Homily 20th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A August 20, 2017

This past Tuesday the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption into heaven, body and soul. We await the same upon Jesus’ Second Coming, which for some can’t be soon enough.
In that celebration of the Mother of God, we rejoice in the Christian truth that someone other than Jesus, being Mary, a mortal and creature like us, has been safely delivered to the joys of heaven in the fullness of what has been promised by God.
If Jesus were the only one resurrected, all would still be okay and right on track for all believers. For God’s promise of resurrection is irrevocable. But our holy belief that God has brought his Mother to her place of honor and repose should be comforting and exciting for the rest of us who are not the Word made flesh, which would be everyone except for the carpenter’s Son from Nazareth.
But it’s not like Mary is just hanging around up there, praying for world peace, praying for our general requests, fighting against the wiles of the Devil who counts Mary as his number one enemy because she leads so many souls to her Son. She’s not loitering up there, but remaining busy on our behalf; some proof being in the many apparitions over the centuries that have the seal of approval of the Church regarding authenticity. Mary is active between heaven and earth.
I contrast Mary’s busyness in heaven on our behalf to the busyness of the mother on earth in the Gospel who is seeking intercession from Mary’s Son for her ill daughter. And quite a contrast it is! On the surface, these two mothers are a universe apart. Jesus has given his Mother various holy assignments over the past centuries; that she appear to Juan Diego at Guadalupe; to Bernadette at Lourdes; to 3 young ones at Fatima. These among other places and people. Jesus sends her forth with love. Mary goes forth with love and a message, or secrets.
In the Gospel, it’s the mother who is requesting the intercession instead of performing it. And instead of speaking to her, Jesus initially remains silent to her. His response to her request is silence. Some folks struggle with the same today in our relationship with God. He seems to be way too quiet. I say with certainty that Jesus never was silent to his Mother; while growing up in Nazareth; while bringing forth his ministry; while in heaven together.
There’s the greatest difference in how Jesus deals with his own Mother, and how he deals with the mother in this Gospel. One gets his attention and voice, the other one doesn’t. She wants her daughter healed… silence. Mary wants water turned into wine at Cana… action. They get more good wine than they know what to do with. They could take a bath in all the wine he changes from water.
But the scene in the Gospel begins to change for the better; the same way it will for us when we come before our Savior as this mother does. What changes it for the better? Persistence; nagging; a mother’s love; determination; pleading; and our Lord’s compassion being challenged. What the Gospel mother does is to push Jesus way ahead of where he wants to be at this time with salvation. His concern is with Israel. The people of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, John the Baptist. Jesus must bring them to his Father first, so they in turn can bring the rest of the world to him. The Gospel mother pushes Jesus way beyond his present boundaries, and causes him to heed the voice of a lowly Gentile. What is it that can move our Lord beyond the boundaries he wishes to keep? The answer is always faith.
By the end of this Gospel, the Gospel mother catches up to the Mother of God regarding a mother’s voice being heard for the purpose of interceding on behalf of another. It’s an incredible story of faith. But it only comes around through persistence and determination. Mary of Nazareth would have been persistent with her Son at Cana if she had to. It wasn’t necessary. He already knew her faith was pure. The Gospel mother had to prove her faith through nagging, and Jesus loved it and accepted it.
Where do we stand in all this, with two mothers and a Divine Physician?
First, from the 1st reading: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” It would be right and just to say that the Gospel mother whose daughter is dying would be a model on how to keep the lines of communication open between us and our Savior. She does it through direct petition; “Heal my daughter. Don’t give me this Israel-only stuff! Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall off the table of Israel. Heal my daughter!”
Jesus loves that. He responds to it. He can no longer remain silent. How many of us Catholics are afraid to speak to God like that? “Oh, I can’t do that. I don’t want to get God mad at me. I don’t want to use up all my big favors when I still have years to live. I might need one or two down the road.” My priestly advice… Talk to him in a direct tone at times. He loves it, and he doesn’t get offended.
And second, from the 2nd reading: “For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.”
God’s mercy has many faces and many looks; forgiveness, of course; peace in heart and mind, is a form of his mercy; salvation itself, a result of his mercy; and healing, the touch of his mercy. As Mary gave the world the Son of Mercy, the Gospel mother brings out the healing mercy in Mary’s Son ahead of schedule for Gentiles. The message for us… bring forth God’s mercy in whatever form is needed through prayerful intercession for others and ourselves.
By the end of this Gospel, the Gospel mother looks more like the Mother of God than a mother who is silenced by God. Persistence in faith and prayer will cause this to happen. Join her brigade. The Brigade of Persistent Gentile Christians, and pray for all that is good.

