Tag Archives: Reflection

21st Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

This homily probably could have used some editing or “tightening up” but here’s how I preached the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle C of the Roman Catholic Lectionary this Sunday, more or less. 

Reading Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20

I suspect most of us are familiar with the custom in St. Louis of asking someone you just meet for the first time “What high school did you go to?” The question confounds newcomers to St. Louis. Why would you want to know where I went to high school? Sociologists say the St. Louis question of what high school a person attended is a way of getting to know a person. The high school attended is an indicator of social status. If I know what high school you attended, I’ll have a clue if you come from a wealthy background or poorer. I’ll know a bit about your social status or if we have similar backgrounds. Supposedly, answering the question about your high school helps people negotiate what their relationship is going to be with that person.

Jesus asks a similar question in the gospel, today. When Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am” He’s not looking for some indication if the apostles know his name. When Jesus asks “Who do people say I am” he is asking what kind of relationship do they have with him. Adding a couple more words in the question would get closer to what Jesus is asking. “Who do you say I am to you? Or “Who do people say I am ‘for them’? Jesus is asking for a relationship status update. Jesus wants to know what is the disciple’s relationship to him is going to be.

Various answers are given by the disciples. Some say you’re a prophet, a kind of spiritual teacher They relate to you, Jesus, in a non-intimate way like a person looking for wisdom that you might give. But teachers can be dismissed as not knowing what they’re talking about. Teachers can be ignored.

Peter gets the right answer. “Jesus, you are savior for us!” What’s Peter saying? By knowing Jesus as the loving God who comes among the human race so humans can relate to him in a way that people just can’t with a “spiritual being” folks can have a relationship with a person that can even save humans from the forces that seek to wipe out human existence.

Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to enter into a relationship with Him. Jesus isn’t just someone to know stuff about, or a teacher that provides moral guidance about how to live a good life. Jesus wants to have a relationship with his followers that enables them to live through death. Christ, the name means “Savior,” wants humanity to relate to him like we relate to a spouse, a friend, or a lover who saves a person from being consumed with selfishness until there’s only a bitter old man or woman without love in their life, unable to experience love or enjoy life fully.

Relationships are a two-way street. Both parties in a relationship have to figure out who the other person is to them. It could be best friend. This person might be the love of my life. It might be helpful to understand the Gospel of Jesus asking who people say he is if we’d flip the question around. Who are we “to Jesus”? Who does Jesus say we are, sitting in these pews? Who does Jesus say the rest of the inhabitants of this planet are to him; anyone who has lived, lives or every will live on this insignificant rock perfectly positioned in a not too far, not too close orbit around a star in a remote corner of the universe? We are the beloved human race he called into being so that he could have someone to love and became one of. We humans are the creatures Jesus loves like no other created being, so much so that he deems us worthy of saving from death. We are the beloved bride of  the groom Christ who can not stand the thought of ever being separated from. So loved are we as individuals and a race that Christ desired us from before time began to live with him and be like him even when we allowed death to invade the beauty of life. Who does Jesus say we are? The Word of the Creator God says humanity is the love of his life worthy of salvation even when they betray the relationship He wants with men and women through their sinful acts that weaken the relationship like adultery is to marriage. Relationships are a two-way street. To understand who Jesus is to us, it’s helpful to know who we are to Jesus. We are the beloved spouse he wedded himself to in the incarnation, so that he might save his us from death in order to live in his house, forever beyond the limits of space and time.

When the Gospel author Matthew has Jesus say to Peter you are the rock, the solid foundation on which Christ will “build” his church Matthew is saying the Church makes possible the relationship with Jesus. Peter is not being made Pope in that instant. Peter becomes the symbol of authentic faith. His statement is raised up by Christ as the foundational truth on which the church stakes humanity’s fate. The church is the Body of Christ. Matthew, the writer, is teaching the community he wrote his Gospel account for that the church is the human vessel that makes possible the relationship with Jesus that saves from death. Peter is a symbol of the Church. The relationship description Peter voices is the rock, the solid foundation of the truth proclaimed by the Church throughout the ages. The role of the church is to hand on generation to generation through sacraments, preaching and catechesis a relationship with Christ that saves from death. Outside of the rock solid relationship Jesus offers through His body, the church (which is safeguarded by the successors of Peter, the Pope and the leadership of the church in union with the Holy Father) there is no hope of living after death.

The author Brian Doyle, when asked why he is Catholic once wrote how the Church had helped him to be in relationship with Jesus as savior and saved. Mr. Doyle wrote about the authentic faith handed onto him by the Church represented by Peter,

“Sometimes I desperately need to lean on a god wiser and gentler than myself. Sometimes I desperately need to believe that when I die I will not be sentenced to Fimbul, the hell winter, where there is only the cold voice of Nothing, but rather I will be at peace and draped in Light. Sometimes I am nudged toward belief by the incredible persistence and eerie genius of the tale [handed on by the Church’s Gospel]: the encompassing love of the mother, the wordless strength of the Father, the Lord of All Worlds cast ashore on this one as a mewling child in dirty straw. Sometimes I am moved past reason by the muscular poetry and subtle magic of these [Gospel] stories. Sometimes it is an intuitive yes as the light fails and the world is lit from below. And sometimes I simply cast my lot with the sheer bravura of such a patently brazen lie. That a man could die and live again is ridiculous; even a child knows that death is the end. Or is it?”

Doyle, Brian. Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies (p. 80). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.

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Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Possibly the work of Atnolfo di Cambio. Thought by some historians to be much older. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Mattis. This applies worldwide. Via commons.wikimedia.org

The author of this quote recently died in middle age of a brain tumor. Family and friends say he died at peace, knowing his relationship with Christ as savior was the rock that would break the power of death, the key that would open the door of his house in eternal life.

 

Don’t just see Jesus as one of many gurus that offer wisdom or moral teaching for a happy life in this world as some do. Do not delay! With the assistance of the Church, through its sacraments, preaching and catechesis, fall in love with Jesus, the one who saves and who loves you to death…and beyond.

