Homily 3rd Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 15, 2019

Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

               We’re all here because we know in our hearts that he is the One to come, and if we look for another, we’re looking in some place of darkness.

               Jesus is explicit in his words that were proclaimed in a Gospel this past week when he said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Even those who raise families; those of us who work all sorts of overtime like a UPS driver at this time of year; all you run around throughout the day trying to accomplish this, that, and everything else; and those who sit back in later years without thinking about our final destination quickly arriving. Rest in Jesus through your faith and good works. Because, he is the one to come, and don’t dare go looking for another.

               Poor John the Baptist finds himself in Herod’s dungeon in this Gospel. All for telling Herod the truth about his ungodly marriage. We see where the truth might get us against worldly forces who don’t like hearing God’s teaching. Anyway, there the Baptist sits below the earth, being cared for and waited on by his disciples. And this image of John in prison is useful for us, less than a couple weeks away from the birth of Christ. How so, you may ask?

We are to never grow tired of preparing for our Savior’s birth. Because prior to his birth, we too were in prison. We were locked up, underground, in the Netherworld, in the prison of our souls, with no hope of freeing ourselves from the wages of sin and death.

               Except unlike John, who remains in prison, and dies in prison, we anticipate in the birth of our Lord to be set free. We have been set free. We didn’t sneak out of prison; we didn’t escape; we didn’t have to dig any tunnels, climb barbed wire fences, run past any guards, or hide in any forest. We sat there in prison, right about this time, waiting for the answer to the question, “Are you the one to come? Are you the one who is to open this dirty dungeon door where we are imprisoned in all our spiritual misery, and set us free into your Divine mercy and love? Or, should we look for another? Should we choose another? Should we hope that Herod will have a change of heart and decide to let us go?”

               From those two options, one option is pure love and truth. The other option is pure hatred, evil, and lies. The first option blows up the entire dungeon without doing us harm. The first option of love and truth, of breaking free from the dungeon built by Beelzebul with some help from Adam and Eve; the first option is standing at the gate. And he’s judging we don’t belong in there. He loves us too much to stand there and watch us melting away like a POW. He must open that chained gate. And not just open it, but shatter it to pieces. And what breaks that prison door to smithereens, is his birth. The Word becoming flesh. Making his dwelling among us. Not in a prison, but in the freedom of his love and mercy.  

               We, my friends, have no business walking back into that prison. Yet, many do. Making decisions in their lives like his birth never happened. So tied up in the world of bad relationships, the world of greed, the world of politics being their false god, the world of materialism and individualism. They walk right back into the prison, sit next to John the Baptist, awaiting their spiritual execution. The people who look for another.

               That’s not us. We’re about to be set free, again, for the 2019th time since his original birth in a stable. We prepare, again and again, for the birth of our Savior for the proper and correct reasons. The kids receiving toys are nice. A white Christmas is nice; Bing Crosby thinks so. Company profits for this season are nice; the one and only reason for the profits being the birth of Jesus Christ. But these, and much more, are mere distractions from the proper meaning of why it’s essential to prepare for his birth.

               His birth is a celebration of our being released from the prison of sin and death, knowing we had no power to release ourselves from such torment. But there we are, sitting in prison, conversing with John, asking the same question as John, “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” In other words, “Are you going to accept his free Christmas gift of being set free, or, are we going to stay with John and be executed by the forces of evil?”

               The Judge is standing at the gate. He can see right into your cell, your dungeon. He’s going to open that wretched door for you. That ugly gate. But, it’s our decision as to whether we walk out into his merciful life, or stay in there with death and its misery. Staying in there means we live like he was never born. Walking out is to celebrate his upcoming birth, again. 

Homily 2nd Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 8, 2019

It could certainly be classified or called a confrontation. Sometimes, not always, a confrontation is sought by two sides. One side is usually more aggressive, initially, than the other side. Very rarely do two sides run into the center of a battlefield and seek to destroy one another. You see that only in video games. One side is usually on defense. It’s one side that initiates, while the other side reciprocates and responds to the attack.

