Homily The Ascension of our Lord May 29, 2014

Well, the Red Sox finally won a baseball game the other night. It ended an awful 10-game losing streak, being their worst one going back 20 years to 1994. They became so frustrated with losing, that during their 10th loss they had a brawl against their division rival the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fortunately, no one was apparently hurt, except for a few egos that were tossed out of the game. But this is what can happen when extended losing sets in for professional athletes who are used to winning all the time. During the course of their playing careers they’ve been the best at each level, be it high school, college, or summer leagues. Losing is a hard fact to deal with when you’re used to winning all the time.

Speaking of winning all the time, the Eleven Disciples, who were used to losing quite a bit before they met Jesus, and even some after being chosen by our Lord, now get to celebrate and rejoice. Not just here and there. Not once in a while. Not once in a blue moon. Or a red moon. Or a green moon. But always. “Rejoice always,” writes St. Paul. And in case we didn’t hear him the first time, he writes, “I say it again, rejoice.”

The Feast of Jesus Ascending into heaven is the start of fulltime, nonstop rejoicing for the Eleven. Actually, it starts with the resurrection. But there were moments when the Eleven remained frightful and not sure if Jesus was actually a ghost. Or a copy of his former self.

Ironically, rejoicing always, which is the visible state of our Christian faith, is initiated by Jesus’ departure. When the Lord ascends, our responsibility of bringing the Good News to a desperate world increases a hundredfold. We are entrusted by the Lord to labor in his vineyard, until the day we no longer can.

Our Lord’s Ascension is cause for fulltime rejoicing because it’s now our feet, our hands, and our voices that deliver the news. It’s not up to ABC, or NBC, or CNN, or Fox to deliver our news. They all have their version of what constitutes news. Once in a while it’s good. Many times it isn’t. Once in a while there’s cause for rejoicing, like when someone’s life is saved by another person’s heroism. But way too many times the news is bad news, connected to violence, the weather, the stock market, or government scandals. Or even Church scandals.

As Christians, the Ascension of our Lord is the push, the impetus, and the force that commands us to rejoice in doing the works of God, in like manner of Peter, Paul, and the rest of the Disciples and all the Saints. As Jesus physically goes, and we physically stay, we are provided the power of the Spirit to do the Lord’s good works, and speak the Lord’s good teachings.

While our beloved Red Sox languish in last place for the moment, hoping there are more winning days and better times of rejoicing ahead, we as followers of Jesus Christ never languish in the basement of gloom and brawls. There’s a reason why Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation is called The Joy of the Gospel.

                We live in hope, filled with joy, knowing Jesus has generously sent his Spirit. And, that our Lord counts on us to be his representatives of love and peace, of which we are to rejoice always.

6th Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 25, 2014

“I will not leave you orphans.”

These words of Jesus are a source of comfort, for sure. But they are also a real struggle for many people today. It makes me wonder if this is why atheism seems to be growing and becoming more accepted into the hearts, minds, and lives of both the old and young in today’s culture. Is it because they feel like orphans who have been somehow abandoned? Is it because the manifestation of God’s presence is not explicit enough? Are we starving today for the type of relationship with God that Moses had? Where Moses spoke face to face with God, like one person talking to another?

“I will not leave you orphans.”

Why does Jesus even feel the need to tell the Disciples such a thing? He should be allowed to just scoot off to heaven this coming Thursday, just fly off into the white puffy clouds, or the dark rainy clouds this spring, and make his presence known through the works of the Apostles. Let them do all the work! Shouldn’t that be enough for everyone? Apparently it isn’t!

Look at Philip in this 1st reading today. He goes down to Samaria where the crowds paid attention to what he said, meaning he had them in the palm of his hand. He was stirring their hearts, along with performing great signs in curing the sick and telling the demons to get lost. And they listened. Apparently, this is not enough. Because our Lord finds it necessary to tell them – and us – that he will not leave us orphans.

What is an orphan? An orphan is a child who has no parents for a whole boatload of reasons. Webster’s Dictionary defines an orphan as a child whose parents are dead. But that’s only one reason. Maybe Mr. Webster ran out of space. Orphans can also be created when their parents are dealing with their own issues, be it financial or addiction. Or, the parents or a single parent are not in a situation in their lives where they can provide the best care for their child. So, the need to give the child a better chance in life with other “parents.” In some cases, such a move is made out of love.

