Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saying "yes" to our King

          Happy end of the Year of Faith!!!  I pray that it has been a fruitful year for you in which you came to a deeper knowledge of the faith and, thus, a more profound encounter with Jesus Christ, our Lord.  If it hasn't been all you had hoped it would be, don't worry!  This has been just the beginning.  In the months and years to come we'll be celebrating the anniversaries of the promulgation (or release) of various documents from the Second Vatican Council, which will give you a chance to read them as a means of deepening your faith.  Besides, our Good God is never far from us and so he is always ready to meet us and lead us into a deeper encounter with him in faith.  With Christ as our King, what have we to worry about?!?!

P.S. Next Sunday is "Liturgical New Year's Day" (the First Sunday of Advent).  Are you planning any celebrations for the New Year?


Homily: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – Cycle C
          Michigan mega-church pastor Rob Bell has produced a series of videos that take a simple, straight-forward approach to demonstrating how the Gospel applies to everyday life.  In one of the videos that I’ve seen, Mr. Bell speaks about the importance of saying “yes” to something.  In doing so, he emphasizes, we can then come to know what it is that we need to say “no” to in our lives.  He uses Jesus as an example to illustrate his point, stating that because Jesus said “yes” to do the Father’s will, announcing the Good News and redeeming God’s people, he could say “no” to many other things (like when Jesus turned away when he knew the crowd was going to carry him away to make him their ruler).
          This is a video (a short film, really) and so of course there is a visual component to his speaking.  In the film, the whole time that he is talking he’s walking, seemingly from one side of a city to another.  At first his surroundings just seem like normal busy streets, but if you’re paying attention you begin to notice that the surroundings are part of the point.  The visual noises are distractions that surround him as he walks.  At a couple of points, a person actually walks in between Mr. Bell and the camera as he’s walking, but he never loses his stride until he arrives at his destination (which happens to be a school where he meets a young girl that we are to assume is his daughter).  The well-made point of both his words and the visual presentation is to emphasize how knowing what it is that we have said “yes” to keeps us focused (i.e. able to say “no”) in the midst of the world’s distractions.
          In the Gospel today, we jump right into the middle of Luke’s account of the crucifixion.  In it Jesus is being taunted by bystanders while he is in the midst of his greatest suffering.  The Jewish authorities, the Roman soldiers, and even one of the criminals crucified with him all pressure him to prove he’s the Messiah—the divinely appointed King of the Jews—by using divine power to save himself from the crucifixion.  I can only imagine what Jesus felt.  He knew that he was the king, but reviling him these men were calling him a phony, a poseur, because the real king would save himself from this disgrace.
          Jesus also knew that he had the power to save himself.  Recall what happened when, in the synagogue at Nazareth, the townspeople tried to throw Jesus over the brow of the hill on which the town was built for what he had said, but that Jesus “passed through the midst of them” and escaped.  But Jesus didn’t do that this time, did he?  And why?  Well, because he knew that he had already said “yes” to do the Father’s will, which was to be sacrificed for the redemption of all mankind.  And because of this, he could say “no” to the distractions surrounding him: the temptations to use his divine power to save himself from this incredible suffering.
          Yet, there was one voice that refused to revile Jesus: the voice of the other criminal crucified with him. He, it seems could see something… let’s say… incongruent about Jesus’ crucifixion.  This criminal could see that Jesus was innocent of any capital crime and hadn’t really been any threat to the power of the Roman occupiers, and so perhaps he thought Jesus really was who he said he was: a king who has yet to come into his kingdom.  And so, in his own suffering and nearness to death, this criminal makes an incredible act of faith in Jesus—he decides to say “yes” to Jesus by acknowledging him as King—and for that “yes” he received his eternal reward.
          And so the question, of course, comes back to us.  Have we said “yes” to Jesus?  In many ways, this is what the Year of Faith, which ends today, has been all about.  It’s been about re-discovering and renewing our faith—our yes—in Jesus.  And whether or not we spent this year well, today we are called to acknowledge the kingship of Jesus—that he truly does rule over us—and to renew (or, perhaps, to speak for the first time) our “yes” to follow Jesus, so that a new flourishing of faith can blossom as we begin a new liturgical year.
          You know, as Catholics, we don’t do the whole “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” thing, but the idea of it is what we are constantly being called to.  In baptism, we receive the grace of salvation: the grace won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Yet, at some point in our lives, we all have to say “yes” to Jesus and to acknowledge him as Lord and ruler of our lives.  In other words, we have to let Jesus be our king.
          But this is dangerous, is it not?  I mean, if we say “yes” to Jesus, then we’ll have to say “no” to so many other things, won’t we?  So how, then, can we say “yes” to him?  I mean, where can we find the courage to allow him to be Lord and ruler of our lives?  This courage, my brothers and sisters, comes only through an encounter with him.  And where do we encounter him?  In prayer (especially before the Blessed Sacrament here in the Church) and in communal worship (especially here in the Eucharist), in the Scriptures (especially when we meditate on them and allow them to speak to us and to our lives), and in our suffering (i.e. when we are able, in our suffering, to turn, like the “good thief” in today’s Gospel, and see Jesus, crucified there with us).
          My brothers and sisters, when we encounter Jesus we can see the hopelessness of our striving in contrast with the hope contained in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and in this light we can find the courage to say “yes” to him (and, thus, “no” to so much else).  In this Eucharistic encounter with Jesus, let us not fear to say “yes” to him and acknowledge him as our King; and let us not fear all that we’ll have to say “no” to because of this: because paradise—that is, eternal happiness—awaits us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 23rd & 24th, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jesus announces our insurance policy

