Homily Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, 2017

“The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Talk about someone recognizing the goodness of God, and then proceeds to give proper adoration to his name and being. This is one of the countless marvelous parts of the life of Mary of Nazareth. The Almighty did so many great things for her, that it would be difficult to put them all into any segment of time, and begin to understand and embrace them into our faith lives.
Just today’s celebration alone, our Blessed Lady being assumed body and soul into heaven at the time of her death, is an event that goes far beyond greatness where not enough books could ever be written to describe this incredible act of God’s generosity.
And then there’s her Immaculate Conception, a great thing given to Mary to prepare her for the next great thing in her young life; giving birth to the Savior of the world. The Incarnation. And how many great things can we suspect happened to Mary as Jesus was growing up in Nazareth all those years before he left for the desert around the age of 30? How many great things did a Son do for his Mother that never made it into the Good Book?
Great thing after great thing after great thing. The word “great” can never be overused when it involves God and Mary. Not only is God great, but God made his Mother great too. Mary is a great Mother, because she’s not only the Mother of Jesus, the Anointed One, but she’s your Mother also, as well as mine.
We all have our earthly mothers whom God has used so gracefully, along with our earthly fathers, to give us the gift of life. But in Mary we all have in common a Heavenly Queen, whom God has done great things for. It’s right there in Luke’s Gospel. And I pray that you do the same as I; accepting her 100,000 percent as your spiritual Mother. She loves you like she loved her Son. If we were crucified, she would hold our dead bodies in her arms also. She prays for us as she prayed for her Son as he underwent his Passion. And, like any good mother, she keeps us on our spiritual toes, pointing us always toward the worship and adoration of her Son, as she did the same.
In the Assumption of Blessed Mary, the Lord has accomplished the greatest of all his great things extended to this one Jewish Lady from an obscure northern village in ancient Israel. The Assumption of Mary is an event that is not distant from us, where we say what happened at the time of Mary’s death is so far above and beyond us. We are most certainly not disconnected from that holy moment and holy act of God given to Mary.
That’s like saying we have nothing to do with the Red Sox because we can’t play baseball the way they can. Yea, we can go out in the backyard and play catch. We can play wiffle ball on the street or in some rundown park. But their ability to play the game is so far above and beyond ours, that we can think we have nothing to do with them. When in fact, the role of a fan and supporter is a central role in the success of the team. Do you know how difficult it would be for the Red Sox to play game after game in a very long season with no fans in the stands.? Their egos wouldn’t be able to deal with it. They would pay for our tickets if it came to that.
And so it is with Mary being assumed into heaven, the one who has no ego, but perfect humility. This great thing God did for his Mother touches our lives, and in many more ways than being a fan in the stands. Because what God did for Mary at the end of her life, he will do for us at the end of time. We just have to wait a little longer, and be more patient.
We honor this most blessed Lady of Heaven with all the Christian joy we can call forth from our hearts. The Lord has done great things for her. Things that impact our eternal well-being.
May the one assumed body and soul into heaven continue to pray for us on our journey home. And may she pray also for our world to turn to her Son, who is generous in doing great things for those for whom he died.

Homily 19th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A August 13, 2017

