Homily 8th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A February 26, 2017

Yes, look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow. They don’t reap. They don’t own any tractors. They don’t have any big loans out on farm machinery. They gather nothing into barns. They don’t own or lease any barns. Yet, our heavenly Father feeds them. And, if you look at our sidewalk out here at the side of the Church with all the seeds on it, you’ll see that our heavenly Father is not the only one who feeds them.

                It is true, what Jesus says. As is everything he says. Birds don’t worry where their next meal is coming from, unlike some very poor humans who live paycheck to paycheck, or may be on the verge of homelessness. Birds are carefree! They fly around like flying saucers, dipping up and down at the speed of light. A male bird chasing after a female bird, hoping she’ll stop just long enough for him to propose marriage to her. It must be hard flying around at the speed of light with a diamond ring in your wing.

                Birds are one of God’s most awesome, colorful, imaginative creatures. They come in all sizes and colors, and each of them instinctively knows the purpose of its being created by God… To fly around, be fed by God and humans, and look good for our cameras.

                (The best bird sighting I’ve ever seen was a bald eagle swooping down into the Quinapoxet River section of the Wachusett Reservoir, going after a fish that God provided for lunch, right in front of yours truly. It was an amazing sight. This isn’t Alaska. That’s a once in a lifetime sight for us around here. Ten seconds out of a one hour walk being in the right place at the right time. Birds are a fascinating creature from the mind of God. And they talk a lot too. The more they speak, the warmer the weather, which is nice).

                Yet, as fascinating as they are, Jesus tells his disciples that birds are infinitely less important than they are. Jesus isn’t demeaning birds by saying so. He’s raising us to our rightful place before God his Father, who cares for the birds. Our rightful place before God is for us, one day, to become like him in all of his heavenly splendor. Splendor that even Solomon in all of his flashy clothing could not approach.

                So, as we prepare for the beginning of Lent this coming Wednesday, before we head out to the desert, I hope, we’re joyfully reminded of three unchanging truths of how God feels about us. He’s chasing us around with a diamond ring under his wing for each of us, wanting us to marry him, being devoted, committed, and faithful to him first.

                The first unchanging truth is from Isaiah in the 1st reading: “Even should she forget you, I will never forget you.” Even if a mother should forget her child, and you mothers know how next to impossible it is to forget your child, God will never forget us. An unchanging truth.

                What does this mean, though, that God will never forget us? Does it mean that God will simply remember us mentally, without any eventual significance? “Hey, I remember you. Enjoy Purgatory. I’ll come back for you in a few eons…if I don’t forget.” That’s not good enough. So, we won’t be forgotten in God’s memory! Big deal! On its own, what good does that do us? The promise of God not forgetting us is more than just a memory. He doesn’t forget the birds. Are we no different from the crows and cardinals?

                You know what I think God is saying in Isaiah? That God is going to send us his Son. The Old Testament point to Christ, the center of human history. That he’s not to forget us in our dilapidated, sinful state. That a mother would forget her child before God would forget to send us our Savior, which he has.

                But not just that. These words in Isaiah also point to the central present aspect of this unchanging truth; the Eucharist. After Jesus is gone, after he’s ascended, he’s still not going to forget us. “I will be with you until the end of the age.” I will never forget you as long as time is in existence. And our number one reality of God not presently forgetting us is the Body and Blood of his Son. May we never take this gift lightly. The Bread of unforgetfulness.  

                A second unchanging truth of how God feels about us before we head to the desert; “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Don’t worry.

                Most folks would probably say that worrying is a natural human emotion. That everyone does it. Everyone must worry about something, at some point. Even the monks in Spencer must worry occasionally if they’re going to sell enough Trappist beer to help pay the heating bills. I was worried last week when we had no heat in the Church for the 4:00 and 7:30 Masses. I was worried about your health as you glared at me.

                But Jesus says “Don’t worry about your life.” Have faith that he has conquered the world and saved our lives for indescribable joy. All our worry is ultimately tied in with our resurrection. Jesus has taken care of it. He’s the only one who can say to us “Don’t worry,” and back it up with his love.

                A third unchanging truth of how God feels about us has to do with serving. “You cannot serve God and mammon.” That’s an oldie but goodie. We all know the truth of these words of Christ. But the key word is serve. God is meant to be served, while mammon is not. We need mammon to ease the burden of survival in our society. It would be nice if everything in the world was free, living a perfect imitation of heaven right now. But it isn’t. We need mammon for food, transportation, housing, healthcare. If we had no mammon, we would be hungry, homeless, without an SUV, suffering from kidney stones, or some other ailment without receiving attention. Mammon helps to address all these necessities, and more.

                Serving mammon is the # 1 distraction from serving our Lord, who served us through crucifixion. Serving mammon leads to slavery. The unchanging truth is that serving God is the greatest freedom we will know in this life. Which is why the monks in Spencer are some of the freest people I’m blessed to know.

