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!

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!

Holy Hour: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Why did you doubt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

The Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Our God Heals|Our God Saves

Today’s readings

Today we begin our “Crash Course in Catholicism.”  It’s our hope that through this four-Sunday series of homilies, those who are seeking answers from the Church and those who are wanting to get back to the practice of the faith can find some help in sorting out the obstacles they have been encountering.  For all of us, I think, these four Sundays will give us some important pieces to add to our “faith tool box,” ideas and concepts that will help us when life takes a turn we don’t expect or appreciate, or when people ask us questions we find hard to answer.  As we begin this series, I’d ask you to keep this endeavor in prayer.  And as we begin each of the homilies for these four weeks, I invite you to pray that Jesus would open all of our hearts and minds to accept the faith more fully.

Today’s readings give us the opportunity to discuss two very important concepts: healing and salvation.  These things, honestly, are the whole reason Jesus came to us, the whole reason he left his heavenly throne, took on our flesh, and died on the cross.  These readings are really Good News!

A lot of energy gets expended around the concept of gratitude when this Gospel reading is discussed, and it’s easy to see why that is – just one of the lepers came back and expressed his gratitude.  But I think he also might have been the only one who was really healed.  Here’s why I think that:  For Jesus, the physical ailment wasn’t usually the most important thing he wanted to heal.  Usually, he was looking for interior healing, almost a kind of healing of the person from the inside out.  So yes, the lepers who came to him were in need of physical healing.  “Leprosy” was the name given to all kinds of skin diseases – but only some were really Hansen’s disease, our modern name for leprosy.  The rest were various types of skin eruptions and rashes. When the skin became diseased, people called it leprosy, and the victim suffered exclusion from the community (cf. Lv. 13-14) and became ritually unclean.

So Jesus sends the ten of them off to show themselves to the priests.  When they heard that, it had to be confusing.  The priests are the ones who would have to certify them healed so that they could participate in worship again, but since they hadn’t yet been healed, they had to grumble a bit about being put off to someone else.  Except that on the way they were cleansed (notice carefully that it doesn’t say they were healed).  When that happened, they couldn’t possibly mistake the grace they had been given, but nine of them took it no further than that.  Only just the one returned to give thanks, a sign that he had indeed been healed in body, mind and spirit.

For us then, we need to know that not every healing takes place in the way we would expect, or even in the way we think is best.  God gives us grace according to his purpose and the kind of healing he gives us could well be something we wouldn’t exactly choose.  Perhaps we have found ourselves healed when:

  • A person who loves us tells us a hard truth we need to hear about ourselves.
  • We experience, in a long relationship, opportunities for growth in generosity, forgiveness, patience and humor.
  • Parenting teaches us to give our lives for another in frequent doses of our time, energies, hopes and tears.
  • We suffer a broken relationship, go for counsel and the guidance we receive gives us hope for our future.
  • We seek help for an addiction and the group members offer us wisdom, support and helping hands when we fall and support us “one day at a time.”
  • We suffer the death of a loved one and family and friends are there to grieve with us and eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel.

What is important to get here is that faith is the key to all of this.  Our faith has to have us open to whatever God intends for us.  Our faith has to give us the ability to cry out to God in our need.  Our faith has to make us ready for whatever healing God intends for us.  That’s not easy: that’s why they call it a “leap of faith,” and sometimes it is just that.  Notice the words that Jesus speaks to the Samaritan leper at the end of the reading: “Go your way, your faith has saved you.”  God can do a lot for us, but it is our own act of faith that helps us to see God’s hand in our lives and cooperate with his grace.

I think that’s a good turning point for our second concept, and that is salvation.  Many of us have probably been asked by friends or even strangers who are Evangelical Christians, “Are you saved?” and “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”  So let’s be clear about the answers: Are we saved?  Of course the answer is “Yes” — no ifs, ands or buts.  As I said at the beginning of my homily, this was the reason God sent His Son Jesus into the world.  Salvation is the gift won for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  When we unite our lives to His in Baptism, we are saved.

But what does this even mean?  What are we saved from?  The answer to that is sin and death.  These are the things that separate us, have always separated us, from real happiness with God.  It was the effect of Adam and Eve doing what God told them not to in the beginning, and ever since, it has caused all of us to desire things that are not God, things that, while they seem nice, can never give us real happiness.  This is what causes the human condition by which we so often end up doing the very things we don’t want to do, and because of which we are not able to do the things we want to do.  That is the basic effect of sin, which leads to the breakdown in all kinds of relationships — between fellow human beings, our connection with creation, our relationship with God, and even with ourselves.  Left to our own human devices we can do nothing about these breakdowns of relationships.  That choice in the beginning, which we call original sin, unleashed a torrent of sin and death with us at one side, and God on the other.  There was no way for us to cross it.  But God didn’t create us for death, so in an amazing act of love, he sent his own divine Son, who took on our flesh and paid the price for our sins.  By dying on the cross, that cross became the bridge for us to cross that torrential river of sin and death, and come to our God, to the place he has prepared for us, to the real happiness for which we were created.  That is the essence of our faith.

