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 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.”

Homily 2nd Sunday of Easter Cycle B April 8, 2018

In the world of St. Thomas at the time of our Lord’s resurrection, we see an Apostle who is both uncertain and one who seems to feel left out. No one wants to be left out of an important occasion, especially when you’re one of the central actors in the play. And Jesus’ resurrection qualifies for an important occasion.
Imagine a father not being present for the wedding of his only daughter, where she walks down the aisle of the Church all by herself? And the father shortly after comes to discover that the wedding went off without his presence. Thomas was that father the night Jesus appeared in the Upper Room.
The words of Thomas that I believe didn’t make it into this Gospel resurrection story was him saying to the others, “If Jesus was really here, why couldn’t you guys keep him here until I returned from the market buying your food because you were too afraid to go outdoors? Why didn’t you guys tie Jesus down? Because you didn’t do me that great favor as I was out there risking life and limb for you, I’m not going to believe you, unless … I put my finger into his nailmarks, and my hand into his side.”
When Thomas spoke those words to his friends whom he thought were lying to him, do you ever get the sense that his placing his finger into Jesus’ crucified hand, and his hand into Jesus’ side that was sliced with a spear, that Thomas was not only unbelieving, but also ridiculing his friends? That his words to his friends about touching the wounds of Jesus were sarcastic and condescending toward them?
With Thomas, we normally stop at his unbelieving, and how in this moment of Jesus’ first appearance he perfected that vice. But there’s a strong hint of sarcasm in his words; a hint of not only not believing them, but ridiculing the fairy tale imagination of his Apostolic friends. A strong whiff of condescension.
The reaction of St. Thomas goes directly against the first Christian principle of what it means to be Church for us to this day; that being oneness and unity. Not worldly oneness, to some club or political party. But oneness in Christ. I can be one with the entire Red Sox Nation in my belief that we’re going to win the World Series this year. That sort of oneness is nice; it makes for good conversation to pass some moments in our lives. But oneness in the Church is centered in the Eucharist, which is a bit more lasting than a baseball team.
We see the perfection of the Church’s oneness in the Acts of the Apostles today; “They were of one heart and one mind.” The clutter of the world had not yet penetrated their Christian community. This is the gold standard of oneness that Christ desires and commands. Where brothers care for sisters, adults for children, where basic needs are cared for all in the community, and not for the lesser reason that it’s simply the right thing to do. But for the greater reason that such care imitates how God has cared for us. All caring is grounded in religion first, because it is of God.
And St. Thomas, who will later give his life for Christ, attacks the Church’s oneness by not believing that Jesus is raised from the dead as he promised them. But he also attacks the oneness of God’s Church by way of his condescending, arrogant words directed at his friends who are believable. Thomas at this point is not only captured by unbelief. Thomas is taking a teenage temper tantrum. His fingers into the nailmarks comment, and his hand into the side comment he considers to be beyond the world of possibility. It’s a beautiful thing when Jesus makes Thomas eat his own words. I wonder how he’s going to make me swallow some of mine; and you also.
The good part of St. Thomas’ life is that as we can criticize from the distance of time his reaction to Jesus’ first appearance without him being there, and take such criticism to the lowest possible place, except for where Judas went, we also get to emulate and raise St. Thomas to the highest possible place in heaven for his conversion, unlike Judas.
The scene in this Gospel connects to the highs and lows of our lives. There are times when believing that Christ is still in the tomb are upon us, and other times where we just know that he’s in the room. If Mother Teresa can have a dark night of the soul for decades one end, then I guess we can have it for a for a few short moments. And that’s all it is for Thomas; a few short moments, just one week.
As Jesus returns to them one week later, with one more Apostle present this time, we’re absent the sarcasm and condescending attitude of Thomas, which is replaced with “My Lord and my God.” What happens at the second appearance is the Divine Mercy of our Lord extending its powerful hand with nailmarks to a professed unbeliever. Our loving Savior will never throw our thoughts and comments back at us the same way we can throw words and actions at him, or at each other.
No arrogance from Christ; no sarcasm. Just words from our Savior for us where he means what he says; “Thomas, put your finger in my nailmark; put your hand in my side.” Were greater words of Divine Mercy ever spoken? Those words of Jesus to Thomas are the best words of absolution I’ve ever heard. “Put your finger in my nailmark; your hand in my side. If you do, Thomas, your sin of unbelief is forgiven.”
These words of Divine Mercy reunite the group of Apostles as one. Our Lord returns all of them to their starting point of oneness. Among other things, unity is what Divine Mercy brings about. It makes us one with the Church, and one with each other.