          As I was preparing this homily (especially given the weather today), I kept thinking about the episode of the Simpsons when the hurricane comes through Springfield and destroys only the Flanders' home.  Ned (the super-conservative Christian) had nothing to rebuild it with.  His wife explains, "No, we didn't have insurance.  Ned thought it was a form of gambling."

          Jesus, of course, is our ultimate insurance policy.  And so we can give without fearing loss.  Hopefully we can learn to trust him more and more!


Homily Two: 33rd Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C
          Just days before his installation, the newly appointed bishop was taking a quiet moment to observe and enjoy the beauty of what would soon be his cathedral church.  It had been renovated recently and so it seemed that every corner was gleaming with light and beauty.  As he walked slowly through the nave, a man, somewhat short in stature and advanced in age, well appointed except for his thin white hair, which was whisped somewhat messily over to one side, stood near the bishop and said, “You know, the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  Hearing this, the bishop paused for a moment and glanced over his shoulder to see who had made the comment.  The man, smiling with a foolish grin, was standing some space behind him but didn’t say a word when they made eye contact.  The bishop assumed that the man was talking to himself, and so he smiled, nodded his head and then returned to his slow saunter through the church.
          A few moments later, the man spoke up again and said, “You know, the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  Again the bishop paused and glanced over his shoulder at the man with the foolish grin standing some space behind him.  The bishop, quite familiar with the Scripture this man was quoting, was struck by what seemed to be a rather irrational thought: “might this man be some sort of prophet sent to give me a message?”  The thought made him quite uneasy.  Although he knew better than to ask “when will this happen?” and “what sign will there be?” he still felt compelled to find out more about this stranger’s purpose.  And so he turned around, approached the man, and asked him gently, “Do I know you?”  “I don’t think so,” replied the man.  “Do you know who I am?” the bishop asked.  “Of course,” the man said, “you’re our new bishop.”  Then, somewhat embarrassedly the bishop leaned in towards the man and asked quietly, “Are you some sort of prophet?”  Amused, the man replied “Oh, no.  I’m no prophet.  But I do have something important that I’d like to talk to you about…”  Well, as it turns out, the man was an insurance salesman who wanted to pitch the new bishop on a policy for the cathedral.  I think we can all agree that he had a great hook!
          The bishop may have breathed a sigh of relief at the man’s response that day, but Jesus’ followers in the Gospel didn’t get off quite so easy.  “Wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom; earthquakes, famines, and plagues… all of these will happen first!” Jesus says.  “But you won’t have to worry about all of that, because before that happens you will be seized and persecuted, handed over to synagogues and prisons, and led before kings and governors to give testimony.  Even your parents, brothers, relatives and friends will turn you in.  And some of you (probably the lucky ones) will even be put to death.  Oh, and I almost forgot, just to make it a little more complicated, there will be a lot of folks who are going to try to convince you that they are from me in order to lead you into apostasy.  And, I hate to tell you, but there’s really no easy way to tell who’s legit and who’s not, so good luck with that…”  Having heard all of that, I don’t think that any of us would blame these folks for thinking that the prospect of being Jesus’ follower was pretty scary.
