Homily All Saints Day November 1, 2015 Cycle B

“Who are these wearing white robes?” The question was asked by John, the author of the Book of Revelation that we heard proclaimed in the 1st reading. “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”

                Are they a bunch of chefs coming together for a chef’s convention, wearing their distinctive white shirts and pants? Or, maybe they’re a bunch of doctors coming together for a class on how to deal with the dreaded disease of cancer. Wearing their long white robes, like those six or seven doctors and interns I saw walking toward me the other day as I was walking the corridors of St. Vincent Hospital. Or, maybe they’re a group of priests wearing their white robes, concelebrating the Funeral Mass of a fellow, beloved priest who died after 50 years of faithfully serving the People of God. If I make 50 years in my white robe, I’ll be 95 years old. Which means I’m not going to make 50 years. At least I hope not! I’ll eat lots of Coney Island hot dogs to make sure I don’t make it!

                “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” asks St. John. Of course, they’re the martyrs in the very early Church, in the 1st century. The women and men who chose not to deny their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but instead chose to deny Caesar as Lord. They’re the ones who had the fortitude, courage and faith to stand their ground in the face of violent opposition to their beliefs in Jesus as Lord. So violent they would be fed to lions, clawed and mangled to death, or tortured in obscene other ways that the human mind can invent, yet knowing without question in their hearts that they would be standing in the presence of Jesus within a few moments.

                What if we were in that same situation right now? That in just a few moments you would be leaving this world – by way of torture or otherwise for your Christian faith – and be carried before Christ? What would be your response? We know what their response was. They rejoiced; they smiled; they welcomed it; they embraced their final moments without fear. Why? Because they had faith the size of a mustard seed.

                Who are these people, and where do they come from? They are the saints. And we are in need a few of them today to come marching in. To have no fear of the elements, the powers, and the evil in our world, and stand up tall for the name of Jesus Christ. We need a few of them today to show the rest of us the ways of humility and sincere compassion, a combination that was reserved for Blessed Mother Teresa. We need a few saints today, in this time of watering down Jesus Christ to just another human person who was a good guy, to grow our resolve where we are not ashamed to say to the world, “You are my Lord and Savior! And there is no other!” They can only be called a saint, the one who will proclaim such truth to the world, and not have any regard or concern for all this political correctness crap. And I’d like to use another word!

                “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I can tell you where they didn’t come from. They didn’t come from the rich and famous who feel the need to control the world to satisfy their ego. There are saints in the Communion who were rich and famous. St. Elizabeth of Hungary. St. Louis of France. (Not of Missouri…of France). A queen and a king. You can’t get much more rich and famous than this, when the entire kingdom is subject to you. But why are they saints? Because they either gave it all away, as Jesus instructed the rich young man who walked away sad. Or, they mastered the virtues of kindness and generosity. And that’s what a saint does. They master at least one virtue of Jesus, who is the Master of all virtues.

                Where did they come from? The answer is that almost all saints come from families like yours and mine. I know my 5 sisters are saintly…and a few of my brothers. They come from our families. God does great things with ordinary people. Look at the first ones; Peter and Andrew; James and John; four fishermen. You like to fish? You’re a saint!

                All the unknown – and just a few known – martyrs in the first centuries, while proclaiming Jesus as Lord, knew it was a deadly proposition. Almost all those thousands of people, both clergy and laity, were your next door neighbors. They were the family across the street. Nobody special in the eyes of the world. But chosen to be a witness to the truth. Some ran the other way. Some of them renounced their faith back then, just as some would do today if faced with a life-ending proposition. But the ones who held on to the hand of Jesus…I’d like to say that was all of us.

                All Saints Day is not about the popular, the famous, the physically fit, the wealthy, the great athletes, the perfect models with the perfect bodies. This would be the secular All Saints Day. All Saints Day in the Church is about the celebration of the common person who God does extraordinary things with. The common person on earth will be the upper class in heaven. It’s why Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must love common people. It’s why he made so many of them.”

                Blessed are you, common people, who are poor in spirit, for you will be rich in heaven. Blessed are you, common people, who mourn for your loved ones and friends, rather than wanting to see them dead because you want their inheritance. Blessed are you, Worcester people, 3-decker people, who are meek and leave God a path to enter your life. Blessed are you, Holden people, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are on the same side as the Creator of the stars. Blessed are you, families, who are merciful to your parents, your brothers and your sisters. Blessed are you, ladies, who are clean of heart, for you are the mirror image of God. Blessed are you, men, who are peacemakers, for you define what it means to be a man of God. Blessed are you, priests and deacons, who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for you walk in the steps of the martyrs who stood for truth. And, blessed are you, you common congregation, who are insulted and falsified as a Christian, for you will be privileged to drink from the same cup as Jesus drank from.

                “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” They are all the saints, and they come from our families and neighborhoods.       

