Homily 19th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C August 11, 2019

Faith and preparation. They go together, for sure. Is it even possible to proclaim faith in Christ, and then get caught off guard by not being prepared to practice it?

               When we ponder the gift of our faith, a treasure we behold within, if we had lived before the time of Jesus, the first person we would have looked to for the best example of faith would have been Abraham. A person cannot read about the choices of Abraham and not be impressed by his deep faith in God.

               Look at what this reading from Hebrews teaches us today about the ancient Patriarch: he went out not knowing where he was to go. Meaning, God wanted Abraham to pack up and leave his comfortable quarters, go out to the desert, and when he gets out there, “Then I’ll tell you where to go Abraham. I’ll inform you at that time the very spot where I want you to plant your roots.” And Abraham says, “Okay.” That takes a lot of faith.

               Or, how about being too old to generate, to have children, as Hebrews says? And a wife that is sterile? In that reality of old age, would you believe God if he told you that you were to have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky? Under those physical conditions? I think we’d all turn around to see if there was a young married couple standing behind us. We sure wouldn’t believe that God was talking to us old people. But Abraham did. He did believe it, without turning around. If God said it, Abraham had the faith to believe it.

               Or this 3rd example from Hebrews: He (Abraham) reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead. Remember, Abraham is mega-centuries before the life of Jesus. Abraham reasoning God having the power to raise from the dead is like a person living at the time of Jesus 2000 years ago sitting on their front cement step, say, in Jericho, looking up at a full moon on a clear night saying, “One day some human being is going to walk on that big round ball of mountainous dust.” Only crazy people think such thoughts. Or people with deep faith, thinking thousands of years before the Incarnation that God was able to raise even from the dead. That’s someone who’s ahead of their time.

               Abraham reasoning that God was able to raise even from the dead is a belief that speaks to all of us who have lost someone we know and love, and it makes Abraham the first Christian without the benefit of knowing Christ. But he intimately knew God the Father, having faith that we dream about.

               Faith in Christ is a Sunday topic that never grows old, like Abraham and Sarah. And the reason it shouldn’t grow old for us is the same reason why in the Catholic Church we have crucifixes, and not just crosses. The crucifix has Jesus hanging on it. The plain cross does not, symbolizing his Resurrection. We keep Jesus there because every week we’re in need of looking at it, and having a visual again and again what he did for us. We need this reminder, for we’re forgetful at times.

We need this reminder also because so many of us are carrying crosses right now. We know he’s risen. We have that faith, We’re not dumb in our faith. We believe. But the reminder of the crucifix never gets old, nor does the topic of our faith in Christ.

Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. And in the context of this week’s Gospel, like Abraham, are we ever ready to put that faith into the practice of our culture and society, and not keep it a private faith? Is it a public faith, or do we grow shy when a response is upon us? Do we allow the thief to break into our homes where our treasure of faith resides, and allow this person or that group to steal what belongs to God?

Faith in God is not replaced by faith in people. I have faith that our bulletin company will mail us the bulletins every week in time for Sunday Mass, so you can read my column at some point and fall asleep. But our bulletin company, they cannot raise me from the dead one day. And if they thought they could, we’d be using another bulletin company.

               What never grows old is believing what we place our faith in with Jesus: 1) That he never abandons us. Abraham walked the length of a desert to discover this truth that he already knew about God.                                        2) That he is with us until the end of the age, whatever age we die. Most especially with us in the Eucharist, his word, and in the body of the Church.                                                                                                                 3) Faith never grows old believing that Jesus died for us. not for himself. Our God is not a criminal. He didn’t need redemption. We need him on the Cross. We need a crucifix.                                       4) May belief in the Resurrection never grow old in our faith lives. It’s the central tenet of our faith where all hope resides. Where life is worth living. And 5) What God the Father did for Jesus his Son in calling him out of Joseph’s tomb, he will do for us. If that gets old, then we’re way too old. We need to die right now before we get older!

               And to think that Abraham, who never knew Jesus in his lifetime, believed all this, and had faith in all this. He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. Stay on the path of faith. The path of Abraham that leads to the presence of Christ, and, we pray, our loved ones.     

