Sunday, December 9, 2018

Make straight the way of God within...


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
          Having grown up in a suburban area southwest of Chicago, I’ve come to appreciate much of the wide open spaces that I’ve often encountered since living here in Indiana.  I mean, we had parks and other open spaces where I grew up, but nothing like the expansive farms of corn, wheat, and soybeans like we enjoy here in north-central Indiana.  And, as I drive through different areas of the state, I enjoy taking in these great open spaces that go on for as far as I can see and which often make me wonder about just how much more there is that I don’t see.
          Having grown up here in the Midwest, however, where the land is mostly flat, I am unable to appreciate what it means to live in the midst of mountains and valleys.  Only by way of vacations or other short trips have I experienced what it means to have to drive over or around a mountain to get to the next town or city or to have to climb down into the valley in order to find the road that will take you to the market.  As a result, I am unable to truly appreciate the difficulties associated with living in areas like these.  A Haitian proverb, speaking about the reality of the terrain in Haiti, but also about the difficulties they experience in their lives, says this: “Beyond the mountains, there are more mountains.”  Perhaps many of you are in the same boat as me and unable to appreciate the difficulties of living in such areas.  Thus, our ability to appreciate what the prophets speak about in today’s readings is, perhaps, somewhat limited as well.
          In the first reading, from the prophet Baruch, we find the people of Jerusalem in mourning for their children who have been exiled by foreign invaders.  As such, they have clothed themselves in the traditional garb of mourners.  The prophet has come to announce that, by God’s mercy, the children of Jerusalem are about to return and so he joyfully announces that the inhabitants of Jerusalem are to throw off their garments of mourning and are to put on festival clothing.  Then, they are to go to the highest place and look off in the distance.  What they will find is that every mountain has been flattened and every valley has been filled in in order to make a straight and wide way for the triumphant return of their children, thus signaling a bright future for their nation.
          For those of you who may have lived among mountains, I suspect that this image of mountains that have been flattened and valleys that have been filled in would seem to be very vivid as you imagine what life could have been like had the same happened in the area in which you lived.  Those of us who have spent most of our lives in Indiana, however, are probably more apt to focus on that image of a wide, flat space, and what that would look like from a high place (though it wouldn’t have to be too high around here).  Imagine how incredible it would be to see a whole nation of people traversing some of these expansive farmlands as if they were returning to their homeland.  Well, perhaps you’re not impressed, but nevertheless it is exactly these Scriptural images that the Church gives us this week in order to help us understand what God is calling us to do during this Advent.
          What we see in that first reading is that the prophet is calling for two movements: one, that the people must first prepare themselves, removing their garments of mourning and putting on festival garments, and two, that the way must be prepared for the one who is coming, making it level and smooth.
          Then, in the Gospel reading, John the Baptist turns this call inward as he calls the people to a “baptism of repentance.”  As the herald of Jesus, the Messiah who was about to reveal himself, John was calling the people to prepare not only by outward appearances, but also by inward dispositions as well: thus making their hearts ready to receive the Messiah for whom they had long waited.
          A line from one of my favorite Advent hymns states: “make straight the way of God within.”  John was calling the people to prepare the way for the Messiah to enter into their hearts.  Thus, it was not enough to cleanse their hearts from sin by a baptism in the Jordan River, but rather they also needed to prepare a way for the Messiah to enter into their hearts by true repentance: that is, by truly changing their lives and leaving behind their sinful ways.
          My brothers and sisters, we recall John the Baptist’s words today in order to remind us that God calls each of us to prepare our hearts to receive him.  God wants to come to us and to dwell in us and to lead us to our heavenly homeland, and, although we have already been baptized by water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism, we are still constantly in need of a “baptism of repentance” like the one John called for in the Gospel reading: for when we examine our hearts we discover that the way into them is neither straight nor smooth; rather it is obstructed by ‘mountains of sin’ and ‘valleys of despair’ and self-pity.  Far from being straight and wide, the way into our hearts is narrow as it twists and turns around these mountains and valleys: a result of rationalizing our behavior instead of correcting it.
          Our Advent task, therefore, is to knock down the mountains of sin and fill in the valleys of despair and self-pity, thus straightening the way for God into our hearts.  The best way that we can do this is to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for it is there that we can face the mountains that our sins have erected between ourselves and God as well as the ever-widening valleys of despair caused by our broken relationships with those around us.  And then we can watch as the power of God’s grace flattens the mountains and fills in the valleys, thus making the way between us smooth and easy to pass.  (Hmm, what a Christmas gift that would be: reconciliation with God and one another…)
          You know, it’s a shame for us that we are unable to celebrate the feast day of St. Juan Diego this year, since today, his feast day, falls on a Sunday.  It’s a shame for us because he can be for us a great example of one who, with the help of God’s grace, was able to flatten the mountains of doubt and fill in the valleys of fear in order to bring Our Lady’s message to the Bishop in Tenochtitlan, thus making the way smooth for Christ to enter the hearts of millions of people in Mexico and beyond.  Perhaps, in that same spirit, we, too, could “make straight the way of God within” and do the same right here in Indiana.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette IN – December 8th & 9th, 2018

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Are you tired? Let go!


Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
I don’t know about all of you, but I am pretty tired.  I’ve been here for five months now and have found that pastoring a parish of this size—one that is also the Cathedral, and all of the trappings that come with that—is a lot of work.  And I mean that in the very literal, scientific sense: for work is energy expended over time and I know that I have been expending a lot of energy over extended periods of time in the last five months.
I would guess that it’s pretty safe to say, however, that I’m not the only one who is feeling this way.  Let me ask, how many here have a new baby?  How many of you have more than one kid under 7 years old at home?  How many have moved sometime this year?  How many have either lost or switched jobs?    And how many of you are working and going to school at the same time?  How many of you have lost a loved one recently?  How many of us are dealing with emotional turmoil from the scandals in the Church?  I’m guessing that this covers most everyone here.  But, even if I didn’t mention part of your situation, I suspect that all of us could identify some things in our lives that are causing us to expend a great deal of energy: either just to keep up with our lives or, perhaps, to cope with the stress of transitioning into something new in our lives.  Regardless of what it is, all of us can probably admit that we are feeling a bit worn down by it all: that we, too, are tired.
As a result, I think that a lot of us hope that we could come here and hear a word of comfort.  Perhaps we’ve come here hoping that the Gospel reading for the day would be something like: “Well done, good and faithful servant, come share in your master’s joy.”  Instead, we walk into this season of Advent and are greeted with an exhortation from Saint Paul saying, “The good that you’ve already been doing, you should do more!”  Then, on top of that, Christ tells us to “be vigilant at all times,” that is, not to take a break.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, he prefaces that statement by saying, “You know, everything is actually going to get a lot worse before it gets better!”  Thus, when we hear Christ’s instruction to us—“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…”—it really doesn’t seem all that helpful.  And what we come to realize is that our hearts, indeed, have become drowsy.
In many ways, however, we are not unlike the ancient Israelites.  For centuries, they waited for the Messiah—the one promised them by God who would redeem them and free them from all of their oppressors.  Yet, their hearts had become drowsy from waiting as they endured exile away from their homeland, and then occupation of their homeland by foreign invaders after their return.  And so, even though God had sent them prophets throughout these times to remind them of his promises—like the prophet Jeremiah, from who we heard in the first reading today—many of the Israelites still failed to see in Jesus the coming of the One for whom they had longed ///
Perhaps to us it seems as if Christ’s return is also long delayed.  And perhaps, therefore, we’ve allowed our focus to drift away from our eternal destiny, our anticipation of his coming to become dulled, and our discipline in prayer and good works to lapse.  In other words, perhaps we, too, have allowed our hearts to become drowsy from the anxieties, the worries, the stresses of our daily lives.  We’ve lost sight of the goal, it seems, and, thus, feel a bit lost.
At the end of each calendar year, we all somewhat instinctively assess where we’ve been throughout the year.  For some, this is a time of great anxiety as we look back at what we desired to accomplish in the last year and see what remains undone.  For others, the stress comes from seeing how, though great efforts were made, circumstances meant that there was little to show for it.  Still for others, it is a time of despair when we see that, through fear or lack of self-confidence, another year has passed and we have not made any moves to improve a difficult situation in our lives.
This is why the Church, in her wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us this season of Advent at the end of the calendar year.  She knows how easy it is to get bogged down by the work of daily living and so She offers us this season as a “wake-up call” and a reminder to us that the promise of Christ’s second coming—the promise that there is something greater yet to come—is still before us.  Advent, therefore, is the great season of detachment: of letting go of those things that tie us to this world and its anxieties, lest we be caught off-guard, cowering in fear after the days of tribulation, when Christ will come.  It is also the season of remembering that we can never accomplish our fulfillment alone: for Christ came to us specifically because we could not effect our salvation on our own.  Rather, we needed the help of Another—who is God made man, born in a cave outside of Jerusalem.
Brothers and sisters, our Christian faith tells us that we have been made for greatness and that our work in this life is to strive for that greatness always.  It also reminds us, however, that our ability to reach the heights of that greatness is limited and that we can never achieve it on our own.  Advent is the season in which we are reminded to rejoice, regardless; because in Advent—which, literally translated, means “the arrival”—we remember that God himself has come, in our human nature, in order to overcome our weaknesses, and that God himself will come again to fulfill his promise to end our anxieties and to draw us into himself: the place of our eternal rest.
And so, my brothers and sisters, if your hearts have become drowsy, then let this be your wake-up call.  Because our hope, Jesus Christ our Savior, is coming—and has already come—to relieve us and to lead us home.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 1st & 2nd, 2018

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christ the King sheds the light of truth on reality

          Last week I did not preach, so I did not have a homily to post.  This week, we enter the last week of Ordinary Time as we prepare to begin a new liturgical year with Advent.  Let us pray for each other as we "begin again" and so that we will never fail to proclaim Jesus Christ as our King!


