Monday, August 13, 2018

The Eucharist opens us to the Holy Spirit

Homily: 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B

          Ever since I was ordained to the priesthood, I’ve felt called to build relationships with the leaders of different Christian communities.  Primarily because I see the divisions between Christians as a great scandal: one that diminishes the power of the Gospel.  Jesus himself once said: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand” and so I want to be part of the solution.  But also because so many of those other Christian communities are populated with “former” Catholics.  I figure that if I can build relationships with the leaders from those places and participate in some “inter-community” events, some of those Catholics who have left the Church might be inspired to come back home.

          Beyond these two points, however, I’ve been blessed by trying to grow in relationship with these folks who, like me, seek to know, love, and serve God, through the ministry of the Gospel.  As I’ve gotten to know them, I’ve always been impressed by the radical simplicity of the message that most of them proclaim, which often points to two things that they see as most important: 1) that they are completely committed to authentically living their faith, and 2) that they have a great sense of urgency about their call to bring others to Christ.  As Christians they are excited and on fire for Christ and so feel a great sense of urgency to bring Him to others, especially those who are un-churched.  As Christians on fire for Christ, they are also deeply committed to living out their convictions as authentically as possible: that is, they strive to remain as true to the movements of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Sacred Scripture in their daily lives as they were when the Holy Spirit first moved them to faith.  I have to say, I admire them for both of these things.

          It reminds me of what we know about the early Church from Sacred Scriptures.  When we read the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Saint Paul, we see that sense of urgency that the Apostles had when spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.  They knew not when Christ would return, but they thought it would be soon and so wasted no time in fulfilling their mission to bring Christ to the world.  These men and women were moved by the Spirit of God to faith and so strove to live that faith authentically by remaining docile to the Spirit even as they sought to quickly spread God’s Word.  They often called on the Holy Spirit in prayer.  And when men and women approached them with expressions of faith, they would call down the Holy Spirit upon them by laying hands on them.  And when they sent others out on mission they would do the same thing, calling the Holy Spirit down on those men and women to guide them and strengthen them in their work.  This is an action with which we are familiar today, though perhaps only a few of us would know that it has a name: that is, Epiclesis.

          In fact, our whole sacramental life is peppered with Epiclesis.  In Baptism, the priest extends his hands over the Baptismal waters and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them, praying that they may cleanse those to be baptized from all stain of sin.  In Confirmation, the bishop or priest extends his hands over those to be confirmed, calling the Holy Spirit down upon them and praying that the Holy Spirit will fill them with his seven-fold gift of grace.  And, yes, in the Eucharist, the priest extends his hands over the gifts of bread and wine presented on the altar and calls the Holy Spirit down upon them, asking that they be made into the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.  And all of this to remind us that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that grace is made available to us. /// Yet, Epiclesis is not magic.  The priest does not “command God” as if he has some power over His grace.  Epiclesis, rather, is an act of faith by all of us: that is, it is an act of opening ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  God is always ready to pour out the grace of the Holy Spirit in us.  These acts of Epiclesis make us open to receive it.

          You know, when it comes to the doctrine of the Eucharist, I’ve found that Catholics generally fall into one of two categories: those who at some level struggle with believing it completely (and that includes those who are convicted of its truth) and those who, frankly, just don’t care enough to bother.  This is because the doctrine of the Eucharist is, well, difficult to swallow (pun intended).  On first hearing it, we might all have reacted as those ancient Jews reacted, asking “Who is this guy? How can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Yet when we understand the Eucharist as Epiclesis, we can begin to see how our senses have been deceived and how what still looks like ordinary bread and wine has now become the Body and Blood of Christ, Our Lord.  Yet, so many of us continue to struggle to believe or, on the flipside, just dismiss it completely.

          My brothers and sisters, whether you continue to struggle to believe in the truth about the Eucharist or you never bothered even to try, the fact of the matter is that God wants you to know the truth about the Eucharist.  Now, I can stand here and talk to you until I am blue in the face about all of the reasons why we should believe, but until each of us takes the initiative to pray to God and to ask him to reveal this truth to us, any conviction (or lack thereof) that we may have will only be in our minds: it will never be in our hearts.  As professed followers of Christ, this cannot be.  If we are to be authentic followers of Christ, then we must be convicted of this truth in our hearts, because, as our retired Holy Father Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said:
Without the Eucharist the Church simply would not exist. It is the Eucharist in fact that makes a human community a mystery of communion, able to bring God to the world and the world to God. The Holy Spirit, which transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, also transforms into members of the Body of Christ those who receive it with faith, so that the Church is truly the sacrament of the unity of men with God and of men with each other.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, it is imperative that we pray to God to remove all doubts we may have about the Eucharist, that we call down the Holy Spirit upon us either to renew our conviction or to “help our unbelief.”  And it is so imperative that before we go any further in this liturgy, we are going to pray here together, each of us asking in our hearts for God to show us the truth that he has taught us about the Eucharist—that it is the real Body and real Blood of his Son, Jesus—and that we may know this truth always in our hearts.