Homily 18th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C August 4, 2019

So, if you ever do see a U-Haul riding behind a Funeral hearse heading to the cemetery, it’s purely by chance. Have you met the person who buys two plots of land in a cemetery, one for their body that will turn to dust, and a second larger plot for their possessions that will also turn to dust? I haven’t.

               Throughout the length of our years on this planet called Earth, we earthlings go through a process of both building up and tearing down. At times this process can seem like a roller coaster that goes up slowly, building up steam, then goes down, tearing the track. The roller coaster is a good image for our possessions in that it takes much longer to build them up, like an uphill endeavor at a slow pace: building up that 401K or taking some time to buy a home you like. And then, the going downhill part of the roller coaster could be the speed at which we either lose it all or spend it all if we don’t take precautions along the way. Or, we give it all away like St. Francis.

               Our readings this week for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflect the ordinary process most of us experience; the building up and the tearing down; the profit and the loss; the buying and the selling. But our Lord lovingly reminds us in this awesome parable that in the midst of our building up and tearing down, in the midst of buying and selling, that we as Christians who follow Christ, do not cast aside the holiness called works of mercy. Thankfully, many of us do not cast aside this necessary part of our faith, so necessary that our faith in Jesus cannot reach its fullness without such works.

               In the Gospel parable, this rich man is obviously blessed and loved by God. Not because of his capacity to build up many possessions. He’s loved by God by virtue of his humanity. God does not love the rich man more than any poor person. This is where the present-day Gospel of Prosperity tumbles down like the walls of Jericho. That gospel says that God loves you more by way of blessing you with large amounts of material goods and dollar bills. The truth, however, which can be proven time and again in the Scriptures, is that God favors the poor. The immigrant. The struggler. The one needs assistance. God’s love for those we call poor, and those who are poor, is a special divine love shown only to them, and it surpasses that of God’s love for the rich man.

               The rich man in the parable is blessed, and he is loved by God. He has worked hard, which God gave him the capacity to do. He has built up his fortune with some healthy retirement figures, so much so that he needs bigger barns for storage. He needs more investment companies. All looks good.

               But the shift in the parable is not his life being demanded of him that very night. His time was up no matter what. His heart attack was happening that night not because God was getting even with him for building bigger barns. God loves this man unconditionally. He’s dying that night because his time is up.

               The shift in the parable, if you will, is found in these few words from St. Paul in today’s reading: “Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” The rich man sought what was above. But when he sat down and looked up, he saw bigger barns of his own possessions instead of the Son of God. We’re given this stark image in Jesus’ parable of a rich man looking up and worshipping his own goods.

When we seek what is above alongside the material blessings we gain, what’s demanded is not someone’s life. What’s demanded is sharing our blessings. What’s demanded are the corporal works of mercy, which, in the parable Jesus tells, there was none.

This parable of Jesus, like any other parable the Lords tells, can be understood in a variety of ways with all the parables the Lord teaches. In this one, the Lord mentions guarding against all greed. Greed on its own is like eating way more possessions than our stomachs can handle. Greed alongside the Person of Christ is a matter of not sharing the many blessings bestowed upon us. Rejecting works of mercy. And in my humble estimation, that’s the heart of this parable.

In seeking what is above, we adore not the material wealth we’ve gained in barns. We seek Christ, who cannot be separated from his special love for the poor and the material blessings we have. If we die from this world without a heart for the poor, like the rich man in the parable, I can just about guarantee you Purgatory at best. But the goal is heaven, alongside the likes of St. Mother Teresa, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Francis, and the countless others whose personal barns were empty, but looked up and saw Christ in the face of the poor.       

Homily 16th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C July 21, 2019

I’m sure we can all agree that Martha chose a good part also. I’m sure Jesus very much, in the fullness of his hungry humanity, enjoyed the quick meal that Martha worked so hard to put together.

               In the words of Jesus to Martha, while Mary is totally silent, the Lord draws a distinction between better parts and somewhat lesser parts of offering our attention to him. Without question, Martha symbolizes the corporal works of mercy in her person. She’s the fulltime doer. The one who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty. Martha is the one with the nurse’s bag always on the stand next to the front door, ready to pick it up and go on a call in the village when a sick call comes in. Or the one to go visit the sick and provide for their many needs.

