Homily 4th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A January 29, 2017

St. Paul, as always, offers some pretty solid advice in his letter to the Corinthian Christians; “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

                Brag not about your local professional football team and how good they area as a team of individuals coming together as one to win the biggest game of the year. Boast not about your accomplishments in such ways where we actually fall into the trap of believing we are the source and inventor of good results on our own. Boast not of your children and grandchildren without understanding the power and presence of God living and moving and possessing their being. Isn’t that such a great thought? That God is living in and moving the beauty and innocence of children? And, boast not in your faith that will lead you to the face of God, as well as the faces of those you love so deeply, unless we’re certain of where such faith originates. Boast, rather, in the Lord. Which is the seed of humility.

                Back about 7 or 8 years ago now, I stood on this very mountain where Jesus spoke the Beatitudes. That’s not a boast. Appropriately, it’s called the Mount of Beatitudes. It’s a small mountain that overlooks a portion of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, a most serene setting for the area where Jesus delivered what many call today his social gospel. It’s a name for these teachings which is fine, as long as the Gospel of Christ is not restricted to the words spoken on the Mount of Beatitudes.

                The teachings of our Lord of how we as Christians are to interact with the rest of humanity are without question central to defining who Christ is. But they are not the center of who Christ is. The center of Jesus Christ is the Cross of Christ, of which St. Paul glories in. His death on the Cross is the ultimate purpose of his birth. And from his sacrificial act on the Cross flow these heavenly teachings that we are to embrace and practice throughout the entirety of our weeks, days, and hours. Not one day a week, as the present culture so wrongfully suggests. But each hour of each day.

                Without Jesus carrying a Cross and dying for the salvation of our souls, the beatitudes would be relegated to the category of nice sounding words. Or, teachings to possibly consider. Of which they are much more.

Instead, the beatitudes are teachings of boasting, because when we choose to live as peacemakers, people who sincerely desire peace in our families, communities, nation and world, we are boasting in the Lord. Think about that simple thought; to seek peace is to boast in the Lord.

To extend mercy is an act of boasting in God. Because arrogant, prideful people who are obstinate will never in a thousand years extend an act of mercy to a family member or stranger. Acts of mercy directed at someone has the power to bring others to conversion, as well as ourselves. To offer forgiveness is to brag about Jesus Christ. The olive branch is a boasting branch.

What did Jesus say as he hung on the Cross, looking directly down on those who put him up there? “Father, forgive them for being stupid people. They don’t know what they do.” I know, Jesus didn’t call them stupid people, but he might as well have. I would like to say Jesus was making an excuse for their violent ways, but I can’t say that because Jesus always spoke the truth. They really didn’t know the depth of what they were doing. So he pled for mercy to be granted to them. He boasted in his Father and himself.

On that pastoral setting on the Mount of Beatitudes were spoken words that seek to cause us to look internally and ask, “Where do I need God’s boasting the most? Where can I make the biggest difference at any given time?” Because every one of these beatitudes will arise before us, challenging our capacity to boast in the Lord, or to boast in ourselves. To boast in grace, or to boast in sin. And God knows there is much boasting in sin today. I hear much of it when I’m in civilian clothes and they have no idea what I do for a living.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” still echoes off the mountain in present day northern Israel, carrying over the waters of the Sea of Galilee, as well as the Atlantic Ocean to America. To live a life of simplicity rather than one that gets caught up in a complicated world. To live the fundamental, simple truth that God is love. Those three words will always uncomplicate our lives when the worst levels of uncertainty can be upon us. To live “God is love,” is to boast in the Lord.

I’ve been part of enough funerals now where mourning the loss of the deceased has been deep and very painful. A pain that remains for good. Blessed are you if you mourn, because if you mourn and love greatly, you boast in the Lord. If you don’t mourn, then you’re either a robot or you’re Irish. But alas, even the Irish mourn. When you mourn because of heartfelt love, you boast in the Lord. That hole you carry in your heart is proof of your bosting in the Lord. He wept outside of the grave of Lazarus with Mary and Martha, the dead man’s sisters. Then he filled the hole in every heart present that day by raising his friend from the grave. The 2 sisters boasted in their mourning; Jesus boasted in his power.