This Gospel is certainly one of the more action-filled, gripping events in the lives of Jesus and his Apostles. You have to love a Gospel story and readings where the imagery of our relationship with the Lord is so strong in both message and effect. I offer for your spiritual pondering a couple of those images.
First, I get asked at times if God will test us in some way, to find out if our faith is solid or weak. I answer that it may be the case. But any testing, if there is any, if not for the Lord to gain any knowledge about what’s going on inside of us. Any testing, for those who see their relationship with God in such a way, is for the purpose of deepening our present faith. Remember, the most natural path of our faith in Christ is the path of deepening, whereas the most unnatural path is that of weakening.
So, is Jesus testing the Apostles when, at the start of this Gospel, he sends them in a boat – by themselves – to the other side of the pond? Actually, the Sea of Galilee is a large body of water with a geographical setting where the wind and storms can come out of nowhere and take a boatload of Apostles by surprise. Is Jesus testing them by sending them out there on their own, knowing that Peter and Andrew, James and John are experienced fishermen who are comfortable on the seas? Is the Lord doing this to test if they will go to the other side without him, or is he offering them the chance to walk away from him?
Legitimate questions, but they miss the greater point. The greater point, that still resonates today, is that any type of separation from Christ, be it momentary or for years on end, is fraught with danger. We are not to travel this journey across the sea alone, and the Lord on his part makes certain he does not leave our corpses floating in the water. And that takes trust. One of the more fundamental parts of our faith in Jesus is that we trust he is always beside us, especially when it feels like he isn’t.
I don’t think Jesus was testing the 12 to see if they would leave him. If that thought was in his mind, he would have asked them straight out, “Do you want to leave?” The same way he does to them in the Bread of Life discourse in John, chapter 6. So, this image of separation from the Lord while crossing the storm-filled events of our lives, are events of trusting more than testing. The test may or may not be there for us, depending on how each of us sees this part of our spiritual lives, but trusting in his abiding presence is the greater image here.
And second, there’s the image of the rescue of Peter outside the boat, and the rest of them inside the boat. One is sinking, the others are getting battered by waves.
Remember the Old Testament story of the golden calf, where God said to Moses, “You better head back down the mountain old man, because they’re in a state of revelry and profound sinfulness?” The movement of that famous story, the movement of Moses coming to the rescue before it’s too late, it mirrors the movement of Jesus in this Gospel. While praying on the mountain alone, the Father must have said to the Son, “Beloved Son, this prayer session needs to be interrupted so you can catch up to the 12 in their boat and save them from the approaching storm. And you’re gonna have to walk on water to catch up to them.”

This image of rescue is twofold: first, that God loves us so much, that he will do the impossible for us when we need it most, such as walking on water. I’m sure Jesus has walked on water for us many times, saving us with his mercy and forgiveness. This is a tough image, though. The impossible part of Jesus catching up to them while walking on water happens before death occurs to the 12. He literally saves their physical lives. God still needs them for the building up of his future Church. For us, the seemingly impossible of gaining a sense of peace and comfort may come to us after the death of someone we know and love. That’s an example of Jesus saving us from the weakening of our faith as a result of the loss of a loved one.
And second, this image of rescue shows the essential importance of remaining in the Church. The boat is the Church. There are cultural storms that continually batter the Church. The definition of God-sanctioned marriage is one of them today, the definition of which is found in Matthew, chapter 19, where Jesus is very clear on what constitutes Marriage.
The boat is the Church. Peter leaves the boat. Why does he feel the need to leave the boat to get to Jesus? Jesus is already coming to them. Peter doesn’t need to try to show off, do a dance in the endzone, and upstage the rest of them. The image of staying in the boat, which is big enough for every person God created, cannot be overstated.
Many have left the boat, thinking they can walk on water. We’re not ducks. Human beings were not made to walk on water. Stay in the big boat where it’s safe with her solid teachings, because outside the boat we’ll find human ideologies that will destroy our faith in Jesus Christ.
And, do not be afraid to invite others back to the boat where they belong. This is called evangelization. By doing so, you may do the impossible like Christ; help save a soul from sinking in the deep.
It is a fascinating and gripping event on the high seas of northern Israel. Is the Lord testing them by sending them across the sea alone, to see if they will leave? Or, is trusting in his presence the greater image and statement? And, the rescue. He’s already done the impossible rescue of defeating death for our future benefit. In his love for us he will continue to do lesser impossible things than Resurrection, for nothing is greater than an empty tomb. And the message is always, “Stay in the boat. It is good that we are here.”