               We can form the impression from this Gospel story that Martha is somehow doing something in the presence of Jesus she shouldn’t be doing in that moment. It’s openly apparent that our Lord is – in a very nice way – telling her to slow down for a short time, take a break, chill out, and have a seat. However, in saying that Mary her sister has chosen the better part, there is no minimizing Martha’s running around with full love in her heart for Jesus, and a little less love for her sister.

               As Mary sits at the feet of her Lord, we ourselves come to an insight for our Christian lives of the importance of listening to God’s voice, and not the distractions of a world that is constantly seeking your attention, begging you to buy their million different sales pitches. In Mary’s good choice of a better part in that moment, we’re taught by Christ why this is a better part for us too. Not at the expense of forgoing the corporal works of mercy of Martha. That would be a poor excuse for not performing acts of Christian love that are demanded each day. There are no good excuses for such neglect. But with the silence and attention of Mary, we’re offered a couple choices necessary to deepen our love for Christ, a love that never peaks in this life, even for the Saints. This is what the Gospel story rides on.

               The first better part is sitting with our Savior. That’s obvious! I strongly recommend we not wait to see him face to face after death in order to sit with him. There are numerous opportunities to sit with him now. Do we avail ourselves of them? Do we recognize them? Mary not only chooses to sit before the Lord, but that choice leads to a greater capacity of intimacy with our Savior.

               When Martha complained, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” Mary, who was sitting within earshot, heard none of those words of complaint about her. The first better part that supersedes even Martha’s loving service is this total attention on Christ our Light. Who of us can do that even for a moment each day, where all the noise around us cannot be heard because of our full attention is on Him? If we could capture just one minute of such attention with Christ each day, we would experience the joy of divine peace needed in a world of cable news, rabid politicians, and a bad Red Sox team. A short span of attention on the Lord Jesus goes a long way toward inner peace, sanity, and perspective.

               The second part of the better part of Christ is the holy desire of Mary to welcome the Messiah within her. In our 2nd reading from Colossians today, St. Paul writes so nicely about the mystery hidden from ages and generations past, but now manifested to the holy ones… it is Christ in you.”

               As lovely as what Martha is doing in feeding the hungry Jesus, her movement around the house in this moment of the Lord’s presence becomes a personal distraction for her. Again, her actions of love are not criticized by Jesus. But timing is important, as we know. Mary’s choice to sit at his feet is a teaching for us that says, “I want you, Jesus, internally, within me. I want you not just in my life, but inside of my life.”

               In our Catholicism, we can live our lives on the edges and peripheries of our faith by fulfilling Sunday obligations, forgiving once in a while, performing that corporal work of mercy so ingrained in St. Martha to the point of complaint. All such spiritual goods are accomplished through the power of Christ in us. But he doesn’t want the “edges of our lives.” He wants the center. Your core. Our very soul. And since he created us, he deserves that burning bush within us. This is what Mary seeks, which is the better part.

               My prayer is, like Mary, we give at some point each day the better part of our burning bush to him who is Lord and God. To invite him within us, to the center. And then go out and enjoy the many blessings of this life.   

Homily 15th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C July 14, 2019

So, the guy was down and out. Not on his back only, but on his life. He was just beaten up by those who carry out the forces of evil, those who need to cheat, lie, steal, rob, and get violent in order to satisfy their original sin. The kind we try to avoid at all costs, I hope.

               They beat him, left him on the side of the road, fortunately still alive, but half dead, and who comes lollygagging down the road but a priest on his way to a wedding. The priest can’t touch the beaten man, or assist him, because if he gets any of the blood on his person, then he becomes unclean and will no longer be available to perform the upcoming wedding ceremony. And, he will lose out on his $1000 stipend, which is not in the back of his mind, but in the front of it.

               The priest has memorized God’s commandment of loving your neighbor. But in the moment, he takes that loving commandment of God, a commandment meant to bring forth the best in us, and says to himself in the moment, “That commandment is too mysterious and remote for me. It’s too far up in the sky. I can’t reach that far up in the sky and grab it for this encounter before me with a beaten man. I can’t carry it out. I need a spaceship. I need Apollo 11 to go up and get it on their way to the moon and bring it back to me, this commandment of mercy.” So, off he goes to the wedding, a thousand dollars richer.

