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Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think much of the reason people don’t preach the Gospel to others is because they think whatever they say or do has to be flashy, has to be as big as God is.  But that never works because God is always bigger!  Proclaiming the Gospel, at its core, is and always should be, as simple as showing people what God has done for us and in us.

The defense St. Paul was making to the Corinthians in today’s first reading describes a way of living that might be very useful for us to consider.  Rather than caring about what people thought of him and proclaiming the word in a powerful way, he instead resolved to keep himself focused on Jesus and to say what he would have him say and live as Jesus himself would live.  His proclamation of example called those Corinthians to recognize a message not based on mere human wisdom but instead on the power of God.  We too can proclaim that same kind of powerful message in the way that we live.

So if there are people in our lives who we wish knew the joy of the Gospel — and who among us doesn’t have someone like that? — then I think today we’re being called to take a fresh look at how we bring Jesus to them. Our proclamation of the Gospel has to be simple and authentic. If our proclamation rests on what we can do, it’s always going to fail. But if it relies on Jesus and what he has done in us, it will be irresistible.

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Easter Homilies

Pentecost

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,

inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,

Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,

Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,

as well as travelers from Rome,

both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,

yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues

of the mighty acts of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come Holy Spirit! Renew the face of the earth!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So often, when someone thanks us for something, we might say, “It’s the least I could do.”  As if it were some kind of badge of achievement to do the least thing possible.  I think it’s human nature to try to do as little as possible, without being perceived as lazy or something.  Sometimes we want to do as little as possible, and have others feeling good about it.

Well, I think it’s that kind of attitude that is behind today’s Liturgy of the Word.  Certain things are expected of believers, and over the course of history, people have tried to get away with doing as few of those things as they absolutely need to do.  The first reading sets the stage: Moses places the law before the people and tells them that they are a great nation, because they have a God so close to them, and who loves them enough to give them the whole law that they have received.

Now the whole law is more than we might think.  Perhaps when we hear that, we think of the Ten Commandments, to which we also are bound in our discipleship.  But for the Jewish community back then, there were a total of over six hundred laws and precepts that made up the law.  Because of that, there was always this constant discussion over which of the laws was most important, and often people would be concerned more about a tiny little precept than about the whole big picture that God was trying to accomplish.

This is the attitude Jesus came to address with the Gospel.  He wanted the people to get it right.  He wanted them to have concern for people more than for semantics in the law.  He wanted them to love as God loves, because if we do that, we’ll be keeping the law anyway.  But people didn’t always accept that teaching. If they did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to go to the Cross, and there would have been no need to preach the Gospel.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes a major correction.  There was a law of purifying vessels before festivals, which is not unlike the way the priest washes his hands before the Eucharistic Prayer or the way that the vessels for Mass are purified after Communion.  But somewhere along the way, the precept got mangled, and everyone was bound to scrupulously wash themselves and every vessel they owned before a feast.  And Jesus chastises them for having more concern about a human tradition than about the real intent of the law.

The real intent of the law was obviously something way more important, way more personal.  The real intent of that purification was the purification of our hearts.  Jesus gives a rather horrifying list of sins at the end of the Gospel reading and notes that these are the things that defile; not some dirt on the outside of a cup or hands that had not been scrupulously cleaned.  If we want to really purify ourselves for the festival, which is to say the Eucharist, then we have to be cleansed of our sins.  That’s why we have the Sacrament of Penance, right?

James, in the second reading, picks up on the theme.  If we really want to be thought to be wise in regard to keeping the law, then we have to keep ourselves unstained by the world, which would be the same thing as Jesus was saying, but also to care for those in need, with which Jesus would certainly not disagree!  Indeed, that’s what was really at stake in the Gospel reading: people were more concerned about the minutiae of the Law than they were for securing justice for all God’s people.

The thing is, we are hearers of the Word.  We have experienced the love of our Lord in so many ways.  Everything that we have is a gift to us.  We have to be wise in regard to all that, and to be certain that we keep the whole of the law.  Not just those little minutiae, but the very spirit of the law, the law of love which binds all disciples and all people of good will.  Because when we lose sight of that, the whole Church can go off the rails.  And we have certainly seen the rotten fruit of that in these past weeks, haven’t we?