          Certainly, we can see many of these prophecies being fulfilled even in our own day.  There is no shortage of “doomsday” prophets in our midst.  Every few years, it seems, a new crop of prophets arise, claiming to have unlocked the secret to identifying when the days of destruction will come, and every few years many are convinced and are led away from the Church.  Without much effort, I’m sure that each of us could name a handful of places at least where “wars and insurrections” and “nations rising against nations” are occurring right now.  Tribal conflicts continue to arise in Africa and daily, it seems, the news tells us of religious sectarian violence that plagues the streets of towns and cities throughout the Middle East.  Speaking of the Middle East, persecution is a daily reality for Christians there, where their own countrymen, sometimes even their own relatives, attack them without respect even for their sacred spaces.  We saw this vividly a couple of months ago when violence erupted in Egypt once again and protesters took to attacking Christian churches, injuring worshipers and significantly damaging their ancient worship spaces.  I imagine that most of us would find it pretty easy to sympathize with those in the Gospel today and would ourselves conclude that the prospect of being Jesus’ follower is pretty scary.  Yet Jesus, in spite of his dark prophecy, helps us to see that the prospect of not being his follower is scarier still.
          The world’s justice, as we know, is merciless.  Subject to the world’s justice, we are left by ourselves and by ourselves, what power do we have against it?  God’s justice, however, is infinitely more powerful than the world’s justice, because it is mercy itself.  Subject to God’s justice, we find that we have an infinitely powerful advocate, Jesus Christ, who won for us redemption from all of our transgressions.
          With this strong assurance, we no longer have any need to fear the calamities of our world, because we know that “it will not immediately be the end.”  With Christ as our advocate, we no longer have any need to rely on our own power to overcome our adversaries, because Christ himself “will give us a wisdom in speaking” and our adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute it.  Subject to God’s justice, we no longer have any need to fear the hatred of others, even those closest to us, because we know that mortal death cannot destroy even one hair on our heads and that in persevering our lives will be secured.
          Liberated from our fears, we are then freed to live lives of abandonment.  When we subject ourselves to God’s justice, God’s justice, which is mercy, then permeates our entire lives.  And so, in big things and in small things, we can abandon our worldly selves to the mission God has entrusted to us: namely to live lives of holiness, to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, and the apostolate of charity.  Free and fearless should we be, because in abandoning ourselves to God’s justice we will, as Christ tells us, secure our lives.
          Now, does this mean that we can throw out our insurance policies altogether?  Of course not.  Our world is broken and accidents happen.  Insurance is a tool that equips us to deal with accidents better.  What it does mean, however, is that we do not need to fear the loss of the things of this world, and this leaves us free to focus on giving ourselves to the specific way that God has called each of us to fulfill his mission in the world.  Nourished by this Eucharist, may we go forward confidently to live the mission God has given to each of us in Christ, freely and without fear.

Given at All Saints Catholic Church: Logansport, IN – November 17th, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Get in the wheelbarrow

            This week we are having our Parish Mission at All Saints.  It is a great opportunity to reinvigorate one's faith and this week's theme is "From Maintenance to Missionary: Faith's New Logic for Seeing Things".  Dr. Mark Ginter is presenting the mission and he is presenting it twice each day: Sunday night from 6:30-8:30 pm, and then Monday through Thursday from 12:30-2:30 pm and again from 6:30-8:30 pm.  Light refreshments are available both before (soups and crackers) and after the sessions (cookies, coffee and tea).  If you haven't made it yet PLEASE COME TODAY!!!  Dr. Ginter is making a lot of adjustments as he goes and he's refining the presentations to drive home the message.

            God want's you to experience deeply his infinite love!  And he wants you to help bring others to experience the same!  COME TO THE MISSION for the opportunity both to experience his love and to find out how to bring that love to others.