                So, we’re not forgotten. Don’t worry about your life. It’s in God’s hands and well cared for. Thank you, Jesus. And, serve God, so that we may live in true freedom. All good preparation for the desert of Lent.  

               

Homily 7th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A February 19, 2017

I’d like to think that all of us, all Christians who profess Christ as our Lord, believe also that the door between heaven and earth is an open door. That God has settled upon an open-door policy between the Creator and his creation. Even though Jesus says the gate is narrow, creating an image of difficult entrance into the glorious kingdom, that nonetheless the door is forever now opened.

                Heaven is not like a movie theatre, or Fenway Park during a playoff game of on Opening Day, where there are only so many tickets to be had, and once the tickets are sold out, the doors are closed and you’re out of luck as far as gaining entrance into the theatre or the park where the Green Monster lives. Maybe this is why heaven is up in the limitless skies; up in the stars and beyond…because that many seats and that much space is going to be needed for so many souls and so many resurrected bodies on the last day. It’s a positive, encouraging image. One that I pray comes to pass.

                The door, however, to the stars and beyond, is always an open-door policy. How can we be so sure that God’s door is always open? Because anything less than a permanent open-door between heaven and earth would not make sense and would be most inconsistent with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That one act of ultimate, sacrificial love has guaranteed that God the Father is forever a welcoming God toward us, his beloved people.

                That not only Moses can climb Mt. Sinai to experience the closeness and presence of the living God. But now, thanks to the Cross of Christ and what it signifies, that all of us can now hike up the heavenly Mt. Sinai, enter through the door at the top, and speak with God in conversation in the present. So put on your hiking boots and get behind me.

                In the continuation of Matthew, Chapter 5 from last Sunday and the Sunday before, when the Patriots easily won the Super Bowl, and nobody gave up on them, today we have two teachings, central to our Christian faith. Teachings that guarantee the continuation of an open-door policy between heaven and earth. Remember, we all have the power to close that door through sin. But we’re also given the power to reopen it through Reconciliation. God has the power to close that door between us and his presence, but will never use that power against us because of the sacrifice of his Son.

                So when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” to live those words results in a closed-door policy between God and any individual or group who embrace those words. To live in the world of revenge, and getting even, and hitting back twice as hard as we got hit, such choices and behavior mock and deny the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. On our own, we choose to close the door of heaven if we choose to live in that mad, mad world of biting and clawing and scratching and insanity. There’s much of that in the world today, not far outside these doors. Where the Devil’s choice of an eye for an eye has many subscribers. We, as Christians, cannot be one of them. We reject that way of life so that the door of heaven remains open for us.

                So, as a juxtaposition, Jesus says, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Let’s not kid each other. We know how hard that is. About as hard as climbing up Mt. Sinai with a donkey on your back, instead of you on the donkey’s back. If we get hit on the right cheek, the instinct is not to turn the other one, but to hit their cheek harder. But Jesus does away with all violent reaction. He is so radically peaceful that our Lord wants all human violence to be known only in the Cross he carried, and the crucifixion he endured. Any and all violence outside of the violence he took on for us, is unnecessary violence. Unnecessary violence, be it physical, emotional, or verbal, closes the door beyond the stars. Reconciliation is necessary to reopen it.

                Peaceful resistance against non-peaceful acts ensure the closeness of God for us. Which really speaks volumes to all the violence in our country today, especially politically motivated.

                And second, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” It’s easy to love your neighbor, especially if they help you shovel snow, plow out your driveway, or compliment you on your well-groomed lawn, or if it’s a police officer who helps you to fix your speeding tickets. “I love my neighbor!” “Yea, no kidding.”

                And, it’s easy to hate someone who says, “Shovel it yourself,” or, “You got the ugliest lawn I’ve ever seen.” Or, “Pay your speeding ticket and slow down.” Easy love, easy hate. You help me, I’ll help you. You criticize me, I’ll tell you to take a hike. This closes the door to heaven. Those types of actions and reactions create a wide distance between our lives and the Cross that Jesus carried. It forgets the Cross that Jesus carried.

                As a contrast, Jesus speaks the holy teaching. The teaching of God, not the world. Love your enemies. Are you kidding me? What the heck is Jesus smoking? Love your enemies? I think most people would rather the door beyond the stars be closed, before we ever loved an enemy.

                And pray for those who persecute you? Jesus commands that I pray for someone who persecutes me in his name. Lots of religious intolerance out there today against Christians, right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. This is our walk up Mt. Sinai. It’s a very steep hill. You still have your boots on? You still following me? Or, did you walk back down to the bottom and back to the ways of a sinful world? That’s the wrong choice. It’s a tough walk up that mountain to meet God, without compromising our faith.

                The door between heaven and earth is forever open for each of us on a most personal level, where God says, “Come up the mountain with Moses.” The trail is anything but easy. But know that the Son of God has consumed all violence into his Cross, allowing us to embrace the radicalness of his peace.

               

                                              

               

Homily 6th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A February 12, 2017

“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” The words of St. Paul today. And every day.

                Good to know we have something waiting that goes so far beyond the struggles of this world. Even the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history pales in comparison to what God has prepared for those who love him. Of course, if I spoke those words in Atlanta, Georgia, I would probably be crucified like Jesus was. Because in sports, where there’s a winner, there’s always a loser, which is why it’s necessary to win gracefully.

                Speaking of winning, we are, in this part of the country, quite fortunate as well as spoiled, by all these world championships. One could easily be trapped into the thought that this is as good as it gets. But deep down we know, I pray, that sports are a side attraction to reality. To everyday concerns about death and dying, about illness and disease, about hunger and homelessness.

I’m sure there are many families who very much enjoyed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, which is a very short 51 years. That amount of time barely registers for history. And then when the game was over in overtime, they went back to the more important attention of their dying parent, not that they ever left them…or their very sick child. Or individuals went back to homeless shelters, or to the world of loneliness. It was a temporary fix, that game, but then the real world returned abruptly. (I don’t mean to put a damper on the win).

But, eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love him. God’s preparation includes the right eye that can cause us to sin, or the right hand, or the right side of our brain, or the right artery of our heart. What God has prepared for those who love him is a resurrected body with all of its parts, magnified and multiplied countless times over for the glory of heaven and the peace of Christ. Which is pretty good.

But Jesus the Master offers us some holy direction along the way, to ensure that the greatest comeback of all time – not the New England Patriots, but God raising his Son from the dead – does not go wasted. How’s that for a comeback by Jesus? Think about Jesus arriving at the hill called Golgotha outside the city gates, having just carried a ridiculously heavy Cross., and is about to be nailed to it. That’s where the Patriots were in the 3rd quarter. They were about to offer their lives for New England sports fans only, because the rest of the country despises that team. The difference being that Jesus was nailed to the Cross. A sports team didn’t die. The side attraction to our lives didn’t stop breathing. But our Savior did.

The nails go in; his breathing is labored; he cries out “Why have you forsaken me?” in his deep anguish; it is finished. For a few days. Then, the greatest comeback of all time. Resurrection. What God has prepared for those who love him. With both eyes, and both hands, and eternal energy, flying around the heavens in white, rather than the Houston Astrodome in red, white, and blue uniforms, with a funny looking helmet that makes you look like you grew up on another planet.

 

Jesus’ warnings and divine guidance given in Matthew, chapter 5, is not for the purpose of kicking us down and leaving us on the field in defeat. That’s what the Devil does. Our Lord’s purpose in this very tough Gospel to listen to, is to bring us all to what God has prepared for those who love him. What eye has not seen, yet, and what ear has not heard, yet. For those who watched and even care, we saw and heard some pretty amazing things last Sunday night. A nice side attraction from reality. But our lives are forever connected to the greatest comeback of all time.

Jesus came, not to abolish, but to fulfill the law of life. Not only here. We’ve been created for eternity. Therefore, he desires that we begin to seek God’s perfection right now, of what God has prepared for those who love him, where perfection is fulfilled.

Which is why killing is wrong, which everyone knows, but also getting unjustifiably angry at your brother or sister is sinful. There’s a lack of perfection in such anger. Or, if you feel the need to take someone to the overbusy, overburdened court system, settle on the way to attain perfection. Don’t let someone you don’t know, like judges and lawyers, with all due respect, make decisions for you. Because when we know Christ, when we embrace our faith, there’s nothing that cannot be worked out for the sake of peace and justice.

Adultery is not only a grave sin, which we all know, but looking at someone with lust enters the world of sin, with lack of perfection. Jesus, of course, was speaking to his time, in reference to men looking at women. Today, lusting is no longer a man-only sin. Not by a longshot. And, to divorce one’s spouse and marry another is to live in a state of adultery, unless the first marriage is addressed through the compassion, but sometimes difficult, ways of the Church, who Christ gave the authority to do so. The goal is to be able to seek perfection in the present, so that we may be better prepared for what God has prepared for us.

The greatest comeback of all time is Jesus being raised from the dead. Try topping that one New England Patriots! Through his resurrection, and what God has prepared through that holiest of all events, we’re invited to seek perfection now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month. This isn’t a diet. This is our salvation.

As the priest or deacon says at every Baptism to the parents and godparents, “Reject sin, profess your faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In this rejecting and professing, we place ourselves on the team that made the greatest comeback of all time. Not the New England Patriots, as nice as that is. But the team of Christ Jesus, who has prepared a victory parade for those who love him.    