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Feast of the Transfiguration Homily 2017

The Transfiguration Lodovico Carracci 1594
[In the public domain in the U.S. and source country]

Grownups have a habit of asking children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Adults often attempt to get youth to imagine their future by inviting the child to share with the adult a vision of what they will be when the child is grown up. Maybe the child will share she wants to be a doctor. A boy might reveal his dream is to be a chef. This vision in the mind of a possible future profession can inspire a desire in the child to embark on a course of preparation.

Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration is mother Church asking it’s children to imagine their future. Through the story of Jesus appearing transfigured, that is, appearing to his friends as he will be after his death and resurrection the children of Mother Church are being invited to envision what they’re future will be. As members of the Body of Christ our future is revealed in the transfigured body of Jesus. Our future is to be one with him transfigured with our bodies changed into a new way of living that reflects the eternal light of God’s love.

Like any child who aspires to be a fireman, or doctor or an athlete on a professional sports team, there is a lot of learning to be done, first. Training takes place in school. Practice must be done on the court or an internship undertaken in the work place. The same is true of reaching our goal of becoming like Jesus, perfectly alive sharing in the existence of God. Anyone would like to skip the work and not experience the pain of being human and having to eventually die. Sometimes it’s easy to have faith. The apostles are given that moment of easy faith in the story when they see the outcome of the death of Jesus before it happens. But, sometimes the randomness of life makes us wonder if God is really in control. It is in those experiences of doubt, when life hurts, that we must call to mind the vision of what we want to be, fully alive with Christ with the pain of life’s cross is behind us. The apostles didn’t get to stay in the midst of the vision. They had to return to the difficult, sometimes frightening experience of life after the faith high of the transfiguration. Like Jesus touching them when they were “afraid” Jesus walks with us, too, encouraging us to not be afraid through our being involved in the church. Walking the paths of time with our brothers and sisters, the church becomes the presence of Jesus encouraging us to keep the vision of what we shall be until time fades into eternity.

The practice of charity is the training camp that keeps alive the desire to reach our goal. When we help other people live better lives we see that self-sacrifice produces a fuller life.The school of self-sacrifice guided by the textbook of scripture and the practicum of liturgy prepare us to become what we envisioned ourself to be in Christ. We need to reach out to the hungry, cloth the naked and welcome the refugee. You and I need to work to protect life in the womb. It is essential that we share the vision of a human family that can live in solidarity instead of conflict. Such living like Christ strengthens faith that the vision is achievable.

It is helpful to have a “mountain high” experience of what we can be as church or how much love Jesus has for us. I encourage you to attend one of the “Cursillio” weekends that some of our parishioners have gone to. Make a retreat at King’s House in Belleville. If you’re in high school go on a Teens Encounter Christ retreat (that’s where I was really given the vision of what being a disciple of Jesus could make of me). Ideally, Sunday Mass each week is our mountain top encounter with Christ that can inspire us throughout the week. We need to renew the vision of what we are becoming in Christ. Such vision will sustain us when life gets difficult.

What do you want to be when you reach full maturity in Christ?  Jesus shares with us in the transfiguration a vision of what He wants us to be. The Son whom the Father is well pleased with wants us to be perfectly alive, never more under the power of death, gathered together with all the ancestors and our beloved family. Keep the dream alive. Walk the walk of Jesus and you’ll be ready to become what God wants his children to be when they reach the full maturity of a Christian, fully alive in the Body of Christ.


Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 3rd Sunday Easter

Poster what now

“Builds Stronger Bodies”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

If your around my age, maybe you remember an advertising campaign for Wonder brand bread from the 1960’s. The commercials would claim that “Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” The ads implied a good mom would feed her children Wonder Bread so her children would have the benefit of enriched bread that would make her children strong in bone and muscle helping the grow with a strong, healthy body.

Mother Church has a wonder bread, too, necessary for the strength of her children. Christ gave us this miraculous body strengthening bread at the last supper, the Eucharist. The bread and wine that is His Body and Blood helps the Church, the Body of Christ grow into a strong, vibrant witness of the risen Jesus. This Sunday, Mother Church invites her children born from the baptismal font womb of rebirth to reflect upon the need of every Catholic to eat the wonder bread of the Eucharist, on a regular basis, to sustain and strengthen their life of faith.

The sacraments that initiated us into the spiritual life, one of sharing the life of God that overcomes death, are similar to the events that humans experience at the beginning of natural life. Babies are born when they come out of a womb filled with a kind of watery fluid. Then the child must breathe air. Only if the child is feed, and feed regularly does the human person continue to live and thrive.

So it is with the spiritual life, the life of faith. Only once are we baptized in the water of the womb of mother church. There is only one taking of the life-giving first breath of God, given by the Holy Spirit that we are given in Confirmation. But to continue to live the life of the divine, Catholics must eat regularly the food of the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens the identity of the Body of Christ. WE CANNOT TRUELY SUSTAIN OUR SHARING OF THE DIVINE LIFE WE WERE GIVEN IN BAPTISM WITHOUT RECEIVING COMMUNION ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Recalling the theme of our Easter season message series, The Eucharist is the “Now What?” that comes after we encounter the risen Christ. The Eucharist is where we continue to encounter the risen Jesus, taking as our cue the story of two disciples disappointed by the seeming futility of hoping life can be different for those who encounter Jesus on the journey of life. The story of the two disciples (who are depicted on our sanctuary wall) and their encounter with the risen Jesus is the template of what we do here each Sunday. Listen to the voice of God strengthening hope for a new life then encounter the risen Christ in sharing bread and wine. Because Christ is alive, now what? Read Scripture for insight, eat to strengthen the experience of Him who lives, go tell others what you’ve encountered.

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The Icon of the Supper at Emmaus in the sanctuary of St. Mary, Trenton by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B. monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, Indiana

Do you ever spend time remembering your deceased parents? Do you, on a wedding anniversary, remember how you fell in love? Remembering someone, remembering an event can powerfully make the person present, again. Recalling an event brings the what you felt then into the present. Pope Francis has said (I’m loosely quoting something the Pope wrote in his Encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel” here) “the [Christian] is essentially one who remembers. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s…remembrance of and deeper sharing in, the event of his [defeat of death by his death and resurrection].” This remembering brings grateful joy that leads to sharing the presence of Christ, sharing the Good News of Christ with others.

