Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year's Resolutions

          I did not preach the homily this past weekend, so in lieu of a homily I thought I'd share an idea I had regarding New Year's resolutions.  New Year's Day is the great "self-help" holiday, in which we are full of hope that the new year brings and some healthy (and often a lot of unhealthy) self-contempt.  The problem is that we often focus way to much on the externals: losing weight, exercising, learning a new skill, etc.  If you're a Christian, however, I'd charge you to think more spiritually.  Here are three resolutions that will bolster your spiritual life in 2020 (or create one, if you've been lacking it!):

  1. Grow in piety: Piety is a devoted fulfillment of one's duty.  The pious person prays daily, frequents the sacraments, studies the Bible, and does other spiritual reading.  These pious practices are like core exercises: they're sometimes boring, but they make your whole body stronger.  Resolve to grow in piety by doing these things:
    1. Pray more/better.  Check out this video from Ascension Presents for a plan to do this.  https://youtu.be/1UPIvsvWcUc
    2. Go to Mass and Confession.  Mass every Lord's Day (Sunday) and Holy Day of Obligation (there are 5... look them up!).
    3. Study the Bible/Read.  Spend time every day doing this!  Start with 10 minutes a day and grow from there.  If your parish has a Formed.org subscription, there are plenty of study/reading resources there.  If not, ask your parish priest for some resources.
  2. Be a better evangelizer: Evangelization is not much more than communicating the good news that Jesus is our Savior and in him we have hope of eternal happiness.  We can do this though our words (spoken and written) and our actions (self-sacrificing acts of charity, both small and big).  Using words is often a challenge for folks, so here's three simple steps to prepare yourself to be an evangelizer:
    1. Spend some time thinking about your own faith story.  How did you come to know God and Christ Jesus as your Savior?  What impact has that made on your life?  What is the hope that you live with because of this?
    2. Write this story down and think about how you would share it.  Most people don't talk about their faith because they've never really verbalized it.  By writing it down, you give words to your story, making it easier to share when the opportunity arises.
    3. Share it!  Now that you know how to verbalize the Good News (because you've verbalized how it has been good news for you), you are ready to share it with those around you.  Do not be afraid!
  3. Help relieve suffering wherever you can: The Kingdom of God is a return to the Garden of Eden when all of creation dwelt in harmony.  Sin destroyed that harmony and suffering is the result.  But now that Jesus has conquered sin, we can begin to re-establish that harmony around us by helping to relieve suffering and by always striving to make a positive impact on those around us.  Here are some ways to do that:
    1. Practice random acts of kindness.
    2. Engage in regular service to those in need.
    3. Perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
          These are three very broad resolutions, but they are resolutions that can be repeated year after year and never exhaust their fruitfulness.  Don't expect perfection for yourself, but do expect growth.  Write down some weekly goals for each of these resolutions and spend some time writing down how you did each week.  You'll begin to see your growth, even amidst setbacks.  Still further, your relationship with God will grow, and there's nothing more valuable than that.

          Remember that I'm walking this journey with you!  Let us encourage and support one another as we strive for the heights of happiness in this world in anticipation of the incomparable happiness we'll know in heaven.  May God bless you all in this year of grace, 2020!  Verso l'alto!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

True and Lasting Happiness Restored

Homily: The Nativity of the Lord (Mass During the Day) – Cycle A
I’ve been a priest for over seven years now and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that only the most sophisticated folks show up for Christmas Mass.  Looking out over the congregation, it appears that my observations hold true.  Therefore, I feel like it would be pretty safe to bring up the Greek philosopher Aristotle without getting too far above anybody’s head, and so here we go.
          One of the core things that Aristotle taught was that all living things have an end for which they are striving—a telos in Greek.  For example, by his observation, a plant is striving for the sun.  He could see this by the way that a plant will stretch out its leaves way beyond its roots in an effort to reach the rays of the sun.  We, of course, know that the plant needs the rays of the sun to hit its leaves for photosynthesis to happen, in which it converts the energy from the sun’s rays into nutrients to help it grow, but it doesn’t change the fact that the living spirit in the plant—the anima, if you will—is striving always towards the sun as if reaching it was its ultimate purpose.
          Now, I think that we can all agree that we human beings are little more complex than a plant.  Nonetheless, Aristotle still thought that we have a telos: an end to which we are striving.  When Aristotle observed human beings in order to determine for what it is that we are striving, he concluded that the end we are all trying to reach is happiness.  In other words, when he looked at the reasons why human beings do anything, he could see that all of them boiled down to one thing: happiness.  Simply stated: everything that we choose to do, we choose because we think that it will make us happy.  We, of course, could be wrong about whether or not it will make us happy, but the fact remains that we choose it because we think that it will make us happy.
          Saint Thomas Aquinas lived a little more than 1500 years after Aristotle, but he was one of the first to truly synthesize Aristotle’s philosophy into Christian theology.  Saint Thomas agreed that human beings have a telos, and that this telos is happiness.  Because Thomas was a Christian, however, he could tell us that the truest and fullest happiness for which we can strive—the happiness for which we were made—is what Christian theologians call the Beatific Vision: that is, standing face to face with God, in perfect communion with him.  Therefore, because of Saint Thomas, we now have a criterion from which to decide whether or not what we choose is what will truly make us happy: because if what we choose moves us closer to the Beatific Vision, then it truly will make us happy; and if it doesn’t, well then it won’t.
And so, why do I bring this up here today?  It’s because of this.  For the last month, we’ve covered our lives with the sheen of “Christmas Spirit”.  Lights, trees, shopping, parties, lots of food, lots of drinks... in other words, we’ve covered our lives with a spirit of celebration.  Yet, in spite of what all of the songs on the radio, your spotify playlist, or in stores and restaurants say (…It’s the most wonderful time of the year...) … in spite of what all of these songs say, underneath it all we realize that we really aren’t happy.  Sure, for a few days (maybe even a few weeks) we’ll feel good: connecting with family, reminiscing about old times, enjoying the exchange of presents (especially watching the joy and excitement of children opening gifts), and a day or two (or more) off work can truly give us a sense of comfort amidst the toils and labors of our lives.  By the time January 1st rolls around, however, all of those good feelings have mostly vanished, and we’re left with the toils and labors, perhaps with few “fleeting flashes of perfect” mixed in.  When this reality settles back in, once again we’ll have to confront the fact that we really aren’t happy.
My friends, this is really important to say on this Christmas Day, because the truth of the matter is that, since the fall of man (the first sin of Adam and Eve), NOBODY HAS BEEN TRULY HAPPY!  Ever since the fall, mankind has sought his happiness in the world and has always come up short.  While we can be temporarily successful, none of us is capable of achieving true and lasting happiness by our own efforts.  Why?  Well, because (as Saint Thomas taught us) our only lasting happiness is the Beatific Vision—seeing God face to face.  This means a return to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve walked in communion with God.  Sin caused them to be expelled from the garden, and a great chasm between us and our happiness appeared: a chasm that mankind can never bridge himself.
Therefore, if, underneath all of this “holiday sheen”, there’s a gnawing in you that says, “Is this all there is?” or “It’s too bad that this is all going to end soon”, well then I’ve got good news for you: You’re normal!  You’re a human being, searching for your telos, your true and lasting happiness, and no amount of tinsel and lights and cookies and egg nog and corny songs and tacky sweater parties can satisfy the longing for happiness in you!  Only perfect communion with God can provide that.  To this, I have still more good news: “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 is what we celebrate tonight: not that we made it back to God, but that God came to us to bring us back to himself—to save us from our unhappiness so that we could return to life with him.
This, my brothers and sisters, is why we are bold to speak the words of Isaiah in the Mass: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’ … Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem … all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.”  My friends, God our Lord has come to comfort us, his people, by redeeming us from our sin which separated us from him!  Why, then, do we keep looking for happiness in the ethereal... in the aesthetic... in the “sheen” of Christmas?
My friends, the prologue to John’s Gospel, which we heard today, reminds us of this wonderful truth that God, who existed before all time, made all created things through his Son, the Divine Word; and, when his creation went astray and in the fullness of time (meaning, when the time was right), his Son came into the world to be our redemption and, thus, to restore us to our true and lasting happiness.  In the generations since his birth, however, we have often allowed ourselves to forget that it is through him, Jesus Christ, that we find our true and lasting happiness and thus begin to seek our happiness by our own frustrated efforts again.  The season of Advent reminds us to turn back to the Lord and say, “Come, Lord Jesus!  Save us from this unhappiness!”  And today we gather to say to him, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus, for you have come and you have saved us!”
Friends, I am going to say something to you here and I want you all to look at me and listen.  (Are you looking?)  Nothing—absolutely nothing—that you do this Christmas matters more than what we are doing right now in this church: giving praise to God that he has sent his Son to save us from our unhappiness so that we can find our telos, our true happiness in him.  Let us, therefore, let the wonder and awe of this great mystery—the Son of God appearing in our humanity—envelop us today, so that the happiness of this time might remain with us, even after we return to the labors and toils of our lives, and thus preserve us in faith until Christ, our Mighty King, returns to take us home.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 25th, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

