Sunday, December 18, 2011

Have you gotten your wings?

Here's the homily I preached this past Sunday for the 4th Sunday of Advent.  I am now officially ready to start Christmas shopping :)  I hope you all have a blessed week in preparation for the great celebration!

“Look Daddy!  Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”  “That's right, that's right.  Attaboy, Clarence.”

            I would guess that more than a few of us could probably name the film that this line comes from.  For those who may not be able to, it is a line from the end of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life.  It’s A Wonderful Life is a classic film for the holidays that tells the story of George Bailey who, after building a successful life in small-town America, falls on hard times and on Christmas Eve has become so depressed that he believes that life in general would have been better without him.  As he stands on a bridge, ready to throw himself into icy waters, an angel intervenes to show George what life would have been like without him.  This “assignment” for the angel was a test that would prove whether or not the angel was ready to “get his wings.”  Hopefully, I won’t ruin the plot too badly for you by telling you that the angel, Clarence, was successful in his task of making George realize just how valuable his life had been, and so at the end of the film, when a bell rings, the little girl quotes her teacher and George realizes that Clarence indeed has made it.

            Now, the word “angel” comes from the Greek word “angelos,” which means “messenger,” “envoy,” or “one that announces.”  And so the irony of the movie, which is mostly—and, I would say, rightly—overlooked, is that Clarence achieves his full-fledged angel status by doing exactly what it is that angels do: bringing a message of hope to George, reminding him that his life was truly valued by the people around him and, at least implicitly, by God.  Angels are sent to carry important messages from God.

            Of course, the most important messages are going to be sent with the most important messengers.  Therefore, we see that it is Gabriel, an archangel, who is sent to carry God’s most important message to Mary.  For it was Gabriel who was sent to Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, to announce the conception of John the Baptist and it is also thought to be Gabriel who spoke from the tomb of Jesus, announcing that “the one they were looking for was no longer there; but that he was risen.”  Scholars have argued that this evidence indicates that Gabriel is indeed the “archangel of archangels.”  Yet, it is not his particular abilities that make him great, but rather it is the greatness of the message that he carries that sets him apart.

            Gabriel’s message, as we’ve heard in today’s Gospel reading, is that the beginning of the fullness of time is at hand.  He is announcing that, after generations of waiting, the Promised One of God is about to appear.  You know, the amazing thing about the annunciation is that so many things had to line up for it to happen.  Kind of like a supernatural game of chess, God had been waiting for all of the pieces to line up so that he could enact his perfect plan for the salvation of mankind.  Ever since the first sin of Adam and Eve, God had been moving among us, revealing himself and his plan for the salvation of man to us and encouraging us to learn to walk in his ways.  He waited as our sinful inclinations caused us to drift away from his plan and then he waited as his grace slowly led us back into it, so that, in his perfect timing, his favored one, Mary, could be born free of sin by an extraordinary act of grace and thus be ready to receive the message that the angel Gabriel would bring to her on that glorious day.

            The angels, too, waited anxiously for God’s perfect plan to come to fruition.  And so when it came time for this great message of the Incarnation to be delivered to Mary, the angel Gabriel arrived in haste to deliver it.  When he greeted her, Gabriel did not do so as if his message was some sort of subpoena proclaiming that she must comply with God’s will.  Rather, his greeting came with an acknowledgement of her sublime dignity as one highly regarded by God.  Mary, on her part, received the message with surprise, unaware of the dignity that God had bestowed upon her.  And while certainly the message that God’s only Son was to become man and be born of Mary is the primary message that Gabriel carried, it seems also that he carried a secondary message of significant importance: “O lowly handmaiden of the Lord.  Rejoice!  You have been highly regarded by God.”  This angel, who already knows the blessing of being regarded by God, was eager to bring this message of great joy to Mary.  And so we see that the message itself is a blessing, a blessing that opens the door for an even more abundant blessing: the Word become flesh in Mary’s womb.

            In many ways, we are experiencing another time of waiting, much like the ancient Hebrews experienced as they were waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  Christ, the promised one of God, has come and has brought us salvation through his life, death, and resurrection.  He ascended into heaven and waits now, until the fullness of time comes to completion—that is, until all of the pieces of God’s wonderfully mysterious plan come into place—when he will come again to usher in a new heaven and a new earth and to call his chosen ones home.  This anticipation of his coming is what we have been remembering in these past three weeks of Advent.  As we turn now and focus our attention on our remembrance and celebration of Christ’s first coming, we find ourselves with a perfect opportunity to cooperate in putting into place those pieces that will lead to Christ’s second coming.

            You see, part of our calling as Christians is, in some sense, to be angels of the Lord.  There are many people around us who have never heard the message that Mary received from the angel Gabriel: that they are highly regarded by God.  Yet, I suspect that every day we are given the opportunity to give that very message to someone.  In the book of Genesis, it tells us that “God looked at all he had made and said, ‘It is very good.’”  Therefore, in a special way, because each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, God looks on us with favor and invites us to all to receive a message similar to the one Gabriel carried to Mary: “Hail, favored one!  God desires to dwell in you, if only you would let him.”  Now, I don’t believe that I exaggerate when I say that each and every day God gives us a chance to say to someone, “You are important here.  Your life matters, because God has a beautiful plan for your life.”  Perhaps even now we are aware of someone who needs to hear that message.  If so, then I invite you to make a commitment right now to carry that message to them this week.  If not, then I invite you to pray this week that God will reveal to you who he wants you to bring this message to, the joyful message of Emmanuel, God with us, in this coming week.  And when you feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit—in other words, when you feel moved to share this message with someone that you encounter this week—I encourage you to respond just like Mary did: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, Let it be done to me according to your Word.

            My sisters and brothers, as we complete our preparations to celebrate our remembrance of the coming of Christ—that is, as we prepare not only our homes, but our hearts as well—let us also heed our call to be angels of God’s mercy to those around us.  If we do, perhaps then on Christmas Day a bell will ring also for each one of us.

~ Given at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Carmel, IN. – December 18, 2011.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Are you "tired" of Christmas already?

Hey Folks!  Here's the homily I preached for the second Sunday of Advent at my ministry parishes in Jeffersonville, IN.  I have many, many more things to say about the much maligned season of Advent, but this is all I can bear to write now.  May God bless your Advent season with joy-filled expectation (instead of resentment) of Christmas!
~ Given at Saint Augustine and Sacred Heart parishes, Jeffersonville, IN – December 3rd & 4th, 2011.

          Last Saturday marked the end of the liturgical year.  In the Gospel reading for the Mass of the day on that last day of the Church year, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life….” (Luke 21:34) It’s no accident that that particular reading is read on the last day of the Church liturgical year.  After 34 weeks of Ordinary Time—when we focus on growing spiritually and morally in the context of our daily lives—the Church realizes that most of us probably do have hearts that have “become drowsy”—perhaps from drunkenness and carousing, but most likely from the anxieties of daily life.  And so there is a certain genius on the Church’s part to place that reading right on the cusp of the new liturgical year.  It reminds us that perhaps our hearts have become drowsy and then it ushers us right into Advent, a season designed to help “wake us up.”

