Homily 2nd Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 10, 2017

A pencil in the hand of God. That’s what St. Teresa of Calcutta called herself when reflecting on her discipleship in Christ. A pencil. A No. 2 pencil, with lots of lead and few erasers to use along the way. Even though she is a Saint in the Communion, we know that all Saints didn’t do all things to perfection throughout their lives. Many virtues? Yes. Every virtue? No.
John the Baptist had the pencil image in common with St. Teresa of Calcutta. He also was a servant whom God chose to prepare others for life with the One holding the pencil.
There’s much to be fascinated about with the Baptist. Between his odd diet and his clothing that definitely did not come off the racks at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s Department Store, the real fascination of John goes far beyond his physical habits and physical appearance. And Mother Teresa was so short you would never see her in a small crowd of people, even if the people were children.
Which is the point here. She wasn’t into the flamboyance and phoniness of needing to be seen and heard. Her ego, like that of John the Baptist, was hidden so deep inside of her that there was no desire for fame. Because the very first time the Baptist or the holy Mother from Calcutta sought popularity, fame and finances, they would have ceased being the great Christians and premiere disciples of Jesus that they ended up being. And consider the Scriptures about John the Baptist; he’s mentioned when Elizabeth his mother carries him in her womb. And the next time we hear about John is when he’s preaching the message of repentance at the Jordan River. That long span of quiet speaks to John’s humility and preparation for God.
This 2nd Sunday of Advent is about 2nd place. And how 2nd place for us is the right place. It’s about wanting and desiring the role of second place in our faith lives. As we live in a culture that always demands first place, as former Red Sox Manager John Farrell found out that even when you come in first place in your division ahead of the dreaded Yankees, that you still get fired, the emphasis on being number one today is out of control. I suspect this may be one reason why so many have fallen asleep in their discipleship for Christ; because they want to be in control of every aspect of life, including religion, and have no interest or desire to be a pencil. A No. 2 pencil.
Yet, being number 2 is where John the Baptist and St. Teresa find their true greatness. In fact, John was so good at being number 2, that many of his followers thought he was number one, the Messiah. But their greatness as disciples doing God’s work is not realized in a lopsided desire to want total control of their lives. At the end of each day, and at the end of life, how many of us are in total control? How about zero. None of us are.
And, that’s not an awful truth. That’s a beautiful truth, because it leads us, who are not driven by a mad ego, to be dependent upon the Creator who calls us to life. Ultimately, that’s where we will end up. We can go kicking and screaming like a child who doesn’t get the one toy they wanted for Christmas, as they stand in the midst of 20 other toys, or, we can go in the peace and humility of Jesus Christ, knowing our victory is assured.
As we continue through this fast-moving Advent Season of 3 weeks and one day, what comes to us today from our readings is that our place in our discipleship for Christ is in fact second place. We are the pencil; he is the hand that writes our story. It’s from the position of second place that John the Baptist has so many people from around Judea flocking to him and the message of repentance. Repentance is not his message. He carries out the message received from elsewhere. John doesn’t own the message of forgiveness of sins. And he doesn’t pretend to steal the message and make it his own. If he had a massive ego problem, he would steal this heavenly message and say, “How do you like the message I invented? I am the Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin of repentance.” No, he isn’t. And he knows this truth, and applies it in his life, like we are meant to. Repentance is the loving message of the One in first place, and the one in second place – without an ego problem – carries it our faithfully.
St. Teresa lived perfection when caring for the poorest of the poor. No one has ever done it better than her. There are other Saints who have cared for the poor just as well as the little lady in the blue and white habit, and certainly in diverse ways than her. But she’s the cream of the crop at serving the poor. Yet, she called herself a No. 2 pencil, existing each day in Someone else’s hand. If she had the slightest ego about who was in charge of her works of mercy, all that she accomplished in her love for God would not have been possible.
So, as we prepare for the birth of our Savior, may God grant us the insight that being his number two is the place where our vocation is most effective. John the Baptist did wonders at the Jordan River, as he ate his strange diet, wearing his odd clothes. The physical part of John was not much to behold. But preaching that one mightier than he was coming after him made John the Baptist look like the handsomest man spiritually. Second for Christ will do the same for us.
Don’t just be a pencil. Be a No. 2 pencil, allowing Pencil No. 1, the Hand, to write our story; to lead us in his name; and to accomplish good on his behalf. The only way this is possible is not through an oversized ego, but through the great Christian virtue of humility.

