Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter 

Today’s readings

Today’s readings are full of messengers. In the first reading, Paul is a messenger bringing news of the real meaning of the ancient Scriptures in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And he speaks of another messenger, John the Baptist, who paved the way for the coming of Jesus by preaching a baptism of repentance. In the Gospel, Jesus points out that a messenger is never greater than the one who sent him, and that those messengers sent by Christ should be accepted as Christ, since Jesus himself was sent by the Father. Accepting the messenger is accepting Jesus is accepting God the Father.

The word messenger goes back to old French and Latin words for “send” and is closely tied to the word “mission.” The messenger is truly on a mission from the one who sent him. When you think of it, all of us disciples are messengers on a mission. We all have been charged with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to Christ. We do that in our own ways; sometimes, as St. Francis would say, we use words. But often we do not. Most often our witness depends on how well we live our mission, the message that we send comes in the things we do and the way we live. As my father used to say, “actions speak louder than words.”

And so we come to this place to be nourished for our mission. We hear the words of Scripture that gives us the message to preach and receive the Eucharist that gives us strength for the journey. People will come to know Christ as they come to know us. We pray that our message might be a good one, a message that compels everyone we meet to turn to our God. Because the mission, the message that we have is better than anything on earth. As the Psalmist says, “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the parts of the Liturgy that I love most in these summer months is the development of the theme of discipleship that unfolds in the Gospel readings.  We all know that, by our baptism, we are called to be disciples of Christ, those who follow him and live the Gospel and minister and witness in his Name.  But that’s easy to say.  Just how do you do that?  Well, that’s what these readings address.

Today’s Gospel reading has Jesus sending the seventy-two out, in pairs, on mission to preach the Gospel and heal the sick.  It’s the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary: the preaching of the Kingdom with its call to repentance.  Jesus sent them out to villages he himself intended to visit, more or less preparing the way.  It’s a moving story about how Jesus was able to accomplish much through the ministry of the seventy-two, even without being physically present with them.  But it’s not just a moving story, right?  You know as well as I do that the reason we all got to hear that story today is because we’re being sent out on mission too.  When the time comes for us to “go in peace, glorifying the Lord by [our lives],” we have to be like the seventy-two, preparing hearts and lives for Jesus, preaching the Gospel, healing the sick.

Before they head out, Jesus provides instruction for them.  They learn it won’t be an easy task, but that they will be able to rely on God for their strength.  In this pre-mission instruction, he gives his disciples, which includes all of us, some tools for use in witness and ministry.  We can’t let them escape our attention, because we will need them if we are to be successful.

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 money bag 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.  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 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 what’s at stake 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 third tool is to go in peace.  Jesus says to the seventy-two: “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’  If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.”  Those disciples were sent out with the peace of Christ, and were told to expect to be received in peace.  The source of the peace they were sent out in was, of course, Jesus himself.  The peace he is offering is not just the absence of conflict.  In fact, their journeys may indeed involve quite a bit of conflict: conflict with demons, conflict with illness, conflict with those who may not receive them or want to hear the Gospel.  Instead, the peace he sends the seventy-two out with is a peace that they receive from knowing they are doing God’s will and that souls are coming back to God.  It is a peace that says that everyone and everything is in right relationship, the way things are supposed to be.  The disciples are told to enter a place and say “Peace to this household.”  So we too must also offer this greeting of peace to those we come to work with.  There are a lot of ways to make this greeting, though.  We could say it in those words, or perhaps through our actions: in not returning violence with violence; doing our best to diffuse anger and hatred; treating all people equally; respecting the rights of both the well-established and the newcomer; working to make neighborhoods and communities less violent; protecting the abused and the ridiculed.  This peace is a peace that is authentic and that really works.

The fourth tool pertains to sustenance and it is “eat and drink what is set before you.”  This is again a trust issue.  The seventy-two are to trust that since the laborer deserves his payment, the Lord will provide for what they need.  But there’s a bit more to it, I think.  Eating and drinking what is set before them also meant that if they were to be given ministry that is difficult, they needed to stay with it, because that’s what was set before them.  If they have been received in peace, then they need to know that they are in the right place.  That doesn’t mean that the mission would be easy, though, and they need to take what’s given to them.  We too have to know that our mission may not be easy, but if we have been given it in peace, 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.

The final tool is this: do not move from one house to another.  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.  We are called to stay with a person or a situation until what God wants to happen happens.  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 an awful lot as we come here for worship today.  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.

Easter Thursday

Today’s readings

To understand how significant the Resurrection event was, I think it’s helpful to try and put together a picture of how the disciples had to be feeling at this point.  So prior to today’s Gospel selection, the women found the empty tomb, Peter has seen the Lord, and the two disciples had experienced him in the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus.  Their minds were most likely reeling with excitement; trying to get a grip on the things he had said to them while he was still with them.  I’m sure they were trying to figure out what all this meant, what they needed to do next.