So our reflection in these days has to be on where and how we need to realign ourselves with the Law of love and resolve to live it more faithfully. Because, as the Psalmist says today, it is they who do justice who will live in the presence of the Lord. And that’s just where we all want to be.

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Homilies Ordinary Time Uncategorized

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks to us about being ready.  And now’s as good a time for that as any, especially since we are getting so close to the end of the liturgical year.  The liturgical year ends on the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, which this year is celebrated on November 26th.  What we are going to start noticing in the readings from now until then is a decided interest in how all of time will be wrapping up.  Theologians call that “eschatology,” which is the theology about the end times.

Now, to be clear, we don’t know when the end of time will actually happen.  God in his providence keeps the big picture on that to himself, which I think is good, or we would be constantly worried about it.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we can’t be complacent either.  We have to have our spiritual houses in order lest the master return and find us slacking off and give his blessings to more diligent servants.

It’s easy to slack off on our spiritual service when things are going well.  The urgency to our prayer wanes and we’re easily distracted.  But even when things aren’t going so well, we can be bogged down in the mire of whatever we’re dealing with and forget to attend to the faith that sees us through.  So the issue is being prepared: girding our loins and lighting our lamps, so that when the Master returns, we’re ready to go.

For us this might mean a return trip to the Sacrament of Penance if it’s been a while, or perhaps signing up for the Bible Study if we have been meaning to do that, or even just taking the Bible down off the shelf and reading a few verses each night before bed.  Whatever we haven’t been doing, whether it’s Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or a renewed dedication to the Holy Rosary, it’s time we got on it.  It might even mean taking time out of our busy schedules to be of service to those in need.

God wants to take us with him and he’s very patient, but we have to do our part.  We have to be diligent and ready.  We have to be eager to say with the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

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Homilies Ordinary Time Uncategorized

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel?  Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us?  Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other?  Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, leave the same way we came, ignoring what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?

We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

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Homilies Lent

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Sometimes it’s hard for things to get through to us, isn’t it? Well, it’s always been that way, apparently. One of my friends in seminary used to say that the Israelites had a pillar of cloud leading them by day, and a pillar of fire by night. So how come they couldn’t believe that God would take care of them? What more did they need?

Today’s readings speak of that dilemma. The people did not, in fact, believe Moses or they never would have made the golden idol. They didn’t believe Moses in his day, nor Jesus in his day. In the Gospel, Jesus indicts the Jews for their disbelief: They didn’t believe John the Baptist, they didn’t believe Moses, and he knew they definitely wouldn’t believe him. It’s hard to believe when you’re confronted with a truth that turns your world upside down. And they preferred the orderliness of their ignorance over the beautiful messiness of the Gospel.

Salvation isn’t supposed to be that hard. God reaches out to us in every moment; all we have to do is recognize that and respond to it. We don’t need glitzy human testimony – or we shouldn’t. We have the Lord poured out for us Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. How blessed we are to have such testimony to God’s love and mercy . May we accept that mercy today and always. May we turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So often, when someone thanks us for something, we might say, “It’s the least I could do.” As if it were some kind of badge of achievement to do the least thing possible. I think it’s human nature to try to do as little as possible, without being perceived as lazy or something. Sometimes we want to do as little as possible, and have others feeling good about it.

Well, I think it’s that kind of attitude that is behind today’s Liturgy of the Word. Certain things are expected of believers, and over the course of history, people have tried to get away with doing as few of those things as they absolutely need to do. The first reading sets the stage: Moses places the law before the people and tells them that they are a great nation, because they have a God so close to them, and who loves them enough to give them the whole law that they have received.

Now the whole law is more than we might think. Perhaps when we hear that, we think of the Ten Commandments, to which we also are bound in our discipleship. But for the Jewish community back then, there were a total of over six hundred laws and precepts that made up the law. Because of that, there was constant discussion over which of the laws was most important, and often people would be concerned more about a tiny little precept than about the whole big picture that God was trying to accomplish.

