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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I have to tell you, we have two of my very favorite readings in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  I like them because they both show God interacting with us, his creatures, in powerful ways.  In the first reading, we see the prophet Elijah literally running for his life.  He has just embarrassed, and then put to death, the four hundred or so false prophets of the so-called god Baal – the pagan god worshipped by the gentiles.  Because of this, Jezebel, the wife of king Ahab, vowed to do the same thing to Elijah himself.  So Elijah is fleeing, and complains to the Lord God that everyone in Israel has rejected the Lord, turned to other gods, and have put all the legitimate prophets to death, and that Elijah is the only one left.  So God says that Elijah should stand on the mountain and wait, and soon the Lord would be passing by.

So in Scripture, when it says of the Lord that he would be “passing by,” it means something different than just that the Lord was out for a little walk.  Passing by means that he would be doing “a God thing,” something that God alone could do.  It’s a little like saying that God would be revealing his power to his creatures.  For Elijah, that was intended to be a consolation and a revelation that the Lord God would be with him even though things looked pretty bad.  And it’s interesting how it happens.  Elijah experiences some frightening things: destructive and heavy winds, an earthquake and a blazing fire.  But he did not experience God in any of those things.  He only experienced God in a “tiny whispering sound.”

And I wonder about that, to be honest.  Yes, we can take that as a revelation that we have to quiet ourselves and listen for the voice of God’s presence.  But I want to carefully note that this does not mean that God wasn’t present in those other things.  Because we often find ourselves in the midst of mighty winds, earthquakes, or fire.  Even if not literally, we experience these things all the time in the form of the crises of our lives.  And I want to assure you that God is with you in those moments.  But it may take us stepping back a bit, and listening for the whispering sound, to note that happening.  And I think that’s the direction toward which this reading is pointing us.

Okay, so that brings us to the second of my favorite readings today, and that is the Gospel.  Because I love Saint Peter: He’s always making mistakes, but he is always letting Jesus take what little he can give and turn it into something huge.  This is such a special reading for me because reflecting on it led me to my vocation.

In this reading, Jesus has just fed the multitudes, as you may remember from last week’s Gospel.  After that, he takes some time alone to pray, and during the fourth watch of the night, walks across the water toward the disciples who were on a boat bound for the other side of the sea of Galilee.  In Saint Mark’s version of this reading, it says of Jesus at this point that “He intended to pass them by.”  Does that sound familiar?  Yes, very similar to the first reading, Jesus intends to do a “God thing,” to reveal himself to his disciples this time in a very powerful way.  They think they’re seeing a ghost, but Jesus reassures them that it is he, and Peter immediately asks if he can come out and walk on the water too.  Jesus says, “come.”

So think about that.  You see the Lord walking on the water, and you actually ask if you can get out there and join him.  Who even has the nerve to say something like that to Jesus?  Well, Peter, impetuous as always, he does.  And for a while, he does okay. He’s making progress, walking toward Jesus. But then he stops looking at Jesus and starts looking at the storm, and when he sees the storm what happens?  The story tells us: “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” So let’s stop right here.  Do you see that? While he’s looking at Jesus, he is able to walk toward him, but as soon as he takes his eyes off Jesus in favor of looking at the storm, he sinks. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus asks him, pulling Peter out of the water.

We might be tempted to criticize Peter for his lack of faith.  But I’m in favor of cutting him a little slack.  What I think we have to realize is that he at least had enough faith to get out of the boat.  The other eleven did not.  He got out of the boat because he wanted to be where Jesus was, and Jesus was not in the boat: he was out there on the water.  Was Jesus present for him when the wind and the waves threatened to take his life?  Absolutely.  God is present for us when we are in the middle of the storm.

