The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but to be Catholic means being on the move.  Many of the ancient churches were built in a shape that evoked a ship, which hearkened back to Noah’s ark, which was a foreshadowing of the Church.  Just as that ark was the means of salvation for a few people and a refuge against the storm, so the Church is the means of salvation for the world, and a refuge against everything that the world has raging around us.  We are always and forever a people on the move; we are not at home in this world, wherever we may be.  Our true home is in heaven and we are on our journey there.  Every moment of our lives has to be a choice to move closer to our heavenly homeland.

And that’s what today’s Gospel is all about.  Jesus, having died and risen from the dead, is now preparing his disciples for his immanent return to heaven, where he intends to prepare a place for us.  He promises that we can get there one day by following him: he who is the way, the truth and the life.  And we need him to be that way for us, because our sinfulness had cut us off from God, and it was only the death and resurrection of Christ that could ever restore us to the inheritance that God always wanted for us.  So today’s Scriptures, I think, give us the goal, the way to get to the goal, and the effects of achieving that goal.

We know, then, what our goal is.  The goal is that mansion that Jesus speaks of – the Father’s house in which there are many dwelling places.  It’s a mansion in which there is room for everyone, just as long as they find the way to get there.  This reminds us that as nice as our home may be here on earth, there is something better awaiting us.  It also serves as a reminder to those whose earthly home is difficult, or even non-existent, there is a place where they truly belong.  Whatever our current living situation, however entrenched we are in our earthly life, we are reminded today that we are not home yet, that ultimately there is a place where we can live that will make us feel truly at home for all eternity.

The way to get to that goal is made pretty clear in the Gospel too.  Jesus is very direct about saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  So if we want to get to our promised inheritance, there is just one way to get there, and that is through Jesus Christ whose sole mission was to pave the way for us to get back home.  Notice very carefully that Jesus does not say, “There are several ways, and I am just one of them; there are many possible truths, and you can hear one of them in me; you can live your life all sorts of ways, and my life is a nice one.”  No – he says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  This is a statement that has all sorts of implications for the work of evangelization, because if we believe this, seriously believe it – and we should! – then we have to make sure that everyone comes to know the Lord.

Does this mean that those who do not ever come to know the Lord will never receive the heavenly inheritance?  Put another way, more directly perhaps, does this mean that non-Christians don’t go to heaven?  That’s a tough one.  Vatican II addressed that concern by stating that while the fullness of the means of redemption were present in the Catholic Church, still there are elements of redemption present outside the Church.  It says, “… some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.”  (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3)  Basically, we don’t have a monopoly on how Christ reveals himself to people, and we cannot know the depths of God’s mercy.  Still, helping people to come to know the Lord needs to be at the top of our to-do lists.

So the goal is heaven, and the way is Christ.  The readings today also give us the effects of achieving the goal.  Those effects include a community where relationships can overcome difficulties, a relationship with God the Father, and an ability to do amazing works in the name of Christ.

In the first reading, we see the early community addressing perhaps the first challenge they have had.  There is an inequity in the distribution of aid to the widows, and presumably, their children.  This is not unlike inequities that exist in parishes everywhere at one time or another.  But, being that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and that they had chosen Christ as their way, truth and life, they were able to resolve the issue in a prayerful way.  They are able to appoint seven members of the community to take care of that, so that the Apostles can continue to preach the word.  There is an attention to the needs of the less fortunate, there is a sharing of authority, and an empowerment of the community.  These are all fruits of trusting Jesus to be our way.

The second effect of achieving our goal is a relationship with God the Father.  This is very directly what Jesus came to accomplish.  Jesus, the one who was completely united with the Father, came to our world so that we could have that same relationship.  That would not ever have been possible without Christ, because the only way to know the Father is to know him.  Because of their complete unity, when we see Christ, we see the Father.  As Jesus says to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?  The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.”  This also has implications for us believers.  Because people come to see Christ in us, they will come to see the Father in us as well.  This promise makes it all the more important that we make sure that we are not an obstacle to people coming to know the Lord.