Homily Feast of the Transfiguration Cycle A August 6, 2017

In the words of the late, great St. Paul of Tarsus, “There’s faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.”
As the song says in the popular Opera “Les Misérables,” or as others would say, Less Miserable; “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I’m usually not into opera theology, but that sentence that is sung wrings of pure truth. Loving another person and seeing the face of God is the opposite of being miserable, which is the irony of the Opera’s name with that verse in one of its songs.
St. Paul would know a thing or two about the virtue of love. The poor guy was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, abandoned, and left for dead well more than once. Yet, he never hated anyone after his conversion. Nowhere in any of his letters does the emotion of hatred at an individual come through. Challenging individuals and groups to conversion to Christ? Absolutely. But never borne in hatred. He had every reason to hate others who treated him so cruelly. But his choice was that of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Which gives us another famous verse, not from a song, but from Scripture, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s a great spiritual advantage when even Jesus seems to make excuses for the bad choice of crucifying him.
In St. Paul’s very familiar verse found at the end of chapter 13, 1st Corinthians, and found also in the Liturgy of the Word at many weddings, in faith, hope, and love he gives us the triad of theological virtues, correctly naming the greatest one. Love is superior to all other human actions and emotions. Before all else, it is the virtue that defines God, and all those who do his will. It’s the virtue that will cancel a multitude of sins. So, if you haven’t been to Confession in quite some time, go and perform some profound acts of love for the right reasons, and you will, according to Scripture, which is 100% believable, cancel a whole bunch of dirty spots on our souls. And then go to Confession still.
After love, we have a tie for the 2nd greatest virtue; faith and hope. Faith allows us the capacity to address the trials of everyday life, giving us the incredible truth of Someone to believe in who invites to a better lasting place than here. How many times have we heard it said, “I don’t know where I would be without my faith!”
Faith will move mountains, meaning this theological virtue has the force to make entire towns, cities, and nations places where love for neighbor is more present and more powerful than hating enemies. Faith in God as a whole will raise up any population or gathering of people to its highest form of humanity, whereas the absence of faith in God will lead to sub-human actions where people tear each other apart. Which is why removing religion and religious symbols from open, public display, which our Founding Fathers never promoted, is so abhorrent and spiritually dangerous for a city or nation. Today, it seems we’re seriously misguided and way overconcerned for offending individuals, instead of being concerned what removing God from the public square will do to a city or nation’s heart and soul. May we prefer to move mountains the proper way.
And then there’s the 3rd theological virtue. The virtue of the Transfiguration of Christ on the holy mountain before 3 chosen Apostles. The virtue of hope. As we know how the story goes for these three, they’re going to need hope, just as we do.
Out of faith, hope, and love, hope is the most forward-looking of the three. Hope is believing there’s a reward at the end of this Christian rainbow. That all our Christian actions and words that we do and speak in the present are worth all the efforts of having faith and sharing love. That in our free will cooperation with God’s grace and favor upon us, there’s something ahead of us that will result in lasting satisfaction for our souls. And, when Jesus returns for an encore, for our bodies also.
Maybe on the mountain of transfiguration, the faith of the 3 Apostles in Christ deepened. And most likely they walked away from the experience, on their way down the mountain, with much deeper love for their Savior. But one thing’s for sure; their hope went off the charts. It broke the thermometer that measured their joy. Their hope that a greater life has been prepared for us was fully realized in that moment. Which explains why Peter wanted to build three tents and remain up there on an extended vacation from the world.
Hope is the virtue we need when doubt starts to creep in and become creepier, making us question whether the Cross and Resurrection are the real deal. Is it a dream, or is it a real vision on the mountain for these 3 Apostles who are mere fishermen? Is it a panic attack taking place up there, or is the voice really telling them to listen to his Son?
The opposite of hope is despair. And despair is the tool of the Devil. We Christians have no room for despair. It flies in the face of all that Christ has won for us.
Allow the theological virtue of hope to sustain us in our daily Christian living. The Transfiguration of the Lord belongs not only to Peter, James and John, sustaining them in being the first ones to spread the faith and grow God’s Church. This holy event belongs to each of us, providing us a visual of what God has prepared for those who love him.
Our hope is not grounded in this world. Our hope is lived out with joy in the present, but hope looks past all present trials, and keeps one eye on the forward-looking Transfiguration of Christ.