Homily Solemnity of Christ the King Cycle A November 26, 2017

I’m sure most of us have memories that stick with us for the rest of our lives. A memory, for us older folks along in years, that may have occurred in our teenage years, or shortly before or just after that age period.
One of those memories for myself was a day I rode home the city bus from school, before the yellow buses were built and clogged up the roads. I rode home from St. Peter’s High School on Main Street in the Main South section of Worcester, before it merged with Marian High School, riding home to Lincoln Street, getting off the city bus each school day in front of St. Bernard’s Church. At the time I believe I was a Freshman, thus 14 years old. And for this bus ride, most days I would have to transfer to another city bus in front of City Hall, to either bus # 26, Lincoln Street, or bus # 19, Burncoat Street.
I remember one day when I got off the bus to transfer in front of City Hall, as I was waiting for # 26 or # 19 to come along for the second leg of my journey home, I saw my grandfather wandering around in the area of City Hall and wondered, “Why is he wandering around here? He has his own car.”
I understand now the reason he was wandering so far from home – he lived right next to Strand’s Ski Shop right up the road. He was wandering because of what we know today as Alzheimer’s Disease. He had lost his sense of direction because of a disease that affects the human brain. My grandfather’s name was Walter Riley. So, if you see me wandering down by City Hall, just bring me back to the rectory.
But this memory stuck with me all these years; the memory of him having lost his sense of direction, due to no fault of his own. It was his body breaking down as his age advanced, drawing closer and closer to the moment of death, when all disease and all pain is finally finished. Except, if we are told to depart to the left by the King of the Universe, the Just Judge, the one who holds all power of our final direction within him.
My memory of my grandfather is a real-life example of losing direction due to circumstances beyond our control. The Gospel we hear proclaimed on Christ the King Sunday presents the possibility of losing direction when direction is very much within our control. The words of Jesus the Just Judge; “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you,” and the words, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” both statements are presently very much within our control. As of now, we have the power and control within our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our souls, to choose either direction.
Whereas someone like my grandfather, and many others today, have lost that capacity as a disease invaded his mind and body, we guard against pretending like we have Alzheimer’s with this expectation of our faith that commands us to love our neighbor. In the present, we possess a solid sense of direction, knowing that we can slip and fall along the way here, but also capable of returning to the good direction of our lives that God calls us to. We’re blessed in our faith to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation that places us squarely back on the path of good spiritual direction.
The Gospel today on this last Sunday of the Church Year, this Gospel familiarly known as Matthew 25, is the most explicit Gospel story of Jesus that gives us the understanding that good works are an absolutely essential dance partner with our Christian faith. That good works are essential to good spiritual direction.
We see this realized as a Parish throughout each year as we support program after program, cause after cause, second envelopes, second collections, Visitation House, hurricanes in Texas and Florida, earthquakes in Haiti. The list is continuous each year. Financial support for worthy causes allows us as a Parish to maintain a sense of good direction before God. It helps to prevent us, as a Christian community, from wandering around City Hall, not knowing where our next step will take us.
As a Parish, we humbly ask the Lord to speak the words to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” While this addresses the communal part of our faith, from the passing of a basket to the forwarding of those funds to a needy cause, the stronger sense of good direction is realized in the personal aspect of our faith.
Do we, as individuals, take the initiative to feed the hungry on our own, understanding that doing so is an extension of my Parish, and the living out of my daily faith in Christ? The same for giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, clothing the ill-clad, visiting the sick, patiently listening to someone who needs to vent, and so forth.
The words, “Come, you who are blessed,” or “Depart from me, you accursed,” are determined by our present sense of direction as connected to our personal faith in Christ the King. Our sense of direction as a Parish, our communal faith, will take us only so far toward the words, ‘Come, you who are blessed.” But it’s the personal dimension of faith, what we do in our personal lives outside of these walls, that does away with the possibility of wandering around City Hall. The good works Jesus puts forth in this Gospel dispels the wandering.
God bless my grandfather, my namesake, who died not long after carrying his cross of Alzheimer’s. Prior to his losing his sense of direction beyond his control, he had a wonderful sense of direction in his personal faith. So wonderful that Fr. Connors did his Funeral Mass here in 1976. Now is the time for us to have the same sense of good direction in our personal faith in Christ the King.

