Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel

archangelsToday’s readings: Tobit 5, Tobit 12, Revelation 12:7-12, Matthew 1:18-25

Celebrated in our parish church as a Solemnity today. This is very similar to the homily I gave to the school children last year on the Solemnity, amended a bit in order to speak to the wider audience of a morning Mass.

We’re all very aware these days how scary and frustrating our world can be at times. Taking a journey in safety is something we may have once taken for granted, but not these days. I often think that with all the difficulty getting through an airport, you really have to want to get where you’re going. But there’s danger everywhere. All we have to do is turn on our television news to see it face-to-face. And often enough, we come closer to danger even than that. These days, it seems, we don’t hear very much good news, and the truth is not defended as it should be. When it comes down to it, lots of times, we need someone to help us. Sometimes we need to hear from an angel.

Today is the Feast of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. Since our church is named after St. Raphael, this is a very special day for us and we celebrate it this morning with great solemnity. But it’s a special day for everyone because the angels that we’ve heard about today are great helps to us every day.

Some angels are guides. Today we heard about our patron, St. Raphael, who was a guide for Tobiah in our first reading. St. Raphael appeared as a young man and accompanied Tobiah as he journeyed a long distance to get his father’s property and bring it back. Tobit, his father, was very worried about Tobiah making the journey, so he was looking for someone to help him. Raphael, posing as the young man, went with Tobiah and brought him home safely, along with his father’s property. St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers.

Some angels bring healing. The name Raphael actually means, “God heals.” Tobit, Tobiah’s father, was blind for a long time. So, along with bringing back Tobit’s property, Raphael and Tobiah brought back an ointment made of fish gall. Tobiah blew into his father’s eyes and smeared the medicine on them, and Tobit was able to see his son again! Raphael also healed a woman named Sarah. She was married seven times, but each of her husbands died on their wedding night, and Sarah thought she would be alone for the rest of her life. Raphael arranged for Tobiah and Sarah to be married, and they both lived very happily. St. Raphael is also the patron saint of healing, especially of the blind.

Some angels are defenders. In the second reading, Satan was trying to take over heaven and accused all of God’s followers, good people, of all kinds of crimes. St. Michael fought against Satan and had him thrown out of heaven. He brought victory to God by being strong in the battle against Satan and all evil powers, and he still defends people against evil to this day by his prayers. Because he defends people, St. Michael is the patron saint of police officers.

Some angels are messengers. St. Gabriel was the angel who came to tell Mary that she was going to be the Mother of Jesus. In our Gospel reading, St. Gabriel also comes to St. Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, and reassured him. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father of Jesus, so he was going to quietly call off the wedding. But Gabriel came and assured him that the baby Mary was going to have was from God, and because of what Gabriel told him, St. Joseph stayed with Mary and became the earthly father of Jesus. Gabriel is known for the news that he brings, and is the patron saint of messengers, postal workers, communications workers and broadcasters.

All three of these angels, Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, came to make God’s presence known on earth in some way. Our patron, St. Raphael, came to be Tobiah’s guide and to bring God’s healing to Tobit and Sarah. St. Michael came to defend God’s people against evil and danger. St. Gabriel came to bring good news about the Incarnation and the Salvation we would have in Christ.

But you know, their ministry continues to this day. There are indeed angels among us. Maybe St. Raphael is still here, keeping us safe when we go on long journeys and, more importantly, helping us to stay on the path to God. He might be here, too, working through the hands of doctors and nurses and physical therapists, and all kinds of healers, to bring sick people back to health. Maybe St. Michael is still here, working through police officers and fire fighters and all kinds of public safety people, in order to keep our communities safe, and maybe St. Michael also works through those who defend the Church against all kinds of evil. Maybe St. Gabriel is still here among us, raising up prophets in our midst; maybe he’s working through parents and teachers and priests and ministers when they bring us news about God and preach the Gospel.

We know a little bit about all these angels because of today’s Liturgy of the Word. But I don’t think those stories are finished just yet. I think the angels are still working among us, guiding us, healing us, defending us, and bringing us good news. The angels are probably working through people you know. They’re even working through you whenever you help someone else. The truth is, I don’t think we would live very safe and happy lives if it wasn’t for the angels among us. Today we should thank God for Saints Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, and for all the people who cooperate with those angels in all their work.