A worldly orphan, where the community and the state unite for the solemn responsibility of ensuring that every child is cared for in ways that serve the good of the child, is a potentially good situation in the end. The intention is good, that being to serve the needs of an orphan child. It’s good on paper. As we know, though, this does not always produce the best results for the child. We are always dealing with human beings who fall short, as we all do. But in many cases, an orphan child who becomes the custody of other parents, where there is a mother and a father role model, the child is better served than if they had remained with their biological parents. No system is perfect, except in heaven. Heaven is the only perfect, eternal system of love.

But with Jesus, not leaving us orphans goes much, much deeper than what our community and state does. Our Lord’s “orphanage,” if you will, is much wider in scope. It touches on our eternal well-being.

The disciples are at a point in their time spent with Jesus where they need to know his leaving them is not fatal or final. If Jesus said to the Disciples back then, or to us today, “I have to go, and where I am going you cannot follow. Not today, not tomorrow, not until you die. I’m leaving you for good, and you won’t know of my presence until after your death. I’m leaving you alone in this life because the world hates me! I’m leaving because my sports team cannot win a world championship! And when I leave, I wish you all the best with your lives. Have a nice day!”

That’s the sort of “god” that increases the number of atheists. That’s the sort of “god” who is not love, but one who abandons because of weakness and excuses. That’s the sort of “god” who builds a world on sand. Because the wind of hatred came along, and the rain of persecution poured down, and snow of accusation fell upon him, and he caved in. He couldn’t handle the bad side of humanity.

This is all the antithesis of Jesus Christ, whose Spirit pervades the world, looking for children to love and guide. The Spirit of parenting, who helps us to grow and mature in faith.

The reasons Jesus will not now, and will not ever leave us orphans, is twofold. First, because he is faithful and true. God is not a deceiver, like the enemy is. If His presence disappeared from our lives for even a moment, we would cease to exist. His breath allows us to breathe, literally. He produces the oxygen we inhale, scientifically. God is the mother of all scientists.

Our Lord will not leave us orphans because God is love. Love remains, and never departs. The proof, if we are in search of some, is found in the sacramental life of the Church. The Eucharist is visual proof that we are not orphans, for the heart with faith. The word of God is proof we have no need to ever walk toward atheism, for God’s voice is alive in the word. Baptism is proof we are called eternally. We die and rise with Christ. Those who walk away from the weekly sacramental life of the Church are allowing themselves to become orphans. Christ wants to change that, while respecting our free will.

And second, the other reason Jesus will not abandon us to orphanage living is because of the alternative. The alternative is we become sons and daughters and lovers of a passing world. Without Christ right now, we become worldly, mortal, and victims of death. If Jesus left us orphans, we would destroy each other. Rather, the commandment is to love each other. To make a passing world a better place. To enjoy the goodness of God’s creating hand. To address the needs of the poor, the lonely, the disenfranchised. Such acts of love are further proof that our Lord is with us.

We are not orphans. We are not atheists. We are God-fearing people called to reveal to the world that we do indeed have a common Parent and Guide, Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

5th Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 18, 2014

Many people can take a lifetime trying to figure out who they are and where it is they wish to go. Confusion or uncertainty about oneself in one’s life is not always a good place to be.

I enjoy watching sports for sport. And the more sports I watch today it seems like the more tattoos I see. On arms, legs, heads, necks, and torsos – and these are the areas you can see. It seems like tattoo parlors are making a bundle off of people who feel the need to figure out who they are and where they wish to go. In order to establish their individual purpose. Or stake a human claim of individuality.

The last time I checked there were no two people on the planet who were the exact same in every detail – anywhere. Some people may look similar, be it siblings or another person a few towns over who can be mistaken for you. Identical twins look the same, but they differ vastly in personality and other areas of DNA.

I remember someone from my first assigned parish  (I’ve only had two) telling me that when they were in Ireland a few years ago, she saw a police officer standing on the side of the road. And the woman from Christ the King said to her friend who was also from Christ the King, “O my goodness, who does that cop look like?” And her friend replied, “O my goodness, that’s Fr. Riley! That’s his twin!”