               The confrontation, if you will, on this 2nd Sunday of the Peaceful Season of Advent, is between a group and one man. Which seems lopsided. The group consists of both the secular and religious leaders uniting to form one group. They are the Pharisees and Sadducees. And the one man, of course, is John the Baptist. And with the tone of John the Baptist, beginning with “You brood of vipers,” it appears the Baptist strikes the first blow in this battle of religious ways. Whose version of God is truer?  

               For that’s at the heart of this slightly heated discussion. This meeting of a group and one strangely clad Preacher is not husband and wife material. Like, “Are you gonna take the dog out before he goes to the bathroom on the new rug?” Or, “Honey, why did you talk to my mother that way?” Hopefully there’s some forgiveness before sleep that night.

               No, John the Baptist and this group of influential 1st century leaders in Palestine is not relational stuff between each other. It would be nice if they got along swimmingly. But getting along forever and always, every day of the year, ended when Adam and Eve ate the unforbidden fruit.

               Instead, this confrontation concerns “Who is God? What is he like? What does he want? What does he give to us? What do we believe about him and how do we relate to him?” And, not least, “How do we understand and accept his love for us?” This confrontation between the Baptist and this group concerns the most important topic of, “What is the true way of relating to the Lord, preparing for the Lord’s coming, and accepting his many graces?”

               Without trying to easily shove aside the opposition here, the Pharisees and Sadducees are like those today who believe they know perfectly what God wants. But they miss the mark because of staunch rules, regulations, and extreme rigidity. They block themselves in religiously. They create their own barrier against God, and such barriers prevent this group from reaching their true leadership potential.

               Imagine, as a parent or grandparent, having so many rules and regulations, and such rigid rigidity towards a child where they can hardly breathe? Or they’re afraid to breathe in the wrong direction? The intention may be good, but the process destroys. Imagine a student getting a 98 on a math test and the parent’s response is, “You could have done better!”

               On the flip side, by no means do we allow the inmates to run the prison. Children are not administrators of their own lives. And human beings do not run heaven. We need good direction. And that good religious direction comes from John the Baptist. The Baptist is the perfect administrator. John doesn’t smother us with the things of God. He knows he is unworthy to untie the sandals of the One coming after him. As we prepare for the event in Bethlehem that changes all creation for the better, where all life is touched by his birth, our Lord comes to us by way of the truest freedom possible. Human freedom is taken away only by governments and groups, not by God.

               The Baptist proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He does not follow that up with, “If you don’t repent, I will seek your death.” John blesses us in a twofold way; that our relationship with Christ is grounded in freedom. We can accept or reject. Or anywhere in between, such as lukewarm. And second, John blesses us with this perpetual truth, which is “Repent.” Whether we are close to Jesus or far away from him, the message remains the same. ‘Repent, because God’s kingdom is now at hand in the Messiah’s upcoming birth.” Meaning, that kingdom is now within you. Meaning, we have the capacity to represent God with truth and accuracy in our daily lives, starting with “Repent.”

               John’s one word “Repent,” for those who choose to accept this spiritual assignment, will take the bad fruit that Adam & Eve consumed sinfully, and spit it back out. By spitting out the horrible tasting fruit, which all sin is, and accepting “Repent” into our mouths, then your life becomes a free statement that says, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

               As good as the Pharisees and Sadducees could be in some respects, they could never take us to the spiritual plane of who God is, what is he like, what does he want from us, and what does he freely offer us. We are not a brood of vipers. We are not poisonous snakes. We are Christians. We are followers of Christ who fully accept what God has placed before us in our faith.

               But to set our lives on the proper path throughout our days and years, John the Baptist is the one who sets us on the Godly path, the path of good fruit, with the word “Repent.” He wins this confrontation by a mile. Many Godly words and actions flow from the one word “Repent,”, as we prepare again for the first coming of Christ.

Homily 1st Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 1, 2019

“One will be taken, the other will be left. Therefore, stay awake!”

               As we begin a new Church Year and a new Season of Advent, we move forward I pray with the hope that we are the one who will be taken. That doesn’t sound good on the surface. It begs the question, does “being taken” mean that during this season of preparation for the Lord’s birth that we should expect over the next few weeks we’re going to die from this world and come to see Jesus? Is this the sort of “being taken” that Jesus refers to in this gathering with his disciples? The answer is no.

