Categories
Easter Homilies

Pentecost

Today’s readings

“Each one heard them speaking in his own language.”

That line of the first reading always amazed me.  As I pictured it, I could just see people standing there in Jerusalem, and all at once these men start preaching and everyone hears them in his or her own language.  It must have been an amazing experience.  Certainly the message had to be powerful, but for each to hear it in his or her own native tongue had to boost the power of the experience for each of them.  This was the power of the Holy Spirit on display for all the world to see.

That powerful experience helped to ignite the fire that was the early Church.  If not for this amazing experience, we wouldn’t have the Church today.  Because Jesus returned to the Father and they sent forth the Spirit, those early apostles preached the word to everyone and the Church was fostered that brings us the faith in our own day.  This is why Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church.

What I think is important to note about that experience is that the gift of the Holy Spirit enabled the Church to speak the Gospel to everyone.  Not just those who spoke Hebrew, or even Greek or Latin.  The reading from Acts is clear:

We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,

inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,

Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,

Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,

as well as travelers from Rome,

both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,

yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues

of the mighty acts of God.

So this gift of the Spirit helped the primitive Church to universalize the Gospel message.  Christ desired that we would all be one; we’ve heard that over and over in the Gospel readings during the Easter season.  This gift of the Spirit underscores just how universal that unity was intended to be.

That experience enabled a sixth century African author to preach this in a sermon on this day:

Therefore if somebody should say to one of us, “You have received the Holy Spirit, why do you not speak in tongues?” his reply should be, “I do indeed speak in the tongues of all men, because I belong to the body of Christ, that is, the Church, and she speaks all languages. What else did the presence of the Holy Spirit indicate at Pentecost, except that God’s Church was to speak in the language of every people?”

And so she does.  Thanks be to God, the Gospel is preached all over the world every day.  And souls continue to be won for the Lord.  But for that Gospel to be believed, for it to be adopted and lived, it needs to be backed up by the way that we live.  Many people may miss our preaching, but they can’t fail to notice our living – one way or the other.  As Saint Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  When necessary, use words.”

Sometimes words fail us.  We might not know the right thing to say in any situation, but in those moments, our actions can preach much louder than our speaking.  We often experience that when someone close to us has lost a loved one, or is grieving in some way.  Words aren’t going to make that all better, but our presence and being there for them says much more than our words could ever say.  That presence may be just the right thing to say at that time.

I experienced that same kind of thing this week as I watched the video, over and over, of the horrifying murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.  I think, by now, it should go without saying that treating another human being that way in any situation is objectively wrong.  But what is also wrong is the still present racism that underlies the whole situation, and others like them, including the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.  The fact that these situations happen over and over frankly means that we aren’t speaking the Gospel in every time and place.  Because there is no room in the Gospel message for racism, bigotry, and any kind of rhetoric that seeks to smooth those things over or make excuses for them.  They are objectively wrong, period.

What do we say in the face of these horrifying events?  Honestly, I don’t know what we can say.  Even “I’m sorry” rings hollow when the structures that continue to make these things happen persist.  We need to speak the Gospel in these situations by the way we live our lives.  We need to make it our life’s work to accept every person as if he or she were Christ, because that is what the Church has taught us always and in every age.  If the Gospel is to mean anything in the world today, we have to be people who inconvenience ourselves to love others before we do anything else, or our preaching will continue to ring hollow.

And we have no better example for this than our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on the worst in us because he saw the best in us.  He it is who took our sins – our sins – to the cross, and rose to everlasting glory that we might have the same – all of us.  He it is who returned to the Father and with him sent their Holy Spirit upon the earth that we might all be one, that we might, as Saint Benedict has said, go together to everlasting life.

This broken world needs to hear the preaching in our actions, in the way we treat every person, so that this world can become the Kingdom of God.  We may well be the only time someone ever sees Jesus; may the preaching of our lives be so strong that they can’t fail to see Jesus in us.

Come Holy Spirit! Renew the face of the earth!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Categories
Easter Homilies

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

A lack of unity will kill us all. Jesus knew this, and so did St. Paul. In fact, St. Paul used a lack of unity among the Jews to save his own life. He knew that the Pharisees, of which he was one, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and angels and spirit. He knew that the Sadducees did not (which, as one of my seminary professors used to say, is why they are sad, you see…). When Paul appealed to the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection of the dead, he got them on their side, and the skirmish that ensued caused the commander to whisk Paul to safety. He was not to die this day; the Lord had other plans for him.

As Jesus gets ready for his own death in the gospel reading today, he prays for the unity of the first disciples. He knew that they would be challenged greatly by the world, because they were no longer of the world. They belonged to God now, and that would be the source of their unity. That unity would keep them together and ensure that a reasoned, unified message would be proclaimed throughout the world and throughout the ages. That was the only way the gospel could be proclaimed to every creature on earth.

