Monday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the words of the Psalmist today: “The Lord is gracious and merciful.”

These are words that are easy for us to pray when things are going well, but maybe not so much when we’re going through rough times.  It seems like the psalmist is going through some very good times, but we have no way of knowing that.  The only key to the great hymn of praise the psalmist is singing is that he is reflecting on the wonder of creation and the mighty deeds God does in the world.  The psalmist sees wonders not just in his own place but everywhere.  He says, “The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”  Every part of creation has been blessed by God’s goodness.  Because of this, God is to be praised not just now, but “forever and ever” and by “generation after generation.”

This fits in very nicely with Hosea’s prophecy in our first reading today.  Preaching to the Israelites in exile, he proclaims that God will change the relationship between Israel and the Lord.  That new relationship would be a spousal relationship between God and his people, in which the spouses are partners in the ongoing work of creation.  God will give Israel the ability to be faithful to God, and for His part, God will remember His faithfulness forever.  God’s great mercy and compassion are seen with abundance in the Gospel reading.  Jesus rewards the faithfulness of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage with miraculous healings.  Key to all of these wonderful events, in all three readings, is that God who has created us is committed to re-creating us in His love and faithfulness.

So as we approach the Eucharist today and reflect on all the mighty and wonderful things God does in our midst, may we too sing the Psalmist’s song.  May we all praise God’s name forever and ever, and proclaim his might to generation after generation.

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 is it 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.


Feel free to remind me of this homily on my next Good Friday.


The Second Sunday of Advent [A]

Today’s readings

I’ve had the feeling, lately, that things just aren’t right.  I think we all get that in our lives from time to time, and it leads us to take stock of what’s going on in us and around us.  For me, of course, it’s this impending move, just ten days from now.  I’m trying to finish up things here at Saint Petronille, and I’ve been fielding calls and emails from Notre Dame to make decisions about things that are coming up quick, like the celebrations of Christmas, and things like that.  I’m starting to go through the very unpleasant task of packing – I just hate that! – and I feel like I’m starting to live out of boxes, and that’s only just begun!  Times of transition are like that; they are disconcerting, unsettling – they give you that distinct feeling that things just aren’t right.

We could all probably think of times in our lives when things just haven’t been right: times of transition, times dealing with the illness of a loved one, or family difficulty, times when we have been looking for new work or trying to discern a path in life.  These are unsettling times that we all have to experience every now and then.

But at some point in our lives we find that even this kind of thing is merely a drop in the bucket. At what point did you figure out a lot of things in this world just weren’t right? We could cite many examples: rising violence in our communities, declining respect for authority, terrorism, fear and war, poverty, hunger and homelessness, corruption in politics on every conceivable level, the proliferation of consumerism, greed, and overconsumption, pollution of the environment, and more. All it takes is a few minutes’ worth of the evening news to let us know that somewhere at the core, fundamentally, our world just isn’t right.

God knows it isn’t right. And he’s known for a long time. The whole Old Testament is filled with God’s lament of how things went wrong, and his attempts to bring it back. The fourth Eucharistic Prayer sums it up by saying to God, “Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.” But, as we well know from our studies of the Scriptures and its proclamation in the Liturgy, again and again humankind turned away from the covenant and away from the God of our salvation. Ever since the fall, things just haven’t been right.

So what is it going to take for all of this to turn around?  What is going to get things whipped into shape?  Albert Einstein once said something like that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Nothing ever changes if nothing ever changes.  Things don’t suddenly become right by continuing to do the wrong thing.  I really think the only way things will ever change is by starting over.  And that’s what I believe God is doing.

Today’s first reading speaks of this new creation: a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.  A young woman in my previous parish once visited the concentration camp at Auschwitz.  She saw the horrible death chambers and holding cells.  But she also noticed, that growing up through the cracks in the asphalt, were some beautiful little wild flowers.  Her tour guide commented that that was nature’s way of healing what had gone on there.  It was a new creation, breaking up through the horrible devastation of the murder and destruction that had reigned in that place.

The bud that blossoms from God’s new creation is something completely different, something incredibly wonderful, something that would never be possible in the old order:  “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”  None of those species would ever get along in the old creation; none of them would ever have been safe.  But in the new creation, all of them will know the Lord, and that knowledge will give them new life, a new direction, new hope and a new salvation.