               If we die over the next few weeks, it will not happen because one was taken, and another was left. Interestingly, that’s how one firefighter presently feels; that one was taken a couple weeks ago, and he, the other one, was left. He now lives with that for the remainder of his life. Many soldiers have carried within them the same thought; why were they not taken while the soldier next to them, out in the field or grinding at the mill, was taken. That’s been a hard reality that many have had to live with, be it during war or some other tragic circumstance.

               The way Jesus teaches about being taken on this 1st Sunday of Advent is presented in a way that we hope to be taken. His teaching does not refer to one person dying while another close by lives. He refers to his Second Coming, and the one who is taken is in fact the blessed one, the saved one. The one who now enjoys the banquet of eternal life in company with the Saints. While the one left behind is the one condemned. The one wailing and grinding their teeth because the Just Judge made his just judgment and determined they were not worthy of heaven for whatever the sinful reasons would be.

               On this 1st Sunday of Advent, the Lord speaks eternal language. The being taken or left behind refers to the Resurrection of the righteous, or the condemned. It’s hard for us to believe in today’s overall religious thinking, that God would condemn anyone he presently loves unconditionally. But love is always connected to free will. And love is a 2-way street, as we know in any relationship. It’s no different with God and us. I believe St. John Newman said it best: “If you don’t like heaven now, you won’t like it later.”

               And, the staying awake words of Jesus refer to, in this season of grace, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession is like a large bucket of cold water poured on your head on a steaming hot day. This Sacrament wakes us up spiritually. And keeps us awake! It makes us alive again. It gives us spiritual energy. If we wish to roll the dice on staying awake or falling asleep, receiving the Sacrament or bypassing it, then our free will allows us the dice roll. Contrarily, reception of the Sacrament of Confession is an internal fire that keeps us awake even when we’re sleeping, when the evil one tries to work on us. The Sacrament keeps us in right relationship with God.

               Advent is a season of beating swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. It’s a season of emphasizing peace, preparing for the Prince of Peace. Being peace; sharing peace; wanting peace; loving peace. It’s a season of rejecting violence in all its forms and disparaging looks. Violence has an ugly face. Peace has a beautiful face.

               Swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks are images of turning our internal wars and weapons into works of mercy. It’s an image of change and constant conversion. And that’s where Confession enters and invites us in.

Swords into plowshares; prepare the fertile ground of our souls for the good crop of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means. Our internal ground is already fertile because of God’s grace and presence of the Spirit. Our Baptism made that possible.

Spears into pruning hooks; bend the end of that weapon. Make it a hook that picks fruit off the tree of Christ. The fruits of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The fruits of compassion, visitation, and prayer. His tree is loaded with good fruit. It’s better to use God’s pruning hook that to use the Devil’s pitchfork.

And why stay awake? Why avoid sitting back, motionless, and allowing this quick, holy season to pass without change or conversion? Because, “the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” That certainly is true for many of us. The night of our lives is advanced. Be rid of any thought we are going to live forever. We are going to live forever. Up or down. But it won’t be on this side of the grave.

So please don’t sit back and allow the Season of Advent to pass without doing something to deepen our love for God and neighbor, preparing for the birth of Jesus. We have a Christmas Giving Tree; we have a collection for the Retired Religious; we have an Advent Concert; we have online shopping and those who still enjoy the hustle and bustle of walking through stores.

But the truest meaning of the Season of Advent is to stay awake. The way to stay awake in our faith is the Sacrament where God’s forgiveness and mercy is total and certain. It ensures we will be taken, and not left behind at the grinding mill.         

Homily 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C November 17, 2019

Because we live in the Christian virtue of hope, hope in life after death being the highest hope, with each ending there comes forth a new beginning.

               Letting go of certain types of endings is very difficult. Endings that can hurt our souls to the core, such as another Firefighter’s family. Some endings can seem most unfair and unwanted, some. And, some endings will never be seen by us as being “meant to be.” And truthfully, I would agree with that. Like violence; it is never “meant to be.” Any form of violence is never meant to be in God’s plan, unless it’s the end of violence altogether.

               We must remember that when God said “Let there be light,” the following six days brought forth the perfection of God’s creation through His divine imagination. It wasn’t until shortly after his prized creation, Adam, and then Eve while Adam was taking a siesta, that certain types of endings became difficult. The first broken relationship was between us and God; then Cain and Abel; Adam eating dirt all the days of his life because he ate from the disobedient tree, rather than eating forever the bread of angels. The pain of childbirth for women rather than the perfect birth of Jesus through Mary. Only a kidney stone can closely match the childbirth pain.

               We take responsibility, I hope, for turning a perfect creation into shambles through the horror of original sin. It’s through that bad choice of our first parents that all difficult endings, from brokenness to death, are upon us. But, it’s also through the saving grace and power of Jesus Christ that all difficult endings eventually find a new beginning.

               “There will not be left a stone upon another stone,” says Jesus: an image of destruction. “Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he.’” False prophets who destroy and beat up the sheep. “When you hear of wars and insurrection.” Just look to the middle East, again and again. As well as other continents and cities. Wars and insurrection abound. “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place.” Illness abounds. Even Mother Earth is ill, moving and bouncing these huge faults, such as San Andrea. But prior to all this unwanted violence, there’s the greater unwanted violence of being seized and persecuted, being handed over because of the sweet, innocent name of Jesus.

               All these endings that lead to a new beginning. With some of them we fight and do battle. Others are thrust upon us beyond our control. When did any mere human ever stop an earthquake, or raise someone from the dead? Earthquakes, famines, and death are beyond human power alone to stop.

               Most endings are not welcomed into our lives because of the confusion, hurt, and adversity they cause. We seek peaceful lives, lives where love and respect win the day. Where Christ is the center and all. Where his way of being in the world is fully revealed through us without having to judge others harshly.

               As we arrive toward the end of Luke’s Gospel in the 3rd year of the 3-year cycle of readings, our Lord’s message is twofold: dependency and justice. Dependency when times get tough. When difficult endings are seemingly upon us. Our Lord’s message – a very strong one – is to draw into his life, into his world deeper, and allow him to calm turbulent waves that seek to drown us in those times.

Please note that Jesus makes no attempt at stopping the earthquakes, famines, persecutions, death, human brokenness, and such. They are going to happen. The less the better. Love will always lessen the bitter endings. But dependency upon his life and all its meaning is our path to a new beginning.

               And as for God’s justice…. It’s never in the manner of getting even or revenge. Justice belongs to God the Creator. Divine justice does not seek to exact vengeance on his most prized creation, as much as we may like to think so. Divine justice will exact “vengeance,” if you will, on what caused all this brokenness in the first place. Divine justice will get even, not with us, but with our personal wars and persecutions through the power of Divine Mercy. Divine justice gets even with sin through the power of Jesus’ Cross. That’s how God gets even; through his mercy. How many new beginnings are realized in the joy of God’s forgiveness? And in ours too!

               The kind of justice the Lord will perpetrate on all creation will be to renew all the terrible endings into lasting peace. I can’t wait for the day to come when there is no more war in the land where the Prince of Peace walked, suffered, died and rose from the dead. I know I’ll be in heaven by then. But it will still be good.

                Jesus Christ is the firstborn of all creation. In him, we live and move and have our being. In him, all things were created in heaven and on earth. Except for all the bad stuff. But he’s going to place all the bad stuff in one holy hand, and transform it into all that is good.

               The biggest step toward this has been taken in the Resurrection of Jesus. This is the hope that will lead all difficult endings into new beginnings. To God be all the praise and glory. Amen.      

Homily 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C November 10, 2019

The one word life has two meanings.

               The first understanding of life is the present road we travel. A road that ends one day. We look, speak, and act in different manners, but we have in common the greatest of all gifts called life. This first life is lived within the walls and boundaries of space and time. If we ever feel restricted at certain times, like we’re being held back, that restriction is not the result of the 10 Commandments where God commands us what and what not to do. It’s not the result of Jesus commanding us to love enemies and pray for persecutors. In fact, if we do so, we experience more freedom.

