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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Homecoming Mass for Benedictine University

Today’s readings

Well, I would like to welcome all of you home to Benedictine University for Homecoming 2020.  Except, of course, that we aren’t at our “home”: we are celebrating this Mass at my parish, Saint Mary Immaculate in Plainfield, Illinois, a little over twenty miles south and west of the Lisle campus of Benedictine.  And, most of you aren’t even here; hopefully some of you are watching the livestream.  So this is a very weird homecoming indeed!

My name is Father Pat Mulcahy, and I myself am an alum of Benedictine.  I was part of the class of 1986, when the institution was called Illinois Benedictine College.  My major was Religious Studies, with a minor in Philosophy.  Probably my most notable accomplishment for Benedictine was that I was erroneously reported as deceased in an edition of Benedictine Voices, back in 2007.  The actual deceased Pat Mulcahy was my father; reports of my death were, as Mark Twain famously quipped, greatly exaggerated.

I’ve maintained a connection to Benedictine University and the Benedictines over the years, which has been a great blessing to me.  Saint Procopius Abbey was the place where I had my canonical retreat before my ordination to the priesthood in 2006, and I’ve spent a few days there now and again for times of reflection and rest.  I keep in contact with many of the monks.  I’ve been privileged as well to celebrate Mass for the sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery occasionally over the years, which helped me to remember my time in college working in campus ministry and being blessed to meet many of the sisters there.

In my time at IBC, now BU, I would say that in addition to all of the academic work, there was definitely formation which encouraged us to become good citizens of the world, but also people who had a relationship with God and expressed that relationship in terms of service and worship.  I think that’s the whole idea behind today’s readings.

When a couple comes to me to prepare for their upcoming marriage, one of the things I have them do is to write me letters, individually, asking to be married. I ask them to reflect on their relationship and to say something about their faith. Over the years I’ve received a lot of letters and some are very deep, some are very emotional, some are kind of surface-level. I usually find something in every letter to quote in my wedding homily. A while ago, I celebrated the wedding of a couple that was very faith-filled. They had been raised by strong Catholic families, had gone to Catholic schools, and faith was and continued to be a big part of their lives. One of the most quotable lines in their letters came from the groom. He said, “Many people want to think of God only in times of trouble or sadness; (my fiancé) and I want to think of God all the time.”

I think he got at what our Liturgy of the Word is teaching us today. In the Gospel, the Pharisees are at it again: they want to trap Jesus in speech so that they’ll be able to bring him to justice. And so they decide to ask him if it’s lawful to pay the census tax or not. It was a no-win argument: if he said it was not lawful, then he’s a revolutionary and should be put to death; if he said it was lawful, then he’s an idolater – putting the government over God – and should be put to death. But, as usual, Jesus answers their question with a question. “Whose image is this (on the coin) and whose inscription?” Since it was Caesar’s, his instruction is to give Caesar his due, but then, to give God what he is due.

This then becomes a reflection on the first commandment of the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” This is echoed by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

There’s a reason that this is the first commandment: it is foundational to all the others. If we get the first commandment right, the others should follow pretty easily. If we know and live that God is in charge, that God is God and we are not, then we will easily live the other nine commandments dealing with love of God and love of neighbor. The trouble is, even though it’s easy to say, it’s difficult to do.

Modern life does everything it can to distract us. It’s hard to get to Mass because the kids have sports or dance or studies or whatever. And as wonderful as those things are, they don’t lead the children to God, so they can’t take precedence over Mass. It’s hard to take time for prayer because we are busy – we have studies and work, and we have family commitments and we have things we want to do in the community. And as great as all that is, it doesn’t lead us to God, so they can’t take precedence over our prayer. It’s hard to be of service because we’re busy people, and that’s a shame because service – stemming from a love of neighbor – leads us to love of God, and we’ve said no to it again. Just like those Pharisees, we have too often allowed ourselves to be distracted from what’s really important, we’ve said no to a relationship with our God, and we have put him out of our lives and our families’ lives time and time again.

Giving to God what belongs to God is foundational. Failure to do that leads to all other kinds of sin. Today, we have in our Scriptures an examination of conscience. Have we been zealous to give to God what belongs to God? Have we taken time for prayer? Have we been of service to our brothers and sisters in need? Have we made teaching the faith to our children our primary priority? Have we been vigilant to prevent anything from getting in the way of celebrating Mass as a family? If we have fallen short in any of those ways, this is the time to reverse the course and get it right. Caesar gets what’s his one way or the other. We have to be the ones who are on fire to give to God what belongs to God.