Homily Easter Sunday Cycle B April 1, 2018

One act of love deserves another one that is much greater. The three women who cared for Jesus when he was upright and breathing, they don’t have it in them to stop caring for the Lord just because he died and was buried. His death is not a good enough reason for them to turn their backs on him for good. Which is pretty amazing. It’s in their nature to give support, to show concern, to continue to love even after he’s buried and not breathing.
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome cared for the many needs of Jesus during much of his public ministry. You think death is going to stop such devotion for three determined women? Not in this world! So they gather up their spices, and off they go, marching to the tomb, caring for Jesus in his death. As they walk, they talk: “Who’s’ going to remove the large stone? Mary, you rock it this way, and Salome, you rock it that way, and maybe we can get it to tumble away from the entrance. We need to get at his dead body so we can at least make him smell good in death.”
Of course, they came to discover that there’s one smell that smells better than smelling good in death; it’s the smell of smelling good in life after death. Which is a little premature for the three ladies at this point. When they arrive at the tomb and realize that their stone-removing discussion was a useless chat, the stone having been removed prior to their arrival, they take the next step, entering the tomb. They still have their spices in hand, and they’re still looking for a dead body to use them on, but there’s no one to use them on. Someone must have stolen him. Where is he?
God doesn’t play tricks with us. So that the women have an understanding of what’s really taking place, God leaves behind a messenger, an angel, to ease their minds and strengthen their hearts. The angel makes it abundantly clear as to what occurred that morning. “He has been raised. He is not here. You need to find another tomb if you wish to use your spices on a dead body. And don’t try using them on me, because I’ll disappear on you.”
In Mark’s Gospel, the symbol of resurrection is the symbol of unused spices carried by the three women who love Jesus. When they received the message from the angel inside the tomb of our Lord, they probably dropped the spices on the ground, and ran to the disciples in their hideout to share the news. So there they were, spices spread on the earth, inside the tomb where Jesus was buried on Friday, moments before the Passover began.
Unused spices spread all over the ground, meant to be used on a dead man’s body, instead unopened and spread all over. What a fitting symbol for life after death.
Our dear Jewish friends recall vividly to this day the Passover of the angel of death in Egypt, which led them to freedom from slavery, eventually into a land flowing with milk and honey. Anytime an entire nation is freed from the tyranny of another people oppressing them, it’s cause for both remembrance and celebration. And this is what our Jewish brethren do at this time of year, every year. They can truly say, “God has set us free!”
But on this holy day, the Passover is transformed from not only from slavery to freedom, but from death to life. In our Lord’s resurrection, with the unused spices laying on the ground rather than Jesus laying on the ground stone-cold, we are carried by an angel from the slavery of sin, to the freedom of holiness. In our Lord’s resurrection, an entire human race, and not just one group, is freed from the tyranny of death, which St. Paul rightfully calls our greatest enemy, and carried to the joys of life everlasting.
It’s a very good thing that three holy women never got to use their spices. Because if they got to use their spices on that Sunday morning 2000 years ago, we wouldn’t be here today. And this Church wouldn’t be here. This would be another shopping mall on a hill, selling us things we don’t really need and can’t take with us. Like spices.
He died for us. Now he is raised for us. Praise God.