Maybe that’s why the Lord’s initial words to them are “Peace be with you.”  Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t seem to work, because the disciples think they’re seeing a ghost.  After Jesus eats some fish and speaks to them of the Scriptures, he sends them on mission with the very poignant words: “You are witnesses of these things.”

The peace that Jesus gives them is certainly not the absence of conflict.  That they will be witnesses to the fulfillment of the Scriptures will be anything but peaceful for them.  They will have to make sacrifices – sacrifices of their very lives – to witness as Jesus calls them to, but there is no other choice.  They are now beginning to understand the significance of what has happened among them, and they must go forward to do what they had been chosen to do.

When we have to make the decision to follow God’s call in our lives, we too will have to sacrifice.  Not our lives, probably, but we will have to sacrifice our own comfort, our control over our own lives, our own point of view.  But just like the disciples, we must remember what we have been chosen to do, and follow where we are being led.

We are witnesses of these things too, we are called to live and proclaim the Gospel.  May we too receive the peace of Christ that we might focus on our call.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading speaks of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, and whose sheep know him.  However, I have two problems with that.  First, who wants to be compared to sheep?  Sheep are not the brightest of animals, and they must remain in their flock to defend themselves against even the most innocuous of predators.  Second, how are the sheep, if that is how we are to be called, to hear the shepherd in this day and age?  There are so many things that vie for our attention, that it would be easy to miss the call of the shepherd altogether.

So let’s look at these issues.  First, many who raise and nurture sheep would perhaps disagree with my assessment that they aren’t very bright.  I have been told that sheep do have the innate ability to hear their master’s voice, and that they also innately wish to remain part of the flock.  So we can see that sheep seem to know what it takes to survive.  And maybe we don’t know that as well as we should.  How often do we place a priority on being within earshot of our Master?  How willing are we to remain part of the community in good times and in bad?  Yet Jesus makes it clear today that this is the only way we can survive spiritually, the only way we can come at last to eternal life.

So what will it take to overcome my second objection?  What will it take for us sheep to hear our Master’s voice?  We who are so nervous about any kind of silence that we cannot enter a room without the television on as at least background noise.  We who cannot go anywhere without our cell phones and/or iPods implanted firmly in our ears?  We who cannot bear to enter into prayer without speaking all kinds of words and telling God how we want to live our lives?  If even our prayer and worship are cluttered with all kinds of noise, how are we to hear the voice of our Shepherd who longs to gather us in and lead us to salvation?

The “elephant in the room” question, though, is this: how are we to hear the Shepherd’s voice if there are no shepherds to make it known?  Today is the world day of prayer for vocations.  And I want to talk about all vocations today, but in a special way, I want to talk about vocations to the priesthood, religious life and the permanent diaconate.  Because it is these vocations, and especially the priesthood, that are called upon to be the voice of Christ in today’s world.  This is a special, and difficult challenge, and I know there are young people in this community that are being called to it.  We hear in today’s Liturgy of the Word that this task is not always easy because it is not universally accepted, as Peter and the other disciples were quickly finding out.  But it is a task that brings multitudes of every nation, race, people and tongue to the great heavenly worship that is what they have been created for.  People today need to hear the voice of the Shepherd, but who will the voice of Jesus when I retire?  Who will be that voice when there aren’t enough priests in our diocese for every church to have one?  Who will preach the Word of God when Deacon Frank, Deacon Alex, Deacon Al and Deacon Dave retire?

We know that every person has a vocation.  Every person is called on by God to do something specific with their life that will bring not only them, but also others around them, to salvation.  Parents help to bring their children to salvation by raising them in the faith.  Teachers help bring students to salvation by educating them and helping them to develop their God-given talents.  Business people bring others to salvation by living lives of integrity and witness to their faith by conducting business fairly and with justice and concern for the needy.  The list goes on.  Every vocation, every authentic vocation, calls the disciple to do what God created them for, and helps God to bring salvation to the whole world.

Eleven years ago on this very Sunday, I was struggling with my vocation.  Honestly, I knew that God was calling me to give up my comfortable life and go to seminary to study for the priesthood.  But I did not want to go.  I was already doing what I wanted to do with my life and thought it was going pretty well.  But on some level, I knew that life as a disciple required me to do what God wanted, and not necessarily what I wanted.  I had found out that there was an open house that day at the Diocesan Vocations Office.  I wasn’t interested and I wasn’t going.  And that day, the celebrant preached on vocations and made the point that living as a disciple meant that at some point we have to stop asking the question, “what do I want to do with my life?” and start asking, “what does God want me to do with my life?” And I already knew the answer to that question: God wanted me to go to that vocations open house that day, and so I did.  Four months later, I was in seminary.