So I think that’s where these wonderful readings of God’s mighty power take us this week: into the midst of our storms, whatever they may be.  We probably have several we can pick from these days: the implications of a pandemic, our children returning to school (or not), civil and social unrest caused by racial injustice, violence in our cities, and the list goes on.  I heard a news story this week that said the number of people reporting feelings of depression is three times what it was a year ago.  We are weathering a lot of storms right now.  So I pray that today’s Liturgy of the Word would help us to find our Lord in the midst of the wind and the earthquakes and the fire.  I hope that the faith these readings inspire in us will help us to step back in those storms and see our Lord passing by in power and might, and lifting us up out of the waves.

Now let’s try a little prayer experiment.  I’m going to ask you to close your eyes.  And with your eyes closed, I invite you to think about a crisis you’ve been in recently, or even one that’s still going on.  It might be little or big, but whatever it is, bring it to mind.  That crisis is the waves in the story, so try to visualize that.  Now you are Saint Peter.  You’re on the boat, that relatively safe refuge that is leading you to the place that Jesus has in mind for you.  Only on the voyage, your crisis begins a storm that tosses you around so badly that you can’t even see your destination anymore, and you fear for your life.  But you see Jesus out there, on the water, in the distance.

You call out to him and he calls back for you to come to him.  You think about it for a minute, but you realize you have to give it a shot: after all, you want to be where Jesus is, and Jesus is not in the boat.  So you get out of the boat, that safe refuge that gives you some comfort even in the storm, and you start to walk toward Jesus across the stormy sea, with the wind and the waves of your crises swirling around you.  And you do okay for a while, looking at your Lord, but then you wonder if your prayers will ever be answered, or if you should even bother God with your little prayers, or if there is any hope for your situation at all.  You feel the wind pushing at you and notice that the waves of your crisis are a lot uglier than you thought they were.  And you begin to sink into them, despairing that there is no hope for your situation.  At this point, Jesus reaches out his hand to you, pulling you up out of the stormy sea.  The storm is still raging, but with Jesus’ help, you get back into the boat, and the waves calm down, and you continue the journey to the place where Jesus wants you to be, having made just a little bit of progress, confident that he is with you even in the storm.

That’s a prayer exercise that you can come back to.  Whenever you have a crisis, you can pull this out of your prayer toolbox.  Whether we are experiencing wind, waves, earthquakes or fire, we can always be confident that our Lord is with us.  We might still have to go through all those nasty crises, but we can go through them with hope that comes from the presence of our God, who is with us in our darkest times, whispering to us, or calling out to us from the water.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our God never promises that the life of faith and discipleship will be an easy one; only that it will be blessed. One thing is certain: that life will certainly entail hardship, even suffering. That’s pretty evident in today’s Gospel reading. Faithful disciples have to worry about being betrayed by even their closest family members.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who has tried to live the faith. Perhaps at times the hardest people to evangelize are the members of one’s own family. I’m sure we all can think of people close to us who have abandoned the faith or practice it rarely. Maybe the ones who receive the Church’s teachings least are those we would hope would get it and be partners with us as we journey to the kingdom. It happens all the time – in your family and in mine.

These are trying times. It is hard to give witness to the Truth when the culture around us wants to make its own truth. The evils of abortion and impure relationships are all but normalized now, and those who take a stand against them are considered intolerant at best, and hate-mongers at worst.  And it’s painful to see our brothers and sisters fall for the lie hook, line and sinker.  It’s hard for parents to see their children go astray, when they’ve done their best to pass on the faith.  So how do we stand for the Truth when our loved ones tune it out?  What do we do when our loved ones reject what we’ve tried to give them to bring them to eternal life?

Our Gospel tells us that what we do is persevere: we continue to live the Truth and witness to our faith.  If those close to us tune out our words, then we have to be all the more attentive to our actions, to our lived witness, so that they can see that we live what we preach and believe.  We have to depend on God to give us the right words and help us to do the right things so that we won’t be a stumbling block.  And then we have to trust in God to work it all out in his time.