Homily Passion Sunday, Cycle B March 25, 2018

We know that any entrance onto a stage during a play, a musical, or an opera, sets the tone for what follows. If an actor/actress, or singer’s entrance onto a stage flops, if they stumble when they come out, when they’re not supposed to stumble, when it’s not part of the script, then it sets up for an awkward moment. The professional will recover themselves quickly, while the less professional – the amateurs – may be embarrassed for awhile.
Imagine Tom Brady leading his team out of the tunnel onto the playing field at the Super Bowl, and when he gets onto the field, he trips over himself, in front of millions of people watching. The only recovery from such an embarrassing mishap is to lead your team to victory. And that’s what Jesus begins to do on Palm Sunday, minus the mishap. Minus falling on the field over his shoelaces.
All that our Lord did on this day was carried out to perfection as he entered the holy city of Jerusalem. First, there’s a colt that no one ever sat on. Perfect! The poor donkey had to feel like the loneliest donkey in the world. He didn’t know he was being saved for the Messiah one day. He must have been asking himself, “Is anyone ever going to sit on me? Why was I created? I thought I was created so that people could ride on me! if you’re not going to give me the chance to get stubborn with someone, then send me to the circus!”
Poor donkey. But then a few guys show up right when the colt was ready to give up, they untie the beast of burden, others ask why they’re trying to take the colt that doesn’t belong to them – “Why you trying to steal that beast?” – “The Master has need of it and will send it back at once.” ‘Oh, okay.” Perfection! The donkey kidnap is pulled off to perfection.
But then the perfection of this day arrives at the more solemn stage. Jesus hops on the donkey that God specifically created for him. The direction the donkey travels is, not away from the holy city, but directly at it. The donkey takes Jesus directly into the furnace. That’s perfect! Our Lord doesn’t hightail it in the opposite direction. He heads in the perfect direction on the perfect beast. The same direction of our faith in him, minus the colt.
Throughout all the trials and tribulations that will come after us from another beast that is not perfect, remembering that our Lord himself knows exactly what lies in store for him in the week ahead, our faith is to move forward. We move in the perfect direction toward Jerusalem, toward the furnace, because that’s where we encounter God closeup. Perfect direction taken by Jesus on the perfect donkey.
And then, as he moves in the perfect direction toward Jerusalem, he is given the perfect praise. The praise that only he deserves; the praise that God alone is to be given. Do we consider our praise of God to be perfect, at least at different times? What is the perfect praise for God? It begins with the word “Hosanna.” Praise, joy, adoration. But not just the one word “Hosanna,” but “Hosanna in the highest.” Meaning, praise for this man on the donkey cannot go any higher. Which, for us, translates into nothing and no one in this passing world is worthy of such ‘Hosanna,” except for Jesus Christ. So, if there’s any person in this world that we adore above the Person of Christ, then our donkey is traveling in the wrong direction.
Perfect praise on our part is giving praise to Jesus. That’s where our life begins, and that’s where, we pray, our life will end.
Everything is perfect on this day. But Palm Sunday is not about this day alone. It’s a setup for the rest of this coming week. The rest of this coming week where perfection will quickly and so radically become imperfect. By the time the donkey is returned to its owner, things start to go downhill for Jesus.
Such as: “I gave my back to those who beat me; I gave my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
How could they turn so quickly on “Hosanna in the highest?” If Jesus is God, don’t you think he should be beyond this type of physical treatment? What makes such wretched behavior possible is our human weakness, combined with the truth that “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”
In God becoming one of us in Jesus Christ, he opened the door to having his holy beard plucked, and having a human face to spit on. His perfect entrance onto the stage of Jerusalem becomes imperfect, not because he fell over his own shoelaces, but because he was tripped up by those he loved.
And this all gets into Good Friday, and why we need the perfect, sinless, holiest man to die for us. So that after we have plucked his beard, and spit on his face, we may still be given the grace to come to the perfection and joy of heaven. We’ll talk about that next Sunday.

