Sunday, November 10, 2019

Hope makes us live differently

Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Friends, we are now well into the month of November, which for us Catholics also means that we are approaching the end of the Liturgical Year.  Although the readings for Mass have already been hinting at it for the last several weeks, this week our readings shift our focus away from the nuts and bolts of our daily discipleship and toward consideration of “last things”, that is, the things that will come at the end of time.  This week, in particular, the focus of our readings is on the reality of the resurrection from the dead.
In our first reading, we heard the testimony of three of the seven Israelite brothers who, with their mother, were being tortured by the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes in order to make them apostatize—that is, denounce their faith—by eating pork, which they believed God forbade them to eat.  Each of these three courageously handed over their lives to their torturers rather than denounce their faith in God by breaking the Law that he had given them; and it was their hope in the fact that God could and would raise them to life again that gave them that courage.  In other words, they believed in God’s promise of eternal life to those who remained faithful to his Laws and commandments and so they knew that, if they kept themselves pure according to God’s law, even if they should die at the hands of men, God would one day raise them to life again.  And so, we see that our belief in the resurrection means something about how we live our lives before we die: for if there’s no resurrection, then eat pork and enjoy your life, while you have it; if there is a resurrection, however, then we ought to seek to serve the one through whom the resurrection will come (that is, God), so as not to incur his wrath.
In the Gospel reading, in answering the dilemma that the Sadducees put forth, Jesus doesn’t describe for us how we should live our lives in this world, but rather describes a glimpse of how eternal life will look.  He describes life after the resurrection of the dead as one in which those who have been raised to life “can no longer die”, indicating that it will be an immortal life which will extend through all eternity.  Now eternity, I think, can be a very hard thing to imagine.  Fr. Larry Richards, who is a parish priest from Erie, Pennsylvania, and who travels to speak nationally, has one of the best illustrations about the length of time which is eternity and he describes it in this way: he says, “Imagine that, in eternity, every step requires 1,000 years to take and that you have been given the job to take every grain of sand from every beach and on every ocean floor, one at a time, to the top of Mt. Everest.  You can imagine the countless billions of years that it would take to accomplish this task.  Yet once you have finished this task,” he says, “eternity is just beginning.”  He describes it in this way in order to put into sharp contrast the reality that with our infinitesimally short time on earth (in comparison to eternity) we will determine how we will spend eternity (either in heaven or in hell).  Thus, once again, our belief in the resurrection of the dead means something about how we ought to live our lives before we die.
In his encyclical, Spe Salvi (in English, In Hope We Were Saved), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “the one who has hope lives differently.”  Hope, as he speaks about it and in the Christian sense, is not merely “optimism” about the future—that is, good feelings that, in the end, things will come out positive for us.  Rather, it is the grace of a vision of a real, positive outcome that we see is concretely possible for us to attain in the future, even if it is beyond our power.  Thus, we see how it is possible for one who has hope to live differently: for he/she no longer need worry about what can happen in the present time, because one sees the vision of the positive outcome for him/herself in the future.  This is the hope that the Israelite brothers and their mother had which gave them courage to endure horrendous torture and death: hope that provided the vision of the positive outcome for them—that is, the resurrection to an everlasting life.
Last week, at the end of Mass, we heard a testimony from our parishioners describing how being involved in the ministries of Saint Mary’s has made a positive impact on their lives.  Each one of them was a testimony of hope: that what is sacrificed in this present time is of no account in light of the positive outcome that awaits those who are faithful to the Lord.  I pray that you have reflected on these things over this past week and are now ready to make or re-make your commitments of your time and talent to the ministries of Saint Mary’s.  I pray that your reflection has been full of hope (and, thus, gratitude): gratitude for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ which has made a life beyond this life possible for us, and hope that, through baptism, we will one day enjoy that life.
Therefore, if you are ready to do so, I now invite you to make your commitment by turning over your time and talent commitment card to us.  Hopefully you brought yours with you today.  If not, there are extras in the pew.  I’ll give you a few moments to complete them, if necessary, before inviting the ushers to come forward and collect them.  They will then be brought forward to be placed at the altar and, thus united to the sacrifice that is our hope: the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood for our salvation.  If you are not ready to make your commitment today, don’t worry.  Know that you can make your commitment at any time.
May God bless you all for your openness to serve and may Mary’s prayers strengthen us to bring these good commitments to fulfillment.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 9th & 10th, 2019

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Importance of Being Earnest

Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

          The Oscar Wilde play, The Importance of Being Earnest, takes as its starting point a play on the homonyms “Ernest”, the man’s name, and “earnest”, the adjective meaning: showing sincere or intense conviction.  In the play, two men use an alter-ego named Ernest to woo young ladies to their favor.  Their deception is discovered, of course.  After a few, quite humorous plot twists, through which the men come clean on who they are—and then, in one case, discover that they are more than they thought they were—each of the men end up with their chosen maidens.  Without giving the whole plot away, it turned out to be very important that one of them actually be named Ernest; and, for that to happen, that man had to be earnest (that is, he had to be sincere).  It is a delightful comedy and I recommend that you read the play or watch one of the movie adaptations if you have a chance.

          I bring this up today because of the story of Zacchaeus in our Gospel reading.  It’s a great story and worthy of our reading over and over, thinking about who Zacchaeus is—imagining ourselves as him—and thinking about how Jesus responds to him—and how we would feel if Jesus would respond to us in the same way in that situation—and then how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus—and whether we would be so bold as to respond in the same way.  I encourage us all to make this a prayer exercise that we engage this week.

          Putting all of that aside for right now, here’s what Zacchaeus can teach us today.  Now, Zacchaeus was a bad man.  Not only was he a tax collector, but he was a chief tax collector!  Thus, he was despised by all of his kinsmen for collaborating with the Roman occupiers and for making money on it, to boot.  You could imagine that he could have become complacent and have given up his religious upbringing, seeing how lucrative it was to work for the Romans.  Perhaps, to some extent, he did just that.  Nevertheless, he didn’t give it all up; and we know this because of his reaction to Jesus’ passing through Jericho.

          Instead of ignoring the commotion as an inconvenience to his day, he still felt a fascination with the religion of his upbringing and, therefore, sought to see what the “hubbub” about this preacher from Galilee was all about.  His actions—climbing a tree to see Jesus, rushing down to welcome him into his home, and denouncing any unjust actions from his past and promising to make restitution for them—demonstrate that Zacchaeus was, indeed, earnest.  Because of this, Jesus declared that salvation had come to him and to his household (much to the chagrin of those around him who wanted to see him condemned as a great sinner).

          My friends, a lesson, therefore, for us to take away today is this: While our sins do, indeed, separate us from God and harm others, if we earnestly seek to know Jesus, if we earnestly respond to his invitation to communion, and if we, therefore, earnestly strive to turn away from our sins and make restitution for them, then salvation will be ours.  Because of the weakness of our human natures, we may fail miserably in our efforts to do these things; but if we, nonetheless, do them earnestly (and constantly!), then God will have mercy on us and grant us the salvation that we could not earn for ourselves.
Friends, if this isn’t “good news”, then I don’t know what is.  Let us give thanks, therefore, in this Eucharist for this gracious gift; and let us ask for the grace of earnestness—the earnestness of Zacchaeus—so that we might be ready to greet the Lord when he comes on the last day.

Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 3rd, 2019

Monday, October 28, 2019

Submitting to God's mercy

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          A few years before I entered the seminary, I had hit what I would call a “personal low-point”.  Things in my life seemed to me to be unraveling.  I had been working as an engineer for a few years and was very disappointed in the way my career was already shaping up.  I had also just been through the disastrous breakup of a relationship that had lasted nearly three years (with the disastrous part being completely my fault).  On top of that, I found myself questioning the faith in which I was raised.  Basically, the foundation rocks of my future—career, marriage, religious faith and practice—seemed to be crumbling in front of me and I was in crisis.
          By God’s grace, in the midst of all of this, I was moved to participate in the mission my parish was having.  At that mission I came to recognize that the things that I thought were the rock foundation of my future were really just sand, because I had ignored God’s commandments and was building them of my own accord.  I felt ashamed and for the first time in my life truly knew what it meant to ask for God’s mercy.
          From that point on, however, I began to build.  I tried to learn more about my faith and began to study the Bible and the Catechism.  I began to attend Mass daily and started to get very involved in my parish.  I made many positive friendships with people who helped support my desire to live virtuously and, two years later, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
          At that time, I also met a wonderful young woman and we began to date.  I was so excited about this relationship because I felt that it was the first time that I was truly dating according to God’s plan and not my own.  The only problem was that I had started to become complacent and self-assured in the daily practice of my faith.  So much so, that I started to exhibit some self-righteousness.  This woman who I was dating began to see through that and when she called me out on it I was shocked, then angry that she had done so, but then, once again, I found myself ashamed and in desperate need of God’s mercy.
          And so, for me, I find a lot to relate to in the Pharisee from today’s Gospel reading.  He had mastered all of the regulations in the Law of Moses, which was no small feat!  The Law contains over 600 regulations and, just to be sure that they never encroached even on those, the Pharisees added their own “safeguard” regulations on top of them.  Thus, to master all of these laws, one had to be very disciplined and conscientious.  His problem, however, was that he let all of that get to his head and his self-assuredness became self-righteousness.  And so, we see in the Gospel reading how he came before God not to lay his work before God’s judgment, but rather to crown himself with a crown of righteousness.
          I relate to him because I feel like I had been acting similar to him.  I was following all of God’s commandments and often found myself judging myself righteous in comparison to others.  I boasted of always “striving to do God’s will” even though I was not actually prayerfully discerning what God was calling me to do.  I knew that I wasn’t perfect, but I had become complacent in being “better than most”.
          Nonetheless, I also find a lot to relate to in the tax collector.  On top of being a job that other Jews would despise him for doing, the job itself didn’t pay a salary; and so, the only way that he could earn money would be to tack on fees to each transaction.  Well, he quickly realized that he could make a lot of money doing that and so he began to tack on exorbitant fees that were inconsistent with the taxes being paid, which he knew to be unjust.  Thus, he knew that he wasn’t perfect and so it was clear to him that only the mercy of God could earn him any semblance of righteousness.  Therefore, he came before God in the Temple not to proclaim his own righteousness, but rather to accuse himself before God and to beg for his mercy.
          I relate to him because both at the beginning and at the end of this time that I have been describing, I found myself in a similar state: recognizing my own failure to be righteous and thus turning to God to beg for his mercy.  In the first instance, I could accuse myself.  In the second, however, I needed another to accuse me.  In both I either saw or came to see that I needed God’s mercy in order to earn any semblance of righteousness.
          “Ok, so I’m a little confused, Father.  Are you saying we should or shouldn’t strive for righteousness? because it sounds like you just said that the better thing is to remember our need for God’s mercy, but that when we are achieving righteousness we’re apt to forget it.”  Yes, we still need to strive for righteousness; and no needing to constantly remember our need for God’s mercy is no excuse for continuing to commit your favorite sins (useful, perhaps, but not a good idea).  What we need to do is follow Saint Paul’s example, who was righteous in every way according to the Law, following all of the Lord’s commandments, yet who never counted it to be more than rubbish compared to what God’s mercy could do (and did do) in him.  Or how about Pope Francis, who when asked by a reporter to describe himself replied firstly, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”  Yes, my brothers and sisters, we must strive for righteousness, for it is what God has made us for.  But we must also acknowledge our inability to crown ourselves: that is, that we, too, are indeed “sinners whom the Lord has looked upon.”
          Recently I visited one of our homebound parishioners.  When I arrived, he asked almost immediately if I would hear his confession.  He said that he couldn’t really think of any specific sins that he had committed, but that he realized that it had been a long time since he last went to confession; and, acknowledging that God could call him home soon, he didn’t want to have to explain to God why his short memory or weak conscience kept him from receiving His mercy.  “I try to be good,” he was basically saying, “but I know that I’m not perfect.”  “You know what,” I thought, “he gets it.”  This is the humility that Jesus is talking about: the humility that, although he couldn’t accuse himself of any particular sin, nonetheless still acknowledged his need for God’s mercy.
          My brothers and sisters, we are all constantly in need of God’s mercy.  Let us, then, humble ourselves here today before the one who alone can exult us.
Given at Saint Mary Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 27th, 2019