In today’s gospel reading, Saint John the Baptist proclaims the coming of Christ who will do things in a new way, too:  “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  The all-consuming fire of the Holy Spirit will burn away all that is not right and heat up all that has been frozen in listless despair for far too long.  That fire will force a division between what is old and just not right, and what is of the new creation:  “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

All of these are nice words, and the idea of a new creation is one for which I think we all inwardly yearn.  But what does it really mean?  What does it look like?  How will we know that we are moving toward new creation and new life?  I think Saint Paul gives us a hint in the second reading today: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We are to be people who think and act in harmony with one another and with Christ.

Which is, as most things are, easier to say than to actually do.  For one thing, if we are really to be created anew, that means that some of the old stuff has to die: the death chambers have to be closed, the chaff has to be burnt up in the fire.  Our old, stinkin’ attitudes have to be abandoned: resentments have to be put aside, rivalries have to be ended, forgiveness has to be offered and accepted, jealousies have to be thrown away.  All of that festering, disease-ridden thinking has to be put to death if we are ever to experience new life.

The death of that old nonsense then has to give way to the new life that God intends for us.  We have to be a people marked by new attitudes, new grace, new love.  We have to strive for peace and justice – real peace and real justice available to everyone God has created.  We have to be a community who worships God not just here in Church, but also out there in our daily lives: a community that insists on integrity, a community that genuinely cares for those who are sick, in need, or lost.  We have to be a people who worship God first every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, who confess our sins with hope of God’s mercy, who give priority to prayer in the midst of our crazy lives.

Most of all, we have to be a people who are open to being re-created.  If we are not willing to put to death our old stinkin’ selves and embrace new attitudes and ways of living, then we are proving Einstein right: we are doing the same old thing and hoping for a different result.  It doesn’t work that way.  We have to cooperate with God’s new creation, we have to be eager to let God do something new.  We have to be willing to live out of boxes for a while, so that the transition can take place.  We have to have unwavering hope that giving ourselves to God’s re-creation will be worth it, if not immediately, then certainly in the long run.  We have to truly believe our Psalmist’s song: “Justice will flower in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.”

The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today's readings [display_podcast]

tongues-of-fireIn a few moments we will stand together and pray these beautiful words:

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

And we pray those words so often, that they are probably something of second nature to us.  They may even pass right out of our lips without us ever stopping to think about what it really means to believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.  And that’s too bad, because people through the ages have literally suffered and died for these words.  The writing of them into our Profession of Faith was not done without some heated debate and many tears.  These words about the Holy Spirit unfortunately were partly the cause of the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox.  And so as we pray them, we need to take special note of them, knowing that it is never the intent of the Holy Spirit that we remain divided and when we pray these words we must remember our brothers and sisters who gave of themselves so that we might have faith.

So, what does it mean to believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life?  The Holy Spirit informs our faith and guides our life, so our belief in that Spirit ought to be evident, it should look like something.  If we really, truly believe in the Holy Spirit, our lives should be a certain way, and I think our readings today give us some attributes of the Spirit-led life.

In our first reading, the disciples receive the Holy Spirit in a very public setting.  They were all in one place together, and the Spirit descended upon them with a strong, driving wind and tongues of fire.  This Holy Spirit enabled them to proclaim the Good News in the various tongues of the then-known world.  Every foreign person in Rome was able to hear the Word in his or her own language.  Now being a person who has very little facility for foreign languages, this would be my dream gift of the Spirit!  I know un pocito of Spanish, and most days struggle a bit with English!  But here the disciples are able to speak in all the languages of the world, enabling the Word to be heard by people of every nation.

Whether language is our gift or not, we too are filled with the Spirit and sent forth to preach to all nations.  That the Word was heard by people of every nation in their own tongue was evidence of the fact that Jesus was quite serious when he commanded the apostles to go forth and make disciples of all nations.  God really does want the Word to be known by every person everywhere, and he expects us to preach it.  Maybe we will be sent off in mission to speak to people in their own language.  Or maybe we’ll have to put the Word out there in a way that people in our own time and place can understand.  We’re in a culture that very rarely if ever speaks the word of God, and it’s evident that so many people have lost the ability to relate to God.  It’s up to us to make the Gospel known to them by preaching it with our lives.  As St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel always.  If necessary, use words.”  People will come to know the Gospel as they see us living it.  Love is a universal language.  Joy is evidence of the presence of God.  People can relate to love and joy and peace and grace and kindness and compassion.  All we have to do is to live that way, and people will come to know the Lord.  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to preach the Word to people of every nation and tongue.