Homily 5th Sunday of Lent Cycle A March 18, 2018

Lazarus received a small taste of the Spirit of Christ dwelling in him. I don’t believe it was by chance that Jesus raising someone from the tomb in front of a large crowd of witnesses happened to be someone he knew well. Our Lord was friends with Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. Thus, it’s fair to assume that the first open instance of Jesus raising someone from the grave in John’s Gospel was intentionally a person close to him.
As friends, Lazarus possessed this Spirit of Christ by way of inviting Jesus into his home, conversing with the Lord, enjoying his company, talking about late winter snowstorms and how much they hate them, and getting to know the Lord intimately. And, of course, there was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who anointed the feet of the Lord with perfumed oil, and wiping it down with her hair. A very intimate action. This family was very close with Jesus.
So, when St. Paul writes in Romans, “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness…” in this case the righteousness of welcoming Christ into our homes each day, prepares our dead bodies one day for the Spirit of Christ to raise us up. Lazarus was ready for Jesus to do what he did in Bethany on that day, because he welcomed Jesus into his home. May we be ready also.
What our readings treat us to on this 5th Sunday of Lent, preparing us for the great and holy event in two weeks, is an evolution toward resurrection by way of God returning life back to dead spirits and dead bodies.
In today’s first reading from Ezekiel, we heard these words proclaimed: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” This is God’s promise to the Israelites whose bodies are alive, but dead in spirit. Their spirits have been killed. But God’s promise here to the Israelites is a first step towards the raising of Lazarus. How so?
God is promising his people he will open the grave of Babylon where their dead spirits presently were, and he will uproot them all, and return them to the promised land where they long to be. By being captives in Babylon, even though their bodies are alive, their spirits are dead. Have you ever felt like your spirit was dead? There are moments when we go through that. That’s the deadness of all the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. So, their returning to the land God gave them is, for them, a form of being raised from the dead.
When they were conquered and overtaken by the devil, by the Babylonians, and removed from their God-given land, and the U-Haul truck stopped in Babylon – this is where we get off for the next 70 years – they were dead. Their spirits were dead. And God said, “I’m going to bring your spirit back to life by opening the grave of Babylon and return you to Jerusalem.” This is form of resuscitation number one, part of the evolution toward resurrection in the Scriptures.
Form of resuscitation number two, which we heard in today’s Gospel, evolves from dead spirits in bodies that are alive, to real death, death in the body. It is no longer about returning people to their land, God-given or not. Opening graves now advances to literally opening a grave- “Take away the stone,” Jesus says.
Whereas God returned thousands of Hebrews to the holy land, away from the dead land of Babylon, here we have one man and two distraught sisters, the one man literally dead in body. But what Jesus does with the one man’s dead body is far greater than God awakening the spirits of thousands in Babylon.
The evolution toward resurrection with Lazarus is not simply about moving a group of people from one place to another, amazing as that can be. It’s about one man’s dead body in a tomb for 4 days, calling his spirit back into his body, and handing him back to his sisters. “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” In an instant, tears of sorrow become tears of joy. The joy of the Israelites returning to Jerusalem and all the holy cities and towns that make up the promised land, as great as it was, their joy was a blip on a screen when compared to the joy of Martha and Mary, just two people.
In Ezekiel, God revealed his power to remove a people from one physical place to another, opening the graves of dead spirits in alive bodies. In John, Jesus reveals his power over the permanent death, death in the body.
But we know, as good as Mary and Martha had it with the return of their brother whom they loved, it’s still just another step in the evolution toward resurrection. Lazarus is only resuscitation number two in Scripture, greater than number one found in Ezekiel. Lazarus, we know, will die again. Thus, what happened with Lazarus, as powerful as it was, was not even close to being good enough for God. There’s a third step in the evolution of resurrection.
God’s love for us is not halfway stuff. Halfway can define human ways of love at times. But with the Lord, it’s either the ultimate good for us, or it’s nothing. Lazarus dying again is not the ultimate good. Resuscitation number two fails miserably in the end.
The next step in the evolution toward resurrection is for God to call a dead body back to life, out of a tomb, and create a new condition where that person will never die again, and extend that gift to the entire human race. And we’ll talk about that in two weeks.