Homily 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A November 19, 2017

Do the math, Jesus tells them. Five plus five more equals ten, with profit made. Two plus two more equals four, with profit made. One talent plus zero equals lots of trouble. Anytime there’s a zero with the Lord, anywhere in the equation, some sad result is forthcoming. Remember, even the homebound, those not capable of moving easily from one room to the next, never mind from home to Church, even these wonderful people – at least the ones I know – they pray for others. By doing so, even homebound Christians who have a wonderful deepness to their faith, have no zeroes on their scorecard with the Lord.
In this parable Jesus tells his disciples as we move toward the end of another Church Year next week, he tells them in his colorful language that zeroes are unacceptable. His instructions are clear, even though its flowery language, telling them, “With this faith that has been entrusted to you, you have to produce on my behalf. You have to bring more talent – more talents – more souls, into the fold of my kingdom. I want my banquet hall filled. If you put up a big fat zero with the many graces and gifts I’ve given to you, if you go 0 for 5 in baseball language, then you Peter, Andrew, James, John and the rest of you are useless servants who chose laziness and comfort over truth and possible persecution. Don’t take the easy road, you 12, and make certain you put in the time and effort on behalf of my kingdom.”
We know how the story ended years after Jesus spoke this parable to them. They all went on to double the portion entrusted to them, except for Judas, who had a zero on his scorecard, the zero of betraying his Lord. The rest of them doubled, in some cases tripled and quadrupled the amount of talents entrusted to them. “To those who have, more will be given.”
They remembered well Jesus’ words to them after he ascended and they each went in separate directions to the ends of the earth with nothing but sandals and a sack, and the clothes on their back. His words were drilled into their hearts … “Produce no zeroes … don’t come up empty …. Evangelize … have fortitude for the Kingdom … and if you have to, die for the Kingdom that promises eternal life.” Which they all did except for John. St. Paul took Jesus’ instructions seriously, as seen in his words to the Philippians, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” No zeroes for St. Paul the former persecutor, which is why he also wrote in the same letter, “Join with others in being imitators of me,” just as Paul imitated his Lord.
For ourselves, the parable of Jesus is certainly about producing for his Kingdom. This comes with the understanding that our faith is not only a personal faith, which is where our relationship with Christ begins. But our faith is also communal. To be lived out in the community, which is most important today, since we live in a culture that tries awfully hard to privatize religion, into a certain time slot only.
If someone tells me that my religion is to be practiced, lived, worshipped and embraced only on Sunday mornings … after I tell them to go fly a kite with some flowery language mixed in, I will tell them that I cannot put a zero on the scorecard of my faith they wish me to, because my Lord expects me to double my talents, which I would try to do right there with them.
So, who do we satisfy? Do we satisfy those who say, “Bury your talent in the ground? And don’t worry, he’ll understand. He’ll understand, he’s forgiving. He’ll look past our lack of courage, our laziness, and countless excuses. Get the shovel out and bury it, and don’t worry, be happy.” That’s called the tricky language of the Devil, trying his best to get us to not produce for the true Master.
Our challenge today of adding souls for the Lord and more talents for God is not much different from the time of the 12 Apostles. I’m certain there were villages, towns, and cities where the Christian message was flat-out rejected. Where they shook the dust off their feet, and moved on from Worcester to Holden, to Paxton and Rutland, where our old friend Fr. Jim Boland can now convert them.
But if we’re rejected and turned away, hearing the words of today’s culture, “Keep your religion to yourself; keep it private with no communal dimension to it,” then at least we’ve advanced beyond the number zero. If we’re forced to shake the dust off our feet, then we’ve gained at least a half talent for such effort.
So, this parable of Jesus is certainly about filling up his Father’s banquet hall. But it’s also about being ready for opportunities to double our talent, about staying awake. After the servant with one talent buried his talent, working hard to dig a grave for his Master’s money, in essence digging his own grave, you know what he did? I’ll tell you what he did. Instead of imitating St. Paul and working hard for the Lord, he did his best imitation of Rip Van Winkle. He took a really long nap. He hibernated his faith until his boss returned. And when the boss returned, asking him for his spiritual production, all he could do was find the shovel and re-dig the same hole, which was left open for his soul. That’s a useless servant. His Master returned like a thief in the night, and he realized his beard had grown 18 inches from the time he was given the talent.
The Lord has blessed us all with varying degrees of talent for his benefit. Some have more than others. Some is expected of more than others. I wouldn’t want to be a Bishop, where so much is expected. But the Lord entrusts us to use what we are given; from the homebound to the healthiest teenager, and give back to him more than just ourselves.
It’s a little bit mind-boggling that he entrusts us to produce on his behalf, but he knows we can do it. And he provides all the graces we need to double the portion, to share the faith, to express our love for him first. And those divine words in today’s Gospel are addressed to each of us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Homily 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A November 12, 2017

The door was locked. The Gospel doesn’t say that God slammed the door in their faces. It says the door was locked. My image is that God gently closed the door, the volume being the sound of a whisper, when he decided it was time for the door to be closed and locked forever. Those left out were not ready, trying their best at the last minute to find a pint of oil for the lamps of their souls, but waited too long. There is such a thing in our faith as waiting too long.
We know all too well that God doesn’t run the universe and the heavens according to our time expectations. How many times have we waited for a prayer to be answered to our benefit or the benefit of someone we love and care about, and by the time the answer was realized, we went from baby clothes to assisted living? The point being that we hope for good results within a certain amount of time, but sometimes God sees it differently.
The door was locked. It’s hard to imagine or accept that five foolish virgins who simply forgot to go to Wal-Mart or Advanced Auto Parts to purchase a can of oil will be locked out of the joys of heaven forever. Because once the door is locked, once Jesus returns, making a better comeback than the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl, he won’t be coming back a third time. The chasm between the rich man and Lazarus will be finalized, and the door to the feast will never open again. Because of the absence of oil.
If that’s the case, which it appears to be, then the oil must represent something, or some things, essential to our faith. The absence of oil for the lamps for the five foolish virgins symbolizes apathy toward the vigilance of their faith, never being ready to show off their faith, as well as laziness toward their faith.
Now today, a 5th-grader would probably ask the question, “Fr. Riley, what if foolish virgin # 2 was unable to get to Wal-Mart or Advanced Auto Parts to purchase a can of oil for their lamp because they broke their leg playing field hockey, and was unable to drive? Or, they couldn’t afford a cab, or were recovering from heart surgery?” And my answer to such profound questions would be, “Those circumstances would not make them foolish, and God understands where their hearts happen to be in relation to their faith.”
The oil for the lamp is purchased at our Baptism. At Baptism, we were given all the oil we would need for a lifetime of filling up the lamps of our souls, if we’re open to living out the responsibilities of our Baptism in subsequent years, especially our adult years. What are some of those responsibilities in the context of our Catholic faith?
The oil is refilled every time we avail ourselves of the countless graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our Confirmation Class, preparing for reception of the Sacrament next April, will have their lamps refilled in the Spirit at that time, in that moment, as they profess in their openness to the reception of Confirmation that they will now become laborers in the vineyard of our Lord for the remainder of their lives.
Our oil lamps are filled to the brim each week we come to receive the Precious Body and Blood of Christ, and not treating this incredible encounter with the Lord as something routine and somehow normal. Receiving the Creator of the universe and the One who called all things into existence is as far above a normal encounter as one can be.
The lamp gets filled when married couples share their Christian love for each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death appears at the door. Unlike in the Gospel, where the five wise virgins refused the five foolish ones any amount of oil, telling them to “Go get it yourself. Go get your own!” Unlike that sad result, a married couple is the singular relationship where one can fill the lamp of the other through the sharing of their love, and in their common love for God.
And in the Sacrament of Anointing, a person’s lamp is filled with God’s oil of desired healing, or his grace and peace so desired at the end of life so that we may confidently go forward, not only through the door of death, but also through the open door of heaven. This powerful Sacrament prepares us to meet God and to be ready for his return.
The five foolish virgins who were careless having no oil when it was reported the Master was returning soon, had no Sacramental life. No life of experiencing and desiring God’s love and presence right now. They got caught sleeping in the living out of their faith. Their apathy toward the One they waited for was cold, stale, and lazy. No legitimate, good reasons exist for that possibility.
This is why it’s so joyful to be a Catholic who realizes the necessity to be part of the Body of Christ where the wise virgins gather in prayer and worship. It’s because we will have all the oil we will ever need to guarantee our entrance through the holy door of heaven. From Baptism to the Funeral Mass. Not from Baptism to the Funeral Home Service. Don’t cut your oil supply off moments after we cease breathing. Finish the job. From Baptism to the Holy Funeral Liturgy, we have all the oil needed to enter through the open door, well before he locks it for good.
As the first reading from Wisdom says today, she is seeking those worthy of her. The she is Mother Church, the Body of Christ. And for those who seek, they are wise, for much oil is provided here for your lamps.