Homily 17th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 30, 2017

A treasure buried in a field. A pearl of great price. And good fish.
Jesus has been using so many images over the past few weeks of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, that it almost has our heads spinning. He takes so many common parts of life, and then uses it as a comparison to the Kingdom of Heaven and what it’s like. But notice that after our Lord uses each image, there’s an action that follows. Which tells us the Kingdom of Heaven is about the understanding heart Solomon asks for from God in the 1st reading, but also it has just as much to do with performing actions consistent with an understanding heart that knows what is of God, and what is not.
First, a buried treasure in a field, being an image of God’s Kingdom. Jesus uses lots of imagination and wisdom to express the incredible beauty of his kingdom that he now shares with us. Our Lord’s imagination, his Divine Brain, knows no limitations when sharing with us what his home is like. Yes, he grew up in Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, ministered around the Sea of Galilee, and came to Jerusalem where the fire pit was. But his home is heaven, where he first came from.
And after stating that his home is like a buried treasure in a field, the action follows. An action that expresses an even deeper wisdom found in the human heart; go out and buy the whole field! Make sure the spiritual property to be purchased is big enough that you don’t miss the buried treasure.
Imagine buying a big piece of property with the intention of owning the buried treasure, then find out after you purchased a large tract of land that the buried treasure was five feet outside the boundary of your property. And by the time we realize it, someone else purchased the land where the treasure is buried, and put up a sign facing your property that said, “Not for sale. Have a nice day.”
You know what that’s like? We come across an accident, slow down because we’re concerned, and then continue on slowly, thinking, “I’ll let the person behind me assist them.” The intention to help was there, we bought some spiritual property, but missed the action of buying the property of the buried treasure. We were about five feet off. The importance of the proper action.
Second, in our search for pearls, we realize in the search that we want more than anything the Mother Pearl, the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s the heart of Solomon we heard in the 1st reading. God asks Solomon what he wants. Solomon asks, not for a long life, not for riches, which most people would want, and not for the life of his enemies, which a few too many may want. Rather, he asks for understanding to know right from wrong so that he, as King of Israel, can make fair and just judgments in all the cases that come before him, and not favor one person over another.
This parable for us is more about diligence and perseverance. I love watching the show American Pickers. One of my favorite parts that happens once in a while is when they find an item that they call “The Holy Grail.” “This is the Holy Grail of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles!” In other words, they found in some barn or warehouse out there in America the Mother Pearl in some way connected to their business. But how long did it take them to find it? How many thousands of miles did they drive, and how many homes and buildings did they search before coming across it? Diligence pays off. Which points to this parable.
Imagine finding the Mother Pearl of faith in God, and then hemming and hawing as to whether you want to sell off what you own and spend what it costs for the pearl. “Let me think about it overnight. I’ll come back tomorrow.” Two things: you return the next day and its gone. Someone wiser purchased your pearl of great price while you slept on it. Or, you don’t make it to tomorrow. We end up in Purgatory tonight, when the goal is the Kingdom of Heaven. Always be diligent in your faith. And the pearl of great price will be ours if we take the action of buying it each day.
And third, the Kingdom of Heaven is like the net thrown into the sea, looking for delicious, edible fish to lower your cholesterol. In the parable, there’s the understanding that there are good fish and bad fish, wheat and weeds. Sound familiar?
A healthy approach to life is to see that most people are good. Like when I go to Wright’s Chicken Farm, and there will be hundreds of people there some days, and not one of them is causing trouble. Not one. Even Red Sox and Yankees fans get along when there’s good chicken involved. Most people are genuinely good. I truly believe that. But there’s enough bad people out there in need of Christian conversion. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t need the Police.
Imagine being in a couple small groups of people, one group looking to commit a crime that will hurt others, or a group looking to commit the sin of gossip. And instead of taking the action of backing off and away, we stay there with them. We hang out with bad, smelly fish without any attempt at correction or conversion, but rather participation.
At the heart of this parable is discernment and courage. Knowing the good fish from the bad fish, which is the wisdom of Solomon, and then having the courage of Christ to take the action of not being complicit with the bad fish, like the Pilate’s and Judas Isacariot’s of the world. The likeness of the Kingdom of Heaven always sides with Jesus Christ.
Buy the right property, and don’t miss it by five feet. Diligence and perseverance. Discernment and courage. And we will know the Kingdom of heaven, already in our midst.