In my own words, I am convinced our celebration of Sunday Eucharist is absolutely essential to our lives as Catholics so that we are renewed in our encounter with risen Christ. Catholics need to live our life as disciples who invite others to encounter Christ. Receiving the Body of Christ strengthens our identity as the Body of Christ risen in the present time so that we will carry on His mission. Eucharist strengthens us to witness. Communion with Him enable us to feed those not in the pews each week with life-giving hope, good news, with the grace to walk through the life in this world that ends in physical death without fear.

Now what? The story of the Emmaus encounter that is always before us on the sanctuary wall is model of the mission of our parish, to be disciples who evangelize. Don’t let that word scare you. Evangelize means to share the story of Jesus with others. Just as Jesus accompanied those two seekers with questions about the “meaning” of their life’s events, we are called, in the words of Pope Francis, to accompany those who seek to understand how to make sense of life; to walk with those who need to see how encountering Jesus can make life joy-filled instead of full of anxiety or fear. We gather to strengthen our memory, our experience of Jesus alive so that we can witness. That in turn will build up the Body of Christ with new and returning members.

Remember, last week I said something had to change in our parish. That something is each one of us. Fr. Michael White, a priest who’s parish has experienced phenomenal growth in numbers, has written, “The church is not a clubhouse for the convinced, but a place that is relevant and welcoming to the unchurched.” The parish needs to be a community that is excited to share the Gospel and make it relevant to people by it’s members sharing how Jesus makes a difference in their life. Reading what Fr. White has written has left me wondering if you and I at St. Mary need to be more like the disciples who risked traveling a road back to Jerusalem in the dark so they might tell how they encountered Jesus. Might we not need to follow their example. They could have said, “Wasn’t that great seeing Jesus, again, at the dining table” and played it safe and gone up to their room in the hotel for a good’s night’s sleep.” We’ve got to stop playing it safe. We encounter Jesus at this dining table and go back to the comfort of our homes all the while waiting for those who are not here to miraculously show up without us bringing them an encounter with the Good News.

Today, we’ve been exploring Step one of “What now?” after celebrating the resurrection. Build a stronger body of Christ. Renew our experience of the resurrected Jesus in Eucharist. Then we’ll be ready to share what we encounter with others who walk the journey of life with their questions about what difference Jesus makes to their life situation.

In the next two parts of this “What now?” series I will try to suggest a couple of practical ways our parish and each of us might get up from this table that strengthens our belief in the presence of the risen Jesus walking with us in this world and bring good news to those in need of sustaining their life with the Eucharist who may be starving themselves to spiritual death. We’re all familiar with the commercials on T.V. showing starving African children begging us to help them with our contribution. A worthy cause. The situation is somewhat similar in Trenton. We have people in our parish, in our town who are in danger of spiritual starvation. Don’t let that happen. I can’t talk to all of them, but together we can reach out to many of them, offering them the chance to encounter Jesus walking with them, feeding them the bread of salvation.

Don’t forget the words proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles, “God raised this Jesus;of this we are all witnesses.” Let our hearts burn within us as we hear the scriptures and break the bread of the Eucharist so that we will be strengthened to grow into the Body of Christ we encounter in this Emmaus experience.


Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Easter

“Act 2 – Plot Twist”

Homily for the Easter Vigil and Easter Day

Gospel for the Easter Vigil
Matthew 28:1-10

I’ve been giving a “message series” this past week titled “Dress Rehearsal.” Like some movie sequels, be it the popular Harry Potter movies or the Fast and Furious series which apparently is on it’s eighth installment, sometimes it helps to understand what’s going on in the current movie if you know what’s taken place in the previous films. So let me very quickly summarize what the previous messages of this week’s series were about so that tonight’s/today’s message makes a bit more sense (Just in case you weren’t able to be at all the services.)

Last Sunday I compared this past week’s liturgies to a dress rehearsal of what the Christian life is to be like when we live as disciples of Jesus on the stage of the world. Palm Sunday was a sort of Disciples follow Jesus through his passion discovering the Paschal Mystery, that death can lead to fuller life here and now and eventually at the banquet of eternal life Mass gives us a glimpse of. Holy Thursday evening we learned what our role is in the drama of discipleship, that our role is to be servant; servants who die daily by letting go of their self-centeredness while taking care of the needs of others. Jesus, the lead actor taught us how to be servant when he washed feet and died on the cross to serve us life. Then, Good Friday was compared to Act 1 of a play. The first act of a play always sets up a conflict for the main character. The first act usually leaves the audience “hanging” at intermission wondering how the story will be “resolved” in Act 2. It might be a tragic ending or a happy ever after ending. Good Friday, Jesus is literally left hanging on the cross not sure if God is going to even open the curtain on a second act, or will his crucifixion be a tragedy with no happy ending.

But we’re here tonight/this morning because we do know there’s an Act 2. Otherwise, we might as well have [gone out and had a nice dinner]/[slept in!]  We’re here to celebrate the happy ending of the second act of the drama of Jesus’ life and death that gives us hope in the face of death. I know each of you, with me, wants to give thanks to God for writing in a plot twist into the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Who would have expected such a turn of events? Surely not the soldiers keeping guard at the tomb, put there by those who were afraid that the followers of Jesus might pull a fast one. The women who went to the grave to pay their respects certainly didn’t expect a plot twist. Dead bodies stay dead as far as the  women knew. As the curtain rises on Act 2 the earth quakes as a way of saying God is shaking up the way the world works. God is destroying with mighty power the old order of creation and opening up a new future for humanity like a stone rolled back from the tomb of death humanity has found itself trapped in from that day in the Garden of Eden when men and women rejected the script God had written. A new day has dawned that will never see the darkness of death descend. What a plot twist, an unexpected turn of the story line! Death can not be avoided but death can be defeated. The drama reveals that actually any letting go of yourself trusting God’s script, including physical death, is the beginning of a new way of living, not the end of the story.