What about you?  Are you doing what God wants you to do with your life?  Maybe your answer won’t require such a radical change as mine did, although perhaps it does.  Maybe it means you renew your commitment to your family, your work, your life as a disciple.  But if you’re a young person out there and have only been thinking about what’s going to make you successful and bring in lots of money so you can retire at age 35, maybe God is today asking you to stop thinking only of yourself and put your life’s work at the service of the Gospel.  Maybe you’ll be called on to be a teacher, or a police officer, or a health care professional.  And maybe, just maybe, God is calling you to enter the priesthood or religious life.  And for those who are fathers and empty nesters, it’s quite possible that you feel a tug in your heart to do something more to live the Gospel.  Maybe you are being called to a life of service as a permanent deacon.

On this day of prayer for vocations, I’m just asking you to pray that God would make his plans for your life clear to you, and that you would promise God to do what he asks of you.  I can tell you first hand that nothing, absolutely nothing, will make you happier.

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Once again, the disciples are overjoyed that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.  That seems rather counter-intuitive, but when you stop to think about it, given all the possible reasons to suffer dishonor and to be beaten, the best reason is “for the sake of the Name.”  We know that those who suffer in that way are treasures for our God, and they are given their just reward.

What I think is interesting in today’s first reading though, is the unintentional prophecy of Gamaliel.  His words are a combination of a brush-off, since he obviously thinks the early Christian community is a bunch of kooks, and a bit of rear-end covering, since if it does turn out that these kooks are right, then at least they don’t get to be guilty of putting them to death.  At least not yet.

But the courage of the apostles is inspiring, isn’t it?  They have been warned twice and put in prison, and now beaten, and still we are told that “all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus.”  We are grateful for their new-found courage today, or we wouldn’t be here worshipping right now.

We are called to display that same courage and to speak non-stop of our Lord Jesus Christ in all that we say and do.  The psalmist today reminds us that the only thing worth seeking is to dwell in the house of the Lord, and the only way to do that is to follow our Risen Lord.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Petty jealousy is a pernicious thing. Paul experienced it, directed against him by those Jews who were jealous of Paul’s effective preaching and suspicious of the Christian Way. In their fear and jealousy, they appeal to Gallio, a Roman official, complaining that Paul stirred up the people to worship God contrary to the law. By this they did not mean that Paul and the others were worshipping in a way they didn’t like – although that was certainly true. What they were trying to do was get Paul and the others arrested for worshipping God at all, in violation of Roman law.

The Romans were a pagan people, with their own gods, and it was required that all citizens worshipped these gods and not the God of Israel or certainly Jesus Christ. Sometimes this was not enforced so rigorously, as was the case with Gallio. So those troublemakers among the Jews were guilty of it too. But these troublemakers were trying to get Gallio to enforce it against Paul and his followers, and not against themselves of course. Gallio sees through their very thinly veiled patriotism and throws them all out, turning a blind eye as they beat a synagogue official who was a supporter of Paul.

What a horrible mess, isn’t it? Neither those troublemakers nor Gallio were at all virtuous. The troublemakers weren’t so much concerned about the laws of the land as they were quibbling about following Jesus. And Gallio wasn’t so concerned about defending the Christians as much as he wanted them all to go away and leave him alone. Through it all, Paul was able to see the fulfillment of God’s promise in the vision he had: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you.” And that’s exactly what Paul did.

It is up to us to witness to our faith courageously too. We might face opposition, and even petty jealousy. But the message is too important to bury for fear of what might happen. We must trust that the Lord will preserve us too, in the same way he guarded Paul in his efforts to proclaim the Gospel.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

“Don’t shoot the messenger!” That’s our colloquial way of saying that the words we speak to someone come from someone else; they are not our ideas. Most of us have probably said that to someone at some time.

But that doesn’t work for we who are followers of Christ. Yes, we are messengers. The Greek word for messenger is “angeloi” from which we get our English word, “angel.” Angels are messengers sent by God to communicate something specific to humankind. We’ve seen the archangel Gabriel herald the coming of Christ to a young woman named Mary. A whole host of angels heralded the birth of the Savior to shepherds working in the fields. The letter to the Hebrews tells us not to neglect hospitality, for we may be entertaining angels. And Jesus tells us today, “whoever receives the one I send
receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

We are all sent, brothers and sisters in Christ, to be messengers. We have received the Gospel and have been schooled in it through our participation in the Mass and our education in faith. We are not angels, because angels are a different species of creation than humankind, but we are in a sense angeloi, we are messengers who are sent by God to bring the Good News, the Gospel, to all those who need to hear it. And that would be every person God puts in our lives or in our path. We have to preach it every day, maybe not by standing on a soapbox, but definitely by our living of the message ourselves.