Homily 16th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 23, 2017

Do we need any further proof that Jesus, besides being in the business of salvation, is also in the business of knocking down the walls of modern day political correctness? He would be rejected today by so many, including professed Christians, who would consider his language too harsh and too hard to accept. “Soften it up, Lord! You’re not being very nice in your words. Why do you say there are evildoers in the world who enjoy sowing seeds of weeds among good people trying to live a life of goodness?” And so it goes.
One purpose of many of the parables that our Lord teaches the people of antiquity, as well as modernity, is to create a contrast between what reflects the love of God, and what reflects, for lack of a better phrase, the love of evil. And the contrast is very sharp, as it should be if presented honestly. Evildoers and the righteous.
We can say that Christ is preparing his chosen disciples for future suffering in his name, a way of life that has not presently disappeared, where so many are still persecuted for the name of Christ. It would be right to tell the Twelve that weeds are going to grow next to their good wheat and attempt to destroy them. Heck, they have one big nasty weed in their midst already, named Judas Iscariot. We can say this is our Lord’s purpose; preparation for mistreatment and suffering in his name. But even more, our Lord is teaching a reality about the world we inhabit. The reality being that the weeds are present, plying their destructive trade as we go about the righteous business of the Lord. In the midst of this truth, we don’t allow the weeds to overcome the goodness we seek to live and carry out.
It would be preferable for some if Jesus told a nice, easy, fluffy story of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, where no present confrontations and contrasts exist. Where evil is ignored. And he pretty much does so with the short parable of the mustard seed. Note the difference between that quick story, and the one of the weeds and the wheat. The mustard seed is the smallest of the seeds, but when grown it becomes the largest of plants that birds of the sky use for comfort. A nice story; nothing negative; sweet and fluffy. A feel-good story for those who favor a feel-good Christianity.
The mustard seed is the earth; the earth will “grow” one day into the Kingdom of Heaven when Jesus returns for a second appearance; and we the people of faith are the birds of the sky who will enjoy the full growth of the mustard seed. A feel-good, rated G movie if there ever was one. But far from the total package. Life is far from the perfect story of the mustard seed. Just ask any teacher in Worcester as they seek out the justice of a fair contract.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds is so real life it should have its own reality show. As we carry forth our baptismal responsibility to further the Kingdom of God through actions of love and concern for others, we know full well that roadblocks are going to occur along the way. No contract; no employment; loss of loved ones…including unexpectedly; a victim of theft or discrimination; physical and mental health concerns; having to drive through Kelly Square; the list of confrontations is endless.
But through it all, knowing that some roadblocks are more difficult than others, we hopefully remain the good wheat that God created us to be. At the heart of this is faith. To put aside or to lose our faith in the victory of Christ on the Cross is to lose our true sense of purpose. Faith, and the practice of it, gives us purpose and meaning far beyond the boundaries of the physical world. Our faith keeps us centered, balanced and focused during those times when the weeds are doing their best to draw us away from the love of Christ.
Along the way, and this is what Jesus does here, weeds are to be recognized and called out. But always within the context of our Christian faith, and not becoming a Weeder. There’s the old saying; “Hate the weed, but love the Weeder.” Hate the sin, but don’t lose our love for people, the sinners, of which we all are.
It seems that in the culture we try to set up nowadays, we don’t want to recognize any weeds present among the wheat. To call out a weed is to offend someone or their lifestyle. It would be great if we already lived in the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven. You wouldn’t have to listen to me preach anymore. But we try our best to create a perfect world, many times with the absence of God. Or the famous words of Pope Francis get used, or misused, “Who am I to judge?” The truer statement for the parable of the wheat and the weeds is, ‘Who am I not to judge?” We have to judge what is of God and what is not of God every day, while not losing our love for people.
The path of Christ is far different from the culture our world seeks to create today. The wheat of Christ is far different from the weeds of this world. And to become part of the “anything goes” culture will put distance between ourselves and the One who suffered and died for us. That’s a necessary spiritual balance for a Christian.
Allow the perfection of the mustard seed parable to give us hope on this faith journey. We have something beyond description to look forward to. There are no weeds in that perfect parable of joy and peace.
But also allow the parable of the wheat and the weeds growing together be part of our Christian belief and practice. Convert the weeds, not forgetting our own daily conversion. And don’t pretend like the weeds don’t exist. This will put us in a good place of living our faith through the multiple graces of God, and his beloved Son.