Did you notice? Twice “Don’t be afraid!” is spoken in the Gospel. “Don’t be afraid!” the angel says to the women while the pagan guards are laying on the ground in paralyzing fear (a sign that God overcomes the military and civil authorities that try to control human life). Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid!” to the women when they encounter him alive on the road. These words, of all the words spoken tonight/today are the meaning of our dress rehearsal that we should leave this building with tonight/today. “Don’t be afraid!”

Yes, we live in a world where death in the form of disease rips loved ones out of our embrace. It is true the drama we’re part of sees death used as a weapon to control with fear or even destroy people who are viewed as an enemy. Terrorists rely on playing the part of death for they believe have no other way to advance their cause. Hunger kills off the forgotten starving people in draught covered lands. Yet, we know there is another way. We’ve met the living in Jesus in those who have sacrificed some of their life for us to have a better life. We’ve seen the truth of the Paschal Mystery when our life has been richer because we we’re selfless with our time, talent and income that benefited another person. The way of Jesus can heal the world of it’s death plague. He alone has fixed what has become a tragic play with his plot twist of dying and rising from the grave.

The world needs to see Jesus alive in us! When we sacrifice for others, when we selflessly make life better for our children, our spouse, the refugee, when we “put on the identity of Christ we were baptized and anointed in confirmation to have, then the living Christ will be encountered by others traveling the road of history. Then the plot twist can play out in time. We do not fear what ever comes out way as we walk the road of our lives because we know nothing, nothing, be it illness, violence or life circumstances will permanently take away or life. We’ll live because Jesus lives in us and we in him.

Now it’s time for us to perform Act 3. Like the women who were told to go and tell the other disciples, we write the script for Act 3 by our witness to Jesus. We bring this Good News of the resurrection plot twist into the world. The dress rehearsal of Holy Week is over. It’s time to perform on the stage of the world. It’s time to bring people hope in the face of death that attempts to hijack the story God has written for humanity.


Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Good Friday

Act 1: Left Hanging

Homily for Good Friday – 2017

Readings for Good Friday and the Passion according to St. John

Do you enjoy going to see a musical? Have you ever gone to see a play, maybe it was professional actors or students at a local high school? There are similarities between drama acted out on a stage and the drama of the story told through the ritual of these days of Holy Week. Tonight, we continue our message series called “Dress Rehearsal” as we use the metaphor of seeing Holy Week liturgy as a sort of rehearsal of the drama of disciples on the stage of the world living their belief in Jesus crucified and risen. We’re considering who Jesus is for us and what meaning his life, death and resurrection has for humanity.

Musicals or dramatic plays usually come in two Acts with an intermission.  Most plays end Act 1 with some sort of unresolved tension in the story. You go to intermission wondering how the various threads of the story will be resolved in Act 2. The main character is facing some challenge like lovers separated. Or the lead has chosen a corse of action with consequences yet to be revealed as good or bad. The audience goes to the lobby wondering will this be a story where everyone lives happily ever after or will there be a tragic  ending?  Tonight is Act 1 of the Passion story of Christ. When we leave here, if we didn’t know differently, we’d be in that intermission frame of mind left hanging, waiting for a resolution of the story.

What we have seen so far in our liturgy in the events portrayed by John’s passion is a Jesus very much in control of his fate, yet choosing to be powerless victim. Does he know the end of the story? In Act 1 we’ve watched his final hours. The suffering of the crucified Christ must have been horrific. He’s beaten and bloodied. Nails have been hammered into wrists and feet. Pain paralyzing the muscles so Jesus could not even push himself up to breathe resulting in a death by suffocation; a death that was somehow salvation from death for us, for all humanity. Jesus bore the death of every human on his back carrying the cross so that death would be defeated, no longer the end of humans.

You know, Jesus still dies, today. The drama still plays out on the world stage leaving humanity wondering what will be the outcome of our common story. The world continues to kill Jesus, innocent of any crime that demands the death sentence. Children are gassed to death in Syria by their president. Religious fundamentalists use terrorist tactics to bomb others out of existence that don’t share the terrorist’s faith. Drought takes the lives of people in Africa and the wealthy citizens of the world stand by playing the stock market like it was rolling dice for what’s left of our resources. People are shot down on city streets and babies killed the womb. Will the story of humanity have a tragic end or experience a twist of the story line that ends happily?

Jesus, when he hung on the tree of Calvary probably had no idea what would come of his death. In a sense, he’s at the end of ACT 1 of the drama of the Passion and Resurrection. It’s like he’s left hanging by God the Father, not sure how or even if Act 2 would take place. There’s no resolution at the end of the passion we just heard. The Jesus who is still being killed by humanity’s sinful deeds is that Christ left hanging on the cross after death. Humanity needs a savior who will resolve our differences, a savior who no longer hangs on a cross but shows the way out of the grave in which it is entombed.

That way is the way of the cross. Dramas usually need props. The objects on the stage help get the message across being told by the play. In our case tonight, wood plays a pivotal role in the story of salvation for humanity. ember it was a Tree in the Garden that played a part in the down fall of humanity into death.
A boat of wood said by Noah over the flood carried humanity to a new life. The wooden staff of Moses parted the Red Sea to make it possible for the Israelites to escape death in Egypt and make a way to promised land.

The Cross of Jesus whose wood we venerate in this liturgy becomes the door to being saved from death. Our Christian drama has the prop of the wooden cross that saves. Tonight, we embrace that wood of the cross, saying we will carry it with Jesus and show a humanity there is another way to arrive at a better life.