Homily Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, 2017

“The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Talk about someone recognizing the goodness of God, and then proceeds to give proper adoration to his name and being. This is one of the countless marvelous parts of the life of Mary of Nazareth. The Almighty did so many great things for her, that it would be difficult to put them all into any segment of time, and begin to understand and embrace them into our faith lives.
Just today’s celebration alone, our Blessed Lady being assumed body and soul into heaven at the time of her death, is an event that goes far beyond greatness where not enough books could ever be written to describe this incredible act of God’s generosity.
And then there’s her Immaculate Conception, a great thing given to Mary to prepare her for the next great thing in her young life; giving birth to the Savior of the world. The Incarnation. And how many great things can we suspect happened to Mary as Jesus was growing up in Nazareth all those years before he left for the desert around the age of 30? How many great things did a Son do for his Mother that never made it into the Good Book?
Great thing after great thing after great thing. The word “great” can never be overused when it involves God and Mary. Not only is God great, but God made his Mother great too. Mary is a great Mother, because she’s not only the Mother of Jesus, the Anointed One, but she’s your Mother also, as well as mine.
We all have our earthly mothers whom God has used so gracefully, along with our earthly fathers, to give us the gift of life. But in Mary we all have in common a Heavenly Queen, whom God has done great things for. It’s right there in Luke’s Gospel. And I pray that you do the same as I; accepting her 100,000 percent as your spiritual Mother. She loves you like she loved her Son. If we were crucified, she would hold our dead bodies in her arms also. She prays for us as she prayed for her Son as he underwent his Passion. And, like any good mother, she keeps us on our spiritual toes, pointing us always toward the worship and adoration of her Son, as she did the same.
In the Assumption of Blessed Mary, the Lord has accomplished the greatest of all his great things extended to this one Jewish Lady from an obscure northern village in ancient Israel. The Assumption of Mary is an event that is not distant from us, where we say what happened at the time of Mary’s death is so far above and beyond us. We are most certainly not disconnected from that holy moment and holy act of God given to Mary.
That’s like saying we have nothing to do with the Red Sox because we can’t play baseball the way they can. Yea, we can go out in the backyard and play catch. We can play wiffle ball on the street or in some rundown park. But their ability to play the game is so far above and beyond ours, that we can think we have nothing to do with them. When in fact, the role of a fan and supporter is a central role in the success of the team. Do you know how difficult it would be for the Red Sox to play game after game in a very long season with no fans in the stands.? Their egos wouldn’t be able to deal with it. They would pay for our tickets if it came to that.
And so it is with Mary being assumed into heaven, the one who has no ego, but perfect humility. This great thing God did for his Mother touches our lives, and in many more ways than being a fan in the stands. Because what God did for Mary at the end of her life, he will do for us at the end of time. We just have to wait a little longer, and be more patient.
We honor this most blessed Lady of Heaven with all the Christian joy we can call forth from our hearts. The Lord has done great things for her. Things that impact our eternal well-being.
May the one assumed body and soul into heaven continue to pray for us on our journey home. And may she pray also for our world to turn to her Son, who is generous in doing great things for those for whom he died.