The whole point of our life on this earth is to travel through it and become perfected so that we can go to heaven. A huge first step in that is putting God first, giving to God what belongs to God. And he wants all of us: our hearts, our souls, our lives. As Saint Benedict wrote in his Rule, “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10)…  Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”  Is there something that we have been preferring to Christ?  What are we called to turn from so that we can turn to him?  What step do we need to make to give to God what belongs to God this week?

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

If this isn’t a difficult Gospel passage to understand, I don’t think there is one!  What are we to make of such a convoluted story?  Surely we are not supposed to think that the king is God, are we?  I mean, why would Scripture portray God in such a terrible manner?  Do we want to believe in a God who would seemingly-arbitrarily destroy a whole city because people wouldn’t come to a banquet, and then throw someone out of the banquet who did come, because he wasn’t appropriately dressed?  These are good questions, and when we have so many urgent, nagging questions, we know that the Gospel is trying to teach us something.  So let’s get at it.

First of all, it’s important to know that this parable isn’t intended to be taken literally, of course.  We don’t want to draw a direct analogy here.  Don’t read it as saying, “If you don’t behave, God is going to put you to an ugly death, burn your city, and leave you to the place where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”  Obviously, Jesus is using hyperbole here – he likes to employ literary devices to get our attention, and that’s exactly what it happening.  So even though we shouldn’t draw a direct analogy, we should sit up and take notice – that’s the whole point.

Let’s imagine the story happening in our day.  Suppose you were to receive an invitation from the President of the United States to attend the wedding of one of his children.  Regardless of how you may feel about the President, you’re probably somewhat unlikely to turn down the invitation.  You might have respect for the office, or a curiosity of how opulent an affair this would be, and you’re unlikely to get a better dinner offer.  Well that’s how the people in the story should have reacted to the invitation from the king, but they didn’t.  Instead they found all sorts of lame excuses, and some of them even went so far as to murder the messengers!

Jesus is speaking rather directly to the Jews, and especially to their leaders.  He is saying that they were the first to be invited.  But they had all sorts of excuses for not showing up to the banquet.  They couldn’t be bothered to turn away from the distractions of their lives to accept the invitation that was theirs by right.  Not only that, but along the way, some of them went so far as to murder the prophets who were the messengers of the invitation, so that they wouldn’t have to bear their reproach.  There could be no bigger affront to our King than to turn away so completely.  Therefore, Jesus says, the invitation goes out to all the world.

So what is this all about for us, then?  Well, here’s the message.  The marriage that is intended is the marriage of God to the world.  He longs for us to become one flesh with him, so that we can inherit the eternity of grace for which we were created.  And the banquet is, of course, the Eucharist, which celebrates that marriage and nourishes us to live the Gospel and carry the Cross and make our way to heaven, our true home.  That is the feast of rich food and choice wines that we hear of in today’s first reading. That invitation has been put out to all of us, wandering along wherever we might be on our life’s journey, and we have been told that the feast is ready for all of us, bad and good alike.  It means that no matter how far we have wandered, if we accept the invitation, we can join the banquet.

But at that glorious banquet, only certain attire is suitable.  That’s the whole meaning of the man who got bounced out of the banquet because he didn’t have on a wedding garment.  That garment, friends, is a genuine and rich relationship with God.  That wedding garment is a committed acceptance of relationship with Christ.  That wedding garment is firm purpose of amendment for our sins.  That wedding garment is a real acceptance of grace and allowing it to work in our lives.  We can’t be putting on the ugliness of the world: sin and immorality and self-concern.  If we love our sins more than we love our Jesus, we will be allowed to let that be our eternity, with all its wailing and grinding of teeth.  God forbid!

Instead, we must clothe ourselves with the wedding garment that is Christ Jesus.  None of our own garments are going to get us to heaven, but only the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose urgent desire is to make us one with our God.  We all know very well that it would have been just for our God to leave us off the invitation list entirely, distracted from him as we are, loving our sins as we do, unwilling to repent as we are sometimes.  But our God will do no such thing: instead he clothes us in our Lord at our Baptism, gives us feast of rich food and choice wines in the Eucharist, and invites us to become one with him in a wedding covenant that takes us to our eternal home.  Why on earth would we ever refuse that invitation?  How could we ever show up unadorned with the beauty of Christ?