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Erradicar el mal

Homilía: 29º Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario - Ciclo C
          Una de las críticas más extendidas de la fe cristiana es que la Biblia, que los cristianos creen que les revela el Dios del universo, presenta una imagen contradictoria de él entre el Antiguo y el Nuevo Testamentos. Dicen que el Dios que Jesús proclamó es apacible, cariñoso, misericordioso, y justo, mientras que el Dios que aparece en el Antiguo Testamento es violento, vengativo, y lleno de ira. “Dado que la Biblia no puede presentar una imagen coherente de quién es Dios,” ellos dicen, “entonces debe ser falso.”
          En su defensa, el Antiguo Testamento está lleno de historias violentas que narran la lucha de los antiguos israelitas ya sea para entrar en o para mantener su presencia en la tierra que Dios había prometido darles. Sólo mira la primera lectura de hoy. Detalla cómo Josué dirigió al ejército israelita contra los amalecitas y la forma en que "derrotó a los amalecitas y acabó con ellos". Él no sólo destruyó el ejército de Amalec, pero a todo su pueblo, también. Y leemos esto aquí en la misa de hoy, como si este tipo de violencia es algo que se supone que debemos sentir bien. ¿No le parece extraño? No sé; tal vez ya que estamos tan abrumados con imágenes de violencia, tanto reales como falsas, quizá nos hemos "apagado" nuestra sensibilidad a la misma, pero para mí una imagen de este tipo de violencia, aparentemente aprobada por Dios, no me sienta muy bien.
          Una de las cosas que hago yo, a veces, es leer la Biblia demasiado literalmente, como si se trata de la historia científica. Ya saben, la mayoría de las historias que se incluyen en la Biblia fueron entregadas primero de forma oral: es decir, sólo por el boca a boca. Ustedes y yo sabemos que los hechos de la historia muchas veces cambian y mutan, ya que se cuenta una y otra vez, y así que la probabilidad de que las historias que se han conservado para nosotros en la Biblia nos dan la secuencia exacta de los eventos históricos es bastante bajo. ¿Eso los hace falsos? ¡Por supuesto que no! Pero esto nos obliga a tomar una mirada más profunda a como leemos e interpretamos estas historias.
          Al leer la primera lectura de hoy literalmente, se puede concluir que el pueblo escogido de Dios es superior a los demás, por lo que cada vez que otros amenazan el bienestar del pueblo escogido de Dios, que todo hombre, mujer, y niño entre ellos se debe matar. Cuando lo leemos con la imaginación, sin embargo, podemos encontrar un significado mucho más profundo que es consistente con nuestra comprensión de Dios como cariñoso, misericordioso, y justo.
          Mira, esto no es sólo una batalla entre dos naciones donde la nación que se ve favorecida por Dios destruye al otro. En contrario, imagínese que es una batalla entre el bien, representado por los israelitas que fueron escogidos para una relación especial con Dios, y el mal, representado por los amalecitas que eran considerados una fuerza que podría convertir a los israelitas fuera de su relación con Dios. Por lo tanto, la batalla no es físico, sino espiritual, que, sin embargo, se representa en términos físicos, para que podamos entenderlo.
          Con este "lente" para la interpretación de la historia, vemos que esta es una historia acerca de erradicar el mal de entre nosotros para no ser superado por él. Leamos la primera parte de nuevo: "Cuando el pueblo de Israel caminaba a través del desierto [es decir, en su peregrinación al cielo], llegaron los amalecitas y lo atacaron… [es decir, estaba atacado por una mala influencia]. Moisés dijo entonces a Josué... sal y combatir a los amalecitas [es decir, sal y combatir la mala influencia en la batalla]. Mañana, yo me colocaré en lo alto del monte con la vara de Dios en mi mano [es decir, colocaré en oración constante mientras usted realiza esta batalla, para que el poder de Dios estará con nosotros]."