Homily 19th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A August 13, 2017

This Gospel is certainly one of the more action-filled, gripping events in the lives of Jesus and his Apostles. You have to love a Gospel story and readings where the imagery of our relationship with the Lord is so strong in both message and effect. I offer for your spiritual pondering a couple of those images.
First, I get asked at times if God will test us in some way, to find out if our faith is solid or weak. I answer that it may be the case. But any testing, if there is any, if not for the Lord to gain any knowledge about what’s going on inside of us. Any testing, for those who see their relationship with God in such a way, is for the purpose of deepening our present faith. Remember, the most natural path of our faith in Christ is the path of deepening, whereas the most unnatural path is that of weakening.
So, is Jesus testing the Apostles when, at the start of this Gospel, he sends them in a boat – by themselves – to the other side of the pond? Actually, the Sea of Galilee is a large body of water with a geographical setting where the wind and storms can come out of nowhere and take a boatload of Apostles by surprise. Is Jesus testing them by sending them out there on their own, knowing that Peter and Andrew, James and John are experienced fishermen who are comfortable on the seas? Is the Lord doing this to test if they will go to the other side without him, or is he offering them the chance to walk away from him?
Legitimate questions, but they miss the greater point. The greater point, that still resonates today, is that any type of separation from Christ, be it momentary or for years on end, is fraught with danger. We are not to travel this journey across the sea alone, and the Lord on his part makes certain he does not leave our corpses floating in the water. And that takes trust. One of the more fundamental parts of our faith in Jesus is that we trust he is always beside us, especially when it feels like he isn’t.
I don’t think Jesus was testing the 12 to see if they would leave him. If that thought was in his mind, he would have asked them straight out, “Do you want to leave?” The same way he does to them in the Bread of Life discourse in John, chapter 6. So, this image of separation from the Lord while crossing the storm-filled events of our lives, are events of trusting more than testing. The test may or may not be there for us, depending on how each of us sees this part of our spiritual lives, but trusting in his abiding presence is the greater image here.
And second, there’s the image of the rescue of Peter outside the boat, and the rest of them inside the boat. One is sinking, the others are getting battered by waves.
Remember the Old Testament story of the golden calf, where God said to Moses, “You better head back down the mountain old man, because they’re in a state of revelry and profound sinfulness?” The movement of that famous story, the movement of Moses coming to the rescue before it’s too late, it mirrors the movement of Jesus in this Gospel. While praying on the mountain alone, the Father must have said to the Son, “Beloved Son, this prayer session needs to be interrupted so you can catch up to the 12 in their boat and save them from the approaching storm. And you’re gonna have to walk on water to catch up to them.”

This image of rescue is twofold: first, that God loves us so much, that he will do the impossible for us when we need it most, such as walking on water. I’m sure Jesus has walked on water for us many times, saving us with his mercy and forgiveness. This is a tough image, though. The impossible part of Jesus catching up to them while walking on water happens before death occurs to the 12. He literally saves their physical lives. God still needs them for the building up of his future Church. For us, the seemingly impossible of gaining a sense of peace and comfort may come to us after the death of someone we know and love. That’s an example of Jesus saving us from the weakening of our faith as a result of the loss of a loved one.
And second, this image of rescue shows the essential importance of remaining in the Church. The boat is the Church. There are cultural storms that continually batter the Church. The definition of God-sanctioned marriage is one of them today, the definition of which is found in Matthew, chapter 19, where Jesus is very clear on what constitutes Marriage.
The boat is the Church. Peter leaves the boat. Why does he feel the need to leave the boat to get to Jesus? Jesus is already coming to them. Peter doesn’t need to try to show off, do a dance in the endzone, and upstage the rest of them. The image of staying in the boat, which is big enough for every person God created, cannot be overstated.
Many have left the boat, thinking they can walk on water. We’re not ducks. Human beings were not made to walk on water. Stay in the big boat where it’s safe with her solid teachings, because outside the boat we’ll find human ideologies that will destroy our faith in Jesus Christ.
And, do not be afraid to invite others back to the boat where they belong. This is called evangelization. By doing so, you may do the impossible like Christ; help save a soul from sinking in the deep.
It is a fascinating and gripping event on the high seas of northern Israel. Is the Lord testing them by sending them across the sea alone, to see if they will leave? Or, is trusting in his presence the greater image and statement? And, the rescue. He’s already done the impossible rescue of defeating death for our future benefit. In his love for us he will continue to do lesser impossible things than Resurrection, for nothing is greater than an empty tomb. And the message is always, “Stay in the boat. It is good that we are here.”

