Homily 12th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A June 25, 2017

As far as Facebook is concerned, I’ve heard the best of stories and the worst of stories. As I’m sure you have.
When giving it some thought, Facebook is very much an extension of the person who is using it. So when angry information is intentionally placed on Facebook, attacking others because we happen to disagree with them politically, socially, or humanly, then that reveals the anger resting inside our loins.
When religious topics or information connected to our faith is placed on Facebook for all the world to see, then it says your religion is very important to you, and you wish to share some thought or teaching connected to it. If someone you are friends with wants to read it and comment on it, they can. Or, if they want to say, “Oh, there goes Fr. Riley on his Catholic soap-box again, putting all that stuff about Jesus as Lord and Savior on his page again for all the world to see. He thinks he’s Billy Graham or someone like that. I’m sick and tired of reading his social preaching,” then they can say that too.
The point of Facebook is to put information out there for others to see and possibly react to. The information can be in the form of photos, or writing where you went to dinner last night, which no cares about. Or putting future events on it so others will know about it. And so forth.
Today’s Gospel is the 1st century form of Facebook, without the technology. Without the buttons to push, especially the send button, the most dangerous button there is. Its pseudonym should be called the “Regret Button.”
Jesus tells the 12, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak it in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim it on the housetops.” Information being passed on for others to hear and ponder. For others to accept or reject. An acceptance or rejection that God will always respect and give us the freedom to choose. His love is never forced, not even in the smallest way.
Jesus is giving the 12 a heavy responsibility: “Share the information I give to you. Don’t keep to yourself this information of salvation, of the Kingdom of Heaven, of the good news to the poor. Don’t keep it in the darkness. Don’t keep it a whisper. The poor need to know there is hope. Not only the material poor, but just as much the spiritual poor.
Jesus says, “I’m passing on this responsibility of sharing this information that will lead all people who accept it to the peace and joy of God’s Kingdom. But when you 12 share this information in the light and on the housetops, you must do so with accuracy, with protecting the truth of the message, without false representation, and with mercy for those who are choosing to hear you.” That’s Facebook coming from the voice of the Lord.
No slander, no anger, no harsh judgments that have no chance of converting people, no vengeance, no eye for an eye, no hatred and burning animosity within one’s heart, and no misuse of one’s power and fingertips. Jesus tells the 12, and us, to share the Good News from the housetop of Facebook or other forms of technology. Don’t share the bad news, the angry news that doesn’t draw anyone to Christ. Don’t be the catalyst for anyone to reject God, unless we’re speaking the truth with love and mercy, and they choose not to hear it. Wipe the dust off your feet and move on.
What we cannot leave behind in our faith lives is this 1st century form of evangelizing. We cannot allow technology alone to replace the form of communication found in this Gospel… “What I say to you, speak in the light, proclaim it on the housetops.” This Gospel is the beginning of the oral tradition of the Christian faith. That we have a solemn responsibility to speak it and proclaim it. To not allow technology or Facebook to replace our voice. It can be part of our sharing the Good News. It can be one method. But we are not to ever lose the voice part of our faith. The 1st century form of Facebook, of sharing information about God.
This confronts the political climate of today that seeks to dominate our lives and our culture. Political correctness doesn’t want you to share your Christian faith in the public square. It wants you to shift to technology alone, after Sunday morning has come and gone.
Today’s dominant social climate seeks to take your religious voice, your actual voice, put it in a box, put some strong Monday-Saturday tape on it, and open it next Sunday morning. This must be rejected. It must be rejected because of what our Lord commands us to do; speak it in the light, proclaim it on the housetops.
Our Lord’s message in the Gospel is, “Don’t let your voice be silenced.” The 12 Apostles will deal with this after Jesus ascends into heaven, and they begin to carry out his form of sharing the Good News. They will be confronted by the religious and civil authorities to stop preaching in that man’s name! They continue because they must do what God commands, and not what man wants. Man is feeble, man is weak, man is sinful. Thus, the blood of the 12 will become the seed of the Church. In our faith lives, God’s ways must always trump the ways of man.
If you use Facebook, use it in a way that reflects first and foremost your love for God and neighbor, rather than cooperating with the Devil. If you don’t use it, then you’re all set. But the heart and soul of sharing the Good News of our faith is our voice. Our voice is the truest, and most original communicating tool for evangelizing. It makes us present for this Gospel scene when we use our voice for the Lord.

Parish Council Minutes from June 11, 2017

Fr. Riley
Deacon Kevin Deignan
Matthew Foster
Chris Klofft
Stephen Sycks
Ann-Marie Sheehan
Josephine Ferrie
Meeting, June 11, 2017, 8:30 am
Opening Prayer: Fr. Riley

Mr. Sycks gave a finance overview. Discussed that the church is in a good standing with finances.