          What I will model for you here is just an example of one way you can make this prayer.  I invite you to use it or any other style of prayer with which you feel comfortable as you pray each day for the grace of the Holy Spirit to know more deeply the truth about this most central mystery of our faith and so inspire in you the joyful desire and a sense of urgency to bring others to an encounter with that truth… an encounter with Christ, Our Savior.  And now I invite you all to kneel if you are able and to pray for this grace.

Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – August 12th, 2018

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Deja vu and the Eucharist


Homily: 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
If you’ve ever had the experience of déjà vu, you’ll know that it can be somewhat unsettling.  For those who may not have experienced it, the phenomenon known as “déjà vu” is when one has an experience of believing that he or she has seen something that is currently happening as having already happened in the past.  In fact, the words “déjà vu” translate literally from French into “already seen.”  For the most part, it can be a confusing experience because it often occurs when there is no rational reason to believe that the event had occurred already in the past.  I know that I’ve had quite a few occurrences of it in my life and each time I’ve walked away from the experience with more questions than answers.
Interestingly enough, for some the attempt to invoke an experience similar to déjà vu is part of their regular routine.  The Jewish religion, for example, ritually attempts to re-create the events of the past so that it would be as if those events were occurring again for the first time in their midst.  The Jewish Passover feast is a perfect example of this.  It is a “ritual remembering” of the original Passover meal, recreating and in a way re-presenting the events of that night when God slew the first born of the Egyptians and led them out of slavery towards freedom.  In other words, it is a way for them to remember God’s saving acts in the past so as to acknowledge that God’s same saving help continues to be with them today.  This type of remembering—of “making present again” God’s saving acts—is called anamnesis.
You know, I don’t think that we’d have to look too hard to see that we do this kind of remembering all of the time.  Couples—married or otherwise—will often return to the place of their first date on their anniversary to remember what it was like to fall in love and to enkindle those feelings anew.  Families will gather around pictures and slide shows of holidays or vacations together to remember the joy that they shared so as to strengthen their bonds as a family.  Even individuals (perhaps, however, only the introverted ones) will return to that private spot in the park or the woods where they found comfort or peace so as to find it again.  And all this to remember—to try and “make present again”—the good moments that we’ve experienced in our lives.
    In the reading from the Book of Exodus that we heard today, we find the ancient Israelites only a short time into their journey out of slavery in Egypt towards the land of freedom into which God had promised to lead them.  Nonetheless, they seem to have forgotten both the powerful miracles that God had done that freed them from slavery and the oppressive hardships that they endured as we find them grumbling against God and Moses: the suffering of traveling through the desert appearing to them to be worse than what they had endured in Egypt.  In order to remind them of his mighty works—and, thus, his care for them—God provides them with miraculous food from heaven: birds that flock into the camp at night and bread that appears from the morning frost over the ground in the morning.  These daily miracles will occur until they enter the promised land as a reminder of that exhilarating moment when God led them out of slavery and into freedom.
In the Gospel reading, we see the people who had eaten from the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish seek out Jesus and ask him for more signs.  Jesus uses this opportunity to teach them that his miraculous works were not only meant to feed them in their hunger, but also to remind them of their utter dependence on God.  Jesus, in a sense, commends the people for remembering how God provided bread in the desert for their ancestors, but then clarifies for them that it was not Moses who provided the bread for them, but rather God the Father—who is his Father: and who is the same Father who has provided the “food that endures for eternal life”, his Son Jesus the Christ.  In the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, and in this teaching, Jesus is showing the people that he, in his very person, is “making present again” God’s saving work.
     Hopefully, it won’t be too much of a stretch then when I tell you that the Eucharist that we celebrate here is also, in part, anamnesis.  As all of you know, I’m sure, (and if you don’t know, you’re going to learn right now) the Mass is celebrated in two distinct parts: the Liturgy of the Word, when we hear readings from Holy Scripture that remind us of the sacred events of salvation history and recall the teachings of Jesus and how they apply to us today, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when we celebrate the holy meal in which Christ’s body and blood is made present to us and we offer them to God as the one perfect and enduring sacrifice that atones for our sins.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read that…
Christian liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualizes them, makes them present.  The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated.  It is the celebrations that are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present. (1104)
And so, this remembering through re-enacting the events of nearly 2000 years ago makes present for us again Christ’s enduring act of our salvation so as to assure us that God’s saving work continues to be present to us today.
Many of the ancient Jews missed out on Jesus their Savior because they couldn’t imagine that God would make bread come down from heaven again.  They forgot anamnesis and only remembered the manna as something that had happened in the past and was finished.  We do the same thing if we come here and think that this celebration is only an empty ritual memorializing events of the past that have no impact on what is happening today.  But if we come here acknowledging that we, too, are pilgrims wandering through a desert, we will find that God’s Word is not some dead ink on a piece of paper, but a living word, ready to meet us here and to give us guidance.  And if we come here crying out as the ancient Israelites did, “Would that we had died... in Egypt!” then we will find that bread has again come down from heaven onto this altar to strengthen us for our continued journey.
My brothers and sisters, our experience in the mass ought to give us a feeling of déjà vu.  In other words, we ought to feel as if what we experience here today is something that we’ve already experienced before.  When we do, then we will have truly entered into the mystery of what takes place in this liturgy: the blurring of the lines between time and eternity.  May God, who always remains close to us, help us with his grace so that we can truly see the mystery we celebrate and thus be lead to the praise worthy of him, the offering of our selves united to his Son’s eternal sacrifice here on this altar.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – August 4th & 5th, 2018