          ¿Hay alguien aquí que ha luchado contra el pecado? Esa batalla siempre tiene esta forma, ¿no? Pecado (es decir, una mala influencia) viene a tentarnos. Nuestra conciencia dice "¡esto es malo, tienes que luchar contra él!" Y nuestra mente y corazón dice... ¿qué? "No importa, conciencia, ¡esto parece divertido!" Bueno, tal vez eso pasa, ¿verdad? Sin embargo, por lo general, dice su mente "Tienes razón, conciencia, tengo que luchar contra esto", y siguen luchar contra el pecado.
          Si sólo nos peleamos la batalla contra una tentación, ¿qué pasa? Se vuelve la tentación por segunda vez, ¿no? ¡Sólo más fuerte! Y por lo que rápidamente aprendemos que no podemos ganar las batallas contra las tentaciones individuales, sino más bien que debemos erradicar la fuente de la mala influencia, así para evitar todas las demás tentaciones de venir. Esto, mis hermanos y hermanas, es lo que significa cuando la lectura dice "Josué derrotó a los amalecitas y acabó con ellos [es decir, la tentación y la raíz de las tentaciones]." ¿Se explico mejor, ahora?
          Bueno, ahora que estamos volviendo bien con esto, mira la parte que Moisés juega en la victoria sobre el pecado. Hay una conexión directa, ¿no? La lectura dice: "sucedió que, cuando Moisés tenía las manos en alto, dominaba Israel, pero cuando las bajaba, Amalec dominaba." Moisés era el intercesor ante Dios en nombre de los Israelitas, ¿y qué más puede esto significa, sino que la oración es fundamental en nuestra lucha contra el mal? Si somos fervientes y constantes en la oración, vamos a superar el mal en nuestras vidas y acabar con su influencia sobre nosotros. Si nos aflojamos, el mal comenzará a adelantarnos y posiblemente destruirnos.
          Pero Moisés necesitaba ayuda, ¿no? Con la ayuda de su hermano Aarón y Jur su compañero, Moisés fue capaz de mantener sus manos en alto en la oración lo suficiente para que Josué y sus hombres pueden ganar la batalla. Por lo tanto, nosotros también necesitamos la ayuda de nuestros hermanos y hermanas a superar y eliminar por completo cualquier mala influencia en nuestras vidas. Por lo tanto, debemos pedirla con frecuencia.
          Y así, ¿qué significa esto? Bueno, significa que tenemos que empezar a usar la imaginación para ver nuestra lucha contra el pecado en términos de una mayor batalla espiritual: el dramático "Bien contra Mal", que constantemente se está librando en todo el universo. Y no estoy hablando sólo de las grandes cosas (las cosas de los diez mandamientos), sino que estoy hablando de las pequeñas cosas: el chisme, la envidia, el juicio que nos encontramos luchando a diario. No es suficiente para ganar una batalla en un día determinado, sino que tenemos que involucrar a la guerra para acabar con sus raíces en nuestra vida.
          Para ello, debemos orar y orar constantemente. Al igual que Josué no podía derrotar a los amalecitas sin la oración de Moisés, no podemos esperar erradicar el pecado de nuestras vidas sin la ayuda de la gracia de Dios en la oración. Cuando nos sentimos demasiado débil para orar, no debemos darnos por vencido, sino que debemos pedir la ayuda de nuestros amigos, nuestra comunidad de fe, porque juntos podemos ganar la guerra. Mis hermanos y hermanas, no debemos tener miedo a asumir esta batalla, porque Dios no dejará de ayudarnos, porque la victoria... si la victoria ya es nuestra en Jesucristo, nuestro Señor.
Dado en la Parroquia San José: Delphi, IN - 20 de octubre 2019