It’s a beautiful setting in Israel. I pray some of you get to see it one day if you haven’t already. It’s a social gospel for sure. But it’s much more than that. The beatitudes are words of boasting. Boasting that Christ is our driver. Driving us from the Mount of Beatitudes to the place we call eternal, living out his many blessings along the way.  

Homily 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A January 22, 2017

When we begin Lent this year on March 1, Ash Wednesday, in about 1-1/2 months, and just a few weeks after the Patriots win the Super Bowl on February 5, we will hear early on in Lent how the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. It wasn’t in a Mercedes or a Mustang Convertible, although Jesus is worthy of such treatment. The Spirit drove the Son of God into the desert by way of his breath.

                It was the holy breath of the Holy Spirit that pushed Jesus toward hunger, thirst, fasting, and preparation for ministry of healing and love. As we know how the story finishes, many people ended up rejecting him for many different reasons, none of them good reasons. Such rejection is not foreign to the 21st century, as we also know.

                In today’s Gospel, though, we see another instance where an event happens that causes Jesus to withdraw from one place to another. Today, people move from one place to another because of work, or because of a good school district for their children, or because they want to upgrade their living conditions, or because they want to be closer to family. There’s a few that withdraw to escape family.

                Jesus’s reason for withdrawing is a bit more unusual. He withdraws because he heard that John the Baptist had been arrested. On the surface, it would appear that Jesus is running away. “I better get out of this district before they come after me too.” However, Jesus was never fearful of the authorities of his time. He knew that God was on his side. We see this when our Lord stands before Pilate a few years later in his life. Pilate says to Jesus, “Do you know I have the power to release you, and let you go?” Our Lord’s response? “You would have no power unless it were given to you from above.”

                Jesus never feared human authority, and neither should we. We respect human authority for what it is. The peace and order to our society it’s meant to bring. But human authority should never, ever cause us to withdraw from our faith, because we fear the consequences of living our faith.

                Also, Jesus never treated himself like a criminal. That’s not why he withdrew. Like a robber who runs away from the scene of their crime. Today, all sorts of names are bandied about at Christians in our secular culture who seek to live and preach every aspect of our faith. At times, they’re treated and made to feel like criminals. Don’t treat yourself like a criminal when you live out your faith. Because you’re not a criminal. Don’t withdraw from your precious pearl, your faith in Christ, because of the harsh words of other people who disagree with longstanding Christian teaching.

                Jesus withdrew after John was arrested, not to escape the authorities, but to begin in earnest his ministry and the purpose of his birth. The time for practice was over. When John got arrested, Jesus knew his relative was not coming back. He knew John’s life would end in prison. Now, it was his turn to bring people to the Father with the words, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

                Full steam ahead. That’s what Jesus’ withdrawing signifies; not cowering or hiding, but full steam ahead. Full steam ahead with the message of repentance, mercy, healing, salvation. All the good things God has promised to us. This is such an important thing for our faith lives.

                We may take a step or two backwards because of personal struggles. The loss of loved ones; addiction; unemployment; financial woes; the feeling of a spiritual void, which Moher Teresa had. These are understandable backward steps as connected to our faith. These are legitimate reasons for a faith struggle. We pray that God’s grace and the power of the Spirit will bring us back to full steam ahead.

                But may we never withdraw from our faith, or even take a step or two backwards, because of personal attacks, or labels, or vicious verbal words. Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton. Was he hurt by these words? Probably. He was fully human. But full steam ahead.

                When Jesus withdraws from Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, his first word is “Repent.” What a beautiful word. I’m glad you agree. His mission begins with God’s open invitation for forgiveness. That open invitation remains today for us to take advantage of. His forgiveness through our seeking of repentance gives us the grace to move ahead with our faith in a world that is not too crazy about religion. Our world is crazy about money, fame, politics, and football teams, and sports in general. But much less so about religion nowadays. Without repentance, it is impossible to advance in our faith.

                From the invitation of repentance, Jesus moves to calling. Peter and Andrew; James and John. “Leave your nets and follow me.” You know what they said? “Okay.” Full steam ahead. Jesus didn’t withdraw to hide from the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Jesus didn’t withdraw from those who had the power to arrest him, and the power to kill him. He withdrew to the beauty of Galilee up north to start to put together his Church and his priesthood; his band of 12. 12 singers, all except one who would sing his praises through martyrdom. As they were being tortured for preaching God’s truth, they sang his holy name.