Fr. Riley discussed the success of the recalibrated sound system and the positive impact it has made. Spoke of a possible change to the position of the Ambo (pulpit) and the effect that it may bring. Some concern was raised with regard to better understanding the effect it would have visually, agreeing that as it proceeds there will be visual staging in the build out to preview what it would look like. Fr. Riley gave praise to the efforts and impact of the religious education staff at the parish for another very successful year. There was a lengthy discussion regarding the installation of an American Disabilities Act compliant chair lift to support allowing wheelchair-bound parishioners into the church basement for functions. We discussed the progress of Partners In Charity as well as the need for someone to possibly help Father Riley next year in support of the campaign’s presentation and outreach. We also discussed the Parish Activities Committee and their generous support for the Parish.

Mr. Foster discussed the success the scouting program had this year and a continued interest to look for opportunities to involve them more in Church needs.

Next meeting was set for some time in early September.
Closing Prayer: Deacon Kevin Deignan

Homily Feast of Corpus Christi Cycle A June 18, 2017

“Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
These words from the Book of Deuteronomy today were repeated by Jesus in the desert during his encounter of temptation by the Devil, when the Lord was hungry after fasting for 40 days and nights. Bread alone doesn’t satisfy our souls. But bread followed by the word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does bring satisfaction.
And what are some of those words that come forth from the mouth of God? “Take and eat; this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood.” Don’t be shy. There’s an abundance. Enough for every person ever born.
As the Israelites ate manna in the desert after much complaining to God because of their hunger pains, so we Christians eat our form of manna in the desert, the Eucharist. They ate the shadow of what was to come. Look at our shadow. Your shadow is near you, next to you, but it’s not really you. Your shadow doesn’t have a heart, a brain, a mind that thinks for itself. It’s just an image. It doesn’t breathe; it doesn’t work for a living. It doesn’t raise families. Shadows don’t drive to Boston to go to a Red Sox game, sneaking into Fenway Park without purchasing a ticket. Only if you try to sneak in without purchasing a ticket will your shadow sneak in.
A shadow is real. You can see it. You can reach out and touch it. But you don’t feel anything. You might as well reach for nothing, because the result is the same. Shadows are freaky. They can be short; they can be long; they change with the time of day and season of the year. Shadows play mind games with us. Have you ever noticed that? They’re real, but they’re fake. They’re not a living entity, but they are part of us. There’s something unfulfilling about them. And that’s why the Israelites kept complaining they were hungry. Their manna did not fulfill them. The shadow of bread did not fulfill them.
God supplied bread from heaven for their hunger, after much complaining: “Why did you bring us out here in the desert? We would rather be in slavery in Egypt and eat whatever and whenever we want!” They complained; they got their bread; they ate it; enjoyed the bread; were satisfied; got hungry again; complained again. That’s a shadow. It begins with complaint; it ends with complaint. Nothing but frustration for those who are complaining; nothing but frustration for those who have to listen to it.
Our celebration today of Corpus Christi takes us past the shadow forever, and into the reality of the bread that came down from heaven in the form of a Divine Person. The shadow has been removed. The shadow is dead. Catholics have no business and no justification thinking the shadow remains. There are some of us Christians who have moved from the reality of the Eucharist and welcomed back the shadow of bread. Such movement is going back to the Old Testament.
Listen to the words of the Gospel; “The Jews quarreled among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” Interpretation: “This man is crazy. He thinks we’re cannibals. We prefer the shadow. We prefer the complaining bread.” That’s how they interpret the words of Jesus, as Christ is trying to teach them the reality that he is the true bread that comes down from heaven. He has forever replaced the shadow of the unsatisfying manna, and proclaimed himself the reality of the Eucharist.
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” There is nothing false contained within his being food and drink for us. All shadows have disappeared for good. And this is nothing less than a sign of how deeply he loves us. We Christians are loved so much greater than the Israelites of old, and God loved his chosen people unconditionally. They had the shadow; we have the reality. They ate bread; we eat the true God. Would you rather consume tasty bread, or would you rather consume the eternal God?
Yet, it’s apparent that so many of us Catholics believe in the shadow and not in the reality. If we happen to believe in the limited nature of manna rather than the truth of the Eucharist, please pray for understanding and faith so that we may not restrict God’s gift to us. Pray to stop quarreling with Jesus, and come to the greatest belief of all that he gives to us. Don’t be a Catholic who is satisfied with a 2-course meal when God has cooked for us a 5-course meal every Sabbath Day. Don’t cut yourself short on belief when God has invited us into the incredible length of the Body of his Son.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It has been since the Last Supper. The Apostles went on to hold the communal meal aside from their dinner. They were two separate meals. One filled the stomach until breakfast the next morning. The other meal welcomed the intimate presence of Jesus, where they commemorated the Last Supper, his Passion, his resurrection, and consumed him.
This is not our dinner here. This is Christ feeding himself in word and Eucharist. This is the bread that came down from heaven and satisfies. We are smack in the middle of it. And what a blessing it is.
When it comes to the Eucharist, we do not live in shadows. We do not quarrel with Jesus, thinking he’s a crazy man. He knows what he’s talking about with the food and drink being truth. May the top blessing we receive in this lifetime, the Eucharist, be seen by all of us Catholics in its reality. Avoid the shadows of the Old Testament bread, and enjoy the true food and true drink that is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

