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.    

Minutes from Parish Council Meeting June 10, 2018

Attendees:

Fr. Riley
Deacon Kevin Deignan
Matthew Foster
Stephen Sycks
Mike Cahill
Josephine Ferrie
Polly Flynn

 

Topics:

Deacon Kevin gave the opening prayer.

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

Fr. Riley reported on the infrastructure work that is in process at the church including the fence replacement, sidewalk repair, the estimates for the adoration chapel and the restriping of the parking lot. Fr. Riley discussed the replacement of the glass side door to the church. He discussed the goals of Partners in Charity and the upcoming Capital Campaign that will begin in 2019. Fr. Riley discussed the plan for Mike Cahill and his rotation at the parish for the year as he trains to become a deacon in our Diocese. Fr. mentioned the Humanae Vitae talk that is happening Monday by Dr. Klofft and the desire to have more lecture events at the church. He also mentioned that the vacation bible camp will be the last week of June and that the attendance is very good.

Mr. Foster discussed the transition of the parish website to a new platform that is being provided by the Diocese and what we will do to plan a switch over. He also discussed the 4th of July on the Church grounds and how the Boy Scouts will host a cookout fundraiser for those coming out to see the fireworks. During this cookout, the boy scouts will also collect old flags from anyone wishing for them to retire them properly. Mr. Foster also discussed the uptick in facebook use for the church and how it has helped to foster a broader community reach and more exposure to Church activities. We will be increasing the use of the platform so that we can continue to reach families and members of the Church in more ways.

Next meeting was set for some time in September.

Father Riley gave the closing prayer.

Homily 10th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B June 10, 2018

It shouldn’t come as any big surprise that the words we speak matter. They matter to other people; they matter to our families, as we can see in the Gospel where Jesus’ family is trying to rescue him from apparent danger because of the words he spoke about himself. And, of course, the words we speak matter to God, for he hears everything; even the words we speak in our minds and in the silence of our hearts.

                There are a few themes in our readings this 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Themes that are far from ordinary. But the speaking theme speaks to most of us, if not all of us. interestingly, in the Book of Genesis, where Adam and Eve got caught red-handed eating something they were instructed not to, we have this conversation between God and Adam, who passes it off to Eve, who points at the serpent, who happens to be the devil. This is anything but one, big, happy family in the Garden of Paradise.

                What’s startling about the conversation between God and Adam, then God and Eve, is the honesty spoken by the first couple after their act of first disobedience. God asked Adam, “Where are you?” Adam answered the truth; that he hid himself after hearing God in the garden, rustling among the leaves. “Well, Adam, why did you hide yourself?” In hiding, Adam recognized the nakedness of his sin. And in his further honesty, in the unlovely part of married life, he looks over at Eve and says to God, “It’s all her fault. She gave it to me to eat. I only do what my wife tells me. She told me to eat the fruit, and I did.” Then Eve is honest when she says, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

                What’s wrong with this picture? Eve is honest. Adam is honest. Everything they say to God is true. But, they lack the fortitude to take responsibility for their own choices. The honest words they speak are lacking a spiritual maturity. Our words are not meant to pass off responsibility for actions that we performed and partake of. We own them before God, and not point fingers.

                In the second reading of Paul to the people of Corinth, the Apostle gives us this way of speaking that is meant to go to the heart of all our lives. The speaking is about Christ. Do we all have the language of speaking words for Christ? Paul writes, “We speak, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.” That’s one, big, happy family.

                The language that Paul speaks is the language of the Lord Jesus being raised from the dead. It’s the language of hope. For some folks today, this is a dead language. For Christians, the Lord Jesus being raised is an everyday language of the heart, and a most everyday language of voice. We live in a time when religious talk is trying to be locked into a Sunday morning Church service only, and not in the public square. St. Paul would outright reject such foolishness.

                He teaches us the importance of speaking Christ as our first language. The language that Christ is raised from the death chamber that couldn’t hold him. And because of that holy truth, and that he will raise us also, all worldly languages from the political spectrum to ‘How are the Red Sox doing?” are languages that do not overtake the eternal language of the Risen Christ. Speak Christ, and his Mother. This is to be the first language of the baptized.

