Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Homecoming Mass for Benedictine University

Today’s readings

Well, I would like to welcome all of you home to Benedictine University for Homecoming 2020.  Except, of course, that we aren’t at our “home”: we are celebrating this Mass at my parish, Saint Mary Immaculate in Plainfield, Illinois, a little over twenty miles south and west of the Lisle campus of Benedictine.  And, most of you aren’t even here; hopefully some of you are watching the livestream.  So this is a very weird homecoming indeed!

My name is Father Pat Mulcahy, and I myself am an alum of Benedictine.  I was part of the class of 1986, when the institution was called Illinois Benedictine College.  My major was Religious Studies, with a minor in Philosophy.  Probably my most notable accomplishment for Benedictine was that I was erroneously reported as deceased in an edition of Benedictine Voices, back in 2007.  The actual deceased Pat Mulcahy was my father; reports of my death were, as Mark Twain famously quipped, greatly exaggerated.

I’ve maintained a connection to Benedictine University and the Benedictines over the years, which has been a great blessing to me.  Saint Procopius Abbey was the place where I had my canonical retreat before my ordination to the priesthood in 2006, and I’ve spent a few days there now and again for times of reflection and rest.  I keep in contact with many of the monks.  I’ve been privileged as well to celebrate Mass for the sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery occasionally over the years, which helped me to remember my time in college working in campus ministry and being blessed to meet many of the sisters there.

In my time at IBC, now BU, I would say that in addition to all of the academic work, there was definitely formation which encouraged us to become good citizens of the world, but also people who had a relationship with God and expressed that relationship in terms of service and worship.  I think that’s the whole idea behind today’s readings.

When a couple comes to me to prepare for their upcoming marriage, one of the things I have them do is to write me letters, individually, asking to be married. I ask them to reflect on their relationship and to say something about their faith. Over the years I’ve received a lot of letters and some are very deep, some are very emotional, some are kind of surface-level. I usually find something in every letter to quote in my wedding homily. A while ago, I celebrated the wedding of a couple that was very faith-filled. They had been raised by strong Catholic families, had gone to Catholic schools, and faith was and continued to be a big part of their lives. One of the most quotable lines in their letters came from the groom. He said, “Many people want to think of God only in times of trouble or sadness; (my fiancé) and I want to think of God all the time.”

I think he got at what our Liturgy of the Word is teaching us today. In the Gospel, the Pharisees are at it again: they want to trap Jesus in speech so that they’ll be able to bring him to justice. And so they decide to ask him if it’s lawful to pay the census tax or not. It was a no-win argument: if he said it was not lawful, then he’s a revolutionary and should be put to death; if he said it was lawful, then he’s an idolater – putting the government over God – and should be put to death. But, as usual, Jesus answers their question with a question. “Whose image is this (on the coin) and whose inscription?” Since it was Caesar’s, his instruction is to give Caesar his due, but then, to give God what he is due.

This then becomes a reflection on the first commandment of the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” This is echoed by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

There’s a reason that this is the first commandment: it is foundational to all the others. If we get the first commandment right, the others should follow pretty easily. If we know and live that God is in charge, that God is God and we are not, then we will easily live the other nine commandments dealing with love of God and love of neighbor. The trouble is, even though it’s easy to say, it’s difficult to do.

Modern life does everything it can to distract us. It’s hard to get to Mass because the kids have sports or dance or studies or whatever. And as wonderful as those things are, they don’t lead the children to God, so they can’t take precedence over Mass. It’s hard to take time for prayer because we are busy – we have studies and work, and we have family commitments and we have things we want to do in the community. And as great as all that is, it doesn’t lead us to God, so they can’t take precedence over our prayer. It’s hard to be of service because we’re busy people, and that’s a shame because service – stemming from a love of neighbor – leads us to love of God, and we’ve said no to it again. Just like those Pharisees, we have too often allowed ourselves to be distracted from what’s really important, we’ve said no to a relationship with our God, and we have put him out of our lives and our families’ lives time and time again.

Giving to God what belongs to God is foundational. Failure to do that leads to all other kinds of sin. Today, we have in our Scriptures an examination of conscience. Have we been zealous to give to God what belongs to God? Have we taken time for prayer? Have we been of service to our brothers and sisters in need? Have we made teaching the faith to our children our primary priority? Have we been vigilant to prevent anything from getting in the way of celebrating Mass as a family? If we have fallen short in any of those ways, this is the time to reverse the course and get it right. Caesar gets what’s his one way or the other. We have to be the ones who are on fire to give to God what belongs to God.