Homily 31st Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A November 5, 2017

It’s easy to take many things for granted. The sun will come up tomorrow. The moon will rise. The stars will shine in a clear sky. I will never get a hole-in-one in golf. And the Patriots will win another Super Bowl.
Honesty, there is much about our lives we just expect to happen. As a priest, I expect to have my voice to say Mass from one day to the next, even though some people think I work only on Sundays. We expect our vehicles to start every time we turn the key or push the button. We expect, without thinking, the brakes to work when we step on them. And for the most part, they do work.
In our faith, we know already many of the expectations that come with being a disciple of Christ. Such as being a person who is willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of someone else. Sacrifices that find their foundation in the one sacrifice of the Cross. Or, being a person capable of extending where needed the virtue of forgiveness, finding its foundation in the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We know who spoke those words, and the timing of them.
With discipleship in Christ, we know of the expectation of good works that reflect a healthy, active, genuine faith in the one we claim as Savior. As St. James reminds us in his letter, faith without works is dead faith. The good works we perform are grounded in the countless people he healed on the Sabbath, drawing the ire of certain religious leaders, and all other days during the time of his ministry. We know many of the expectations that come with discipleship. To not be a worldly person, but a person that transforms the world. Not a follower of the culture, but a leader for Christ and his Gospel.
In our Gospel today, we have two sets of expectations presented by the Lord. Two ways of living and being. And they couldn’t be more contrasting in their understanding of human life and love.
Our Lord spells out both ways in the clearest terms. The first way, which Jesus is strongly critical of, is the way of widening phylacteries and lengthening tassels. When I read this Gospel earlier this week in preparation, the first thing I wanted to do was shorten my tassel. The old Catholic guilt made itself known in my heart, but didn’t get the best of me.
But our Lord’s criticism about wide phylacteries and long tassels in and of themselves…. There’s nothing un-Christian about looking good. Jesus’ critical comments are spoken by him because of a certain attitude that accompanies the nice clothes. He’s not trying to shut down any clothing stores here. It’s all about the attitude and a certain look that says, “I’m better than you, more powerful than you, more important than you, better looking than you, and you, sir, are a lowlife. You sir, you ma’am, are a nobody.”
“Look at my wide phylacteries that you can’t afford, and check out my long tassels that tell of my self-importance, and of how small you really are.” It’s no wonder why they have no problem testing Jesus in all these recent Gospels we’ve heard; it’s because they think he’s a lowlife. That he’s a nobody. He’s an upstart. It’s easy to understand why Jesus is harshly critical of these funny-looking dudes who wear their precious clothes that come with an attitude.
Let’s remember he’s speaking about them, but he’s speaking to the crowds and his disciples about this group of religious guys standing in front of everyone to see. Therefore, he speaks to us. And his message with this part of the contrast is the message of avoidance. These guys he’s pointing out, they represent much of present-day Hollywood. And what it looked like 2000 years ago. Consumed with fame; and power, and influence; wanting the big screen to say about oneself, “Look how important I am.” There’s no room for that in his Kingdom. We won’t find it there.
Even the 12 fought about who’s the greatest, and who He likes the best; “He doesn’t like you as much as he likes me. He told me last night in the house of Peter’s mother-in-law.”
We know the expectations of being his follower. We hear this message a thousand times over the course of our lives. The contrast to the wide phylacteries and lengthy tassels is humility.
How do we understand and define this virtue, though? Without searching through Mr. Webster’s book of words, what is humility, and why does Jesus command this virtue to be at the heart and soul of our lives? We know a humble person when we see one. And false humility when we see that also.
Humility is to have regard for the good of others. Arrogance will wipe away such regard. Humility is to leave within us a giant space for God’s will and presence. Puffing up oneself will close that space. Humility recognizes the need for prayer, the need to depend upon someone greater than us. Going it alone because no one else is good enough destroys that healthy dependency. Today, we teach independence to the point of not needing even God. That’s a destructive path to place our teenagers on.
Jesus commands humble disciples. The reason being that they will bring others to God, because they are so in love with God themselves, and not with their egos. And if we heed the words of our Lord, we have within us the power and capacity to either lengthen our tassels, to exalt ourselves, or to kneel down in prayer and thanksgiving; to humble ourselves.
We learn as we go in this short life. but humbling ourselves before God and others is realized in the joy of discipleship. Which we know, by far, is the better of the contrast.