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Eucharist is a sacrifice


Homily: 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          If I were to mention the word “sacrifice” in the context in which we are standing—that is here in a Church during a religious service—most of us would probably know what I was talking about.  That’s because sacrifice, in a religious context, almost immediately calls forward images of the ritual sacrifices offered by ancient peoples: animals or other objects offered on an altar in homage to a god or gods.  And this is true enough, for in a religious context this is the basic definition of a sacrifice.  However, I think that there is a much broader definition of sacrifice—one that we encounter outside of the religious context—that allows us to understand sacrifice a little more directly and to see how sacrifice is actually something that we encounter regularly in our daily lives.
          In a more general context, sacrifice is the surrender or destruction of something that is prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.  And if we think about it, I guess we could find that, in big and small ways, we do this almost every day.  Families will give up vacations so as to save money for a new home or a college education for their children.  Parents will sell the sports car in order to purchase a minivan as their families begin to grow.  Some will refuse to take a new job because it would move them too far away from loved ones.  Others, however, will even leave their native country in order to provide a better life for their families.  Every couple of years, either in the winter or in the summer, this ideal of sacrifice is on display during the Olympics, where athletes from around the world who have sacrificed years of their lives in order to strive for greatness in a particular sport compete for one prize—an Olympic medal—that makes their sacrifices worthwhile.  Without doubt, sacrifice is something familiar to us.
          And that’s good, because sacrifice is a very important aspect of the Eucharist that we celebrate each and every week.  The unique thing about the Eucharist considered as a sacrifice, however,  is that while at the same time it is a sacrifice like those made by ancient peoples, in which an offering is immolated on an altar, it is also a sacrifice that never ends and is constantly being re-presented because of its most perfect and enduring nature.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that: The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” (1367)  And so, the sacrifice that we offer week after week is the one, eternal sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  It is the only perfect sacrifice.  And so, uniting ourselves to it becomes the only way to make our lives an acceptable sacrifice to God. (cf. 2100)
          The Church also teaches us that an outward sacrifice that is not an expression of an inward sacrifice of spirit is empty (2100).  And Psalm 51 reminds us that “the sacrifice acceptable to God is a contrite spirit.”  And so we have to ask ourselves: “When we come here each week, do we do it merely out of external duty or do we do it to offer something of ourselves to God?”  If we are here only because we fear what God will do to us if we don’t show up, then I think that we are missing the point.  Don’t get me wrong, we all need a reason to be here and if fear of punishment is all you have this week, well then that’s something.  But the real fruit of our weekly sacrifice will only be found when we come here to unite our daily sacrifices of prayer and work to Christ’s eternal sacrifice.  In other words, our sacrifice of prayer in this building will mean little to us individually unless we bring forward the sacrifices of our daily lives to be offered with Christ’s on this altar.
          Sometimes, however, we can convince ourselves that our offerings don’t amount to much.  This is not new.  As we saw in our readings today, two persons were asked to place their meager offerings before a multitude of people: to sacrifice what they had for a greater purpose.  To each of them, it didn’t look like much; but to God it was enough to multiply and satisfy.  They couldn’t see this, however, until they were invited to make the offering.  They thought their offering was barely enough to cover their own needs.  What they found, however, was that, when offered to God, their small sacrifices served a much greater purpose.  In other words: their sacrifice, united through the “man of God” to God’s sacrifice, was made abundantly fruitful.
          And so this is our work: to daily acknowledge the connection between the sacrifices we make every day and the one, perfect, and abundant sacrifice that Christ offered on the cross; and then to bring those sacrifices here to be offered with Christ’s and lifted up to God in prayer and praise.  Perhaps you can even find practical ways of doing this, like writing down your sacrifices during the week on small slips of paper and then dropping them into the collection basket next week.  Then, as you watch as the basket is brought to the altar, you will be able see your sacrifices going up to be offered with the bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Christ, the true and perfect sacrifice.  Whatever way you choose, find some way to recollect the small and big sacrifices that you will make this coming week so that you can offer them here and you will begin to find that your participation in this celebration will be much more fruitful. ///
          You know, I think that we have a special opportunity in these coming weeks, as we hear more from these Eucharistic passages of John’s Gospel, to reflect on and renew our experience of this miraculous event and of its sacramental renewal here in the Mass.  And so I encourage you to spend time reflecting on these Gospel passages each day of this week and the weeks following (yes, I said each day).  In fact, we can begin right now in the silence that follows before we profess the Creed.  Let these words soak into your heart and ask God for the faith to see the truth of what he has promised: that our sometimes meager sacrifices can be made abundantly fruitful when united to Christ’s one, perfect sacrifice.
          My brothers and sisters, if you pay close attention to what follows, you’ll see that our prayers and actions are all pointed toward making that connection between the offerings of our lives and the life offered here on this altar.  And so let us turn, now, to him and make an offering of ourselves acceptable to God our Almighty Father.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – July 29th, 2018