Homily: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
For those of us of a certain generation, “reality TV” has shaped much of our television experience.  In spite of what it looks like today, reality TV began as a simple project: stick seven strangers in a house together for a certain period of time and record their lives.  To see their “real, unscripted reactions” to each other, it was thought, would be just as entertaining as any scripted story-line.  And, for the most part, they were right.  “The Real World”, which was the name of this first “reality show”, was a big hit and the concept of “reality TV” quickly blossomed and saturated our televisions with variations on the same theme.
Just as quickly, though, it moved away from the basic concept of real people in real-life situations into sensationalism.  In other words, each new show had to do more to “manufacture” drama, and its participants, it seems, had to be all the more willing to respond to it.  Instead of being an opportunity to look into the lives of other human persons, and perhaps glean an insight into the mystery of human relationships, reality TV has morphed into a voyeuristic fantasy land where the only thing connected to reality, it seems, is that these people still have to eat and sleep once in a while.  As a result, “reality TV” no more resembles real human life than do any of the Harry Potter films. ///
It shouldn’t be too hard for us to see that this notion of “manufactured reality” reflects our culture today.  The dominant culture that we experience in the media, and which is put forth in certain politics and academia, wants us to believe that truth is relative to the person and the reality that he/she experiences in which it is interpreted.  In this model, we equate experiences with truth.  One example of this is “transgenderism”.  In this a person experiences “gender dysphoria”: that is, that the gender with which one identifies him/herself does not align with his/her biological gender and thus experiences an internal conflict (or “dysphoria”).  This experience is real.  The interpretation of the experience, however—that this person must now live as if he/she is the gender opposite to his/her biological gender (possibly going to the extremes of bodily modifications in pursuit of it)—is a reality manufactured on the false notion that what this person has experienced is not just reality, but is the truth: in spite of the obvious physical data that exists to the contrary.
All of this is to highlight that to live in reality—that is, to experience the world as it really is and to flourish within it—one must interpret reality (that is, our experiences) based on what is true.  In order to do this, one must begin with the most fundamental truths.  The first and most true thing that we can say is that God is being itself.  When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked him, “What should I tell them is your name?” God replied, “Tell them ‘I AM who AM’ sent you”: in other words, “I am existence itself”.  If, therefore, God is existence itself, then he must also be the source of all that exists.  And because he has shown us that he is not a distant, aloof creator, but rather a creator that cares for his creation, we know that all things that exist (which come from him) are, therefore, ordered to him.  This is reality.  This is true.  When we get this idea backwards, however—that is, when we believe that things and experiences in existence are ordered towards me (or to some other reality that isn’t God)—is when we fall into trouble.
Given this, the dialogue that we heard in today’s Gospel is poignant.  This exchange between Pilate and Jesus is the stuff of which great reality TV is made: tension, drama, suspense… and real consequences for decisions that are made.  Although we didn’t hear it in today’s reading, Pilate’s next words in the Gospel—the ones that follow Christ telling him that he came to bear witness to the truth—are some of his most famous: he says “What is truth?”  As a governing officer in the Roman Army, Pilate had spent years of his life following orders without question—even if it contradicted what he thought was true—and now, in the face of Truth incarnate, this “manufactured reality” distorted his view of what was really real.  In other words, he could no longer see reality for what it was.  Thus, he was trapped in a conflict between Truth (capital “T”) that stood before him and the truth (small “t”) under which he had been living for most of his life.  He had ordered his reality to the false truth that all things are ordered to Caesar and the empire and so, in the conflict between his truth and Truth itself, he ignored what was really real and chose to live in his falsehood.
The abuse crisis that we have been suffering through in the Church has this disordering of reality as part of its cause.  The actions of individual priests were reprehensible and the result of a criminal indulgence of the temptations to sin.  The responses of some in authority over those priests was also reprehensible and betrayed, it seems, that those men had ordered their reality to the truth that the institution of the Church was the ultimate good, instead of God (and, specifically, his commands to protect the most vulnerable).  It is a sad reality from which we must now recover.
And we will recover, if we re-order our reality to the truth that we celebrate today: that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe: that is, that he is Lord—Dominus, in Latin, he who dominates—over all that exists.  If we see that all that exists comes from him who existed before all things and is, therefore, ordered to him, then we have a solid truth on which to interpret our reality (that is, all that we experience); and, thus, we can live in confidence that our reality is not a manufactured reality, but a true reality that will lead us to true happiness and peace.
Friends, it is no mere coincidence that this feast also closes our liturgical year.  Celebrating the kingship of Christ at the end of our liturgical year invites us to rejoice: in the truth that all things in the universe are created from and subject to a king who has suffered and died for us—and who now lives again forever—so that we, too, can live forever in him; and to lament and repent from the ways in which our lives have not conformed to that truth and thus strive (making a “new year’s resolution” even) to order our lives completely to this truth and to work so that the world around us might also be ordered to this truth.  This Eucharist is the foremost way in which we do this: ordering our praise, worship, and thanksgiving to God, who is its source.  Our 40 hours devotion, which begins tonight, is a privileged time to reflect on this truth, as well, and so I hope that you all will find an hour to spend with our Lord in adoration during these 40 hours.
My brothers and sisters, in a few moments we will have the opportunity to look directly at Truth Incarnate: the King who reigns over all existence.  If we have any doubt about what is true, let us not fail to ask him—not like Pilate, who asked in frustration, but in humility—“Lord, what is truth?” and then listen with open hearts for what he will reveal to us.  Friends, if we can do this, we will then be prepared for the greatest reality show of all time: the triumphant return of Christ our King.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 25th, 2018