None of this is going to be easy, but Jesus tells us that the one who endures to the end will be saved.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our God never promises that the life of faith and discipleship will be an easy one; only that it will be blessed. One thing is certain: that life will certainly entail hardship, even suffering. That’s pretty evident in today’s Gospel reading. Faithful disciples have to worry about being betrayed by even their closest family members.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who has tried to live the faith. Perhaps at times the hardest people to evangelize are the members of one’s own family. I’m sure we all can think of people close to us who have abandoned the faith or practice it rarely. Maybe the ones who receive the Church’s teachings least are those we would hope would get it and be partners with us as we journey to the kingdom. It happens all the time – in your family and in mine.

These are trying times. It is hard to give witness to the Truth when the culture around us wants to make its own truth. And it’s painful to see our brothers and sisters fall for the lie hook, line and sinker. So how do we stand for the Truth when our loved ones tune it out? What do we do when our loved ones reject what we’ve tried to give them to bring them to eternal life?

Our Gospel tells us that what we do is persevere: we continue to live the Truth and witness to our faith. If those close to us tune out our words, then we have to be all the more attentive to our actions, to our lived witness, so that they can see that we live what we preach and believe. We have to depend on God to give us the right words and help us to do the right things so that we won’t be a stumbling block. And then we have to trust in God to work it all out in his time.

None of this is going to be easy, but Jesus tells us that the one who endures to the end will be saved.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Some of us on the Liturgy staff were reflecting in the last couple of weeks that it’s nice to be in Ordinary Time.  The wonderful feast days and solemnities of the year are great, and we love them, but while we take care to celebrate them with festivity, they can take a lot of our energy and leave us with little time to really pray them.  So we look forward to these days of Ordinary Time, and that’s good, because during this time of the year, Holy Mother Church gives us some great tools for living the Christian life of discipleship.  Today’s Gospel is a great example of that.

So Jesus’ ministry is ramping up into full gear. In order to prepare the places he intends to visit, he sends out seventy-two disciples, in pairs, to prepare the way.  They are going to do some of the same things he will do:  curing the sick, healing the broken, and preaching the Kingdom of God, with its call to repentance.  This is the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary.  They have great success because Jesus prepares them in advance and gives them advice about how to be good disciples.

And we need to pay careful attention to that advice because, as you may have guessed, this story, nice as it is, is not about just those seventy-two.  It is about all of us.  At our baptism, we too have been sent out on mission.  We too are called to bring healing to a broken world, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  That Kingdom is here and now, and it is urgent that people come to enter into it. 

We might protest, I think, saying that we’re not ready, not equipped to be evangelizers and preachers and healers. Well, news flash: neither were those seventy-two.  In fact, they came back amazed that they were able to accomplish the mighty deeds they did. And they were able to do those things because Jesus had prepared them in advance.  He gave them several rules for mission, and of them, three really stand out. I think we are supposed to hear and appropriate these things as well.

So the first tool he gives us is the wisdom not to rely on ourselves. Listen to the instructions Jesus gives the seventy-two before they leave: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Now that all seems pretty impractical to those of us who have to travel in the twenty-first century, doesn’t it?  We need a wallet or purse to carry what we’d need to pay tolls and buy fuel and pay for what we need on the journey, and certainly we’d need a sack to carry identification as well as just basic things we’d need along the way.  I’m a compulsive over-packer, and I like to have all the details of a journey mapped out pretty precisely before I set out, so this advice gives me agita.  Here’s the point, though: If we were able to foresee every possibility and pack for every possible need, we would certainly not need Jesus, would we?  Jesus is telling the seventy-two, and us as well, to stop worrying and start following.  Rely on Jesus because he is trustworthy.  Experience the joy of letting Jesus worry about the small stuff while he is doing big things in us and through us.

The second discipleship tool is to “greet no one along the way.”  That sounds pretty unfriendly, doesn’t it?  We would think he’d want us to greet everyone we can, but that’s not the point here. The point is, along the way, we can easily be derailed from the mission.  Other things can seem to be important, other people can try to get us off track, Satan can make so many other things seem important along the way. The point here is that there is urgency to the mission.  People have to hear that Jesus is Lord and that God loves them now, not later, when it may be too late.  We have to get the show on the road, and the time is now.