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The true Shepherd-King must lead us


Homily: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B
          Friends, these last couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about prophets, centering our reflections around their call to prophesy: the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel and Amos, and the New Testament prophets (those we also call Evangelists), the Apostles.  This week we hear from another prophet, the prophet Jeremiah, but our focus today is more on his message.
          Jeremiah’s message is a message of warning to the leaders of God’s people.  He is warning them because, instead of leading God’s people in right worship and moral conduct, they had been leading them into worship of false gods and allowed moral depravity.  This was terrible for the very reasons listed: that the Kings of God’s people were more than just “governors”, meant to help maintain order in civil life.  They were shepherds, meant to lead God’s people and to keep them from falling into sin.
          Ultimately, they were supposed to be shepherds who model God’s own shepherding.  And where do we find an image of God’s own shepherding?  Today’s Psalm, Psalm 23, is a psalm of God’s shepherding.  Written by King David--a shepherd before he was made king, who shepherded God’s people rightly (in spite of his numerous failings throughout the years)--this psalm describes not only God’s shepherding, but the goal of his shepherding.  In essence it says that God shepherds his people to a place of rest: a place in which it is safe, tranquil, and in which they can flourish in abundance.  In this, we should hear an echo of the book of Genesis in which God rests after all his labors and in Exodus in which he commands his people to observe the day of rest (the Sabbath).  Also the voice of Jesus, who said, in criticism of the Pharisees, who made the Sabbath rest a thing of burden for God’s people: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  All in all, the message of Psalm 23 is that God’s shepherding leads mankind to a place of perfect rest.
          Thus, Jeremiah’s critique: the leaders of God’s people were not leading them to rest and flourishing, but rather into greater labor and turmoil.  God, through Jeremiah, says to them: “I myself will gather them and appoint a shepherd who will lead them into my rest.”  He will be a “righteous shoot of David” (God’s true “shepherd-king”) who will be a model of right worship and of moral conduct for God’s people.  Perhaps, however, they didn’t expect that it would be God himself who would come as a descendant of King David to shepherd his people.  Enter, stage right, Jesus in our Gospel reading today.
Today we heard how the Apostles gathered back to Jesus after their mission to proclaim the Gospel in the dispersed towns of Israel and Judah and how Jesus invites them away from it all to rest a while.  As they go, however, the restless people, who have been dying for a true shepherd, follow them; and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was “moved with pity” for them, “for they were like sheep without a shepherd”.  Jesus came to shepherd God’s people into rest--into true shalom, that is, peace--and so he cannot turn away from them in their restlessness.  Here we see the reason for Saint Paul’s words from our second reading: “He came and preached peace (i.e. shalom) to those who were far off and peace to those who were near…”
          Friends, Jesus is the Emmanuel--God with us--who has come to us to shepherd us into God’s Sabbath--his rest.  This is important for us to acknowledge today because, for the past 50-plus years, we’ve allowed the secular world to shepherd us: and it has shepherded us wrongly.  Don’t believe me?  Look around.  By my observation, people today are more restless than ever: and I’m not talking just about being too busy; rather, I’m talking about a loss of psychological, emotional, and spiritual stability.
A prophet of our own time, Blessed Pope Paul VI, predicted unrest 50 years ago when he released his encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae, otherwise known as, On the Regulation of Birth.  In it, Blessed Paul VI sought to reinforce and clarify the Church’s teaching on the immorality of the use of artificial methods of birth control.  His prescient moment, however, came in section 17 of the document in which he predicted three detrimental outcomes if the use of artificial contraceptives became widespread: 1) marital infidelity would increase (possible pregnancy, while not a positive deterrent to infidelity, was an effective one, nonetheless); 2) men would begin to view women as objects for satisfying their pleasure alone and begin to discard them as soon as they ceased to satisfy them (Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo, anyone?); 3) Governments, seeing that these methods have become accepted within the family, will begin to impose the use of contraceptives on people.  Believe me when I tell you that the HHS mandate that coverage for contraceptives be included in “health care” plans is but a few short steps removed from “you must abort your baby if it is diagnosed with Down Syndrome”.
Friends, the results of these predictions are on display for us today: a deep restlessness as families, who have allowed the secular culture to shepherd them, struggle to find ways to keep it all together as the barriers to infidelity, objectification, and government influence have been dismantled.  Unfortunately, Catholic families have not been immune as surveys have confirmed that Catholics follow the trends of the public at large in regard to attitudes surrounding the use of artificial contraception; and the statistics regarding marital infidelity and divorce bear this out: with Catholic families trending along the same path as the public at large.
And so, what is the answer?  Well, it’s to return to Christ and to allow him to shepherd us rightly into the rest--that is, the shalom (or peace)--that he wants for us.  To do this, we need to allow the Church, led by Christ’s Vicar, the Pope, to lead us.  Statistics have also shown that families who conform themselves to the teachings of the Church have happier and more stable marriages; and that children who come from homes in which these teachings are followed lead more stable and fulfilling lives.  It’s no guarantee, of course, human weakness always must be accounted for, but social science bears out that this is a much more solid foundation on which to build a family.
And we are so blessed here in this diocese to have many dedicated persons who can help couples learn responsible family planning through natural family planning methods: methods, that is, which do not separate the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality and thus work to enhance a married couple’s relationship, even as it helps them to responsibly space out births.  If even just Catholic families embraced these methods as a way for Christ to shepherd them as a family, our society would be affected in positive ways and our restlessness would begin to subside.
Friends, Christ is our Shepherd--Emmanuel, God with us--who has come to gather us: those who have been far away and those who are near, so that he can lead us into his rest.  As we worship him here today in this Eucharist, let us allow him to shepherd us anew in our daily lives so that the peace (or shalom) that each of our hearts seek might be known; and that the world’s restlessness might be transformed into the peace of God’s kingdom.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN - July 21st & 22nd, 2018