Homily Feast of the Most Holy Trinity Cycle A June 11, 2017

This Gospel from John, Chapter 3, is at the heart of a conversation taking place in the night time between Jesus and the well-known Pharisee, Nicodemus. Nicodemus appears to Jesus in the night rather than during the day because he most likely does not want to be seen by other Pharisees conversing with the Lord, and be accused of being one of his disciples. He needs to find out more about Christ before he, as a Pharisee, can be seen in the daylight with this guy who is beginning to shake up the hearts of people who hear him.

                The night time seeking out of Jesus by Nicodemus is both good and not so good. It’s good because it’s a first step toward the possibility of becoming his disciple. It’s fair to assume that long ago we took that night time step into Christian discipleship, and have moved into the daylight for others to see. Where there are no attempts to hide the truth in our lives that Jesus is Lord, and that we are on his payroll 24 hours a day. Where there is no cooperation with the modern powers of political correctness that attempt to shut down our faith and religion in certain places and at certain times after Sunday has come and gone.

                The not so good of Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night time rather than in the daylight involves lack of courage and belief in Christ. Where Jesus is seen only as a curiosity, a sideshow, and a nice guy, and not as Savior and Redeemer. Nicodemus can be cut some slack on this if he takes this night encounter and carries it forward into the daylight for all his family and friends to see. That would be a natural progression of belief. It would lead to belief in the Son of God, spreading such belief to others, and performing righteous works that reflect his belief.

                If Nicodemus does not take that step into the daylight of Christ, but remains simply a curious onlooker regarding this man from Nazareth, then he will miss the most crucial step of his life. He will misstep on his belief in Jesus as Savior, as many have done today.

                Trinity Sunday is not about trying to explain the formula of God’s essence and being. Any priest or deacon who tries to explain what the Trinity is in their homilies today, and do so in theological terms, I feel awful for those who have to listen and try to follow what’s being said.

                The celebration of the Blessed Trinity is much more about experiencing God rather than explaining God. Experiencing the presence of God in our lives begins and ends with belief. Belief that God is Father, who is slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity. Belief that God is Son, who is the pure sacrificial lamb who suffered and died for our sins so that we may have life. And belief that God is Spirit, who fills us with knowledge and love while sustaining every moment of existence. Belief in the step that brings us into the daylight of encountering the Lord.

                Belief, we know, can be a funny sort of animal. We can have much of it one day, and less of it another day. Belief in God is effected by our life experiences. Someone going through a divorce may have a difficult time believing that God is really with them. Someone dealing with a life-threatening illness can have a much harder time believing that Christ is really carrying their cross with them. Someone who wins the Powerball might believe that God is present to them in a special way, until they find out how many friends they really have. Someone who experiences healing, certainly will believe that God is near.

                Belief can be inconsistent, depending on the circumstances. But belief will always remain the step that leads us to the daylight encounter with Christ, the step that Nicodemus may or may have not taken. We pray he did.

                May we take a few moments in this celebration of the Blessed Trinity and reflect on how God so loved the world. The belief that he gave his only Son for our benefit, so that those who believe in him, believing that his life was a ransom for ours, might not perish, but might know the joys of heaven. This belief is never removed from our daily lives and events, nor from the highs and lows of living each day.

                And may God grant us the courage to take the step into the daylight of belief each day. By doing so, we will experience the Blessed Trinity and the closeness that follows.      