The final tool is this: do not move from one house to another, to eat and drink what is set before us.  It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to spread the Good News. The discipline Jesus is teaching here is that we have to be focused in our ministry.  Once we have been given the mission, we have to stay with it, and not be blown about like the wind.  Eating and drinking what is set before them meant that if they were given ministry that is difficult, they needed to stay with it, because that’s what was set before them.  We, too, are called to stay with a person or a situation until what God wants to happen happens.  We too have to know that our mission may not be easy, but we have to accept the mission we have.  We are called to accept people and situations as they are and trust God to perfect our efforts.  When it’s time to move on, God will let us know, and we will come to know that time through prayer and discernment.

So we’ve received pretty large task as we come here for worship today.  In just a while, we will be fed on the most excellent Body and Blood of our Lord which will give us strength to tend to the piece of the Kingdom that God has entrusted to us.  We have been instructed with some basic tools for doing the work of God.  If we use these tools and are faithful to the mission, I think we’ll be as overjoyed as were those disciples.  And then, we can rejoice with them that our names are written in heaven.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What I think the folks in our first reading need to learn – and maybe us too – is that the spiritual life is always about the big picture.  The Israelites in today’s reading have completely rejected the God of their salvation.  God had taken them from abject slavery in Egypt, in which they were oppressed beyond anything we could possibly imagine – let alone endure – and led them through the desert, through the Red Sea (covering the pursuing Egyptians in the process), and into safety.  He is going to give them the Promised Land, but they, thank you very much, would prefer to return to Egypt so that they no longer have to sustain themselves on the bread that they have from the very hand of God himself.  They would rather have meat and garlic and onions, and whatever, than freedom and blessing from God.  What a horrible, selfish people they have become.

And Moses is no better.  He alone has been allowed to go up the mountain to be in the very presence of God.  No one else could get so close to God and live to tell the story.  God has given him the power to do miraculous deeds in order to lead the people.  And yet, when things get tough, he too would prefer death than to be in the presence of God.

And aren’t we just like them sometimes?  It’s easy to have faith when things are going well, and we are healthy, and our family is prospering.  But the minute things come along to test us, whether it is illness, or death of a loved one, or job troubles, or whatever, it’s hard to keep faith.  “Where is God when I need him?” we might ask.  We just don’t often have the spiritual attention spans to see the big picture.  We forget the many blessings God has given us, and ask “Well what has he done for me lately?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowds until they are satisfied and have baskets of leftovers besides.  God’s blessings to us are manifold, and it is good to meditate on them when times are good, and remember them when times are bad.  God never wills the trials we go through, and he never forgets or abandons us when we are in the midst of those trials.  God feeds us constantly with finest wheat.  That’s the big picture, and we must never lose sight of it.

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Homilies Lent

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

At the heart of our practice of prayer has to be trust in God. We don’t – or shouldn’t – need signs to convince us of God’s love and care for us.  But don’t we do that all the time?  Aren’t we just like those Galileans looking for a sign?  We might be hesitant to take a leap of faith that we know God is calling us to make, but are looking for some kind of miracle to get us off our behinds.  We might know that healing in a certain situation will take some time, but we want God to descend, wave a magic wand, and make it all go away.

But just as the royal official trusted that Jesus could cure his son, so we too need to trust that God in his goodness will work the best for us, in his time, in his way. Isaiah tells us today that God is about to create a new heavens and a new earth, where there will always be rejoicing and gladness. But how hard it is for us to wait for that new creative act, isn’t it?  We just really want to see that big picture now, please, we want to know what’s on God’s mind and where he’s taking us.  But that’s not how God works is it?

It can be hard for us when we look around for blessing and don’t see it happening on our timetable.  We forget, sometimes, that a big part of the grace comes in the journey, even when things are really painful.  The Psalmist says, “O LORD, you brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.”  Notice how he does not say that God shielded him from going to the nether world.  But the nether world was not the end of the Psalmist’s story.