          Our first reading today from the prophet Isaiah is a beautiful reading—full of awe and wonder.  While the reader did a great job reading it, I think it would require a method actor to really convey the joy-filled expectation that these words express.  Listen to some of these again:

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
 says your God.
 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
 that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated…

And still further:

…Go up on to a high mountain,
 Zion, herald of glad tidings;
 cry out at the top of your voice,
 Jerusalem, herald of good news!
 Fear not to cry out
 and say to the cities of Judah:
 Here is your God! 

These are words of great joy and expectation and are simply wonderful to ponder.  Perhaps, however, we are unable to see the joy that these words convey, at least not in our current situation.  Perhaps, even after one week of Advent, our hearts are still drowsy—tired, weary, and numb—from the anxieties of our daily lives.  Of course, one need not look farther than the newspaper to understand why: violence and drug use continue to escalate in our cities and neighborhoods, jobs continue to be scarce and an economic recovery continues to be lethargic, national politics remains, it seems, disconnected from the daily struggles of individuals and families, and there are countless other reasons as well.  And so no, it’s not surprising that our hearts may have become drowsy and we are unable to relate to the awe and wonder expressed in today’s first reading.

          Yet, when we listen to the Gospel reading, we see that the Jews living during Jesus’ time also seemed to be struggling with the same problem.  Now, the Gospel of Mark is notoriously slim on narrative details and so we’ll have to read between the lines a little bit to see that their hearts were also drowsy and in need of awakening.  The Gospel begins by quoting our reading from the prophet Isaiah and then essentially equates it with John’s proclamation in the desert, calling for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The Gospel states that “people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him.”  In other words, the whole Jewish nation heard of John’s proclamation and began to come to him to be baptized.  Perhaps many of them were reluctant at first, unable to see the “awe” in the awe-filled proclamation that John was making.  Eventually, perhaps, through the witness of seeing others go out to the Jordan River or of speaking with others who returned from there, these reluctant ones could see that their hearts indeed had become drowsy waiting for the coming of God that Isaiah had promised.  With “hearts awake,” however, they could experience the joy-filled expectation that the coming promised by the prophet was now at hand.

          And so we encounter these readings here today in this season of Advent for the same purpose: to call us to recognize the drowsiness of our own hearts so that we too may awaken to the experience of joy-filled expectation for the second-coming of Jesus.  Just like those ancient Jews, it feels like Christ’s promised return is long-delayed, but when we recognize—as Saint Peter reminds us our second reading today—that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day,” it makes it easier to see that Jesus’ delay is, ultimately, for our benefit.  Christ wishes that all of us should come to repentance, as Saint Peter reminds us, and so every second that he delays—which is as nothing to him—is a gift of opportunity for us to wake up our drowsy hearts, so as to be ready when he comes.

          My sisters and brothers, Jesus did not tell his disciples to “beware that their hearts not become drowsy” because he is an exacting master, demanding strict discipline so as to never sin.  Rather, he was instructing them—and so us through the preservation of his words in the Gospels—to remain vigilant so that they would not be asleep and miss out on the joy of witnessing his return in glory.  My sisters and brothers, this is what the season of Advent is doing for us.  It’s as if the season itself is saying, “Take comfort, for this time of suffering is at an end and the time for Christ’s return is near!”  If it hasn’t done this for you yet, then I encourage you to spend time praying with these readings in this coming week and to ask God to awaken in your heart a joy-filled expectation for his coming.

          And if it has?  Well, I think the Gospel then shows us what to do.  All of the people from the Judean countryside and the city-dwellers of Jerusalem came out to John to receive the baptism of repentance and to acknowledge their sins—to “make straight a path” in their hearts for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, the one Isaiah promised.  We too, then, are called to repent and acknowledge our sins.  For the fully-initiated, that means the sacrament of reconciliation—confession—and it is why the Church encourages all Catholics to celebrate this sacrament during the season of Advent.  As we hear the readings reminding us of how the ancient Jews prepared the way of the Lord in their hearts at the sound of John’s proclamation, so we too are called to prepare a pathway for Christ to come into our hearts by reconciling with both God and our neighbor through the sacrament of confession.

          Friends, beware that yours hearts do not become drowsy from the oversaturation of “Christmas Spirit” that the world outside of these walls is drowning you in.  Rather, use this time of Advent to prepare well your heart for Christ’s second coming and the best gift you will receive on Christmas day may very well be the joy of the Lord in your heart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Race for Vocations!

Ok, I've done it again... I signed up to run the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini Marathon as part of the 5th annual RACE FOR VOCATIONS.  This year is the 5th running of the race for vocations and they have a goal of getting 500 runners to participate.  This is a big challenge but one we can all get behind!

Check out this YouTube video of last year's race (yours truly is even featured in it ;) )

Last year, I had no idea if I could run a half-marathon.  Committing to racing for vocations, however, I found the inspiration that I needed to train, knowing that every bead of my rosary that passed through my fingers was a grace to help someone open themselves to the vocation that God is calling them to.  Having offered my training as a sacrafice for those discerning their vocations, I found the grace I needed to run my first race and complete it.

If you've never done something like this, now is the perfect time to try.  Even if you are discerning your own vocation, making a committment to train for this race and to pray that God will reveal to you what He has planned for your life will be a blessing and will not be wasted.

If you're feeling a little tug on your heart right now, and you're feeling like this might be something you could do, that's the Holy Spirit telling you to sign up for the 2012 Race for Vocations!  Go right now to sign up for the 500 Festival Mini Marathon (it's still only $55... until 12/1!) and then register with the Race for Vocations.  Here are the links:

Register for the mini or 5k here:

Register for the vocations team here:

Then send these links to everyone you know and let's do all we can to get 500 (or more) participants this year!  Oh, and let me know you've registered so we can pray for each other as we train by e-mailing me at dominic dot petan at gmail dot com.

Verso l'Alto!

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Parable of the worthy wife?