Homily Pentecost Sunday Cycle A June 4, 2017

It’s not by chance that the words “Peace” and “Forgive” are spoken by the Lord in the first appearance of Jesus to the Disciples in the room where they held their last meal before all that bad stuff happened to him. When they left after dinner that night to head out to the Garden of Gethsemane, they were pretty clueless as to how that night gathering of prayer and the inability to stay awake with Jesus was going to finish. One thing led to another after Judas arrived with the torch bearers, offering a false and phony kiss, leading to the other 11 scattering to the four winds in their fright and fear of being arrested along with Jesus.

                So, when they see him next, a few days later, after much anxiety, after many evil things have happened to the Son of God, the appearance is filled with indescribable joy, led by the words ‘Peace” and “Forgive.” “Peace be with you,” and “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

                That first phrase of Jesus is very easy to understand. And easy to accept. “Peace be with you.” He desires our peace, and we want peace. We want peace in our personal lives, our families, our cities, our nation and our world. We’re not warmongers. We hate war. Most of us. Jesus desires our peace. Our peace of mind. Peace of heart. Our peace of body and soul. Peace in ways where we can believe in him and live out our faith in him despite the interference and numerous interruptions of the world.

                But the truth is there’s always something interrupting our peace. Jesus tells his disciples elsewhere in Scripture that in the world you will have trouble. This world, this life, will always be fraught with certain types of trouble. As long as death is a possibility, there will always be trouble. This will not end until Jesus returns. Which is why the word “Forgive” must accompany the word “Peace.” Peace without forgiveness is a false sense of peace. Peace without forgiveness is some human concept of peace, absent the peace Christ desires and gives to us. So, don’t ever think you can have peace in your life without the will or capacity to forgive.

                What does all this have to do with Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit, the birthday of the Church? A couple thoughts to share.

                First, in today’s reading from Acts, we heard proclaimed this familiar scene of the disciples, once again, gathered together in the same room, where the Spirit enters like a rushing wind, and fills them with full knowledge of Christ. All those things that Jesus said and did in his public ministry, the Spirit now gives them full knowledge of. Wouldn’t we like to know and understand everything that Jesus said and did in his public ministry? How great would that be for our confidence as Christians, in a world where even longtime Catholics are losing it every day.

                This is the Spirit Jesus promised to send them. The promise is being fulfilled. The same Spirit present right now, promised to us. There’s only one true Spirit, and that’s the Holy Spirit. Any spirits in our world not connected to the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit, are spirits of evil. Always be mindful of what sort of spirit we look for. There are many folks lost today because they search for spirits outside of the Holy Spirit. They play with the wrong kind of fire. As Christians, we always want to be burned, scorched, touched and led by the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit.

                In this amazing scene that penetrates their lives, “Peace” and “Forgive” are revealed in language. This reading reveals to us the importance of language, and speaking words as connected to our faith in Christ. What does it take for us to speak? It takes breath. It takes wind. If there’s no wind in the pipes, there will be no voice. What is the Spirit? The Spirit is breath and wind. Our voices are meant to be the Spirit of God speaking through us.

                So, to connect the Gospel message to this reading in Acts, the language we share, the words we speak, are to be words of peace and forgiveness. If we’re not speaking peace, whether it’s with immigrants, or the poor, or the sick people who burden our lives, if we’re not speaking or seeking peace with those faces of Christ, the ones that challenge us the most, then we’re speaking outside the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is not about invisible wind. Pentecost is about the faces of the people we encounter, and how we think and speak about them.

                And second, the upside of the Spirit of Pentecost is seen in today’s 2nd reading from 1st Corinthians: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” We’re touched by the Spirit. Every time we receive the Eucharist, we’re intimately touched by the Spirit, for some benefit. The benefit is realized when we become what we receive, and share our reception of the Eucharist with others, especially others in need.

                In the context of this holy celebration of Pentecost, the benefits are understood as bringing peace to others, and not mini-wars, and extending forgiveness where needed. Those are the benefits God has lovingly extended to us through the life of his Son. Before Jesus, there was no ultimate peace, and there was no redemption for the forgiveness of our sins. What great benefits we’ve been given freely. At no cost to us.

                So, it’s not coincidental that our Lord’s first message in his first appearance after the resurrection is one of peace and forgiveness. Without those two virtues, the Disciples would have failed in their mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. Their GPA would have been 0.0. Without those two virtues, we will fail also. The breath of the Holy Spirit invites us into the power and effect of these world-changing virtues.

                Pentecost makes the words “Peace” and “Forgive” our own, placing them at the heart of our lives, offering them to those we encounter.          


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.”    



Homily 3rd Sunday of Easter Cycle A April 30, 2017

It’s time to believe. It’s time to put aside unbelief and foolish thoughts, such as it’s impossible that Jesus could be raised from the throes of death. It’s time to put aside for good childish thoughts and believe with the faith of adults who believe that God raising his Son is not some made-up story by 12 guys who want to make-up for running away from him in his hour of peril. It’s time to grow up and believe, Cleopas, and whoever the other guy was that you were walking with, as our Lord opened the Scriptures to you.