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The unexpected prophet


Homily: 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          Fr. Ron Knott is a priest on the staff of Saint Meinrad Seminary where I received my formation for the priesthood.  A priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Fr. Ron celebrated his 48th anniversary of his ordination earlier this year.  In some clergy circles, he’s becoming quite well-known for his work in the field of ongoing formation of priests and presbyterates.  Yet, he’s done so much more.  Before his work of teaching and forming seminarians for the priesthood, he directed and guided the discernment of seminarians for his own Archdiocese as its vocation director.  Before that, he led a multi-year, multi-million dollar revitalization program for the Archdioceses’ cathedral parish, which not only included a renovation of the cathedral church, but also generated projects for revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood in downtown Louisville.  Before that, he worked in the home missions in poor, rural Kentucky, building a sturdy parish family off of the just four or five registered Catholics who were in the entire county when he arrived.  Without doubt, in his 48-plus years of priesthood, Fr. Ron has made a positive impact on both his home Archdiocese and on priests and presbyterates throughout the country.
          Yet, one might have never suspected such things from the young man who, by his own report, was so deathly afraid to speak in front of people that he once hid on a fire escape to avoid a presentation he was expected to make.  No, even though now he can be a bit gregarious, he does not exactly fit the mold of the charismatic prophet, such as we might find on Sunday morning Tele-evangelist programs.
          The prophet Amos was not your typical prophet either.  Back in ancient Palestine, there were actually guilds of “professional” prophets.  These were not “soothsayers” purporting to see into the future, but rather individuals—often employed by kings—who were skilled in discerning the gods’ response to current events.  These were not unlike the “political advisors” employed by public officials today.  Although it may sound quite odd to us, back then it was a legitimate way to make a living: not unlike being a part of any of the professional guilds of skilled labor that exist today.
          The hazard of the profession was that the only way to know if your prophecy was true was to wait and see what happened.  Thus if a certain employer was anxious about the potential negative consequences of a certain situation, he might take offense at a prophet that comes to tell him that what he fears is the likely course of events.  And so, on the flipside, prophets would often be tempted to compromise their professional integrity by telling their employer what they wanted to hear instead of what they discerned the true response to be.
          And so, like I said, Amos didn’t fit this bill.  God had called him from his work tending sheep and dressing sycamore trees to go into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (from his home in the Southern Kingdom of Judah) to prophesy the coming danger for the people of that kingdom.  Needless to say, it wasn’t received well up north.  The reading tells us that Amaziah—the priest, of all people (talk about a little stab to the heart right there!)—was trying to get rid of Amos, because he didn’t want to hear the message from God that Amos came to bring.  This priest accused Amos of trying to scam his way into being paid for his prophecy, to which Amos responded: “I’m no prophet.  I’m a shepherd called by God to bring you this word.  If you don’t like it, take it up with him.  I’m just responding to what God has called me to do.”  Amaziah, the priest, then, couldn’t escape the fact that Amos had nothing to gain by making this prophecy and thus that his prophecy truly must have come from God.
          In the Gospel reading we heard of a similar type of call.  We heard how Christ called the twelve apostles and sent them out to preach his message.  These were certainly no guild prophets—they were fishermen, zealots, and tax collectors—but Christ sent them out anyway.  And he instructed them to take only the barest of necessities: the tunic they were wearing, a walking stick and sandals.  For the rest, they were to rely on whatever was shared with them by those who received the message they were bringing; and this was so the people would know that they were not professional prophets.  Like Amos before them and Fr. Ron after them, these men were not what the people expected a prophet to be.  The irony, of course, is that this made them all the more trustworthy to those who were truly anticipating the coming of the Messiah.
          My brothers and sisters, God has not stopped calling prophets to carry his messages to his people.  And he certainly hasn’t limited his gift of prophecy to his ordained ministers.  Rather, he continues to call the unassuming: the bank clerk, the insurance broker, the mechanic, the hog farmer and the feed corn supplier—and he continues to send us out to bring his message to his people.  How we realize that ministry in our lives and as a faith community takes prayer and discernment—both individually and collectively—but make no mistake, by virtue of our baptism, we are all called.
          To respond, of course, is not always easy.  Rather, it takes an act of faith to give ourselves over to this call.  But, as the prophet Amos, the twelve apostles, and Fr. Ron has shown us, you don’t have to be a professional prophet to go.  You only need a willingness to do God’s will and the trust that God has provided the message.
          Thankfully, we have the Eucharist—God’s presence among us—to nourish us and strengthen us for this holy work.  May the grace we receive here today free us from whatever fears we might have that keep us from engaging this holy work and may it strengthen us to carry this Good News to those to whom God has sent us.
Given at Saint Mary Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – July 15th, 2018