Here's the homily I preached this weekend at Saint Augustine and Sacred Heart parishes in Jeffersonville, IN for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

          Perhaps many of us have read the books (or, more recently, seen the films) of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  Many readers have concluded that his stories fall into the category of “Christian allegory.”  Now, an allegory is a literary device—a tool of communication—in which metaphors are used to explain an abstract idea through storytelling.  In the case of Lewis’ books, the fantasy world of Narnia is used to illustrate some of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith: most notably, the battle between good and evil that rages within and around each one of us, and the presence of a powerful king—Aslan—who leads us and inspires in us the faith to persevere in the battle.  Parables are very similar to allegories in that they use metaphorical images in storytelling as a way of imparting certain ideas.  The difference is that parables are usually much shorter, focused, perhaps, on a particular moral lesson that the author is trying to impart.  In a sense, parables are “Allegory Lite.”
          In the Gospel reading today (and, for that matter, the last couple of weeks), Jesus tells his disciples a parable.  Most of us, I would guess, are quite familiar with this parable and so the meaning of the metaphors the parable utilizes probably shine through.  The Master—who is Jesus—is going on a journey to be seated at the Father’s right hand and so needs to entrust his possessions—which is the Gospel—to his servants—otherwise known as his disciples—to care for them until he returns. After a long time—perhaps 2000 years or more—the master will return and call his servants in to see if they’ve been profitable with what they were entrusted with.  Those who return with a profit proportional to what they were given—perhaps a number of converts to the faith or a faithful family or works that have helped the poor—will be blessed for their faithfulness.  Those who failed to be profitable with what they were given—perhaps out of fear, indifference, or even spite—will be punished for their unfaithfulness.  For the disciples to whom this parable was first addressed, I suspect the allegory was obvious and the meaning clear: “We better get out and spread the Gospel so we aren’t caught having done nothing when Jesus returns.”  And I suppose that it’s not much of a stretch for us to interpret the allegory in the same way: “Jesus, it seems, is long delayed, but the fact of the matter is that he could still return at anytime, so we better ‘make hay while the sun shines,’” and that’s easy enough.  Well, perhaps it’s a bit too easy.
          I think, perhaps, that it is too easy to see God as “master” and ourselves as “servants.”  When we look at it this way, it’s kind of easy to fall into a “just do the minimum” mindset exemplified by such “bumper sticker wisdom” as: “Jesus is coming, look busy.”  Such “wisdom” plays on our very natural inclination—which, in fact, is a disordered inclination—to do only what’s minimally necessary so that when our “master” returns we look like we’ve done something when really we’ve done nothing at all.  It’s the mindset that thinks that we can somehow “pull the wool” over the eyes of Jesus to make him believe that we were faithful even when we haven’t been (which, in itself, is a nice piece of irony considering that Jesus is the Lamb of God).  This “just follow the rules” mindset, of course, is not what God has called us to.  Saint Paul is adamant about this, stating repeatedly in his letters that if being a follower of Christ is just about the rules, then forget about it, it’s useless.  Saint Paul knew that when Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, but friends,” he was inviting us to a relationship beyond that of a master and his servant: a much deeper relationship that brings with it greater responsibilities.
          In our first reading today, we hear a description from the book of Proverbs—an Old Testament “wisdom” book—of a woman described as a “worthy wife.”  I suppose it would be easy to look at this reading and dismiss it as an outdated description of an “ancient middle-eastern housewife” that has no relevance for us today.  Our Catholic faith, however, tells us that Sacred Scripture is God’s living Word—Jesus Christ—speaking to us and revealing himself to us, and so perhaps if we feel inclined to think that a piece of the Scriptures has no relevance for us we need to think again, and maybe become a little curious about why these words were preserved for us to read and ponder here today.  What I would challenge all of us here today to see in this reading is another allegory—one a little less obvious, perhaps, but no less profound.
          The reading tells us that when a man finds a worthy wife, he entrusts his heart to her, and that the worthy wife responds to this trust by working with loving hands to bring him good and not evil.  How often we forget that Jesus is not just our master and we his servants, but that Jesus is also the bridegroom and we—his Church—are his bride.  This is a much more intimate image.  And thus this reading becomes very relevant to our lives today and shows us how we, entrusted with the heart of Jesus, ought to respond so as to be a worthy spouse of so great a husband.  In fact, it shows us the only way, really, that we can respond, given our human limitations: that is, by bringing him good and not evil in our daily actions and by working with loving hands to serve him and each other.
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus has found a worthy spouse—his Church, that is, all of us—and he has entrusted to her his heart—his very Self—here in the Eucharist.  No doubt, it is a fearful thing to be entrusted with so great a gift.  We need not be fearful, however, as if our Master seeks only to catch us off guard in order to punish us.  Rather, we can be hopeful, trusting that the one who has entrusted his heart to us seeks only our own good and to find us faithful.  It is this hopeful trust, then, that leads us to a faithful, fruitful, and joy-filled living of the mystery that God has given to us—a living that can begin here today. May this mysterious love overflow in our hearts and touch the lives of all those around us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The priest and the cross...

"As priests, we must never forget that the only legitimate ascension towards the ministry of pastor is not that of success but that of the Cross."
~ Pope Benedict XVI, Nov. 5, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More reasons to believe...

I was able to catch these images last Friday as a few of us walked out to the winery (Monkey Hollow Winery) a couple of miles out behind Saint Meinrad.  I'm going to miss this place...

What do you say, Dubya?  Still think B-town's got anything on Saint Meinrad?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Take a look at this...

...and try to tell me that there is no God!

(Taken from the window of my room in the seminary, October 27th, 2011, about 4:20 p.m.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Can I love you and still be me?

Crazy week this past week! I preached for the first time in our seminary chapel. I was much more intimidated than I expected to be! I think that it went well, though. Please find the homily below.

(By the way: Dr. LaMothe is our professor for Pastoral Care and Counseling.)

~ Given at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology (Saint Thomas Aquinas Chapel), Saint Meinrad, IN – October 23rd, 2011.

I don’t know, perhaps I’m missing something, or perhaps I’ve taken one too many classes with Dr. LaMothe, but it just seems to me like so many of our problems—particularly our relationship problems—boil down to a struggle with differentiation. Differentiation, as many scholars define it, is one’s ability to be his or herself in relation to others. In other words, it is knowing who I am as a distinct person in relation to another person. I like this notion because it touches on something very human: that is, that we come to know ourselves more fully—in a sense, that we become more human—when we recognize our distinctiveness in relation to another person, which gets right to the core of our theological understanding of the human person: that we are all members of one body, distinct but related.

A struggle with differentiation, then, is when our sense of self becomes dependent on others. In other words, when we find that we need others to act in a certain way in order to feel good about ourselves and to function within a group of others then we are probably struggling to be (or, rather, to know) who we are in relation to others. Perhaps an example will help illustrate this. First, for those of you who aren’t from Indiana you should know that in Indiana you are either for Purdue University and against Indiana University or vice versa (unless of course you aren’t from Indiana originally, in which case you don’t care because you realize that it’s just not important). Imagine what it would be like if on any given day a small group of people (let’s say ten or so) decided to walk through the campus of IU completely decked out in black and gold Purdue paraphernalia. For students at IU this demonstration would be tantamount to a hostile invasion. Perhaps, then, you could imagine the tension that would build as this group walked through campus. My guess is that it wouldn’t be but a few minutes before this group began to receive hostile and threatening comments from IU students passing them by. In their anxiety at this apparent threat to their identity as Hoosiers, these students would react by attempting to shame the members of this group for their non-conformity.

We see further examples of this in the readings from the Gospel of Matthew that we’ve heard over the past few weeks. In these passages, we see the Pharisees react to Jesus’ non-conformity in his teaching and his apparent attacks on their authority by sending wave after wave of experts to try and catch Jesus in saying something either heretical that they could use to discredit his teachings or blasphemous that they could use to condemn him. They were anxious about his teaching and reacted in an attempt to shame him for his non-conformity.