Homily All Saints Day November 1, 2017

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Is this a fantastic promise to us who believe and accept Jesus as Lord? ‘We shall see him as he is.” Is seeing him one day as he is worth all sorts of sacrifices rather than selfishness? Is seeing God as he is worth extending a measure of mercy and forgiveness rather than holding on to anger, frustration, and eventually dying with a fractured heart, as so many have chosen to do? Is the promise of seeing the Lord as he is worth all the good works of generosity, kindness, seeing the distress of others and acting on it, rather than imitating the avoidance of the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan?
Is seeing Jesus as he is in all his glory one day worth all the crosses we end up carrying along this journey? Is it worth being persecuted for his name, which is a very popular game today? Is every breath we take, every move we make on behalf of him who was crucified worth our steadfast devotion, so that we can see him as he is?
There’s a whole slew of rugged-looking men, women, and children over the centuries who answer all these questions and more with a resounding “Yes.” They’ve come to find out it’s all worth it. If all the sacrifices of all the Saints in the Holy Communion of the Church, sacrifices driven by the Spirit, and made for others, could be gathered into a bushel basket, they would never measure up to the one sacrifice made on Golgotha by one Good Teacher who had few friends at the end of his life. Yet, every good deed by all the Saints ever performed through prayer and action, including ours, is an extension of his sacrifice.
The force behind today’s feast of All Saints is found in the words, “That we will see him as he is.” That’s what drove them to live lives of holiness. To see him one day as he is. But how about the people we’ve known and loved? The ones who are blessed to already see him as he is? Do we rejoice in their vision? Or, do we worry about their eternal state? This is why we have All Souls Day tomorrow, where we pray for those who do not yet see him as he is.
This blessed day of All Saints is a day of commemorating the actions of the Saints, imitating their lives to some measure, and bonding our lives with their Christian virtues. Along with name All Saints Day, I also like the title, “Taking On the Saints Day.” Taking on being a peacemaker, and not a warmonger, which none of them were at the end of their lives.
Or taking on being merciful, and not vengeful. Taking on being persecuted for every truth of Jesus Christ, and not watering it down to satisfy the urges of man. Taking on the poor in spirit, and not seeing riches as paramount that can somehow satisfy our souls. The saints teach us that that’s not possible. Taking on a life of prayer and silence, and not magnetizing ourselves to the endless babble of cable news, nightly news, newspapers, and media who care only for your dollar and nothing for your soul.
There’s 1000 good reasons why our Christian faith invites us to learn more about the Saints, and imitate them, and take them on. They teach us the truest meaning of the Gospel.
But I finish by calling attention to the lesser-known saints, if you will. It’s great to know and imitate John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul of Poland, and the endless stream of popular Saints who adorn the Church’s history.
But let’s not forget the lesser-known saints who have also influenced and impacted our lives. The ones we’ve lived with, spoken with, hugged and cried with, attended their funerals with both sadness and joy. The ones we miss more than the well-known Saints. What virtue of theirs do we carry forward with us on this day of ALL Saints?
For them, there are some who see him as he is. And there are some who have not yet seen him as he is. Which is which, is a guessing game on our part. But we remove much of the guessing in the Church’s gift of All Souls Day.