This is the attitude Jesus came to address with the Gospel. He wanted the people to get it right. He wanted them to have concern for people more than for semantics in the law. He wanted them to love as God loves, because if you do that, you’ll be keeping the law anyway. But people didn’t always accept that teaching. If they did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to go to the Cross, and there would have been no need to preach the Gospel.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes a major correction. There was a law of purifying vessels before festivals, which is not unlike the way the priest washes his hands before the Eucharistic Prayer or the way that the vessels for Mass are purified after Communion. But somewhere along the way, the precept got mangled, and everyone was bound to scrupulously wash themselves and every vessel they owned before a feast. And Jesus chastises them for having more concern about a human tradition than about the real intent of the law.

The real intent of the law was obviously something way more important, way more personal. The real intent of that purification was the purification of our hearts. Jesus gives a rather horrifying list of sins at the end of the Gospel reading and notes that these are the things that defile; not some dirt on the outside of a cup or hands that had not been scrupulously cleaned. If we want to really purify ourselves for the festival, which is to say the Eucharist, then we have to be cleansed of our sins. That’s why we have the Sacrament of Penance, right?

James, in the second reading, picks up on the theme. If we really want to be thought to be wise in regard to keeping the law, then we have to keep ourselves unstained by the world, which would be the same thing as Jesus was saying, but also to care for those in need, with which Jesus would certainly not disagree!

The thing is, we are hearers of the Word. We have experienced the love of our Lord in so many ways. Everything that we have is a gift to us. We have to be wise in regard to all that, and to be certain that we keep the whole of the law. Not just those little minutiae, but the very spirit of the law, the law of love which binds all disciples and all people of good will.

Because, as the Psalmist says today, it is they who do justice who will live in the presence of the Lord. And that’s just where we all want to be.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It amazes me when I think about all that the early Church had to go through and put up with. Saint Paul writes that he put up with persecution from all sides: from his own people as well as the Gentiles. He was beaten often, endured hazardous journeys and perilous weather, as well as every kind of deprivation. His experience was definitely extreme, but others who lived the faith in those days were also subject to persecution, torture and death. Our experience isn’t like that, is it? I mean, here we sit in this air-conditioned church and relatively comfortable surroundings. We came here freely to Mass this morning and it is unlikely that anyone will openly persecute us or torture us or put us to death for worshipping our God, although as we saw in the news yesterday, it does happen.

But there is a subtle kind of persecution that we must endure. We know that even if our society is not openly hostile to living the Gospel, it is certainly just one step short of that. Life is not respected in our society: babies are aborted, the elderly are not respected or given adequate care, children are not raised in nurturing families, people are hated because of their race, color or creed. Faith is ridiculed as the crutch of the weak. Hope is crushed by those who abuse power. Love is overshadowed by sexual perversion and self-interest. Living the Gospel is dangerous to anyone who would want to be taken seriously in our culture.

To all of us who come to this holy place to worship this morning and who hope to work out our salvation by living the Gospel, Saint Paul speaks eloquently. We know that he, as well as all of the communion of saints, is there to intercede for us and show us the way. He says to us today, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?” He points us to our Lord Jesus who paid the ultimate price for the Gospel, and reminds us that in living that Gospel, regardless of its cost, we store up for ourselves incredible treasures in heaven, because it is in heaven that our heart resides.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What a wonderful instruction for Jesus to give us this morning.  “Go and do likewise.” Jesus is telling us that those who hear the Gospel must also live it, or it is useless.  Those who do not go out and do likewise are like the foolish Galatians in today’s first reading who seem to be abandoning the Gospel and replacing it with all kinds of other rules, including circumcision, that are mere appearances of holiness.  Those of us who would call ourselves disciples of the Lord must do better than that.  We must indeed “go and do likewise.”

We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan umpteen times so it may all too easily go in one ear and out the other.  But we really must hear what Jesus is saying in this parable if we are to get what living the Christian life is all about.  The good person in the story is one that Jesus’ hearers would have expected to be anything but good: the very name “Samaritan” was synonymous with being bad.  So for the Samaritan to come out as the good guy was something that made his hearers stand up and take notice.

Yet it was this person, who was considered to be less-than-good, that knew instinctively the right thing to do.  Compassion for others is part of the natural law, something that every person should possess, Christian or not, and for Christians it is certainly foundational to living the Gospel.  Turning one’s back on those in need is reprehensible and any who do that are not hearing what the Gospel is teaching us.

The Gospel is not merely for our edification; it is for our instruction.  Those of us who would dare to hear it must be willing to go and do likewise.