The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

I can just imagine Jesus’ anguish as he reflected on that truth, knowing that the end was coming near and that he would die a horrifying death, and not even his closest friends could offer him so much as a kind word, let alone reflect on what that might mean for them, and the mission.  And so he confronts them about their embarrassing argument and tells them that the one who would wish to be the greatest must be the lowest of all, serving all the rest.  That was true for him, and it would be true for them too.  Quite frankly, it’s true for us too.  That’s kenosis, and to one degree or another, we are all called to share in it.

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

Some of the resistance, too, is internal.  Some of the resistance is because, on some level, we love our sins more than we love Jesus.  Ouch – it hurts to say that, but there’s truth there.  Unless we have the desire to give up our sinfulness, really have a firm purpose of amendment, as the Rite of Penance puts it; unless we want that more than anything, then we can’t want Jesus, or his Kingdom, or the Gospel, or eternal life.  We’ve got to be ready to give up everything that takes up space in our lives if we ever want to inherit the glory that God created us to have.

Imagine you have your hands full of stuff that you really like.  Maybe it’s not the best stuff, but it gives you pleasure and so you hang on to it.  Or maybe it’s not really safe, but it makes you feel comfortable, and that’s as good as it gets right now.  Now someone comes and offers you something much better.  But your hands are full, and you’ve become used to the pleasure or the comfort, and so you don’t have any way to receive, to grab the really good thing you are being offered.  The only way you’re going to be able to receive that good gift is by letting go of the garbage in your hand.  Can you do that?  Can you empty your hands so that you can receive grace?

Because here’s the truth: if we want to enter the Kingdom, we’re going to have to empty ourselves out and get rid of all that nonsense. We’re going to have to repent of our sins, give up every distraction, and focus entirely on our God.  Because nothing that looks like earthly glory and honor and prosperity will fit into heaven. Hanging on to the sin, the selfish ambition, the conceited entitlement will prevent us from filled up with Christ, from receiving his grace, from inheriting eternal life.  We have to get rid of it all: that’s what kenosis looks like for us.  And whether we like to talk about it or not, it’s the only way we’re getting into heaven.

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We’ve all heard this gospel parable about the sower and the seeds dozens of times. We know, then, that the seeds are the Word of God: not just some words, but Word with a capital “W,” which is Jesus himself, God’s eternal Word, spoken to bring life to a world dead in sin. We know that the seeds are that presence of Christ which fall on hearts that are variously rocky, or thorny, or rich and fertile. We’ve heard the parable, with Jesus’ own explanation, as well as homilies about it, so many times.

But what got me wondering as I read the parable in preparation for this morning’s Mass, was why – why are we hearing this parable now? The liturgical cycle usually conforms to the calendar, more or less, and so why this parable about sowing seeds now, on this day of the autumnal equinox, of all days? Nobody in their right mind sows seeds in autumn!

But God does. He sows the Word among us all the time: every day and every moment. It’s not just once for the season, and if the seeds don’t grow, then try again next year maybe. He is constantly sowing the seeds in us, urging us to make of our hearts rich, fertile soil for the Kingdom. And we do that by enriching the soil through reception of the Sacraments, participating at Mass, enlivening our prayer life, being open to the Word.

The Sower is out sowing the seeds of his Eternal Word all the time. Let’s give him fertile ground, that we can yield a rich harvest.

Saint Matthew, Apostle

Today’s readings

How wonderful for us to celebrate the feast of St. Matthew. Because Matthew was qualified to be a disciple of Jesus in much the same way that we are qualified to be disciples of Jesus-which is to say, not at all. Matthew was a tax collector, working for the Roman occupation government. His task was to exact the tax from each citizen. Whatever he collected over and above the tax was his to keep. Now the Romans wouldn’t condone outright extortion, but let’s just say that they weren’t overly scrupulous about what their tax collectors were collecting, as long as they got paid the proper tax.

So Matthew’s reception among the Jews was quite like they might accept the plague. The Pharisees were quick to lump men like Matthew with sinners, and despised them as completely unworthy of God’s salvation. But Jesus had different ideas.