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Faith makes our stewardship reasonable


Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
In the film, “Good Morning Vietnam”, Robin Williams plays the role of Adrian Cronauer, a rogue radio broadcaster for the military radio network who had just been sent to Vietnam during the armed conflict there.  The film is one that mixes comedy and drama.  One of the more humorous (although irreverent) parts of the film occurs when Adrian “substitute teaches” an English class for some local people.  In it he is trying to teach them how to use English curse words.  He suggests a situation to one man that ought to get up his ire—that a waitress just spilled hot soup over his nicest suit—and asks the man how he would respond.  The man, however, responds politely.  Adrian tries harder and suggests that this waitress is now beginning to push him and insult not only him, but also his family.  Still, the man responds politely, saying that he will “remain reticent”.  Finally, Adrian works up into a fury, claiming that the waitress has now brought spoons and knives from the kitchen is doing horrible things to him, like stabbing him and gouging out his eyes, and he asks the man in the class, “What are you going to say!?”  The man leans in and responds, “Well, I’m waiting to die.”
This exchange highlights certain differences in cultural biases between Americans and Vietnamese, so much so that for Adrian, this man’s response to being attacked made absolutely no sense to him.  Adrian did not have this man’s frame of reference (one that values respect for another even when that respect isn’t being shown to you) and so could not make sense of this man’s unwillingness to defend himself from this abuse.
In the Gospel reading, we encounter another similar kind of exchange.  We all know this story, of course, because we’ve heard it a hundred times and a hundred times we’ve heard the “moral” of the story: “The widow gave everything, so we, too, should give everything.”  We’ve heard it so often that we are no longer sensitive to the fact that what she did was, in truth, unreasonable.  I mean, how many people suffering in poverty do you know who go around giving up all that they have left to some religious institution.  These days, if we heard of someone asking people to give up all of their life savings for some vague promise of benevolence from God, we’d call that person either a scam artist or a cult leader.  And the people that follow their lead we call gullible and na├»ve.  Yet here is this poor widow, dropping her last two cents into the temple treasury.  She’s nuts, right?  And what’s even more nuts is that Jesus commends her for it!
Perhaps, however, since this story is included in the Gospel and since I think that it’s a safe bet that most of us here believe that the Bible is God’s words to us and that Jesus wasn’t a madman… perhaps we can give them the benefit of the doubt and try to understand what makes this poor widow’s act—and Jesus’ commendation of her act—reasonable.
First, let’s look at the widow’s situation.  She’s a widow, thus she no longer has the financial support of a household and so she most assuredly is poor.  The Gospel doesn’t say that she’s old, but I think that it is safe to assume that she is advanced in years.  Thus, with no income and being advanced in years (and no retirement plan or Social Security to pull from), she was probably reaching the end of whatever financial means that she had at her disposal.  I can imagine this woman taking a hard look at her situation and saying to herself, “When this is gone, I’m going to die.” /// She had a choice to make: would she cling to those last two coins, trying to make as much use out of them as she could and thus extending her life to the maximum possible limit, or would she turn it over to God, abandoning her whole life to his promise, made so often in the Psalms, to care for the poor and the widow.  Simply stated, if God didn’t exist, her act would be an act of lunacy, almost suicidal.  She dropped those coins into the treasury, though, didn’t she?  And why?  Because of her faith.  And so it seems that faith has the power to correct our reason.
My brothers and sisters, the reality of our lives is that we are all like that poor widow.  In spite of whatever worldly riches we might enjoy in this world, we are nonetheless poor in the eyes of God.  None of us can know when we are going to die and so death, too, remains always before us.  Therefore, the question that faces us is the same question that faced the poor widow: will we use what we have for ourselves in an attempt to extend our lives for as long as possible, or will we turn it over to God, abandoning ourselves to him because of his promise to care for us?
Many years ago, before I was a seminarian, I was searching for authenticity in my life.  I had just rediscovered the Faith and was striving to learn how to live it.  I came across this quote from Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard and was moved by it.  I cut it out and taped it to the inside of my bible so I wouldn’t forget it.  Cardinal Suhard said that “Every Christian, especially the Christian priest, must be a witness.  To be a witness consists in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God didn’t exist.”   Little did I know at that time that I would be a Christian priest.  Nonetheless, his words put before me today the same question as they did when I first encountered it: Would the way that I live my life still make sense if God didn’t exist?
My brothers and sisters, the world is trying to convince us that God doesn’t exist and thus that to follow Christ is completely unreasonable.  Like Adrian Cronauer’s cultural blindness in that English class in Vietnam, however, the world cannot see the thing that makes our lives reasonable: our faith.  My brothers and sisters, it is because God lives that the widow’s offering is not only reasonable, but commendable, and it is God’s existence that makes our faith, and thus our acts of abandonment to him, also reasonable.
Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve had the chance to discern how God is calling you to serve both our parish and our community.  Today, I am asking you to exercise your stewardship by making a commitment of your time and talent to serve in our parish and community.  Hopefully you brought your Time and Talent pledge forms with you and have them completed.  If not, there are some extra forms in the pews.  Please mark if you’re “I - Interested” in knowing more about a ministry, “C – to Continue” in a ministry, or “R – to Remove” from a ministry (and if a ministry isn’t listed, feel free to write it in).  Also, please be sure to fill out your personal information on the back of the form.  Finally, please note that these are not life-long commitments, but simply a sign that you’re ready to step deeper into the ways that God is calling you to serve.
I’ll give you a few moments to fill them out before the ushers come forward to collect them.  Like our financial stewardship, stewardship of our time and talent is a way that we demonstrate our faith to the world.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be bold and thus give witness to the great mystery of God’s presence among us.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN
November 10th & 11th, 2018