Just as St. Paul courageously preached the truth in the synagogue in today’s first reading, we have to be ready to courageously share our faith in whatever way God calls us, wherever God puts us, to whoever God gives us. The Psalmist has it right today, as always, when he says, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!” Whether we have trained voices or not, we must always sing the praises of God who gives us everything we have and everything we could ever hope for. Singing those praises with our lives makes our message every bit as beautiful as the choirs of angels sang on that great first Christmas.

May our guardian angels show us the way to be angeloi for the glory of God!

Third Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

“You are witnesses of these things.”

That is what Jesus tells the disciples at the close of today’s Gospel reading. He is almost ready to ascend to the Father, and so he takes care to make sure that the disciples are ready for the mission. They are the ones who will have to testify to the death and resurrection of Christ, and to preach forgiveness of sins in his name to every person on earth.

And we can see that the disciples did indeed take up this mission. In the first reading from Acts, Peter speaks to the Jews and tells them what Christ suffered for all of us. He emphatically urges them to repent and to believe in the Gospel. In the second reading, John exhorts believers to follow the commandments and live the Gospel if they would testify to the love of God. You can’t say that you love God but not follow the commandments – that’s ridiculous – and so John exhorts all his hearers to become people of integrity and to witness with their lives.

“You are witnesses of these things.”

And so we are the hearers of the message now. We too, brothers and sisters in Christ, are witnesses of these things. We may not have seen the events unfold in front of us, but we have seen them in the Liturgy, and we believe that our celebration of the Liturgy is not some simple re-enactment of the events of our salvation, but in a very real sense is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ in our own day.

We are the witnesses now. And people have to see us preaching with the way that we live our lives. We have to preach it by going to Mass faithfully, by keeping the commandments, by being people of integrity and fairness at our jobs or in our schools, by reaching out to those who are poor, needy and marginalized, by giving ourselves to others whenever, wherever, and however we can.

We are witnesses of these things. The question is, will others witness Christ in us?

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

The job of a prophet is not an easy one.  And we should all know, because we are all in some ways the prophetic seeds the Lord is sowing in the world.  We might fall on good soil, or amongst rocks or thorns, but wherever we are, we are expected to bear fruit.  We are called upon to preach the Word in our actions and sometimes our words, no matter how difficult a job it can sometimes be.

The reading about the call of the prophet Jeremiah that we have in our first reading today was the first reading at my Deaconate ordination.  I picked it myself.  But like a lot of deacons at their ordinations, I cleverly didn’t pick the verses that follow in Jeremiah’s account, detailing all the bad news he would be called upon to preach to the people of Israel.  Sometimes what we prophets have to say is not politically correct, or suitable for polite company.  We might bear good news, but more than likely we’ll bear bad news, or at least warnings of bad news.  And sometimes that’s just hard for people to hear.

But whatever we have to say, and wherever our prophetic actions or words take us, the Lord makes it clear to Jeremiah – and us! – today that we will never be delivering that news alone:

To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them,
because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

So in our offering today, maybe we can renew our prophetic promise to God.  We can once again give him our lives and promise to follow where he takes us.  And whatever soil we land on, may we all bear “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Wednesday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

[display_podcast] 

When I read St. Paul’s message to Timothy in our first reading last night, I resonated with the spirit of his message.  St. Paul reminds Timothy of his calling and of the authority that was given him when St. Paul laid hands on him.  The life that Timothy was called to lead as a consequence of that anointing was one that would be challenging, but blessed.  He would have to bear his share of hardship for the Gospel, but St. Paul tells him never to be ashamed of it.  Whatever is to befall them, St. Paul’s confidence is in the Lord: “For I know him in whom I have believed,” he says, “and I am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.”

That got me thinking about my own ordination as a priest, which was two years ago yesterday.  I clearly remember the words that Bishop Imesch spoke when he handed me the chalice and paten that I use for Mass to this day.  He said, “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God.  Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”  I think those very words would be words that St. Paul would understand.  “Understand what you do” seems easy enough, until it gets to the second instruction: “imitate what you celebrate.”  What I celebrate here is a sacrificial moment, and if I am to imitate that, then my life must be basically sacrificial.  That’s what is meant by the third instruction in what the bishop said to me: “and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

Sometimes it’s hard for all of us to know that whatever our call may be, it will involve sacrifices.  Every single vocation necessarily requires that, because nothing authentic can ever be just about us.  We have to lay down our lives in love every single day because that’s what Jesus did for us.  Some days, as I tell the couples getting married here when I preach the homily for them, that may be hard work.  But it is always our hope that every day, whether it’s easy or difficult, it will be the greatest joy of our lives.  That’s why St. Paul tells Timothy that he should not be ashamed of his testimony to the Lord.  That’s why the bishop told me to conform my life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.  Because none of us will ever regret anything we’ve sacrificed for love.