Homily Feast of the Transfiguration Cycle A August 6, 2017

In the words of the late, great St. Paul of Tarsus, “There’s faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.”
As the song says in the popular Opera “Les Misérables,” or as others would say, Less Miserable; “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I’m usually not into opera theology, but that sentence that is sung wrings of pure truth. Loving another person and seeing the face of God is the opposite of being miserable, which is the irony of the Opera’s name with that verse in one of its songs.
St. Paul would know a thing or two about the virtue of love. The poor guy was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, abandoned, and left for dead well more than once. Yet, he never hated anyone after his conversion. Nowhere in any of his letters does the emotion of hatred at an individual come through. Challenging individuals and groups to conversion to Christ? Absolutely. But never borne in hatred. He had every reason to hate others who treated him so cruelly. But his choice was that of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Which gives us another famous verse, not from a song, but from Scripture, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s a great spiritual advantage when even Jesus seems to make excuses for the bad choice of crucifying him.
In St. Paul’s very familiar verse found at the end of chapter 13, 1st Corinthians, and found also in the Liturgy of the Word at many weddings, in faith, hope, and love he gives us the triad of theological virtues, correctly naming the greatest one. Love is superior to all other human actions and emotions. Before all else, it is the virtue that defines God, and all those who do his will. It’s the virtue that will cancel a multitude of sins. So, if you haven’t been to Confession in quite some time, go and perform some profound acts of love for the right reasons, and you will, according to Scripture, which is 100% believable, cancel a whole bunch of dirty spots on our souls. And then go to Confession still.
After love, we have a tie for the 2nd greatest virtue; faith and hope. Faith allows us the capacity to address the trials of everyday life, giving us the incredible truth of Someone to believe in who invites to a better lasting place than here. How many times have we heard it said, “I don’t know where I would be without my faith!”
Faith will move mountains, meaning this theological virtue has the force to make entire towns, cities, and nations places where love for neighbor is more present and more powerful than hating enemies. Faith in God as a whole will raise up any population or gathering of people to its highest form of humanity, whereas the absence of faith in God will lead to sub-human actions where people tear each other apart. Which is why removing religion and religious symbols from open, public display, which our Founding Fathers never promoted, is so abhorrent and spiritually dangerous for a city or nation. Today, it seems we’re seriously misguided and way overconcerned for offending individuals, instead of being concerned what removing God from the public square will do to a city or nation’s heart and soul. May we prefer to move mountains the proper way.
And then there’s the 3rd theological virtue. The virtue of the Transfiguration of Christ on the holy mountain before 3 chosen Apostles. The virtue of hope. As we know how the story goes for these three, they’re going to need hope, just as we do.
Out of faith, hope, and love, hope is the most forward-looking of the three. Hope is believing there’s a reward at the end of this Christian rainbow. That all our Christian actions and words that we do and speak in the present are worth all the efforts of having faith and sharing love. That in our free will cooperation with God’s grace and favor upon us, there’s something ahead of us that will result in lasting satisfaction for our souls. And, when Jesus returns for an encore, for our bodies also.
Maybe on the mountain of transfiguration, the faith of the 3 Apostles in Christ deepened. And most likely they walked away from the experience, on their way down the mountain, with much deeper love for their Savior. But one thing’s for sure; their hope went off the charts. It broke the thermometer that measured their joy. Their hope that a greater life has been prepared for us was fully realized in that moment. Which explains why Peter wanted to build three tents and remain up there on an extended vacation from the world.
Hope is the virtue we need when doubt starts to creep in and become creepier, making us question whether the Cross and Resurrection are the real deal. Is it a dream, or is it a real vision on the mountain for these 3 Apostles who are mere fishermen? Is it a panic attack taking place up there, or is the voice really telling them to listen to his Son?
The opposite of hope is despair. And despair is the tool of the Devil. We Christians have no room for despair. It flies in the face of all that Christ has won for us.
Allow the theological virtue of hope to sustain us in our daily Christian living. The Transfiguration of the Lord belongs not only to Peter, James and John, sustaining them in being the first ones to spread the faith and grow God’s Church. This holy event belongs to each of us, providing us a visual of what God has prepared for those who love him.
Our hope is not grounded in this world. Our hope is lived out with joy in the present, but hope looks past all present trials, and keeps one eye on the forward-looking Transfiguration of Christ.