The whole point of our life on this earth is to travel through it and become perfected so that we can go to heaven. A huge first step in that is putting God first, giving to God what belongs to God. And he wants all of us: our hearts, our souls, our lives. As Saint Benedict wrote in his Rule, “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10)…  Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”  Is there something that we have been preferring to Christ?  What are we called to turn from so that we can turn to him?  What step do we need to make to give to God what belongs to God this week?

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I wonder if you find this Gospel parable a little aggravating.  I have heard it many times now, and I certainly have bristled with aggravation on occasion when I’ve heard it.  And, as I often say, it’s good when the Gospel gets us a little riled up, because that means God is doing something in us that invites us to salvation.

Certainly the people hearing it in Jesus’ day would have been aggravated when they heard this parable too.  They knew the economics of day laboring better than we do (although day laborers are by no means extinct in the twenty-first century).  The very thought that those who labored hard all day, in the sun, would get the same as those who worked but an hour was unthinkable.  I dare say we find it that way too.

So it’s important for us to notice, first of all, that this is not intended to be a parable about justice.  Jesus tells us right away: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner…”  So the parable is not about justice, but instead it is an illustration of the workings of the Kingdom of God.  In one sense, that’s comforting, because Jesus is not telling us that we should run our businesses with lavish disregard for economic wisdom.  I would be hard pressed to be convinced to even run the parish that way.

But now let’s think about the fact that the parable is about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus was delivering a message to the religious establishment: they didn’t have the monopoly on the kingdom.  They thought they had earned God’s reward, and Jesus tells them it doesn’t work that way.  It’s not about what you’ve done or how long you’ve been doing it, it’s about God’s mercy and love that is poured out with lavish generosity.  They would have found that pretty irritating.  I think we know that in our heads, but when it comes to how this parable plays out, it reveals that we may not have accepted it in our hearts.

Do you mean to tell me that those of us who have worked hard and long for the mission and spent our days and nights at church might inherit just as much as someone who ignores the Gospel and converts on his or her death bed?  Well, yes.  That very well could be.  Many years ago now, I heard about the deathbed conversion of actor John Wayne.  I remember thinking at the time, “Gee, that’s convenient.”  Here he may well have led a life of excess and who knows what all debauchery and only on his deathbed was he willing to form a relationship with God.  Here those of us disciples have been working hard at it all this time, and yet some can get it just at the last minute?  That makes me bristle with thoughts of unfairness.  But, as the prophet Isaiah tells us today, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not God’s ways.

And who am I to judge John Wayne, or really anyone?  It’s important to note that we cannot pass judgment on anyone.  I don’t know the details about John Wayne’s life and certainly not about his relationship with the Lord.  Who knows if a conversion wasn’t something he had been looking forward to for a long time and he didn’t know how to make it happen.  Maybe he had, in fact, been kept from hearing the Gospel in his formative years and so didn’t have the basis for a life of faith that many of us do.  The important thing is that his desire was granted, in the waning moments of his life, and God is generous.  That’s all we need to know.

Let’s face it, none of us wants God to be too strict an accountant.  No matter how hard we may try to be good disciples, we often fall short in big ways and small ways.  God gives us second chances all the time.  And we are blessed that we worship a generous, or we’d all of us be in a world of hurt, without exception.  

If anything, even us cradle Catholics should be grateful for this message, because if we are honest, our tiniest sins are a grave offense to Almighty God, who is goodness itself, and who gives us everything we need in this life and in the next.  We who have gravely offended God by our sins need those second chances too, and we have them.

Another good way to think about this parable on this Catechetical Sunday, is that the time to foster a relationship with Jesus isn’t limited to the beginning of the day, or the beginning of our life.  We are called to form a life-long relationship of learning, and growing in relationship, with the God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine.  Every hour of the day, every stage of our life, is an opportunity to let Jesus come and get us, and put us to work in the field of the faith.

The last line of the Gospel might sound unfair, but ultimately, I think, it is hopeful: “The first will be last and the last will be first.”  Let that sink in for a minute: whether you’re first or last, you still have the possibility of life eternal.  It doesn’t matter when you get there, or where you were in line, or if someone cut in ahead of you.  There is always enough grace and mercy to go around.  There are always dwellings for us in the kingdom of heaven.  None of us will be left without the love of God, if only we approach it, if only we accept it, if only we don’t get caught up in thinking about who gets in ahead of us.  News doesn’t get any better than that.