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Being a faithful prophet


Homily: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Friends, it's important as we begin our reflection today to remember that we must give thanks in our hearts for the Word of God that we just heard.  We know that every encounter with the Word of God is an encounter with Christ, the living God, whose very life is our salvation.  This is why we say at the end of each reading "thanks be to God" and at the end of the Gospel reading "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ".  Those moments of silence that occur after each reading and the Responsorial Psalm are moments to relish that our God has spoken to us.  And so, while it is not always possible to relish in those moments (a squirmy child or an ill-timed sneeze can get in the way), we should always strive to be recollected in those moments.
The truth is that, when the word of God comes to us, it changes us... if we let it.  [repeat]  This is the story of all the prophets, especially those about whom we heard in today's readings.  In each case, the Word of God breaks into their lives and urges them into a new direction.  Although the prophet can choose to refuse the calling that God has given to them, they cannot ignore the fact that they have been called; and by that very fact, itself, their lives have been changed.  The prophet Jonah is a great example of the latter.  He refused God's call to prophesy to the people of Nineveh, but couldn't go back to his life before he encountered God's Word.  Rather, it sent him in a completely different direction.  Ultimately, into the belly of a whale!
The prophet Ezekiel, however, is an example of the former: one who encountered God's Word and responded positively to it.  His life, too, was sent in a completely different direction in order to fulfill a task that God had given to him.  Notice, however, that the defining characteristic of these prophets is not the success they had in getting people to conform to God's word, but rather it was their obedience and their faithfulness to the call that was their glory.
Ezekiel was called to preach to his own people who had fallen away from the right practice of religion and moral conduct.  He wasn't someone of high social status to whom people would automatically listen and he was bringing a message that would surely be unpopular: "God is angry with you for the way you are living.  Repent and turn back to God in penance or else he will punish you!"  For a people who don't think that they're doing anything wrong, this is a tough message to sell!  Throughout Ezekiel's call, however, God emphasizes that it is imperative for him to follow-through: noting on more than one occasion that for him not to speak is to bring the Israelite guilt on his own head; whereas if he does speak to them—in such a way so that the Israelites "shall know that a prophet has been among them"—any further refusal on their part will cause their guilt to remain on them.  Again, what we see in this is that it is Ezekiel's job to bring God's Word into contact with the Israelite people, so that it might change their lives; and that his success will be measured not by converts, but by his obedience and faithfulness to the call.
Christ, as we heard in our Gospel reading today, is the example par excellence for us.  From the very moment of the incarnation in the virginal womb of Mary, Christ was obedient and faithful to God's will.  Time and again, Jesus was rejected by his own people—in other words, he was unsuccessful by any standard—yet he remained faithful and obedient, nonetheless.  Because of this—that is, his faithfulness to the end—he is now glorified in heaven with the Father.
Friends, each of us have been touched by the Word of God and so have been changed.  Therefore, we, too, must respond to God's call to prophesy.  How often, however, do we refuse to follow God's call—that is, we refuse to speak God's Word of truth—simply because we think that we'll be unsuccessful?  In other words, how often do we refuse to speak up—to a family member, a friend, or a coworker—because we think that they will ignore us or, worse yet, reject us: thus, damaging our relationship?  Friends, these are not excuses in God's eyes; and so, even when we think that we will be unsuccessful, God, nonetheless, demands that we go; and so, we must go, remembering that God will not judge us based on whether we were successful in turning hearts back to him, but rather on whether we were obedient and faithful.
Thus, the questions for us today are these: Who is it with whom God is asking me to share his Word?  If I am resistant, why?  What's holding me back?  How can I exercise trust in God in small things, so as to be prepared to trust him in these big things?  This is our "homework" for this week: to allow these questions to lead us to discern where and with whom God is calling me to act.  If we don't feel ready to act (perhaps because it's a big conversation that we're not ready to have), then our work is to ask God to reveal smaller ways in which we can act throughout the week—for example, a simple act of kindness for a stranger that we might not otherwise do—so as to build our trust in God and in his call.  Ultimately, however, if God's Word has called us, we need to act.  Whether or not the person (or persons) to whom we bring this Word respond is God's problem, not ours.  Our problem is to ensure that the Word of God has been spoken to them: that is, in such a way that they "shall know that a prophet has been among them."
Friends, Christ is with us in this work.  He is the Word that we are called to speak.  As we receive him in this Eucharist, let's abandon ourselves to him and allow him to speak through us.
Given at Saint Mary Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – July 8th, 2018