Homily 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A October 22, 2017

So they try to entrap Jesus with a question about paying a tax to Caesar, who, by the way, was roundly hated by the Jewish leaders and the people, because Rome had their boot on the necks of the nation of Israel. And in their attempt to entrap the One who is untrappable, they end up eating crow. Have you ever eaten crow? Neither have I. I bet it doesn’t taste as good as a Coney Island hot dog.
In their attempted entrapment of Christ, the disciples of the Pharisees, who are simply an extension of the religious power in Judaism, we find a certain lack of respect for the Lord. Who in their right mind would try to entrap someone who you think is smarter and wiser than us? We would do that only to someone who we think is less smarter and wiser than us, which is where they place Jesus on the scale of intellect. They believe they have the capacity to put him into an intellectual corner, back him against the wall, put the fear of God in him (no pun intended), and make him admit some mistake.
But in the entire life of Jesus Christ, there are no mistakes made. Not a one. If there was even one, there would be no Godness, no divinity in him. He would be a mere mortal, unless we think that God is somehow capable of making a mistake when placed aside our limited human wisdom.
So, in this familiar Gospel story, this real event that took place in the course of Jesus’ ministry, right away it proceeds with the wrong assumption; that the Son of God is capable of being entrapped and being in error in his teaching. Granted, they don’t see our Lord as the Second Person on the Trinity. If they did, they would be bowing before him, offering him praise and worship, and not condescension. But to them, he’s just another human being who’s capable of being beat intellectually. And if that doesn’t work, which it won’t, then beat him physically, which they will do.
This is important for our faith lives because it sets a proper path in our relationship with God, leading us to the truth of who he is, and accept the many gifts he desires for us along the way. The disciples of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees themselves, leave no doubt as to whether they want the gifts of God, or the gifts of Caesar. And that can be a spiritual battle for us. Do we claim first in our lives the things of God; be it sacrifice, redemption, life with Michael, Raphael and the rest of them? Do we want mercy and forgiveness as part of our lives, the will to love our neighbor, the joy of performing good works for a worthy cause, such as Visitation House, a house grounded in the love and ministry of God? And so much more as connected to claiming God first.
Or, do we claim first allegiance to Caesar, the things of Caesar; which are greed, pride, no respect for human life, especially when it’s most vulnerable in the mother’s womb, or the elderly who are sick and dying? And so much more as connected to being a soldier for Caesar.
The contrast between our Lord and Caesar is sharper than a 2-edged sword. One is God; the other one thinks he is. We know this in our hearts and minds. Our challenge is to not allow the waters of our Baptism to get muddied when it comes to who we offer allegiance to.
As people of faith, what is it that can draw us away from our allegiance to Christ, and give some or all of our allegiance to Caesar? With the understanding up front that Caesar doesn’t deserve any allegiance? What can cause us to take the first step toward watering down our faith and take on the looks of a ruthless, filthy Roman Emperor?
One cause is actually God himself. Don’t tell the Bishop I said that.
When God created the world, when God created Caesar, he saw that it was very good. Even Caesar was probably cute as a baby. God made no mistakes on his blueprint of creation. Not a one. The first mistake didn’t come from God. It came from our parents, Adam and Eve. The mistake of disobedience, which the disciples of the Pharisees are perfecting in the presence of Christ.
So, when God created this incredibly beautiful world and allowed for all this human potential to thrive in the midst of all its beauty, in a sense God set up the possibility of our strong attachment to his beautiful creation. Unless we’re hiding in a monastery, it’s hard to say no. What made that attachment possible, this allegiance to Caesar, is disobedience. Temptation in the garden of this world. We’re surrounded by it. If God made an ugly world, with lots of people with no talent and no potential, where they couldn’t win $50 on Jeopardy, we wouldn’t have this problem of allegiance to the wrong person. We wouldn’t be able to get to heaven quick enough.
In the Gospel of the Caesar coin, of the disciples of the Pharisees, and of Jesus the Good Teacher, we learn this one understanding of our relationship with the Lord; that we’re either all for God, or that we make him a secondary Person. The present-day African Cardinal in the Church, Robert Sarah, said it best in the title of his awesome book a few years back; God or Nothing.
Allegiance is a central part of our daily faith lives. We live in a time with countless distractions, some of them very attractive. But whatever parts of the world we use for our benefit, whatever part of Caesar we incorporate, may we be ever cognizant of the side of the coin that has the face of Christ imprinted on it. This allows us to see Jesus for who he is, a Savior and Redeemer, with no need to entrap him in his own words, because we humbly trust his ways.

Homily 28th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A October 15, 2017