               If there are times when we feel restricted or held back, there is no connection to God telling us what choices to make. What to do and what not to do. The truth of God is what sets us free, which contradicts the present cultural mindset that religion today is somehow restrictive, and that it holds us back from being all we can be. Rather, our faith holds us back from the slavery of sin. The feeling of restriction, where it exists, results from this present meaning of life being lived within the boundaries of space and time, and nothing more.

               This is what the Sadducees believe. That the word life has just one meaning. That life ends at death, so eat, drink, and be merry as much as humanly possible. We’ll still believe in God, which the Sadducees did. But they say that this is the one and only life that God created from the words “Let there be light.” If that’s the truth, then God’s light is not long-lasting. It’s like placing a 5-watt bulb placed into a streetlight 40 feet tall. There’s more darkness than light. And this is how the Sadducees approached life in the ancient time of Jesus.

               This first and only meaning of life for them brings forth this idiotic question of “Whose wife will this woman be? Which of the 7 brothers will she be married to in the resurrection, even though we don’t believe in a resurrection, therefore, we’re just going to make light of God’s light?” Of all the insane questions in Scripture, and there’s a few of them, this one could be on top of the list. “Whose wife will she be?”

               So, our primary understanding of this first meaning of life is that it will end. Even the Sadducees got that part correct.

               The second meaning of the word life is better understood by their denial. The refusal of the Sadducees to accept from God why this first life is so important to us. We look at our families, friends, your children and grandchildren, the beauty of God’s creation and nature and say, “We don’t ever want this to end. If this ends at the end of the first meaning of life, at death, then God had a really bad plan.” The worst plan, I would say.

               To say or believe there is no resurrection opens wide the door of this life to the option of slavery. Of living for oneself…because life is short and I need to get as much out of it as I can, no matter what the cost or who gets hurt along the way. “Get outta my way cause I’m doing whatever I want, commandments or no commandments, laws or no laws.” Is this freedom? Or is it slavery to the senses?

               What’s amazing about the Sadducees is that they were probably a group of decent human beings, despite testing the Master Teacher. Even though they believed the resurrection – the second meaning of life – not possible, that resurrection was not part of God’s saving plan, they did not run wild with their lives. They were religious-minded folks. They were God-fearing men. But they restricted themselves from accepting the truth that God’s plan for us goes far beyond the restrictions of this life. They couldn’t compete for the gold medal, because they didn’t believe there was a gold medal. They believed in a bronze medal eventually covered in six feet of dirt. They believed that was the best God could do. Or would do.

               The second meaning of life, based on the question “Whose wife will she be?”, Jesus gladly answers for us. The daily question for us in our Catholic faith is, “Do we live this first meaning of life according to the Sadducees insane question, or, do we live according to the Lord’s answer to them?”

               What is his answer? And is it satisfying enough for us to embrace the joys of the resurrection? Whose wife will she be is answered first, that marriage is not the defining relationship in heaven. Marriage is not the standard bearer of being with God in the resurrection. I’m sorry if that breaks your heart, but it shouldn’t. The dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. There are no Sacraments in heaven. Which is why Sacraments are for the living in this first meaning of life. Sacraments, including Matrimony, prepare us for the second meaning of life, being eternal.

               Instead of “Whose wife will this woman be?” Jesus answers the resurrection non-believers in a way that opens the door to what God has prepared for those who love him; “They can no longer die; they are children of God; they are the ones who will rise.”

               My dear friends, may we ever trust the words of Jesus in all he teaches, but most especially with regard to the second meaning of the word “Life.” It gives ultimate purpose and meaning to this first life, where restriction of space and time is real. This all leads to the second meaning of life, where freedom in Christ is eternal, even beyond the goodness of Holy Matrimony.        

Homily 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 20, 2019

When Jesus went up the mountain to pray at night, was it in silence, or did he speak words openly? When the Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, and the Apostles fell asleep on him, not “watching” with him, did he speak words openly on this fateful night of his arrest, or did he pray in total silence, contradicting the loudness of “Crucify him!” the following day?