Homily 15th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 16, 2017

For the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus uses four different types of earth conditions, four different types of ground, in the teaching of the story. He certainly could have used many more types of soil and earth, and attach them to the Kingdom of Heaven and its meaning. In Ireland alone he could have used 40 shades of green. But our Lord uses four examples that his listeners can personally relate to, because they happen to be from types of earth the people of Israel would know best.
In Ireland, they wouldn’t know much about dry, rocky soil. There’s never a drought in Ireland, on the land or in the pubs. In the desert of the southwestern United States, they wouldn’t know much about rich soil and fertile ground. They hardly see rain. But those listening to Jesus teach on that day long ago, they could visualize in their minds exactly what he was saying, because they trod these four various types of soil each day in Israel.
And, since man was formed from the dust of the earth – the words of Ash Wednesday… “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Since man was formed from the dust of the earth, it would be proper to say that Jesus is teaching in this parable four different types of people in relation to faith in God. It’s proper our Lord uses examples of the very land from which our creation began, to teach about four different types of that one creation, namely, the human person. And then how we’re either connected or disconnected to the Kingdom of Heaven by way of the instrument of faith.
First of all, we’re all connected to the ground. Our most natural place of existence is walking the ground from which we were first formed. This is why airplanes didn’t come on the scene until Orville and Wilbur Wright did their amazing deed at Kitty Hawk, N.C. early last century. Humans were not formed with wings. The way we’re trying to change the human body nowadays, from one gender to another, maybe one day the mad scientists will implant wings into our sides, putting all the airlines out of business. Until then, we are beings of the ground. We are most natural when our feet are planted on the earth. Which is why this parable of Jesus is so richly human as he uses the earth to teach the necessity of having lasting faith.
Faith is a grace from God, but faith works in concert with our will to choose it each day. Our faith in Christ is not something that is completely beyond our choosing, where God is kind enough to just dump it on us. The first step of having faith in Christ does come from outside us in the sense that our Lord makes faith possible through his gift of grace. But accepting faith, and practicing our Christian faith in our lives, that’s on us as individuals, choosing to make it our own.
The order Jesus teaches in this parable goes from worst to first. It’s the perfect order for any homily preached in his name. He puts the tough examples in the beginning and middle of the parable, but it ends on a high note. The high note of bearing good fruit 100, 60, or thirtyfold. This mirrors our life; tough times along the way, ending in resurrection, which has no end.
Any homily about Christ that ends on a negative note is the worst homily in the world. The symbolism is that our Lord is still in the grave, when he isn’t. It must end on a positive note, because he’s raised from the dead. Which is what Christ does in the parable of the sower and the seed.
It’s sad that we even have the first three examples of faith in this parable taught by the Master Teacher. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word, without understanding the word, and the Devil comes and steals what’s in their heart. I pray that your approach to safeguarding the word, the voice of God speaking to us in the Scriptures, is similar to mine; it’ll be a cold day in you know what before he ever leaves you know where and steals the pearl from my heart. Have a Christian determination to protect the word in your heart. And never allow this first sad example of man being formed from the soil happen to you. The Devil has no problem breaking the 7th commandment, stealing God’s word from our hearts, if we don’t safeguard against it.
Another sad example is the seed sown on rocky ground, hearing and receiving the word with joy, but its temporary. It’s fleeting, just for a moment. Here’s my negative, in the middle, preaching to you, the choir. This example of our Lord reminds me too much of what happens way too often after reception of the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation. The sacrament is received, and then, … where did they go? Was there no root in the joy of learning and receiving the sacrament? We pray they return to their faith, because we still love them.
One more sad example of badly formed soil is the seed sown among thorns, where worldly anxieties and the lure of riches overpowers the seed. This is why I hope I never win Powerball. If I do, I’ll buy my own golf course, then get rid of the rest of it. God created a beautiful world for us who are formed from the soil of it. Lots of attractions out there, beginning with Disney World. The people of this 3rd example forget that all things are passing, except our faith, which leads us to seeing God face to face.
But it ends on a high note, this parable, and homily. Your heart is rich soil. It’s the soil God used when he created man and woman. Cultivate it with God’s word found in his Church. Hear it, understand it, trust it, and act on it. That’s the perfect person of faith, formed from the rich soil. With imperfections along the way, but always the perfection of choosing faith in the One who speaks the parable.