And finally, the third effect of achieving our goal is that we can do great works in the name of Christ.  Some people say that Jesus never came to establish a Church, but today’s readings tell us that is patently false.  He certainly came to establish a Church, because after his death and resurrection, it was the actions of the Church that continued his saving work.  It was the Church that continued the healing, reaching out to the needy, preaching the Word, and all the rest.  And the Church continues this saving work in our own day.  We are empowered to do wonderful works: to preach, to heal, to serve and love in the name of Jesus Christ.  None of this happens on our own, or as a result of our own ambition.  It only happens by joining ourselves to the One who is the way, the truth and the life.

There’s a lot at stake in our Scriptures today.  There is a world that needs to know Jesus so that they too can know the Father and experience the joy of a real home.  There is a world that needs to know the touch of Jesus so that they can be healed and strengthened for life’s journey.  There is a world that needs to hear the Word of Jesus so that they can come to the way, the truth and the life.  It’s on us now, none of us can be passive observers or consumers only.  As St. Peter says today, we “are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that [we] may announce the praises’ of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We are not home yet, but we can get there through our Jesus, our way, our truth, and our life, and we have to gather everyone we can, and take them with us!

The Third Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

How often have you said something that began with “I’ll be happy when…”?  You know, “I’ll be happy when I’m done paying for the kids’ college tuition;” “I’ll be happy when I get that promotion;” “I’ll be happy when I lose that last ten pounds;” “I’ll be happy when I can afford that new car…”  We’ve all done it, we’ve all set our hopes for happiness on some future event or accomplishment.  But then it gets there, or it doesn’t, and we’re not as happy as we’d like to be, so we look for happiness in something else.  Today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we’re doing it wrong.  We have to learn that we’re supposed to be happy in the journey.

Listen to what the Psalmist says today: “You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”  Abounding joy happens along the path to life, at God’s right hand, who accompanies us on the journey.  I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys lately.  Obviously, my journey is taking me a bit southwest of here in June, and so that is always in the back of my consciousness, with its mix of sadness and fear and excitement and expectation – that’s one journey.  I’ve also been on WeightWatchers since January, and they are always talking about the journey to being healthy, and all of the steps it takes to get there.  So journeying has been really up front and foremost in my mind these days.

Well, today’s Gospel finds two of Jesus’ disciples on a journey Jerusalem, where a lot of crazy stuff just went down, to Emmaus.  Along the way, they are discussing what had been going on, and we can just imagine how their minds had to be reeling!  For those of us who know the story, it’s pretty incredible.  But for them it had to have been mind blowing.  They were never expecting anything like this.  But here they were, walking along, discussing how Jesus’ death and resurrection had changed everything in just a few short days.

And into that experience, as they journeyed along the road, Jesus appears.  They don’t get that it’s Jesus, though, probably because his body looked different, more radiant, after the resurrection.  So along the way, he explains how all the scriptures foretold all that had happened to their friend, who happened to be talking to them right then.  But they still don’t get it.  So after they stop for the evening and invite him to dinner, they finally recognize him in the breaking of the bread.  All of this, I think, is very interesting to us who are on the journey to be with the Lord and delight at his right hand forever.

Because we’re all on a journey, brothers and sisters.  We are never at home in this world, as nice as it is.  We’re supposed to be in heaven, where there will be happiness forever.  But we can still seek reasonable happiness here on earth, and I believe we will find it if we just rejoice a little in the journey.  But to really enjoy the journey, we have to enter into it with our whole hearts and souls.  We can’t be wandering off the path and looking for happiness in all those things I mentioned at the beginning of my homily.  We have to focus on the journey from here to heaven if we ever really want to be happy in this life.

So how do we do that?  Well, I think our Gospel story gives us some clues.  The first thing is to keep moving on the journey.  If God has called you to do something, go somewhere, try something, change something, then do that thing!  When we stop going because we think we’re not good enough, or that someone else would be more worthy, or whatever excuse we have, then we’re selling God short.  Because the truth is we are not good enough, all by ourselves.  We’re not the most worthy.  But, and this is very important to know, brothers and sisters, God can call whoever he wants to do whatever he wants done.  It’s not about you or me or who’s doing it.  God is in charge, always and forever, and he will always give you what you need to do what he’s called you to do.  So keep going.