                And in the Gospel, we find this wild scene occurring where they speak the worst of names directed at Jesus. Even worse than a golfer who hits a bad shot. Words are flying out of the crowd and from the scribes that say he’s out of his mind, and that Jesus is possessed by the evil forces. That the Spirit of Christ is evil. The unforgiveable sin. We see clearly how mere mortals will misrepresent and mislabel God. Which is why it’s so essential for us to have a healthy understanding of who Christ is, which comes to us in the teachings of our faith. It’s not like we have to fly to another planet to find a true, accurate, and healthy vision of our Lord. Look nowhere outside our Church.

                The most definitive ways of Jesus are love, humility, mercy, forgiveness, friendship, being faithful, and all that is good. Jesus and Beelzebul have nothing in common. Not one thing! Which tells us how confused the crowd is in the Gospel. It’s a crowd we have no business being associated with, unless we’re trying to speak words of evangelization to them.

                And even Jesus’ family gets into the act. “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” All this crowd that followed him from Nazareth, trying to stop his ministry because they think he’s in danger. Their ignorance is not sinful. They’re trying to speak to Jesus because they love him. They want to bring him back home. But that’s not how God’s plan works.

                It reminds me of a few guys I know who were called to the priesthood, but their families tried to stop them for various reasons. “You’re not going to give me any grandchildren in the priesthood.” Probably true. “You’re not going to make any money in the priesthood.” Definitely true. But they went ahead to fulfill the ministry God was calling them to, and have found their joy becoming complete. Now they preach and speak about the Risen Lord.

                Words matter, and we know this. The honestly of Adam and Eve must be accompanied by spiritual maturity and responsibility. Speak the first language of the Christian spoken by St Paul; that the Lord Jesus is raised, and we are too. And, speak the truth of who he is, and never, under any circumstances, connect the Lord to the one with the pitchfork. They have nothing in common. AMEN.

                  

               

Homily The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Cycle B June 3, 2016

There’s really nothing more Catholic. It’s a s Catholic as we can become. The Eucharist defines our religious lives second to none. Some who don’t believe or understand the stunning significance and the true presence will call it by names that are not worth repeating here. foolish names that signify foolish ways. So be it!

                But for us Catholics, the Body and Blood of Christ defines us as true partakers of the words of our Lord. The Apostles performed the rites and spoke the words that transformed the bread and wine into Him. Into a Divine Person. They did this back in the 1st century, understanding exactly what he meant, since they were there. We continue today this most excellent tradition.

                What the Gospel story from Mark, as well as Exodus and Hebrews enlightens us with this week is that when it comes to the Eucharist, we too have work to do. The gift that tells us he is with us until the end of the age doesn’t fall from the sky like magic; and it doesn’t knock on our front door like a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We all have, prior to receiving, work of preparation.

                In the Gospel Jesus sends 2 Disciples into the city, not to purchase some already made food in a market, but to prepare a guestroom for the Living Bread that will be given to them by Christ Himself. But they need to prepare the guestroom first, and make it as perfect as they possibly can; with seats, tables, some plates and cups, some bread and wine. There’s a lot of preparation before they all receive Him who is Lord. And therein lies the simple message for Corpus Christi.

                Receiving the Eucharist is not simply automatic, and it’s never meant to be. It isn’t just something we do because everyone else is coming forward. Doing my best to not judge with sin, I see this at funerals and weddings; coming forward because… “Hey I don’t want to be left behind!” A person’s disposition when receiving the Lord speaks volumes. The volumes to be spoken are preparation with a good heart and conscience, knowing we are all sinners not worthy of receiving our Lord who makes us worthy through his grace. But at those types of Masses 9Weddings and Funerals) I many times see little or no preparation by way of disposition or response. I’ve said, “The Body of Christ,” and the response has come back, “Thank you.” When I hear that, am I supposed to say, “You’re welcome,” or any Minister of the Eucharist? How about, “Have a good day?”

                99% of the time, I’m not critical of people who are polite. And “Thank you” is a polite response to most any saying or action. But not with the Eucharist. The response is “Amen.” Why Amen? Because, “Amen” means “I believe.” The Eucharist is so mysterious, so profound, and so serious, that the response “Amen” means, “I believe all the teachings of my Catholic faith, both doctrine and morals.” That’s the response we give when we receive Communion. We’re not robots who simply say “Amen.” There’s the entire belief of our Catholic faith behind that one word in that holy moment. I exaggerate not.