In the second reading, St. Paul preaches to the Corinthians that people of the Spirit can do everything.  “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;” he says, “there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”  Now, I admit, some days we all get out of bed thinking there’s no way we can do anything really good.  Some days just breathing seems to be a major accomplishment.  So the ability to do everything is something that for most of us – me included! – seems so far out of our grasp.

But we don’t have to be the one person who does everything.  We are all united in the Spirit, and together we can do everything.  We all have some gifts.  We have celebrated those gifts this year as our parish has focused on stewardship as our theme.  And as St. Paul tells us, the gifts of the Spirit are never given just for us.  We are meant to use them for the good of others and the glory of God:  “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to do everything, when we share the gifts we have been given in concert with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And finally, in the Gospel, Jesus forgives his apostles and calls on them to forgive others.  Now we’re getting to the end of the Gospel of John, a Gospel that has been a kind of mirror of the book of Genesis.  Both the book of Genesis and the Gospel of John begin with the words, “In the beginning…”  And that’s not an accident.  John is doing that for the very specific reason of showing us how God is re-creating the world.  Just as the book of Genesis showed the first creation of the world, so the Gospel shows us the re-creation of the world in Christ.  If the Gospels show us anything, they show us how we need to be re-created.

The apostles were gathered on that first day of the week, the day of creation, but also the day of the Resurrection.  They are afraid, the Gospel says today, “for fear of the Jews.”  They knew that what happened to Jesus could certainly happen to them.  But there’s more to it than that.  Jesus has risen now, and they know that.  Gathered together, they are a group ashamed of the way they treated Christ on his last day.  They let him down by denying him and running away.  They had sinned, and their sin filled them with shame and fear.  The were hiding behind locked doors.  They needed to be re-created.

They needed to be re-created just as much as all of us need to be re-created when we sin.  When we treat others poorly, or withhold compassion, or don’t forgive, or let our relationships deteriorate into sin, when we spend too much time on the internet looking at the wrong things, or cheat on a business deal or in school, when we waste the gifts of the earth or any of many other ways we can go wrong, when we do any of these things, we need to be re-created.  We too can find ourselves behind locked doors, afraid of what will happen to us and ashamed of the way we have treated God, ourselves, and others.  We need to be re-created almost every day, don’t we?

But just as Jesus could break through the locked doors that kept the apostles cooped up, so he can break through our own locked doors.  And what he said to them then is what he says to us now:  “Peace be with you.”  That isn’t a fluffy, kumbaya kind of peace, but a peace that re-creates us from the inside out.  It’s a peace that wipes away our sins and gives us a second chance. 
Or even a third or fourth or nine thousandth chance.  “Peace be with you.”  We receive this same kind of peace in Confession when the priest says to us in the prayer of absolution: “Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace…” 

But having been forgiven, the apostles then and us now are told that that peace is something that has to be spread around.  We forgiven, re-created children of God must now reach out to others and invite them to experience that same peace.  “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” Jesus says, “and whose sins you retain are retained.”  The cost of retaining any sin is disastrous.  In terms of the Church, the only sins that are really retained are those that are unconfessed and unrepented.  There is no peace possible when that happens.  But we can sinfully retain others’ sins when we refuse to forgive them, when we bind them up with stereotyping, discrimination and hate.  This is not the way that has been laid out for us.  This is not the example we have received.  We have received peace, and we are commanded to give peace in return.  We must be a people who forgive because we are a people who have been forgiven and at a great cost.  The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to be forgiven and to forgive.

And so, we who believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, are a people who are enabled to proclaim the Word to every person in our words and deeds, a people who can do everything as we use our gifts in communion with our brothers and sisters, a people who can forgive as we have been forgiven.  We could never do any of this on our own, of course.  It takes the Holy Spirit alive in us and in our world to make all things new.  And so every day we pray with the Psalmist: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”