Homily 30th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B October 25, 2015

“What do you want me to do for you?” The 2nd time in two weeks that question has been asked by Jesus.

Remember James and John last week: “Teacher, we want to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “What do you want me to do for you?” Too bad they weren’t Red Sox fans asking Jesus for a World Series. Instead, we have a couple of presumptuous brothers who thought they could push Jesus around. Hopefully, we don’t think the same, that we can push Jesus around. I feel much more secure in my faith if Jesus is pushing me around, because he can be fully trusted.

And the same arises this week from the lips of Jesus as recorded by the Gospel writer Mark: “What do you want me to do for you?” Instead of two Apostle brothers making their request in pride, we have a blind man making a request in humility, “Master, I want to see.” He teaches us how to pray.

First, by yelling at God at the top of his lungs: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” He gets Jesus’ attention, the Lord calls the blind man to himself, the request is softened in tone and sincere in heart: “Master, I want to see.”

There’s the story of a holy monk who was born blind. But because of his deep holiness, the Abbot accepted him into the community of Benedictines. The Abbot figured this holy man could pray for all the needs of the monastery in his deeply close and personal relationship with God. “We’ll ask him to pray that we become and remain financially secure, so we don’t have to close our doors,” the Abbot thought. “Maybe we can get him to pray to God that we sell enough beer to help sustain our financial well-being. Also, maybe that holy man who wants to be a monk can pray for our security, that no one will break in and attack us, or burn down the monastery in this day and age of hatred for religion.” “Maybe he can pray,” the Abbot thought, “for our good health and well-being, for our entire community, so that our infirmary will not have to be used all that much. After all, we know how expensive heath care happens to be these days, and the more we can keep our sick brothers out of the infirmary, the more finances we’ll have to support the beer-selling and pay the winter heating bills.” “And,” the Abbot thought, “maybe this holy blind man who wants to be a monk will pray for his Abbot, that I don’t conduct myself like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, but instead like Bartimeaus, whose blindness made him humble before Jesus.” Too late on that one.

So he was accepted into the Benedictine community as a novice, as a beginner with high hopes on the part of the Abbot. What he may have forgotten about the blind man is that he had a voice. A very loud voice. Each night in his room, in the quiet of the monastery, the blind man would yell out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!” And he would yell it over and over again, like 20 times a night. “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me,” where all the other sleeping monks on the floor could easily hear him.

Initially, they thought someone was getting murdered, his voice was so loud and full of fear. Then they realized it was the blind novice who was supposed to pray in silence – at least according to the Abbot. Every night, at least 20 times, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Finally, the rest of them started to rebuke the blind man, all the other monks. They needed their sleep to work productively in the beer factory and the St. Willie Wonka chocolate factory. It got to the point where the Abbot asked himself, “Why did I let this guy in? He’s a menace to our community. He’s disrupting our entire community!”

Finally, over a period of time, the voice became softer at night. The blind novice still prayed, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” It was then that everyone else in the monastery realized that the quieter his voice became, the closer was Jesus’ presence. They realized the blind novice, in the softness of his voice, was literally sitting before Christ. His voice became like God’s voice. It became a tiny whispering sound that by its sheer volume became an invitation for the Savior to stand before him.

Bartimeaus is, before all else, a man of prayer. He gives to us a spiritual process, one perfect lesson, a beautiful prayer. And how to get the Lord’s attention. When at a distance from Jesus he feels the need to yell. To scream and be heard by everyone on the floor. To cry out. To shout. To be heard by way of sheer volume. The need to petition so loudly that everyone within earshot and beyond will hear, and there’s no concern on his part for who hears him. Have you noticed that the further people’s lives are away from God, the louder they need to yell to get His attention?

But over time the voice softens. “He’s calling you,” they tell him. The softening voice is a sign that the one who is praying is experiencing the closeness of God. As we live and pray over the years, I pray that our voices soften, knowing that Jesus is real close, rather than the desperation of crying and screaming for God’s attention that is ever present in the silence of our hearts. And to always have in our lives this movement of Bartimeaus, who threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus, where there’s no need to scream.

From loudness to soft prayer. From distance to closeness. From fear to healing and peace. From death to life.

The blind novice is Bartimeaus, who teaches us how to speak to the Lord over the span of a lifetime, until we stand before the face of Christ.

“What do you want me to do for you?” “Teach us, Lord, to soften our voices and trust that you are near.”

 

29th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B October 18, 2015

Is it possible to get too close to Jesus? It seems that’s what the other 10 are indignant about. Or is it?

Is there a difference between wanting to be close to Jesus at his right and left, and desiring a position of power so that everyone in eternity can check out your fancy throne and admire your loftiness? The answer is “Yes, there’s quite a difference.”

Jesus is very clear in his teaching on how to relate to others as his disciples. Don’t lord it over others, but instead be of service. Be a servant. Not easy, huh?