Homily: 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
            Many of you will, perhaps, recall modern-day stuntman Nik Wallenda’s dramatic walk across Niagara Falls in June of last year.  Although still an amazing feat, he certainly wasn’t the first to do it; and legends of early tightrope walkers who crossed the Falls include seemingly fantastical stories of not just walking across, but of completing summersaults, laying down and resting, and even hanging from one’s feet, all from the tightrope.  One legend in particular describes how a walker crossed the Falls once and then returned across the Falls pushing an empty wheelbarrow.  He then turned to the crowd and offered to cross a third time, this time with a volunteer seated in the wheelbarrow.  Much to his chagrin, however, no one took him up on his offer.  It seems that, although the spectators admired what he had accomplished, it wasn’t enough for any of them to put their faith in him by placing their lives in his hands.
            In our first reading today, we heard the testimony of three of the seven Israelite brothers who with their mother were being tortured by the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes in order to get them to apostatize—that is, denounce their faith—by eating pork, which they believed God forbade them to eat.  Each of these three, whose testimonies we heard, courageously handed over their lives to their torturers rather than denounce their faith in God by breaking the Law that he had given them.  It was the strength of their faith in the fact that God could and would raise them to life again that gave them that courage.
            Eventually, in the recounting of this story, all seven of the brothers and their mother will have been martyred by the king.  It’s as if they could see their torturer like that tightrope walker with the wheelbarrow: even though King Antiochus had accomplished great feats in conquering most of the known world, they would not put their faith in him because God promised them something more.  They believed in God’s promise of eternal life to those who remained faithful to his Laws and commandments and so they knew that if they kept themselves pure according to God’s law that, even if they should die at the hands of men, God would one day raise them to life again.
            Throughout the Gospels we find stories of Jesus performing great works.  His miracles of healing and casting out demons are some of the most amazing feats that man has ever seen, and his ability to do such feats using only his word (instead, for example, of calling on other powers) has never been seen since.  Yet throughout the Gospels Jesus constantly reminds his hearers that these great “signs and wonders” were not what he came to accomplish.  Rather, he came to bring the Good News that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  His message was one of invitation: “Repent and believe in the Good News and you will be made sons and daughters of the Most High God.”  In other words, he came not to use his divine power to overcome the powers of the world, but rather to bring the message that salvation is at hand for all peoples so that all people might put their faith in God’s promise of eternal life instead of in those who appear to be powerful in this world.  His demonstration of mighty signs and wonders were meant only to be evidence of the truth of his message.
            In our own lives, we can get caught up in being captivated by worldly pursuits.  Whether it’s the latest electronic gadget, or the latest “get rich quickly” scheme, or the latest political campaign, our world is full of forces trying to make us turn our eyes away from God and his promise of eternal life for some temporary fulfillment here on earth.  But this world, and our satisfaction in it, is not our final destiny.  Rather, eternal life forever in heaven is.  This is why God has revealed himself to us, most perfectly in Jesus Christ, his Son, so that when we are tempted to put our faith in some worldly thing—like the seven Maccabean brothers and their mother were being tortured into doing—we can remember God’s promise of eternal life: that even if we should die at the hands of men, that God will raise us to life again.
            And so my brothers and sisters, as we come here again to this Holy Eucharist to give thanks to God for his promise of eternal life, won for us by his Son, Jesus, let us renew our commitment to keep ourselves faithful to him—both in the words we speak and in the daily actions of our lives—and we, too, will be like angels and the children of God, because we will be the ones who rise to new life. 
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 9th & 10th, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dios da cuenta de los más pequeños

          Aunque no lo parezca a primera vista, las lecturas de hoy nos dan una invitación a poner el cuidado de Dios por nosotros en perspectiva y dejarnos perderse en asombro por su gracia para nosotros. Ninguno de nosotros es tan pequeña que Dios no se preocupa por nosotros! Si tan sólo tratar de verlo, él no dejará que nos cuenta!