                My point here, as Jesus shows in the Gospel is that there is preparation for reception of this greatest gift. THE number one greatest gift that Catholics receive at no cost. My further point is not to remove anyone from the Communion line for reception of the Lord, but the point that Jesus makes the sacrifice at Calvary, and we have work to perform in order to receive his gift in the Upper Room. And that our reception of the Eucharist is not an automatic exercise.

                What is the preparation for us? How do we prepare the guestroom of our souls so that when we say “Amen,” we understand what we say? The first and best preparation for our guestroom for Christ is an examination of conscience. Not to ask ourselves if we are worthy. As I already said, God makes us worthy to receive his Son strictly out of his love for us. But rather an examination of conscience that knows the goodness and cleanliness of our actions and words. Mortal sin means no reception of the Eucharist. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is needed first.

                A second preparation is a devoted prayer life. Not having a devoted prayer life is not a reason to stay away from saying “Amen.” But maintaining a devoted prayer life allows the guestroom of our souls to be in a much more solid disposition for receiving our Lord.

                And a third disposition is this question that the Holy Spirit planted in my brain, “Do I love my Catholic faith?” Not the one that I create according to my own whims, but the faith that Mother Church preserves and passes on from one generation to the next. Again, it’s not a disqualifier from receiving the Eucharist if I struggle with some aspect of my faith. But more the question, “Am I growing deeper in love with my Catholic faith as I age?”

                Jesus tells them, “Go prepare a guestroom for what I’m about to give you at no cost.” As they prepared tables, chairs, dinnerware and food, we on the other hand prepare our souls and bodies for the very same gift they received in the Upper Room. Our celebration today of Corpus Christi is for the Mother of all gifts in the Church, the Body and Blood of Christ, and that each week we have spiritual work to do in preparation for our reception with the response “Amen.”     

               

Homily Feast of the Holy Trinity Cycle B May 27, 2018

The incredible beauty of Trinity Sunday is that we’re given the possibility to contemplate the fullness of God’s being in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The difficulty is that the human mind lacks the capacity to contemplate the fullness of God’s being in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the good news, besides Jesus being raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father through the Spirit, is that we can attach our hearts and minds to bits and pieces of God’s being, enough to satisfy us in the present until we look into his face at the time of our death.

                In the 1st reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses takes on the role of Jesus well before his birth in Bethlehem by way of being a good teacher, asking the Israelites a question or two about God’s power. “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live” to tell about it? Or, did any god ever do for another people what he did for you while you lived in slavery in Egypt? Did any of those false gods the people worshipped, and still do today, ever perform works, such as creating an entire universe, or an entire human race? Is there a second god who can perform such acts of power and might?

                Moses the good teacher calls our attention to the singularity of God the Father and how the 1st Person on the Holy Trinity has put into motion a universe and a people from the virtue of love. I’m not sure why some folks have a hard time understanding this most basic truth of God. He started a universe that continues to expand, and a human race that continues to grow older. What’s the big deal? And then, he zeroes in his attention to this little area of one tiny section of the universe called Egypt, notices an entire race of people in slavery that he created not to be in slavery, hears their cries, and says to them, “You’re going to be my people. Not the slaveholders who have temporary power over you, but the slaves held in bondage.”

He takes the side of the weak, which would be today’s immigrants who seek a better life. He takes our side when we suffer too. He’s close, personal, and caring, this Father.

                In the 2nd reading from Romans, we move from the 1st Person to the 3rd Person on the Trinity; the Spirit of God. The Person we pay scant attention to. And St. Paul goes right to the issue in the 1st reading; slavery. Again. Telling us we have not received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. My friends, Jesus defeated and destroyed the spirit of slavery to this world in his death and resurrection.