When we reflect on these two ways of relating, it’s fascinating to think that the Lord of the universe, the Son of God, says that his life will be the perfect example of – not lording it over others, but of service. You would think that the one we call Lord would be lording it over all creation. But his way is a way of service.

What James and John seek from Jesus in their request of position goes well past even their position as Apostles of the Lord. Their desire for attention and power in eternity goes well beyond their call as Apostles. So far beyond that they will expect to be waited on rather than be Apostles of service for Christ.

There are many jobs today in our labor force that strongly connect to the words of Jesus, and how we as Christians move through life with a sense of service and not lordship. Certainly, police and firefighters would be near the top of the list, as well as those in military service. To be true to their profession requires a Christian approach to their life’s work. Yes, they do it for a paycheck. But unless they are willing to protect our communities and respond to the needs of those in distress, then they will never be effective in their labor.

They are jobs of service first and foremost. Remove the element of service as primary, remove the mindset of service as their first priority, and they become James and John in this Gospel. They become brothers who want the easy way out. And Christians are not to take the easy way out in life. We are to dive into our communities, get our hands dirty as Pope Francis says, and pick up each other where picking up is needed. And to do so on the spot!

For example, what if a call came in for Engine 3 down here at fire headquarters on Grove St., and the call was to respond to a car accident; a car has flipped over on Millbrook St. on that first sharp turn near Burncoat St. And one of the 4 guys assigned to Engine 3 is upstairs in the station watching Jeopardy. And Final Jeopardy has been asked by Alex Trebec. This 4th guy on Engine 3 thinks he knows the answer, but he’s not certain. Jeopardy goes off to their commercials, the call for the accident comes in, and the 4th guy on Engine 3 decides to wait around because he needs to know what the final Jeopardy answer is, while the other 3 guys on Engine 3 are sliding down the pole of running down the stairs to respond to the car accident as quickly as possible, while this guy named James or John is up there at the right of Jesus on the couch waiting for the Final Jeopardy answer. He got the answer wrong! Thankfully, there are no Firefighters on the Worcester Fire Department who would do such a thing. Unless you know better than I do.

So Jesus speaks of service, and sometimes quickly, on the spot.

But, he also speaks of a particular cup and a specific baptism for James, John, and the rest of us. Drinking the cup of Jesus can be experienced and manifested in a few different ways. First of all, by way of suffering for the faith. Many continue to be persecuted today for being Christian. Such persecution can take on physical violence to the point of death. This is what happens to the Apostles later on, where Jesus’ prediction for them comes true in their martyrdom.

Or, it can be verbal persecution, of which there is much today, for not subscribing to the sinful ways of our culture. Such verbal persecution may come from people we know well. Such as what is marriage in the eyes of God. Marriage is a sacred relationship between one man and one woman; it is Adam and Eve. Anything outside of that sacred relationship formed from the dust of the earth by the hand of God is not marriage in the eyes of God. And your reward for putting forth God’s truth of this holy Sacrament, you will be labeled with all sorts of derogatory names. You will drink your cup of persecution from people you know, the very same cup that Jesus drank from because they didn’t want to hear the truth back then either.

So drinking the cup of Jesus can take on many different looks. But drinking from the same cup that Jesus drank from on the Cross is grounded in the courage to live Christian truth, to be of service to the Lord, and not subscribe to the ways of James and John, who are puffed up with pride.

And to be baptized in the same baptism as Jesus? What does this mean? For James and John and the rest of this chosen crew it meant they were going to die at hands of evil men for his name. That the evil forces of this world with all kinds of ego issues were going to kill them for proclaiming the name of Jesus as Lord. It came to pass. Even in our country, the land of the free and the brave, we’re not very far from the death of Christians dying for the name of Jesus Christ.

For us, the persecutions around the globe tell us that Christians still die for his name. We haven’t advanced in the ways of civility very much since the time of Jesus and the Apostles. For most of us though, we are need to make certain that we die in his name. The martyrs die for Christ. We are to die in Christ. In other words, on the day we depart for higher grounds, we die as believers who serve the Lord in our brothers and sisters. Too many people die angry at someone or at others. Make sure that doesn’t happen. Forgiveness is the greatest service we can offer to God. Practicing forgiveness and mercy is to be baptized into the baptism of Jesus, who, just moments away from his death, spoke his final prayer to his Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Is it possible to get too close to Jesus? Not really. But the closer we get, expect more persecution in the name of the One who Lord and Savior.

Homily 27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B October 4, 2015

There’s a swell that’s rising in our present time. And the swell of noise is centered on the promotion and protection of the family as the foundation of a healthy society.

It’s a swell, a voice, a rumbling, an old teaching returning that is gaining momentum over the months and years. We could say Pope Francis is in the midst of the rumbling, since he was a bouncer prior to becoming a priest. He’s the kind of spiritual leader who knows firsthand what rumbling is all about.