Vigil of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel

straphaelToday’s readings: Tobit 5, Tobit 12, Revelation 12:7-12, Matthew 1:18-25
Today’s feast: Vigil of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel [Vigil Mass Celebrated for the School Children]

What is a hero? The dictionary tells us that heroes are people of great courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. They are people who seem to be able to do more than we can possibly imagine, people who are bigger or stronger or smarter than everyone else. I remember when I was your age I admired Superman and Batman, and sports heroes like Dick Butkis and Mark Spitz who was a great Olympic swimmer. You probably have heroes too. Maybe your heroes are people like Brian Urlacher or fictional people like Lightening McQueen or Spiderman.

You may never get to meet any of these heroes, and many of them are imaginary, just people we see in the movies or on television. But I think the world gives us all kinds of heroes, people who may never be real famous but people who do ordinary things with great ability and who have values and a sense of right and wrong that is a great example to all of us. Today’s feast of the Archangels Raphael, Michael and Gabriel gives us a great look at heroic qualities that we see in the Angels, but might also see in other people.

Some heroes lighten the load for other people. Like St. Raphael, they are people who can walk with us on long journeys, real journeys or even on the journey we call life. They teach us things and help us to see new possibilities. They are the people we can go to when we have a problem. The person who will get up and help us in the middle of the night when we have a bad dream or aren’t feeling very well. The friend we can tell anything to: all of our fears and worries and dreams. The teacher who helps us find out that we have abilities and talents we never knew we had. The sister or brother who holds our hand when we’re scared. There are lots of angels like St. Raphael who journey with us and bring us safely home.

Some heroes keep us safe. Like St. Michael, they defend people who cannot defend themselves. The police officer who teaches you how to say no to drugs or who helps you cross the street or catches a thief. Firefighters or paramedics who rescue people who are in an accident or whose houses are on fire. Soldiers who fight for our freedom so that we won’t have to face terror near our homes. It might be the lawyer who defends someone who has been unjustly accused of a crime. It could be the person who reaches out to feed the poor or someone who fixes up homes for the homeless. There are lots of angels like St. Michael who keep us safe from anyone or anything that can harm us.

Some heroes speak the truth. Like St. Gabriel, they are people who proclaim the Gospel and are the voice of God for us. They are people who tell us things that we need to hear, even if we don’t necessarily want to hear them. They are prophets and preachers and ordinary folks who just give witness to their faith. The priest giving the homily. The teacher talking about our religion. The parent who teaches us right from wrong. The person who speaks out when our government or society is heading the wrong way. The one who urges us to serve the poor. Like St. Gabriel, there are lots of angels who speak the truth and are God’s voice in our world.

In our society today, it’s almost like we don’t need heroes at all. Science can explain so much of what might be mysterious in our world. But we still need heroes, and we need saints like Raphael, Michael and Gabriel to bring God’s protection, communication and guidance in ways which defy description. And we might never get to meet Brian Urlacher, Lightening McQueen or Spiderman, but chances are we know people who have been like angels to us. Chances are we have experienced the protection of the angels in all sorts of ways.

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reminds me of a sound bite for the evening news. Taken out of context, Jesus is denying his family. And not only that, but Jesus now has “brothers,” so what happened to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary? Sound bites cause nothing but trouble because you don’t have the context to know what’s really being said. These sound bites take a whole lot of explanation, and the ones we have in today’s Gospel are certainly no exception.

First of all, let’s tackle the idea of Jesus having brothers. Many ideas surround that issue and have developed over time, as I am sure you can appreciate. One idea says that St. Joseph was an older man, and had sons by a previous wife, now dead. These would be Jesus’ half-brothers. Another idea comes from the fact that the Greek word translated “brothers” here is general enough that it might also refer to cousins or some other close kindred. So the brothers here would be close family members, not necessarily brothers. In either case, the Church affirms the perpetual virginity of Mary and this Gospel is making a different point.

The second sound bite is that Jesus seems to turn away from his mother and his relatives and claims that his family is those who hear the word of God and act on it. Well, Jesus certainly wasn’t turning away from his beloved mother or any of his close relatives. We know for a fact that Mary was the first of the disciples. Jesus seems to be more widening his family relationships than restricting them to just those related by blood. Which is good news for all of us who are now included in that family. Giving ourselves to the word of God, hearing it and living it, we are mother and brother and sister to Christ.

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings

stmatthewHow 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 collect 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 we know. 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.

