the specter of COVID-19 looming over everything, one wonders when we’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  These days, the darkness of illness and death make this a very dark night too.

But we know that none of this is how the story is going to end, don’t we?  COVID-19 will eventually pass.  Even our experience of death and sin isn’t a permanent thing.  Sure, the hour of darkness will certainly see Jesus die for our sins.  But the climax of evil will be nothing compared to the outpouring of grace and Divine Mercy.  The darkness of evil is always overcome by the light of Christ.  Always.  But for now, it is night, and we can feel the ponderous darkness sending a shiver up our spines.

I keep trying to look forward to the end of this health crisis and to imagine the day when I’m talking to you and not a camera.  I can’t wait for that day.  This is a dark time in our world, but it doesn’t get to be our permanent reality.  Right now we have to stay home, for our loved ones, for the vulnerable ones, for the people who come after us.  But we’re safe, and we have the promise of the presence of the Lord in our lives.

In these Holy days, we see all kinds of darkness: the darkness of this illness, the darkness that our Savior had to endure for our salvation. But may we also find courage in his triumph over this fearful night and burst forth with him to the brilliant glory of resurrection morning.

Homilies Lent

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Today’s readings

And so it begins.  We who have been keeping Lent these forty days are coming to Lent’s fulfillment.  We know it’s been a most interesting and, well, different Lent.  I mean, that’s about the best we can say of it, right?  I keep thinking back to Ash Wednesday with the throngs of crowds who came in and out of the church all day for our Masses and prayer services.  I, for one, didn’t have an inkling of the fact that, less than three weeks after that, our whole world would have gone crazy.  And now we’re sheltered in place, keeping our social distance, really fasting in a whole new way.  We’re fasting from social interaction, we are fasting from sacraments, we are fasting from in-person worship and prayer, we’re fasting from touch and embrace and so much more.  

In these days, though, I know I have had occasion to reflect on the things that really matter.  I’ve been sustained by the presence of God in my life, giving me strength to confront challenges I never thought I could handle, or would have to.  I’ve prayed with people over the phone for the first time I can remember.  I’ve found new ways to tell family, friends, and parishioners how much I love them.  

Over the course of this week, we will gather – virtually, of course – several times to mark the events that have won our salvation.  On Thursday, we will gather at 7pm to celebrate the Lord’s Supper: that night when he gave us the Eucharist and the priesthood so that he would be among us until the end of time.  On Friday, we will gather at 3pm to revisit our Lord’s Passion, to adore from our homes the Cross which was the altar on which he sacrificed his life for ours.  And on Saturday, we will bless our Easter food at 11am and then come together, virtually, at 8pm to recount the stories of our salvation and welcome the Resurrection, rejoicing with all of the Church on that most holy night.  No Catholic should ever miss these incredible liturgies: they are in fact the reason we are a Church and they highlight our mission in the world.  If you struggle to find the meaning in life, these celebrations will help you on the way.

I want to encourage you to enter into these celebrations in your homes.  On Thursday, perhaps have bread and wine on a table near the place you’re watching Mass.  Share it after Mass not as Eucharist, of course, but as a remembrance of what Jesus set forth for our salvation.  On Friday, have a cross nearby that you can reverence during the Adoration of the Holy Cross part of the liturgy.  On Saturday, light a candle as we will at the beginning of Mass to recall that Christ is the light that burns through the darkness.  I encourage you to take the journey through Holy Week in a special way, with fervent prayer for a cure for this virus that we might be together again.  Let us keep that as our special intention during our Holy Week journey together.

Today’s Passion reading recalls what Jesus came to do in our world.  Just a few days before our reading took place, Jesus had entered Jerusalem, the city of the center of the Jewish religion, the city he has been journeying toward throughout the gospel narrative, and he entered to the adulation of throngs.  Cloaks were thrown down in the street, the people waved palms and chanted “Hosanna.”  It seemed like Jesus’ message had finally been accepted, at least by the crowds who had long been yearning for a messiah to deliver them from foreign oppression.

Only that wasn’t the kind of salvation Jesus came to offer.  Instead, he preached forgiveness and mercy and real justice, and he healed people from the inside out.  He called people to repentance, to change their lives, to hear the gospel and to live it every day.  He denounced hypocrisy, and demanded that those who would call themselves religious reach out in love to the poor and those on the margins.  It wasn’t a message that was particularly welcome; it wasn’t the message they thought the messiah would bring.

And that’s what brings us to the one hundred and eighty degree turn we experience in today’s second gospel reading, the reading of our Lord’s Passion and death.  Enough of this, they say; the religious leaders must be right: he must be a demon, or at least a troublemaker.  Better that we put up with the likes of Barabbas.  As for this one, well, crucify him.