We embrace, kiss and venerate the wood of the cross because we’re in the know. We’ve already read the script and know a plot twist awaits in Act 2, that Jesus is not left hanging there, nor are we left hanging what will happen. There is a resolution to the story. Death leads to life. Hopefully, we’ll be so moved by the drama that we’ll announce to the world there is an Act 2. Moved by the love revealed on the cross we’ll help restore the life of those threatened by the continued passion of Christ being played out on the world stage. Selflessly dying to self-interest in service of the needs of fellow humans instead of killing one another brings a better life for all. By uniting ourselves to the death of Jesus in this dress rehearsal of Salvation through liturgy and everyday life a new humanity will not be left hanging wondering what our future will be. We can rise up from the grave we’ve been digging for ourselves.

Singing (with congregation the refrain sung during the proclamation of the Passion) “Christ Jesus Victor, Christ Jesus Ruler, Christ Jesus Lord and Redeemer!”


Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Holy Thursday

Putting It Together: Know Your Role

Homily for Holy Thursday 2017

Readings for Holy Thursday

Last Sunday I began a message series called “Dress Rehearsal” that will continue through our Triduum liturgies. I’m calling the theme of the message series “Dress Rehearsal” to help us explore how the liturgies are a kind of symbolic “rehearsal” of the Christian’s life of Discipleship. What we do in this room is learn, through ritual, what the death of Jesus means for us and how we bring this truth onto the stage of the world.

Palm Sunday’s liturgy was a kind of initial “table reading” where those who gather for the Dress Rehearsal get familiar with the who, what and meaning of the drama that will unfold during the rest of Holy Week. We learned the drama we enact these days is  a rehearsal of the journey we disciples make following the crucified Jesus through our everyday life sacrifices eventually reaching the banquet of eternal life foreshadowed by the Eucharist. The overall story line played out in each of the liturgies of Holy Week we learned on Palm Sunday was “Paschal Mystery.” That short two word phrase contains the whole meaning of the drama we rehearse these days. The Pascal Mystery is what Jesus was all about, revealing by his life, death and resurrection that those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, those who die will discover a richer, fuller life. That life even has the potential of being unending because of the Paschal Mystery for those who give themselves over to Jesus. Death leads to life. Any death.

Tonight is the part of rehearsals when we learn what our roles are in the drama of discipleship that brings our life meaning. Who gets to be the lead? Who is a supporting actor? The liturgy of Holy Thursday is about what role the disciples of Jesus to play in the drama of everyday living of the Paschal Mystery.

You would think the Jesus get’s to the be lead actor, his name on the marque. In a way, Jesus is the star of the drama. But, he is a very different kind of star. He shuns the spotlight. Jesus doesn’t expect privilege. This lead actor in the drama of Pascal Mystery says all the characters in the drama will be servants. That’s the role of the disciple enacting the pascal mystery on the stage of everyday life. Disciples are servants. Disciples of Jesus die with the Lord in every act of self-sacrifice to make another person’s life better, more comfortable, more alive. Servant is the role assigned by the director Christ to everyone. No stars, no lead actors. Just a servant’s role for every person baptized into Christ.

To be sure, there are different kinds of servant roles. The Church points out that this is the day Christ gave us the role of priest as a way to manifest the servant Christ. Men are chosen to offer their life as priests, without the companionship of a spouse in imitation of Christ to serve their Christian family in daily offering themselves as a companion on the road to the new day of eternity.

There are other servant roles, too. Deacons to image the Christ who tends to the physical needs of those who need comfort. Bishops to lead like shepherds. There are Moms and Dads who sacrifice their own desires to ensure that their spouse and children have what they need to live life. Changing diapers, cooking, going to work are living the mystery death of self leads to life. There are the young Christians who help out at home cleaning their room or taking care of siblings, then who show compassion to friends. Servant roles come in all sorts of vocations! The oils that we received from the Bishop remind us that we are anointed to share in the mystery of Christ through servant who rejects the evil one’s siren call to think of self first. The Chrism oil made us servants who proclaim Christ, leading other to him. And when the servant suffers illness, Christ strengthens him or her to continue playing the role in union with His cross that served the world redemption.

Bishop Braxton announced this past Tuesday at a Mass in the Cathedral when the holy oils were blessed an opportunity for members of the laity to respond to the call to be servant to their parishes. Beginning this year there will be a training program for some of you to become a lay minister assisting your parish live out it’s mission to be a community that proclaims Christ. Called Into My Vineyard: Formation for Lay Ecclesial Ministry in our Parishes, this training of people from the parishes throughout the Diocese is meant to equip select parishioners to help keep our parishes vital and growing. Perhaps, tonight you might begin to hear Christ the director of our rehearsal saying to you, “You, my friend, would be good for the role of Lay Parish Minister servant.” If you hear that call and want more information ASAP, I’ve got a pamphlet for you with your name on it.

In a few moments I, the representative in your midst of Christ the servant priest will symbolically wash the feet of some of you.  Washing feet may seem very archaic, maybe even strange or too personal in our culture. We do it because Jesus said do this in my memory, like breaking bread and sharing wine. Washing feet is meant to be a rehearsal of my role as your servant caring for your spiritual (and sometimes emotional and physical needs). But the washing of feet for those who come to the sanctuary and those who observe the rite is a reminded  that every one of us has a servant role to play. Everyone of us has to let our pride die. All of us must stop thinking of ourselves as someone who deserves something and figuratively kill off our ego, letting the identity of Jesus take over. Only when we spend a life time rehearsing, practicing our role of servant will we be confidently unafraid to let go of life at our physical death and discover the fullness of life as we are invited to dine at the banquet of eternal life served us by Jesus Christ.

Let us continue our “Dress Rehearsal” in humble gratitude for being called a member of the cast of disciples. We’re putting it all together, glad to have the role of servant sharing in making the Paschal Mystery a reality in this world following the lead of Jesus on the way to the fullness of the Kingdom of God.


Lent Message Series 2017 “Root Cause” – Week 5

The final installment of my Message Series for Lent, “Root Cause.” So far I have named the root causes of humanity’s broken condition as choosing in free will to reject obedience to God’s will and attempt to be our own God (week 1, The temptations of Adam and Eve and Jesus), set forth the vision of a redeemed humanity (week 2’s story of the Transfiguration of Jesus),  personal choices to sin (week 3 as revealed in the story of the Woman at the well), and described humanity’s infection with social sin woven into the fabric of society (week 4 – The healing of a blind man. This week we look at the “cosmic” picture and learn how humanity’s choices to cooperate with the evil one has unleashed upon all of creation, death, decay and entropy the result of alienation (sin) from God.