Now, in some sense, the Pharisees had good reason to be anxious. As the established protectors of Jewish orthodoxy it was their duty to ensure that all rabbis were espousing right teaching. This was further exacerbated, however, by the Roman occupation, which, while allowing them to continue to practice their religion, was quick to react to anything that smelled of a revolution. Therefore, Jesus’ talk about a “Kingdom at hand” and of the “anointed of God” having arrived would have increased the Pharisees’ anxiety tenfold. Nevertheless, instead of engaging Jesus’ teaching and either embracing it for what it was or ignoring it and thus “teaching around it,” they become reactive, rejecting Jesus’ teaching and seeking to force him to change and to conform to their image. Because they couldn’t be themselves—the established leaders of the Jewish faith—in relation to Jesus, Jesus either had to change or be annihilated.

It’s no stretch to see that this kind of reactive, undifferentiated response is a significant source of conflict in our own lives today. Our culture is given over to polarizations and, thus, in many ways our congregations are divided. How often do we find ourselves launching into criticisms about what others in the church are saying or doing? I suspect that there are few of us in this chapel whose anxiety wouldn’t shoot through the roof when he or she encountered someone who was convinced that women would soon be ordained priests or be able to sit calmly while a fellow Catholic went around teaching that same-sex marriages are valid. Immediately our defenses would shoot up and our responses would move towards an attempt to force them to change and to conform to our image of a “good Catholic.” My brothers and sisters, no matter what the situation is, when our anxiety levels start to rise and we begin to become reactive, it’s a sign that we are struggling with differentiation, that is, we are struggling to be who we are in relation to others.

Even though the Pharisees had confronted Jesus in their struggle with differentiation, we see that Jesus nonetheless puts forth a well-differentiated response. Knowing that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, we can imagine that he felt some anxiety when the scribe approached him. Nonetheless, he was able to check his anxiety and respond their question instead of reacting to their malicious intentions. He reminded them that an authentic love of God is inextricably intertwined with a genuine love of neighbor. More important, however, is that Jesus models this teaching for them in the very way he responds to them. Although the Pharisees were reacting to their anxiety about Jesus’ teaching, Jesus refuses to react to them. Rather, he responds to them in love, showing his ability to be who he is in relation to them, even when they relate to him in hostility.

For us, the same certainly holds true. When we approach God out of our anxiety—whether it be anger, frustration, fear, or doubt—he is always able to receive us and to respond to us in a way that is in no way reactive to how we approached him. Always capable of being who he is in relation to us, God stands always ready to respond to us in love, a response which then becomes for us like a mirror, showing us who we really are in relation to him—his sons and daughters—and thus enabling us to be who we are in relation to others, which frees us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

My brothers and sisters, Jesus’ ultimate act of differentiation is what we see on that cross and in what we will eat from this altar. In submitting to the indescribable torture and death on the cross and to being made present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the form of bread and wine, Jesus acknowledges who he is in relation both to God and to us: the Son of God and the Son of man, the King of All Ages and the child of a peasant girl, the Beloved of the Father and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world… My brothers and sisters, let us remember today who we are—sons and daughters and brothers and sisters—and let us not forget the commandment Jesus has given us to love God and to love our neighbor, a love that intermingles most perfectly when we approach this altar in unity and peace. My brothers and sisters, let us be.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Who really is in control?

            I know that it has been a long time since my last post, but the semester has really gotten a hold of me.  I preached my first Sunday homily of the semester this past weekend at my ministry parishes in Jeffersonville, IN.  So, I post the homily here and hope to post an update sometime soon.  Thanks for your patience!

~ Homily given at Saint Augustine and Sacred Heart parishes in Jeffersonville, IN - October 15-16, 2011: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

            Not long after the earthquake that hit Virginia and shook much of the central east coast, including Washington, D.C., I came across a reflection that highlighted something simple and yet profound.  Now, I don’t remember who wrote it or, for that matter, how I even came across it, but nonetheless the point that the author made stuck with me.  In it, the author focused on the earthquake’s effect on the operations of our nation’s capital, causing government offices and federal courts to close for the day.  What the author found to be so profound about this is that the government of what is arguably the most powerful nation in the world was forced to close shop and go home by a power over which it has no control… a natural phenomenon or, what we might call, an act of God.  In other words, for a brief time on an August afternoon, the men and women who govern our nation were faced with the fact that, in reality, a greater power was in control of what would happen that day.  The author concludes without making any judgments about the earthquake being a manifestation of God’s wrath (which I remember being somewhat popular at the time), but rather expresses his humble satisfaction in this reminder that, in spite of the powers of principalities that surround us, God still truly is in control.

            In today’s Gospel, Jesus finds himself in a “double-bind.”  The Pharisees, feeling unjustly indicted after hearing the parables Jesus was teaching—the parables we’ve heard over the past three weeks—go off to plot their revenge against him.  After all, they believe themselves to be the acknowledged religious authority and so they refuse to be undermined by Jesus.  Soon, they send their “cronies” to test Jesus and to see if they can catch him making a comment that they can use to turn people against him.  The double trouble comes in the form of the Herodians, King Herod’s cronies who many commentators suspect were the ones responsible for collecting taxes.  The test that the disciples of the Pharisees propose is essentially a “catch 22” in which a key phrase has a double meaning and, thus, can trap the respondent into making an answer he or she wouldn’t otherwise make.  In this context, the phrase “is it lawful” would have conveyed two meanings.  For the Pharisees, the law that they are concerned with is the Law of Moses, which states that allegiance is to be paid to God alone (thus, the first commandment: “I am the Lord, your God.  You shall not have strange gods before me.”).  And so, paying the census tax—at least to them—was akin to “splitting” your allegiance between Yahweh and someone else.  For the Herodians, the law they were concerned with is the civil law, in which it is a crime on the level of treason to refuse to pay the tax.  Thus, to not pay the tax is akin to an act of a revolutionary, which is something the Romans were quite sensitive about.  And so we see Jesus’ double bind.  If he says that it is lawful to pay the census tax, then he is contradicting the Mosaic Law and splitting his allegiance between God and Caesar.  On the other hand, if he says that it is not lawful, the Herodians will likely report him as “inciting acts against Caesar,” which will probably get him arrested.

            As Jesus is wont to do, however, he sees the trap for what it is and steps right around it.  He sees the limited perspective with which they both viewed the problem and then expands it to show them yet a third solution, the “both/and.”  Jesus’ answer—“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”—demonstrates that he sees no conflict in paying the tax on one hand and maintaining allegiance to God alone on the other.  In other words, Jesus is saying that what Caesar demands is of little accord, so pay it if you must, but do not let it distract you from giving to God his just due, which is of much greater importance.

