Homily Easter Sunday Cycle B April 1, 2018

One act of love deserves another one that is much greater. The three women who cared for Jesus when he was upright and breathing, they don’t have it in them to stop caring for the Lord just because he died and was buried. His death is not a good enough reason for them to turn their backs on him for good. Which is pretty amazing. It’s in their nature to give support, to show concern, to continue to love even after he’s buried and not breathing.
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome cared for the many needs of Jesus during much of his public ministry. You think death is going to stop such devotion for three determined women? Not in this world! So they gather up their spices, and off they go, marching to the tomb, caring for Jesus in his death. As they walk, they talk: “Who’s’ going to remove the large stone? Mary, you rock it this way, and Salome, you rock it that way, and maybe we can get it to tumble away from the entrance. We need to get at his dead body so we can at least make him smell good in death.”
Of course, they came to discover that there’s one smell that smells better than smelling good in death; it’s the smell of smelling good in life after death. Which is a little premature for the three ladies at this point. When they arrive at the tomb and realize that their stone-removing discussion was a useless chat, the stone having been removed prior to their arrival, they take the next step, entering the tomb. They still have their spices in hand, and they’re still looking for a dead body to use them on, but there’s no one to use them on. Someone must have stolen him. Where is he?
God doesn’t play tricks with us. So that the women have an understanding of what’s really taking place, God leaves behind a messenger, an angel, to ease their minds and strengthen their hearts. The angel makes it abundantly clear as to what occurred that morning. “He has been raised. He is not here. You need to find another tomb if you wish to use your spices on a dead body. And don’t try using them on me, because I’ll disappear on you.”
In Mark’s Gospel, the symbol of resurrection is the symbol of unused spices carried by the three women who love Jesus. When they received the message from the angel inside the tomb of our Lord, they probably dropped the spices on the ground, and ran to the disciples in their hideout to share the news. So there they were, spices spread on the earth, inside the tomb where Jesus was buried on Friday, moments before the Passover began.
Unused spices spread all over the ground, meant to be used on a dead man’s body, instead unopened and spread all over. What a fitting symbol for life after death.
Our dear Jewish friends recall vividly to this day the Passover of the angel of death in Egypt, which led them to freedom from slavery, eventually into a land flowing with milk and honey. Anytime an entire nation is freed from the tyranny of another people oppressing them, it’s cause for both remembrance and celebration. And this is what our Jewish brethren do at this time of year, every year. They can truly say, “God has set us free!”
But on this holy day, the Passover is transformed from not only from slavery to freedom, but from death to life. In our Lord’s resurrection, with the unused spices laying on the ground rather than Jesus laying on the ground stone-cold, we are carried by an angel from the slavery of sin, to the freedom of holiness. In our Lord’s resurrection, an entire human race, and not just one group, is freed from the tyranny of death, which St. Paul rightfully calls our greatest enemy, and carried to the joys of life everlasting.
It’s a very good thing that three holy women never got to use their spices. Because if they got to use their spices on that Sunday morning 2000 years ago, we wouldn’t be here today. And this Church wouldn’t be here. This would be another shopping mall on a hill, selling us things we don’t really need and can’t take with us. Like spices.
He died for us. Now he is raised for us. Praise God.

SCHEDULE FOR HOLY WEEK SERVICES

Our schedule for Holy Week services is as follows: Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7:00 p.m. followed by adoration in the Church until 11:00 p.m. Good Friday: Stations of the Cross at Noon; Good Friday Service at 3:00 p.m. Easter Vigil Mass begins at 7:15 p.m. Easter Sunday Masses at 7:30 & 10:00 a.m.