Ss. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang & Companions, Martyrs

Today’s readings

koreanmartyrsKorea was introduced to Christianity in the late 1500s when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers who invaded Korea at that time. It was not until the late 1700s that a priest managed to sneak into Korea, and when he did, he found about 4000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were over ten thousand Catholics.

In the 1800s, Andrew Kim became the first native Korean to become a priest when he traveled 1300 miles to seminary in China. He managed to find his way back into the country six years later. When he returned home, he arranged for more men to travel to China for studies. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.

St. Paul Chong was a lay apostle who was also martyred. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867, 103 members of the Christian community gave their lives for the faith. These included some bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay people, including men and women, married and unmarried, children, young people and the elderly. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.

Men and women like these Korean martyrs have always had a clear picture of what St. Paul was telling Timothy: “attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching.” It is hard for us to imagine the incredible hardship and danger they faced by living their faith, but they lived it anyway, at the cost of their own lives. We may never be called upon to give our lives for the faith, but we may indeed have to pour out our lives for it every day by giving when we don’t feel like it, or being the presence of Christ to those we would rather not be around, or by making an unpopular stand contrary to the thoughts of those close to us. Martyrdom looks different in different times and places. May we be as willing to give of ourselves as the Korean martyrs were in that day.

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The little instruction of St. Paul to Timothy about bishops, women and deacons seems quaint. And it’s sure a relief to me because he doesn’t mention priests! Actually, he doesn’t mention priests because they were of course a later development. You can even see how the office of bishop has changed over time, with his reference to being married only once and managing his household well. But the real point here is that St. Paul is outlining the characteristics of the Christian disciple, for which all of us are responsible.

We Christian disciples are the public face of Christianity. What we portray to the world is how others will come to see our way of life as a whole. We must be people without reproach, not conceited and well-regarded by outsiders. We must be not deceitful, not addicted to anything, and not in love with sordid gain. Really, what he is telling us is almost impossible, isn’t it? We all fall short of these standards in some way.

Which is why we can be revived by Jesus Christ like the widow’s son on the way to Nain. Only Jesus Christ can help us in our weakness and fill in our lack. We might be tempted to weep over our sinfulness and unworthiness, but Jesus tells us not to weep and raises us up. Only with Jesus’ help can we do as the psalmist says: walk with a blameless heart.

Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Kingdom of God is about mercy, and forgiveness, and repentance, and reconciliation. The task of the Church is to call people to repentance, and to bring God’s mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation to the world. The task of Christian disciples is to repent, and to receive God’s mercy, and forgiveness and reconciliation, and also to extend the mercy they have been given, to forgive as they have been forgiven, and to reconcile with everyone in their path. If we want to know the meaning for our lives and the purpose of our worship, we have heard it today.

The problem is, as we well know, that we are a sinful people. That sinfulness goes all the way back to just after the creation, but we see it well in today’s first reading. The people Israel, having been led safely out of Egypt and having their enemies destroyed in the Red Sea, have soon enough forgotten the God who loved them into the desert and who longed to purify them in that desert for refuge in the promised land. When they lost sight of Moses and couldn’t figure out God’s plan, they fashioned a calf out of molten jewelry and began to worship its image. They had truly become stiff-necked.

And would that it had ended in the desert, but it didn’t. We have inherited the stiff-neckedness that plagued the ancient Israelites. Whenever we lose sight of God, we are constantly prone to worship other gods. Think about 9/11, whose horrible sixth anniversary we observed this past week. In the days following that tragedy, you would have been hard pressed to find a seat in any church. Not so any more. Do we need God less now? What gods have we embraced in the days since then?

And if we were pressed to admit it, I have to think we could understand God’s reaction to the Israelites and would have to admit it applied to us as well. We, just as well as they, have often been guilty enough to deserve being consumed by God’s blazing wrath. But that’s not the picture of God we get today, is it?

No, we get a picture of God who relents in punishment, and who not only offers mercy and forgiveness, but actually also relentlessly pursues his fallen people so that they will accept it. God is the shepherd who will leave behind ninety-nine sheep-crazy as that may be-to pursue just one of us who has wandered astray. God is the woman who having lost just one of ten coins stays up all night, having lit a lamp, and sweeps the house carefully until the coin has been found. God is that prodigal father who sees the sinner returning at a distance and runs out to meet him or her. God doesn’t relent in his pursuit of us until all the wandering have been restored to the fold, all the lost are found, and all the rebellious have returned to the table.