            For us, this calls us to consider how we live our lives as Christians subject to a government that is at times hostile to our religious convictions.  Are we going to cower, sulking frustratedly because our government doesn’t rule the way we’d like it to (which is the model put forth by the Pharisees)?  Or will we acknowledge that our God is in control, in spite of our government’s limitations, and realize that what we owe God is of much greater importance than whatever it is our government exacts of us?  The thing that we tend to overlook, it seems, is not what we owe to the government (I suspect that no one here is unaware of what they owe to them), but rather what we owe to God.  Now, perhaps at this point you are looking at me and asking, “What exactly do we owe to God?”

            Well, in a word, everything.  There’s nothing that we have in this world that hasn’t come from God and so to “repay … to God what belongs to God” means that in some way we owe him everything we have.  However, let’s take a look at the Psalm that we sang today to see if we can get a little more specific.  The psalmist states, “Give the Lord, you family of nations, give the Lord glory and praise; give the Lord the glory due his name!  Bring gifts and enter his courts.”  Therefore, it seems that our worship is what we owe God, first and foremost.  You know, as Americans, we have a certain cultural attitude in which we feel obliged at times to “keep the score even.”  In other words, when we receive a gift or kindness from others, we feel like we are then in debt to the other person and thus look for some way to repay their kindness.  When we are faced with the graciousness of God, however, we are forced to acknowledge that we are unable to repay God for what he has given to us.  Yet, we tend to discount the simple acts that God desires from us.  We fail to recognize that, in truth, there is absolutely nothing that can take the place of our coming together as a faith community to worship God in thanksgiving for his gifts that sustain us each and every day.  From this standpoint, then, it makes sense that giving glory to God is our first priority.  Of course, that’s not all we are called to do.  Our giving back to God from the gifts he’s given us cannot be limited simply to a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning; rather it must spill forth into our daily lives.  “Tell his glory among the nations,” the psalmist proclaims, “among all peoples [tell] his wondrous deeds.”  At the end of each Mass, we are sent forth into the world to bring the Good News we celebrate here into our homes, our communities, and our workplaces, completing “works of faith” and “labors of love,” all the while “enduring in hope”—true hope—that God indeed is in control and that one day we will see him face to face.

            My brothers and sisters, when earthquakes shake our lives—whether they be physical acts of nature or, more commonly, events that shake up the status quo of our lives—we are forced to face the ominous question: “Who really is in control here?”  For some, the answer is frightening: a cold, malicious God who exacts suffering on both good and bad, seemingly without discretion, or worse yet no God at all, leaving them with no way to ascribe meaning to the suffering which they endure.  For us, however, it is God, our Father and Mother, who protects us and nourishes us and most importantly never abandons us, even if we try to abandon him.

            Perhaps we can remember this today as we do what the psalmist charges us to do, “bringing our gifts into his courts” so as to repay to the Lord what truly belongs to him, “the glory due his name.”  The glory that is our lives of service, gratuitously given and united to the one who paid the price for us all, Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Power of Keys

This was my homily that I preached last weekend at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Carmel, Indiana.

Most of us probably don’t realize this, but every day we carry around a little bundle of power in our pockets, purses, etc. No, in spite of what all of the advertisers are trying to convince you of, it isn’t that latest smartphone with the 80 billion aps on it. It is, in fact, our keys. You see, keys are powerful. Sure, practically speaking they don’t seem to do much: they lock and unlock our doors and start our cars, but when you look at it a little more broadly, you see that they do in fact have a lot of power over how we live our lives. Just think about the last time you lost your keys. How powerless did you feel? Particularly in America, without our keys we are immobilized. We can’t go anywhere because we can’t unlock, let alone start our car, and we wouldn’t want to leave anyway, because we either wouldn’t be able to lock the house or, if we could, we wouldn’t be able to get back in. So, yes, keys are apparently pretty powerful. Well, maybe not exactly. It’s not the keys themselves that have the power, but rather it is those who possess the keys who have it. Parents, of course, know this. How often have you—against your better judgment—handed your car keys over to your teenager with the ominous warning, “I expect you to bring it back in one piece, got it?” You realize that putting keys in their hands is handing power over to them and so you feel it is your duty (and rightfully so) to remind them of the responsibility that comes with it. This, I think, can help us understand our readings today, because in both we see that power being handed over to another by the conferring of keys.

In the first reading, we see that it is God himself who has this power. In the reading we see that God is exercising his power over the keys of the kingdom, taking them from one and giving them to another. Shebna was given power over the kingdom of Judah, yet he was not a good steward of the authority given to him. So the Lord stripped him of the keys and gave them to Eliakim, whom the prophet identifies as the Lord’s servant. Teens, could you imagine losing the keys to the car to your little brother or sister? Multiply that by a couple hundred thousand and that’s what you have going on here. You see, God was looking for a good steward for his kingdom, someone who would serve the needs of his chosen people well. Shebna, apparently, didn’t cut it, so the keys were given to Eliakim.

In the Gospel today, we see a similar scene, though in this instance it is more like a test. As a group, the disciples are able to report all of the facts about what others have been saying about Jesus. Yet when Jesus confronts them and asks them to weed through all of that and tell him who they say that he is, only Simon Peter is recorded as having a response. As a result, Jesus reveals to Simon his plan for him in his Kingdom. Two things, I think, are important to note here. First, Jesus carries the authority to confer the keys of the Kingdom of God. Now, no Jew in their right mind would ever presume to do this, because they all knew that God alone had the authority to do so. Thus, Jesus is either outside of his right mind or he really is God. (fyi, as Christians, we believe the latter. ) Second, Peter, in confessing that Jesus is the Son of God, proves that he acknowledges Jesus’ authority and that he is ready to be a steward of God’s Kingdom. Thus, it is only after Peter makes this confession that Jesus reveals to him his true calling, represented by conferring on him a new name and by giving him the keys to the Kingdom. This is such a rich story that we could spend a lot more time unpacking, but, unfortunately, we don’t have time to do so. What’s important for us to see today is that Peter’s faith—his ability to respond to God’s grace and confess what was unknowable to his human senses alone, that Jesus is God—is itself a key to unlocking God’s loving plan for his life. My brothers and sisters, faith is a powerful key.

Of course, as we encounter this reading today, we, too, are confronted with the same questions. “Who do they say that I am?” Well, for us, that’s a relatively easy question to answer. We have nearly 2000 years of history and study behind us to help us. In fact, there’s a whole theological science—called Christology—that’s dedicated to answering just that question. The challenge comes, as it did for the disciples who were with Jesus that day, when Jesus asks that second question, “Who do you say that I am?” No matter how deftly we synthesize 2000 years of Christology to make it sound like our own, if we answer using only the knowledge we’ve gained through study of what others have said, our answer will never be more than just that, what others have said about Jesus. This question cannot be answered by study alone. Rather, it also requires a relationship.