In today’s parable as told by our Lord, we have a King who is blessed with a very generous heart. A social heart, if you will. He wishes to hold a wedding feast for his son, and when the time and place are set, he wants the hall filled to capacity. He doesn’t care what the fire laws say. He wants lots of people to attend, to celebrate the wedding of his son. He’s the King; he can do whatever he wants.
He has a long list of invitees. The servants are sent out to invite the guests who are called to attend, but one by one the guests disappear back into the busyness of their lives. By doing so, they reject the King. They reject his power, his influence, his generosity and kindness, and his friendship. They have to go home and walk the dog at the very same time of the wedding feast. Whatever lame excuse they could come up with, they used it in order to avoid the blessings and the love of their King. In the same way that many reject the King of the Universe today. There’s no time for him, or his wedding feast. We give thanks that you make time.
In his being rejected by his subjects, the King goes above and beyond the role of a King and sends out servants to personally invite those he has chosen to the feast, giving them a second chance, as God has given us many second chances. The King gives his subjects the chance to convert, to change their minds, to appear at the great wedding banquet of food and drink. He didn’t get the answer he was looking for. Instead of accepting the invitation to a joyful celebration, those being invited took the opposite approach and killed the servants. They chose to commit murder rather than “eat, drink, and be merry.”
The King’s reaction is predictable. He becomes enraged that they killed the Prophets, I mean the servants he sent out with invitations. The reaction to their death was not only anger, but also grief. The King’s further reaction to the killing of his servants is to open the wedding feast to anyone out in the streets, meaning the rest of the world. “Invite everyone. Invite the Gentiles who worship false gods, the tax collectors and prostitutes who have no gods but money and their bodies. Invite them. Who knows, maybe they’ll convert and worship the one true God.”
Out the door the servants merrily go, inviting this person and that person, this family and that family. “Am I hearing you right,” they say? “An invitation to the wedding feast of the King’s Son? Is the King losing his mind? What’s the catch? This is too good to be true. This is like receiving Red Sox playoff tickets at no cost.” The inviters say back, “Just show up and enjoy the game, and we’ll cover the cost of all your Fenway Franks.”
With God, my friends, there is never a catch. “I’ll do this for you if you do this for me.” There’s no washing each other’s hands, no political motives, nothing written in fine print, no unspoken expectations. God invites us into his banquet with no strings attached, except the string of loving him, which many find so hard to do. Loving God should be the most natural thing we ever do in this world.
Honestly, we’re the people on the street invited to work in the Lord’s vineyard. We entered about 3:00 in the afternoon, the same time the Crucified One succumbed to his injuries on the Cross so that we may have life. We are the Johnnies-come-lately of salvation, as Gentiles.
So, we arrive at the wedding feast of the King by way of invitation through the Cross, and through the King’s servants, the Apostles. Just make sure you wear a wedding garment. Look what happened to the guy who didn’t wear one. The King asked him, “Where’s your wedding garment?” “It’s still at the cleaners. I thought dungarees were good enough. My dog ate it.” All sorts of dumb excuses. For forgetting the wedding garment, he’s bound hand and foot, tossed into the outer darkness, where he will wail and grind his teeth forever. All for forgetting to wear a wedding garment. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime.
You must be asking, “What’s the wedding garment? What does it really represent in the parable?” It can represent many things as connected to our faith, depending on where our spiritual lives happen to be. In our faith, I see it as representing the gifts of the sacramental life of the Church.
The garment of Baptism, which for most of us our parents in their responsibility took care of for us. Now we are to live out that Baptism for the remaining years of our lives. And don’t forget to wear the garment of Reconciliation. Sometimes the garment gets dirty and soiled. Confession makes it white again before the King.
The wedding garment is also the Eucharist. To receive the Lord for real is to wear him. Like those 9th Division soldiers wore their infantry uniforms, with a certain color patch, signifying who they belonged to. Wear the garment of Confirmation to the feast. The garment that pledges total devotion to the King of Kings, and not to a passing world. Confirmation is a garment of full devotion to Christ.
Wear the garment of Matrimony, for those are called. Catholics are to wear this garment to the Church, and not to a civil ceremony where God’s presence is minimal at best, if at all. Make sure you wear the garment of the beautiful Sacrament of Anointing, where we seek God’s healing right now, as well as the end of our lives. So many Catholics forget this garment today, especially at the end.
And lastly, put on the garment of Holy Orders for those to whom God is whispering, “Feed my sheep.”
The guy who entered the King’s banquet without a wedding garment was void of the sacramental life of the Church. He had no active faith. No faith leads to the outer darkness.
But we have faith. Which is why we come here dressed in sacramental garments, as we celebrate the wedding of the King’s Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Homily 27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A October 8, 2017

No one likes an ingrate. And we like even less a person who steals someone else’s idea and pretends like it’s their own. And that’s the parable of the vineyard as told by our Lord. This is why we have copyright laws; so that one person doesn’t steal from another person’s brain, without giving credit to the original owner.
An individual buys a vineyard to plant and grow some good foods. Grapes to make delicious wine. Corn to feed the masses, and probably the hogs too. Blueberries for your cereal. Because of the size of the vineyard, the owner hires workers to care for his big patch of land. Groom it, cultivate it, reap and sow on it. They’re given the best of machinery to bring forth the best crop for the owner. The owner entrusts them to do so. They perform their labor, and they do it well. They love what they do. They love the results of all this tasty food going out to market to make a profit. Everything is going along just swimmingly, as the British would say. But somewhere along the way, they lost sight of the fact that they work for someone else. Someone else owns the vineyard. Someone who knew precisely when the crops would be ready for market. An owner full of wisdom regarding the collection of his investment.
The laborers hadn’t seen the owner since the time their hiring. Since the time of their birth on the job. Because of the owner’s apparent absence, they falsely come to think they were now the owners. Maybe this is why it would give many people immense joy if Jesus visibly showed himself to the entire world; just once a week would do. To remind us that we are not in charge. That we don’t own the vineyard, but rather the vineyard has been entrusted to us to produce a good crop over the short decades of our lives. And his weekly appearance would do away with the prevailing mindset today that says we own the world., instead of the One who called it into existence.
We do live in a time where this is the predominant attitude of the laborers in the vineyard. We live in a time of rejecting the Owner. When the owner sends servants of his to the vineyard of the world, there is much persecution of them. And sometimes they even get killed. If not, they’re made to feel like they are the odd ducks, and not the laborers who tried to steal something that doesn’t belong to them. Such is the danger when people with power live like God didn’t create the world. That the Big Bang just banged on its own power, that God is absent from his creation, and that what we see and produce is of our own doing, and all the credit belongs to us. This approach is rampant in our culture, and it’s a big reason – if not the biggest – for why we have the cultural mess we do. It’s our call to transform this attitude.
So, what do we do about the whole vineyard mess? What do we do about the humble, God-fearing Israelites coming out of Egypt, and growing into wild grapes over the centuries, as Isaiah says today, when they were called by God to be sweet-tasting grapes. They were called from Egypt to stand in for God, as we are today. Instead, they stole the vineyard from God, set up their own false gods of stone and plaster, so when the owner came back one more time and saw their wretchedness, he threw them out of Jerusalem and into a 70-year retreat within the walls of Babylon. As us today, they reaped what they sowed.
The first humble admission any Christian will make about our lives is that the vineyard out there is not ours. It never was; it never will be, no matter how much pretending may be going on. The truth of who the Creator is can never be changed. For those who pretend like they own the vineyard, they have a knack for making life difficult for other people. Look at the parable of Jesus; the tenants were hired laborers. They didn’t own the company. But by pretending they did, they opened the door for violence. They became wild grapes of violence.
The servants, on behalf of the owner, showed up for the crop; one got beat, another they killed, a third they stoned. The hired tenants didn’t like the message that there’s another owner. Their pride led to violence, as many times it does. The humble admission that we are in the hands of God from birth to death, that he owns the vineyard and he owns us, removes the potential of violence. Just holding fast to that one awesome truth of God as Creator sets a path of righteousness for our lives. Remove it, and we find ourselves in the mess of Babylon.
St. Paul offers some of the best machinery regarding what to do about cultivating the vineyard, and how to avoid the vineyard mess. Whatever is honorable, he writes, do it. If there’s any question as to whether something is honorable or dishonorable, check with an honest person you trust. Whatever is just, he writes. As followers of Christ, we uphold what is just, not according to the lowly standards of the world who gets it wrong at times, but according to the teachings of our faith.
Whatever is pure, says St. Paul. Seek the cleanliness of God and his Saints, and avoid the filth of the world. Whatever is lovely, the Apostle next writes. Lovely, meaning, a reflection of God, and avoid being reflections of the unloveliness of the devilish power. Whatever is gracious, writes Paul to the Philippians from prison. The Christian form of graciousness says thank you to God for the gift of our lives, and thank you for the free gift of eternal life that will be ours. The contrast is to miserable, like Red Sox fans used to be all the time, having no hope that God has something greater for us than the limitations of this world.
St. Paul offers a list of Christian virtues to live each day. A list of working machinery. A list that helps us to understand we are not the owners of the vineyard, but the hired workers in it. We work for the owner, Jesus Christ. This truth keeps our heads on straight in this world, avoiding the craziness and violence, and enjoying the fruits of our labor now and in the life to come.