Categories
Homilies Jesus Christ Ordinary Time

The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of my jobs before I went to seminary was in the sales department of a computer supply company.  In that job, they taught us that one of the first good rules of sales was never to ask a question to which you didn’t already know the answer.  I think teachers get taught that principle as well.  I can’t help but think that Jesus’ question to the disciples in today’s Gospel falls under that heading.  Because Jesus certainly knew who he was.  But, as often happens in our interactions with Jesus, there’s something more going on.  And to figure out what that something more is, all you have to do is go back to the Gospels the last couple of weeks and see in them that Jesus is looking for people’s faith.  He was looking for faith from Peter when he called him to walk on the water.  He was impressed by the faith of the Canaanite woman last week as she persisted in her request that Jesus heal her daughter.  And now he queries the disciples’ faith – and ours too – as he asks us the 64 thousand dollar question: “Who do you say that I am?”

He actually starts with kind of a soft-ball question. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they recount all the obvious and probably much-discussed options of the time.  If there were bloggers and influencers and talk radio people and cable news in that first century, they too might have said “John the Baptist” or “Elijah” or “Jeremiah” or “one of the prophets.”  So this is an easy question for the disciples to answer.  But when he gets to the lightning round question, “But who do you say that I am?” there’s a lot more silence.  And, as often happens with the disciples, it’s the impetuous Peter who blurts out the right answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Very good, Peter, you have been paying attention.

But here’s the thing: that answer is going to require much of Saint Peter.  You see, his answer not just a liturgical formula or a scriptural title or even a profession of faith in the formal sense.  Jesus is looking for something that goes quite a bit deeper, something that comes from the heart, something integrated into Peter’s life.  He is looking for faith, not just spoken, but faith lived, and that’s why Peter’s answer is actually pretty dangerous.  If he is really convinced that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” then that conviction has to show itself in the way Peter lives.  He can’t just believe that and keep it under his hat.  If Jesus really is the One who is coming into the world, the Promised One of all generations, the salvation of the world, then Peter has to proclaim it from the rooftops.  Now, to be fair, we should note that Peter had a little problem with this around the time of the crucifixion, when he denied Jesus not just once, but three times.  But that’s not going to be his everlasting reality, because Peter has to be the rock on which Jesus will build his Church.  Whether people want to accept that or not.

So I’m very sorry to tell you all this, but we have all gathered here on a very dangerous Sunday.  We too, you know, are being asked today, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Jesus isn’t asking us just to recite the Creed, the Profession of Faith.  That’s too easy; we do it all the time.  Half the time it just flies past us by the time we say “Amen.”  Jesus doesn’t want to know what you learned at Bible Study or what you read on Facebook.  Those things are nice, but He isn’t going for what’s in your head.  Jesus is calling all of us today to dig deep, to really say what it is that we believe about him by the way that we act and the things that we do and the life that we live.  It’s a dangerous question for us, too, because what we believe about Jesus has to show forth in action and not just word.  Our life has to be a testament to our faith in God.  And if we cannot answer that question out of our faith today, if we are not prepared to live the consequences of our belief, then we have a lot of thinking to do.

Because if we really believe – really believe – that Jesus is who he says he is, then we cannot just sit on the news.  Like Peter, we are going to have to proclaim it in word and deed.  In our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our communities – we must be certain that everyone knows that we are Christians and that we are ready to live our faith.  That doesn’t mean that we need to interject a faith lesson into every conversation or bludgeon people with the Gospel.  But it does mean that we have to live that Gospel.  In St. Francis’s words, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  People absolutely need to be able to tell by noticing the way we live our lives that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  If they can’t, then our faith is as tepid as the Pharisees’ and that’s certainly no cause for pride!  Frankly, that too has consequences.

Every part of our Liturgy has consequences for us believers.  “The Body of Christ.”  When we hear that proclamation and respond with our “Amen,” we are saying “yes, that’s what I believe.”  And if we believe that, if we are then filled with the Body of Christ by receiving Holy Communion, then we have made a statement that has consequences.  If we truly become what we receive, then how does that change the way that we work, the way that we interact with others?  “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”  “Thanks be to God.”  If we accept that command, then what?  What does it mean to glorify the Lord with our life?  Does it mean that we just do some kind of ministry here at Mass?  Absolutely not.  The first word in the command is “Go” and that means we have to glorify the Lord in our daily lives, in our business negotiations, in our community meetings, in our interactions with peers or the way that we mentor those who work for us.