Who are we going to blame for this?  Whose fault is it that they crucified my Lord?  Is it the Jews, as many centuries of anti-Semitism would assert?  Was it the Romans, those foreign occupiers who sought only the advancement of their empire?  Was it the fickle crowds, content enough to marvel at Jesus when he fed the thousands, but abandoning him once his message was made clear?  Was it Peter, who couldn’t even keep his promise of standing by his friend for a few hours?  Was it the rest of the apostles, who scattered lest they be tacked up on a cross next to Jesus?  Was it Judas, who gave in to despair thinking he had it all wrong?  Was it the cowardly Herod and Pilate who were both manipulating the event in order to maintain their pathetic fiefdoms?  Who was it who put Jesus on that cross?

And the answer, as we well know, is that it’s none of those.  It was me.  Because it’s my sins that led Jesus to the Way of the Cross.  It’s my sins that betrayed him; it’s my sins that have kept me from friendship with God.  And so he willingly gave his life that I might have life.  And you.

He gave himself for us.

Holy Hours Homilies Lent

Holy Hour: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Why did you doubt?

This is one of those Saint Peter stories in the Gospel that sometimes causes preachers to give Saint Peter a hard time about his “little faith.”  I think Saint Peter displayed great faith here, although with an admittedly somewhat-rocky execution.  And I think this wonderful little story – one of my favorite Gospel stories – speaks to us in this very ponderous and difficult time, as our world struggles with a pandemic with seemingly no end nor cure in sight.  In times like this, we people of faith have special recourse to the Gospel and the saints, those same faithful friends who accompany us in all the good times and bad times of our lives.  All the more so now.

So I think this story shows Saint Peter doing three things right, and these right things are models for us people of faith in a time like this.

First, he goes to Jesus.  Realizing that what they originally took to be a ghost was, in fact, their Lord, Peter brazenly offers to come to Jesus on the water.  Why?  We could certainly impute all sorts of motives to Peter, maybe even ascribe it to folly.  But what’s right about this is that he wanted to be with Jesus, and Jesus wasn’t in the boat.  In the midst of a storm, he knew it was better to be with the Lord.  

I don’t know about you, but when I look around, it’s as stormy as I ever want to see the world right now.  We can go all sorts of places.  We can watch the wrong Netflix movies, or sit on the couch all day, or spend too much time on the internet, or stand in front of the refrigerator a million times.  But none of that is healthy.  You need to go to Jesus.  And I know that seems impossible when church is closed and you can’t receive the sacraments.  That’s a sadness for all of us. But you can still go to Jesus in your heart, you can pray and read scripture.  You absolutely have to do those things.  Get out of your boat and go where Jesus is.

The second thing Saint Peter does right is that he actually walks on the water.  How does he do that?  He does that by looking at Jesus.  Notice very carefully that he only stays above the water while he’s looking at Jesus.  When instead he notices how strong the wind was, he begins to sink.  Eyes on Jesus, he’s walking on water; eyes on the storm, and he’s sinking into the depths.

Our eyes can be fixed in the wrong place pretty easily these days.  We can scroll endlessly through Facebook.  We can watch the news for hours on end.  But none of this is helping us, friends.  All it’s causing is stress and sadness and a deep hole that we can’t fill up.  We have to look at Jesus.  Participate in a livestreamed Mass.  Pray the stations of the cross and the Rosary.  Meditate on the day’s readings.  Read one of the Gospels.  Anything to keep your eyes on Jesus.  Because if all you’re looking at is the storm, you’ll sink deeper and deeper.  Don’t let that happen.

The third thing Saint Peter models for us is when he finds himself sinking, he calls out to Jesus.  “Lord, save me!”  When he does that, he finds out that he can’t ever sink so deep that Jesus can’t pull him out.  Jesus reaches out his hand, catches him, and they both get back in the boat.

“Lord, save me!”  Sometimes we don’t know what to pray when things get bad.  I remember back in seminary when both of my parents came down with cancer and I had no idea how to pray anymore.  All I could say was, “Help.”  Kind of like, “Lord, save me!”  And God did help: he sent some of my classmates to come and pray with me and help me get my head and heart back where they needed to be.  Those little prayers are often more effective than ten minutes of endless talking at God.  

Because we’ve never sunk so far that Jesus can’t be our rescuer.  And when we’re sinking, he’s the best source of refuge.  Don’t ever forget that.  He’s out there, walking on the water, ready to grab your hand at any point.  Don’t ever think your problems are too big or too little to call on Jesus.  Sometimes we forget that we have a Savior, and sometimes we don’t think we need a Savior, all the while sinking deeper into the ocean of despair.  Jesus doesn’t want that to be so.  Reach out your hand, call his Name, and be saved.

One last thing we should note in this story: Jesus says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Saint Peter did in fact have little faith.  But I would assert that it’s better to have little faith than none at all.  Saint Peter’s little faith put him on the water with his Lord, and got him saved when he was sinking.  The other guys in the boat didn’t have those opportunities for growth.  Saint Peter always wanted to be with Jesus.  Sometimes – okay – often, he messed up.  But every time our Lord gave him a second chance.  And every time, that second chance gave Saint Peter the grace of growing in his faith.  Saint Peter is indeed a good model for all of us, all of us with our little faith.