Sunday, November 25, 2018

Christ the King sheds the light of truth on reality

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


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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Faith makes our stewardship reasonable


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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Love God and find your calling


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

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