Homily 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 23, 2018

Some conversations are a waste of breath and time. Such as “Who is the greatest?” Do these followers of Jesus really think that he’s going to stoop to their level and say, “Let’s see, should I pick Peter and Andrew as the greatest, or James and John as the greatest, or Philip and Bartholomew as the greatest, or, maybe Judas Iscariot will stop stealing money from the purse and become my greatest disciple?”

                It’s all a waste of breath and time. It’s downright immature and foolish, to think that Christ the Lord is going to choose sides, or he’s going to line them all up, look at them square in the eye, and say, “Okay, you Matthew the tax collector, you’re the greatest among this small group of followers of mine.” No wonder why they kept silent when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about on the way to Capernaum. Their honest answer would have made them look even more foolish than they already were. It would have revealed them to be the little children that they were spiritually.

                Also, this conversation was a waste of time because the greatest disciple, whom they all will come to know, she and Joseph already raised their Son in the tiny village of Nazareth for the past 30 years. His greatest disciple already gave birth to him. His greatest disciple was already born without the stain of original sin, destined to be assumed body and soul into heaven, sitting in the place where these guys want to sit, thinking they deserve that place.

Mary was called long before they were, and called to do something that was impossible for them to do. In her giving birth to the Savior, this entire “greatest” conversation is made possible, for without her loving “Yes” to Gabriel, heaven would be sadly silent to this very day. She’s the greatest among them, yet, we never hear such words coming from the lips of the Mother of God. She lacks their immaturity in her life, and is filled instead with the Spirit.

                St. James in his writing today is so correct, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” This Scriptural verse couldn’t be more correct when placed alongside this Gospel of their arguing over who is the greatest among them.

We continue to go back many times to this observation about the Apostles concerning their growth as followers of Jesus. This conversation about who’s the greatest among them is like the low point in their understanding of what Jesus is calling them to. They think their lives are now going to be a cakewalk. That all is easy-peasy because they now personally belong to the Lord of the universe. And within that falsely confident thought they now argue within their own little circle about who’s number one. They match their big egos with their tiny understanding of the Man they walk with. And there’s still much of that today, where Christ is falsely represented by adults who are tricked into thinking they know Christ the Lord better than the holy people. Better than the handful of Mary’s of this world.

And that’s what we find at the heart of this heated discussion they hold within earshot of Jesus, who can hear everything they talk about, probably shaking his holy head the few hours it takes them to walk to Capernaum. Our Lord must have been thinking as he walked along, “I can’t wait to see how this plays out! I can’t wait to ask these little children what they were talking about.” And, he does ask them. “What were you arguing about on the way?” The answer? Silence. The kind of silence you’re looking for when someone you’re with is talking to loud in public, in a restaurant, about politics, or sports, or religion, and you want to say “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Everybody is looking at us!”

You know what their silence to Jesus represents? It represents their admission of how dumb the conversation was. Of how misguided and ill-informed it was. That their story had many, many holes in it. They knew when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, how little they understood what the Master was looking for from them. They were controlled by worldly thoughts, and not by their faith in him. My friends, don’t be controlled by worldly thoughts. Be controlled by your faith in Him, which brings us freedom.

What their silence also brings about is a small bit of growth, which is good. Making room for silence for Christ will do that, especially in our whacky world of noise. The Apostles’ silence to Jesus’ simple question of what they were arguing about is the perfect answer, when the spoken answer would have been, “We were arguing about who was the greatest, Lord. We’ll leave it up to you. Would you like to choose one of us so we can settle this issue?”

“Yes, I would. I’m glad you asked. I choose the woman who gave birth to me. She’s the greatest of my disciples, because she’s humble like this little child in front of you, and not arrogant like you adults who act like little children. She’s the greatest disciple because in heart and mind she has already died for me in her silence, Our Lady of Sorrows. And when you guys finally come home after drinking from my cup of martyrdom, you’ll see her standing next to me.”

Silence is good. Make room for silence in your life for Christ. When Jesus asked them the question, unknowingly they gave the best answer: silence. In their silence, they took one step toward growth in their understanding of what discipleship for Christ truly means, which begins and ends with being a servant.              

Homily 24th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 16, 2018

There goes Jesus being apparently secretive again in this week’s Gospel, similar to last week. Last week in the curing of the deaf and mute man, our Lord instructed all those in attendance of that miracle to not tell anyone what just happened. They didn’t listen to him. They told everyone they met how they just won the Powerball. Hopefully, the Disciples did a better job at keeping quiet about Jesus being the Christ.