                But still, a spirit of slavery surrounds us. It’s always beckoning us to live in fear. Fear of other individuals and groups; fear of the government; fear of people who want to control our thoughts, our language, our actions. The spirit of slavery is to live in fear of another human being who is going to die just like we are, which is today’s Egypt. The spirit of slavery that St. Paul addresses tries to force you to live according to bad human laws that contradict your faith in Christ and your holy conscience. The spirit of slavery says, “You better do this, you better believe in this false brand of marriage, or else we’re gonna bury you.” Is that the type of spirit we wish to live with, or even propagate in our lives?

                Instead, we have received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry out “Abba, Father.” We do not, as baptized persons, cry out the spirit of sick humanity, but we cry out the Spirit of a loving, merciful, caring God, who has given us statutes and commandments to live by so that our Christian joy may be complete. St. Paul reminds the Christian community at Rome that the Holy Spirit, who moves us internally at the deepest part of our being, is a Spirit, not of fear, but of love. A positive Spirit. An uplifting Spirit. A Spirit who loves and forgives, and desires our forgiveness, unlike the spirit of human slavery that tries to force people into unholy beliefs and practices.

                And in the Gospel, as always, we have the 2nd Person on the Trinity; the Word made flesh, speaking his last words on earth to the remaining Eleven. He’s the one we know best, because he’s one of us. He gets most of our attention, and the other two Persons are not envious because of it. For when we offer our attention to Jesus, we offer it also to the Father and the Spirit.

                Jesus is the Good Teacher with a thousand teachings that lead us to proper human happiness now, and the future happiness of life with Abba.

                What Jesus teaches us in words that we hear and understand are words of presence and comfort; “I will be with you always, until the end of the age.” I will not abandon you. Even though it may appear at times my attention for you has been withdrawn, like Mother Teresa and her decades-long dark night of the soul, I am still there with you. Most lovingly in the Eucharist, I am with you.”

                We need to know this. We are in need of trusting that Jesus has not left us behind in his Ascension. The 2nd Person on the Trinity is our Point Man with God. He’s our Contact. He’s tangible. He’s the One we always call up when a favor is needed. We depend on him for all that is good. Until the end of our age, whatever that age is. May we be open to the grace to stay with him, as he has promised to stay with us.

                God the Creator; the Spirit of adoption; the Word made flesh. All we could ever need in this world of brevity is there. Thanks be to God, the Holy Trinity.    

Homily Pentecost Sunday Cycle B May 20, 2018

The entrance is one of peace. Hopefully, I pray, the same way we enter the Upper Room here on Grove Street; with peace. The entry brings peace, and just before the departure of Jesus he brings forgiveness of sins. Notice that there’s nothing negative or harsh about our Lord? Entering their presence after the resurrection, he doesn’t say to them, “Why did you all run away from me when I needed you most? Why did you all skedaddle to the four winds like a bunch of frightened sheep and leave me standing there in the midst of a slew of angry men with clubs and torches and bad intent? Some friends you are! Why didn’t you get arrested with me?”

                He enters with peace. “Peace be with you.” He enters with peace because he loves those that he chose for a great purpose called the Kingdom of Heaven. The same way he comes to us in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist; in peace. Have you ever seen an angry Eucharist of all the times you’ve received our Lord? I haven’t. Christ entering our room is always an experience of peace. How blessed are we to have the Eucharist?

                And, it certainly takes a person of peace, a hater of violence, to offer forgiveness: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.” We all know that very difficult word; forgiveness. Forgiveness and suffering are the two hardest words in any language. We want nothing to do with both. And sometimes when we suffer – and I’ve witnessed this – we may believe it’s because God hasn’t forgiven us of some past indiscretion. This image of God that says, “He sent me this suffering because he hasn’t forgiven my saying one bad word on the golf course 7 years ago. Now I have heart disease because of it!” This is a skewed image of God. He enters with peace. They left him high and dry when being arrested and crucified. He comes back to them with, “Peace be with you.” And, “Forgive sins.” Peace and forgiveness. We can’t have one without the other.

                In our celebration of Pentecost, God knows we need help to succeed at the seemingly impossible. We’re presented the opportunity to arrive at the solemn understanding that the Spirit of God, the breath of Jesus and the Father, makes possible what we may think not possible. The Spirit who is Holy, when called upon, gives us the joy to resurrect the good after times of human weakness. The peace that Jesus brings with him into the Upper Room was not for Apostles only, by a longshot. The Spirit of his breath presents the great possibility of practicing virtues that on our own would not be possible.