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

Go and learn the meaning of the words,

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Which brings us back to us. How wonderful for us to celebrate the call of a man who was anything but worthy. Because he was called, we know that our own calls are authentic, unworthy as we may be. Just as the Matthew spread the Good News by the writing and preaching of the Gospel, so we are called to spread the Good News to everyone by the witness of our lives. Matthew’s call is a day of celebration for all of us sinners, who are nonetheless called to do great things for the Kingdom of God.

Mass for the Healing of the Church

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Psalm 130 | 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 6:2 | Matthew 5:1-12a

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

I think a lot of us could use some comforting in these days.  The news of the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania about clergy sexual abuse over a period of seventy years, and the real possibility of more of that in every other state was pretty awful.  Then add the disheartening news of Archbishop McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians under his care, and possibly a young person earlier, along with the shocking news that men in the hierarchy of the Church knew about it and said nothing as he advanced his career, and it’s understandable how horrible we all feel, how much we mourn.  We clamor for our God to comfort us.

I could mention so many emotions that I have experienced in these days: anger, disgust, shame, fear, sadness, brokenness. But as I mentioned in my bulletin column a couple of weeks ago, none of that compares to what victims of sexual abuse have probably felt in these days.  In some ways, I imagine they feel violated all over again, and that, friends, breaks this pastor’s heart.

The Church should be a safe haven.  The Church should protect young people – it’s the Church’s job to love young people into the glory of heaven.  For heaven’s sake, we should not permit them to be violated and then swept under the carpet, left with nowhere to go and no one to whom to turn.

My pastor’s heart is broken, too, because all of this derails the mission of the Church.  We want to be on fire for Christ and lead every longing heart to our God. But how can we convince a skeptical world to take a chance on a Church that seems to have a real problem with integrity, justice, love, and truth – all those things that we should be beaconing out to a world grown dark in sin and sadness.  How can we be a light for the world when we harbor the darkness of sin and shame?  How can people ever trust us with their souls when they can’t even trust us with their children?

And the thing is, we should be getting it right by now.  We didn’t go far enough when these things started coming to light in the 1980s.  We went much further after the scandals of 2002, but a lot of things got left out.  There was no process to discipline bishops who covered up scandal, or even bishops who were abusers.  Even though our diocese had a publicly available list of priests who were abusers, far too many dioceses did not.  And every time we didn’t go far enough, we gave evil a chance to darken our world.

As your pastor, with a broken heart, I am sorry for the sins the Church has committed – sorry for the abuse that got perpetrated by clergy and covered up by other clergy.  I am sorry if you were abused, and I am sorry for everyone who has felt shame because of what is going on.  I know these are just words, and inadequate ones at that.  But they convey my real feelings, and they are feelings I really want you to know.

Back in my first parish as a priest, I had an initial meeting with a couple preparing for marriage.  She was Catholic and he was from one of the main-line Protestant communities.  As I walked them through the paperwork, I got to the part where the Catholic has to agree to raise the children in the Catholic faith.  I always do that with both parties present, because that’s a decision they need to come to together.  Most often, the couple has talked about that and has accepted it. But this time the groom voiced his objection.  When I asked him to tell me more about that, he told me that he had been abused by a minister at his church.  And though he was obviously scarred from it, he appreciated that his church took it seriously and did everything possible to help him heal.  He wasn’t confident the Catholic Church was ready to do that.

I told him about the measures the Church had taken since 2002, and the way that we promote safe environment.  They are measures that truly have made a great deal of difference in the years since.  I wasn’t able to convince him, and the couple never did marry for that and other reasons. But that interaction rekindled all the feelings I had in seminary when the scandals broke and half my class left.

It’s time to do more.  We all have to hold each other accountable for everything – bishops, priests, deacons, faithful.  We all have care for each other’s souls and need to say something when things aren’t right.  We need to pray that our nation’s bishops, when they meet this coming November, will take the concrete steps needed to make the hierarchy of our Church conform to the witness, integrity, and zeal of the Apostles, whose successors they have been ordained to be.  We need to pray that every child and every person in the Church will be treated as Christ himself.  We need to pray that the bright light of Truth would scatter the darkness of sin. We need to pray in these days that our God would write his Law in our hearts, that he would be our God, and that we would be his people.