Prayer is the salt of the Christian. It favors our lives, as well as having many flavors. There are many different forms of prayer, a few of them informal.

               There’s what the newly canonized St. John Henry Newman calls form prayer: reading and praying words on a page open before us. Organized prayer. All clergy do this every day of every year in the morning and evening, better known as Lauds and Vespers. At least we’re supposed to, making the promise to do so at our Diaconate ordination before priesthood.

               There’s the prayer of praying with the Scriptures, reading God’s word, and allowing it to speak to us in ways that lead to a more solid, lasting relationship with Christ Jesus. In the words of the Patristic Church Father, St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” It’s why we listen to God’s word at every liturgical celebration, and why we should read it at home every day; so we are not ignorant of our Savior. Reading Scripture is a most beautiful way to pray.

               There’s what I call the “prayer of grunting; the prayer of deep breath alone; the prayer of exasperation; the prayer of rolling our eyes at God, which he can clearly see; the prayer of no discernable words, but only sounds that only humans can make. The prayer of sighing and the prayer of “when am I going to catch a break?” This is one of my personal favorites; the prayer that speaks no words, held in the deepness of our hearts, that God can read and hear with perfect clarity. It’s the prayer where God actually writes the sentence, because we cannot speak it.

               And there’s the spontaneous prayer. the Evangelicals like this one; so do the charismatics in the Catholic Church, as well as the Quakers and Shakers. There’s no written text; without the Good Book; just take a deep breath and let the Spirit blow where it wills.

               In our readings this Sunday, we’re offered for our benefit a few forms of prayer. In the 1st reading where Joshua mows down Amalek – one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament – we’re given this visual of Moses with hands raised during the battle. When his hands are raised, Joshua and the Israelites get the better of the fight. When the hands of the one who carried down the 10 Commandments from Mt. Sinai grow tired and weary, the Israelites are pushed back by Amalek the adversary.

               What we see here in this reading is that there are no rules to this prayer. We can even cheat a little. Such as having Aaron and Hur hold up your hands when they grow weary. Here, the understanding of prayer is twofold: first, that the Israelites pray, and Amalek does not. That’s a recipe for disaster for Amalek, as well as all of us. If we fail to incorporate daily prayer into our lives, then eventually we will be mowed down by Amalek, the adversary. We will die in body and spirit. And second, cheat little if you have to. Pray in your car. But don’t read the Scriptures while you’re driving. But praying a decade of the Rosary is possible. Cheat a little with prayer in places that are out of the ordinary. It has great benefits.

               And the prayer that comes from Paul to Timothy is called the prayer of remaining faithful. To what we have learned and believed. This is simply the prayer that is ever faithful to our Christian nature. We don’t pray for violence; or revenge; we avoid the type of prayer that seeks to do damage to another. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. I will repay.” Where repayment is due, God is the just Judge.

               The prayer of remaining faithful to what we have learned and believed is our search for unity, while not watering down or compromising our faith. Such as when life begins, or the Sacrament of Matrimony.

               And the prayer Jesus addresses in the Gospel parable is the prayer of not becoming weary. Which is an ever-present danger. The parable our Lord shares with us disciples seeks to render a just decision against an adversary. The widow wants justice. For what we don’t know. What we do know is that whatever is bugging her, she isn’t going to stop pestering the judge until he arrives at her answer. She’s already written the answer for her case, just as Jesus has already written the answer for our case through his Cross. It’s the widow’s stamina that will wear down this judge who fears no one, except one widow.

               The prayer marvel in this parable is the energy and persistence of the widow to go up against a heavyweight and knock him out. She knows the judge is the only one who can bring about the verdict she wants against her adversary. And she’s going to bother him until she gets it.

               How brave are we in our prayer? How bold can we be? Are we one and done with prayer? Or, are we bold and persistent over time? Do we have the spiritual energy over years, like St. Monica praying for the conversion of her son St. Augustine for 30 years? The energy and determination to overcome the adversaries of this world through the power of prayer to God?

               Prayer is the salt of the Christian. There are many forms of prayer we can attend to. But first, be open to praying, like Moses, Timothy, and, yes, even the widow in her bothersome requests. Have hearts that seek communion with God, the just Judge.         