Homily 4th Sunday of Lent Cycle A March 11, 2018

At the end of the story, there’s a lot of moving parts, and a bunch of confusion.
The parents of the man born blind are confused, telling the religious leaders they don’t know what happened to their son. And they add this to their confused state; “Ask him yourself. He’s of age. He’s old enough and mature enough to answer for himself.” So much for family support!
Then there’s the religious leaders who are totally befuddled. The best they can come up with is to claim that he’s performed this unexplainable act on the sabbath. As they themselves were probably performing some chores behind everyone’s back no one could see, they were breaking the law of resting on the Sabbath, with their guns and cannons blazing away at Jesus for giving sight to a blind man from birth. That sounds a little too much like our upside-down world today.
And even the neighbors of the blind man who was cured; people who grew up with him, on the same street, with connecting backyards and shared gardens…even they ask the question, ‘Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg? Isn’t this our neighbor?” They fail to recognize him with his sight. They only knew him with his blindness. Thus, they’re all confused.
So, when this story comes to a close before the Gospel writer John moves on to chapter 10 and the story of the Good Shepherd, every participant is confused in some form. So let’s make this very clear up front; confusion is not, and is never, ever the intention of Jesus. Nor his heavenly Father. Nor the Spirit. Our Savior wishes to confuse us about as much as the adversary from the lowest regions of you know where wishes to make our lives crystal clear. When it comes to confusion, Jesus and the Devil don’t trade places. With Christ, there is none. With the Pitchfork-Holder, there is nothing but.
So when a loving deed is performed, in this case by Jesus, and confusion settles into the hearts of those connected with the good deed, then there’s a sure sign of lack of faith. Which is grounded in the Pitchfork-Holder. Lack of faith says that God does not interfere in the course of human events in ways that are profound and amazing. And if that happens to be the thought possessing a person’s heart, then how can we believe that Jesus is raised from the dead, which is the peak of amazing events.
All these Gospels in this 3-week stretch; the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well; the man born blind; and next Sunday the raising of Lazarus; at the heart of each of them is Jesus pulling one thing out of us, and placing something else within us. He’s tearing out, and yanking out, and dragging out, and removing the curse of unbelief and confusion. He’s ripping it out like a dog will rip apart the sock of its owner. When the dog is finished, there’s only one place left for the sock, and it’s not on your foot. Toss it in the trash. That’s where any of our unbelief and confusion in the Lord belongs. He wants our belief in him, all the way to the point of Lazarus next week; to the point of our death.
And what he’s removing from within us through these incredible stories, he’s replacing it with belief; with the absence of confusion; with trust that he carries the heavy burdens with us; and with the ultimate truth that we will arrive at the permanent joy of being with him where suffering and death are no more.
Everyone in this Gospel is missing the joy of Jesus, except for the blind man who can now see. He’s the only one who gets it. He’s the only one secure, mature, humble and wise enough to ask, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” “Who are you, Lord, that I may believe in you. Make it crystal clear for me.”
One of the greater purposes of Lent is for us to do less and less searching for the many false gods that seek our attention, and narrow down our search for worship to Christ. And stay with him for good. But the attractiveness of the world returns, which can cause us to easily lose sight of Christ.
I’m certain that the man born blind failed to lose sight of Jesus after this amazing act of love that our Lord performed on him, with spit, dirt, and everything else. Whereas everyone else involved in the story is confused, having no wisdom to explain and accept God’s intervention, the former blind man comes to faith and worship, and you just know he stays there for good.
That’s one constant spiritual challenge for us. We all have our belief in Jesus our Savior. If not, we would be out playing indoor soccer, or indoor golf, or shopping at the Natick Mall or Patriot Place right now. We all are blessed with belief in Christ. But the man born blind takes us to the level where our belief in Jesus, although tested at times, will never run dry.
As everyone else in the Gospel story today is shrouded in darkness, we are called to live by the words of St. Paul in today’s reading: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead (arise from the dead of confusion), and Christ will give you light.”
He is the Light-Giver in our lives, and never the Confusion-Giver. His love, his mercy, his power, and his teachings offer us light, removing the blindness of doubt, inviting us to stay with him for good, following the same path of the man born blind.

Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent Cycle A (Scrutiny Readings) March 4, 2018

“Look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest… as the reaper gathers crops for eternal life.”
The field is always ripe for the harvest. There will always be hearts and souls looking to be harvested, or in need of being harvested. Whenever I speak with someone who is trying to get a family member to return to the practice of their faith (and in Catholic terminology, we know what that means), or speak to someone who mentions how they really feel the need to get back to Church, I always wonder how well that thought will finish. Will it result in no attempt at all, finishing at the good thought? Or, will there be a lukewarm attempt, not finding satisfaction enough to sustain them? Or, will it result in them finding the level of hope that St. Paul so beautifully writes today that “hope does not disappoint?”
I always wonder where it will end up in the long run, remembering that we have only one life to do this. Even if someone falsely believes in reincarnation, we have just one life at perfecting and embracing our faith in Christ our Savior.
Where will it end for them? Will they go into town to buy some food, or will they end up at the well to converse with Jesus, who seems to know it all, including the number of husbands she had?
Of course, the desire of those seeking to bring loved ones and friends back to their most natural place in life of worshipping our Savior in his Body, the Church, is always the goal. We want them to have in this life what we know we have; that being Gospel and Eucharist. The highest form of Good News in this life, and the food that endures to eternal life. Right here.
I don’t know of any priests or deacons who stand on a busy street corner saying to passers-by, “Excuse me, you want a Eucharist? Would you like to receive the Body of Christ and become one with him?” Unless one is ill or homebound, it happens only here. Here at the well. If we’re out shopping for food in the town, then it’s a very different conversation from Good News and Eucharist.
The conversation the 12 Apostles are having in this incredible Gospel is the shopping conversation. They went into town to buy food. On their way in, their talking was about the Red Sox, Patriots, why Butler didn’t play, will Gronk return, how’s your job going Joe, let’s stop at the Irish pub for a quick one, and who’s your daughter getting married to. All good topics. But it’s not the conversation at the well, where Gospel and Eucharist come together to form the foundation of the faith that wells up to eternal life.
If we want our life to well up to eternal life, then at some point we have to meet him at the well. Yes, we know he’s with us all the time, the Spirit who is truth. But we must have the hard encounter where the conversation is deadly serious with Him, and then we can go out and play, and relax, and laugh and enjoy the lighter things, such as going to town to shop for food. Let’s all go to Wegmans! The difference here in this Gospel between the Samaritan woman and the Disciples is found in the difference between eating a bag of nachos while dropping some salsa on our shirt, and the words, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”
How can we not be struck by the sharp contrast in the first half of this Gospel of where the Samaritan woman is, and where the Disciples are. It isn’t by chance that she’s standing at Jacob’s Well with this thirsty-looking Jewish man. Such encounters don’t happen by chance. You think you met your spouse or your best friend by chance? No, you didn’t. She’s at the well because God has a big plan for her, just like his plan for us.
Do you know why she’s at the well talking to Jesus while the Disciples are off in the opposite direction, far away from the well, talking sports and family life while they search for donuts and orange juice? The reason is, because she’s ready, and they’re not. They will become ready, but that time is not yet. They will become ready to embrace the food he talks about, but now is not the time for them.
The Apostles in the Gospel are like all the good souls that want to return to the Body of Christ, but they just don’t yet know how to be in the right place, at the right time on the Sabbath of the Risen Lord. Like the Apostles, we pray they get there spiritually, and arrive at the serious understanding that life is too quick to stay in Samaria all day long looking for food. Food that will lead to hunger and thirst again, providing momentary satisfaction.
The Samaritan Woman is at ground zero of salvation. Whether it’s Jacob’s Well, or anywhere else where the intimate conversation can be had with the Lord. She takes the same route back into Samaria the Disciples took, but her conversation is radically different from that of the Twelve. She’s not talking sports. She’s ready to preach his name as the Christ. Are we ready for the same? She’s filled with zeal to bring those she knows to the Messiah. She interrupts their day so rudely and lovingly, and says to them “Come with me. Put that fork down and I want you to meet him. Right now!” Do we have a portion of the same zeal of the unnamed lady of Samaria?
Two very different places. One crew looks for food that Jesus seems to be uninterested in when they return. He says, “Let me tell you where my food is.” It’s right here! This is where it is. This isn’t just Immaculate Conception Church. This is Jacob’s Well. This is where he feeds us in a way that doesn’t happen on a busy street corner.
And the other person, the individual lady… she’s in the perfect spot. She’s in the Garden of Eden, just outside Samaria. Life is too quick and unpredictable to not find that spot every Sabbath of the Risen Lord.