The second clue is we don’t go it alone.  There were two disciples going to Emmaus, and into their journey, our Lord asserted himself.  He did promise that elsewhere in the Gospel: “Where two or three are gathered, there am I among you.”  Other people on the journey give us accountability.  They help to keep us on the right path.  And frankly, it’s more pleasant to journey with others.

The third clue is that we have to open ourselves up to the scriptures.  The scriptures aren’t just stories written for people thousands of years ago.  They are inspired by the Holy Spirit and intended as much for us as they were for our ancestors in faith.  You will be surprised how much the scriptures speak to you when you open them up on a regular basis.  Just a few verses a day is a great way to start, and it can really enliven your prayer.  The scriptures enlivened that journey with the disciples and made their hearts burn within them.  That can happen for us too, and it should.

The final clue comes in the breaking of the bread.  That one seems pretty obvious, but it was a real eye opener for those two disciples.  In the breaking of the bread, they saw the Lord.  We can too, every time we receive the Holy Eucharist.  Just as those disciples came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, so it can be for us.  Filled with the grace of Holy Communion, maybe we can recognize our Lord with fresh eyes and truly see him in our brothers and sisters.  Maybe we will see our Lord in the faces of the needy when we come to serve them.  Maybe you will see him in the faces of your children as you teach them and correct them and love them into the kingdom of God.  Maybe you will see him in the face of a coworker or friend who is going through a difficult time.  As we love those people the Lord puts in our paths, maybe we can see our Lord among us in a new way.

You’ve probably heard, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”  For us Catholics that’s half right.  Because yes, it is about the destination.  We certainly want to get to the ultimate happiness of heaven.  But it needs to be about the journey too.  Because it’s on the journey that we grow in our faith, and see our Lord walking with us.  The journey might be long and difficult, but it’s always blessed by our Lord if we choose to look for our happiness along the way.

The Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Journeying from Fear to Faith

Today’s readings

Getting ready for Mass today, I thought about my Dad. Not just because it’s Father’s Day, although that’s certainly part of it. But partly because of today’s Gospel. The story we have here today speaks about a journey, and I’ll say more about that in a minute. My Dad was great for journeys: he loved to drive and take the family to Wisconsin or to Disney, or wherever we needed to go. He’d have us up early in the morning so that we’d miss rush hour traffic, and we’d be on our way.

Today, Jesus and his disciples set out on a significant journey. The reading we have today is at the end of chapter four, in which Jesus has been standing next to the sea, teaching the people by means of parables. He has told them the parable of the sower who went out to sow seeds, the parable of the mustard seed, and the lamp placed on the lamp stand. He is explaining the kingdom of God to them, but they don’t quite get it. Even the disciples have to have it explained to them. When he’s done the best that he can with them, he is ready to move on. There are other people that need to hear the Good News, others who need to know Jesus’ power and authority.

And so he sets out on the journey, and the reading says that the disciples take him with them in the boat “just as he was.” That’s a curious detail, I think. But it makes me remember those trips with my dad. It’s time to get going, no time to change clothes or freshen up, just get in the car – or in this case, the boat – and let’s get started on the journey. But the journey isn’t always without its problems. On vacation trips we may run into traffic, or if in the air, perhaps turbulence. On the sea, the disciples experienced the raging waves of a fearsome storm. So they wake Jesus up, because apparently these storms don’t really affect him, and he rebukes the storm, and then rebukes the disciples for their little faith.

We’re all on a journey. That journey, like that of the disciples, is from fear to faith. We very rarely have time to think about it; we just have to get in the boat and get moving, just as we are. The journey is not always smooth: storms arise, and when they do, it often seems like our God is sleeping, seeming not to care that we are about to perish. I’m not going to fill in the blanks for you – you can all do that well enough. You’ve been on many journeys in your life, and sometimes the ride has been bumpy. But if we stay on the journey, we definitely get to experience this One whom “even wind and sea obey.” Even when our God seems to be sleeping, he is never unaware of our situation, and his love for us is never on pause.