Homily 28th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 13, 2019

Gratitude is an attitude that has the force to overcome much of the ugly things we deal with in life. From the crazy, zany world of politics, to issues of life and death, and how hearts can be converted to a love for God rather than a love for passing things.

               Gratitude, and maintaining its spirit throughout a given day, has the good power and capacity to turn the ugly into beautiful, the confusing into sense, hatred into love, and anger into forgiveness. All because we are grateful to God.

               Grateful for what? For the gift of who you are, while not being a curmudgeon. For the gift of the blessing of years; honestly, if many of us moved on to eternal life this week, and we could look back a moment before we take our last breath, we could say, “God has been good to me with the amount of time I’ve been personally given to live and love, to enjoy the blessings of this world, and know in my heart I haven’t been cheated in days, months, or years.”

               That’s not to say we don’t look forward to much more. I pray you do. But many of us can call it a day and know we haven’t been robbed of time. And be grateful for it before the heart stops beating. We always have more to do. But we can be satisfied with what we’ve accomplished.

               And, the young folks should be grateful to God for the many good parents who guide them and lead them to a good place in life. We can tell how spiritually mature a youngster is by how aware they are of the blessings and good situation they have in life, and continually thank their parents and/or grandparents for all the sacrifices made over the years on their behalf. And be grateful they don’t live in a tent behind City Hall or under some bridge.

               Faith was the word last week, and commanding Jesus to increase that fundamental virtue in our lives. This week the word is gratitude. A virtue to be grateful for. Being grateful bonded with humility. Humility is not a first cousin to gratitude. Humility and gratitude are siblings; of the same flesh and blood. It’s not possible to offer to God or anyone else genuine gratitude absent a profound sense of humility.

               So, the lepers are over in their own special corner of the world. A corner created special for them. “You got rotting skin? Go over there and stay there, away from everyone else, except those who are like you.” Lepers were confined, restricted, in a real sense imprisoned. Not behind bars or in dungeons. But territory-wise, they had they own little forced corner of the world with like members of the Rotting Skin Club. Where skin rots and falls off like a real-life horror movie. No directors, no producers, no actors and actresses. Just a real life 1st century horror flick.                                                          

Obviously, they heard about the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Otherwise, they wouldn’t yell out at the top of their lungs from a distance, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us.” In that request, in that command, another command this week directed at Jesus to show pity, there’s the potential for a volcano of gratitude ready to erupt.

Thankfully, our Lord’s hearing is very good. However, hearing his name yelled out by a group of confined lepers doesn’t guarantee good results. But Jesus is having a good day and he’s in a good mood. He feels like revealing his loving power. ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.”

So off they fly. The 10 of them. To the priests to be unconfined. As they go, the volcano of gratitude is welling up, moving closer to the top of the mountain. And as they realize God has performed another special act of love on their behalf, he has spilt the Red Sea in two again for them, cleansing their rotted flesh, the eruption of gratitude begins. Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. St. Helen’s pour forth their ashes of gratitude.

Here’s the lynchpin point. Which direction do we go? Do we run away from that territory of confinement as far as we can go? Run to another country. Run to another god. Run back to my old life. Run to the moon now that I’m cured and free. All of which are the opposite direction from “Jesus, Master!” Is the eruption of my gratitude heading in a misplaced direction?

Or, do we go back to the Source of all blessings? Where the eruption of our gratitude returns to Pure Goodness in the Person of Jesus Christ.

It’s hard to believe that the hearts of 9 lepers were not filled with gratitude when they realized they were cured from such a dreaded disease. Just like it’s hard to believe a teenager lacks gratitude for all that parents sacrifice for them. But it’s possible. It’s possible for a heart to be that confined, that restricted, in a territory of prison, behind barbed wire fences.

The invitation of Jesus is to travel back each day in the direction that returns to him, to extend gratitude, even to the point of our suffering. Only he can demand such, because he carried a Cross for you.

Gratitude is easy when heaven is upon us; when we know it’s heaven touching us. Like 10 lepers who were personally touched by heaven. But even then, the worst decision can be made by not returning to Christ to offer thanks.