Friday, July 6, 2018

Your faith has saved you


Homily: 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          One of the more “epic” moments in television in the last twenty years occurred in 2004 on the Oprah Winfrey show.  In many ways, Oprah was at the height of her popularity at this time and she was using it to great advantage for others.  Now, I don’t recall of the background of that day’s show, but I remember that Oprah started by gifting eleven teachers, who were reputed to be extremely self-giving and, thus, were in financial trouble, with a new car.  This was an incredible gesture by itself, but Oprah wasn’t finished.  She then told the audience that she had one more car to give away and that one of them in the audience would receive it.  The staff then brought out identical gift boxes for each member of the audience and Oprah instructed them that in one of these boxes was a key to the twelfth car and whoever had that key in their box would take that car home.
          What happened next, of course, is what launched this moment into “epic” status: when Oprah commanded that the boxes be opened, the audience members found that each and every one of them had a key in it.  No, this wasn’t a trick.  Oprah intended to give each audience member a brand new car.  Because there was so much excitement—screaming and crying—mixed with confusion about whether or not this could be real, all you see is Oprah screaming over and over again: “You get a car, you get a car, you get a car… everybody gets a car!  Everybody gets a car!”  Now, perhaps none of us were in the audience that day, but you would have to have a pretty cold and hard heart not to feel a sense of joy for those audience members who received such an undeserved gift from someone that they didn’t even know.
          I can imagine, too, that every audience for every show after that day walked in wondering “Will today be another day like that one?  Will I walk out of here with something I never dreamed of getting?”  None really have since then, of course, which is what makes that moment in 2004 so epic.  Sometimes, however, I wonder if this isn’t how we approach Jesus, especially here at Mass.
          As we read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, we learn of how Jesus often healed the sick and even brought back to life those who had died.  Most of us, I’m sure, were already following him before we came to understand his incredible power to heal: in other words, we were coming to Mass and trying to follow his teaching.  Perhaps one day we came to know that Jesus worked a healing in someone else’s life.  And perhaps, once we learned of this healing, we began to expect a healing for ourselves.  And so, perhaps, we began to come to Mass hoping that this time would be one of those times that Jesus would appear before us and, like Oprah that day, dole out healings to everyone: “You get a healing, you get a healing, you get a healing… everybody gets a healing!”
          Perhaps, however, we aren’t even expecting anything that dramatic.  Perhaps, we are more like the woman in the Gospel today, who had been afflicted for twelve years with a hemorrhage.  Since a bleeding like that made her “ritually unclean”, she was excluded and needed to refrain from coming in contact with others for fear of making them “unclean” also.  And so, it’s understandable that she would approach Jesus in the way that she did.  “I’m embarrassed enough to have this defilement,” I imagine her thinking, “so instead of approaching Jesus directly, I’ll simply sneak up behind him and touch his clothes: surely his power to heal will come to me.”  Surely enough, it did.
          Having been healed, the woman then tried to slip away; but Jesus wouldn’t allow it.  You see, Jesus didn’t come just to bring healings: that is, just to spread joy by doling out healings to anyone who approached him, without concern for who the person was.  Rather, he came to bring forth the kingdom of God, which was a restoration of God’s original plan for each of our lives.  Therefore, when the woman was healed—that is, when the power of healing had “gone out of him”—Jesus took notice and decided to make this moment a teaching moment.  He wanted people to see this woman—whom they all knew to be the one who had been afflicted by hemorrhages for twelve years—and to see that she was now healed by her faith in him and thus restored to her status in the community.  In other words, for Jesus it wasn’t enough that she was healed; rather, he desired that her life also be restored; and for that, he needed to address her personally.