Root Cause Message Series Poster

“The Power of Love”

Readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

This past week we priests of the Belleville Diocese received an e-mail from the chancellor. Among the responsibilities of the Diocesan chancellor is keeping track of personnel files. The e-mail from the chancellor was a request that those of us who haven’t sent in our funeral instructions do so and here’s a simple form to help you tell us what to do with you when you die. Sounds a bit morbid doesn’t it?

Nobody really likes to think about their own death. Going to a funeral home visitation is difficult. But thinking about your own death, maybe how your body will be the one people are looking at in the casket, that can be a depressing thought if not a fearful thought. Yet, we’re all going to die. Some people approach their death with a fatalism saying things like “when your time is up, it’s up, you can’t change it.” Other folks rage against death, fighting it with every ounce of energy they can muster. The truth is very simple, though. Everyone dies.

The first Sunday of Lent we heard the story of Adam and Eve; how humanity was created to live forever like God. The story of the Garden in Eden describes how people were to be God’s companions who God could love and receive love from back without a time limit. Yet, the root cause of death was humanity’s decision to reject that offer of love that called it into being and instead try to live by its own wits; humanity wanted to be its own God. From the moment of eating of the fruit of the tree at the center of the universe, death, decay and the tendency of everything to eventually break down spilled out into all of creation. Death became the ultimate alienation from the sustainer of all life, God the creator. Call death a symptom of the sinfulness of humanity that radiates out into the cosmos that needs to be healed. Death is the ultimate sign of humanity’s brokenness that longs to be repaired.

Today’s Gospel story of Martha and Mary, the dead friend Lazarus and Jesus proclaims that Jesus, God in human flesh, has entered into this world of cosmic disorder, to face down death. Jesus declares himself the resurrection of life! This encounter with death in the person of Lazarus is the moment in the life of Jesus when the Christ declares that death has been put on notice. Death’s power over humans is limited. Death’s reign as the force that controls the universe is finished.

Jesus continues to stand at the graves of the victims of the power of death unleashed by human choosing the root causes of our broken nature ready to call them out of the stench of death. Jesus offers the way to defeat death and live no longer bound with the fear of the power of death. Keeping with our message series theme of “root causes” let’s name a couple of these causes of death that can be healed by the power Jesus shows in the mystery of sacrificing self for the sake of others instead of the self-centered vision of humanity. Of all the seven “Capital Sins” (the root causes of human troubles) there are two that we can focus on that routinely unleash the power of death.

The first root cause of death taking hold in our existence is Greed, an excessive pursuit of material possessions. How often do we see greed on a grand, even worldwide scale? There is a hunger for territory. Such territorial greed has led to wars to conquer land someone else possess causing the death of military and civilians. As Pope Francis has warned  us in his encyclical “On the Care of our Common Home” there is greed shown in the insatiable thirst for natural resources buried in the earth, like oil, gas, and coal that make some rich, but at the same time doom especially the poor to suffer the effects of climate change. Human greed may kill the planet that sustains the life of the ones who exploit the planet that makes life possible.

Not only is greed bringing death. There is the deadly sin of Wrath which can be described as the uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate towards another person. How often we have seen in history attempts to wipe out whole populations because of their race. Even today, we hear in the news of the hate that religious fundamentalists have toward another expression of faith in God that they’re willing to slaughter human life.

Greed and Wrath are root causes of death binding up the human person, entombing humanity in the stench of death limited existence that Jesus calls out as evil and speaks a word of resurrection to life.

If we find ourselves under the influence of the evil one trying to convince us to give into greed or wrath, what can we do? How do we let Jesus free us from the tomb we’re sealing up for ourselves? Jesus’s power to bring life out of death cause by greed is revealed in the choice to live Charity. To love, another word for charity, cures greed by putting the desire to help others above storing up treasure for one’s self. Charity is sacrificing for the good of others and reflects the sacrifice of Jesus who defeats death by his sacrifice on the cross. If we realize we’re giving into wrathful anger, then Christ offers us the power of Patience. Patience cures wrath by giving us time to understand the needs and desires of others before acting or speaking. If we stop, attempt to see the dignity, the hurts, the needs of the person we’re angry with we can defeat the power of death at work in us.

But there is a productive anger,  also. Not all anger is destructive wrath. Sometimes anger is a necessary part of the process of moving on through life. Anger is one of the stages of dealing with grief and can help a person move from feelings that life is over for the survivor to living life in a new way. Anger about unjust situations can move a person to action to confront the cause of injustice.

Martha and Mary were angry at Jesus for not showing up in time to do something about the suffering of a loved one and saving Lazarus from dying. We may be angry at Jesus, too, for sometimes it seems he’s not in a hurry to save a loved on from illness, or not in a hurry to fix the mess we people cause in our world. That’s part of the process of coming to realize how Jesus operates. Jesus doesn’t take away death, but uses death as the weapon to defeat death, letting go of self as the way to find the fullness of life. If he showed up before Lazarus died he couldn’t have shown he has the power to use death to defeat the power of death to deprive us of real life.

What the Lazarus story reveals is the truth. By his tears he sheds at the death of his friend Jesus shares in the grief, the pain of humanity ruled by the experience of death. Recalling his distress reminds us he was angry with the fate of his beloved creation and was moved to step into humanity to change the fate of humans.

Driving to meet some friends for dinner last night I pulled up behind a car at the four-way stop in Lebanon. The car had a bumper sticker that read,

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power,
the world will know peace.”

I’ve discovered that the bumper sticker is a quote from the musician Jimi Hendrix, of all people. But how true. The power of love was shown in Jesus’ death. His resurrection unties the binding strips that ties up life limited by death. Jesus commands us to be free of the fear of death, to be free from the limits of mortality.  Love overcomes the love of a humanity hungry for power over one another, a “root cause” of the cosmic forces of decay and death unleashed by Adam and Eve who ate the fruit of the tree at the center of the garden. Jesus reveals the power of love on the tree of the cross which stands at the center of time and space. In the opening of grave Jesus reveals the power of love which is stronger than death, letting in the fresh air of eternity that removes the stench of death.

Attributed to Aertgen van Leyden (1498-1564) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE -Week 3

Root Cause Message Series Poster“I Could Have Had”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

This week, after my doctor imposed absence from last weekend’s Masses, we continue our message series called “Root Cause.” I was feeling pretty miserable  last weekend and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to get you sick so I stayed in bed as recommended by my doctor. Therefore, let me briefly share with you what I would have for last week’s part 2 of the message series I’m calling “Root Cause.”

On the first Sunday of Lent I shared with you how the root cause, the primary reason humanity finds itself in the state it is in is man and woman’s ability to choose. Humans can choose to listen to God, who seems to have some arbitrary rules, like don’t eat from one particular fruit tree in a perfect garden, or chose to listen to the voice of evil that lies about human potential where people do not need God. The ability to choose to be self-centered ultimately disorders our relationship with God and one another. The wrong choice unleashes corrupted relationships with the divine and other people that result in the death of those relationships and even physical death.

Last week I wanted to tell you about the “root cause” of the hope that humanity is not doomed to suffer forever the consequences of badly choosing to eat the fruit self-exultation. God continually makes promises to open up a future full of life. In the Transfiguration of Jesus, God revealed the future for those joined to  Jesus. In Jesus is the hope people choose to embrace a new way of living. For those who accompany him in everyday sacrifices that enable others to live more fully there is caused hope for a new life. The “root cause” of being saved from the power of death is being united to Jesus’ choice to follow the will of God, to die on the tree of the cross that opened up a new type of perfect Garden, the Kingdom of God where life defeats death. (You can read the full homily I would have given on my blog on the web, if you want. Check the bulletin for the internet address.)

If we want to choose rightly, to choose life instead of something that causes death in some form or another as we travel the paths of time in this world we must recognize the voice of the evil one hissing like a snake hiding in the grass asking us to choose specific ways of giving in to his lie that we don’t need to pay attention to the voice of God. Looking inward instead of out toward others we think we can know what’s best for us. The next three Sundays we’ll explore some of the “root sins.” Root sins is what a priest of our diocese (Fr. Bill Hitpas in a small pamphlet he has authored on examining the conscious before confession) has labeled the seven capital sins. Or, they’ve been called the seven deadly sins, because of how serious these root causes of sin are, You can say the seven “deadly sins” are expressed in a variety of symptoms that lead to the destruction of our relationships with God and other people. They’re the viruses that our everyday choices to sin are caused by. If we don’t deal with the deadly sin viruses, our life in communion with Jesus both now and in eternity will be dead on arrival. The liturgy makes this comparison of sin to illness in the opening prayer of today…

O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.

Spring starts Monday. Then, before you know it comes the hot, hot days of summer. The humid yet dry days of summer are a time a person can build up quite a thirst working outside. Mowing the lawn, working on a construction site, even just exercising by walking in the heat builds up a powerful thirst. What to drink? An ice-cold beer, perhaps. Or maybe a soda seems to be called for. But there’s a problem. Alcohol doesn’t really quench a thirst and replenish the fluids the body is sweating away. A beer dehydrates a body. Soda has a bunch of salt and does the same keeping a person thirsty, wanting more to drink that really doesn’t help. Water alone will ease the thirst. Plain old water is what the body needs when facing the threat of dehydration.

The story of Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman at a well in the hot desert is actually about the bad choices we are personally responsible for. It is a metaphor for who we choose to drink of sins that don’t satisfy our thirst for a happy, fulfilled life. The story of Jesus and the woman is about how we deliberately choose to be selfish, to commit personal sins, the symptoms of the viruses of root sins in an attempt to satisfy a thirst to be happy or fulfilled. It is also about how she’s been looking for what satisfies in all the wrong places. That’s the detail about having five husbands. Jesus is the spouse the his bride the church is looking for so we can stop fooling around with other suitors, like the voice of evil hissing like a slimy con-artist.

One of the “root sins” that is the cause of our selfishness is envy. Sometimes it’s called jealousy. Envy is the desire to have something someone else has. Jealousy leads to judging other people. This root sin can lead to questioning God about why he doesn’t give me what I deserve instead of someone else. Envy is the alcohol, the soda that doesn’t really satisfy, but leaves us wanting more stuff, more money, more influence. But stuff isn’t really what will bring satisfaction or fulfillment to our lives! Look at some of the people in impoverished lands. They still find joy in life. They have love of family.

How do we stop drinking envy? The true water that Jesus offers by his example of his life that will quench our thirst for happiness is kindness. Kindness can cure envy by placing the desire to help others in need above the selfish centered expression. Instead of drinking of envy we need to draw from the well of kindness. Then we will find happiness, contentment, fulfillment.

There are other root causes of our separation from God’s life that involve making individual decisions to harm our relationship with other people. There is lust that sees other persons as a way to make us feel good without concern for their well being. There is the choice to be lazy, to not get down to the business of helping others in need because I’ve got more important things to do.

This week I invite you to examine your life with me. What do each of us personally choose to do that is rooted in envy, lust, laziness that doesn’t really bring us fullness of life? Perhaps it’s time to stop drinking from the well of personal sin and instead ask Jesus to give us a drink of his life of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Many years ago there used to be a t.v. commercial for a vegetable based drink. The tag line always involved someone slapping their head saying “I could have had a V-8!” implying making a healthier choice was possible.Instead of making choices to drink of the well of selfishness and personally sinning today is a day to say “We could have had a taste of eternal life even now in this world of choices!” Remember, though, Jesus is waiting to offer us his forgiveness, too. Don’t hesitate to drink deeply of his mercy so that you can start a new life, like a woman who has a chance encounter with God’s mercy at a well.

lwowska_galeria_sztuki_-_jacek_malczewski_-_christ_and_the_samaritian_woman

 

 


Greetings of the Season: Christmas Homily 2015

The Readings referenced in this homily are The Gospels from the Mass during the Night (Luke 2) and Mass during the Day (John 1) of Christmas

IMG_1624

Close up of the Creche at St. Mary, Trenton, where I am pastor

This time of the year, it’s become custom for people to send friends and family cards with short messages wishing the recipient some greeting of the season. Greeting cards with their short messages enclosed sent through the mail or by e-mail are part of the season. Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings! Short, simple sayings that express what the meaning of the season is to the sender. The Scriptures proclaimed at the various Christmas Masses has some short sayings that express the meaning of the season, too, Sayings, that in short simple ways, express why we celebrate this festival day.