Homilía: 31º Domingo de Tiempo Ordinario – Ciclo C
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, hoy nuestras lecturas nos invitan a considerar la naturaleza eterna de Dios. Debido a que somos criaturas que existen en el tiempo, es difícil para nosotros considerar lo que una existencia eterna podría parecerse, pero eso es exactamente lo que Dios es y así que para nosotros para poder conocerlo, debemos al menos tratar de comprenderlo. Para tratar de poner esto en perspectiva para nosotros, voy a compartir con ustedes lo que considero la mejor descripción de la eternidad que he escuchado hasta ahora.
          Imagínese que usted está de pie en una playa frente a un océano. Luego imagine que usted toma un grano de arena y empezar a caminar. Su tarea consiste en llevar a ese grano de arena de la playa a la cima de la montaña más alta y al llegar allí, para dejar ese grano de arena en su apogeo. Luego, su tarea es volver a esa playa, recoger otro grano de arena y colóquelo, junto con el otro, en la cima de la montaña más alta. Su tarea, de hecho, es hacerlo con cada grano de arena en la tierra: de cada playa, cada fondo del océano, y cada caja de arena en el mundo, uno por uno desde donde se encuentre a la cima de la montaña más alta. Ahora imagine que cada paso que da tarda diez mil años para hacer. Y aquí está, teniendo cada grano de arena en la tierra y moviéndolo diez mil años cada paso, a la cima de la montaña más alta. Y cuando haya terminado, miles de millones de años después, la eternidad no se ha hecho más que empezar.
          En nuestra primera lectura de hoy del libro de la Sabiduría, leemos que delante del Señor “el mundo entero es como un grano de arena en la balanza o como gota de rocío mañanero que cae sobre la tierra.” En otras palabras, al igual que miles de millones de años son solo como un momento en la eternidad, por lo que es todo el universo, vasto e incomprensible en tamaño, sino como una cantidad insignificante de peso en una balanza o una caída imperceptible de la gota de rocío mañanero sobre la tierra delante de Dios. Sin embargo, continúa diciendo, nada de lo que sucede en este universo, no hay grano que cae de una balanza o la gota de rocío que cae a la tierra, pasa desapercibida por Dios. Aún más, se dice que Dios no sólo da cuenta de cada pequeña cosa, pero que también mira a todos con misericordia, que nos revela algo importante acerca de Dios y nuestra relación con él.
          A veces, creo que podemos separar a Dios que creó el universo de Dios quien lo gobierna. Cuando hacemos esto, Dios que creó el universo considerado todo y vio que era "muy buena", pero Dios quien gobierna lo hace como un director atribulado tratando de hacer algo positivo de un desastre y que prefieren desechar todo y volver a empezar de tratar de arreglarlo. Afortunadamente para nosotros, esta última descripción de Dios es una distorsión de la verdad, porque Dios que creó el universo (y todo lo que hay en él) por amor también es un Dios que gobierna el universo (y todo lo que hay en él) en el amor. Y puesto que Dios es amor, entonces la misericordia debe ser la regla con la que Dios gobierna.
          Ahora el hombre (es decir, la persona humana), por el diseño y la providencia especial de Dios, era la única criatura que Dios había hecho por sí mismo. Todo el resto de la creación fue hecha para servir al hombre, pero el hombre fue hecho para nadie más que a Dios para ser la única criatura destinada a una relación íntima y personal con él. Tan fuerte es el deseo de Dios para esta al crear al hombre que, aun cuando el hombre pecó, Dios no abandona al hombre a la muerte, sino que se pone en movimiento el plan para rescatarlo para que el hombre una vez más alcanzar su destino. Como las palabras del libro de la Sabiduría nos recuerda: "Te compadeces de todos, y aunque puedes destruirlo todo, aparentas no ver los pecados de los hombres, para darles ocasión de arrepentirse.  Porque tú amas todo cuanto existe y no aborreces nada de lo que has hecho… "