                Again, his apparent secretiveness concerns this issue of Jesus not being identified until he’s on the Cross. It’s in that moment in Mark’s Gospel where the bystanders see Jesus at his worse, but believers over the centuries see him at his best. The Cross is his highest moment because all the sins committed in the world’s history were nailed to the tree. All the small white lies that barely register a blip on the radar, to all the big ones that destroy the lives of other people in some violent form, be it verbal or physical.

                The contradiction of the Cross, it’s called by many Christians. The contradiction that when Jesus looks his ugliest, sort of what we look like when we wake up in the morning, that’s when he’s at his most stunning, his greatest look of beauty. The contradiction that when he appears to be at his weakest moment in 33 years of living, he’s at his strongest. And what makes that incredible contradiction possible, is sacrifice.

                At the heart of Jesus’ apparent secretiveness is the issue of spiritual maturity. He wants them not to tell anyone who he is because they themselves are not prepared to share this message that our God is a crucified God. The Disciples are not spiritually mature enough for this message of truth. Much of our world today still laughs at such foolishness. “Look at those Catholics. They worship a guy who was crucified. They worship a criminal, a dead man.”

                We see this important element to our faith playing out in this week’s Gospel. Peter worships Jesus, just like we do. “You are the Christ,” he says. If “Who do you sat that I am?” were the only question on the exam, then Peter passed with flying colors. “You are the Christ.”

Those are words of worship that I pray we repeat also; “Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the Anointed One of God. This is the first reason why I follow you.” We all have that in common. We’re one, big happy family with that Jesus thought. But when our Lord starts yakking about his future death, Peter says, “That’s not who I want to worship. I like you just the way you are, Jesus. Upright and healthy. Make sure you live to be 140 years old. Please don’t die shortly.” Spiritual immaturity.

                I can understand why people fear death in the way that Peter feared Jesus’ future crucifixion. Like Peter, there’s always that seed of doubt, that little piece of crumb off the cracker, that tells us we don’t know what’s on the other side. Is there anything on the other side? Do we die and that’s it? No Wright’s Chicken Farm in heaven because there is no heaven? Well, if that’s the case, then I better eat as much as I can on this side. Maybe that’s why I do.

                Spiritual maturity is not only a grace that allows us to hold fast to a faith that teaches us to believe some pretty amazing things. Such as eternal peace; no more pain; no more bad relationships; no more disease; the vision of the unapproachable beauty of God; the Reunion; the infinite joy; the resurrected body that will never die again, unlike Lazarus who did. Spiritual maturity is also the willingness to take up our own cross and follow after him.

                There are many concerns in the Church right now. We are still willing with heavy hearts to follow after him. That speaks well to all of you. But there are also many crosses in each of our personal lives, some crosses being heavier for some folks than for others. And where that happens to be the situation, we apply the words of St. James that have no secrets to them; “Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” From the works that assist others who carry heavier and more crosses than we ourselves carry.                                                

To have a Christian vision in our faith journey that sees the struggles of the poor and those hurting in a thousand different ways. And take that vision and do the work on behalf of someone else as Christ did the work for us.

                Spiritual maturity doesn’t run away from Christ like Peter and the rest of them did when our Lord was falsely arrested. It doesn’t run away from Him when times get tough. Spiritual maturity follows him to the Cross, like Mary his Mother and Mary Magdalene, knowing life is a gift, and that eternal life awaits.

                “You are the Christ.” Follow him to the end. Great things await.

               

               

Homily 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B September 9, 2018

The secretiveness of Jesus is on display in this moving Gospel story. Throughout the course of his public ministry, our Lord, whenever crossing paths with a person who is ill, physically deformed in some way, or in need of forgiveness of their sins, he would never and could never allow that situation to pass by without addressing it somehow. He would recognize the particular need before him, be it spiritual, or the combination of physical and spiritual, and, in his divine capacity uproot a deformed situation in someone’s life, and make the person whole. How long the wholeness would last, many times, would be up to the individual who experienced the healing.

                All that Christ did, all that he spoke, all that he taught, was good and holy. Not to make himself feel good; he was already God in the flesh, which I would think feels pretty good. His purpose was to lift up the sufferer, the one who knew physical and spiritual pain; the pain of sin; the pain of a physical nature, like being deaf and dumb; the pain of separation from communities, like lepers; the pain of not being whole in some way that takes away from the joy and happiness that our Lord so deeply desires for all of us.