Homily 14th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 9, 2017

There’s not much better than a nice summer Gospel that matches the month and the weather. A Gospel of finding rest and light burdens.
We’re not all workaholics. There may be a few among this religious gathering of peace-loving people. Certainly, when you own your own company, we must do our best to make sure it doesn’t fold. That may at times require more time away from family and the other important things of life, and making sure our livelihood doesn’t cease in order to support oneself and one’s family. Such would be a balanced approach to labor and family.
A workaholic, on the other hand, is a person who has little or no awareness they are losing the important things in life, such as family. It sneaks up on them one day. They make excuses, not reasons, to spend crazy amounts of time at labor, saying over and over again that “This is what I have to do.” They have a ridiculously hard time being away from their profession. And an easier time – much easier – being away from a family vacation, with a little bit of rest to recharge some physical and spiritual batteries.
The rest that Jesus talks about giving –“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” – is surely the spiritual rest that every soul needs. Let me put it this way; if Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person on the Trinity, felt the need to take time to head up the mountain to pray and recharge for another day of ministry, then every person is in need of the same. Unless we believe that Jesus wasn’t a man’s man, or a woman’s man, and that he was weak in his approach to taking some down time, that the Son of God wasn’t as strong and energetic as we are, then his call to rest is one to be heeded on our behalf. It is spiritual rest he calls his Disciples to, but his call to rest is for the entire person, body and spirit.
Our Lord’s summer call to rest in him doesn’t require all sorts of money and riches that are needed at the best hotels at favorite vacation spots. If I didn’t go to Gettysburg and beyond, spending finances on average hotels and motels, then I would find a less expensive form of resting and reflecting on God’s personal presence and his many wonders in creation.
So, one simple theological point I make about our Lord’s invitation to slow down in him, to chill out in his loving embrace, is the point that has to do with his dominion, his power over all things, his mighty hand that holds all things, his omnipotence. And the verse is right there, hiding in the middle of the Gospel. It’s easy to hear it and bypass it; “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” The world is the Lord’s and all that is in it. We pretend to own things for a brief time, until we die. I guess it makes us feel good that we believe we own things.
I own that car, it’s finally paid off. I own my own house; we burned the mortgage last year without burning down the house. I own that horse that won the Kentucky Derby. I own my own plane, boat, train, and blimp. Would you like a ride in my blimp? In 19th century America, we used to think we owned other people. We pretend to own such things… and people, because one day we’re not gonna have any of it.
But that sunset at the ocean that doesn’t cost anything except a quarter tank of gas to get there; that snow-capped mountain that rises from the earth; that forest full of foliage; those Niagara Falls; we don’t own them. And neither does any country, no matter what they say. God created them; sustains them, and owns them so that we can share in his rest and incredible beauty. Such things are the physical part of what God has handed over to his beloved Son. St. Paul calls Jesus “The firstborn of all creation.” This includes the physical creation that God called forth. Our Lord doesn’t disown anything he created, because he saw that it was very good. And we are to enjoy this dimension of Jesus Christ. We share in his physical beauty of creation. Pope Francis would love this homily.
As we know, however, our Lord’s call to rest in him is by no means limited to the physical. His twofold call for us to rest in him is an invitation into the spiritual world of God’s unconditional love. And that’s where we realize in a personal way his abundant graces that he places before us.
Always the grace of his everlasting mercy. Seeking and accepting his mercy into our lives not only reveals the deepest meaning of the Cross, but also brings us to a place of spiritual rest, a place of confidence that he is for us, and not against us. Way too many folks walk around thinking that God is actually against them. That false belief is a pure contradiction to the meaning of the Cross, which is infinite love.
There is our Lord’s call to rest in his peace and healing. Some of the most peaceful people I’ve met have been close to death. Usually accompanied by some intense suffering, but they’ve crossed the bridge of our Lord’s invitation to rest in him, finding peace in their souls, where suffering and imminent death will actually intensify their peace. Only Christ can give such a gift.
So, our Lord’s dominion and call to rest in him touches our lives in a twofold way. Find some rest in his physical creation. He did a good job when creating it. There’s nothing better than the Original Artist. And be certain to take time to rest in Christ spiritually, where all good things for us have been handed over to him for our benefit.

