Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Divine Mercy and the Birth of Christ

Homily: Christmas – Mass During the Day
          In April of 2015, I joined a group of pilgrims on a journey to the Holy Land.  I wasn’t leading the trip, like many priests do, but rather “tagged onto” a trip that another priest was leading; and this for a couple of reasons.  First, because I wanted my first trip to the Holy Land to be a “personal” pilgrimage, in which I could just focus on praying and engaging the pilgrimage on my own.  This, because my first trip may be my only one and I wanted to be sure that I didn’t get lost worrying about keeping a group together.  The second reason was to make a pilgrimage of thanksgiving for have been in remission from cancer for five years (at that point).  This, again, necessitated that I make a “personal” pilgrimage, instead of a pilgrimage in which I’m trying to lead a group.
          Nevertheless, on the pilgrimage, I couldn’t escape the fact that I am a priest on a pilgrimage with a group of lay persons and so, inevitably, I was asked to lead certain portions of the trip, like celebrating Mass on some of the days (which I was happy to do).  Since that pilgrimage, every time that Christmas rolls around, I’m reminded of that trip; and here’s why.
          As I said, the trip was in April.  In fact, the trip left the Wednesday after Easter, which meant that we were celebrating much of Easter week in the Holy Land.  It was awesome to be celebrating the Easter Solemnities in the land on which Jesus walked and which was the birthplace of the Church.  A certain set of circumstances, however, meant that we were presented with an interesting situation when the Second Sunday of Easter—Divine Mercy Sunday—rolled around.
          The day before—Easter Saturday—we attempted to visit the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  As it turned out, however, the Eastern Orthodox Christians weren’t celebrating Easter week that week, but rather Holy Week.  Thus, it was Holy Saturday according to the Orthodox calendar and the church of the Nativity was full of Christians preparing to celebrate the Easter Vigil.  This meant both that there was a long line of people waiting to descend the staircase to the crypt to visit the location of Christ’s birth and that access was about to be cut off since the Easter Vigil was soon to begin.  As it turns out, we didn’t get to make our visit that day.
The next day—again, the Second Sunday of Easter for us—another turn of events meant that our schedule for that day was upended.  Our very experienced tour guide decided to take the opportunity to take us back to the church of the Nativity so that we could make our visit.  In addition, he arranged it so that we could celebrate Mass there that day.  As it turns out, it was my turn to celebrate Mass and I was excited to be able to do so there.
One thing to note about celebrating Mass at these pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land is that, when you celebrate Mass at one of them, you celebrate a votive Mass for the events or persons honored at that place: including using any scripture readings that refer to that event or person as the readings for Mass.  Thus, at the church of the Nativity, we were handed scripture readings for the Mass of Christmas.  So, there we were, celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, while hearing the readings we heard today, which proclaim Christ’s birth to us.
It was a striking contrast, but it immediately made sense to me: for we do our faith harm if we try to separate the birth of Jesus from the death and resurrection of Jesus; and we have to recognize that the mercy that we celebrate in Jesus’ death and resurrection was first made manifest to us in his birth as an infant in Bethlehem.  The message of Christmas is, therefore, one of mercy: God’s Divine Mercy made manifest to us.
Let’s pause and take a moment to think about mercy.  Although there are many ways that one could define mercy, I like to think of it in this way: that mercy is giving something to someone that he/she absolutely does not deserve.  To use perhaps a most common example: often when we forgive someone, we do so even though he/she doesn’t really deserve it.  He/she has hurt us in some way and the apology, though sincere, has not restored to us what has been lost and so he/she does not deserve our forgiveness.  Yet, we forgive: often, I guess, in the hope of restoring the peace and harmony in our lives that was lost by the offense.  Nonetheless, this is mercy: even if it doesn’t qualify as mercy in the grand sense that we may often think about it.  And so, in light of this, how is the birth of Jesus a manifestation of God’s mercy?
Let’s take a look at our Gospel reading.  There we find the prologue of John’s Gospel.  In it, he begins by speaking of Jesus’ “other”-ness: that is, that the Word of God, the Divine Logos, is not only separate and set apart from the world, but also completely above and before all creation.  Christ, the Second Person of the one God, existed before all things and needs nothing of creation to be complete in himself.  This Divine Word of God “became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.  Later in John’s Gospel we’ll hear the reason for this: “sic Deus dilexit mundum... for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”.
This, my friends, is the greatest act of mercy ever made.  We sinful humans could not be any more undeserving of God’s forgiveness, yet “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.  As we celebrate the birth of our Savior today, let us remember and acknowledge God’s mercy: that we, completely undeserving of this gift, have nonetheless received it.  And let us give thanks, as we do here in this Eucharist today.  Then, as recipients of God’s unfathomable mercy, let us go forth from here to be generous distributors of God’s mercy to all those around us.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 25th, 2018
Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord

Monday, December 24, 2018

God's got a history...