                Even though the Lord speaks elsewhere in the Gospel, “Pick up your cross and come after me,” and, “You will have trouble in the world,” even though he emphasizes time and again that struggle and strife are a highlighted part of this faith journey for us, what undergirds all that language of Christ is that he still deeply desires our joy and happiness, for at the end of the day he is risen. He is victorious over all the ailments and tortures that life will send our way, as well as all that people will cause to others who are made in God’s image and likeness, including priests being the unholy cause, as we have seen once again.

                In the Gospel, Jesus, if you will, gets physical. It’s a loving, compassionate, caring, redeeming type of physical. And Mark’s Gospel is a “physical” Gospel. Look what our Lord does! He put his finger into the deaf man’s ear; any ear Doctor will tell you, “Don’t do that to yourself, unless you wish to grow deaf.” Then, Jesus spits, touching his tongue. His holy saliva is in the guy’s ear. And then comes the purpose for all the physical moves; “Be opened. Speak clearly; hear; hear the amazement of the witnesses’ present; hear how they proclaim this man in their midst a miracle worker; a doer of incredible things that bring joy and happiness to a person who was deformed.”

                The physicalness of Christ reclaims the wholeness of the individual. It’s not the only time he does this. In John’s Gospel he rubs mud in the eyes of the blind man telling him to go wash in the pool. It’s a beautiful thing what Jesus does, filled with great love and compassion.

                His request is to not tell anyone – a request they totally ignore. It’s one of the few requests of Jesus that goes unheeded. They don’t listen to him. You can’t hold back, not just good news, but great news too. If anyone of you wins the Powerball, if you think you can keep that a secret, you’re living on another planet. Our Lord’s request for them to not tell anyone about the healing, his apparent secretiveness, is simply the Gospel writer’s way of holding back on our Lord’s true identity until he gets to the Cross, where the centurion will proclaim, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” It’s called the Markan Secret. The secret in Mark’s Gospel where Christ will become fully known and identified while on the Cross, at the moment of his death.

                There should be no Markan secrets in the Church. The more transparent we are, the more transparent the leaders of God’s Church are, the more holy we will become. Holiness is the goal; holiness is the way of life that Christ calls us to, as he was holy in his earthly journey.

                Over the past near century, there have been, as we now know again, many priests and Bishops who lived physically and spiritually unholy lives; the opposite of what we see in this beautiful Gospel, where the physicalness of Jesus leads to great joy and happiness. There have been many priests who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders whom God did not call to the priesthood. I am not of the mindset that every guy who gets ordained is called by God to the priesthood. There’s no way that’s true. God calls holy priests, of which there is many today. He does not call those who go on to commit the gravest of sins.

                And, there have been many Bishops who are as dumb as a doornail. Fortunately, ours is not one of them. They’ve made decisions where you want to say, “What are you thinking? Where’s your common sense and common decency? That isn’t what Christ wants, to put these guys in settings where they can continue their unholy actions.”

                We continue to pray for every person affected by the unholy actions of men who were never called to the priesthood, yet got in, and Bishops who looked more like Judas than Peter. May our loving and gentle Jesus make those affected people whole again, and touch them with his Divine grace.

                May God continue to cleanse his Church in like manner of Jesus cleaning up the ear and voice of the deaf man with a speech impediment. And may God bless you, the good People of God, who are so faithful in times of great adversity and confusion. May he touch you also with his grace and healing power, for you are the ones who will bring his Church to the place of joy and happiness where he wants us to be.    

                  

               

               

Homily 19th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B August 12, 2018

As all know all too well, there are good foods and there are bad foods, which mostly taste good. Many of us – not all of us – try to avoid eating too much of the bad food, or all bad food altogether, which means many us try to eat as much good food and settle it into our stomachs, eventually throughout our veins and blood system.

                The good food out there for our bodies seems to be limited; fruits, vegetables, some fish maybe. The bad food for our bodies seems to be abundant, beginning with 158 Southbridge Street in Worcester, the address for Coney Island Hot Dogs, as well as all sorts of animals, cheeses, sauces, and all that makes food taste and smell good. There seems to be a wide disparity between the good food for us, of which there is little, and the bad food, of which there is an abundance.

                When we move this conversation to the personal words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, we come to see with great wisdom that all food apart from Christ is eventually unsatisfactory, whether it tastes good or not. I don’t think owners of restaurants would enjoy hearing this sort of observation, making their living off of good-tasting food, or any good Italian mother who makes a killer sauce. As I said, there is much food that tastes good, certainly from countless restaurants who rightfully pride themselves in making delicious the many items on their menu, and from countless Italian mothers who make a sauce that draws you into their home. But our Lord, who is the King of the Universe, makes the all-important observation that all manna, which represents all food apart from the Eucharist, will still lead to death.