In our day, unity is just as critical as it ever was. We still believe in ONE holy, catholic and apostolic church. We believe that Jesus came to found just ONE church, and that the fragmentations that exist among us are the result of sinfulness and broken humanity. We need to be people who witness to the joy of our faith so that we can bind up all that disunity and become once again one people, healed of all divisions. We are called to be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one, so that we can witness to all the world the saving power of our one, almighty God.

Categories
Easter Homilies

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter (School/RE Mass)

Today’s readings

Jesus tells us today that sadness is always going to be a part of life.  That’s not the good news, that’s just the way things are.  I think we can all think about things that have made us sad, maybe even more so in these days when we’ve all been sheltered in place, away from each other.  We haven’t gotten to see our friends.  We didn’t get to have Olympic Day, or any of the fun end of the year activities.  Our second graders are all ready for First Holy Communion, but we haven’t been able to do that yet.  Then there are the regular sad things: Maybe we have had a good friend who has moved away and we don’t get to see them very much.  Maybe we have lost a pet or a toy that we have liked a lot.  Maybe we didn’t get picked for a team, or didn’t understand something in school.  All those things make us sad.

And some of us have had harder things that have been sad for us.  Maybe your parents aren’t getting along or have split up.  That’s very sad.  Just last week, my family gathered to remember that my father died several years ago.  All these years later, I still miss him a lot, and I am very sad – maybe you too have had a grandparent or someone you’re very close to die and you don’t get to see them again.  That’s a sadness that doesn’t go away soon.

Sadness is a part of our life, and Jesus acknowledges that.  He tells his disciples that he is going away – that he is going to ascend into heaven, which we will celebrate on Sunday – and they will miss him.  But he also tells them, and us, that sadness is not forever.  He says that it’s just like a woman who is having a baby.  She is sad because giving birth hurts so much.  But after a while, the baby is born and the pain stops, and she gets to see the beautiful child she brought into the world and is happy again.  Your moms probably have stories like that about when you were born!  In that same way, the things that make us sad won’t last forever.  One day, we will get to see Jesus face-to-face and he will bring us happiness that lasts forever.  On that great day, there won’t be anything that can ever make us sad again.

That doesn’t mean that our sadness doesn’t hurt right now, because it sure does.  It just means it won’t hurt forever.  Because Jesus loves us, we can look forward to happiness forever, even if we have to put up with a little sadness now and then.  We can count on the love of Jesus to get us through our bad times, because he promises that he will always be with us, always and forever.  

Sadness doesn’t get to rule our lives, because Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Categories
Easter Homilies

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

There are a lot of miracles going on in today’s first reading.  First, there’s the earthquake that brings down the prison walls, although Paul and Silas did not take advantage of the situation.  Then there’s the conversion of the jailer, who was an employee of the Romans, and so would have had to worship their pagan gods.  You might also note the rather miraculous faith of Paul and Silas, who despite being very badly mistreated on account of Jesus, did not abandon their faith but actually grew stronger in it.  And you might also consider it a miracle that, when they are jailed and singing hymns at midnight, the other prisoners didn’t gang up and beat them into silence!

When you look at it as a vignette, it’s all so amazing, although Paul and Silas probably just viewed it as part and parcel of the life they had been called to live.  They had faith in Jesus and they probably didn’t expect anything less than the miracles they were seeing!

People of great faith experience such great miracles. This is not to say that all their troubles go away; Paul and Silas were still imprisoned, and continued to be hounded by the people and the government because of their faith. But the miracles come through the abiding presence of Christ, giving us strength when we need it most, a kind word from a stranger that comes at the right moment, a phone call from a friend that makes our day, an answer to prayer that is not what we expected but exactly what we needed. The Psalmist today has that same great faith: “Your right hand saves me, O Lord,” he sings. Let us pray that our hearts and eyes and minds would be open to see the miracles happening around us, that we might sing that same great song!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Categories
Easter Homilies

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter (School/RE Mass)

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel gives us some of the best news I think we can possibly get.  Jesus says he no longer calls us slaves, but instead he calls us his friends.  That’s important for us to know because I think most people believe that God doesn’t really have to care about us, his creatures, that much.  He could just give us commandments and expect us to follow them or else.  He doesn’t really have to teach us anything so that we understand him; he could just expect us to follow his commandments out of fear.  We think about God that way sometimes.

But that’s not what Jesus is about.  We know that God made us so that he could love us and we could love him.  Even when we sinned and could not be his friends any more, he didn’t leave us to die in our sins.  Instead, he sent his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus, to become one of us and to pay the price that we deserved for our sins.  Jesus died on the cross, to pay that price, and he rose from the dead, so that we could be friends with God once again, and so that all those who believe in him and follow his ways can have the opportunity of eternal life with God in his heavenly kingdom.