Homily: Christmas – Vigil Mass
          Having been here for close to six months now, I have been asked a lot of questions by many of you as you all try to get to know me a little better.  Many of those questions centered around my family, my interests, where I went to seminary, my life as an engineer before entering the seminary and—much to my delight—what types of food are my favorite to eat.  The one question that I feel like I most often received, however, is one that is probably the most complicated for me, or anyone else for that matter, to answer.  The question?  “So, Father, where are you from?”
          Looking just at the bare facts, answering that question really isn’t that complicated at all.  For many of us here, in fact, it is rather simple: “I’m from Lafayette.  I was born and raised here and I’ve lived here all my life.”  For folks like myself, that answer gets a little more complicated, but it is nonetheless still digestible: “I was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois, I went to college in Flint, Michigan and then moved to Indiana, where I’ve lived for the past 18 years.”  But even this bare-bone answer contains indicators that reveal other things about me, that is, about “where I am from.”  Almost to the person, once someone hears that I grew up near Chicago they assume that I am a Cubs fan (which, of course, is the only valid assumption to make, since being a Cubs fan is the only morally correct choice for any Christian to make: for it is a sign that one is in possession of the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, without which it would be impossible to remain a fan of the Chicago Cubs).
          If we start to ask questions beyond that basic question, however—such as those I’ve already mentioned: how big is your family, where did you go to school, did you play sports—we begin to find that the answer to the question “where are you from” is far more complicated and nuanced (and, perhaps, embarrassing) than we might be ready to share.
          Today, we, as the Church, celebrate God’s coming to us as a human person.  The absurdity of that statement is so great that we could stay here until tomorrow morning’s Mass trying to talk ourselves into a way to rationalize why God—who is without limits—would ever want to put on this limited human nature, but you all would never allow me to do that, so I suppose we won’t try.  No, today we acknowledge—and celebrate—that the eternal God entered time and, thus, that God, who has no beginning or end, no past or future, but only an eternal present, now has a history.  In other words, in celebrating that the Son of God has come to us in the flesh, we are celebrating—at least in part—that he came from somewhere.
          In our Gospel reading today, we hear where that somewhere is.  And much like our own answers about “where we are from,” the Son of God’s newly-acquired history is complicated.  Taking a look back at his genealogy, we find that Jesus’ heritage contains not only shining examples of righteousness and faith, but also men of whom it is safe to say that most followers of Jesus would have rather left out.  In between are men whose lives were a complicated mix of righteous deeds tarnished by poor decisions and others who, quite frankly, were so unremarkable that they’d be all but forgotten if they weren’t part of this lineage.  I’d venture to say that these very same descriptions could be applied to each and every one of our family trees.
          At the end of this line comes, however, Joseph, the poor carpenter from Nazareth.  Although it is noted that he is a righteous man (and rightfully so, for he should be noted for that), if it wasn’t for his role in giving the Son of God a history—that is, a heritage—Joseph would otherwise have been one of those unremarkable names on this list (that is, if it would have even gotten there in the first place).  Notice, we didn’t hear Mary’s genealogy, but rather Joseph’s.  And why?  I mean, isn’t Joseph just a ‘fill-in’ so it doesn’t look strange that the Son of God is raised in a single-parent home?  I mean, can’t we just drop Joseph out of the picture all together?  No, we can’t.  To understand why, we have to go back to the beginning.