This is why Saint Paul says to Saint Timothy in our second reading today: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.  I bear witness to Him so that you may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.  If we die with him, we shall also live with him in eternal glory.”  We proclaim boldly that there is a remedy for death, and it is Jesus Christ.  We profess that there absolutely is a Savior, and He is Jesus Christ.  

So have you been saved?  Well, absolutely.  But have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?  That’s more of an individual question.  That process began at your baptism, when either you, or your parents and godparents, accepted that sacrament which makes you part of the Body of Christ.  At your Confirmation, you reaffirmed that by accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit, which leads you to salvation.  And every time you receive the Holy Eucharist, you become what you receive, by incorporating the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ into your own being.  

But it’s easy to do those sacramental things and not have them really change us.  So there is that challenge to really accept that sacramental grace and really accept the salvation God offers us in Christ.  Catholicism is an experiential faith, a living relationship with Christ.  A Catholic is not a person who merely accumulates intellectual knowledge about God nor simply fulfills tradition and the letter of the law.  Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have repeatedly emphasized that Catholic Christianity is an encounter with Jesus.  That encounter happens all through our lives as we pray and grow in our faith.  This encounter with Jesus is the subject of our prayer life, and we will talk more about that in next week’s homily.

In the meantime, what answer should you give to the Evangelical who asks you if you have accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?  My suggestion would be very simply: “Yes, I have.  Every day.”

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

I don’t believe in coincidences. Being in the right place at the right time isn’t usually a coincidence. Far more often than we realize, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Certainly that is the case in today’s first reading. How else would we explain an angel directing Philip to be on a road at the very same time as the Ethiopian eunuch passed by, reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah that referred to Jesus? Seizing the moment, Philip proclaims Jesus to him in a way that was powerful enough and moving enough that, on seeing some water as they continued on the journey, the eunuch begged to be baptized.

The same is true for those who were fortunate enough to hear Jesus proclaim the Bread of Life discourse that we’ve been reading in our Gospel readings these past days. Having been fed by a few loaves and fishes when they were physically hungry, they now come to find Jesus who longs to fill them up not just physically but also, and more importantly, spiritually. Their hunger put them in the right place at the right time. 

What I think is important for us to get today is that we are always in the right place at the right time, spiritually speaking. Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to find God. Wherever we are right now is the place where the Holy Spirit wants us to find God and to proclaim God. That might be in the midst of peace, or chaos, or any situation. We never know how God may feed us in those situations. Because we never know when there will be someone like an Ethiopian eunuch there, aching to be filled with Christ’s presence and called to a new life. 

It is no coincidence that we are where we are, when we are. The Spirit always calls on us to find our God and proclaim him as Lord in every moment and every situation. 

Monday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So the disciples are waiting for Jesus to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  They have attempted to cure a man’s son from the hold of a demon, but they were apparently unable to do so.  This seems to have led to an argument between them and the scribes.  You can almost feel Jesus’ exasperation.  Both the disciples and the scribes should have been able to do something for the boy, but they couldn’t.  Why?  Because instead of praying, they argued about it.  “This kind can only come out through prayer,” Jesus tells the disciples when they ask why they were ineffective.

I often wonder, with more than a little fear, how many demons I could have cast out – in myself and in others – if I had a little more faith, if I prayed a little more than I do.  There are, of course, all sorts of demons: demons of illness, demons of cyclical sin, demons of impure attachments, demons of homelessness, poverty, and marginalization, and so many more.  Think of all the demons we could cast out if we just had more faith, if we prayed more fervently.

Sometimes, when we are trying to overcome some problem, the last thing we think to do is pray, when it should absolutely be the first.  The disciples were guilty of it, the scribes were, and we are too sometimes, if we’re honest.  And all of us should know better.  I know that I myself can think of a number of problems I’ve tried to solve all by myself, when it would have been so much more effective to first turn them over to our Lord.  We can’t just cut God out of the picture and rely on our own strength; that never works – our own strength is so fiercely limited.  We have to turn to the tools we have been given: faith and prayer.  And we can start by saying with the boy’s father: “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: