Homily 7th Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 28, 2017

The Memorial Day holiday is good timing this year. Memorial Day is the day we set aside as a nation, not to unofficially begin our summer in New England, but to remember our loved ones who have entered eternal life. The same eternal life that Jesus says in today’s Gospel that he gives to all whom the Father has given to him. That those of us with faith in the Son, persevering in our faith in the Son, which many folks lose along the way in a world that goes berserk around us, that they will receive the greatest of all gifts. And how are the words “eternal life” defined? As our Lord says in the Gospel; “That they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”

                So what does it mean to “know” God? I go back a couple weeks ago to what I said about heaven; that heaven is not a place with boundaries and limitations. Heaven is an eternal relationship with God. It’s not important “where” heaven is, or how it happens, or what’s there or what isn’t there of our favorite things in the world. What’s relevant is our eternal relationship with our Creator. Eternal life is to desire and seek that enduring relationship. The same relationship we pray that our loved ones have come to experience in all its fullness.

                If our family and friends who have died could somehow return to us and speak to us to us their experience of eternal life – at least those on the good side of it – the first thing they would likely say is, “What are you waiting for? Why you taking so long to get here? Why are you taking all that doctor-prescribed medicine that holds you back from the joy of why you were created? Don’t be fooled by the belief that the world you inhabit now is even remotely better than the joy I have come to know.” Or, something along those lines they would say.

                My purpose is not to lessen the importance of the gift of our lives in the present. But what we know and experience right now is one candle trying to light up an entire desert at night. There’s some light before us. The light of our faith in Christ. The light of our Lord’s presence in the Sacraments. It’s enough to illuminate our vision of God at this time. To give us hope, and never to give up on our faith. But at the end of each day we know we have to walk through the doors of death in order to see the entire desert lit up always and forever, never to go dark.

                The 7th Sunday of Easter does not end the Easter Season. The Easter Season of celebrating Jesus’ victory over death, when the grave was but a temporary bus stop to our Lord, ends officially next week after the celebration of Pentecost. (Don’t forget to wear your red). But this is the last Sunday for this Church year where the word “Easter” is used. And we all know what Easter means. Even our 1st graders in Religious Education know what the word Easter means. If you ask them they will say, “Jesus is alive!” From the mouths of babes.

                It’s because this is the last Sunday that we will use the word “Easter” to define a given Sunday that it’s very good timing with the secular holiday of Memorial Day.

                I propose that this Memorial Day we take some time to reflect upon the meaning of this phrase that Jesus defines in the Gospel; eternal life. Not just some place up there; not what may or may not be up there, like your favorite restaurant or your favorite vacation destination. But reflect on their experience of knowing the only true God, and the one whom he sent, Jesus Christ. How blessed are they, that because of Easter, they no longer have to deal with anymore false gods. They don’t have to deal with the thousands of false gods in our world anymore. That’s such a beautiful part of what defines eternal life. No more false gods to contend with.

                From money, to materialism, to sexuality, to worshipping mere mortals who are sinful creatures, especially in the world of politics and in the Church. That stuff is forever gone for them. Instead, they now know the one true God… Who possesses their entire being forever. Please don’t be fooled by the thought that the Patriots winning the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion is somehow more enjoyable than knowing the one true God. It’s pretty good if you’re a Patriots fan. But that one level of joy in this life is tiny preparation for the dramatic game God has ready for those who love him. It’s necessary as people of faith that we deepen our religious insight over the course of our lives, while enjoying what we have right now.

                In the first reading today from Acts, the 11 Apostles, minus Judas the betrayer who suffered the consequences of his choice, they head back to the Upper Room. They have the best of company with Mary, the mother of Jesus, some women, as the reading says, which I’m sure included Mary Magdalene, and some of Jesus’ relatives.

They are the elite group of the Catholic Church. There they are in the Upper Room where the Eucharist was born. And what are they doing? They devote themselves to one accord to prayer. This is the cream of the crop of Christian pray-ers, praying Christian prayer. They’re the first men and women who devote themselves to prayer through Christ. They will pray for the Church about to be born next Sunday on Pentecost. They pray for one another. They pray for their persecutors. They pray for the growth of the Church, and a thousand different needs. They pray through Christ.

As we draw close to the end of the Easter Season, with Pentecost Sunday on the horizon when the Spirit will go as wild as a class of 2nd-graders on a field trip, may we double down and devote that part of our lives to prayer through Christ for the situations that most concern each of us. Especially to what we commemorate this weekend. We pray for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. That they may enjoy the deepest meaning of this phrase, eternal life. To know the one true God, and the one whom he sent, Jesus the Christ.

There’s no better prayer for the 7th Sunday of Easter alongside the commemoration of Memorial Day. They make for good timing in 2017.

Homily 5th Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 14, 2017

So, what do you think heaven is like?

                I’ve always pictured heaven as a big place, even though technically and theologically it’s not a place as we understand the word “place.” A place is limited. Even a big place. A place has boundaries. At some point it’s restricted. You can only go so far.

                I remember back in the 1990’s I believe it was, when Pope John Paul II, now St. John Paul II, came out with the statement that heaven is not a place. He said that heaven is a relationship with God. First with the soul after we die and eventually come up from Purgatory. And then, with the resurrected body after Jesus’ Second Coming as he calls to himself all the bodies of the righteous and those destined for the joys of eternal life. “Come to me, all you who have been faithful and seeking of mercy. Come to the banquet that has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

                When John Paul II said that heaven is not a place, but a relationship where we will have our place with God, he drove a lot of Christians crazy, especially the Baptists and Fundamentalists. He drove them nuts. They couldn’t wrap their minds around the joyful truth that a relationship with God forever in heaven does not have any boundaries, that it does not remain in this universe, yet it can penetrate this universe in ways of intercession and communication. We get messages from heaven every day. The deeper our faith, the greater the possibility of recognizing and understanding them. Faith in Jesus as Lord is the uncompromising nugget that makes possible our personal experience of heaven in this life. Faith in Christ is always the key to touching heaven right now.

                Now, if heaven is not a place, then how can Jesus say to his Disciples that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places? And if there were not, would he have told them that he was going forth to prepare a place for them? It sounds like the Baptists and Fundamentalists were correct for challenging St. John Paul II for saying heaven is not a place. They see and read the language of Scripture, and the words of Jesus, and that’s what they hear. “I am going to prepare a place for you. And that place is in heaven.”

                I love our Baptist brothers and sisters and their steadfast faith in Christ, but their understanding of heaven being a place is incorrect, and John Paul II had it right. Heaven is an eternal relationship with God. Just as hell is eternal separation from God. There is no more fundamental truth about our eternal destiny. It will either be an eternal relationship with our Creator, filled with joy that words cannot describe, or, it will be eternal separation from God, filled with such horror and suffering that words cannot begin to describe. There is no in between. Purgatory is not in between. Purgatory is a soul that heaven has claimed for its own, in need of purgation, of cleansing, before arriving at the fullness of God’s joy in heaven.

                Isn’t this fun stuff? This is awesome.

                When our Lord tells his Disciples that there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house, meaning heaven, because that’s where Jesus ascends to, he’s not talking boundaries and restrictions, where you can go to your place on your end of the universe, and the person you couldn’t stand in this life can go to their place on the other end of the universe, so you never have to look at them again. That kind of thought is childish and spiritually ignorant.

                Instead, Jesus is telling us disciples that he’s inviting every human being to salvation. To a joyful relationship with God. And the word “many,” as in many dwelling places, does not mean some are automatically left out, as the Jehovah Witnesses believe. If you’re not part of the 144,000 in the Book of Revelation, then you’re toast. We’re condemned. This is a profound misunderstanding of the Book of Revelation, of which there is much with that wonderful book that close the Bible. The word “many” incorporates every person ever born. There is a dwelling place, a heavenly relationship with God, for every single person. The problem originates in us. The problem being that not every person wants their place in heaven.

                In the Gospel, St. Thomas says to Jesus, on behalf of his fellow Apostles, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way and the place where you are going to? We don’t know if you’re off to California, or Alaska, Cape Cod for the summer, or to Wright’s Chicken Farm. We don’t know where you’re going, Lord!” Jesus answers Thomas with the only way to heaven… “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the relationship that will forever unite you to your Creator.”

                So what is Jesus’ way, truth and life? What is his way? What is his truth? What is his life all about? It’s not just believing, where all I have to say is “Jesus is Lord,” and I’ve got my dwelling place all locked up. That’s called cheap salvation, and there are those who believe in that cheap theology. But not Catholics. Jesus’ way, truth and life is belief in him backed up by actions. The actions of having a heart for the poor; visiting the sick; listening to another person’s struggles; being kind, patient to, and loving the elderly. It is the St. John’s Soup Kitchen, Visitation House, Food Pantries, and Our Lady of Hope Christmas Gift Giving. These actions reflect our relationship with God. Actions of love have no boundaries or restrictions. They are limitless, because they bring a slice of heaven to this place called Earth.

                Now that I’ve thrown a big boulder into your image of what heaven is like, I prefer not to send you out to dinner this evening shaking your heads. Yes, there are many dwelling places in the house of Jesus’ Father. And yes, our Savior has gone to prepare a place for each of us. But the “place” of heaven does not mean boundaries and limitations. It means relationship. Relationship with God our Father; relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus; relationship with the Church, the Body of Christ; relationship with family, friends, and strangers, who are no longer strangers.

                The Polish Pope who is now in the Communion of Saints knows his theology. He’s correct. Heaven is not a place. We’re destined for much greater things than a place in the skies. Heaven is a relationship that finds rest and peace with our Lord forever. But it begins each day with our choice to perform actions of love grounded in our belief in Him, who live and reigns forever.     

Homily 4th Sunday of Easter Cycle A May 7, 2017

It was quite a sight to see roaming sheep on the side of the skinny roads in Ireland last August when I went over there for a few days for a wedding. One of the days prior to the big celebration, a few of us took a ride north in County Mayo up in the northeast section of the country with 40 shades of green. We had about a 1 to 1-1/2 hour drive to the golf course we were going to, a place on the ocean, or, as they say in Ireland, where the shore kisses the sea.

                Along the way we drove on many backroads, not surprisingly, since there are not many main roads in the land of St. Patrick. In fact, some of the roads we drove on were probably there when St. Patrick was converting the pagan Irish folks in the 5th century, with the condition of the roads about the same as 1500 years earlier. On some of the back roads on the way to the golf course, we encountered more than once one of the sights that Ireland is famous for; that being sheep grazing on the side of the road, as opposed to sheep grazing in the green fields. There were countless sheep in the fields, but some also on the road. So, when you’re driving at 70 kilometers and coming up to a sharp bend in the road, one had to be extra cautious about the wooly occupants standing and grazing on very narrow roads.

                I love this image for this week’s Gospel on the 4th Sunday of Easter, being the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. And how the Good Shepherd, who is raised from the tomb, has a voice that his people hear. Those who reject him, or refuse in their lives to maintain a personal relationship with him, will not recognize the voice of their own Savior.

                This image of the wandering sheep in the land of shamrocks, leprechauns and pubs, sheep who are best suited to graze in the field behind stone walls for safety, and not on the roadside, when placed aside Jesus the Good Shepherd, this image can be seen in a couple different ways for our lives.

                The first being that Christ our Lord is a safety net. When we find ourselves in some difficulty; some issue at work, or at home with the family, or being out of work, turning to the Shepherd of our lives who is Good is a genuine safe place. Some people today talk about creating safe spaces in their lives, while missing out on the safest place of all.

                There are countless situations that can and will arise that will remove us from the safety of the pasture where we are most comfortable, toss us over the stone wall, and cause us to graze in the road where we don’t belong. We don’t belong there because you never know when 4 guys in a small rented car with golf clubs in the back, driving on the left side of the road when they’re used to driving on the right side of the road in America, are going to come flying around the corner, run you over, and have you for dinner that night. Dangers lurk – spiritual and physical dangers lurk when we are removed from our comfort zone, as well as our natural place of grazing, which is the Church. Are we more comfortable and natural grazing here, or in the middle of Grove Street?

                But life gets in the way. Loved ones get sick, and enter the dying process for real. We’re all dying. We know this. But there’s a difference between being in the process of dying, which even sheep grazing in the field do, and being in the dying process, which sheep on the road are one false step away from a grave. Loved ones grow ill; others lose their employment; others deal with psychological issues; and so on. We get tossed in the road without wanting to get tossed in the road. We are in need of hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd calling up back to calmer waters, to greener fields, to blue skies, to knowing his love for us. Without the personal relationship of prayer and total trust, chances are good we’re going to stay in the dangerous road where we don’t belong, eventually getting run over by 4 Americans in a small car on their way to playing golf.

                This spiritual car crash can be avoided by taking with utmost seriousness our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which begins in the Body of Christ, being the Church. That’s the formula of the Good Shepherd, where we recognize his voice in the word and Eucharist.

                And a second way in which the image of the wandering sheep speaks to us are the times in our religious lives when we should be in the road, and not in the safety of the field. What does grazing on the road represent for a sheep who knows the voice of the Good Shepherd wherever they are? Grazing on the road, being away from our natural, comfortable, and safe place of grazing, is a Christian image for bringing our faith into the world. Any sheep who seeks to remain safe all the time, not pressing any buttons, having a perpetual fear of offending someone else, remaining within a confined area, this is a sheep who will never bring anyone to Christ. They will never evangelize, which should be the heart and soul of our baptismal responsibility.

                Leave room in your life for Jesus picking you up and tossing you over the stone wall, beyond the safety of our little world. I think of all those people who pray outside an abortion clinic, whose sole purpose is to save life. Those are people whom Jesus has thrown over the stone wall, into the road, to do some incredibly important work. Sadly, there are some Catholics who would like to run them over.

                At the heart of this second image of the sheep outside their natural place of grazing are the virtues of courage and trust. The courage to do the Lord’s bidding outside our field of comfort, and trusting that the Spirit of God will provide us all that is needed to succeed. Even to the point of being run over.

                Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, and we are blessed to be his sheep. But if you see 4 Americans in a small car with golf clubs in the back coming at you, you may want to move for just a moment. After they pass by slowly, return to working for Christ, the One raised from the dead. Or, as St. Peter writes in today’s 2nd reading, “Return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls.”    

                  

                  

Lector and Eucharistic Minister Schedule for May-June 2017

 

SATURDAY   SUNDAY
LECTOR SCHEDULE   LECTOR SCHEDULE
SATURDAY  4:00 PM    SUNDAY 7:30 AM  10:00 AM
May 06 F. McGuire   May 07 A. Huffman L. Morin
May 13 R. Lapid   May 14 C. Dougherty M. Greene
May 20 W. Stanton   May 21 K. Shaughnessy M. Martella
May 27 D. Pasquale   May 28 W. Borek M. Greene
June 03 F. McGuire   June 04 A. Huffman L. Morin
June 10 R. Lapid   June 11 C. Dougherty M. Martella
June 17 W. Stanton   June 18 K. Shaughnessy L. Morin
June 24 D. Pasquale   June 25 W. Borek M. Martella
July 01 F. McGuire   July 02 A. Huffman M. Greene
           
           
SATURDAY   SUNDAY
EUCHARISTIC MINISTERS   EUCHARISTIC MINISTERS
SATURDAY  4:00 PM    SUNDAY 7:30 AM  10:00 AM
May 06 D. McGuire   May 07 D. Huffman J. Morin
J. Wine   C. Huffman M. Phaneuf
May 13 K. Stiles   May 14 L. Vigeant D. Greene
D. Pasquale   P. Powers C. Grady
May 20 R. Lapid   May 21 J. Hester M. Gonyea
L. Vigeant   B. Hester W. Evanowski
May 27 K. Stiles   May 28 C. Dougherty L. A. Branche
W. Stanton   S. Dougherty D. Greene
June 03 D. McGuire   June 04 D. Huffman J. Morin
D. Pasquale   C. Huffman W. Evanowski
June 10 L. Vigeant   June 11 W. Borek L. A. Branche
J. Wine   P. Powers C. Grady
June 17 R. Lapid   June 18 J. Hester J. Morin
D. Greene   B. Hester M. Phaneuf
June 24 K. Stiles   June 25 C. Dougherty M. Greene
W. Stanton   S. Dougherty J. Wine
July 01 D. McGuire   July 02 D. Huffman M. Gonyea
J. Wine   C. Huffman W. Evanowski