                God walks with us. I can assure you as priest that I am a big-time, major failure without the Spirit of God working through all that a priest can do. I would be as bad as all those Red Sox teams that had no clue about how to win a World Series. They floundered; they got scared; they were divided; they looked like the Bad News Bears. How would you like a priest like that? You don’t have to answer that question.

                Yet, I have no greater capacity for the Spirit than you do. In fact, some of you have way more Pentecost than yours truly, and I want some of your portion. The way Bridget sang Ave Maria last Sunday for Mother’s Day… and the way Henry played the organ for it. Lots and lots of Spirit there!

                But at the heart of the mission before us is spreading peace and forgiveness. That’s the truest definition of Pentecost, because it reflects to perfection the love of Jesus Christ after his resurrection. Peace and forgiveness is the message when he enters the Upper Room where he gave us his Body & Blood. It’s so God-like that peace and forgiveness would be extended in the same room where he left us this testament of his abiding presence. The Eucharist offers us the grace to move mountains; especially the Rocky mountains and the Alps of peace and forgiveness.

                For those who believe that God comes to us with an angry pointed finger, this Gospel disproves that belief, as do many other Gospel stories of Christ. Jesus had every opportunity to come at them with a Pentecost of anger because they ran away like the Road Runner when our Lord encountered Judas and the evil men. He comes back to them with forgiveness, not holding their cowardice against them, and offering his peace. This is how Christ comes to us.

                The Spirit of Pentecost is a spirit of peace and forgiveness. We can’t have one without the other. Trying to do so is futile. May we bring the spirit of peace and forgiveness to those we encounter, knowing that our Risen Lord is the Source of both those virtues.

               

7th Sunday of Easter Cycle B May 13, 2018

There are times along the way when adjustments need to be made. Life doesn’t always go according to perfect order, so let’s stop treating this world like it’s supposed to be heaven when it isn’t, and be ready to make adjustments for the times when our blueprint gets upended.
I was planning on the Red Sox sweeping the Yankees this past week. That didn’t happen. I was planning on retiring from UPS one day with a nice pension. That obviously didn’t happen. So instead of a secure, earthly pension that would take me up to the date of my death and care for my personal needs, now I’m forced to live according to the words, “Your reward will be great in heaven.” Which, of course, is the much greater pension.
Adjustments are part of life for a couple reasons. First, people mess up all the time. It’s called human weakness. Even the best doctors in the world can fall short occasionally. Our perfect thoughts don’t always compute to perfect results. Far from it most of the time. And second, making adjustments reveals a certain character, a healthy level of spiritual maturity in the midst of brokenness, trial, in the midst of the unexpected. Even Jesus realizes this basic truth of our nature in the holy and prayerful Gospel today, as well as Peter’s leadership actions in the first reading.
First, Peter. There is an unexpected absence among them. His name was Judas Iscariot. Judas messed up big time. The number for the full quota of Apostles is 12. Presently, there’s 11. Peter takes charge as Jesus told him to, being his rock on earth, gathers everyone together on a sunny Sunday afternoon for an apostolic conference, leads them in prayer, and says, “We need to make an adjustment and fill the quota. We need a 12th Apostle to replace Judas.”
This entire scene in the first reading was an unexpected adjustment. Nowhere does Jesus instruct them to do this after he ascended to his rightful place in glory. The initiative on the part of Peter is through the Spirit moving him to address this unexpected issue. Which tells us two things; make room for the Spirit in shaky times, most notably through a devoted prayer life, and, be willing to take the initiative when quotas are in need of being filled in our lives. Spiritual quotas.
There’s no need for us to remain minus one necessary spiritual part of our faith journey. Judas can be replaced in our lives. Today, the absence of Judas represents those who have no faith in God, and live according to the morally bankrupt and godless ways of our society. We never have to be minus one, because the Lord is overflowing and generous, always ready to fill us back up. Sometimes that will take patience. Even in illness, he will give us what is holy and good. Take the initiative like Peter when adjustments are needed, and Christ will fill you up.
And in the Gospel, in this holy prayer of protection spoken by the Lord, even the Master knows that adjustments will be needed throughout the life of the Church until he returns. Even though Jesus was never weak himself, he knows our nature and the ways of a broken world. Which is why he prays; “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” They don’t belong to brokenness. Brokenness is not the final statement for us with Christ. They belong to fulfillment and the full quota. Even in the midst of persecution, imprisonment, and beatings, they will be filled with what they need to overcome the world’s violence if they don’t lose heart and remain faithful to Christ.
Our Lord also knows they need protection from the evil one. This is better called preventive medicine, preventive adjustment from heaven. Jesus prays that they do not turn into another Judas. The heart of Judas was stolen by the evil one, and he cooperated with it. This has not disappeared from our present times, especially in the area of respecting human life from conception to natural death. The pitchfork man is constantly trying to stick his poisonous needle into the hearts of those who cooperate in the callous destruction of human life, thinking they are doing something good, when in fact they cooperate with evil, imitating Judas.
Jesus protects his Apostles from further spiritual erosion in this heartfelt prayer. He prays the same prayer for us. That our hearts and actions will be devoted to him, one with him, and him alone. Welcome into your life the living truth that Jesus prays for you in heaven. And, that he provides this spiritual protection in our reception of his body and blood, the most explicit spiritual protection we are offered in this life.
Always be ready to make adjustments. Out there in the world, yes, whatever comes our way. But more importantly spiritual adjustments that place full trust in him who is raised from the dead.
“Jesus, I trust in you.” Divine Mercy. That’s what our adjustment looks like, thanks be to God.