Because, in the face of this, it’s easy to come to despair.  It’s easy to think this will never change and it’s all just going to come up over and over again.  I want to say two things about that.  First of all, as we heard in yesterday’s Gospel, the Cross is the heart of what it means to be a disciple.  When we are tempted to think it would be easier to walk away from the Church so that we don’t have to feel the pain, we need to say, “Get behind me, Satan.”  Because it’s always the evil one who wants to convince us that life is better without the Cross.  Second, as I said last Monday to our Confirmation students, there is a place we can go when we can’t see a solution to the problem.  Jesus is enough, and more than enough, to fill up our emptiness, to convert our stony hearts, to sanctify the Church and to bring reconciliation and healing to a broken Church and a broken world.

I remember being in seminary in 2002 when so many of my classmates decided to leave.  I certainly wondered why I was still there, and if I should leave too. As I prayed about that, the Bible verse that kept coming to my mind was the response of Saint Peter to our Lord when he asked the disciples if they were going to leave like so many of the others. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” That one verse has gotten me through just about every occasion when I felt tempted – tempted by the evil one – to walk away.  And in these days, I think we need to realize how important it is that we are here: tonight, and every day.  Because we certainly could walk away, but the Church is our Mother and she means too much to us.  The Church and its sanctity and holiness are worth fighting for, and we are the warriors that our Lord has chosen to bring holiness to our Church and to our world in this sad hour.  We have to be those who hunger and thirst for righteousness if we ever want to be truly satisfied.

I know I have a lot of nerve asking you to pray hard, to hold us and each other accountable, and to fight for the Church when the Church has let you down.  Why won’t they clean up their mess?  After all, they are the ones who fouled it up.  But the Church isn’t a “they.”  The Church is a “we.”  And if we ever want the Church to be holy and a beacon of light, then we have the be the ones to fight for it.  If we don’t do it, who will?

To all of us who clamor for righteousness, our Lord has made a solemn promise: our reward will be great in heaven.  That promise is worth fighting for, friends. It’s worth purifying our own lives, calling out for real change in the Church, and praying for with every fiber of our being.  Even if others ridicule and persecute us for our faith, we will be rewarded with greatness in the kingdom of heaven.

I borrowed the idea for our gathering tonight from my alma mater,Mundelein Seminary, who recently completed a Novena for the Healing of the Church.  The prayer that they used for that novena is printed in your worship aid.  I’d ask you now to stand and pray it with me:

Loving God, turn your ear to the cries of your sons and daughters who seek healing for Your Church.
We are heartbroken. We are bruised. We are hurting.

In these days we again wrestle with understanding the heinous acts of abuse by those entrusted with shepherding Your flock. Ease our troubled hearts. Mend our broken spirits.
Be “ever present in our distress.”

Merciful Lord, send Your Healing Spirit to our brothers and sisters who have endured pain and abuse physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Comfort their weary spirits. Soothe their pain. Grant them justice. May our eyes be opened to see Your image in these wounded members of Your Church.

Shepherd of Souls, make Your presence known to us that these wrongful acts will be addressed. Inspire our leaders of the Church to seek new and effective paths to keep safe the flock they shepherd.

Give us all courage to act and speak up on behalf of the most vulnerable. Rush the winds of the Spirit to scatter the darkness of sin. Pour forth Your healing Spirit to renew our trust and hope in You, who are our refuge and our strength.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Quite honestly, this Gospel story is a little strange, maybe even surprising.  I was particularly struck by what the messenger said to Jesus when he asked him to come to the centurion’s house: “He deserves to have you do this for him.”  As if any of us is ever worthy of God’s mercy!  To his credit, the centurion must have heard of this, because he hurries to Jesus to set things right: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.  Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.”  And what he says also explains why he sent a messenger to come to Jesus instead of coming himself.  For his part, Jesus is impressed with the man’s faith: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith,” he says.  And so the healing of the man’s slave takes place at once.  It’s an interesting exchange, to be sure.