Homily 13th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A July 2, 2017

As we celebrate America’s birthday this coming week, we all have the opportunity to express our love for country by way of enjoying festivities. Cookouts; gatherings with family and friends; wearing red, white, and blue; sneaking in an illegal firecracker or two. You can bring that to Confession.
As Americans of all stripes, it’s easy to love much about the country we’re blessed to call home. Here at Immaculate Conception, we stand on the heels of people like Fr. Ed Connors, whose chaplaincy of the 9th Infantry Division during World War II is well known to many of us. A true Patriot-Priest who served his country with honor and distinction back in the 1940’s. And hanging around these parts until his death in 1986.
To reflect Fr. Connors’ patriotism and love of country, just check out the back two stain-glass windows the good Padre had installed in the Church when it was built back in 1957. One is Blessed Mary blessing George Washington, titled Washington Prays For His Country, which the Bishop of Worcester at the time thought Fr. Connors was a bit too Protestant back in ’57 with that window. You can see who won that discussion. And the other one on the other side is For God and Country. A phrase that goes to the heart of the life of the former Pastor who invited thousands of veterans from the 9th Division back to Worcester each year to celebrate friendships and survival.
For God and Country. For God and Family. And therein lies the Greatest Generation; God, family, and country. I’ve seen this firsthand with many funerals I’ve been blessed to preside at. Funerals of veterans, as well as their spouses who made the country run while the enlisted were overseas. Both of them doing their duty for freedom.
God, family, and country gets to the heart of this week’s Gospel and readings. Readings about love, prioritizing our love, and enjoying the freedom that flows from our love.
“Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say you are not to love your parents and children. That we are to somehow leave them destitute and alone, especially in old age and sickness. Yet, my sense is that’s how some folks understand the words of our Lord, and feel offended by them, when the truth of Christian teaching and application is just the opposite. We are to love parents and children, and I would add siblings, friends, and strangers, even enemies. We are to love our country, as Fr. Connors did, with all its issues, bad laws, attacks on religious freedom, its setbacks and shortcomings. That sounds like a family!
But Jesus’ teaching to the Apostles is to help them understand and accept into their Christian discipleship that he takes second place to no one. His purpose has nothing at all to do with an oversized ego. He has no ego. So we can scratch that off the list of reasons why love for him must be given before our love for family.
Here’s the reason why he wants such prioritized love from his Apostles, and from each of us; it’s in Romans, chapter 6; “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” Love for the Lord leads to newness of life, where love is fulfilled in dimensions that we can’t even behold right now.
The same goes with love for country. Love your country with all of her blessings and curses. But don’t be so overzealous about her that our love for country supersedes love for our Creator. Remember the hands that brought us into existence, and the hands that will grant us newness of life.
How is this greater love for Jesus manifested for us Catholics? First, through devotion to his holy Name. The only time the Apostles spoke the word Jesus, Yeshua, was when they praised him as Lord, or when they told stories in the oral tradition of what he spoke or did among the people. When spoken, his Name was always raised high. Second, have a steadfast prayer life that searches for the closeness the Apostles have in this Gospel. They’re sitting with him. Take time to sit with Christ, who desires our closeness. It’s not a freaky thing to do. It’s most natural. A Christian who fails to pray is way too occupied with worldly things that are passing.
Third, greater love for Christ is manifested in our solemn, reverent reception of Holy Eucharist. I must admit I get frustrated at weddings and funerals when an individual comes forward to receive the Eucharist and they simply grab at it… Our posture and reverence when receiving the Body and Blood of Christ expresses a greater love for our Savior. It reveals what’s in a person’s heart. A very simple act that takes about 3 seconds, but a very meaningful and profound act on our part.
And fourth, our greater love for Christ is always manifested in the familiar commandment of loving neighbor. Our greater love for Christ is never disconnected from caring about the needs of the real poor and despised, as well as praying for those who abuse power and finances. Love of neighbor is not only about serving the poor, but about the wayward rich also.
Jesus demands our greater love for him so that we may love greatly in this short life. It’s the fool who thinks they can love greatly without loving God initially. People like that take all the credit, and give none to the One who sustains their life. May we love Christ first and above all, and the eternal joys that follow will be ours. Fr. Connors had it right; For God and Country. He had his priorities in order. He understood this Gospel very well.

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

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

Homily Feast of Corpus Christi Cycle A June 18, 2017

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