And so in preparation for today’s Eucharist, maybe we can take some time in the offering to accept the invitation of our Lord and to put on Christ Jesus so that we might worthily partake of the Banquet.  Let’s pray with that right now.  Close your eyes and pray with me in your heart.

Loving God, we are so grateful that, despite our unworthiness and our unloveliness, you still have called us to your wedding banquet.  There is no way we could ever be deserving of such great love, but you freely offer it anyway, because you are love itself.  We are grateful that you desire to be wed with us and the world so that we can be forever with you.  The banquet feast of heaven is where we want to go, to spend eternity, and to live in you.  We confess that, sometimes, we have cast off our wedding garment, that garment of relationship with you that we received in Holy Baptism, in favor of putting on the filthy rags of this world.  We confess that, more often than we can bear to acknowledge, we have treasured our sins more than we have treasured your invitation.  We pray that you would not cast us out in the darkness, but instead that you would keep us in the light of your presence.  We pray that you would, by your ever-present grace and through your unfailing mercy, help us to don that perfect garment that is our relationship with you, and forever to cast aside our sins and the tattered ugliness of the world.  Forbid in your mercy that we would ever have to wail and grind our teeth in the darkness, and bring us back to perfect union with you in the bright glory of your kingdom.  For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Homilies Lent RCIA

Presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect

Today’s readings: Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8e-9 | Psalm 23 | Romans 8:14-17, 26-27 | Matthew 6:9-13

Today we did the RCIA presentation of the Lord’s Prayer to the Elect at our evening Mass. There are special readings for that, as above.

Where do you go when you’re at the end of your rope?

Bob was not accustomed to praying and didn’t really have a relationship with God.  But life, as it often does to us, started piling up: job concerns, health scares, relationship problems – everything.  And so he knew he couldn’t make it all work on his own.  So in his desperation, he looked at the old Bible he got for his first Holy Communion, and took it down off the shelf. Dusting it off, he realized he didn’t know where to turn so he decided to just open it up, point to a verse, and see what God had to say to him.  So that’s what he did, and on opening the Bible, he read “and Judas went off and hanged himself.”  

Now, obviously, we know God didn’t want Bob to go off and hang himself like Judas did.  But the point here is that Bob was doing it wrong: you can’t choose not to have a relationship with God and turn to prayer only when everything else fails.  That’s never going to work.  Prayer, for the believer, is an ongoing conversation with the God who longs to be intimately involved in our lives.  And so, the important thing is to work on that relationship first.

That’s why we are presenting the Lord’s Prayer – one of the great treasures of our faith – to you, the Elect, so late in the process.  You’ve been in this for a year or more, or almost two for the children, and we are less than two weeks away from the Easter Vigil, that night on which you will receive the sacraments.  And only now do you receive this treasure of prayer.  Why?  Because you had to work on the relationship first.  Praying authentically isn’t something you can do right away.  You have to come to know Jesus and in him, see the Father, before you can have that intimate conversation that we call prayer.

And the prayer we are giving you isn’t just any old collection of words.  This is the prayer that our Lord Jesus himself gave to us. He literally says “this is how you are to pray.”  And in that prayer, he covers all kinds of different prayers.  “Hallowed by thy name” is a prayer of praise to God who is the source of all holiness.  “Thy kingdom come” is a prayer that our world would be transformed into what God intends it to be.  “Thy will be done” is a prayer that opens ourselves up to God’s will for us and allows him to enter in and do what is best.  “Give us this day our daily bread” is a prayer that we would be filled up, not so much with what we want, but what we truly need, each and every day.  “And forgive us our trespasses” prays that we would be forgiven for the many ways we turn away from God, both in what we do and what we fail to do, while “as we forgive those who trespass against us” prays that we would be as merciful as God has been merciful to us.  “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” is a prayer that we would continue to walk in God’s ways, and not give ourselves over to the evil one.

It’s a wonderful, complete prayer, and a prayer that very significantly begins with a statement of relationship: “Our Father…”  We pray not to a distant God who created us and then backs off to watch us get messed up in our own foolishness, but instead to God our Father.  That’s the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him: one that depends on him as a child depends on a parent, a relationship that sustains us and advocates for us in our need, but also corrects us in our wandering, and shields us from what is truly evil.  It’s a relationship that we can’t live without, a relationship that is there on our best days and also when we’re at the end of our rope.  It’s a relationship that the Church wants for all of you, so that you’ll never have to decide how to use that dusty old Bible you’ve left up there on the shelf.