The thing is, sometimes the storm doesn’t seem to stop so quickly as it does in today’s Gospel reading. Would that Jesus would stand up in the boat of our uncertainty and yell out: “Quiet! Be still!” But maybe he is. Maybe the “Be still” is directed at us and not at the storm. There was a contemporary Christian song a few years ago now, that had this wonderful line in it: “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.” That song has given me peace in many situations. Because as frightening as the storms of our lives can be, they are no match for the grace of God. Even if God allows the storm to rage in our lives, if he is with us, calming us, we have nothing to fear. And maybe that is the occasion when we make progress on that journey from fear to faith.

So as we leave this holy place today, we are on a journey to the most holy place, our true home in heaven. Along the way, we will have other destinations, and as we travel, we know that Jesus will be with us through it all. He may calm the storms that arise, or he may calm his children, whichever is most appropriate. And we know that the journey from fear to faith will lead us back one day to the place we really belong, at the banquet table in the kingdom of everlasting life. May all of our life’s journeys end up in that same, great place!

Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s time to get going, to set out on the journey.  That’s the message of our Gospel today, and I think it’s a timely one, coming as it does as some of us are preparing for, or maybe even returning from, our summer vacations.  I have fond memories of taking vacations in the summer with my family when I was growing up.  Dad loved to drive even long distances, so he’d be up and ready to go at like five in the morning!  We had packed the car the night before, and got started early to avoid any rush hour traffic.  Even though I’m not really a morning person, I used to look forward to those early-departure journeys.  I think it’s just fun to be going somewhere else, no matter what time of the day it is.

The point of a journey is often to set out and begin something new, to reach out to new horizons.  Jesus was always doing that in John’s Gospel.  The reading we have today is at the end of chapter four, in which Jesus has been standing next to the sea, teaching the people by means of parables.  He has told them the parable of the sower who went out to sow seeds, the parable of the mustard seed, and the lamp placed on the lamp stand.  He is explaining the kingdom of God to them, but they don’t quite get it.  Even the disciples have to have it explained to them.  When he’s done the best that he can with them, he is ready to move on.  There are other people that need to hear the Good News, others who need to know Jesus’ power and authority.

And so he sets out on the journey, and the reading says that the disciples take him with them in the boat “just as he was.”  That’s a curious detail, I think.  But it makes me remember those trips with my dad.  It’s time to get going, no time to change clothes or freshen up, just get in the car – or in this case, the boat – and let’s get started on the journey.  But the journey isn’t always without its problems.  On vacation trips we may run into traffic, or if in the air, perhaps turbulence.  On the sea, the disciples experienced the raging waves of a fearsome storm.  So they wake Jesus up, because apparently these storms don’t really affect him, and he rebukes the storm, and then rebukes the disciples for their little faith.

We’re all on a journey.  That journey, like that of the disciples, is from fear to faith.  We very rarely have time to thing about it; we just have to get in the boat and get moving, just as we are.  The journey is not always smooth: storms arise, and when they do, it often seems like our God is sleeping, seeming not to care that we are about to perish.  I’m not going to fill in the blanks for you – you can all do that well enough.  You’ve been on many journeys in your life, and sometimes the ride has been bumpy.  But if we stay on the journey, we definitely get to experience this One whom “even wind and sea obey.”  Even when our God seems to be sleeping, he is never unaware of our situation, and his love for us is never on pause.

The thing is, sometimes the storm doesn’t seem to stop so quickly as it does in today’s Gospel reading.  Would that Jesus would stand up in the boat of our uncertainty and yell out: “Quiet! Be still!”  But maybe he is.  Maybe the “Be still” is directed at us and not at the storm.  There is a contemporary Christian song which I like that has a wonderful line in it: “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.”  That song has given me peace in many situations.  Because as frightening as the storms of our lives can be, they are no match for the grace of God.  Even if God allows the storm to rage in our lives, if he is with us, calming us, we have nothing to fear.  And maybe that is the occasion when we make progress on that journey from fear to faith.