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Love God and find your calling


For more resources about National Vocations Awareness Week, go to https://www.vianneyvocations.com/

Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          Friends, today our scriptures ask us to consider the question: “What is our response to God’s love?”  Perhaps this begs the question, however, “Is there any need to respond?”  The answer to that question (and I’m going to ask you to trust me on this one) is “yes”, of course.  The love of God demands a response from us, so much so that responding to God’s initiative toward us is something we model right here in the liturgy.
          Perhaps a number of you know this already, but the “Responsorial Psalm” is not called “responsorial” simply because we “respond” by repeating a verse or phrase after each stanza.  Rather, it is called “responsorial” because the Psalm itself is a response to the first reading.  The idea being this: when we hear God’s word, it moves us to respond.  Sometimes, it moves us to respond in praise: simply singing of God’s wonderful attributes and about how great it is that he has revealed himself to us.  Other times, it moves us to respond like the scribe did in today’s Gospel: who recounted back to Jesus his teaching to demonstrate his understanding.  In fact, if you’d like a summary of the first reading from Mass, one that gives you a little more insight into its meaning, just look to the Responsorial Psalm.  If the reading was one demonstrating God’s power, his glory, or his mercy, then the Psalm might be one of praising those attributes of God.  If the reading contained a lesson, then the Psalm might be one that demonstrates our understanding of that lesson.
          Case in point: today, in the first reading, we hear the teaching that Moses gave to the Israelite people as they were on the cusp of entering the Promised Land: “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  Then, in our response with the Psalm we sing: “I love you, Lord, my strength.”  In the reading we are reminded of our need to love God; and in the psalm we respond, expressing our love for Him.  All of this is to remind us that, when we experience and receive God’s gracious initiative toward us, we are called to respond. ///
          Many of you heard my homily for All Saints’ Day this past Thursday.  If you did, you heard me talk about how the idea of becoming “great”—that is, becoming that person we dreamed about becoming when we are kids—is something that’s written into our DNA; and that the greatest greatness that we can achieve is to become a saint.  I also said that our inspiration for pursuing this greatness comes from God Himself: that is, it comes from the fact that we are beloved by God.  This is because when we know that we are someone’s beloved, and when we desire to be loved by that person, we strive to make ourselves better for that person: in a sense, to make ourselves more “worthy” of their love.  This is a response to their love; and it is the response that we are called to give to God and His love for us. ///
          This weekend we kickoff the annual “National Vocations Awareness Week”, in which we focus intently on raising awareness of the need to promote and encourage vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 50 years or so, you’ll know that we are in great need of more men and women who will take up the call to greatness in a religious vocation.  Our beloved Fr. Ziegler, who we laid to rest this past week, used to say to seminarians: “We need you young guys to get ordained because us old guys aren’t going to be around much longer!”  Although I am still yet on my way to becoming one of the “old guys”, I keenly feel the need now to promote vocations among our young men, so that I don’t have to feel the same anxiety that Fr. Ziegler felt in his waning years.  Still more, part of the flourishing of Catholic culture here in the United States in the last century was due to the presence and witness of religious women and men within our parishes and communities.  I believe that, in large part, a new flourishing will occur when more and more young women and men hear God’s call to the religious life and respond.  Thus, our celebration and work this week to raise awareness of these vocations is of great importance.
          Friends, God’s call to the priesthood or religious life is not something arbitrary that comes to a person out of the blue; rather, it is something that is discerned when a person makes a response to God’s love towards him/her.  In other words, God’s love comes first.  That is, we must first experience God’s love for us.  Then, we must give our love completely to God.  It is there, within our response, that God will make known to us the vocation to which He has called us.  Anything else is our invention.  Knowing this, how then do we go about encouraging young people to consider God’s call to the priesthood and religious life?  Although it sounds counter-intuitive to what I’ve just said, we must invite them!  We must look at single men and women among us and ask them “Have you considered being a priest?”  “Have you considered whether God may be calling you to be a religious sister or brother?”  If they respond “no” and they ask you “How do I do it?”, this is what you tell them: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
          In other words, tell them to open their hearts to encounter God’s love, which is constantly present to them, and then to respond, loving God with their whole hearts, with their whole souls, and with all their strength.  Tell them that they should strive to be the best beloved that they can be for the God who loves them and that it will be in that striving that God will reveal his vocation to them.  To put it simply: when they shema, when they listen, ready to respond to the love God pours out to them, they will hear it.
          Friends, this model of “listen and respond” doesn’t end when we’ve discerned our vocation and begin to live it.  Rather, it continues throughout the rest of our lives.  Even if we’ve seemingly completed the path of our vocation, we must still shema, we must still listen, and strive to respond.  In other words, we must never stop striving to become the best beloved that we can be for the God who has demonstrated his love for us.  This, too, will be a powerful tool to promote vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.  A Christian life, lived mediocrely, can only discourage young people from discerning their vocation, since all they see is that the Christian life leads to a mundane existence.  A heroic Christian life, however—a life striving for greatness, that is, saintliness, regardless of the vocation—will inspire young people, since they will see that a life of loving God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, is an adventurous life, full of meaning and purpose.
          Therefore, as we respond today to God’s love, poured out to us in this Mass, by loving Him with our whole heart, our whole soul, and with all our strength, let us re-commit ourselves to strive for greatness, that is, saintliness; and, thus, to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life both by our word of invitation and by the witness of our lives; and, thus, to grow God’s kingdom: the kingdom that even now is here among us.
Given at St. Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 3rd & 4th, 2018