And God is not the one who stands there upon our return, arms folded, with a stern look on his face and says, “finally – what took you so long?” No, instead God calls together the neighbors and friends and begs them to help him rejoice and celebrate the lost lamb who has been restored to the fold and the coin that has been found. God is the father who kills the fatted calf, throws a fine robe around us, puts a ring on our finger and sandals on our feet, embraces us, and leads us to rejoice in our return. God is not content to simply treat us as one of his hired workers: he will not be satisfied until we are seated at his banquet table. God’s pursuit of us isn’t some kind of micromanaging megalomania, but instead a real longing expressed in action so that we can all join in the rejoicing that God always intended for us.

So do not leave this holy place without hearing this message. Yes, you have sinned: we are all that stiff-necked people. Yes, you have embraced gods that were not genuine: we are all tempted daily. But yes, God is pursuing you relentlessly, waiting in eager expectation, and exercising incredible patience until that day you return to him, heart and soul. What is on your heart right now? Where have you turned from God and embraced the worship of something or someone that is not God? How long has it been? When will you repent, confessing your sin and receiving God’s gift of mercy? How long will you keep yourself from feasting at God’s banquet table?

It’s as simple as approaching the Sacrament of Penance. In that beautiful Sacramental encounter, God waits for you, eagerly longing for your return. If you hear nothing else today, know that God has searched for you, lighting the lamp and burning the midnight oil, leaving the ninety-nine behind to reach out to you, peering out the window to see you on the road to your return. Those few Sacramental moments can be the beginning of new life and rejoicing in the way God always intended it.

If you haven’t been to the Sacrament in years, just say that. The priest is there to help you, not to judge you. Ask for help if you need it to make a good confession. But never stay away simply because you feel like you’re not worthy, or it’s been too long, or you haven’t done anything that bad, or you don’t want the priest to think badly of you (we do forget what you’ve said when you leave, you know!). Whatever the reason, don’t let that get in the way of God’s pursuing mercy. You deserve so much better than that, and God won’t rest until you’ve received it.

The Kingdom of God is about mercy, and forgiveness, and repentance, and reconciliation. The task of the Church is to call people to repentance, and to bring God’s mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation to the world. The task of Christian disciples is to repent, and to receive God’s mercy, and forgiveness and reconciliation, and also to extend the mercy they have been given, to forgive as they have been forgiven, and to reconcile with everyone in their path. If we want to know the meaning for our lives and the purpose of our worship, we have heard it today.

St. John Chrysostom

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

St John Chrysostom large

St. 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 … oh, never mind.

John was manipulated by the emperor to become bishop of Constantinople, the capital city, because the emperor thought he could manipulate John. But he couldn’t. John would not be a kept man. So he would 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.

But not everyone liked John. Many of his sermons called for concrete steps to share wealth with the poor. The rich did not appreciate hearing from John that private property existed because of Adam’s fall from grace any more than married men liked to hear that they were bound to marital fidelity just as much as their wives. When it came to justice and charity, John acknowledged no double standards. I have to admit, I think I would have liked his preaching!

What we should get from St. John Chrysostom, though, is that discipleship has to be imbued with fidelity and integrity. We have to practice what we preach. Today’s Scriptures call us to be loving, forgiving and thankful. Those can’t be just nice words that we think other people should do. 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.

Monday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Do you ever wonder what St. Paul means when he says that he is making up in his own flesh whatever is lacking in the sufferings of Christ? I always thought that was kind of arrogant. After all, didn’t Christ’s suffering pay the price, once and for all, and fulfill all the justice of God tempered with God’s great mercy? So what could be lacking in the perfect sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Well, of course, the one thing that is lacking in Christ’s sufferings is our participation in it. Don’t forget that we are all the Body of Christ. That doesn’t just refer to the Sacrament we receive, nor is it a cute Church-jargon way of referring to the Church itself. Christ gave his body and blood for us, and so we too have become parts of his body. And as parts of his body, we must share in the bodily suffering that he endured for our sake.

So we may have to suffer persecution for doing good, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel reading. And we may have to suffer the pains of illness. And we may have to suffer the loss of loved ones. We may have to endure sadness and pain on many levels. When we do, we can do so with the attitude of joining our sufferings to those of Christ and thus making up whatever may have been lacking in Christ’s own suffering.

When we join our sufferings to Christ, we know that he is there with us. And though the suffering may remain, there can be a peace that comes from knowing that we are in God’s hands. The Psalmist says it best for us this morning:

Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.

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