Rooting out evil.

Homily: 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          One of the things that I find very curious about our culture is the paradoxical fascination that we have with violence.  Daily we are bombarded with images of real violence and the suffering that it causes in the news, on social media, and, for some of us, even in our own neighborhoods.  Yet, we continue to fill our senses with “make believe” violence in movies, television, and video games as if we were somehow fascinated with it.  Thus, the paradox is that real violence ought to cause us anguish and so it wouldn’t make sense that even fake violence would be entertaining.  But just one look at the summer movie blockbusters, the latest hit TV shows, and the most popular video games is all it takes to realize that our culture does, indeed, find fake violence strangely entertaining.
          Of course, this is not limited to our modern culture.  One can look back throughout the history of civilization and see that in every age there was some form of “make believe” violence that was used as entertainment; and that some cultures even came to thrive on real violence instead.  Even our Bible is rife with images of violence, particularly in the Old Testament.  Just look at our first reading today.  It details how Joshua led the Israelite army against the Amalekites and how he “mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”  He destroyed not just Amalek’s army, but his entire people, too.  And we read this here in Mass today as if this kind of violence is something that we are supposed to feel good about because the Israelites, God’s people, killed every person from another nation who threatened them.  Doesn’t that seem odd?  I don’t know, maybe since we’ve been so overwhelmed with images of violence, both real and fake, perhaps we’ve “switched off” our sensitivity to it, but for me an image of such violence, seemingly approved by God, doesn’t sit very well.  Perhaps some of you are like me.
          One of the things that I often find myself doing is reading the Bible too literally, as if it is scientific history.  You know, most of the stories that are included in the bible were first handed down orally, that is, solely by word of mouth.  Now you and I both know that the concrete facts of a history will often change and mutate as it is told over and over again and so the likelihood that the historical stories that are preserved for us in the Bible depict for us the exact sequence of historical events is pretty low.  Does that make them any less true?  Of course not.  But it does force us to take a deeper look at how we read and interpret these stories.
          An allegory is a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.  In other words, it’s a literary tool that is used to express something in a way that helps communicate it in a way that just stating the facts wouldn’t be able to express.  When we read today’s first reading literally, we might conclude that God’s chosen people are superior to others and therefore that whenever others threaten the well-being of God’s chosen people, that every man, woman, and child among them should be killed.  When we read it allegorically, however, we can find a much more profound meaning that is consistent with our understanding of God as loving, merciful, and just.
          You see, allegorically speaking, this is not just a battle between two nations where the nation that is favored by God destroys the other.  No, it is a battle between Good, represented by the Israelites who were set apart for a special relationship with God, and Evil, represented by the Amalekites who were considered a force that could turn the Israelites away from their relationship with God.  Therefore, the battle is not a physical one, but a spiritual one, nonetheless represented in physical terms so that we can understand it.
          With this hermeneutic, that is, with this “lens” for interpreting the story, we see that this is not a story about God’s people conquering other nations so as to reign over them (it can’t be, because we already know that Jesus himself said that his kingdom was not of this world), but rather that it is story about rooting out evil from our midst so as not to be overcome by it.  “In those days, Amalek [that is, an evil influence] came and waged war against Israel [that is, someone part of God’s people].  Moses [who here represents the conscience of the Israelite people], therefore, said to Joshua [who represents the mind and heart of the Israelites] … go out and engage Amalek in battle.  I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand [that is, I’ll be in constant prayer while you engage this battle so that the power of God will be with us].”
          Has anyone here ever battled against sin?  Doesn’t that battle (if we engage it) always take this form?  Sin (that is, an evil influence) comes to tempt us.  Our conscience says “whoa, this is bad; you better fight this!”  And our mind and heart says… what?  “Forget you conscience, this looks fun!”  Well, I guess that happens sometimes.  But usually it says “Ok, you’re right, we need to fight this.”  And so you engage in the battle against sin.
          If you win the particular battle do you say, “Ok, that was enough, I beat that temptation”?  Probably more often than not we do.  Then, what happens next?  Well the temptation comes back again, only stronger the second time right?  And so we quickly learn that we can’t just win battles against individual temptations, but we have to root out the source of the evil influence so as to prevent all temptations from coming.  This, my brothers and sisters, is the allegorical meaning of “Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people [the temptation and the root of the temptations] with the edge of the sword.”  Is it starting to become clear yet?
          Now that we’re getting good at this, look at the part that Moses plays in the victory over sin.  There’s a direct connection, right?  “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.”  Moses was the intercessor to God on behalf of the Israelites, and so what else can this mean except that as long as Moses had his hands raised in prayer, calling down God’s power on Joshua and his men, they had the better of the fight; but when he became tired and his hands drooped, Amalek and his troops started to gain advantage.  Prayer, then, is critical in our fight against evil.  If we are fervent and consistent in our prayer, we will overcome evil in our lives and root out its influence on us.  If we become slack, evil will begin to overtake us and possibly destroy us.
          Ah, but Moses had help, right?  No, it wasn’t Moses alone, but Moses with the help of the community: his brother Aaron and their companion Hur.  With their help he was able to keep his hands raised in prayer long enough for Joshua and his men to win the battle.  So, too, do we need the help of our brothers and sisters to overcome and completely eliminate any evil influence in our lives and so we should ask for it frequently.
          You know, one of the things that is happening in our society is that we are giving up our imaginations in favor of stimulation.  With imagination we strive to interpret stories and events in our lives in order to find what meaning it has for us.  Our culture, however, is training us absorb stimulation, instead.  When all we’re doing is receiving stimulation, there’s nothing more for us to do.  It’s either there or it isn’t; and if it isn’t, we’re trained to seek more.  When we engage our imagination, however, we begin to see events in our lives in allegorical terms.  In other words, we begin to see the events of our lives through an interpretive lens that adds meaning and depth to what we experience.
          And so, what does this mean?  Well it means that we begin to see our struggle with sin in terms of a greater spiritual battle: the dramatic “Good vs. Evil” that is constantly being waged throughout the universe, instead of the “self-help” exercise to which society wants to reduce it.  And I’m not talking just about the big things, I’m talking about the little things: the gossip, the jealousy, the judgmentalism with which we find ourselves battling daily.  It is not enough to win a battle on any given day; rather, we must engage the war to root out its sources in our lives.
          To do so, we must pray and pray constantly.  Just as Joshua could not defeat Amalek without Moses’ prayer, neither can we hope to root sin out of our lives without the help of God’s grace in prayer.  When we feel too weak to pray, we must not give up; but rather we must ask the help of our friends, our community of faith, for together we can win the war.  My brothers and sisters, we must not be afraid to take up this battle, for God will not fail to help us; because the victory… yes the victory is already ours in Jesus Christ.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 20th, 2019