We have the privilege, every time we gather for the Eucharist, to echo the centurion’s faith.  The prayer that we say, just before we come to the Altar for Holy Communion, says this: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  And saying those words out loud is so important at that moment in the Mass.  Unless we truly believe that Christ’s Body and Blood are sufficient for the healing of our souls, unless we truly know that we are completely unworthy of God’s mercy, then we don’t have the faith necessary to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.

But when we do enter into that moment of Communion with hearts open in faith, everything changes for us.  True healing can come about, and we can return to our daily lives and find our souls healed with the grace that prepares them for whatever this world brings us.

The Triumph of the Holy Cross

Today’s readings

Bishop Robert Barron tells about an interreligious dialogue between Catholics and Buddhists. At one point, one of the Buddhists said to him, “Why is that obscene image on every wall in your buildings?” He was, of course, referring to the Crucifix. The Buddhist explained that it would be considered a mockery in his religion to venerate the very thing that killed their leader. The truth is, of course, that it is obscene. It is strange, and Barron wrote a whole book about it called The Strangest Way.

And we all must have thought about this at one time or another. Why is it that God could only accomplish the salvation of the world through the horrible, brutal, and lonely death of his Son? That question goes right to the root of our faith. We know that we had been alienated from God, separated by a vast chasm of sin and death. But into this obscene world, Jesus becomes incarnate; he is born right into the midst of all that sin and death. He walks among us, and goes through all of the sorrows and pains of life and death right with along with us. If death has been the obscenity that has kept us from God, then God was going to use that very thing to bring us back. Jesus comes into our world and dies our death because God wants us to know that there is no place we can go, no experience we can ever have that is outside of God’s reach.

Today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, also called the Triumph of the Cross, was celebrated very early in the Church’s history. In the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. The cross immediately became an object of veneration.

About this great feast, St. Andrew of Crete wrote: “Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.”

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

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

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

Saint John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom was known to be a prolific, well-spoken and challenging preacher. The name “Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed.” He spoke eloquently of the Scriptures, of which he had an extensive understanding, and applied their words to the times of his day. He was known, actually, to often preach for two hours or more! So, in his honor, I thought it appropriate to preach … just kidding!

The emperor schemed to make John the bishop of Constantinople, the capital city, because the he thought he could manipulate John. But he couldn’t. John would often preach against the opulence of the wealthy and the mistreatment of the poor. He deposed bishops who had bribed their way into office. He would only offer a modest meal to those who came to kiss up to the bishop, rather than an opulent table that they had been expecting. He would not accept the pomp and ceremony that afforded him a place above most ranking members of the court.

So, as you can well imagine, not everyone liked John. Many of his sermons called for concrete steps to share wealth with the poor. The rich did not appreciate hearing the challenging words that John was known to preach. When it came to justice and charity, Saint John acknowledged no double standards. I think his preaching would be intriguing, and certainly challenging, even in our own day.

What we should get from Saint John Chrysostom, is that discipleship has to be imbued with fidelity and integrity. We have to practice what we preach. As we go forth from this place, we too have the opportunity to live our faith by giving generously to the poor, and reaching out to those who are marginalized. We have to be those disciples who give lavishly of our personal resources, who forgive from the heart, who avoid judging and love all people deeply. If our living had this kind of integrity, then we could be “golden-mouthed” too, not so much by our words as by our actions.

The Anniversary of the 9-11-01 Tragedy

Today’s readings

Seventeen years ago today, I sat in my room at seminary waiting for my first class to begin.  My classmates were already in their first classes; I had taken that particular class in college, so I didn’t have to take it again in seminary.  While I waited for class to begin, I flipped on the morning news, and just caught the end of something about a plane colliding with one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  I tried to get more information on the internet, but Yahoo news was running slow because of all the people trying to find out what happened.  Later, as I watched on television, I learned of the tragic events of four plane crashes that day and the thousands of lives that were lost.  Our world, in those tragic hours, was changed forever.