So if we really believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then our lives just became a whole lot more complicated.  We may have to give up some of our habits and vices, we may have to make a concerted effort to be more aware of Christ in our daily lives, we may have to learn to treat other people as the Body of Christ.  We may have to do all this preaching in a hostile environment, because sometimes people don’t want to hear the Good News, or even be in the presence of it.  I think that’s more true today than every.  The Gospel is met with hostility just because Christians preach it.  And this is dangerous, because if we really believe, then we have to preach anyway.  Peter did, and it eventually led him to the cross.  What will it require of us?

So I don’t know just how dangerous this will be for me or for you.  I’m not even sure how we will all answer the question right now.  But one thing is for sure, all of us sitting here today have the same one-question test that Peter and the disciples had.  Who do you say that the Son of Man is?  Be sure to take that to your prayer this week.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is a very interesting one.  And I say that in the sense that it is often the kind of Gospel reading that gets people riled up.  Because we can probably agree that this vignette portrays Jesus in a rather unflattering light.  Was he really going to snub this poor woman’s request?  Was he really going to let the child be tormented by a demon?

I actually think that this is a good day on which to grapple with this Gospel and the issue of faith it brings up, because today, we have the great privilege of initiating these, our brothers and sisters, into the faith.  Over the past many months, they have been preparing for initiation by studying the faith and praying for God’s mercy.  Today, we have the great joy of seeing them baptized, confirmed, and receiving their first Eucharist.  This was supposed to have happened at the Easter Vigil this year, but a pandemic delayed the joy.  But even a pandemic is no match for God’s mercy, today we will fulfill for them the promise that God calls us all to be part of his Church, and members of Christ’s body.  

So first of all, let’s just agree that Jesus was always going to help the Canaanite woman’s daughter.  Probably even before the Canaanite woman asked.  He’s God, after all, and he knows our needs.  He always wants the best for the ones he has created.  So some might tell you that this whole interaction was just to test the woman.  Well, that might be comforting if you love a God who has nothing better to do than test us and make us dance for him.  But that’s not our God.

Instead, I think he wanted the Canaanite woman’s faith to be noted by the people looking on, including the disciples, and perhaps even by the woman herself.  Probably the only one who was sure of the woman’s faith in this story was Jesus.  Now, the Canaanites were a people that were presumed to be faithless and have no claim on the grace and mercy of God (as if any of us do!).  The Canaanites were the inhabitants of the Promised Land, which was given to the Israelites after being led out of Egypt by Moses.  So the disdain for them was long-standing by this point.

But Jesus notes her faith as opposed to the faith noted elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel.  In just a couple of chapters from now, Jesus will berate the “faithless generation” that included the scribes and Pharisees.  And just last week, Jesus chastised Peter for being “of little faith” when he pulled him up out of the water.  Contrast that with what he says about the Canaanite woman: “O woman, great is your faith!”

All of this begs the question for us: where are we on the journey of faith?  For most of us, it probably depends on the day.  But are we bold enough of faith to implore God’s mercy when we have no claim on it?  When our sins have been dragging us down and we’ve been committing the same ones over and over?  When we aren’t where we think we should be in our lives?  When we feel like we’ve disappointed almost everyone?  When we’ve disappointed ourselves?

In those moments, are we of enough faith to call on the Lord and implore his mercy?  Because if we are, God is ready to answer us.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This morning’s Gospel passage is the explanation of the parable of the seed and the sower, which we heard on Wednesday morning (and, for that matter, two Sundays ago).  What we quickly find out is that the parable is all about us.  Clearly the ideal is the good soil which produces much fruit, and just as clearly, we don’t want to be the soil on the path or the rocky soil, or even the soil with the thorny growth.  All those soils yield nothing but dead plants, hardly an offering to God or even anything that would be pleasing to us.

When we allow ourselves to have a surface-level relationship with God, one that is not nourished by devotion and worship, when we consider ourselves “spiritual but not religious,” we end up being easy picking for anything in the world that comes our way and would snatch us out of the hands of God.  Just like the seeds that fall on the path.

When we think that we can live our faith without any kind of effort on our part, we end up with a very shallow basis for that faith.  We sometimes latch on to the joy of religion or religious experience, but when it becomes hard work, as any relationship will at some point, well then, we let go of that relationship and have no way to keep growing.  Just like the seeds on the rocky soil.

When we try to live our faith and still be people of the world, we find that the faith gets choked out as our desire for more riches, more things, more prestige – or more whatever – overshadows our desire for strong relationship with God.  We can’t serve two masters, and we soon take the path of least resistance, abandoning the faith for what we think will give us more happiness, at least right now.  And when that fails us, we wither up and have nowhere to turn.  Just like the seeds that grow up with all those thorny plants.