                Importantly, our Lord is not teaching the crowd to not create and enjoy good food. The manna that God sent down from heaven in last week’s first reading in Exodus; it was the most delicious food the Israelites ever ate. It came straight down from God’s oven. How could it not be the most delicious food they ever enjoyed?

                Jesus would tell us, “Eat as much good-tasting food as you want, knowing that much of it will hasten your death, and some of it will lengthen your life. Eat as much good food as you want. But when push comes to shove, when time meets eternity, when life meets death, and when death is transformed into eternal life, all that good-tasting food will not make one iota of a difference. When the big show is in town; when death is on the horizon, I truly hope you enjoyed the good food that satisfies for the moment. But I give you,” he says, “the one food that endures to eternal life.”

                This incredible contrast that our Lord makes in this section of John, chapter 6, the Bread of Life Discourse, teaches and reminds us that there is only one food that carries over from this world to the next: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” It’s the only food we will consume in this life that death cannot overpower. Every other food – good or bad for the human body – will lead eventually – sooner or later – to our physical death. And there’s no reincarnation. We don’t receive a second chance.

                This sharp contrast that Jesus enlightens us to is an invitation to be one with him right now in our reception of the Eucharist, over the remainder of our lives. To take full advantage of this food that unites us to God. Many who had the Eucharist at one time have walked away from its weekly reception. The precedent for such walking away will be heard in the Gospel two weeks from now, where many disciples of Christ will return to their former way of life.

                There are former Catholics who have become Evangelicals. There are former Catholics who call themselves born-again Christians. There are those who are angry at the Church, justified or not, who stay away. There are those who find the Mass to be boring, looking for a Pastor who is an entertainer. I’m not Rodney Dangerfield up here. This isn’t about being entertained; this is about being touched by God in word and Eucharist. The jokes can wait until after this holy experience. There are many with a lukewarm faith, not drawn to the power of the Holy Liturgy. And, there are those who call the reality of the Eucharist symbolic, which it has never been. Another human invention unknowingly directed at Christ himself.

                I mention all these present situations, not with complaint, but with sadness, that so many have walked away from being one with Christ in the most intimate way we will know in this life. They apparently find it too hard to believe that God provides us food that overpowers death, our greatest enemy.

                His flesh in the manner of bread and wine is the food that gives life to the world. A world that was dead before Christ has been offered life in him. We accept his generous offer in this Church with graciousness and humility.

                “Lord, continue to feed us the good food of heaven, you Yourself, while we enjoy also some of the other good food we’re blessed to consume along the way.”     

Homily 18th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B August 5, 2018

It was a radical transformation of what happened at the Last Supper. And it also tells us Christians how deeply rooted we are in the historical events of the Israelites of old.

                There they were in the desert as a large, very large, group of people. An entire nation plodding their way through the barren desert. Settling here for a while, settling there for a while. But in the desert, where food is lacking, and where water is none. So, naturally, they complain to the One who brought them into the desert to live. Even though they escaped the daily slavery of Egypt, they still found room in their hearts to complain about lack of food in loud voices. It received a reaction from God. A very generous reaction. “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you” to eat and be satisfied, the Lord said to Moses. Moses was relieved, to say the least.

                So, the many thousands of Israelites woke up the next morning and found on the desert sand this bread that the Lord sent down from heaven for them to eat. They ate this delicious bread for 40 years. Imagine eating pizza every day for 40 years! Or Coney Island hot dogs for 40 years, except on Tuesdays when they’re closed!

                God gave them bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger. Hunger makes people mad, so in feeding them he really gave them peace. I know a guy who, when he starts to get very hungry, and this is his own admission, he starts turning into some madman, a werewolf. He begins to lose it when he gets hungry, so he needs food right away. I’d hate to be in his company on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday when we’re supposed to fast. God prevented the Israelites from chewing up each other by raining down bread from heaven. The Lord is generous.

                Fast forward to Jesus. Christ takes this first reading from the Book of Exodus, this scene in the desert with thousands of hungry people, an entire nation, and tells this large crowd following him, “It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” What is the true bread? The true bread is Jesus himself. And it’s not like the flakes of hoarfrost that fell on the desert floor for the Israelites was a false bread. It was real. It was what they needed at the time. They were hungry. They wanted some pizza.