Think about it. If a close friend came up to you and said, “What are other people saying about me?” how would you respond? My guess is that it would be things like, “Oh, they say ‘he’s a nice guy,’ or ‘a good worker,’ or ‘a great soccer player.’” Or perhaps, “‘she’s a good mother,’ ‘an excellent teacher,’ or ‘a nice boss,’” etc. etc. And what if your friend then turned to you and said, “Well, who do you say that I am?” If you don’t have a good relationship with that person, what more can you say except what everyone else has already said? Yet, if you have a relationship with that person, you can look at him or her and say, “You’re Greg, or Susan, or Cindy. You’re Larry, or Samir or Elaina… and you’re my friend and I know that you’re a good person.” Do you see the difference there? Without a relationship we are unable to see that person for who he or she is. My friends, the same applies for our ability to answer these questions from Jesus today. We can’t just listen to what other people have said about him. Rather, we have to spend time with him and get to know him. Then we will be able to respond, “You are Jesus, my friend. And because of this I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” My friends this is a powerful confession. It is powerful because it unlocks for us the relationship in which God can reveal his plan for us—his plan for our happiness—and so entrust us with the responsibility to help bring about his kingdom here on earth.

Whether or not you are ready to make this confession today, the important thing to remember is that there is always room for each of us to deepen our relationship with God. Each time that we encounter him in both the Word and the Blessed Sacrament—whether here in the liturgy or in private prayer—we should ask him to reveal himself to us more and more. However it is that you decide to do that—whether it is through Bible Studies, time in the adoration chapel, participating in a Christ Renews His Parish weekend or any other of the hundreds of ways we have available to us here in this parish—let God unlock the faith in you that will be your key to unlocking the life that he has planned for you, a life that will lead to your eternal joy in heaven. My brothers and sisters, we can even begin right here. As we each approach to receive Jesus in this Eucharistic meal, let us imagine Jesus asking us that question, “Who do you say that I am?” Then, let’s let our “Amen” echo Peter’s words and thus unlock for us the joys of God’s Kingdom.

~ Given at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Carmel, IN – August 20th & 21st, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Listening with a discerning heart

Here's the text from the homily that I preached at St. Ambrose in Anderson this past weekend (the St. Mary's homily was a cut version). Please feel free to comment!

In the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is a spoof on the medieval “King Arthur” fables, there is a part where the “knights of the round table” have to cross a bridge spanning a deep chasm, a bridge that is guarded by a bridge keeper. The keeper is made out to be a fearsome, intimidating creature and to get by him each person must answer three questions correctly. Sir Lancelot, the brave, is the first to approach. Encountering the keeper and with much bravado, he awaits the questions: “What is your name?” “Sir Lancelot of Camelot.” “What is your quest?” “To find the Holy Grail.” “What is your favorite color?” “Blue.” Stunned at the ease of the questions, Lancelot nonetheless proudly passes onto the bridge. Sir Robin, having seen this, pushes to the front, expecting to pass with similar ease. As he arrogantly approaches the keeper he too is questioned: “What is your name?” “Sir Robin of Camelot.” “What is your quest.” “To seek the Holy Grail.” “What is the capital of Assyria?” “What? I don’t kno… ahhhhh!” Having answered wrong, he is thrown by an invisible force into the chasm. While the rest of the scene is worth recounting, I’ll invite you to go to YouTube or Netflix to see it. The point is that Sir Robin mistakenly assumed that the questions would be the same for each traveler. Instead of listening for the particular way that the keeper would question him, he answered without discernment and so was lost.

In today’s first reading, we hear of a similar encounter. In this case, it is the prophet Elijah who is on a journey and God whom he is encountering. For forty days Elijah journeyed through the desert to Mount Horeb, where he then took shelter in a cave. Perhaps to us, these facts seem simply to be background to the story of God’s encounter with Elijah. Yet for the Hebrew people, each of these details would have had a powerful impact on their interpretation of the story. The forty day journey in the desert would have reminded them of the forty year journey of the Israelites through the desert and into the Promised Land. And, while most of us might not make the connection, the ancient Israelites would know that Mount Horeb, where Elijah ended his journey, is also known as Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments and where God formed his covenant with the Israelite people. There, God called Moses up to him on the mountain and spoke to him. When he did, the people heard loud peals of thunder and the earth shook beneath them. Thus, you can imagine that it was quite a shock to the Israelites when they heard that when God called Elijah to come out to meet him that God was not to be found in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Elijah, even though he was intimately aware of the way God had spoken to his people on that very mountain, did not presume that God would speak to him in the same way. Rather he waited with a discerning heart to hear the particular way that God would speak to him and instead found the Lord in a small whispering sound.

In our Gospel reading today, we hear the continuation of the story we began last week. After feeding the five thousand with just five loaves and two fish, Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him, dismisses the crowd to their homes and finally gets the retreat he was looking for. As Jesus spends the night in prayer, Peter and the disciples find themselves fighting against a rough sea. Thus, as Jesus approaches them, the disciples, already stressed out, react as if they are seeing a ghost. To calm their spirits Jesus calls out to them in what must have seemed to be a “tiny whispering sound” amidst the crashing of the waves in the tumultuous waters. Even amidst this chaos, however, Peter, like Elijah, immediately discerned the Lord’s voice and asked that the Lord would call him to him. He could do this because, in times of calm, he spent time with Jesus, building a relationship with him and getting to know his voice. Thus, in times of distress, he could weather the storm and hear the particular way in which God was speaking to him and calling him close.

The challenge of discerning God’s voice in the midst of our noisy world is greater than ever. That is why it is ever more important to build a relationship with God in times of calm, so that in times of storm and distress we will know which voice to listen to. A child lost in a shopping mall is made deaf by his anxiety until the voice of his mother breaks through, calling him to her. God calls us to this kind of relationship, a relationship in which we come to know and trust his voice, so that when we are tossed about by the waves of the world, we will hear him calling to us in order to calm our spirits.

So why is this important? Well, quite frankly, our response to God in times of distress is the measure of how authentically we are living out our faith. When the world seems to be crashing down around us, can we, like Elijah, wait to hear the Lord’s voice? And when we do, can we, like Peter, trust in that voice calling us out into what by all human standards seems to be certain destruction? Finally, can we rely on the Lord so completely, that we cry out only to him when all seems to be lost? If your answer is “yes” to all of those questions, great! You are in a great place and I am sure a witness of faith to others. I suspect that many of us, however, have to answer one or more of those questions with either “no” or at least “I’m not sure.” If so, that’s ok, I assure you that you will not be thrown into a deep chasm! What is most important today is that you leave here realizing that your relationship with God may not be where it ought to be, or perhaps that you have some work to do to make how you live your life in faith line up with the way God has called you to live it. If this encounter with the Word of God—the Living Word contained in these Scriptures—calls you to pursue a deeper relationship with God, then it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was sent. If it hasn’t, I invite you to look again at this Word and to pray for the wisdom to understand the particular way that God is speaking to you through it. Either way, let us recognize that in this church, which is our boat amidst the rough, rude sea of the world, Jesus comes to us in the form of the sacrament offered here on this altar and calls us to him. Trusting in the faith handed down to us from the disciples who were with him on the sea that night, let us come now—unreservedly—to receive him and give him homage.