                Jesus Christ Is Risen Today, they sang. They sang Holy, Holy, Holy, as well as Amazing Grace, and Be Not Afraid, and Alleluia, Sing To Jesus, and Holy God We Praise Thy Name. All number one hits.

                We live in a time when we need to express the same level of faith as the band of the 12 Apostles. Not for the purpose of throwing our faith into the faces of other folks. That doesn’t draw people to Christ. Our Apostolic faith is necessary so that all people who sit in darkness may see the great light of Jesus Christ, and the much good he offers to us.   

Homily 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A January 15, 2016

Is there objective truth today? Are there certain truths that are universal? Meaning, that wherever they are spoken, and by whomever they are spoken, that what is spoken is always and everywhere a statement of truth?

                For example, “God is love.” Can that ever be considered a false statement? Can that ever, anywhere, be considered a lie? Or, can someone rationally respond to “God is love” by saying, “Well, that’s what you believe. That’s your truth, not mine. My truth says that God is a God of vengeance and anger. He likes getting even with us when we make decisions that tear apart our souls, as well as our families, our communities, our nation, our world. Get ready to duck, because here comes God’s backhand.”

                Welcome to the 21st century, although it’s really not new to us, where your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth, and let’s just get along, agreeing to disagree, then all things will be fine. A nice relativistic approach to life. “If you want to say God is love, then go right ahead. It has no truth in my life,” a person could say in response.

                To live like this is to live in the confusion and the babbling of Babel, where the tower they built was a tower of lies. The story goes that God confused their speech in Babel. But the seeds of confusion were planted by the people of Babel, allowing their living situation to reach that point. We see this very openly and aggressively today with speech we call political correctness. The people of Babel were the first PCer’s. They were not concerned with objective truth. They were much more concerned about controlling the minds and the voices of each other, which is a recipe for moral decay and destruction. Which is why God knocked down the tower they built, the same way we hope the Patriots knock down the Houston Texans tonight.

                As people of faith, and I pray that we are, we testify to the truth. We testify to the truth that marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman, no matter what any human court decides. We testify to the truth that abuse of children – or adults – as well as bullying someone else into fear is never justified in human relationships. We testify to the truth that using the name of God for violent actions that kill and maim others is grounded in the Devil, and is the most extreme misuse of the name of God, who is love. We testify, as people who accept the Christian faith in our lives, that taking Jesus’ name as a curse or in anger is another nail driven into the body of Him who died on the Cross out of love. That’s a lot of nails every day. And taking his name as such is not limited to Christians only.        We testify to truth.

                This is John the Baptist, the great Prophet who leads us to Christ, like Mary. What does John testify to in the courtroom of the wilderness, or in the judge’s chamber at the Jordan River?

                First, he testifies to the name of Jesus…the Lamb of God. Jesus is God’s sacrificial lamb. God wanted a sacrifice that was worthy of acceptance after Adam and Eve messed up the entire creation. And what God wants, God eventually gets. This lamb could not be found in any of us. Not even Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist. Not even Mary or Joseph. Only the sacrifice that Jesus himself could give would satisfy the Most High. Which is why his name is holy, in all places, at all times.

                John’s testimony of truth continues; “The one coming after me ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.” He also existed before God said, “Let there be light.” There was never a time when he didn’t exist. The one who is coming to John at the Jordan River pre-existed existence. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! What a humble admission of truth on the part of John. To say that he’s not worthy to even untie the string on the sandal of that Jesus guy. This is not relativistic, debatable material. Jesus is eternal. This is a forever truth that is promised to us. Our lives are tied in with the truth that Jesus is eternal.

                Also, John testified that he saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. The Spirit remained. It didn’t come down and go back up. The Spirit stayed. Like Mary Magdalene outside the tomb of Jesus. She remained after the others went back home behind locked doors. And it paid off for her by way of encountering the risen Lord.