That’s the Good News!  That’s the Gospel!  Jesus says he doesn’t call us slaves anymore.  That’s because we aren’t slaves to sin anymore, or at least we don’t have to be.  We can instead turn to Jesus and be his friends, if we do what he commands us.  And the commandment he gives us today seems like a very simple one: love one another.

Except that it’s not so simple all the time, is it?  Sometimes loving one another is hard to do.  Loving one another means we have to put others first.  Loving one another isn’t something we get to do only when we want to, but instead we have to do it all the time.  Loving one another means that we follow all the other commandments, because “love one another” is what sums them all up.  “Love one another” means that we remember that each person is created by God who loves them so then we have to love them too.

But we don’t have to worry about how hard it is to love one another.  We have a God who loves us first and loves us best.  Because he loved us and sent his Only-Begotten Son Jesus to show us his love, we have the grace we need to love one another.  We can love one another when it’s hard to do, when they really make us mad sometimes, because God loves us all the time, even when we are hard to love, even when we make others mad and make God sad because of what we do or what we fail to do.

We aren’t slaves anymore.  We have been set free.  But being free doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want, whenever we want – that’s the same thing as being a slave to sin.  Being free means that we can love others and put others first because God has done exactly that for us – over and over again!

So how will you love someone else today?  How will you love your parents or your siblings while you are doing e-learning today?  How will you love your teachers who might be explaining something very important that maybe you think is boring?  How will you teachers love the students who don’t seem to be getting it?  How will we all love our families today?  How will we put all these people first?  During the quiet parts of today’s Mass, let’s think about that.  Let’s come up with a plan to love someone even when they are hard to love.  Let’s love one another because God loves us first and loves us best!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Categories
Easter Homilies

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

So pretend you are Paul or Barnabas or one of the other apostles.  Think about all the things they went through in that first reading. Paul hasn’t even been a Christian for very long, and already he is being hounded and persecuted.  Maybe that makes sense because some people probably viewed his conversion as a kind of treason.  Whatever the case, as they speak out boldly in the name of Jesus, they receive nothing but violent abuse from the Jews.  So then they turn then to the Gentiles who were delighted to hear the Word preached to them.  But the Jews didn’t even leave that alone; they stirred up some of the prominent Gentiles to persecute Paul and Barnabas and eventually they expelled them from their territory.  What a horrible reception they received over and over again.

But, listen to the last line of that first reading again: “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

Let that sink in for a minute: would that be your reaction?  Or would you say, “enough is enough” and let God stir up someone else to preach the Word?  Obviously, that’s not what Paul and Barnabas, or any of the other disciples did, or we wouldn’t be here today.  No, they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God!

That’s the way joy works. It’s not something conditioned by the external events of a person’s life.  Joy is not a feeling. Joy, instead, is a direct result of the disciple’s decision to give their life to Christ and to follow his way – wherever that may take him or her.  Joy does not mean that the disciple won’t experience sadness or even hard times.  I think we all get that disciples get tested as we go through these pandemic days.  But joy does mean that the disciple will never give in to the sadness or the hard times because all those things have been made new in Christ.

Christ is the source of our true joy.  We disciples must choose to live lives of joy and remain unaffected by the world and the events of our lives.  We choose joy because we know the One who is our Salvation, and because it is he who fills us with joy and the Holy Spirit.

We have joy because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Categories
Easter Homilies

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

“Athirst is my soul for the Living God.”

The Psalmist today sums up what is going on in the entire Liturgy of the Word.  In the book of Acts, we see that even the Gentiles seek salvation in Christ, and Peter learns that those God has called to holiness cannot be treated as unclean.  In the Gospel, we have the image of the Good Shepherd – a bit of a re-run from yesterday – whose voice the faithful hear in the depths of their hearts.

At the core of our creation, all of us – and not just the “us” who are here in this church or tuning in online, but all people – all of us yearn for the Living God.  This is not surprising, because God made us – all of us – for himself, in his own image.  This is an important point for us Christians to get: God made all of us, created us good, created us for himself.  And so, deep down inside, every person yearns for the Living God.

And it’s this realization that makes our lack of unity so very troublesome; it’s this realization that puts the work of evangelization on the front burner.  God created only one People and Christ established only one Church.  God made us to be one, and one with him, and it is sin that has driven us apart and kept us apart for so very, very long.

And so our goal as God’s people is to become one in him who made us, and one in him who redeemed us.  The work of evangelization is so important because God’s creation will not be complete until all of us are one.  And so we disciples have to make it our life’s vocation to see to it that everyone who knows us hears Christ in us, we have to open doors so that people can come to Christ and we have to tear down barriers of hostility or elitism.  The souls of every person cry out, “Athirst is my soul for the Living God.”  Who, then, are we to hinder God’s unifying work?