~ Given at St. Ambrose Church, Anderson, IN – August 6th & 7th, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking Responsibility for the Kingdom

This is my homily from last weekend given at Saint Ambrose Parish, Anderson, IN (St. Mary's got a shortened version because it was oppressively hot and they do not have air conditioning in the church):

I grew up with an older brother and sandwiched between two sisters. My brother was the oldest and so I wasn’t all that close to him. I ended up being closer to my older sister and, being somewhat of a mama’s boy, I often found myself watching things like beauty pageants on TV, because that’s what my mom and my sister wanted to watch.

I don’t hear much about them anymore, but back in the ‘80s the Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Universe contests all had that allure of pageantry and glamour that made it all seem fascinating to me. For me the highlights were the talent portion, where these women would display their incredible abilities to play instruments, to sing, or to dance, and also the evening gown competition, as each tried to outdo the other in having the most luxurious dress. Then, there was the interview portion, where these women had to respond to questions with extremely complicated answers with poise and alacrity to prove that they could represent the best of our nation (or the world) on a world stage. Inevitably, the “one wish” question would come up. “If you could have one wish for anything in the world, what would it be?” After watching a few of these you quickly learned that if a contestant even hinted at wishing for something for themselves, that their chance at winning the crown was gone. And, as years went on, the answers to these became somewhat rote and always altruistic. “I would wish that there would be world peace.” “I would wish for an end to world hunger.” “I would wish for a cure for cancer.” While these are all wonderful things to wish for, the fact that they became the “pat” answer to this question made these young women seem to me to be rather fake and inauthentic.

In today’s first reading, we see God putting King Solomon through a similar “interview” as he is taking over the reins of the kingdom from his father David. As we hear the dialogue between God and Solomon, we can almost feel the tension building as Solomon discerns what it is that he should ask for from God. Waiting with abated breath we hear his answer: “Wisdom.” “Wisdom? NO! He is supposed to ask for world peace or an end to hunger or that everyone in the world would be as rich as he is! What was he thinking!?!?” Yet we soon hear that God was pleased with his answer… Why?

Well, first Solomon acknowledged his relationship with God. He acknowledged that the kingdom that he has been given is really God’s kingdom and that the people he is ruling are really God’s people and that, in actuality, it was God who had made him ruler over his people. Because he had a relationship with God, Solomon knew that God wasn’t just some divine magician who could be called upon to magically make everything wrong in the world right. Instead, he knew that God had called him to rule over his people and that God had given him the great responsibility to care for and provide for his people. With such a great task and the shadow of his father, king David, looming over him, Solomon humbly acknowledged that he couldn’t handle this task alone and that he needed God’s help to fulfill the work that he was calling him to. Thus, he didn’t ask that there would be no problems, but rather that he would have the understanding—the wisdom—to lead his people well in both good times and in bad. And God was pleased with his answer.

I think that many days we find ourselves in a similar situation to Solomon yet we hardly recognize it. Daily we are surrounded by the needs of God’s people and yet all we can think to do is to pray that God will wave his hand over the earth and make it all go away. We fail to recognize that the task of building God’s kingdom here on earth has been given to us. Certainly, God doesn’t need us for the building of his kingdom—he is all-powerful and can handle it himself—but in his desire for a relationship with us, he invites us to participate in the work of building up his kingdom here on earth. With that in mind, then, perhaps we can look to the example of Solomon to see how we can pray and thus know what to ask for when we come before God with our needs.

When we come before God we must first acknowledge our relationship with him. Solomon acknowledged before God that he was God’s servant, called to care for and to rule over God’s people. And so we too must acknowledge that God has called us to a particular task for the building up of his kingdom. Next our task is to ask God for the understanding to know how he has called us to participate in alleviating the problem or issue that we are bringing before him. Solomon, recognizing the great responsibility that God had given him, asked for understanding to be able to judge God’s people well. First time parents, I suspect, are quite familiar with this prayer. Faced with the responsibility of caring for and raising a child, new parents ought to find frequent recourse to pray for the understanding they need to raise their children. Finally, as we begin to take responsibility for the tasks that God has given us, then we will find the things that we truly do need God’s intervention for—such as a miraculous healing from an addiction or the conversion of a family member long estranged from the Church. Then, we can come again before God, trusting that he hears and answers these prayers too. When we pray in this way, taking responsibility for the things God has called us to and asking for God’s wisdom to fulfill them, we not only engage in our relationship with him, but we also make ourselves open to uncovering the hidden treasures that are the kingdom of heaven.

My brothers and sisters, the characters in the parables from today’s Gospel reading were “surprised by joy” to find the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value. When we accept the particular way that God has called us to build his kingdom here on earth, then we too will be “surprised by joy” when we find the ways in which the kingdom is being realized in our midst—a family healed after the leaving off of an addiction or the deathbed conversion of that long-estranged family member. This is the same kingdom that each week we come together to realize and to celebrate when we come here to worship at this altar and to share in the meal that is a participation in the eternal banquet of heaven, the banquet of the God’s kingdom yet to come. Let us pray, then, for God’s wisdom to take up the task that he has given us for the building of his kingdom and thus to be surprised by joy when his kingdom appears like a great treasure before us.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

(Generally) Quick Takes...

It's been quite some time since I've posted and so I thought that I would simply throw some things out there that have been piquing my interest in the last few weeks to give you all a clue as to what's been going on with me. And so, in no particular order...
1. My summer pastor, Fr. Bob, has been out of town three times since I've been ordained a deacon and each time something has come up that has made very clear to me the responsibility that comes with the title "pastor." The first two times there were funerals and this last time I baptized a four year old boy who was about to go in for brain surgery. (Please pray for Wyatt!) It's amazing how the Holy Spirit comes through when you have no idea how to handle a situation!
2. The National Catholic Reporter recently ran this article in their publication about the Vatican promoting Eucharistic Adoration. Please read the whole thing. There are many members of the Church (clergy and lay persons) who think that promoting Eucharistic Adoration is a bad thing. After you've read this article, I think you will have a better idea of where they are coming from. I'm not trying to say that they are right, but I am trying to say that if we even want to begin to become unified as a body in the Church (and I think that Jesus probably wants that), then we need to try to understand where each side is coming from so we can begin speaking on the same terms.
That being said, I just have a couple of questions for the people who think that Eucharistic Adoration takes away from the celebration of the Eucharist... Isn't our God big enough for both? Why do we have to limit ourselves to one form of worship? With the limited availability of priests, wouldn't you think that providing a valid, Church approved form of worship (in the form of perpetual, or at least regular, adoration) would actually add to peoples' desire to celebrate the Eucharist, without which they wouldn't even have the opportunity to adore? Besides, it seems that the sensum fidei, led by the authentic Magisterium of the Church, is supporting the expanding of Eucharistic Adoration, so why try to squash something that is obviously helping the Faithful to deepen their devotion to God?
In my entirely un-magisterial opinion, it seems to me that those who discourage Eucharistic Adoration are placing limits on what Christ gave us when he gave us the gift of his Real Presence in the Eucharist. I want to understand more, however, so I hope that I can have an open conversation with someone who stands against the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration.
3. Last Thursday was Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's feast day. Ever since I co-led a youth mission trip to a Native American reservation in Oklahoma a five years ago, I've had a devotion to this saint of North America. In doing some research for preaching that day, I came across this NPR spot that described a healing that is under consideration as the second miracle attributed to her intercession. I pray that it goes through as North America needs more home-born saints!
4. Work here in the parishes of Anderson continues to go well. The most frustrating thing so far has been that there is nothing going on during the summer. There's been a few youth events, but hardly any other type of organized activity. Thus, my days consist mostly of liturgy (morning prayer and mass) and visiting the homebound and those in nursing homes. Don't get me wrong, I am honored to bring Holy Communion to those who can't come to Mass, but I guess I was hoping that there would be more to get involved in while I was here.
5. Check out this article about the government in Ireland proposing a law that would require priests to break the seal of confession to report perpetrators of abuse. This is simply preposterous and shows how far the secularization of western culture has come. Don't think that something like this can't happen in the U.S.! Pray, pray, pray for our nation's leaders and get involved and vote!
Ok, I don't have any more. I don't know if there are rules for how many quick takes one's supposed to have when one does this. Thus, I feel free to just stop after five :) I think that this catches me up, however, so until next time - Adios!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The feast of Corpus Christi