Homily Passion Sunday, Cycle B March 25, 2018

We know that any entrance onto a stage during a play, a musical, or an opera, sets the tone for what follows. If an actor/actress, or singer’s entrance onto a stage flops, if they stumble when they come out, when they’re not supposed to stumble, when it’s not part of the script, then it sets up for an awkward moment. The professional will recover themselves quickly, while the less professional – the amateurs – may be embarrassed for awhile.
Imagine Tom Brady leading his team out of the tunnel onto the playing field at the Super Bowl, and when he gets onto the field, he trips over himself, in front of millions of people watching. The only recovery from such an embarrassing mishap is to lead your team to victory. And that’s what Jesus begins to do on Palm Sunday, minus the mishap. Minus falling on the field over his shoelaces.
All that our Lord did on this day was carried out to perfection as he entered the holy city of Jerusalem. First, there’s a colt that no one ever sat on. Perfect! The poor donkey had to feel like the loneliest donkey in the world. He didn’t know he was being saved for the Messiah one day. He must have been asking himself, “Is anyone ever going to sit on me? Why was I created? I thought I was created so that people could ride on me! if you’re not going to give me the chance to get stubborn with someone, then send me to the circus!”
Poor donkey. But then a few guys show up right when the colt was ready to give up, they untie the beast of burden, others ask why they’re trying to take the colt that doesn’t belong to them – “Why you trying to steal that beast?” – “The Master has need of it and will send it back at once.” ‘Oh, okay.” Perfection! The donkey kidnap is pulled off to perfection.
But then the perfection of this day arrives at the more solemn stage. Jesus hops on the donkey that God specifically created for him. The direction the donkey travels is, not away from the holy city, but directly at it. The donkey takes Jesus directly into the furnace. That’s perfect! Our Lord doesn’t hightail it in the opposite direction. He heads in the perfect direction on the perfect beast. The same direction of our faith in him, minus the colt.
Throughout all the trials and tribulations that will come after us from another beast that is not perfect, remembering that our Lord himself knows exactly what lies in store for him in the week ahead, our faith is to move forward. We move in the perfect direction toward Jerusalem, toward the furnace, because that’s where we encounter God closeup. Perfect direction taken by Jesus on the perfect donkey.
And then, as he moves in the perfect direction toward Jerusalem, he is given the perfect praise. The praise that only he deserves; the praise that God alone is to be given. Do we consider our praise of God to be perfect, at least at different times? What is the perfect praise for God? It begins with the word “Hosanna.” Praise, joy, adoration. But not just the one word “Hosanna,” but “Hosanna in the highest.” Meaning, praise for this man on the donkey cannot go any higher. Which, for us, translates into nothing and no one in this passing world is worthy of such ‘Hosanna,” except for Jesus Christ. So, if there’s any person in this world that we adore above the Person of Christ, then our donkey is traveling in the wrong direction.
Perfect praise on our part is giving praise to Jesus. That’s where our life begins, and that’s where, we pray, our life will end.
Everything is perfect on this day. But Palm Sunday is not about this day alone. It’s a setup for the rest of this coming week. The rest of this coming week where perfection will quickly and so radically become imperfect. By the time the donkey is returned to its owner, things start to go downhill for Jesus.
Such as: “I gave my back to those who beat me; I gave my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
How could they turn so quickly on “Hosanna in the highest?” If Jesus is God, don’t you think he should be beyond this type of physical treatment? What makes such wretched behavior possible is our human weakness, combined with the truth that “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”
In God becoming one of us in Jesus Christ, he opened the door to having his holy beard plucked, and having a human face to spit on. His perfect entrance onto the stage of Jerusalem becomes imperfect, not because he fell over his own shoelaces, but because he was tripped up by those he loved.
And this all gets into Good Friday, and why we need the perfect, sinless, holiest man to die for us. So that after we have plucked his beard, and spit on his face, we may still be given the grace to come to the perfection and joy of heaven. We’ll talk about that next Sunday.

Parish Council Notes rom March 18 Meeting

Present for meeting: Polly Flynn, Stephen Sycks, Christopher Klofft, Josephine Ferrie, Ann-Marie Sheehan, Fr. Riley and Matthew Foster Immaculate Conception is nearing its renewal period with the leasing of the Father Connor Center. Representatives of IC are preparing to renew that arrangement with the Guild of St. Agnes and do not anticipate any issues.
As we head towards Easter, Immaculate Conception is anticipating 5 Baptisms at the Easter Vigil, as well as 5 Confirmations and five First Communions, 8 Confirmations in our Religious Education Program to be confirmed at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday, April 8, and 10 First communions candidate in our 2nd grade class to receive their First Communion on Saturday, May 5.
The St. Patrick’s Day dinner was a huge success, hosting over 140 people! Congratulations to the Parish Activities Committee who put on the event. In an effort to support and facilitate future events for other groups, there was discussion on creating some standard operating procedures (SOPs) for using church facilities.
There was some discussion regarding some improvements that will begin being addressed to include the sidewalk railings around the church, concrete upkeep and the possibility of redesigning one of the confessional areas into an adoration chapel.
There will be a talk given on the Humanae Vitae in June by Dr. Christopher Klofft. This event will celebrate and coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Papal document.
M Foster gave a report on the men’s conference and discussed the continuing of support to reach out to more men in the parish for participation. We also discussed the upcoming women’s conference and how to support it in a similar fashion.
Follow ups that we discussed briefly: Snow plowing, works of mercy, Sound System and Partners in Charity.
Closing prayer was offered by Fr. Riley