                The same Spirit has come down at our Baptism and remained, so our lives should not reflect like the Spirit went back up, never to return to us. Yet, how many people today feel abandoned by God? Or don’t even bother to search for the Lord because our lives may be way too busy with all the visible stuff before us? No one has time to search for the invisible when the visible world demands all our time. But when we make time for the invisible, asking Him to guide our ways in the visible world of people and things, then we will know the Spirit’s presence. That He hasn’t gone back up, but is actually within us.

                John testifies to the truth; that he saw, firsthand, a dove remain on Him. No wonder why Jesus was able to do what he did. All these miracle stories and authoritative teachings we’ll be jumping into in the weeks ahead.

                The Spirit gives us the will and strength to perform miracles also; like raising a family; forgiving someone’s weakness against us; the miracle of caring for the sick out of love. These are the miracles on our level. Jesus had his, we’ve got ours. He did the heavy ones. Yet, he’s the Source of all of them. An unchangeable truth.

                May we be people of truth. Who testify to the truth, as did the Baptist. We don’t belong in Babel, where confusion is welcomed and forced. We have no excuse. We have been given unchangeable truth in Jesus Christ. May we use it well.      

               

                  

               

Homily Feast of the Epiphany Cycle A January 8, 2017

Have you ever had someone give you good advice, in fact great advice, but you just know they themselves didn’t believe what they said to you?

                King Herod is what we would call double-tongued. Meaning, he speaks words with his lips, coming forth from his first tongue, words that are spoken well… “Go and find the child, and let me know where he is so I too can go and worship him.” While the second tongue – his heart – is thinking the opposite. It’s fascinating how anyone can do such a thing. Have your brain going one way while your heart travels in the opposite direction. It takes talent, for sure, as well as the perfection of deception.

                What’s so admirable about the Magi on this Feast of the Epiphany is their desire to seek the truth at potentially dangerous cost. I offer you three inherent dangers that speak to our lives.

                The first danger for the Magi, which we can relate to, is their crossing the desert, without knowing the weather on any given day. They didn’t have the Weather Channel back then. I have a brother who must have purchased some stock in the Weather Channel, because he can’t get enough of it. Those three travelers on the camels had no idea if a windstorm, sandstorm, or rainstorm – which happens once in a while in the desert – was going to pounce on them in a completely unexpected way.

                We can relate to their determined crossing of the desert because their crossing of barren land images our entire life from one end to the other. From Point B, birth, to Point D, death. And in between those points we face many obstacles; from the death of loved ones; the loss of employment; all sorts of health issues; broken relationships; loneliness, especially for the elderly. Too many sandstorms where buckets of sand will get thrown in our face.

                Honestly, we live in a time where people are so good at throwing buckets of sand into the faces of adults who simply live and practice our Christian faith. But like the Magi, you continue to move forward with the truth of representing Jesus through the teachings of the Apostles, and not through some flimsy, cultural thought that will be DOA in 20 years.

                As the Magi traveled their road toward the newborn child to do him homage, they kept their eyes on the prize through all the sandstorms. It’s like us saying today, with full confidence, “I’m gonna get to that point – after Point D -where I’m gonna look on the face of God. and nothing and nobody is gonna stop me.” This was the Magi mindset. We’re on a Magi journey.

                A second danger. When they arrive in the presence of Herod, they speak the truth, causing the poor King to be greatly troubled. “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?” they say. Don’t you think Herod would prefer to hear, “Good morning King Herod. We’ve come from afar to worship you, and be your servants and slaves for life. We’ve traveled far because we’ve heard so many things about you. All the people you’ve killed. All the people you’ve tortured. All the hatred and anger in your heart. We’ve come to do you homage, because we don’t want to be on your bad side. Even if it means compromising the truth of the newborn King.” That’s what people like Herod look for.

To the Magi, Herod represents the greatest threat to their arriving safely at the manger, where Mary and Joseph are basking in the joy of their newborn Son. He’s a much greater threat than a windstorm. A person is a much greater threat to our seeing God face to face than Mother Nature is. All Herod had to say was, “See those three funny looking guys? Kill them.” End of story.

                One of the fears we have today, 2000 years since the Resurrection event, is the fear of, “What’s on the other side of Herod?” Once we get past him, what’s there in the great unknown? What is it that we eventually trust in? Or who do we eventually trust in?