               Next, the Levite hops down the road in his new sandals. He sees the same sight as the priest, stands there for a moment as he encounters two things; a beaten man, and, his own conscience. “I really should help this guy. I know it’s the right thing to do before God. But I think this is a setup on the road to Jericho. That blood looks like Hollywood blood, the fake kind that came over from the land of tinsel and fake. That blood looks too real to be real.”

               So, the Levite convinces himself that God’s commandment of mercy is too far across the sea. “Who’s gonna to take a cruise and get it for me, and bring it back so I can carry it out? Who would like to take a cruise across the sea for the Levite, find that mysterious and remote commandment and bring it back, so a beaten man can be cared for with love and mercy?” The Levite’s conscience is not up to par; he’s in need of some spiritual help, like our prayers. His spiritual life matches that of the beaten man’s physical appearance.” Off he goes into the wild blue yonder of the desert.

               And then comes along the Christian. I’m sorry, the Samaritan, who imitates a Christian. Where the commandment of mercy, love, care, and assistance is not too far up in the sky, and not too far across the sea, so far above or beyond where he cannot reach it. The Christian, I mean the Samaritan, makes no excuses. He has the natural law within him. The same law that resides in every person of goodwill. The law that speaks from heaven, “He’s my brother. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” The natural law that carries out naturally in the moment, that the answer is not avoidance and excuses, but love and attention.

               Our Savior has shared with us many beautiful teachings and, yes, commandments. And not one of them – not a single one – is too far up in the sky, or too far across the sea, to apply. They are within. Within our conscience, and within our power with the strength of Spirit to carry out.                “What must I do to inherit eternal life, Good Teacher?” The answer is twofold: make no excuses, like priests and Levites, and, know that God’s power of mercy and love is within you, because that’s how much he loves us.                                                                                                                                                                

Homily The Most Holy Trinity Cycle C June 16, 2019

From Resurrection to Ascension to Pentecost to Trinity. A natural progression of Divine love. First, in actions, and then in the essence of his being.

               In order to be a person of authentic love in our world today, a person who best reflects the love of God we carry in our hearts, such love must be revealed in the actions of our lives. To say we love God and speak ill of others, or ignore the basic needs of those who battle each day for their basic needs – and there are many who do – that would be somewhat tantamount to God promising us his love, and then not raising his Son from the dead, leaving him in the grave. Thus, leaving us also in the grave. What sort of love is that?  

               God would be speaking the language of love for us, which he has done in Jesus, while performing actions that are inconsistent with his words. But that’s not how God works. At times, we may operate on that level of inconsistency, but not the Almighty.

               The feast of the Trinity is the stamp of approval for all that we’ve celebrated since the Annunciation to Mary, when Jesus was conceived in her womb. Every action that followed that most holy meeting in the Judean countryside between an angel and a Virgin has been about Jesus. Thus, every action has centered on the virtues of love and sacrifice. Annunciation; Nativity; Ministry; Death; Resurrection; Ascension; Pentecost; and the thousand parts of his life I have no time to cover in a short few minutes. The whole message of Trinity is love. That’s where it begins, and that’s where is will never end.

               Every action that came down from heaven from the goodness of our Heavenly Father, to the actions of Jesus his Son, to the sending of the Holy Spirit infusing the hearts and minds of the Apostles – an infusion I’d love to see happen to a few million other people – are all actions of love. First, second, third, and last.

               Our celebration of the Most Holy Trinity affords us the opportunity, if you like, to remove the clutter we may carry within, such as why God did this, or why God didn’t do that, or why God allowed this to happen, or why God seems to be varied and inconsistent at times, or why God is so fickle when we are the ones who are fickle. The Most Holy Trinity affords us the opportunity to re-center our image of God, if you like. An image that may be skewed, or off the path just a few yards, or 100 miles, and have the wisdom and courage to go to the heart of who he is, and discover the loving actions he carries out on our behalf, backing up all the words he has spoken through the Scriptures.

               In today’s Gospel where, again, Jesus is preparing his Disciples for his impending departure on Savior Airlines before his return to them in a new resurrected body. He says to them, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” I know how he feels. There are homilies where I would love to not hold back one vowel. But even Jesus holds back for the moment.

               However, his holding back, knowing they cannot at this time bear the entire truth of his words, is not centered in any fear of his losing them, or having them walk away like many did when his words about eating his body and drinking his blood were too difficult for their ears, so they left their salvation never to return. Jesus’ holding back is centered in his love for them. And that’s why I hold back at times; because I love you. The same reason I don’t hold back at times. The next step in preparing the Apostles to change the world from its evil ways to the ways of love and goodness, and teach the good things of God supplanting the pagan actions of not knowing God, is the sending of the Spirit, a Divine action of pure love.

               The same Spirit still abides with us. He challenges us to challenge the spirit of the age, another way of saying the rejection of God and his love for us. The spirit of the age today is very pervasive. Remember in the 1st reading, the wisdom of God spoke these words; “and I found delight in the human race.”

               After mentioning the heavens, the mountains, the hills, the earth, the deep, the skies above, the sea that so many of you enjoy visiting in the warm weather, the wisdom of God proclaims delight in one part of creation; the human race. The same human race we may look at in certain settings and say correctly, “That’s less than human. Aborting a child in its mother’s womb is less than human. That’s sub-human!” Instead, God delights in us, aside of our horrific actions. He delights in us because he loves us first, far above the rest of creation. A love he did not hold back when raising his Son from the dead.

               It is said by many that the Most Holy Trinity is impossible to grasp, to understand, to figure out. Sort of like the Red Sox this year. But there’s the ground zero of God’s being that is not hard to get. And that is, “God is love.” The premiere human understanding of our Creator.

               Just look at a young child, a toddler, a baby, and you will see the premiere understanding of our Creator. Which is why Jesus says, ‘Let the children come to me.” In the face of that child, in the wonder of their being, we see the love of God in its perfect vision, from Annunciation, to Incarnation, to Death, to Resurrection, to Ascension, to Pentecost, to the Most Holy Trinity.   

Homily Pentecost Sunday Cycle C June 9, 2019

“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” And, through the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, who knows no lies, and wherever the Spirit leads us in words or actions, we can trust that God is the One working through us.

               There are many folks who, for one reason or another, deal with a spirit that is not holy, and would never say, “Jesus is Lord.” In the charged-up world of political correctness, we might even fear offending another person or another faith if we were to say “Jesus is Lord” by the Holy Spirit. Maybe a good question for us would be, “When’s the last time we spoke publicly, “Jesus is Lord?”

               It’s true that actions speak louder than words. A person who professes Christ with the actions of their lives – such as continuous works of mercy, or prayer for others – they speak “Jesus is Lord” in what they do. But St. Paul is on to something here when writing about saying “Jesus is Lord.” When speaking those words in the stillness of the night, for example, speaking them to ourselves in prayer, it is appropriate and calming. But our belief in Jesus is not only a private faith for private moments, such as the darkness and quiet of the night. It’s easy to be one with the Holy Spirit in those moments, and speak words by the Spirit.

But our faith in Christ is also a communal, public faith to be shared openly in the culture, where speaking and stating the obvious for us that “Jesus is Lord” is a pleasant reminder of who he is and what he has accomplished on our behalf. Yet, there are those times when much of the spokenness of “Jesus is Lord” has been watered down and privatized. We are certainly in need of capturing some of St. Paul’s zeal with the holy words, “Jesus is Lord,” and let the Spirit lead us. And not live a watered-down version where political correctness controls our faith in the Risen One.

Pentecost Sunday is when the tide shifts for the Apostles, and for us too. The tide shifts for them by way of being infused with everlasting courage – although they will still have their moments. They are infused with preaching, teaching, and fully embracing “Jesus is Lord” in their many languages. They receive the Spirit powerfully from Christ breathing on them first, and then again in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Ascension. That’s a lot of Spirit. Now they’re ready to hit the road and bring some Good News with them. And do so under threats, imprisonment, stoning and death. The only part missing from that short list today is the stoning.

The Pentecostal tide shifts more for us over the length of our lives by way of our being open to the Spirit. If the Spirit was infused into us the same way it happened to the Disciples, we’d be babbling too like they did. We’d be speaking like we were drunk. “What language is Fr. Riley speaking? He never spoke that before!”

My friends, we want to know that what we say and do each day for Christ is worth our effort and commitment to him. That saying “Jesus is Lord” by the Holy Spirit has a good outcome beyond the boundaries of this world and into the good side of eternal life. The way to know it’s all worth our effort of wanting the Spirit of Pentecost to lead us is to seek the 3 gifts of Christ in this Gospel.

First, he offers peace. Our Lord’s peace is not contentment and perfect solitude in this life, as attractive as that is. We are not monks who live in a town called Spencer. As good as they are, they still have their moments, especially if they drink a little too much of their beer called Spencer Ale. Our Lord’s peace – “Peace be with you” – is the continual building up of our faith over a lifetime, trusting in the end that God will not abandon us.

Peace is most fulfilling with some holy, spiritual company, present when most needed. This is why I love the Communion of Saints. They can help us find some lost keys, or pray to Jesus to remove that cancer in us, or help my team win a Stanley Cup, which is all good. But if their prayers and presence are not there at the end, bringing God’s peace that it was all worth the effort of living “Jesus is Lord,” then I will be roundly disappointed.

2nd, instead of disappointment, I’m confident there will be for us the rejoicing of the Apostles in this Gospel setting. What was the cause for their rejoicing? They saw the Risen Lord. And so will you. It was in that moment they realized that “Jesus is Lord.” 

And a 3rd way the tide shifts for us on Pentecost is the sweet breath of Jesus. Our Lord’s breath is less about smell and scent, and much more about courage, guts, and memory. The courage to let the breath of Christ lead, the guts to bring forth his Good News, and the memory to speak with accuracy what God has given to the world in his Son.

This Pentecost, I pray the Spirit may penetrate every part of your life. That he infuses you. That you will be open to God’s gracious will for you. And that we will unabashedly say by the Spirit, “Jesus is Lord.”  

Homily 7th Sunday of Easter Cycle C June 2, 2019

“Father, they are your gift to me.”

               That’s the Son of God speaking about a few fishermen, a former tax collector, and whatever else they did before they were called away from their former employment and former way of life. Now, they are fishers of men and women, collecting the good taxes of eternal life.

               Is there anything better than witnessing one person raise the dignity of another person? Where the one who is in some sort of bind, some great need; illness, financial woes, depression, addiction, loneliness, in prison, and more. Where the one who is in the greatest need of having their dignity raised from the pit of destruction, has it raised by the love, concern, and good actions of another?

               We see this in many places, such as a hospital setting, where family members go above and beyond by way of presence, words, silence, sustained concern for their loved one. We see such dignity being raised in the ordinary, quick actions of everyday life too, where an open door will remain opened for you by the hand of a total stranger, rather than shut in your face. It’s an act of your dignity being raised as a person. If there was a skunk following you into a building, you wouldn’t hold the door open for a skunk, would you? Thus, we have greater dignity than a skunk.

               We do this for each other countless times a day, sometimes without realizing it, calling it common courtesy. Its human dignity being raised on the spot. And those acts of love and kindness do not go unnoticed; nor do they go unnoticed when they are not performed.

               On the 7th Sunday of Easter the Church gives us the Gospel setting of intimacy with Christ, which, I pray, we all seek and desire, as St. Stephen did in the 1st reading. He couldn’t wait to be with Jesus. In the Gospel, we see an intimacy never before seen, heard, experienced, or known by any other person, even in Old Testament times. This scene with Jesus and his Disciples is more intimate than all that God did with the great Moses in bringing his people out of Egypt, with Noah in the beautiful divine symbol of the rainbow that symbolized a covenant with the holy and divine, or with Abraham and the Lord’s promise of countless descendants.

               All those previous signs, wonders, and promises accomplished through intimacy with God, do not reach the height of intimacy we see in this Upper Room setting. Here, the closeness to God is realized in the human presence of the Divine. It’s most appropriate that this intimacy with Christ occurs in a place called the Upper Room, because he takes their fisherman and tax collector dignity and raises it above that of Abraham and Moses.