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Being Bartimeus and Jesus


Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Friends, in our first reading today, the prophet Jeremiah talks about the Israelite exiles returning from their dispersion to Jerusalem—God's holy city.  His message from the Lord contains beautiful language that, for the exiled Israelite, would have been the best news that he/she had heard in a very long time.  Here Jeremiah takes on roles beyond that of prophet: the role of “angel”, or “God’s messenger”, as well as “evangelist”, that is, someone who brings “good news”.  The message is beautiful because it names the anawim, that is, the poor ones, who might not otherwise be included in a large traveling group—the blind, the lame, mothers with children, etc.—and declares that they, too, will be included in this return to Jerusalem.  Still further, the news declares that this will be a triumphant return: in which the roads by which they will return will be smooth—in order to make the travel easier—and that there will be abundant water along the way, so that no one loses strength.  Those Israelites would have heard in this message the contrast to the other great return from exile—the Exodus from Egypt—in which their ancient forefathers traveled over rough roads and were often without water on their journey to the land which God had promised them.  This contrast would have increased their joy at this good news.
As I reflected on this passage, images of the migrant caravan making its way from Honduras, through Mexico, and towards the United States came to mind.  Please allow me to say, up front, that I am not equating this caravan of migrants and the ancient Israelites.  There are obvious differences: the migrants are leaving their homeland, not returning to it, and, as far as I have heard, this isn’t a migration foretold by God.  Nonetheless, there are similarities: those in the caravan are fleeing what, for them, feels like a desperate situation in their homeland; thus, the news of a caravan going to a land in which they have hope for a better future for themselves and their families inspired them to begin the journey.  The images of women with children and other seemingly weak persons taking part in this caravan also resonate with me as I reflect on this passage.  Now, I don’t claim to know what the right thing to do will be when they arrive at our border, but I hope that we will hear their hopes and respond gracefully.
Going back to the scriptures: in the Gospel we see Jesus enacting a fulfillment of this prophecy from Jeremiah.  If you’ve been following along over the past few weeks, Jesus has been on his way to Jerusalem: his final trip to Jerusalem.  Over the past few years, he had been teaching and quite a large group of disciples had begun to follow him.  On this last trip to Jerusalem, going up for the great feast of Passover, this large group of disciples were following him: giving us an image of the exiled Israelites being led back to God’s holy city.  Leaving Jericho (itself a city of symbolism: as it was the city at the lowest point—geographically—on the journey to Jerusalem from which one truly began his/her “ascent” to God in Jerusalem), the blind man Bartimeus calls out to Jesus and asks for “mercy”.  He uses the messianic term—”Son of David”—to address Jesus, thus also indicating that Jesus is doing something bigger than just “going up for the feast”.  Jesus stops, calls the man to him and grants him his desire to see.  Although Jesus dismisses the man to his own way, Bartimeus begins to follow Jesus to Jerusalem: the blind now joining in this “return from exile”.  While this, in itself, is an important connection to make, I think that there is more for us to take away this Sunday.