          Para mostrarnos la manera más perfecta, Dios envió a su único Hijo, Jesús, para revelarnos que de hecho no se había olvidado de nosotros entre la inmensidad del universo; y en la lectura del Evangelio de hoy, vemos un microcosmos de esta realidad que se está reproduciendo.
          En la lectura del Evangelio, Jesús ha llegado a Jericó, una ciudad profunda de un valle entre el río Jordán y Jerusalén. Era un pueblo de mala muerte donde el crimen era rampante y así la mayoría de los viajeros pasó por la, esperando de salir adelante sin ser robado. Sin embargo, Jesús, el Hijo de Dios, llega a esta ciudad, el lugar más bajo en la Tierra Prometida: que es nada menos que una imagen de Dios se abaja para venir entre nosotros. Zaqueo era un jefe de los cobradores de impuestos (que, por cierto, también hizo él el jefe de los despreciados por la gente) y fue muy corto. Quería conseguir una ojeada de Jesús, pero no podía porque se sentía perdido entre la multitud. Y así se subió a un árbol sólo esperando ver a este Jesús que todo el mundo estaba hablando. Cómo sorprende que debe haber sido, entonces, cuando Jesús se fijó en él, lo llamó por su nombre, y luego él mismo invitó a su casa para cenar!
          Zaqueo sentía pequeña e insignificante en medio de la masa de la creación que le rodeaba. Sin embargo, cuando hizo un esfuerzo sólo para ver a Jesús, Emmanuel, Dios quien está con nosotros, Jesús no sólo lo notado pero él lo llamó y quería ser conocido personalmente por él.
          Entonces el pueblo se acusan Zaqueo delante del Señor, diciendo que "[Jesús] ha entrado a hospedarse en casa de un pecador." Lo que una imagen del día del juicio es esto, ¿no? Zaqueo, puesto en pie ante el Hijo de Dios y se le acusa de sus pecados. Confiados en la misericordia de Dios, sin embargo, que está delante de él y le dice, en efecto: "Yo estoy listo para recibir su justo juicio. Para demostrar esto, lo prometo ante todo, de dar la mitad de mis bienes a los pobres, y si usted debe encontrar que he defraudado algo a alguien, te lo prometo que le devolveré cuatro veces más." Y por este acto de fe en aquel que juzga con justicia, Zaqueo recibe la salvación de aquel que por sí sola podría darle.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, este es el núcleo del mensaje cristiano! Que nosotros, que son aparentemente muy pequeño e insignificante en relación con el vasto universo, sin embargo son vistos con la misericordia y el amor de nuestro Creador que nos hizo para sí mismo, hasta el punto de que se convirtió en uno de nosotros al enviarnos a su Hijo para salvarnos y para mostrarnos el camino de regreso a sí mismo. Y si son reprendidos un poco, es decir, si sufrimos algo en este mundo, no es porque el Dios que gobierna el universo es un Dios mezquino y vengativo que quiere castigarnos, sino más bien, como el autor del Libro de la Sabiduría dice, que es "para les traes a la memoria sus pecados, para que se arrepientan de sus maldades y crean en ti, Señor,” el único que puede salvarnos!
          Y así, mis hermanos y hermanas, no debemos engañarnos creyendo la mentira de que el Dios todopoderoso, el Dios que nos ha creado y todo el universo, no quiere tener nada que ver con nosotros, pero se encuentra al acecho para castigarnos por nuestros pecados. Más bien, como Zaqueo, vamos a apresurarnos a ser visto por él, confiando en que la justicia de Dios siempre está atemperada por la misericordia de los que se esconden nada de él: porque el Dios de todo el universo, el Dios de la eternidad, no dejará de notarnos; y la salvación, la salvación que nos ha ganado a través de Jesús, hoy será nuestra.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