               “Father, they are your gift to me.” That’s God in Person speaking about mere mortals. Mortals who heeded his call, as we do. Mortals who witnessed much over 3 years; demons being cast out; thousands upon thousands being fed by a few fish and loaves of bread; raising dead bodies to life; teaching the teaching of God’s perfection in the Beatitudes. Mere mortals, whom Jesus calls his gift, who ate and drank with him, who abandoned him, who returned to him, as we pray many will do, by way of God’s mercy.

               “Father, they are your gift to me.” These smelly fishermen, these tax collectors who cheat, are God’s gift to his Son. Really? That’s really cute! “I wish that where I am, they also may be with me.” God never spoke those words about Abraham or Moses. Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. But these simple, hard-working Disciples sitting before Jesus, they would have – and still have centuries later – descendants for Christ as numerous as the stars in 20 skies, not just one.

               Jesus raises the dignity of his disciples from their knowing so little about God, to living with Him forever, and being called his friends. For that, my friends, is what we are. We are friends of God. We are friends of the Cross-Carrier. The Sufferer. The Redeemer. The Savior. A friendship that was torn asunder is now repaired in the Resurrection. Repaired not in some sort of neutral way, where two people will say, “Let’s agree to disagree, so we can live in peace.” “Let’s agree to disagree” is a neutral stance that wisely avoids anguish and bitterness.

               But the Lord carries us far beyond neutrality. He calls us his gift. And he says it to the Father who is listening. Jesus has sealed us to God forever. This is our dignity that the world can’t come close to giving. This world can’t even protect the unborn child. We create stupid laws that protect their destruction, where human dignity is violently crushed.

               Jesus does the polar opposite. And every professed Christian should put some of that in their pipe and smoke it for awhile. Christ sees the gift that we are, even in our weakness. He raises our dignity as Christians even beyond that of Moses and Abraham. And he tells the Father so. That’s what love looks like. And we participate in this Gospel scene, in this human giftedness, every time we do the same for others.    

Homily 5th Sunday of Easter Cycle C May 19, 2019

It’s an experience that most of us have had at one time in our lives, or more than once. Especially if we’re of the older sort. The experience is this: that someone we love greatly will be with us here in this life for just a little while longer. It may be a matter of hours, a matter of days or weeks, a matter of a few months based on medical diagnosis.

               Most of us have looked at someone we love and thought to ourselves, “Today is Sunday. By next Sunday, one short week, they will not be with us anymore.” The death watch commences at some point. It proceeds forward as time marches on. Eventually, in a short period of time, the watch ends.

               In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus’ death watch, which looks a little different from the death watches we’ve experienced with loved ones and friends. Mostly, our death watches proceed forward in a hospital room, a nursing home, in a hospital bed in one’s own living room, in assisted living, under the auspices of hospice. In some place where we witness life being drained from the physical body of a family member or friend.

               As the Apostles are invited into Jesus’ death watch by the Lord’s own admission: “I will be with you only a little while longer,” they look at the One about to die in a short time and see a pretty healthy person. They have a hard time taking Jesus serious. The Lord doesn’t have cancer, or heart disease, or blocked arteries from all the fried food he’s consumed over his life. He looks as healthy as he ever was. Healthy as a horse, even one disqualified from the Kentucky Derby. But instead of being disqualified from a horse race, Jesus is going to be “disqualified” from the likes of this world, after Judas left them and commenced his dirty deed of betrayal.

               Therefore, it’s very difficult for the Apostles in the Upper Room, sitting there in the presence of the Master Teacher, listening to him speak of his impending death…. It’s very difficult for them to picture his dying anytime soon as we would see someone we know is dying before us.

               There’s a certain comfort in embracing this Gospel reading 5 weeks into the Easter Season of celebrating our Lord’s resurrection from death. Jesus’ death watch brings us back to a state of reality that, even though in our hearts and minds we live the holy truth that God raised his Son from the dead, we never stop confronting the harsh reality that death for ourselves or those we love is never far distant in our lives. Even when someone looks quite robust and heathy, like Jesus does in this Upper Room gathering.