 

               

Homily 5th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A February 5, 2017

I’m sure there are some outstanding Soup Kitchens throughout our country. Kitchens that serve the hungry, the poor, and the homeless by the thousands each week. Numbers that, truthfully, should be embarrassing to a nation with such wealth as ours, but also reflect the goodness in the hearts of so many citizens who serve the basic needs of those who are down and out.

                We have one such place here in Worcester, called the St. John’s Soup Kitchen in the St. Francis Xavier building on Temple St. I’m proud to say one of my brothers helps to manage the kitchen each day as they serve a hearty breakfast/lunch – a brunch – Monday – Friday, including holidays and snow days. As we know, hunger knows no holidays or snow days. It only knows when it needs to be satisfied.

                I’ve been over there a couple times during eating hours, and it’s quite an operation. Literally, hundreds of men, women and children show up each morning to enjoy what is probably the best meal they receive each weekday. The crowd that enters to eat is…interesting. They’re an interesting crowd. I have another brother who told me recently he would like to bring his 3 young sons to the Soup Kitchen at St. John’s to help serve food to the “customers.” His 3 sons have been secluded in the nice town of Ludlow their entire lives. I told my brother his 3 boys best be ready to see how the other half lives. They’re an interesting crowd.

                As a result of all that the volunteers do in what I call this Christian Center of Satisfying Hunger Pains, they are what Jesus calls to his Disciples; the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

                There’s probably a few days during the course of the year where, because of the type of clientele that comes to be fed, some salt may be tossed at one another at the Soup Kitchen on Temple St. as well as Tom Brady is going to throw the football this evening. If that does happen at the Soup Kitchen, good luck to the throwers who have to deal with my brother.

                That’s one type of salt. The kind we put on our food. Jesus talks about another type of salt. The type of salt called volunteer. Where men, women and children get off their hind quarters, or make time in their busy schedule, or are moved by their faith in Christ, and become servants of the poor. Up close and personal. Where egos do not exist, and where the gratification of performing heartfelt duty for others is the accomplishment.

                So, there’s the salt that is actual salt, like Morton’s Salt, and then there’s the salt that are people, with brains and hearts and faith. Many folks enjoy consuming much of the Morton’s Salt, such as found in Coney Island Hot Dogs, while having little or no intention of being salt. But being salt, whether it’s feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the ill, bringing the Eucharist to hospitals or the homebound, walking once a year in the March for Life, making a phone call to check up on the elderly… Being salt is a high form of Christian expression. It takes us out of ourselves, as well as our comfort zone, which my 3 nephews will discover. It takes us out of living for ourselves only, and into our respective communities, into the social rings where attention is given to those in need of attention in whatever form.

                The people of salt at the Soup Kitchen on Temple St. give their attention to hundreds of hungry stomachs. So many leave satisfied because so many volunteers choose to become salt. They purchased the salt of Christ because we accept our Lord’s challenge and command.

                And Jesus goes on to say, “Don’t hide your salt! Don’t put your salt in a cupboard and leave it there for years!” I’m sure none of us would enjoy finding a can of vegetables on Super Bowl Sunday, February 5, 2017, the day the Patriots win their 5th Super Bowl, and find the words on the can, “Best used by February 1, 2010.” That’s a long time to hide our salt. That’s a long time for our Christian light to not shine for others to see.

                Last week I used St. Paul’s words about boasting, not in ourselves, or even our football team after they win tonight, but boasting rather in the Lord. That’s what Jesus commands us to do here in Matthew 5; “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” “Throw it out there,” Jesus says. Throw your good deeds out there the way Tom Brady is going to throw 4 TD passes tonight. Throw your good deeds out there for the whole stadium to see.

                Why does Jesus say this, about being so open about good deeds? First, he doesn’t say this so we can pat ourselves on the back and say, “That’s enough for now. Time to put the salt of my good deeds back into the back of the cupboard. We’ll put the closed sign on the door of the Soup Kitchen on Temple St. on a Monday and say ‘See you next week.’”

                Truthfully, there’s no time off in this short, quick life for the Christian. Christians don’t punch a time clock when it comes to good deeds. Hunger and needed assistance are every day realities. So, Jesus telling us to throw our good deeds out there is not for the purpose of making ourselves feel good. We can wait for that to happen in heaven.

                We throw 4 TD’s out there so that others will join the winning team called Christian Faith and Works. Jesus’ command to let others see our good deeds is a form of evangelization. Because the more folks we get to join the team, the less hunger and poverty there will be. And the more medical assistance will be given, stopping evils like euthanasia and the desire for Physician-Assisted Suicide. And the more homebound will be visited. And the fewer atheists there will be.

                Don’t hide your salt. Put it out there. Expand your family to include strangers. Let your light shine before others. And enjoy Super Bowl victory number 5.