3ª de noviembre, 2013

God notices the smallest

          Although it may not seem like it on the surface, today's readings give us an invitation to put God's care for us into perspective and to let ourselves get lost in wonder at his graciousness to us.  None of us is so small that God doesn't care for us!  If we would only strive to see him, he will not fail to notice us!


Homily: 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          My brothers and sisters, today our readings invite us, I think, to consider the eternal nature of God.  Now, because we are creatures who exist in time, it’s hard for us to consider what a timeless existence might look like, but that is exactly what God is and so for us to be able to know him, we must at least strive to comprehend it.  To try and put this into perspective for us, I’ll share with you what I consider the best description of eternity that I’ve heard so far.
          Imagine that you are standing on a beach in front of an ocean.  Then imagine that you pick up one grain of sand and start walking.  Your task is to carry that grain of sand from the beach to the top of Mount Everest and when you get there, to leave that grain of sand at its peak.  Then your task is to return to that beach, pick up another grain of sand, and place it, along with the other, at the peak of Mount Everest.  You task, in fact is to do that with every grain of sand on earth: from every beach, every ocean bed, and every sand box in the world; one by one from wherever you find it to the top of Mount Everest.  Now imagine that every step that you take takes ten thousand years to make.  And so here you are, taking every grain of sand on the earth and moving it, ten thousand years each step, to the top of Mount Everest.  And when you’re finished—billions of years later—eternity will have just begun.
          In our first reading today from the Book of Wisdom, we read that “Before the LORD the whole universe is a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”  In other words, just as billions of years are as but one moment in eternity, so is the whole universe—vast and incomprehensible in size—but as an insignificant amount of weight in a balance or an unnoticeable drop of moisture on the earth.  Yet, it goes on to say, nothing that happens in this universe—no grain falling from a balance or drop of dew falling to the earth—goes unnoticed by God.  Still more, it says that God not only notices every little thing, but that he also looks upon all of it with mercy, which reveals to us something important about God and our relationship to him.
          Sometimes, I think, we can separate God who created the universe from God who rules it.  When we do this, God who created the universe looked upon everything and saw that it was “very good”, but God who rules it does so like some beleaguered manager trying to make something positive out of a mess and who would rather scrap it all and start over than try to fix it.  Fortunately for us, this latter description of God is a distortion of the truth; because God who created the universe (and all that is in it) out of love is also God who rules the universe (and all that is in it) in love.  And since God is Love, then mercy must be the rule with which God rules.
          Man (i.e. the human person), by God’s special design and providence, was the only creature that God had made for himself.  All of the rest of creation was made to serve man, but man was made for no one else but God to be the one creature destined for an intimate, personal relationship with him.  So strong is God’s desire for this in creating man that, even when man sinned, God did not abandon man to death, but rather he set into motion the plan to redeem him so that man might once again achieve his destiny.  As the words from the Book of Wisdom remind us: “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.  For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…”
          To show us this most perfectly, God sent his Only Son, Jesus, to reveal to us that he indeed had not forgotten us among the vastness of the universe; and in our Gospel reading today, we see a bit of a microcosm of this reality being played out.
          In the Gospel reading, Jesus has come to Jericho, a town deep in a valley between the river Jordan and Jerusalem.  It was kind of a seedy town where crime was rampant and so most travelers just passed through, hoping to make it through without getting robbed.  Nonetheless, Jesus, the Son of God, comes to this town, the lowest place within the Promised Land: which is nothing less than an image of God’s lowering himself to come among us.  Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector (which, by the way, also made him the chief of those despised by the people) and he was very short.  He wanted to get a glimpse of Jesus, but he couldn’t because he felt lost among the crowd.  And so he climbed a tree just hoping to see this Jesus that everyone was talking about.  How surprised he must have been, then, when Jesus noticed him, called him by name, and then invited himself to his house for dinner!
          Zacchaeus felt small and insignificant in the midst of the mass of creation that surrounded him.  Yet, when he made an effort just to see Jesus—Emmanuel, God who is with us—Jesus not only noticed him, but he called out to him and wanted to be known personally by him.
          Then the people accuse Zacchaeus before the LORD, saying that “[Jesus] has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”  What an image of judgment day this is, isn’t it?  Zacchaeus stands before the Son of God and is accused of his sins.  Confident in God’s mercy, however, he stands before him and says, in effect, “I stand ready to receive your just judgment.  To demonstrate this, I promise before anything else, to give half my possessions to the poor; and if you should find that I have extorted anything from anyone, I promise I shall repay that one four times over.”  And for this act of faith in the one who judges justly, Zacchaeus receives salvation from the one who alone could give it.
          My brothers and sisters, this is the core of the Christian message!  That we, who are seemingly small and insignificant in respect to the vast universe, are nonetheless looked upon with mercy and love by our creator who made us for himself; so much so that he became one of us by sending us his Son to save us and to show us the way back to himself.  And if we are rebuked a little—that is, if we suffer some in this world—it is not because the God who rules the universe is some mean-spirited, vengeful God who wants to punish us, but rather, as the author of the Book of Wisdom states, it is “to remind us of our sins so that we may abandon our wickedness and believe in him”, Jesus, our Lord, who alone can save us!
          And so, my brothers and sisters, let us not be fooled into believing the lie that the all-powerful God, the God who created us and all of the universe, wants nothing to do with us, but lies in wait to punish us for our sins.  Rather, let us, like Zacchaeus, rush to be seen by him, trusting that God’s justice is always tempered by mercy for those who hide nothing from him: for the God of all the universe—the God of eternity—will not fail to notice us; and salvation, the salvation won for us through Jesus, will today be ours.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 2nd & 3rd, 2013