First of all, I can tell you with all certainty that I’ve never bilocated to the green country of Ireland. If I could I would not have been a cop standing on the side of the road watching all the people go by. I would bilocate to the nicest golf course in Ireland , probably wearing knickers and an Irish cap. And secondly, even if that upholder of the law looked like me, I doubt very much he had my sparkling personality, or 15 siblings.

The point being that no two people are alike, even if they look alike. We all have our God-given and God-created individuality from the moment of conception. It’s an individuality that flows from the heart and mind of God, expressing the infinite ways of variety in which God has created each person. There are some similarities, but we don’t need tattoos or pierced tongues or noses to help create our individual person that already exists by virtue of God’s work.

In the Gospel, on this 5th Sunday of Easter, Jesus tells the Disciples that they know the way to where he is going. Where is he going? Well, he’s going to heaven a week from this coming Thursday called Ascension Thursday. 40 days after his Resurrection. A nice number that looks the same as the amount of time Jesus spent fasting in the desert at the start of his public ministry. Except for these 40 days Jesus was not fasting. He was eating and drinking with those he appeared to. Why? So they would know – believe it or not – that he was not a ghost. That he was not some other form of life, or someone else who looked like him, someone with a tattoo, or dressed up as an Irish cop, but really wasn’t him. He ate and drank with them so they could see and hear that this Resurrected Person really was Jesus in the flesh, and not some pretender, imposter, or his double stunt man.

This is important for us because we need to be able to trust that Jesus is not an imposter or pretender if we are to be his disciples and do his bidding in this world. A life that is unique in each one of us –reflecting the beauty and width of God’s imagination – has the full capacity to make our Christian mark, and leave our Christian seal. By trusting and accepting into our words and deeds that the Risen Jesus is not some similar looking person from the One the Disciples knew for three years before his death, then we are drawn more and more into his way.

We do well to guard against taking advantage of this; telling ourselves that we know who Jesus is. Because it’s a heavenly grace to know that our Lord is for real, and that there is only one of him, and only one way to the Father. To know that he is raised and never dies again. That he is the Divine Word made flesh from Annunciation to Ascension.

Because truth be told, there are many who struggle (maybe even a few here) with some unique part of the Person of Jesus. We live in a time and history and surrounded by a culture that has little or no hesitation when it comes to profaning the truths of our Lord’s uniqueness. The Black Mass that almost happened at the prestigious Harvard University is just one example of some really intelligent people acting in not so intelligent and very dangerous ways. When Jesus says that he is the Way, what the Harvard folks were so eager to perform is not the way of Christ. Because if anyone wants to play games with the Devil, he is more than happy to oblige. And he will win, because he’s far stronger than the person who rejects Jesus Christ.

So it’s understandable that Jesus seems to get a little perturbed at Philip in the Gospel when Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father. Jesus seemingly being perturbed is a result of Philip, after spending lots of time with the Lord, still not knowing the truth of the Messiah. That he and the Father are one. That the Father dwells in him, and that when Jesus speaks, the Father is speaking through him in this intimate, unique relationship of pure love.

So what we can take with us on this 5th Sunday of Easter is the message that are created and born unique, thanks to God; that we are disciples of Christ in our uniqueness; that in order to remain disciples and be effective disciples in word and deed we need to know the way; that knowing the way means to surround our lives with the true teachings of our faith, and not some belief system that pretends to be God when in fact it is doing the bidding of the Father of Lies; and, that the path we presently travel has the greatest potential for doing what is good and proper in the eyes of God.

No tattoos, no piercings, no pretenders or lookalikes needed. There’s only one Way, and his name is Christ the Lord.

4th Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 11, 2014

In our Catholic faith, we have been blessed over the centuries to have for our understanding and knowledge many saints who have entered through certain gates with their lives. We hold them in high esteem, as we should, for being living examples of the direction our lives are in need of traveling. We hopefully try to capture some of the paths they have walked, and incorporate such blessedness into our own daily living.

When in Italy a couple weeks ago, our tour was fortunate to visit, experience, and be present in the areas where a few of the great saints spent much of their lives in service to God. Their daily worship and relationship with our Lord are natural Christian examples for us who desire to live a life for Christ also. For us who seek to enter the gate that opens Divine presence to our world, and not those gates that lead to spiritual suffocation and false happiness that surround us.