                I bet you thought I was saying those words directly to you. It’s time to believe. Well, in fact, it is for all of us. It’s time to stop the foolishness of doubt, and the immaturity of unbelief, and the craziness of not trusting their witness; the women who told these 2 disciples and the rest of them that the tomb was empty. And they found everything just as the women told them. And they were astounded by what they discovered at the holy site. Yet, they still doubted. How many times did he tell them he must rise from the dead? As much as parent tells a child to stop that. He told them a thousand times! It’s time to believe. Enough of the nonsense of unbelief and silly questions.

                It’s time to believe with everything we have, and everything we’re made of, that he is the Savior of the world, of all people, and that God raised him from the dead. Now is the time to believe. How much more proof do you need, Cleopas and the other guy, whatever your name is? He’s walking with you. Your hearts are burning inside as he speaks to you. He comes in to stay with you at dusk. He breaks bread with you. He opens your eyes. How much more proof do you need? Do you need him to pick up that huge boulder that closed the door of his tomb and throw it at Pontius Pilate?

                Well, he won’t do that because he’s not an angry Person. It might have been cool if he did. They could make another violent video game out of Jesus throwing a one ton boulder at Pilate. He doesn’t do those things. He says, “Father, forgive them” as they’re killing him. That’s the kind of Person he is. It’s time to believe.

                Get rid of all the nonsense that makes you doubt that God can do what he has already done. Be rid of all the phony political correctness that can and will ruin your faith, or water it down to the point where we become blind like Cleopas and his friend. Do away with all the wily tricks of the Wily One – you know who he is – and place all your faith, hope, and trust in God…. Cleopas and friend.

                It was a long walk on the Road to Emmaus. The Gospel tells us Emmaus was about 7 miles outside of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. Today, the place is nowhere to be found. But the professional diggers, known as archaeologists, have an idea where it was. Thank God for those smart people with shovels who love unearthing history. Just don’t do it on a Civil War battlefield, because you’ll get 3 years in jail.

                It took much of the afternoon to arrive at Emmaus. Just enough time to recite all the Scripture passages that connect to the Speaker. Jesus did all the talking on the walk. Unlike some folks who like to talk, everything that Jesus said was meaningful and powerful. Around mile-marker one their hearts start burning, and it’s not from indigestion from eating too much pizza. It’s from the power of God’s word.

                At mile-marker two they’re on fire. The house of their soul is on fire. It’s time to believe, Cleopas and friend, with the eyes of faith, and see who’s before you. Mile-marker three they could start a forest fire without lighting a match. Jesus keeps speaking to them, probably about the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah at the 3-1/2 mile-marker. By the time they reach mile-marker four their hearts are so much on fire that they could heat half of Alaska in the wintertime. When are you two going to start believing that God raised his Son from the dead, Cleopas and the other guy? At mile-marker five their hearts have become nuclear. The two walkers with Jesus can blow up the world, not with bombs, but with God’s love.

                You can see Emmaus in the distance now. There it is, two miles away, three hours after we started walking. At mile-marker six, Jesus has touched their hearts so strongly, and their hearts are burning so much, that they can replace the sun, and light up the entire Earth.

                Finally, there’s the sign that says, “Welcome to Emmaus. Incorporated, 100 B.C.” At mile marker seven, there’s nothing left for Jesus to say. He’s interpreted the entire Scripture for us, all that points to his life, death, and resurrection. There’s nothing left for our Lord to say except, “It’s time to believe.” It’s time to be rid of the doubts, the fear, the excuses, the childish ways.

                Our lives are a walk on the Road to Emmaus with the Lord. What mile-marker are you on? I figure I’m at about 5 to 5-1/2 miles in. Somewhere between nuclear and replacing the sun. The question for us always, as we get older; “Are our hearts burning within as we walk this walk with our Savior?” For parents, are we teaching our children the life of Christ so their hearts will burn for him from an early age? Not burn with the too-many rotten ways of our culture, but burn with faith in Jesus Christ, and him raised from the dead?

                What mile-marker are you on? Make sure the mile-marker of our age is consistent with the mile-marker of our faith. As we approach mile-marker 7, meaning the end of our earthly life, we want our strength of belief in the Risen Christ to be at the same mile-marker. Where there’s nothing left to say except, “I believe. Stay with us Lord, for the night of eternity draws near.”

It’s time to believe what he has done for us.