And the Word became Flesh 

And the Word became Flesh! This is the heart of our celebration. The Word became flesh. God who spoke everything there is into existence becomes a baby. The all-powerful, all-mighty infinite one is born in a manger in the body of helpless infant that grew in the confinement of Mary’s womb. How can this be? Why can this be? God became one of us to express his love for us. God takes on flesh in the child Jesus to show us mercy.

When people see someone in trouble, something in their heart says “I wish I could help that person!” It’s part of human nature to desire to reach out to another in need. Humans are made in the likeness of God. So, this human inclination to feel compassion, to desire to help those in need is a way that we express in a limited way how we are in the image of God.

The Father is compassion. The almighty God is mercy. His heart goes out to the humanity he created who discovered that like God they can make choices, a humanity that in Adam and Eve choose death over life in the Garden at the beginning of time. Men and Women are exiled in a land of death. God in his mercy can not stand by. The Father in mercy didn’t just desire to help, the Father became flesh, became human, so that a human could choose to break the bonds death in which humanity is trapped. Jesus eternal in the Father becomes man so that humanity can become, again, the creature that shares the nature of God, eternally alive, the prison of the grave broken open.

The Word, the Son of God that made humanity, becomes human. A baby of flesh and blood in a manger is God. the Word became flesh.

Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you

The angels send another greeting of the season. Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you! Don’t be afraid! God sends a message of hope that will sustain you even in the darkest moments of life. You need not fear.

Fear is a powerful motivator of action. Politicians use fear to convince voters that their lives are going to be worse if they vote for the opponent. People, fearful their land, their wealth, their resources are going to be taken away by an enemy arm themselves with weapons and go to war. Fear is so much a part of modern life. It keeps us from being the humans we were created to be by the Word of God; A community of men and women who support each other, who help each other experience love, who enable each other to live in harmony sharing all the resources they need to thrive.

A savior who will remove all threats to your life is born to you. A Savior who will show you the way out of the mess people have made of this world is among you. The reign of fear can be over if you accept this Jesus, the baby laid on the wood of the manger who will become the man hung on the wood of the cross. He will show you death to self in service of others is way to live. The God who empties himself of divinity for a while, shows humanity that they might be like God if men and women would empty themselves of fear of the other and serve them instead. Do not be afraid, a savior of the human race is born to you!

Glory to God, and on earth peace

Glory to God, and on earth peace! Peace be to you who give God the glory. Glory to God and on earth peace is God’s is the ultimate greeting of the feast.  But, as a traditional Christmas carol sings, “

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong that mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men” 

We daily hear about religious zealots waging war against those who do not believe as they do, claiming to be fighting for God. We know about refugees fleeing war and like Mary and Joseph finding no place to live because of fear. Our land knows the disruption of peace from protests or politicians stirring up crowds with talk of using military might to destroy an enemy. Yet the carol goes on to proclaim:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doubt He sleeps
The wrong shall fail the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men

Jesus has come in the flesh, to become the God-Man who brings not just the absence of war to humanity, but the harmony, the reconciliation of all people. The savior Jesus, God-with-us, reveals by his life, death and resurrection, that violence accomplishes only death. Peace comes to people of Good Will, any person who welcome the refugee, who shares their food, who recognize the dignity and right of every human person to have what they need to live and work towards that goal, like a man once born in a stable proclaimed Good News by his life, death and resurrection. Jesus will not be defeated. He will reconcile the human race and give it life now and forever. Glory to God, and on earth peace to those accept that Jesus lives in the flesh.

As we wish each other merry Christmas, as we gather around our trees and tables this night/day, let us remember the original greetings of the day.

  • The Word became Flesh!
  • Do not be afraid, a savior is born to us who will make humanity like God!
  • Glory to God and peace will come to all the citizens of earth!

For God will not be denied. The greetings of Christmas are his Christmas gift of mercy to us.


Why ritual? Doesn’t it get boring?

One of the “complaints”  or excuses I often hear from Catholics about why they don’t go to Mass regularly, or have left the Church entirely for a more mega-church style of worship with praise bands and screens and the like, is that the Mass doesn’t engage them. These folks often say the “sameness” of the Mass from Sunday to Sunday, it’s repetitions and ritual doesn’t help them connect with God or even is dull enough that they don’t get anything out of going to Mass. Such comments always make me sad. I try to explain they’re missing something about the value of ritual repetition, it’s how humans find meaning and can connect with the Holy. Catholic liturgy isn’t about being entertained (as it appears to me much of the mega-church style of communal worship seems to be) but putting our individual effort into being engaged, actively listening, participating and being carried on the wings of familiar ritual to another place, so to speak. You can’t just come to Mass to be passively handed something. To be Catholic, to get something out of Mass, you have to bring your whole self to the experience and give some of your self, too.

I say this because I read on another blog, today, something that expresses my thoughts in another way, that maybe some folks will relate to, from an unexpected source. It was posted on a blog I regularly read, Pray Tell – Worship, Wit & Wisdom, that is written and moderated by a Benedictine Monk, Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN. If you have a couple of minutes, click over to this entry

Liturgy and Tradition: Liturgical Wisdom from an Unexpected Quarter.

It is a bit liturgy geek speak, and I am one of those, but I found it a good explanation of why the repetition of liturgical ritual is such a good thing and a Catholic thing.

 

 


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