But none of that works for disciples of the Lord.  We have to dig deep and have a faith that goes beyond the surface so that we can really know God.  We have to have a faith that is developed by embracing the hard work of repentance and devotion so that we can continue to go deep into the life of God.  We have to have a faith that is single-minded and not subject to whatever ill-winds and thorns come along; a faith that sustains us in our life of discipleship, in good times and in bad.  We have to be that rich soil which yields not only joy for ourselves, but grace for others.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Todays’ readings

I’m not very good at it, and I don’t do it much any more, but I used to help plant a family garden.  I don’t have much of a green thumb, and I’m short on patience for that kind of thing, so for me it just doesn’t work out very well.  But I’m grateful for those times when I did plant a garden, because it really gives me an insight to the spiritual life.  What’s remarkable to me about a garden is that the seed that is planted looks, for all the world, lifeless … like something that is already dead.  It’s shriveled up and dry, so it’s really hard to believe it could give life to anything.  But when you put that dried up old seed in fertile soil, give it some water and nourishment, let the sun shine on it, well eventually it grows up to become something wonderful: flowers to delight us, vegetables for our table.

I often like to go on walks around the parish.  I’m a person who likes to see patterns and the big picture of how things are organized.  So when I pass by one of the cornfields around here, I’m often struck by the straight and orderly rows of corn that grow there.  The farmers take great care, it seems to me, to make sure they are planted that way: in orderly rows.  So when I hear the story we have in today’s Gospel reading about seed being scattered willy-nilly all over the place, some of it not even landing on suitable soil, well, it makes me wonder.

But the original hearers of the parable would have understood what Jesus was saying.  It was a method used at that time: seed would be scattered, and then the soil would be tilled thus planting the seeds.  And so they would have understood that sometimes the scattered seed falls in places that the farmer didn’t intend, and those seeds don’t come to life, or if they do, it’s not for long, but, either way, it’s no big deal.

So Jesus explains the parable for his disciples and for us.  The seed is the seed of faith.  God scatters it with wild abandon, pouring it out freely that his chosen ones – which obviously includes you and me – would come to know him.  He tills the soil of faith by sending us the sacraments, the Word of God, and his great love and mercy.  Sometimes it works: we receive the seed of faith, it’s watered in the sacrament of baptism, fed with the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and we make of ourselves fertile ground, letting it come up and grow and give life to the world.  But sometimes, of course it doesn’t work out that way.  We all know people who have received that seed of faith but haven’t let it blossom.

The seed might fall in a place where the faith is not nourished and Christ is not known.  Maybe it’s a foreign land without benefit of missionaries, and in those cases it’s understandable that the faith wouldn’t take hold.  But it could even be a little closer to home.  Perhaps the seed falls on those whose turbulent lives can’t give the seed any roots: they receive the word of God with joy, but the trials and tribulations of daily living upset everything and the faith never really sinks in.  Or, maybe it falls on us embroiled as we are with the cares of the world.  The “weeds” of our living are improper relationships, too much time playing video games or surfing the wrong places of the internet, watching too much television, wasting time on passing things.  There is so much that can distract us from our faith, and too often, we are not as diligent about weeding the gardens of our souls as we should be.

We, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are called to be rich, fertile ground to give life to the faith planted in our hearts.  That means that we must keep ourselves fresh by renewing the waters of baptism in our hearts.  We do that by continuing to grow in our faith: by studying the Scriptures, by nurturing our prayer life, by intentionally going deeper in our relationship with Jesus who is the tiller of the soil of our faith.  We must feed that seed of faith by dedicating ourselves to the Eucharist and coming to Mass all the time, whether it’s convenient or not.  We must weed out the distractions of our lives and give that seed of faith room to grow.  We must shine the brilliant sunlight of God’s love on that faith by living the Gospel and reaching out in love to brothers and sisters who are in need.

God scatters the seeds of faith with wild abandon, because he created us in love to return to him, fully grown and abundant in the faith.  We have to be intentional about caring for the crop we are meant to be.  God gives us the seed, gives us the things we need to nurture it, but he doesn’t do all the work for us.  We have to respond to his great love and abundant grace by using what he gives us so we can become what he wants for us.

We are the ones who have been called to yield “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”  The seed of faith comes in the form of something that might, for all the world, look dead – Christ’s saving action on the cross.  When we water and feed and weed and let the light shine on that faith, we can give life to the world around us and give witness that the world’s death is no match for the salvation we have in Christ.

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

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!

Categories
Holy Hours Homilies Lent

Holy Hour: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

Why did you doubt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

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.