          In the Book of Genesis, right after our first parents, Adam and Eve, committed the first sin, God condemns them to a life of suffering: the man must labor to bring forth food and the woman will suffer pain in childbirth.  But then, he makes a promise: that an offspring of the woman (that is, Eve, the mother of all mankind) will one day crush the head of the serpent—that is, the evil one, who tempted Eve into sin.  And so we see that the Son of God who was to come and redeem all of human kind needed to be born of a woman.  Thus, we see Mary’s indispensable role.  As the years went on, the prophets of Israel began to reveal God’s plan that the Messiah—that is, God’s Son who would come to crush the head of the serpent—would emerge from the royal lineage of King David.  Thus, we see now Joseph’s indispensable role: for it is through him that the Son of God received his heritage as a “Son of David.”  And so, while Mary gave God his humanity, Joseph gave God his history.  And the parallels don’t end there.
          In the Annunciation to Mary, the angel waited for Mary’s response: for the Holy Spirit would not overshadow her unless Mary gave her consent, and she had every right to say no.  As we read today in the Gospel, the Annunciation to Joseph by the angel in his dream holds the same suspense.  Joseph had every right to divorce Mary.  He even had the right to divorce her publicly, inducing even greater shame on her.  Because he was a righteous man, however, he had decided to do it quietly, knowing that, although he couldn’t rightfully take her into his home, she would be shamed enough in that culture just by being a single mother.  This is when the angel bursts onto the scene and says, “I know that this goes against every righteous bone in your body, Joseph, but go ahead and take Mary into your home anyway, because God has a plan.”  And so, just as God asked Mary to make space for him in her life, so, too, did he ask Joseph to make space in his.  And just as Mary reversed Eve’s sin of disobedience by listening and responding to God’s will, so, too, does Joseph reverse Adam’s sin of consenting to Eve’s disobedience by consenting to Mary’s obedience and thus receiving her into his home.
          My brothers and sisters, I don’t think that it would be a surprise to any of us if I said that our world has become increasingly hostile to God.  Day after day, it seems, the media culture is closing itself off from God and we are so afraid of being left out that we are rushing to get in with it.  Packed in like sardines, there is, it seems, no more room for God in our lives.  Yet, we are here, aren’t we?  Many of us have been here all year and some of us haven’t been here since last year, but nonetheless we are all here.  Perhaps that means that there is still room for God in our lives.  If so, then there is a message for you here today.
          Now, I cannot know what it was that motivated any of you to come here today, whether you came by your own free choice or out of obedience to a parent, grandparent, spouse or fiancée, but I can tell you this: If you are here today it is because God wanted you to be here.  And if you can hear my voice then I can tell you assuredly that God wants you to hear this message: Do not be afraid to take God into your home, for it is by the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of goodness, righteousness, and truth—that he comes to you.  God wishes to bless you with his presence—his healing, consoling, and strengthening presence—if only you would make a space for him.
          Perhaps, however, we are afraid.  We’re afraid that if we give him a little space, that he’ll take over everything.  Don’t worry, though; just like with Mary and Joseph, he won’t take more than we give him.  He doesn’t need much to start out, anyway: perhaps just a wood box out back with some straw to sleep on.  And if we’re afraid that we won’t know what to say to him when he comes, well, then, why don’t we just start with a simple ice-breaker: “So, Jesus, where are you from?”
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 24th, 2018
Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord

Monday, December 17, 2018

Rejoice! God makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is arguably the most famous church in the world.  And it’s enormous.  Inside it’s 614 feet long.  In fact, when you enter the doors and stand at the end of its full length and look at the floor, you’ll see that there are markings there indicating its size in comparison to other major churches throughout the world, verifying that quite possibly it is the largest church in the world.  The ceiling of the main nave is 145 feet high, and the inside of the dome itself soars to 385 feet.  It’s built in the form of a cross and, just to give you a better idea of its size, I would bet that our church—which is not small, by any means—would fit multiple times in one of the side naves of St. Peter’s.  Like I said, it’s enormous.
Of course, it is adorned with everything that high Renaissance art could throw at it, which you might think would be overwhelming when you first walk in there.  On the contrary, though, there is an incredible sense of balance and proportionality to it all.  As I walked through there for the first time I just tried to take it all in.  After spending some time in there, however, I started to approach different objects—certain statues, altars, side chapels, etc.—to take a closer look; and when I did I was amazed at the size of each thing.  Not only is the Basilica itself huge, everything in it is huge, too!
Standing in the midst of this extraordinariness, it’s easy to forget why it’s even there at all.  St. Peter’s Basilica was built over an ancient necropolis (a “city cemetery”) on Rome’s Vatican Hill.  This ancient burial ground was very close to one of the places where Romans held sporting events, gladiator fights, and where they sometimes executed criminals.  That Roman entertainment complex (which they called “circuses”) was where Saint Peter was crucified and that nearby necropolis was where Saint Peter was buried.  It’s amazing to think that such an extraordinary basilica was constructed because of someone so ordinary: a fisherman from Galilee, a remote outpost of the Roman Empire.  That’s like saying we were going to build a basilica to honor a line worker from Indiana Packers up in Delphi: on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be any merit for it.
The basilica wasn’t built because of Peter’s merit alone, however.  That would be a hard case to sell.  He often said the wrong thing, at the wrong time, and Jesus had to correct him.  He confessed that he would die with Jesus, but then fled when Jesus was arrested.  Worse yet, he denied knowing Jesus three times when he was threatened with arrest for knowing him.  No, the basilica wasn’t built over his grave because of his own merits.  He was an ordinary fisherman from Galilee through and through.  The basilica was built over his grave, rather, because of the extraordinary things that God accomplished through his ordinariness.  In other words, it was built to honor the ordinary that God had made extraordinary.  And so, we see that, with God, it all starts with the ordinary.
In the Gospel reading last week we heard how people were coming to John the Baptist, responding to his call for a “baptism of repentance” in which they would renounce their sins and then be ritually washed so as to be cleansed from the ritual impurity that their sins caused.  Today, we heard how many of these people, having turned away from their sins, sought advice from John about what they should do now that they had been cleansed.  Perhaps they thought that he would invite them to join him in his ascetic way of life, abandoning their work and wealth to live in extreme conditions.  Perhaps they thought that this kind of extraordinary act would be necessary to complete their cleansing.  What they heard, however, wasn’t very extraordinary at all.  John said to them: “Whatever you’re doing, do it right. And if you have the chance to help somebody in need, do it.”  These were very ordinary things.  Nevertheless, John knew that these things would prepare them for the extraordinary transformation that Christ would soon bring.
This transformation is much more dramatic than the words of the Gospel convey on the surface.  What John described was fantastical.  His baptism was an ordinary baptism: a cleansing with water.  Imagine having just experienced that kind of baptism and then to hear him say that the one who will come after him—the one who would be mightier than him—will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire!  It would have been shocking and incomprehensible to his hearers.   Yet what he was saying to them was, "Do these ordinary things and you'll be ready for this extraordinary experience.”
It’s not hard, sometimes, however, when we’re not sure what the next steps are, to think that we have to do extraordinary things.  For example: a couple of years ago my family decided to come to Logansport to visit me for Christmas.  I had never hosted my whole family before so I wasn’t sure how to prepare.  I started worrying that I would have to do all of these extraordinary things to prepare for their arrival.  I soon realized, however, that I had to start with ordinary things: I had to make sure that the house was clean and that it was neatly appointed with festive things.  After that, I just had to keep doing what I had been doing and wait for them to come.  In the end having them there was a great experience! Extraordinary in every way.
I worry that we sometimes act this way with God.  We think that we have to do extraordinary things to get his attention.  And that, if we don’t feel like we can do those things (or, perhaps, we’re just not motivated to do those things), we decide to do nothing at all.  Yet, as we see throughout the Scriptures and in the lives of the Saints, God wants to meet us in the ordinary: and then to make our ordinary extraordinary.
My brothers and sisters, the most extraordinary event in the history of the world was the birth of Jesus, the divine person who took on our ordinary human flesh in order to save us from sin and death forever.  He has already worked an extraordinary transformation in each of us through baptism; and he is coming again to complete our transformation to be like him in glory.  Thus, we don't need to be extraordinary ourselves. Rather, we can find joy in the ordinary—the work-a-day here and now—because of the extraordinary that God has promised to make with it.
So, what should we do?  Focus on the basics: Repent.  Seek the baptism of repentance by turning away from whatever sin in which you may be caught and be cleansed by making a good confession before Christmas.  Then, do the work you were given to do in justice and in truth.  In other words, pray, share your blessings with the poor, and do your daily work with integrity.  Finally, wait in joyful expectation of the one who has already come, who is still with us, and who will come to us again.  In these ways, my brothers and sisters—that is, in our faithful obedience to the ordinary—we will be prepared for that day when God will transform our ordinary to be unbelievably extraordinary.   Therefore, as Saint Paul exhorts us today, let us “rejoice in the Lord always.  I say it again: rejoice!”  For the Lord is truly near.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 16th, 2018

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Make straight the way of God within...

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

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Are you tired? Let go!

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

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christ the King sheds the light of truth on reality

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Faith makes our stewardship reasonable

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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Love God and find your calling

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

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