Remember: this is how you are to pray:  Our Father, who art in heaven…

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Baptism Homilies Ordinary Time Prayer

The Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I have to say, when the Scriptures talk about prayer, I get a little uneasy. Not because I don’t like to pray, or think prayer is a bad thing. But more because I think mostly we misunderstand prayer, and usually a brief mention in the readings can do more harm than good. This week’s Gospel is a good example of that. The line almost at the end of the reading is the culprit: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”

Really? Anything? I don’t know about you, but I personally have an example of something that my friends and I had been praying about, and just this week it was denied. You can probably think of examples too. So what are we to make of this? Well, I’d like to make three points.

First, in the line right after this, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Notice how he says, “in my name.” So it’s not like a couple of us can get together and pray for something crazy and hold God accountable for granting it. If we’re gathered in anything less than the name of Jesus, we’re in the wrong place, and you don’t get what you want, or even what you need, when you’re in a place other than where Jesus is.

Second, reflecting on that same line, I would point out the last phrase: “there am I in the midst of them.” Sometimes God doesn’t answer all our prayers in the way we think he should. But he definitely always answers them with his presence. Sometimes that leads to resolution of a problem that is greater than we could have imagined. Sometimes it makes us a stronger, more faith-filled person. And sometimes the answer to a prayer means that we have to change, not the situation. So the abiding presence of our God, most perfectly experienced in community, when two are three are gathered in his name, is the most important answer to every prayer.

Finally – and I can’t say this often enough, nor stress it strongly enough – prayer is not a magic wand. You might read in this brief little passage that all you have to do is pray and you get it. Prayer is always experienced in relationship: relationship with God and relationship with others. That’s why this brief little passage mentions praying together, and praying in Jesus’ name. Those are important points, and it’s best not to overlook them.

Prayer is a relationship, prayer is work – sometimes hard work, prayer is a way of life for the disciple of Jesus. We enter that relationship at our Baptism, and it’s our task as disciples to nurture that relationship our whole lives long.

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Homilies Lent

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

So, there’s our mission statement for Lent: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Our righteousness needs to exceed that of everyone else, or we will be missing out on the kingdom of God.

So how far do we go with that?  Love our enemies?  Pray for those who persecute us?  I mean, that’s real easy to hear until we actually think about it, isn’t it?  Those people who gossip about us, cut us off in traffic, make a ruckus in our neighborhoods until all hours of the night, tell off-color jokes in social situations – well it’s nice to hold onto a grudge against them, isn’t it?  And are we supposed to be forgiving of terrorists, and all those people who hate us and our way of life?

Well, yes we are.  We are if we want to be called children of our heavenly Father.  And who doesn’t want that?  Who knows: maybe when we stop letting them irritate us and instead begin to pray for them and even forgive them, maybe then we will start seeing them in a new light.  They might not change, but we will, and we need to be concerned about our relationship with God – that’s what’s really at stake in all these situations.

Who do I need to forgive today?

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Monday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s first reading has always intrigued me, ever since I can remember hearing it as a child. God intends to destroy the city of Sodom because of its pervasive wickedness. Abraham, newly in relationship with God, stands up for the innocent of the city, largely because that was where his nephew, Lot, had taken up residence. In what seems to be a case of cosmic “Let’s Make a Deal,” Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if just fifty innocent people could be found there. God agrees and Abraham persists. Eventually God agrees to spare the city if just ten righteous people could be found in the city of Sodom.

It is important, I think, to know that Abraham’s prayer does not really change his unchangeable God. Instead, God always intended to spare the city if there were just people in it.  What I love about this reading is Abraham’s line, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!”  It seems Abraham is testing the relationship, seeing how far it will go.  What happens is that he learns something great about our unchanging God: he learns that, as the psalmist sings today, “The LORD is kind and merciful.”

All of this leads us to an important issue at stake for the praying disciple: that is, prayer must come out of a relationship with God.  Abraham may have been somewhat presumptuous to speak to God the way that he did.  But if he didn’t know God, if he didn’t have a relationship with God, well, then his conversation would have been completely offensive, wouldn’t it?  But he did know God, and was getting to know him better, so his pleas for the just people of Sodom were completely appropriate.

We too are called to relationship with God, a relationship that finds its source in our prayer.  We can persistently plead for loved ones, but we also have to spend time in adoration and praise and thanksgiving, and even quiet contemplation so that this most important of our relationships can grow.  The LORD is kind and merciful, and he longs to reveal his mercy as we come to him in prayer.