One image that came to mind while I was reflecting on this Gospel passage was the “running scene” in the film Forrest Gump.  Forrest is in middle age and has accomplished amazing things in his life.  He’s lost his mom and some close friends and in a moment of reflection, he decides to get up and start running.  Although he didn’t intend to go far at first, as he reached each “boundary” (the street, the town, the county, the state), he just decided to keep running.  He ran to the Pacific Ocean and then turned around and ran to the Atlantic Ocean.  Then, he turned around and ran back to the Pacific Ocean: all, by his own account, “for no particular reason”.  Soon the media finds out that this guy is running coast to coast continuously and people start to take interest.  People are intrigued and think that he must be some sort of “spiritual or political guru” to do something so radical and yet to be so quiet about it and so begin to follow him.  They think that he must be going somewhere and want to follow him there.  Ultimately, however, Forrest wasn’t going anywhere: he “just felt like running”.  And so, when he stopped feeling that way, he stopped running and went home: leaving his “followers”, stunned and speechless, in the middle of a desert highway.
I thought of this because of the contrast to Jesus in the Gospel.  There, Jesus is going somewhere: he’s leading people to the fulfillment of the promise; he’s leading people to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified.  Those who are following him, are following him to the cross.  The healing of the blind man Bartimeus shows us that Jesus came “to make all things new”; and his leading people to Jerusalem where he will be crucified shows us that it is through the cross that he will accomplish it.  Still more, the healing of Bartimeus and his subsequent following of Jesus shows us that Jesus desires that no one be left behind: if only they would cry out to him for mercy and respond to him when he calls.  For us who have been called and responded, it is a reminder that Jesus is not leading us to nowhere, but rather from our exile to the “new Jerusalem”: which is eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom.
My brothers and sisters, one thing we should take from these readings today is this: that we are both Bartimeus and Jesus.  Bartimeus because we all have spiritual (and perhaps physical) blindnesses that only Jesus can heal; and that we have to cry out to him, asking for his mercy.  Jesus because he chooses to work through us so that others might come to experience his mercy, too.  We, therefore, must both cry out to him for his mercy and call out to the blind who are on the side of the road to come to him.  To put it, perhaps, more distinctly: here in the Mass we are Bartimeus; then, at the end of Mass, we are sent out to be Jesus.
Friends, here we are: in exile in this world!  But God knows that he made us to be with him in the eternal holy city that he has prepared for us.  We are following Jesus, who desires to lead all who willingly come to him into that eternal city and his death, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven is our proof that he isn’t leading us to nowhere, but to that place to which, deep within us, we desperately long to return.  Let us, therefore, cry out to him today for his mercy (and for mercy on all those torn by violence in this world!) and receive from him—from this altar—what we most desire: union with him.  Then, armed with this euangelium—this good news—let us go back into the world to proclaim it with our lives.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 28th, 2018

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"King of the Hill" through service