                The difference between their hunger back then and our hunger today is that they wanted some pizza. They called up God’s Pizza Store in heaven, ordered a few million pizzas, and God delivered them in the desert. The difference is that we want Christ, and we receive him. Who’s more blessed? The Israelites who ate delicious bread each morning for breakfast in the desert? Or, Catholic Christians who consume the Savior of the world, becoming one with the living God? It’s an unfair contest, and we win. We win every time we receive the true bread from heaven. We are the winners, by far, over the ancient Israelites. We are not amateurs. We are the Professional Receivers of Jesus Christ. Professionals! From the 2nd-grade to the end of our lives, we are the top-notch receivers of Christ our Savior.

                However, this possibility of receiving the true bread from heaven has its foundation and beginning with the hungry Israelites in the desert after Moses led them out of the slavery of Egypt. The Israelites are our forefathers in what we know as the Eucharist. We can point to their experience in the desert and say, “God sends bread from heaven.” Being true to his nature, God was generous with what was needed at the time. What the Israelites needed and clamored for was the physical hunger within being satisfied. All they wanted was some pizza, and that’s what they received.

                When God sends down bread from heaven for us, our hunger is for salvation; for eternal life; for seeing again those we have loved and lost; for bringing us back together in a place where death is no more, and where hunger is satisfied forever. That’s a far cry from what the Israelites were looking for. Our hunger is so much greater than what the Israelites were seeking from God, yet, our hunger finds its source in their desert experience. We are forever connected to the ancient Israelites who came out of Egypt. It’s a beautiful revelation of how God has taken bread, this basic element of the earth, and has brought it from the desert floor to our living souls. From eating breakfast to consuming Christ.

                If that fails to reveal to us God’s incredible generosity and love for us, then I’m not sure what will do it. We are beyond blessed to be the ones who receive each week the true bread that comes down from heaven. It is the Mother of all free gifts in our faith lives. I pray with the deepest humility that God grants us the faith and capacity to accept and believe what Jesus is teaching this Gospel crowd; that he is the true bread that comes down from heaven. And that we are the ones who are blessed to consume this living bread.

                It was a radical transformation, what happened at the Last Supper. From bread being pizza, to bread becoming the resurrected Christ. And we are the beneficiaries of it.    

               

                 

Homily 17th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B July 29, 2018

It certainly is a Gospel story that feeds the hungry who follow him, sort of like the daily feeding of the hungry they provide at the now famous St. John’s Soup Kitchen, or even on a smaller scale like our own food pantry here at our Church. It’s also a Gospel story of not wasting the precious commodity of food, being commanded by Christ to gather up not only the bread and fish left over, but also find enough wicker baskets to place the food in. Wicker baskets don’t fall out of the sky, do they? It’s also a Gospel story that tells us of the power of Jesus’ words, his teachings, how they speak to the human heart in ways that touch us deeply if we so open ourselves to his verbal power. The proof being the number of people who follow him, leaving behind their homes and daytime jobs to allow his heavenly persuasion to form and shape them into persons they previously were not. We do well to do likewise.

                There are many angles to this Gospel story of a large, hungry crowd following Jesus to an out-of-the-way deserted place where there are no grocery stores to purchase enough food to satisfy their hunger. They’ve backed themselves into a hunger corner. But the angle at the heart of this rich story is that of Divine Concern.

                Jesus tests Philip, asking, “Where can we buy enough food for all of them?” Poor Philip is dumbfounded. He’s at a loss, where we sometimes are. While Philip is at a loss, Christ is confident that this hunger problem will be solved; that this puzzle will be put together. But not in the normal way of putting a puzzle together. Divine Concern is not your normal, average human form of concern for the basic needs of others or us. It would be nice if we could say that our concern for the hungry, the sick, or whoever is in need is just as powerful and solves problems as well as Divine Concern does. But that wouldn’t be accurate.

                We can say that our concern for others is an extension of God’s concern for us. But on our own we cannot match the love and concern of God’s generosity. What human being could feed 5000 men, thousands more women and children, with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish? And then have 12 wicker baskets left over when there was only one basket to begin with carried by a young boy? Beware of those who either promise you things they cannot deliver on, or those who think they can irrationally fill the shoes of God without God’s partnership.

                Without Christ, first of all, there would not be a crowd in this Gospel. Without Christ, the stadium would be empty, including this one here on the hill. The crowd gathers because he speaks God’s truth with authority and love. They hunger for more of his word, just like we do. And, like the crowd that day in the Gospel, this is a good place to be.