This is my homily for the feast of Corpus Christi: June 26, 2011. Given at St. Mary and St. Ambrose parishes, Anderson, IN.

As Americans, we know that we can be pretty pragmatic. We like things to fit into structures and routines so that we really don’t have to think about them. As a result, things that we do frequently become common or ordinary to us and we oftentimes forget how important they really are to us. Consider our morning breakfast: a couple of pieces of toast or perhaps a bowl of cereal, a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee and we’re on our way. Yet, it throws our whole day off, doesn’t it, if we find we’ve run out of bread or someone finished the last bowl of our favorite cereal. We just feel better if it remains the same, day in and day out, and we don’t realize how important it is to us until we don’t have it anymore.

In today’s first reading, we hear Moses reminding the Israelite people, who had been wandering in the desert for forty years after leaving Egypt, about what a miracle it was for them to have the manna as food for their journey. Way back at the beginning of their journey, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and against God after they were led out into the desert from Egypt because they had no source of food to sustain them during their exodus. God responded and promised “bread from heaven,” the manna that appeared each morning like dew across the ground. Each day the Israelites would gather enough to feed their family for the day and on the next day—faithfully, for forty years—more would appear. If you could imagine what it would be like to eat the same food every day for forty years straight, you might understand that the Israelites began to take this blessing for granted. The manna, as miraculous as it was, had become common and the Israelites had come to take it for granted.

I would venture to say that some of us here might experience a similar problem. Many of us have been parishioners here for a long time: perhaps some of us even for forty-plus years. We know what mass we attend and where we generally sit (I say “generally” because there are always those “floaters” who sometimes end up in our seats, right?), the music perhaps is somewhat predictable and we generally know what to expect from the experience—I mean, the mass is the mass, right? And it all becomes very routine for us. Even though every week we are called here to worship God and to receive his body, blood, soul and divinity in the form of bread and wine—the true bread come down from heaven—we nonetheless sometimes find ourselves looking forward more to the opportunity to meet with friends or on the flipside considering it a chore to be drudged through so that we can get on with the rest of our day. Because we come here every week and because the mass—by design, by the way—generally looks and feels the same, it has become familiar to us and perhaps we forget what a miracle it is to be called here to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we look back again at the Israelites and Moses’ speech from the first reading today, we recognize one important fact. In spite of all of their years of taking it for granted, God never once failed to provide it for them. For forty years the Israelites wandered, grumbled, and wandered some more and in all of that time God never failed to provide them with that miraculous bread from heaven. The manna, therefore, was their viaticum—which literally translates to “on the way with you”, but less formally means “food for the journey.” Manna was the miraculous “bread from heaven” that sustained them on their way and was their reminder of God’s providential presence with them throughout it all.

In giving us this great feast of Corpus Christi, the Church is doing what Moses did for the Israelites a few thousand years ago. It is reminding us of what a miracle it is that we are called here every week and have the opportunity to receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the form of bread and wine. It is a reminder that, even if we sometimes take it for granted, God will never fail to give us the Eucharist, our viaticum, our “food for the journey.” And this is so important for us to remember. Not just because it is food—obviously the little portion that we receive is not much to satisfy us—nor only because it is spiritual food—which of course it is—but primarily because it is our intimate connection with God. God gave the Israelites bread for their bodies, but the manna, however, was just that, bread. The bread that God provides us in the Eucharist is both bread for our bodies and spiritual food to nourish us on our journey, but because it is the Body and Blood of Jesus, our Lord, it is also a participation in the intimate communion that is God, which we celebrated last week in the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. The Body and Blood of Jesus is the fulfillment of what the manna of the ancient Israelites foreshadowed. It is the sacrament of God’s presence intended to effect our communion with God, until that day when we cross over from this life into the land promised to us, God’s heavenly kingdom.

My brothers and sisters, the real, sacramental presence of God—the Body Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ—in the species of bread and wine is the most perfect gift that God has given us. It is the sign of God’s presence with us, even in the midst of our worst afflictions. Many people today, much like the people of ancient Israel, often want extraordinary signs that God is with them in their affliction. What I want you all to realize today, however, is that God has given us such a sign. Yet, in his great condescension to us he has allowed this extraordinary sign to be experienced by us as ordinary. I realize that sometimes when we are in the midst of our worst afflictions, we want—we feel we need—the clouds to part and a voice to come from the sky saying, “It’s ok, I am with you.” We want to see Jesus face to face and have him put his arm around us and say, “I know that this is hard, but look I haven’t left you.” But what I am telling you is that God has done that for us. Every time that we walk into a church and mass is being celebrated, or even if we only get a glimpse of that red candle flickering in the corner—we can know that God has not abandoned us, that he is with us. Thus, in the midst of our worst afflictions, God calls us to run to him in the Blessed Sacrament. He calls us to receive him as often as possible so that his presence may comfort us and strengthen us for the journey. This is why he sent his Son to us and this is why Jesus instituted this great sacrament. He did it for us.

Moses needed to remind the people of Israel that the sign of God’s providential care was something right under their noses: the miraculous bread from heaven that they received every day. Today, the Church gives us this great feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ to remind us of the same thing and more. The Blessed Sacrament that we receive ordinarily from this altar is the sign of God’s providential care as we wander as pilgrims on this earth. It is also the bread that will strengthen us to remain steadfast in faith through all of our trials. Most importantly, it is our intimate connection to God, who desires communion with us.

As we continue to plow head-long back into the “routine” of ordinary time, let us strive to remember what an extraordinary gift it is that God has given us, the invitation, as Saint Paul says, “to participate in the body and blood of Christ,” and let us strive to celebrate this gift as extraordinary, even amidst our ordinary participation in it.