And so today, it can be very hard to hear the words Saint Paul speaks to the Corinthians today.  He speaks about letting ourselves be cheated and allowing the injustice that sometimes happens to us, rather than fighting it by committing the same sins ourselves. He exhorts us to treat each other as brothers and sisters.  And yet, when we look at an injustice like the tragedy of 9-11, it can be hard to see our persecutors as brothers and sisters.  It’s almost unthinkable to just let it happen to us and not lash out. But his point is that fighting against it by perpetrating injustice to others is sinful too, and he’s right.

The point is that we have to live the peace and justice and righteousness that we want to see in the world.  If all we do is respond to evil with evil, we don’t ever change anything.  But if we respond by making our corner of the world a better place, it can change everything. The Gospel Verse today says, “I chose you from the world, that you may go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.”  And evil never lasts, because Christ has conquered it.  Peace, justice, and love – those things last, because their source is God himself.

So I think we have to look at ourselves.  Have we been sources of peace or sources of anger, hate and violence?  And I don’t even mean that on any grand scale. Maybe we’ve just been jealous in petty ways, or have held on to the occasional grudge.  Maybe we have decided not to call the relative whose phone only seems to accept incoming calls.  Maybe we have sent a nasty email without stopping to consider it for any due time.  Maybe we have made or laughed at a racial joke, or have decided not to confront a person who uses racial slurs.  To whatever extent we have not been peaceful, we have added to the hatred and evil of which our world is already full.

And so today we pray for ourselves, that we might be more forgiving, for our world that it might be more peaceful, for our enemies and ourselves that we might come to know each other as children of God, for an end to evil and terrorism and murder and injustice of every kind.  Toward all of that, I offer today the prayer that Pope Benedict offered ten years ago at Ground Zero:

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost …
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Amen.

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

Since the readings lead us to a place of healing, I want to take this opportunity to speak of one of the sacraments of healing, namely the Anointing of the Sick.  I want to do that because I think it’s a sacrament that is misunderstood, one that we don’t think of much, until someone is near death, and that’s not what the Anointing of the Sick is all about.  In the days prior to Vatican II, that actually was the understanding of the Sacrament.  It was called Extreme Unction, Latin for “Last Anointing.”  But Vatican II restored the sacrament to a much earlier practice, in which the sacrament was intended for healing, and not just sending the dying person on their way to eternal life.

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

So I’d like to identify a few times when it would be appropriate to have the Anointing of the Sick.  The first is before surgery that is either life threatening itself, or is for the healing of some illness or injury.  Very often people will call, and they might come to a daily Mass before their surgery or the weekend before their surgery, and I’ll anoint them after Mass.  This is a wonderful time to receive the sacrament, because they’ve just been to Mass and have received the Eucharist. The combination of those sacraments is a great source of grace and healing.  Here at Saint Mary’s, we also have a monthly celebration of the sacrament at a service, usually the first Sunday of the month (although, because of Labor Day, this month’s takes place today) at 1:30 in the afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You may have heard the saying that “If you want to hear God laugh, just tell him your plans.” It’s so easy for us in our arrogance to think we have everything all figured out. And then maybe God taps us on the shoulder, or whispers into our ear, and sends us in another direction. We’ve all had that happen in our lives, I am sure. And if we’re open to it, it can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be a wild ride at the least, and possibly even traumatic. This is the experience Paul is getting at when he says in our first reading, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”

Simon and his fellow fishermen must have been thinking that Jesus fell into the foolishness category when he hopped into their boat, after they had been working hard all night long (to no avail, mind you!), and said, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” What foolishness! But something about Jesus made them follow his instructions, he tapped on their shoulders, whispered into their ears, and they did what he said.

And not only were they rewarded with a great catch of fish, but they were also called to catch people for God’s reign. Talk about God laughing at your plans! They had only ever known fishing, and now they were evangelists, apostles and teachers. And we know how wild a ride it was for them. They never expected the danger that surrounded Jesus in his last days. They never expected to be holed up in an upper room trying to figure out what to do next. They never expected to be martyred, but all of that was what God had in mind for them. And all of it was filled with blessing.

So what foolishness does God have planned for us today? How will he tap us on the shoulder or whisper into our ear? Whatever it is, may he find us all ready to leave everything behind and follow him.