Homily: 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          In general, it seems that boys have a pretty competitive nature.  Couple that with a lively imagination and pretty much any situation in which two or more boys find themselves together and somewhat free from close supervision and you can be pretty sure that some sort of competition will emerge.  This is certainly not limited to boyhood, of course.  Rather, it seems to freely continue well into adulthood (men, am I right?).  One of these competitions in which boys always seem to find a way to engage is “king of the hill.”
          Whether it’s a jungle gym, a pile of dirt, or even a pile of trash, just the sight of something that can be climbed and conquered seems to awaken inside of a boy a “primal urge” to overcome it.  If more than one boy is around, the competition goes beyond just trying to conquer the hill and becomes a competition between boys for who can stay on top of the hill.  As soon as one reaches the summit, another seems to come to usurp his claim as king and to claim it as his own.  Mostly, of course, this is harmless competition that is good for boys (and, often, girls) to engage in, though I seem to remember that it often ends with scrapes and bruises (and probably a few tears): all in the name of being crowned “king” among your peers.
          The Apostles James and John have demonstrated for us today the truth that we really don’t grow out of that competitive spirit as we become adults.  While in the Gospels—and particularly the Gospel of Mark—we are often treated with gaffs from their headstrong leader Peter, today we see these two—the sons of Zebedee—sticking their feet into their mouths because they wanted to be crowned “king of the hill.”  In a bold move for the summit, they approach Jesus, ask to be given whatever they ask for, and then proceed to lay claim to what they think are the most prominent positions in Jesus’ kingdom: to be seated at his right and at his left.  In part, they make a beautiful act of faith, for by asking for the places of honor in Christ’s kingdom, they are affirming their belief that he is a king and that his kingdom will soon be realized.  What they revealed, however, is a lack of understanding of what God’s kingdom would look like.
          I imagine Jesus giving them one of those looks—you know, when you raise your eyebrow just a bit so as to say, “Are you really asking that?”—and he responds to them saying, “Do you really know what you are asking for?  Do you realize what it will demand of you?”  James and John, for their part, have already jumped off the cliff and so they realize that if they are going to crash they’re going to do so dramatically and so they respond, “Yes, Lord, we are ready to do it.”  Then Jesus hits them with the reality check and says, “Well, regardless you will face what I am getting ready to face, but those positions that you asked for, those aren’t mine to give, so sorry but I can’t promise them to you.”
          This exchange, of course, left the other ten Apostles upset at James and John (assumedly because they, too, wanted to be “kings of the hill”) and so Jesus seized this moment to take the opportunity to teach them a lesson about what his kingdom would truly look like.  He says that “Leaders of nations use their influence to dominate their people and make their people serve them.  But with you it must be different.  If you wish to have a prominent place among your peers, learn to serve them.  In fact, let the rivalry among you be about who can outdo the other in service.  Let my example be your guide: for I, your king, came to be a servant and to lay down my life for others.”
          We can imagine that these words hit home for the Apostles, especially James and John.  James, we know, became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and the first among the Apostles to be martyred.  John, of course, we know as the “beloved disciple” of Jesus who took Mary into his home.  Both Apostles left us with inspired writings that demonstrate that what Jesus said that day truly took root in their hearts.
          My brothers and sisters, our task here today is to recognize that we are no different than James and John or any of the other Apostles.  We all harbor this sense of competition in our hearts and we all have fallen into the trap of wanting to be “king of the hill” so as to “lord it over” those around us.  Kids still ask their parents, “Which one of us is your favorite?”  Teenagers still strive to obtain and secure their place of prominence among the “cool kids.”  Adults still seek to connect themselves to people of influence, such as their boss or the mayor or a state or city representative.  And these are not necessarily bad things.  It actually seems to be quite natural to want to be connected to people we admire and who have influence in our lives.  The challenge for us, however, is in how we use those connections.
          My brothers and sisters, in Christ’s kingdom, greatness and power are not measured by the number of people that move according to your will.  In other words, you are not great when you stand on top of the hill and proclaim yourself “king.”  In Christ’s kingdom, rather, the great ones are those who help others reach the heights of that hill: those who help a kid learn math, or an immigrant learn English, or who give a job to a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, or reach out to a neighbor who just lost her husband after 50 years of marriage, or who invites a friend to Mass who hasn’t been for a really long time.  My brothers and sisters, these are the ones who will be greatest in God’s kingdom because they are the ones who have followed the way Christ laid out for us: to serve, not to be served, and to lay down one’s life for others.
          Here in late October, embroiled as we are in this “election season”, the battle to be “king of the hill” is dominating our lives.  Our task—as Christians and if we are able—is to elect those who seek to serve, not to be served, and then to live that example in our own lives.  My brothers and sisters, as we approach this “throne of grace”—on which Christ’s life, laid down for us, is presented to us—we are strengthened to go forth and to lay down our lives for our neighbors.  And so let us give thanks for this great gift; and then let us go forth in service to find our place on the hill of God’s kingdom.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 20th & 21st, 2018