Homily for Ascension Thursday

There was probably some separation anxiety present when Jesus departed from their midst. After all, he had just spent a few years with them, every day during that length of time. The Apostles he called from their boats, tax tables, and wherever else, they were not 9 to 5 workers with weekends off. They didn’t have bankers’ hours. They were literally fulltime with Christ, all the time, unless Jesus could sneak away in the early morning, find a mountainside, and pray. Even then, they would go running after him like sheep chasing their Shepherd. Separation anxiety on display.
So, there was likely some separation anxiety when the cloud came down – the kidnapping cloud, kidnapping Jesus from them – and took him away to his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. But they got over his ascending fairly quickly, I would venture to guess. When he instructed them to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,” their separation anxiety dissipated, because their words were backed up by signs and wonders that revealed he was still with them. He stayed with them through the beatings, the crosses, the prison sentences, the joys and the healings. Both highs and lows, Jesus remained with his disciples in ways of closeness and intimacy.
Has this closeness and intimacy of Christ our Lord ever been placed on hold? At some point over the past 20 centuries, has Jesus our Savior ever closed the door between heaven and earth, between him and us, and said, “That’s it! I don’t want any more of you!” … in the meantime giving us separation anxiety? We’ve produced countless scenarios for that possibility, haven’t we? From world wars, civil wars, fractures in his Church, actions of hatred and sin – too many to be counted or named. The reasons for him to separate himself from us are there. But I pray we know the honest answer that he has not for one moment in time abandoned us and left us to our own devices.
The importance of this day in the Church’s calendar cannot be overstated. Even though the Ascension of the Lord is a day where many – too many – Catholics will lack the effort to come to the Eucharist, – unlike yourselves – Jesus being taken up by a cloud remains a cornerstone in our relationship with him. It opens for us the possibility of separation anxiety, not with another person, but with the living God and resurrected Christ. That should scare the living daylights out of us. If it doesn’t, check your pulse. See if you still have one.
The Ascension of our Lord into heaven is a setup for three major aspects of our faith journey. First, the Ascension sets up the word, the actual writing of the New Testament. The word we hear proclaimed, left behind through the Spirit guiding the writers, with the soothing power to move our hearts, and lessen any anxiety we may experience toward the Lord’s seeming absence, and loved ones no longer here.
Second, the Eucharist results from our Lord’s Ascension. The Eucharist is the number one medicine against the condition of feeling separated from God. In our reception, we internalize Him. The two of us become one. There’s no possible separation in our reception of the Eucharist. Of course, this is directly connected to the authenticity of our belief.
And third, the Ascension is a setup for Pentecost. We are people of the Spirit. In the Ascension, Christ makes room now for the Spirit to work in our daily living. The Apostles will come to know this beyond their best imaginations.
No separation anxiety needed between us and the Creator. He has it all covered despite a kidnapping cloud. Thanks be to God.