Genuine gratitude offers thanks to God in the good times and rough times. Early in life, at the end of life, and in the mid-years. May we never lose sight of the one cure that has touched all of us. The cure of the Cross of Jesus Christ that has won for you and me an everlasting victory over rotting flesh. The cure of our bodily resurrection.       
 

Homily 27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 6, 2019

We remember Ben Franklin’s famous quip, “Do not put off till tomorrow what can be done today.” Not hard to picture his lips moving on the 100-dollar bill saying this quip for the benefit of our ministry and life. It’s a very Christian thought, what Ben thought up, coming from a Deist.

               But what Mr. Franklin offers is only half of our Lord’s teaching from the Gospel parable. Not putting off until tomorrow what can be accomplished today assumes we have the time to finish today what needs to be done. Some of our lives are so busy, even some of you retired folks, that trying to finish up all that can be done today will keep you awake well past the time when the skunks and raccoons come out from hiding.

               At the heart of our readings is the word faith. And, Jesus being commanded by his Apostles to increase it in them. There’s a twist. They command him. But the command is for something worthwhile, and not about who’s the greatest. The increase our faith command is one we best be ready for. If we tell the Lord we want a deeper intake of some virtue, like faith, get ready for the response to overpower you in God’s time. Or any virtue. 

               When’s the last time we said, “Lord, increase my love for people.” Do we even want to go there? Or to hang on to the bitter pills of people who frustrate and anger us? Yet, there’s a way out of that bag of misery. ‘Lord, increase my love for people.”

               Or, “Lord, increase my capacity to forgive.” Increase my forgiveness toward those family members, former friends, strangers, and even politicians? Is that even possible? Increase my forgiveness toward them? Have we ever demanded and commanded such things from the Lord, even in the silence of our hearts? From the One who said on the Cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Don’t be shy when commanding God to increase your forgiveness. It will pay immeasurable spiritual and physical dividends.

               All good increasing from the Lord, however, begins and ends with faith. For faith one day will end when we gaze upon the face of Christ in heaven, where faith is replaced by an everlasting vision. “Blessed are those who see God forever, for your faith will no longer be needed.”

               But right now, faith it necessary. And the Apostles offer to us the perfect command that tells Jesus what we want him to do for us, “Increase our faith.” Their search for increasing has nothing to do with Powerball, our 401-K, or increasing any sort of mammon. We’ve touched on the mammon stuff the last two weeks. We cannot serve both God and that. Financially, we can put off till tomorrow what can be done today. But with faith in Christ, there’s no guarantee of tomorrow.

               Increase our faith is always a “today” command. It’s not a “tomorrow” command, even though it took the Apostles a good part of Jesus’ public ministry to arrive at their command to him. Which really begs the question, “Where are we in our faith journey at this time? Have we commanded the Savior to increase our faith? Are we miles away from commanding him to increase our faith? Or will we never command him to give us such a gift?

               By commanding Jesus to increase their faith, the Apostles are commanding the Lord to touch their hearts so intimately that when the day is done, they will accomplish all they were commanded as unprofitable servants, doing all they were obliged to do. Faith does not concern itself with any tomorrows. As the Lord teaches, “Do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.” Faith is a coin that has two sides: today, and eternal life. Increasing faith today, living a life steeped in Jesus Christ, brings us to the other side of the coin.

               With all the commands that God has sent our way for our benefit and good-living, here’s a Gospel that presents us the opportunity to command God in return. Where we can tell God what to do, and it’s not done through the sin of pride, but through our search for holiness. “Okay Lord, you desire me to have faith in you, now increase it in me!” So, if we’re going to tell God what to do, let’s make sure it works to our eternal benefit, and not to selfish motives.

               “Lord, increase my faith, my love, my hope, my forgiveness, my generosity, my compassion, my visits to the sick, my tending your sheep, my better language, my presence with your people, especially the dying. Increase it all! Turn me into a Saint! If you want to increase my bank account a little, that’s okay too.”

               But that’s not the first objective in commanding Jesus what to increase in us. It’s the virtues. The virtues that we don’t put off until tomorrow.