                Without Christ, the crowd would starve and steal from the boy carrying the loaves and fish. Things would get very ugly, like a Red Sox-Yankees brawl. The Apostle Philip talks money – 200 days wages are not enough to feed such a vast crowd – and, Andrew talks about a boy with a few fish and bread. Both Apostles show genuine concern for the hungry crowd; Philip with his lack of money, Andrew with his lack of food. But their concern hits a stone wall when it comes to the big job of feeding everyone there. That’s one form of physical and spiritual surgery they cannot perform. This is why we don’t place our faith in human beings alone, especially for the big stuff. We place our faith in human beings who are open to the presence of God in their lives. Which Philip, Andrew, and the rest of the Apostles are. Probably even Judas was open at this early stage before Satan sifts him like wheat.

                The crowd is fed and satisfied because of Divine Concern, which translates into human beings working in union with the power of God. This is a very good place for our faith to be when addressing the needs of others and ourselves. Not only is the food abundant to satisfy their hunger, but his grace is abundant to satisfy the more serious needs of death, suffering, addiction, labor issues, and all that causes concern to body, mind, and soul.

                Whatever our concerns, we don’t need to go it alone. We can make some headway if we try to, like 5 loaves and 2 fish worth of headway. But that won’t satisfy the crowd within us. If we want wicker baskets left over, for future use, then invite Christ, invite Divine Concern into your world. Go to your inner room, and invite Divine Concern into your life.

                12 wicker baskets left over: what’s in each one, besides bread and fish? The 1st basket; love. 2nd basket; mercy. 3rd basket; generosity. 4th basket; concern. 5th basket; grace. 6th basket; power. 7th basket; assistance. 8th basket; peace. 9th basket; faith. 10th basket; goodness. 11th basket; rescue. 12th basket; life. None of which we can give to ourselves or to others on our own. All of which we can offer and experience with Christ alongside.

Homily 15th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B July 15, 2018

With the Gospel this week being the story of the Disciples being sent out by Jesus in pairs, heading out to towns and villages with a case of oil in their tunic, their anointing with oil many who were sick and curing them, the end of Mass today presents the timely opportunity in union with this spree of healing to invite forward anyone who would like to be anointed with the sacred oil, receiving the Sacrament of healing, accompanied with God’s grace and peace.

                As I was reflecting on this Gospel earlier this past week, I couldn’t help but think, “What an opportunity to bring alive the actions of the Disciples at the command of Jesus for any of us who are struggling in body, mind, or spirit.” If it was the Gospel of two weeks ago with Jesus raising the 12-year old girl back to life as she slept the sleep of death, that would be a much harder Gospel story to copy here. if that somehow happened though, these pews would be filled every week, even during the summer months when the beach is calling our names.

                But this Gospel of oil and healing we can imitate in holiness and faith, as Christ has given to his Church the power and grace of the Sacrament of Anointing.

                Jesus tells them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.” Stay there with those who welcome you, and stay with those open to hearing some pretty good news. The good news that Christ has arrived in our world, and that struggles and sufferings and difficulties are going to have a response provided to them. The good news that Christ who sent us has the power and authority to heal the broken-hearted, to clean up the cuts and bruises, to lift up the downtrodden, and to offer hope to the hopeless.

                Christ welcomes us into his home. Not just the one in Nazareth where they took offense at him. That home alone is way too small. He welcomes us into the home of his Spirit, which covers the universe into eternal life where no boundaries or borders exist. Where no walls are built to keep people out. Don’t you think it would be pretty good news if we lived in a national home with no walls and where peace reigned?

                When the Disciples enter a house and stay there for a few days, by the time they leave after driving out demons and curing the sick who come to them, that house they stayed in now becomes a beam of light that welcomes the presence and power of Christ within its walls. Each pair of Disciples transform that house into a house of God where healing and peace are set up to remain. This is what we want for our Christian homes. That they not be places of confusion, turmoil, violence, or anger. But the type of house where two Disciples of Christ can reside. Where the peace of Christ is invited in. Where healing of body and soul is possible. Where caring for sick family members through love is accomplished. A place where Christ can rest his head.