                In the words of St. Paul today, “The mystery was made known to me by revelation…that the Gentiles are coheirs.” This is the great unknown on the other side of Herod that becomes known in Christ. The Magi come to Herod with respect for his position, but with no fear. Their hearts are full of truth. Their truth, our faith, overpowers the lies and distortions of Herod. Confidence in our faith in Christ helps us to see the unknown, that we are now, as Gentiles, welcomed into the love and mercy of God Most High.

                Once the Magi get past the ferocious Herod, with a smile on his face and anger in his heart, they’re home free. There’s no more major distractions or roadblocks to enter the presence of the newborn King. You know what that is for us? No more roadblocks or distractions, and trusting we will enter the presence of God is faith at its peak in this world. It’s the faith of Mary, Joseph, and the Apostles. It’s the level of faith we are called to.

                Sometimes with assistance. The Magi receive some help. A dream, probably from Gabriel again – he has a habit of showing up at the right time – a dream that sent them away from Herod. Herod didn’t deserve to hear the truth. Because if they returned to him, and told him where the child and parents were staying, then Herod would have sent out his henchmen to kill the child right away. It would have been the end of Jesus. Not everyone deserves the hear the truth.

                Even with the holiness of Mary and Joseph, and they don’t come any holier, except for the child, even the holy parents needed assistance from heaven. The third danger for us in this Gospel is that we not be open to assistance from heaven. Always be open to that assistance. God is quite generous. He helps us to deal with the crookedness of this world in the most personal ways. He gives us what we need in the difficult moments.

                The three dangers of the Magi and us. On a journey. Deal with danger by holding on to Christian truth. And, allow ourselves the assistance to be redirected at times by the grace that pours down from heaven. Whether it’s Gabriel or someone else.

                  

Lector & Eucharistic Ministers, Jan. & Feb. 2017

SATURDAY   SUNDAY
LECTOR SCHEDULE   LECTOR SCHEDULE
SATURDAY  4:00 PM    SUNDAY 7:30 AM  10:00 AM
Dec 31 W. Stanton   Jan 01 K. Shaughnessy M. Greene
Jan 07 F. McGuire   Jan 08 W. Borek L. Morin
Jan 14 R. Lapid   Jan 15 A. Huffman M. Martella
Jan 21 D. Pasquale   Jan 22 C. Dougherty W. Stanton
Jan 28 W. Stanton   Jan 29 K. Shaughnessy M. Greene
Feb 04 F. McGuire   Feb 05 W. Borek L. Morin
Feb 11 R. Lapid   Feb 12 A. Huffman M. Martella
Feb 18 D. Pasquale   Feb 18 C. Dougherty L. Morin
Feb 25 F. McGuire   Feb 26 K. Shaughnessy M. Greene
           
           
SATURDAY   SUNDAY
EUCHARISTIC MINISTERS   EUCHARISTIC MINISTERS
SATURDAY  4:00 PM    SUNDAY 7:30 AM  10:00 AM
Dec 31 D. McGuire   Jan 01 J. Hester M. Kennedy
D. Pasquale   B. Hester C. Grady
Jan 01 D. McGuire   Jan 08 C. Dougherty J. Morin
J. Wine   S. Dougherty M. Phaneuf
Jan 14 K. Stiles   Jan 15 D. Huffman M. Greene
D. Greene   C. Huffman C. Grady
Jan 21 R. Lapid   Jan 22 W. Borek L. A. Branche
L. Vigeant   P. Powers W. Evanowski
Jan 28 J. Wine   Jan 29 J. Hester M. Kennedy
D. Greene   B. Hester M. Gonyea
Feb 04 D. McGuire   Feb 05 C. Dougherty J. Morin
K. Stiles   S. Dougherty M. Phaneuf
Feb 11 D. Pasquale   Feb 12 D. Huffman M. Greene
W. Stanton   C. Huffman C. Grady
Feb 18 R. Lapid   Feb 18 L. Vigeant L. A. Branche
J. Wine   P. Powers J. Morin
Feb 25 K. Stiles   Feb 26 J. Hester W. Evanowski
L. Vigeant   B. Hester M. Kennedy