Physician Assisted Suicide

My homily today is not on the readings, which happens about once in a blue moon. With this Sunday being Respect Life Sunday, and the issue of Physician Assisted Suicide coming before our state legislature as it came before Massachusetts voters a few years back in 2012, when the question was defeated by the smallest margins, it’s imperative that we be made aware again of those who are trying to establish this horrible practice in our state. It’s back upon us, like a bad tasting meal.
Some state lawmakers are trying to legalize PAS, and doing so with financial backing from national organizations that have made Massachusetts a top priority. It’s essential that we be informed against the threat assisted suicide poses to the elderly, my favorite people in the world, to the disabled, also my favorite people in the world, and those who are dealing with serious illnesses, and how this all undermines the dignity of human life God has entrusted to us.
If a friend said to you, “Life is too hard for me, so I’m going to end it tonight,” would we just go along with it? Would we say, “Okay, if that’s what you want to do, let me help you accomplish the end of your life.” May God have mercy on my soul. This is not love by any stretch. And it’s not the answer God desires. We’re called to care for those are suffering, especially those with mental or physical disabilities, and not to leave them in despair.
Present in PAS is the potential for abuse of the elderly, my favorite people in the world. Imagine someone in your family telling you that you’re a burden, that you’re going to die soon anyway, and you need to make things easier for everyone and accept assisted suicide?
Or being diagnosed with a deadly disease, which some of us here have dealt with already, and the disease is very expensive to treat, your insurance company is not going to cover the cost of treatment, but they will cover the cheap cost of suicide drugs.
We’re a culture increasingly turning to suicide to end our suffering. In 2012, 4 states had suicide rates higher than 19 per 100,000 people; in 2016, the number jumped from 4 to 11 states with rates that high. And this does not include PAS, because those deaths are nor recorded as suicides. Which is just a dangerous mental game we play with ourselves to make ourselves look better. And not recording a suicide as suicide is part of the false narrative put forth by those who support it. Anytime the numbers have to be fudged, whether you’re buying a car, or with PAS, it’s a bad idea.
With advances today in medical technology and caring for levels of pain, it can be managed to the satisfaction of all involved, and I’ve witnessed this many times as priest. At the heart of PAS is the dignity of the human person. A disabled or frail person has equal dignity with a healthy person. Why is it that if a physically healthy person says they are suicidal we help them to live, thanks be to God. But if a disabled or frail person says the same thing, then we should help them to die? They also are people in need of caring, our support, and our compassionate love as well, love that mirrors the love of Christ. He went so far as to bring people back from the dead, rather than assist in their dying. They all have the same dignity.
We said “No” to assisted suicide back in 2012. Because of that, God allowed the Red Sox to win the World Series in 2013. I have no idea what’s gonna happen this year. But presently there are some state legislator who are trying to make PAS legal without asking the people of Massachusetts. They won’t do it, however, if we remind them that we said no once already, and we continue to advocate for better care of the seriously ill.
This practice must never be legalized in our state. We need to step up and contact our state legislators to let them know we do not want this horrendous practice legalized.
There are brochures about this attached to this week’s bulletin, as well as each entrance to the Church.
And we ask St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death, to intercede in this effort and for all of our prayers. Like the Red Sox, may we all step up to the plate and be willing to stop assisted suicide.