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Word of God is not chained

Homily: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
“The word of God is not chained.”  Saint Paul penned these words to his protégé, Timothy, while in prison.  His point: that although the minister may be bound by chains in prison, the word, itself, is not chained and will continue to move freely about the world.  From those first years after Christ’s Ascension into heaven until nearly 1500 years later, Saint Paul’s words rang true: the word of God truly was not chained and it continued to spread throughout the world.
In the early 1500’s, however, the Church—and I speak of it here using broad strokes: it certainly wasn’t like this in every place that the Church was... which was nearly everywhere—the Church was “resting on its laurels”, it seems, and, while the word of God was still not chained, it was not finding its best witness in its ministers.  Men, therefore, rose up seeking reform.  Finding little enthusiasm in response (except in attempts to silence their voices), they broke away from the Church, hoping to reestablish the Church on its Gospel foundations.  This “protestant reformation”, as we now call it, tragic in that it caused further division among Christians (which had already been divided into “East” and “West” at the time), was, nonetheless like an “intervention” for the leaders of the Church.  The response was to propose an internal reformation, capped by the Council of Trent in the middle 1600’s.  Much more concerned about safeguarding the true identity of the Church in contrast to all of the “reform movements” from outside of the Church, the post-conciliar Church became much more insular—very much “us vs. them"—and this is the way it remained (again, speaking in broad strokes) until the middle 1900’s.
Pope John XXIII (now “Saint John XXIII”), responding to a movement of the Holy Spirit in the wake of the global catastrophes that were World War I and World War II, called for a new ecumenical council—the Second Vatican Council—with the expressed purpose of opening the Church more fully to the world once again.  In calling the Council together, he expressed his desire that there would be a “new Pentecost” in the Church, in which the doors to the cenacle (that is, the “upper room” of the first Pentecost) would again be thrown open and Christ’s followers would go out with the missionary mandate to “make disciples of all nations” once again.  Far from being a call to conform the Church to the modern world, it was, rather, a call to take the Church out into the world—to “unchain” the word of God (which, of course, had never really been chained)—so as to convert what is good in it to the purposes of building God’s kingdom, and, thus, to make more disciples of Christ.
We need no better example of the Church doing just that than the pontificate of Pope John Paul II (also now “Saint John Paul II”).  As someone who grew up under the Nazi regime in Poland and suffered under Polish Communist rule (backed, of course, by Russian communists), John Paul II experienced the threat that these ideologies posed not only to the Church, but to humankind.  Did he call the Church to turn in on itself so as to insulate itself from these threatening ideologies?  No!  Rather, he went to the front lines to engage the modern world with all the force of the Gospel.  His influence, backed by the power of the Gospel, led to the downfall of Communism in Poland, and, in a domino effect, to other places where dangerous ideologies had taken hold.  Although it may be hard to believe, next month will mark 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall!  These facts alone are evidence that, following the Second Vatican Council, the word of God had certainly been “unchained” once more.
In our day today, Pope Francis has again renewed this missionary mandate of the Council.  In his encyclical letter “Evangelium Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), he further urges us to take the Gospel out of our churches and into the streets—to those who are on the margins of society—to bring to others the “joy of the Gospel”, proving once again that the “word of God is not chained”.  Our own bishop, Bishop Doherty, chose for his episcopal motto this phrase, proving that he, too, believes in the urgency of this missionary mandate of the Council.
This truth, declared by Saint Paul, was true even before he declared it, however, as we see from our readings for today’s Mass.  In our first reading, we heard how Naaman, a high-ranking official in Syria, came to the Israelite prophet Elisha—in many ways, the only truly faithful person among the Israelites at the time—to seek a miraculous cure for his leprosy.  Generally speaking, he wouldn’t have sought recourse to a foreigner for aid, but one of his servants was a young Israelite girl who, after Naaman exhausted all of the resources in Syria looking for a cure, suggested that Naaman go to Elisha.  “The word of God” was not chained and, thus, came to Naaman through this young girl.  Having responded to it, and having been healed, Naaman was converted.  He abandoned his pagan gods to worship the one true God: the God of the Israelites.
In the Gospel reading, we heard how a group of persons suffering from leprosy call out to Jesus to ask for healing.  What great faith they had in Jesus!  When Jesus commands them to go and “show themselves to the priests”, they all believed that, through his word, they would find healing; and they did!  Only one, however, found true freedom: the Samaritan—the foreigner—who returned to glorify God and give thanks to Jesus, through whom he received healing.  True freedom, because, while the others went on to show themselves to the priests and, thus, remained under the Law, the Samaritan returned to Christ, through whom he could find fulfillment beyond the Law.  When Jesus says to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you,” he speaks the truth that, through faith in Christ, one finds true fulfillment apart from the Law.  Through this one, too, we see that “the word of God was not chained”; but rather went out to bring healing and freedom to those “outside” of the covenant with Israel and to incorporate them into Christ.
Today, this continues to ring true as we continue to welcome men and women from outside of the Church—men and women to whom the word of God has gone out and drawn to us—to become one with us as part of the Mystical Body of Christ.  Tomorrow/Today, we will formally welcome already baptized men and women who seek full communion with us in the Church and accept those who have not been baptized into the Order of Catechumens as they seek the definitive rebirth in Christ through the waters of baptism.  These persons are proof that, even in our modern times, the “word of God is not chained”.  We must, therefore, be grateful for these persons as it is proof that God is still with us and that he desires his Church to grow and blossom.
Nonetheless, we Catholics are called today to recognize that we ourselves were all once outsiders who, by God’s gracious mercy and the ministry of those around us, have now been incorporated into the true freedom of Christ.  In recognizing this, we are, thus, called to turn away from any complacency that might lead us to take this gift for granted: instead, giving ourselves more and more to an “apostolate of martyrdom”, that is, an “apostolate of giving witness”, so that this “unchained word”, might continue to go out and draw in men and women into Christ’s Mystical Body.
            My brothers and sisters, we are the lepers that have been healed by the unchained word of God that has come to us.  We (hopefully) have returned here to this altar to give thanks.  Let us, therefore, never neglect thankfulness.  For, in doing so, the word of God will remain unchained; and the kingdom of heaven—the kingdom of harmony and peace among all peoples—will be known among us.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 12th & 13th, 2019

Monday, October 7, 2019

Faith is the power to stand up for life

          I am indebted to the USCCB Respect Life committee for their excellent scriptural reflection for Respect Life Sunday.  I have only slightly edited their words to make it flow as a homily.  It otherwise expresses deftly and plainly the reality we face as a pro-life people and the gifts of faith and hope that we need to persevere in proclaiming the Gospel of Life.