          This is also true of the young girl whom Jesus brought back to life.  Jairus, the synagogue official, came in faith to ask Jesus to heal his daughter, who was sick and at the point of death and Jesus agrees to come.  Even though the delay of addressing the woman healed from hemorrhaging meant that the child died before he arrived, Jesus remained unperturbed.  When he arrived and saw the mourning of those already in the house, he invited them to see this situation with the “eyes of the kingdom” when he said “the child is not dead but asleep.”  It was a reality that wasn’t visible to them, but that he would soon make visible to them: for in the “eyes of the kingdom” worldly death is no longer death, but rather a temporary sleep; and to prove this, Jesus resuscitates the twelve year old girl.
          As incredible as this was, Jesus once again proved that he didn’t come simply to dole out healings or to resuscitate people after they died.  He came with a concern of restoring people in the fullness of the kingdom of God.  Therefore, Jesus didn’t simply give the breath of life back to the little girl; rather he then saw that the girl was hungry and demanded that she be given something to eat.  In other words, his healings were never functional only; but rather they always came with a tenderness—a deep and abiding concern for the one who was healed: that he or she would not only experience healing, but also have his or her life restored completely.
          This, my brothers and sisters, is God’s plan for us.  We heard in the reading from the book of Wisdom that “God did not make death”; and in the Gospel reading Jesus proves to us that, even though God did not make death, he certainly isn’t powerless before it.  No, death was never part of God’s plan for us.  Death, rather, entered the world because of Satan’s envy, which led him to deceive our first parents into sinning against God.  God sent his Son, though, not just to demonstrate his power by doling out healings to anyone who asked for it, but rather to restore us to life—that is, to his original plan for us—by freeing us from eternal death.
          This restoration, however, isn’t automatic.  Like Jairus, the synagogue official, and like the woman afflicted with hemorrhages, we must first come to Jesus in faith to seek this healing if we ever hope to receive it.  This faith, however, must not only be in Jesus’ power to heal—though that is fundamental—but it must also be faith in his will: faith, that is, that Jesus’ will is wiser than my will so that, if his will is that I not be healed at this time, I might not despair and thus lose all faith, even in his power to heal.
          Ultimately, my brothers and sisters, the choice is ours.  When we choose to place our faith in Jesus—and in his power to save us—we choose God’s original plan for us: which the book of Wisdom tells us is a plan “to be imperishable; the image of God’s own nature…”  When we do otherwise—placing our faith in ourselves or in someone or something else—we place ourselves in the company of the devil, through whose envy death entered the world.  The book of Wisdom tells us that to keep company with him makes us susceptible to it: death, that is, in the “eyes of the kingdom”, which is eternal suffering and sorrow… eternal separation from God.
          You know, Oprah did a great thing that day back in 2004.  Her gift, however, was a momentary thing and could not restore the lives of the people in her audience that day.  Through Jesus God offers us so much more than a one-time gift can give us: he offers us the opportunity to have our lives restored to his original plan: a plan where death—and the sorrow and suffering that comes because of it—no longer has any place.  Ultimately, we must choose this plan over the many others that the world offers.  We choose it by saying “Amen” to Jesus when he appears on this altar; and when we live our lives with the “eyes of the kingdom”, looking beyond our life in this world to our life in the world to come.  My brothers and sisters, God desires to give us this life, because we matter to him.  Let us choose this life for ourselves today—and everyday—so that we, too, may go in peace, healed and ready to proclaim this Good News.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral Parish: Lafayette, IN  - July 1st, 2018