For example, after leaving Rome and the likes of St. Peter and St. Paul after a few days, whose lives both entered through the gate of martyrdom, we moved on to the monastery at Monte Cassino, where there was no casino, but rather the brother and sister saints of Benedict and Scholastica. The monastery was on top of a very high hill. The bus taking us up the hill had to make many wide turns back and forth, riding along an edge where, if the bus drifted a few feet to the right or left, well, someone else would be preaching to you today.

St. Benedict is known for the Rule of Benedict. Checking into just a handful of the rules, Benedict stresses the instruments of good works, obedience, the spirit of silence, the virtue of humility, and reverence in prayer, just to name a few of the rules. These “rules,” if you will, are examples of the Spirit of God working in and through the life of St. Benedict. When we enter through each of these gates in our lives, we enter through the gate of Jesus. And who of us does not want in our lives a spirit of silence among the busyness of our fast-paced world, or to perform good works in the name of our Savior, or to have reverence in prayer? Entering through such gates is proof that the Lord is alive in us. They are golden gates where we discover the Good Shepherd.

And St. Scholastica, who had such a profound love for God that she could call on the Lord to act on the spot at her request, and He would. It’s almost like God was at the service of St. Scholastica, and not the other way around. This is what faith can and will do. Jesus is very clear; it will move mountains. The capacity in our lives to move a mountain, such as a mountain of unbelief, or a mountain of doubt, or a mountain of worldly possessions, such capacity is found through the gate of faith. Faith that our Lord is Lord, and that he is alive, both now and forever.

From Monte Cassino, where there is no casino, our tour moved on to St. Padre Pio of Petrilcina. Now this is a gate of Jesus you really want to enter! In St. Pio’s life we find the gate of simplicity (being a Franciscan); the gate of miracles, where our Lord performed countless ones through Padre Pio during his lifetime that ended in 1968. There is the gate of laughter and a wonderful sense of humor that St. Pio was known for, because God knows we all need to be able to look in the mirror and laugh at ourselves, along with others. Also, St. Pio entered the gate of Confession, for something like 16 hours a day, for many days. Interestingly enough, toward the end of his life he called himself the biggest sinner in the world. That’s either false humility or its genuine humility. I suspect it was genuine.

Also, St. Pio has entered through a few of the Lord’s gates that most of us will not. They are gates far up the road of salvation, yet they are so close to Jesus. First, there’s the gate of incorruptibility. As Jesus’ body knew no corruption in the grave, one can view the incorrupt body of Padre Pio. As I sat in a pew and reflected on this amazing sight, I couldn’t help but think that he awaits only the resurrection of the body. Second, he entered through the gate of bilocation. I suppose it would be nice to be in two places at the same time. But if we could, we would probably use that gift for worldly purposes, and not for heavenly purposes. And third, in today’s 2nd reading from St. Peter we heard the words proclaimed, “By his wounds you have been healed.” Those same wounds that heal our bodies and souls were on the body of St. Pio, known as the stigmata. I’m sure most of us would not want to enter through this gate as a result of the pain alone that accompanies such revelation. But there is much for us to gain by meditating on the wounds of Christ on the body of Padre Pio.

And lastly, we moved on to Assisi, where we entered through the gate of the Good Shepherd and visited the resting places of Sts. Francis and Clare.

St. Francis, of course, shows us the way through the Lord’s gate of poverty. This is good for us. This is the gate where no u-hauls and no Brinks trucks are allowed. Not because they are too big and cannot fit through the gate, but because they are actually too small. When we enter through our Lord’s gate of poverty, all the world’s possessions are swallowed up and consumed at this gate, leaving only what is essential in the eyes of God; that being ourselves.

And St. Clare, much like St. Francis, entered through the gate of holiness at a very young age and never looked back. She’s a model of Mary, our Lord’s Mother, on Mother’s Day. Clare’s was a life dedicated to serving and knowing her Creator. This is necessary for all of us to one degree or another. To have an awareness of who we are and where we are going.

Jesus is the Gate, he is the Good Shepherd. We are blessed in the Church to have many examples of Saints who lead us to the many other Christian gates through which we can enter, now that we have entered through the Gate of Christ in our lives.