Homily 5th Sunday of Lent Cycle A March 18, 2018

Lazarus received a small taste of the Spirit of Christ dwelling in him. I don’t believe it was by chance that Jesus raising someone from the tomb in front of a large crowd of witnesses happened to be someone he knew well. Our Lord was friends with Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. Thus, it’s fair to assume that the first open instance of Jesus raising someone from the grave in John’s Gospel was intentionally a person close to him.
As friends, Lazarus possessed this Spirit of Christ by way of inviting Jesus into his home, conversing with the Lord, enjoying his company, talking about late winter snowstorms and how much they hate them, and getting to know the Lord intimately. And, of course, there was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who anointed the feet of the Lord with perfumed oil, and wiping it down with her hair. A very intimate action. This family was very close with Jesus.
So, when St. Paul writes in Romans, “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness…” in this case the righteousness of welcoming Christ into our homes each day, prepares our dead bodies one day for the Spirit of Christ to raise us up. Lazarus was ready for Jesus to do what he did in Bethany on that day, because he welcomed Jesus into his home. May we be ready also.
What our readings treat us to on this 5th Sunday of Lent, preparing us for the great and holy event in two weeks, is an evolution toward resurrection by way of God returning life back to dead spirits and dead bodies.
In today’s first reading from Ezekiel, we heard these words proclaimed: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” This is God’s promise to the Israelites whose bodies are alive, but dead in spirit. Their spirits have been killed. But God’s promise here to the Israelites is a first step towards the raising of Lazarus. How so?
God is promising his people he will open the grave of Babylon where their dead spirits presently were, and he will uproot them all, and return them to the promised land where they long to be. By being captives in Babylon, even though their bodies are alive, their spirits are dead. Have you ever felt like your spirit was dead? There are moments when we go through that. That’s the deadness of all the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. So, their returning to the land God gave them is, for them, a form of being raised from the dead.
When they were conquered and overtaken by the devil, by the Babylonians, and removed from their God-given land, and the U-Haul truck stopped in Babylon – this is where we get off for the next 70 years – they were dead. Their spirits were dead. And God said, “I’m going to bring your spirit back to life by opening the grave of Babylon and return you to Jerusalem.” This is form of resuscitation number one, part of the evolution toward resurrection in the Scriptures.
Form of resuscitation number two, which we heard in today’s Gospel, evolves from dead spirits in bodies that are alive, to real death, death in the body. It is no longer about returning people to their land, God-given or not. Opening graves now advances to literally opening a grave- “Take away the stone,” Jesus says.
Whereas God returned thousands of Hebrews to the holy land, away from the dead land of Babylon, here we have one man and two distraught sisters, the one man literally dead in body. But what Jesus does with the one man’s dead body is far greater than God awakening the spirits of thousands in Babylon.
The evolution toward resurrection with Lazarus is not simply about moving a group of people from one place to another, amazing as that can be. It’s about one man’s dead body in a tomb for 4 days, calling his spirit back into his body, and handing him back to his sisters. “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” In an instant, tears of sorrow become tears of joy. The joy of the Israelites returning to Jerusalem and all the holy cities and towns that make up the promised land, as great as it was, their joy was a blip on a screen when compared to the joy of Martha and Mary, just two people.
In Ezekiel, God revealed his power to remove a people from one physical place to another, opening the graves of dead spirits in alive bodies. In John, Jesus reveals his power over the permanent death, death in the body.
But we know, as good as Mary and Martha had it with the return of their brother whom they loved, it’s still just another step in the evolution toward resurrection. Lazarus is only resuscitation number two in Scripture, greater than number one found in Ezekiel. Lazarus, we know, will die again. Thus, what happened with Lazarus, as powerful as it was, was not even close to being good enough for God. There’s a third step in the evolution of resurrection.
God’s love for us is not halfway stuff. Halfway can define human ways of love at times. But with the Lord, it’s either the ultimate good for us, or it’s nothing. Lazarus dying again is not the ultimate good. Resuscitation number two fails miserably in the end.
The next step in the evolution toward resurrection is for God to call a dead body back to life, out of a tomb, and create a new condition where that person will never die again, and extend that gift to the entire human race. And we’ll talk about that in two weeks.