We don’t know where God is taking us today – or any day, for that matter.  We have to trust in our God who longs for our good, just like that royal official.  And we have to believe in the power of God to raise us up, just as he raised his Son from the dead.  We all long to celebrate our Easter Sundays, but our faith tells us that we have to get through our Good Fridays first.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our God never promises that the life of faith and discipleship will be an easy one; only that it will be blessed. One thing is certain: that life will certainly entail hardship, even suffering. That’s pretty evident in today’s Gospel reading. Faithful disciples have to worry about being betrayed by even their closest family members.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who has tried to live the faith. Perhaps at times the hardest people to evangelize are the members of one’s own family. I’m sure we all can think of people close to us who have abandoned the faith or practice it rarely. Maybe the ones who receive the Church’s teachings least are those we would hope would get it and be partners with us as we journey to the kingdom. It happens all the time – in your family and in mine.

These are trying times. It is hard to give witness to the Truth when the culture around us wants to make its own truth. And it’s painful to see our brothers and sisters fall for the lie hook, line and sinker. So how do we stand for the Truth when our loved ones tune it out? What do we do when our loved ones reject what we’ve tried to give them to bring them to eternal life?

Our Gospel tells us that what we do is persevere: we continue to live the Truth and witness to our faith. If those close to us tune out our words, then we have to be all the more attentive to our actions, to our lived witness, so that they can see that we live what we preach and believe. We have to depend on God to give us the right words and help us to do the right things so that we won’t be a stumbling block. And then we have to trust in God to work it all out in his time.

None of this is going to be easy, but Jesus tells us that the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our God never promises that the life of faith and discipleship will be an easy one; only that it will be blessed. One thing is certain: that life will certainly entail hardship, even suffering. That’s pretty evident in today’s Gospel reading. Faithful disciples have to worry about being betrayed by even their closest family members.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who has tried to live the faith. Perhaps at times the hardest people to evangelize are the members of one’s own family. I’m sure we all can think of people close to us who have abandoned the faith or practice it rarely. Maybe the ones who receive the Church’s teachings least are those we would hope would get it and be partners with us as we journey to the kingdom. It happens all the time – in your family and in mine.

These are trying times. It is hard to give witness to the Truth when the culture around us wants to make its own truth. And it’s painful to see our brothers and sisters fall for the lie hook, line and sinker. So how do we stand for the Truth when our loved ones tune it out? What do we do when our loved ones reject what we’ve tried to give them to bring them to eternal life?

Our Gospel tells us that what we do is persevere: we continue to live the Truth and witness to our faith. If those close to us tune out our words, then we have to be all the more attentive to our actions, to our lived witness, so that they can see that we live what we preach and believe. We have to depend on God to give us the right words and help us to do the right things so that we won’t be a stumbling block. And then we have to trust in God to work it all out in his time.

None of this is going to be easy, but Jesus tells us that the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I think today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a good one for us to hear. How often are we beset by all the frustrations of the world, and all of the sadness that our own lives can sometimes bring? I’m not saying that every day is horrible, but we all go through times when it seems like it’s too much, like one more phone call and we’ll explode.

And to all of that today, St. Paul advises us to “put on the armor of God.” Because when things go wrong, we have two choices. We can go to pieces, wondering where is God when we really need him, getting angry with God, ourselves, and others, and lashing out at anyone and everyone in our lives. Or, we can realize that what God allows he doesn’t necessarily wish on us. We can join ourselves to him, and draw our strength and courage from the Lord himself, knowing that he walks with us in good times and in bad.

Because we know which one the devil himself would choose for us, right? That evil one wants to use the trying times to drive a wedge between God and us. And we need strength to guard against that “evil day.” And so, St. Paul tells us, “In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.” And that shield, he says, is prayer: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” Prayer and faith are the armor we need to get through the trying times of life without falling victim to the evil one.

Sometimes life can feel like a war, but as the Psalmist says today, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.” Our stronghold is that whatever life brings us, we are never alone. Never.