                The image connected to this Gospel that I hold of my own home when growing up on the other side of the tracks is my mother placing a holy water font outside the front door. A small, tiny plastic thing that would cost 10 cents at a yard sale, filled with blessed water, and filled also with a message. The message that little plastic device told was, “This is a Church you are about to enter. Bless yourself.” (And you wonder why I’m a priest?) “The message that this house is to be a house of the Lord, a house of respect, peace, and welcome.” With 16 children, that little plastic device was the only chance my parents had of bringing peace into the home. It was a place where those who entered were called to be disciples of Christ.

                In today’s 1st reading from the Book of Amos, we see the opposite of the virtue of welcome. We see unwelcome. Amos, the Prophet of God, is commanded by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, to flee to the land of Judah. “Off with you, visionary,” he says to Amos. Amaziah not only tosses Amos off his local property in Bethel for speaking the truth of God, but he tells Amos to leave the country. This is what we don’t want our houses to look like. Amos shakes the dust off his feet and leaves all of them to God’s vengeance.

                Which returns me to the beginning. We desire this Church house to be a house of peace and healing, where the Lord accompanies those who battle the unclean spirits and bodily torments of this passing world. Our Savior has blessed us and graced us with a Sacrament where we seek to be touched by his generosity.

                Pope Francis wants our Church to rightfully be a field hospital, which it has been for 20 centuries. Where those who suffer in mind and body can become one of the patients in this Gospel. The Kingdom of God hasn’t gone south to Argentina or north to Iceland. It’s still here, and it’s just as powerful.         

Homily 14th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B July 8, 2018

It certainly seems like Jesus is having all sorts of family issues in this Gospel scene at home in Nazareth. In their minds, Jesus comes out of nowhere with this incredible force of wisdom and heavenly talent. As a result, we get all these questions murmured among the crowd; “Where did he get all this?; What mighty deeds he performs; Isn’t he a simple carpenter?; Isn’t he Mary’s son, that simple-looking, most-loving peasant woman who lives on the other side of the village?; Are not his brothers and sisters here with us?” meaning, not his siblings in this case, but his nephews, nieces, cousins, half-brothers, half-sisters. When we look at his family, there’s nothing extraordinary that stands out about them. No wonder why the Apostle Philip would later ask, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Look at these people! They look like they’re from Worcester!

                So, they took offense at him. They took offense at him for doing good. For calling out demons, for curing the sick with a touch, making people whole and healthy. They took offense at him for being so ordinary-looking, yet performing works that didn’t match his looks.

                Remember, these are people who are more familiar with Jesus than anyone else in the world. They know him. He just grew up with all these doubters for 30-odd years. They are his family. There’s his immediate family, his cousins and nieces; no direct siblings because of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Jesus had no full brothers and sisters because Mary gave birth to just one child, the Son of God. The translation from the Hebrew to the Greek for brothers and sisters in this case, placed alongside the infallible truth of Blessed Mary’s perpetual virginity, translates to cousins and any possible half-siblings.

                Yet, everyone in this tiny town of Nazareth was family to each other. Jesus had so many relatives, so much family in Nazareth, a town of no more than 200 people at the time, that it makes me wonder if he still has distant relatives around today. Every Jewish person I meet, I think to myself, “This person could be a relative of my Lord and Savior.”

                Nazareth was small and close-knit, just like our families. They knew Jesus. So when he started his ministry, performing great works and speaking authoritative words that did not match the low-key, low expectations of Nazareth, they took offense. They became envious. He went beyond their expectations in life. His goodness far surpassed their ordinary, unassuming lives. In a certain respect, Jesus became their enemy, the poster boy for doing too much good. And because they couldn’t reign him in, they took offense at his heavenly beauty.

                Therefore, as Christians who follow the teachings and ways of Jesus Christ, I humbly dedicate this Gospel to deeper love of family. That would be right up the alley of Pope Francis. That’s what he stresses for our families. He’s not naïve; he knows the family challenges are many. But he wants families to grow deeper in love. Taking offense at someone’s good work is not acceptable to God. Taking this Gospel as our cue, we are to do exactly the opposite of what the “family” of Jesus does, meaning the entire village of Nazareth.

                As families, may we grow deeper in love alongside all the issues we face. The time is short. It makes me wonder how many people from Nazareth who knew Jesus so well regretted their reaction toward him that day when they later found out he was crucified. Was there some regret and sorrow for not supporting him in his mighty deeds?

                This Gospel on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary. It’s a challenge and a call to grow deeper in love with our families, our relatives, the villages of our lives. And when we do so, such love will extend into the communities where we live and work, maybe taking the Christian ministry of a few of us to the national and international level like Christ. He’s not the Savior of Nazareth.