Homily 4th Sunday of Lent Cycle A March 11, 2018

At the end of the story, there’s a lot of moving parts, and a bunch of confusion.
The parents of the man born blind are confused, telling the religious leaders they don’t know what happened to their son. And they add this to their confused state; “Ask him yourself. He’s of age. He’s old enough and mature enough to answer for himself.” So much for family support!
Then there’s the religious leaders who are totally befuddled. The best they can come up with is to claim that he’s performed this unexplainable act on the sabbath. As they themselves were probably performing some chores behind everyone’s back no one could see, they were breaking the law of resting on the Sabbath, with their guns and cannons blazing away at Jesus for giving sight to a blind man from birth. That sounds a little too much like our upside-down world today.
And even the neighbors of the blind man who was cured; people who grew up with him, on the same street, with connecting backyards and shared gardens…even they ask the question, ‘Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg? Isn’t this our neighbor?” They fail to recognize him with his sight. They only knew him with his blindness. Thus, they’re all confused.
So, when this story comes to a close before the Gospel writer John moves on to chapter 10 and the story of the Good Shepherd, every participant is confused in some form. So let’s make this very clear up front; confusion is not, and is never, ever the intention of Jesus. Nor his heavenly Father. Nor the Spirit. Our Savior wishes to confuse us about as much as the adversary from the lowest regions of you know where wishes to make our lives crystal clear. When it comes to confusion, Jesus and the Devil don’t trade places. With Christ, there is none. With the Pitchfork-Holder, there is nothing but.
So when a loving deed is performed, in this case by Jesus, and confusion settles into the hearts of those connected with the good deed, then there’s a sure sign of lack of faith. Which is grounded in the Pitchfork-Holder. Lack of faith says that God does not interfere in the course of human events in ways that are profound and amazing. And if that happens to be the thought possessing a person’s heart, then how can we believe that Jesus is raised from the dead, which is the peak of amazing events.
All these Gospels in this 3-week stretch; the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well; the man born blind; and next Sunday the raising of Lazarus; at the heart of each of them is Jesus pulling one thing out of us, and placing something else within us. He’s tearing out, and yanking out, and dragging out, and removing the curse of unbelief and confusion. He’s ripping it out like a dog will rip apart the sock of its owner. When the dog is finished, there’s only one place left for the sock, and it’s not on your foot. Toss it in the trash. That’s where any of our unbelief and confusion in the Lord belongs. He wants our belief in him, all the way to the point of Lazarus next week; to the point of our death.
And what he’s removing from within us through these incredible stories, he’s replacing it with belief; with the absence of confusion; with trust that he carries the heavy burdens with us; and with the ultimate truth that we will arrive at the permanent joy of being with him where suffering and death are no more.
Everyone in this Gospel is missing the joy of Jesus, except for the blind man who can now see. He’s the only one who gets it. He’s the only one secure, mature, humble and wise enough to ask, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” “Who are you, Lord, that I may believe in you. Make it crystal clear for me.”
One of the greater purposes of Lent is for us to do less and less searching for the many false gods that seek our attention, and narrow down our search for worship to Christ. And stay with him for good. But the attractiveness of the world returns, which can cause us to easily lose sight of Christ.
I’m certain that the man born blind failed to lose sight of Jesus after this amazing act of love that our Lord performed on him, with spit, dirt, and everything else. Whereas everyone else involved in the story is confused, having no wisdom to explain and accept God’s intervention, the former blind man comes to faith and worship, and you just know he stays there for good.
That’s one constant spiritual challenge for us. We all have our belief in Jesus our Savior. If not, we would be out playing indoor soccer, or indoor golf, or shopping at the Natick Mall or Patriot Place right now. We all are blessed with belief in Christ. But the man born blind takes us to the level where our belief in Jesus, although tested at times, will never run dry.
As everyone else in the Gospel story today is shrouded in darkness, we are called to live by the words of St. Paul in today’s reading: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead (arise from the dead of confusion), and Christ will give you light.”
He is the Light-Giver in our lives, and never the Confusion-Giver. His love, his mercy, his power, and his teachings offer us light, removing the blindness of doubt, inviting us to stay with him for good, following the same path of the man born blind.

Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent Cycle A (Scrutiny Readings) March 4, 2018

“Look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest… as the reaper gathers crops for eternal life.”
The field is always ripe for the harvest. There will always be hearts and souls looking to be harvested, or in need of being harvested. Whenever I speak with someone who is trying to get a family member to return to the practice of their faith (and in Catholic terminology, we know what that means), or speak to someone who mentions how they really feel the need to get back to Church, I always wonder how well that thought will finish. Will it result in no attempt at all, finishing at the good thought? Or, will there be a lukewarm attempt, not finding satisfaction enough to sustain them? Or, will it result in them finding the level of hope that St. Paul so beautifully writes today that “hope does not disappoint?”
I always wonder where it will end up in the long run, remembering that we have only one life to do this. Even if someone falsely believes in reincarnation, we have just one life at perfecting and embracing our faith in Christ our Savior.
Where will it end for them? Will they go into town to buy some food, or will they end up at the well to converse with Jesus, who seems to know it all, including the number of husbands she had?
Of course, the desire of those seeking to bring loved ones and friends back to their most natural place in life of worshipping our Savior in his Body, the Church, is always the goal. We want them to have in this life what we know we have; that being Gospel and Eucharist. The highest form of Good News in this life, and the food that endures to eternal life. Right here.
I don’t know of any priests or deacons who stand on a busy street corner saying to passers-by, “Excuse me, you want a Eucharist? Would you like to receive the Body of Christ and become one with him?” Unless one is ill or homebound, it happens only here. Here at the well. If we’re out shopping for food in the town, then it’s a very different conversation from Good News and Eucharist.
The conversation the 12 Apostles are having in this incredible Gospel is the shopping conversation. They went into town to buy food. On their way in, their talking was about the Red Sox, Patriots, why Butler didn’t play, will Gronk return, how’s your job going Joe, let’s stop at the Irish pub for a quick one, and who’s your daughter getting married to. All good topics. But it’s not the conversation at the well, where Gospel and Eucharist come together to form the foundation of the faith that wells up to eternal life.
If we want our life to well up to eternal life, then at some point we have to meet him at the well. Yes, we know he’s with us all the time, the Spirit who is truth. But we must have the hard encounter where the conversation is deadly serious with Him, and then we can go out and play, and relax, and laugh and enjoy the lighter things, such as going to town to shop for food. Let’s all go to Wegmans! The difference here in this Gospel between the Samaritan woman and the Disciples is found in the difference between eating a bag of nachos while dropping some salsa on our shirt, and the words, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”
How can we not be struck by the sharp contrast in the first half of this Gospel of where the Samaritan woman is, and where the Disciples are. It isn’t by chance that she’s standing at Jacob’s Well with this thirsty-looking Jewish man. Such encounters don’t happen by chance. You think you met your spouse or your best friend by chance? No, you didn’t. She’s at the well because God has a big plan for her, just like his plan for us.
Do you know why she’s at the well talking to Jesus while the Disciples are off in the opposite direction, far away from the well, talking sports and family life while they search for donuts and orange juice? The reason is, because she’s ready, and they’re not. They will become ready, but that time is not yet. They will become ready to embrace the food he talks about, but now is not the time for them.
The Apostles in the Gospel are like all the good souls that want to return to the Body of Christ, but they just don’t yet know how to be in the right place, at the right time on the Sabbath of the Risen Lord. Like the Apostles, we pray they get there spiritually, and arrive at the serious understanding that life is too quick to stay in Samaria all day long looking for food. Food that will lead to hunger and thirst again, providing momentary satisfaction.
The Samaritan Woman is at ground zero of salvation. Whether it’s Jacob’s Well, or anywhere else where the intimate conversation can be had with the Lord. She takes the same route back into Samaria the Disciples took, but her conversation is radically different from that of the Twelve. She’s not talking sports. She’s ready to preach his name as the Christ. Are we ready for the same? She’s filled with zeal to bring those she knows to the Messiah. She interrupts their day so rudely and lovingly, and says to them “Come with me. Put that fork down and I want you to meet him. Right now!” Do we have a portion of the same zeal of the unnamed lady of Samaria?
Two very different places. One crew looks for food that Jesus seems to be uninterested in when they return. He says, “Let me tell you where my food is.” It’s right here! This is where it is. This isn’t just Immaculate Conception Church. This is Jacob’s Well. This is where he feeds us in a way that doesn’t happen on a busy street corner.
And the other person, the individual lady… she’s in the perfect spot. She’s in the Garden of Eden, just outside Samaria. Life is too quick and unpredictable to not find that spot every Sabbath of the Risen Lord.