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Categories
Easter Homilies

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Today’s readings

What would you do for just five minutes of peace and quiet?

If you’re a parent, maybe you’d be happy for just five seconds of peace and quiet!  In these days when many of us are sheltered in place together, it can be easy to get on each other’s nerves.  For those of you sheltered alone, you’d probably love to have an interruption to the peace and quiet, but that’s not my point here!

We are all probably sadly familiar with the many loud distractions our world puts before us.  And we’ve become conditioned to accepting it, even needing it on some primitive level, I think.  How often do we get out of bed and flip on the radio or television right away, or check our text messages or email before our feet even hit the floor?  Can we even get through a car ride without having the radio going?  Is the television always the background noise in our homes?  I know I’m guilty of some of those myself.  There’s a whole lot of noise out there and it’s become so that we are very uncomfortable with any kind of quiet.

A big source of noise in these pandemic days has been the many sources of “knowledgeable” information.  I know that for me, it’s been hard to discern which voice I should be hearing.  So many people have so many ideas about what we should be doing in every given situation.  It’s amazing how many people are epidemiologists and medical experts.  I hadn’t even known they had gone to medical school!  News goes on for hours and gives us all kinds of conflicting advice.  In some ways, it’s been another source of noise.

And all that noise doesn’t lead us anywhere good.  The Psalmist talks about walking through death’s dark valley.  I think some of the noise out there resembles that dark valley pretty closely.  There are voices out there tempting us to all sorts of evil places: addictions, selfishness; pursuit of wealth, prestige, or power.  Those same voices call us to turn away from the needy, from family, God and the Church.  Those same voices tell us that we are doing just fine on our own, that we don’t need anyone else to make us whole, that we are good enough to accomplish anything worthwhile all by ourselves.  And those voices are just wrong; dead wrong.

Those are the voices of those Jesus mentions in the Gospel who circumvent the gate and come to “steal and slaughter and destroy.”  The frightening thing is, we have become so used to these distracting voices that we have turned away from God, turned away from the Savior we so desperately need, and have been led astray.  That’s the heart of why our pews aren’t filled, why people call themselves “spiritual but not religious”, why the likes of Oprah and Joel Osteen have become so popular in this day and age.

So maybe we have to become a little more like sheep.  Now I want to be careful about saying that, because I know what you’re thinking: being like sheep has a pretty negative connotation.  To be clear: I don’t mean that in the sense of cultivating blind obedience leading us on the pathway to ruin.  Because, as it turns out, sheep aren’t as dumb as we often think they are.  I once read an explanation of the backstory on today’s Gospel image of the sheep, the shepherd, and the sheepfold. 

In Jesus’ day, the shepherds would gather several flocks in the same fenced-enclosure. They needed to do that, because they were always on the move with their sheep, bringing them to market, and they didn’t own every plot of land across the entire route of their trip.  So they would find a sheepfold which might be constructed in a pasture using brush and sticks; or, maybe it would adjoin a wall of a house and have makeshift walls for the other sides. Owners of small flocks of sheep would have combined them in the secure enclosure at night.  Someone – the gatekeeper – would then guard the flocks. The “gate” would have been a simple entrance, but the gatekeeper might even stretch out across the opening and literally be the “gate.” The shepherds would arrive early in the morning and be admitted by the gatekeeper. They would call out to their sheep and the members of the flock recognize the voice of their own shepherd, and that shepherd would “lead them out.”  The shepherd then walks in front of the flock and they follow. (cf. Jude Sicilliano, OP)

So the sheep are smart enough to recognize their shepherd’s voice, and follow him.  We, like the sheep, have to cultivate the silence that is needed to hear our shepherd’s voice and follow him, so that we can be led to green pastures, and not be distracted by all the noise out there.  We are a people in great need of a Savior, of the Good Shepherd.  When we deny that, we’ve already lost any hope of the glory of heaven.  We desperately need the guidance of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life; the one who leads us to eternity, laying down his own life to keep us out of the eternal clutches of sin and death.  Jesus came into this world and gave himself so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly.”  We just have to stop settling for the noise out there and tune in to our Savior’s voice.

Here’s a way to pray with this in the coming week.  Take five minutes, or even just five seconds if that’s all you can find, and consciously turn off the noise: whether it’s the physical noise of the television or radio, or the internal noise of distractions in your head.  Step outside by yourself for a while, if that’s what it takes.  And then reflect on what voices are out there distracting you from hearing  the voice of your Good Shepherd.  Bring all that noise to mind and acknowledge its presence.  Then, ask the Good Shepherd to help you tune them out so that you can more readily discern his voice and follow the right path.  Sometimes we have to take note of the distraction before we can move past it.  When you’ve done that, you can spend some time in the presence of the One who is the gate, the sheepfold, and the shepherd.

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Allelluia!

Categories
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!

Categories
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!

Alleluia!