Homily 5th Sunday of Easter Cycle B April 29, 2018

“Lord, may I do nothing outside of you.” A fitting prayer of protection against becoming too worldly. “Lord, may I do nothing outside of you.” I love these simple prayers of the Saints that say so much to us.
At some point, if we haven’t already, it’s best to give in. It’s best to allow the Lord to lead, for without him we can do nothing. So, in order to do something, in order to accomplish anything good and loving, we can do so only with him. For without him, we can do nothing.
Giving in to Christ in a world that stresses and teaches radical independence goes against the grain of our staunch desire to stand alone. It also flies in the face of the ways of the first Christians, who saw themselves as one body before they saw themselves as individuals. Eventually, all who stand alone will fall alone. It’s best for us to give in humbly, and surrender to Him who teaches us true happiness.
Our readings on the 5th Sunday of Easter center on the words of Christ, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” Our Lord, in the fullness of his human nature, understands all too well that it’s much too easy to not remain in him, but rather subscribe our lives to the fading glory of this world. Spending a week in the Holy Land where Jesus spoke these words of remaining in him allows a pilgrim traveler to embrace even deeper the fundamental importance of how this teaching from him sets up a certain priority for us.
I think of all the incredibly talented people I know, in the Parish, friends, and others, and how we seek to be the best in whatever it is we do. Everyone wants to succeed, be it business, sports, hobbies, etc. Wherever our interests and responsibilities take us. I try my best to not be a lousy, uncaring priest to you. True success, however, for us Christians, starts and ends with remaining in Christ.
Being the branch on his tree – at times the tree being his Cross – and remaining there through the highs and lows that come our way. Along the way, the temptation to pull away from Christ when the more serious challenges set in is very real. The tug is to back off from Jesus because it seems like he’s backed off from me, like God backed off from the Israelites when worshipped their false gods. But the only better option is to remain in him. By doing so, we remain with the One who stands tall outside the tomb.
During the Easter season the Church blesses us with readings each week from the Acts of the Apostles., a book written by St. Luke along with his Gospel. Luke had the Spirit upon him. In Acts, the book centers on the words and actions of Peter and Paul, going back and forth between each Apostle. In this section we heard proclaimed today, Paul is just coming off his ways of making life miserable for believers in Christ. His persecuting comes to an abrupt halt when Jesus beats the heck out of him. It was a beautiful beating that led to Paul seeing and speaking to the Lord. The Risen Lord. He returns to Jerusalem where his former reputation precedes him, all being afraid of him.
What really happens here is that Paul’s life moves quickly from being as far outside of Christ as he could be – a persecutor of Christians – to remaining in Christ for good due to a holy pounding on his body, reaching his heart. In this Worldwide Wrestling Federation match, Jesus pins Paul to the mat until Paul cries “Uncle” a hundred times over. ‘Lord, you win.” A good prayer for us. “I surrender. You win the match, because I can’t match your power on my own. Show me how to be open to your will.”
This speaks to us by way of how Paul now bears good fruit, and not the ugly fruits of unbelief and violence. Paul’s ego has been cast aside, and God’s risen ego now consumes the Apostle. St Paul now becomes the most excellent example for us on how to remain in Christ. When he falls, he gets back up; when he is beaten by the forces of the world, he gives glory to God; when he is shipwrecked, he trusts the Spirit is with him; when he is thrown into prison, he writes New Testament Letters that last rather than wallowing in his self-pity.
How can he turn all the world’s ugliness on its head? How can Paul defeat the Prince of Demons and all the world’s wrath, and not become complicit with it? “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Without me, you can do nothing.”
We can do nothing holy, lasting, good, and loving, outside of Him who is risen. We can fool ourselves in this pluralistic and individualistic culture and convince ourselves that we have a formula for accomplishing the good outside of the Lord. But that would be a lie to ourselves, as well as trying to play God.
We are people of truth and love for the Lord. Remain in him. Remain in the Risen Him. And the day we go to his home, we’ll enjoy the fruits of his promise. “Lord, may I do nothing outside of you.”