Homily: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Brothers and sisters, in the first reading today we hear the voice of the prophet Habakkuk crying out to God in anguish: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!”  How often do we feel that God does not hear our pleas for help?  How often do we fear that our prayers will not be answered in the manner that we desire?  The voice again cries out: “I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”
I imagine that each of us can relate all-too-well to this feeling today.  When we watch the news or scroll through social media, we are inundated by stories of violence against human life.  The tone of public debate and discourse disrespects the dignity of the human person.  We can often feel that misery surrounds us as abortion, assisted suicide, the death penalty, and other affronts to the dignity of the person find wide public support.
But God, as he responded to Habakkuk, responds to us with a message of hope.  We are assured that the Lord, “will not disappoint.”  And that, “the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”  While God does not promise to answer our prayers on our schedule or according to our plans, we know that He does not abandon us.  While suffering is indeed a part of our earthly life, nonetheless our destiny is to share eternal life with Christ, and this reading reminds us of this today.
In his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (which translates to “The Gospel of Life”), Pope Saint John Paul II wrote that, “the Gospel of life is not for believers alone: it is for everyone.”  Although faith allows us to more deeply understand the sacred value of human life, the light of reason naturally endows the human conscience with the ability to recognize the dignity of each and every person, and so why does it seem that so many are ignorant of this truth?
In the responsorial psalm, we replied: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”  It seems that many in our world have indeed hardened their hearts to the truth.  They are unable to see the humanity of the child growing in his/her mother’s womb.  They incorrectly believe that a person’s value is determined by his/her abilities (or by a potential to avoid suffering in this world).  They fail to comprehend that one’s worth is not dependent on one’s age or circumstance.  And perhaps, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see that we’ve allowed our own hearts to be hardened to the attacks against human life.  Maybe we’ve allowed the pain of loss to make our hearts numb, too.
Therefore, in a world that seems to have lost sight of the value of human life, we must pray that those whose hearts have been hardened would hear the voice of God and come to see the invaluable dignity of every person they meet.  And we must pray that our own hearts would be pierced by the suffering of the most vulnerable among us. ///
Because the world in which we live is so often hostile to the Truth, proclaiming the Gospel of Life can be difficult.  In many arenas, defense of infants’ lives, the lives of those disabled or dying, or the lives of any vulnerable human population is met with resistance.  Proclaiming the Church’s teaching on topics like abortion, assisted suicide, and the death penalty can provoke challenging and emotional responses from those who disagree.  Sometimes we may find ourselves afraid to speak up about these issues in our families, among our coworkers, or with students in our school community.  We may fear disagreement, judgement, confrontation, or misunderstanding.  But in the second reading, Saint Paul tells us that, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice.”  Rather, God has given us a spirit of “power and love”—and this spirit should cast out all of our fears.
Saint Paul also encourages us “not to be ashamed of our testimony to our Lord.”  He urges us to “bear our share of hardship for the gospel,” and reminds of our “strength that comes from God.”  Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we know that sin and death have been defeated.   We know that our identity can only be found in our Savior.  And we know that the sufferings and persecutions that we endure in our earthly life glorify God; and, thus, that we are given the strength and grace to persevere in hope.
Faith, my brothers and sisters, gives us this ability to hope.  Through it we are empowered to accomplish amazing things (like ripping up deep-rooted trees and casting them into the sea with only a word).  As a gift, however, faith is not something that we can claim as our own: it’s not something that we earn.  Rather, it is only the graciousness of God that provides it to us, for we are “unprofitable servants” who have done only what we have been obliged to do.  The example of the apostles in the Gospel, however, encourages us to ask God Himself to “increase our faith.”  If we struggle to find the courage to speak boldly about human life, we shouldn’t be ashamed: for the apostles—who themselves lived, ate, and prayed with Christ—needed God’s grace to carry out Christ’s saving mission.  Even still, we needn’t be afraid to take hold of the faith that we have been given: for if we have but “faith the size of a mustard seed,” Christ can give us the power to do incredible things in service of the Gospel.
So today, on this Respect Life Sunday, as we recommit ourselves to upholding the teachings of the Church on the inviolability of human life, may we recall that we have merely “done what we were obliged to do” as followers of Christ; and that this is no small thing, because Christ is our hope, in every season of our lives; and He, who is ever faithful to us, will not fail to snatch us from the snares of death and lead us to the victory of eternal life that He has won for us—the eternal life to which all human life is ordered—the eternal life that we experience, even now, here in this Eucharist.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 5th & 6th, 2019
Given at Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish: West Lafayette, IN – October 6th, 2019