I want to talk about two other journeys today, because they are heavy on my heart.  The first one was the final journey of my dad.  I think of him not just because of our vacation trips together, but of course, because this is Father’s Day.  On the last day of his life, I gave him the last rites, which I had done countless times before and since.  But that was the hardest thing I have ever done as a priest, and also one of the most significant.  When I was done, I went down to the chapel and cried for about half an hour.  Finally, Jesus came to me and gave me some consolation.  He wasn’t going to calm the storm this time, but he did calm me.  He reminded me that dad prepared me for so many journeys in my life, and I just had the incredible honor of preparing him for his most important journey, the journey home.  Dad kept saying that day, “It’s almost time to go.”  And he was right.  This man who got up early for every vacation we ever went on was not going to get a late start on the journey home.

Today we remember those fathers who have gone home and we honor those fathers who are still with us.  The example of their lived faith helps us all to make our own journey from fear to faith.  Today we pray for God’s blessing on all fathers and on the institution of fatherhood in general.  We are grateful for their heroic witness to faith that places value on God, virtue, and family when our society would sooner ridicule those three.

The last journey I want to talk about today, is of course, my own personal journey.  This is my last homily here at St. Raphael, and it’s time for me to move on to whatever lies ahead for me.  This one will be a little harder to talk about, so I’m going to begin with a little humor.

The new priest arrived at his parish, and found a note attached to three envelopes in a little bundle.  The envelopes were numbered one to three.  They were from the priest he was replacing and the note said that if ever things got bad and there was a little storm, he should open an envelope, beginning with the first.  He chuckled a bit, and set them aside, and things went so well that he almost forgot about them.  Until there was a controversy.  Things were getting ugly, and he remembered the envelopes and decided to open the first.  It said, very simply, “Blame me, your predecessor.”  So he did.  He blamed the priest before him, and everyone accepted that, and they moved on.  But eventually there was another controversy, and so he decided to open the second envelope.  It said, “Blame the pastoral council.”  So that’s what he did.  He blamed the pastoral council and things blew over and they moved on.  But, after a little while, there was a third controversy, so in desperation, he opened the last of the envelopes.  This note was a little longer than the others, but the first line really got his attention: “Prepare three envelopes.”

Well, Father Dennis didn’t leave me three envelopes and I won’t be leaving any for Father Dindo either.  But I did want to take a moment and express my gratitude for three things.  First, I am grateful for the ways you have cared for me.  I know that many of you pray for me and all priests every day, and that is a powerful thing.  But you have also brought me soup when I was sick, you’ve stopped to tell me how a homily touched you, you’ve written me an encouraging note.  Your love for me and your nurturing of my vocation has been so powerful in these first years of my priesthood, and I will always remember that.

Second, I am grateful for the ways you have cared for my family.  In a very real way, you have been part of my family.  You have been there for me during the illness and death of my dad.  When my family has been here for Mass on occasion, you have been so welcoming of them.  After three years, it seems like we’re just getting to know each other, but in some ways, some very important ways, it seems like we have known each other forever and I love that.  It has been wonderful to be part of your families, and wonderful to have you as part of mine.  Family may move away physically, but spiritually, we will always be part of each other.

And finally, I am grateful for the ways you have cared for others.  I have enjoyed serving with you on Service Day, raking leaves in the cold but having a great time helping others.  I have enjoyed serving with you on various commissions and committees here at the Church – even though meetings are not my favorite thing! – we have accomplished so much together in Christ’s name.  Whether it was worshipping together for 40 Hours Devotion, or helping out the food pantry with donations on Holy Thursday, or whatever it is that we’ve done together, what we did became so much more by doing it together.  Your willingness to pray and to serve and to witness is what makes St. Raphael such a great parish, and I will always love that.

So thank you for the great blessings you have been to me these last three years.  We now set out on a new journey.  Me to St. Petronille, and you to welcome Fr. Dindo.  The ride may be smooth, or it may be bumpy.  But however it is, we know that Jesus will be with us through it all.  He may calm the storm, or he may calm his children, whichever is most appropriate.  And we know that the journey from fear to faith will lead us back one day to the place we really belong, at the banquet table in the kingdom of everlasting life.  May all of our life’s journeys end up in that same, great place!