But it didn’t begin with His Holiness. We have to go back 2, 3, 4 Popes to find the source of this present wave known as the family gaining momentum, which will eventually become a tidal wave, I believe. Pope Francis has been handed the baton like one sprinter hands it off to another in a relay race. But what he’s done and what he’s doing with his leg of the race as the Vicar of Christ is to get the rest of the world to notice this wave known as the family, and how the family unit is the center of any joyful society. It’ doesn’t come a moment too soon as we’ve witnessed the disintegration, the breakup, and the very odd definitions our present culture has attached to the word “family.”

Many have accepted today the notion that a couple getting a divorce is pretty routine business today. Our civil laws today, which even many Catholics think they are the superior laws, even above God’s law found in the Church, our civil laws today, along with our civil courts, give every reason for us to believe in easy divorce. Divorce is not so hard to procure in today’s legal system, when compared to not so long ago, when some married couples were instructed – by the legal system (not by the Church) – to go back and work it out. Give it another shot. But not today. Today, if a spouse wakes up in the morning, and instead of saying “Good morning honey,” they instead say, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore,” they get what they want. The system eventually backs them up in their terrible decision. And those fateful words, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore,” happen every day.

Some of us priests and deacons will be shy and apprehensive about preaching this Gospel of Jesus on marriage and children, with all that’s going on in our culture with regard to marriage, divorce, and the breakdown of the family. A Gospel where Jesus’ words are so honest on what constitutes marriage and family in the eyes of God. Some of us in the black clothes and white collar will either stay away from the truth of Christ because they will either personally disagree with the words of our Lord, or, intentionally misrepresent our Lord to their own personal beliefs. Such are the times we live in. Instead, the good People of God deserve the truth of Jesus Christ, and you deserve honesty. For it’s only through teaching Christian truth with honest presentation that serious issues with the family can begin to be solved for the good of individuals and our communities. And the words of Jesus Christ must be at the heart of any problem solving. Pope Francis would be the first one to tell us that.

What we heard proclaimed today, in both Genesis and the 10th chapter of Mark’s Gospel is the profoundly beautiful teaching of Jesus on family.

“A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Those words signify Mr. + Mrs. And what I say to couples on their wedding day, for those who actually come to God’s Church to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony, is that today, their wedding day, they create a new family in Mr. +Mrs. Even if they already have children! They are creating a new family after they speak their vows and exchange their rings. God calls us to this, not to tell us what to do because we can’t figure it out…but because he desires our happiness. Any misery is not found in marriage. Misery is found in couples who avoid a lifetime commitment. Two people don’t get married to become miserable. There are much cheaper and less hurtful ways to become miserable. Just become a Red Sox fan! That doesn’t cost much. And you can leave then anytime you want!

Those who refuse marriage – and it’s usually the guy – they will never know the true happiness that potentially awaits in God’s call of the two becoming one flesh.

This is why couples who live together outside of marriage, it’s why they need to figure out quickly if marriage is in their future. It doesn’t serve them to live in such a relationship. And it definitely does not serve the best interests of our communities if they remain in that situation under the pretense of avoiding marriage. Cohabitation has become a normal, accepted way of relating, and we as a religion and society are in serious need of breaking that cycle.

The way to do so is to have the courage to come back to the words of Jesus, and know that what the Lord teaches is the fulfillment of that relationship of love. Many couples today, including many Catholic couples, settle for the unfulfilling appetizer of cohabitation, when Jesus promises a feast on the fulfilling meal of Sacramental marriage. It’s why this Gospel is so beautiful. Because Jesus presents to us the surest way to happiness and joy. Not without lots of hard work, struggles, differences, good times and bad.

And for couples who are blessed with children without the other blessing of marriage, where it is possible, he needs to “leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, so that the two may become one flesh,” permanently. They’ve become one flesh if they already have a child or two. I understand my biology. But there’s a world of difference between becoming one flesh physically, and one flesh in God.

For the readings this weekend, I touch on the very difficult issues of divorce, cohabitation, and children outside of marriage because they’re 3 of the larger issues that affect the makeup of family in today’s culture. My touching on them is not for the purpose of criticizing anyone. But for bringing to light the words of Christ and how he offers us, not a better way, but the best way of relating as family in relation to marriage and children.

Pope Francis is putting his best foot forward to change for the better such lifestyles that affect families. More so through the virtue of mercy than anything else. May he see success in this area. The words of Jesus on marriage and children are beautiful words. “The two shall become one flesh.” “Let the children come to me.” Those words are the path to genuine happiness, not for all, for not all are called to marriage, but they are the path to happiness for many Christians and others today.

It’s becoming, I pray, a wave that is gaining strength. It’s just what our culture needs, and what we as Christians are to promote.