               With that taken note of, we turn to our other readings today to be enlightened by actions that call us to live beyond the death watch, not remaining in a place we’re never meant to stay after some intense sorrow and pain.

               The first event is, shall we say, down to earth. In Acts, Paul and Barnabas find that the Spirit has led them to the great ancient city of Antioch, the city where they were first called Christians. And the message they share with believers of Jesus in that city is a universal, everlasting message; “Persevere in the faith.” Not just persevere, somehow on your own. But persevere in the faith. In Christ. Persevere in the center of our lives. Because the times of perseverance, as we know, are not infrequent. But it’s those few times in our lives when the death watch and the death reality can overtake our belief that Jesus has won the victory for good.  

               Persevering in the faith keeps us moving forward with the theological virtue of hope. Not a false hope, as some may say who lack faith and wisdom. Instead, a true hope grounded in the witness of the Apostles who stood before Christ after his death watch and his subsequent death, reporting it for all generations. What they reported allows us to persevere in the faith.

               The second event connected to the death watch of Jesus in John’s Gospel, chapter 12, is the Gospel writer’s vision from the Book of Revelation. The one who sees a new heaven and a new earth, where the former heaven and the former earth had passed away. We’ve all seen some pretty amazing things in our lives, one of them being the Red Sox actually winning a World Series. We’ve all seen some visuals never to be forgotten. The birth of a child. Three 7’s coming up on a slot machine. But how about a new heaven and a new earth?

               The Apostle John is blessed to witness mystically, firsthand, a vision that God bestows upon him, reporting it for the eternal benefit of all generations. John sees that God’s dwelling is with the human race, right here and now in the body of believers. Many who come together as one. He reports from this mystical event also that God will wipe every tear from our eyes – only tears of joy in heaven – and that there is no more death, wailing, mourning, or pain. No more pain of politics? I can’t get there fast enough!

               John’s holy vision, of course, is a post-death watch and the post-death of the Son of Man, to which he is a witness to both. A vision centered in our joy being made complete. The best part about it? It’s not a fairy tale. It’s the real deal. It’s the cash settlement of why Jesus did what he did. A cash settlement that is not partial, but more than we ever bargained for.

               The death watch of Jesus culminates in his death; he didn’t lie to them about the Cross that was coming quickly after Judas left, whether Christ was healthy looking or not. So, carry with you the great anticipation of seeing again those you watched die, and now in a state of blessedness we pray. For he truly is raised, and so are we.   

Homily 3rd Sunday of Easter Cycle C May 5, 2019

It would be accurate to say that some important conversations take place at the breakfast table. Sometimes those conversations are with others, and other times they are with ourselves. I have some of my best conversations when I’m sitting at the kitchen table eating my oatmeal over here, when nobody else is around.

            Breakfast conversations tend to set the path, the mood, the purpose for the upcoming day. Even conversations where you have to speak loudly to the other person you’re talking to, so they can hear, like you would have to do at the usually loud Gold Star Restaurant.

            But here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the conversation proceeds in much softer tones and voices, calm minds and hearts, with confidence and assurance that who they see sitting there before them is the real deal, for the 3rd time. This breakfast conversation with Jesus is what every breakfast should look like and taste like in this passing world.

            And the look and taste is, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, I do.” “Do you love me?” Yes, Lord, I just said I do. Didn’t hear me?” “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you. Why do you ask me three times in this breakfast conversation? Do you think I’m hard-headed or deaf?” “Yes Peter, I do. But that will change soon. Feed my sheep.”

            Breakfast conversations with Christ, the conversation that sets the tone for each day of our lives, is less about stuffing our own stomachs with oatmeal, eggs, home fries, and English muffins. And much more about feeding others.

            In the Gospel accounts, this is the last time Jesus will eat with them here. When’s the last time Jesus will eat with us? We don’t know, but we know it’s soon. Feed his sheep.

            Most days, the breakfast conversation is the one that sets the path for another day that God gives us here, knowing that those days are growing less in number. And it’s in the quiet of the early morning seashore that the Lord sets us up for the remainder of our lives with “Do you love me?” 3 times.

            “Yes, Lord, I do. And we will prove it throughout this day, this evening, and all days.”