He’s the Savior of the world. He desires our support for one another. He wants us to have what he didn’t have in this Gospel; to love our families. And the key to doing so is found in the words of St. Paul; “My grace is sufficient for you.”  

               

               

Homily 11th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B June 17, 2018

We know that with most any accomplishment there is much that goes on behind the scenes. In sports, there’s hours and hours of practice. The same goes for an opera or a play on stage; memorizing the lines, the timing of those lines during rehearsals, and so forth.

                With firefighters and police, there’s much studying and real-time preparation before they receive their badges. A couple days ago we had in our city a new class of firefighters come on the job with their graduation from the Worcester Fire Academy. They performed 15 weeks of preparation behind the scenes and are now prepared to perform their duties for real on the streets of Worcester.

                Our music ministry prepares every week behind the scenes so they are on the same page. We wouldn’t want Henry playing one song, and Bridget singing another. That would be interesting to listen to. Rather, they are professionals at what they do, with much preparing for the beautiful music we hear and join to sing at our liturgy.

                And maybe the best example of behind the scenes work for us in our Catholic faith that happens only a handful of times over the course of one’s lifetime; the choosing of a new Pope. Before the white smoke appears from the famous chimney, all the behind the scenes preparation that goes into a conclave, and in the actual voting that occurs in the Sistine Chapel where a few Cardinals from the College of Cardinals take a short siesta during the process.

                This behind the scenes process is no different for Jesus and his Disciples, as we see in today’s Gospel. Our Lord teaches a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a mustard seed that you can barely see. And later on, after the teaching of the story, Jesus reveals to his Disciples behind the scenes, in private, the deeper meaning of the parable. Which makes a person wonder what our Lord tells the Disciples that he didn’t tell the crowds, because the Scriptures don’t let us know. Or do they?

                When Jesus teaches a parable, he never wants his listeners to not understand the story’s meaning. That would defeat his purpose. He wants everyone listening to understand some aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven, and what his Kingdom is like. Which is why he uses an image such as a mustard seed and the huge growth resembling the Kingdom of God. Speaking to people who live off the land, they understand this image he uses.

                If we want to teach a religious lesson to a 7-year-old, we speak a language they understand. In Religious Education, we don’t teach 3rd -graders from books that are meant for 10th -graders. Jesus teaches parables, such as the mustard seed, to the crowds and his Disciples, knowing that those who hear him understand what he’s teaching.

                So, why the private conversation with his Disciples behind the scenes? What do they receive from the Lord that the crowds do not? Here’s my guess; some of it is found in today’s 2nd reading from St. Paul. Jesus doesn’t explain to his chosen Apostles mustard seeds, their size, and how they grow. They already know this. He explains to them in private that we walk by faith, and not by sight. To walk by faith in the Son of God, which is what we do, will allow the seed of our souls to grow large. So he tells them in private, “Teach the world the necessity of faith in me so that their mustard seed will not get squashed and stepped on. Tell them that to walk by faith, and not by the sight of a passing world, that their souls will grow to full maturity.”

                He also explains to them in private that the day will come when they would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. In the few instances when I see this in my priestly ministry, it’s such a beautiful thing to witness. Arriving at the point in life when we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord, not to welcome death, but to welcome eternal life, is the mustard seed grown to its fullness. Jesus tells them in private that that’s the point when the mustard seed of our souls is fully realized in this world, and it won’t grow here anymore.

                It’s a powerful moment when a person of faith says, “I’m too tired. I’m too tired to fight this anymore. It’s time to go home to the Lord.” That’s a very moving admission on the part of a faithful Christian, and it’s a grace-filled moment, because we live in hope. That’s the sort of stuff our Lord tells them in private that he doesn’t tell the crowds, because the crowds won’t understand that language, but his Disciples will.

                And, then he tells them privately, behind the scenes, that we must all appear before the judgment seat of God, so that we receive recompense according to what we did in the body, whether good or evil. He teaches his Disciples the words of St. Paul before Paul ever wrote them. Therefore, he tells them, “Help their mustard seeds to grow through Baptism, through love of neighbor, mercy, forgiveness, and through the many good acts that my people are capable of performing in the body. Teach them to be holy, as God our Father is holy, so that their spiritual plants will reach full maturity in whatever years they have to live.”

                It sounds like Jesus gives them an earful behind the scenes, in private. An earful of how to arrive at the Kingdom of Heaven. An earful the crowds were not ready to hear, but his Disciples were ready. We’re ready too, because we’re today’s Disciples of him who is the Good Teacher.