The obedience of faith

Homily: 4th Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Although it may not be the first thing that you think of when you think of a king/queen, every king/queen is called to be a servant.  What I mean by that is this: the authority that a king/queen possesses is given to him/her so as to govern the people of the kingdom in such a way that they might flourish.  We all know, however, the old saying that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and so we all know how often kings/queens are corrupted by the power that they wield and seek to have their people serve them, instead.  Nonetheless, this doesn’t change the fact that the role of the king/queen is to serve; and if they serve well, then they rightfully receive the honor and homage of the people.
Still further, throughout history being a king/queen almost always included a religious component.  Royal lineage was often seen to have been appointed by God and royalty have often held positions of authority in religious matters.  This continues today.  For example, the Queen of England is also the head of the Church of England.  As such, she must be not only a servant of the people, but also a model for religious piety and practice.  To do otherwise would discredit the Crown and the religion that she leads.  Sure, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the de facto head of the Church of England, but the Monarch of England still stands as the model for all.
This, of course, was true of the ancient Israelites, which gives color to our first reading today.  The brevity of this reading gives rise to the thought that the Church included it primarily to recount for us the source of the prophecy of the virgin birth (which is very important, obviously), but the broader story also provides us with some insight and so I’m going to incorporate some of it here.
Ahaz was not a good king.  I don’t know whether he was a good guy, but he wasn’t a good king.  He let being a king get to his head.  If we remember back to the prophet Samuel, when the Israelites demanded that he anoint a king for them (for they had never yet had their own king), he first rebuked them for suggesting that they didn’t already have a king (for the Lord God was their king) and then he predicted that most of the kings that they would have would be corrupt or weak (or both) and that the people would suffer because of it.  The people insisted, anyway, and God instructed Samuel to anoint a king for them.  Many hundreds of years later, Samuel’s predictions would come true and Ahaz was one of those weak kings who let being a king get to his head.
Ahaz forgot that he was king so as to serve the people for their flourishing.  He also forgot that the true King of the Israelite people was God.  And so, when God allowed the insanely powerful Assyrian army to amass themselves against the Israelites (because the Israelites had fallen away from faithfulness to God under the rule of Ahaz), Ahaz sought a worldly solution to the problem (he was brokering and alliance with the Egyptians).
Isaiah brings him God’s message that said, “The Assyrians are here as a punishment for your lack of faithfulness; but surrender to them and I won’t let them destroy the city or kill you.”  Ahaz didn’t like that answer because he didn’t trust God and thought that he needed to rely on himself.  Isaiah clapped back and said, “No, for reals: God is going to take care of you. He’ll give you a sign, anything you ask for.  Just ask him.”  Ahaz, not wanting the sign because he wanted to make his alliance with Egypt, invokes some false piety and says, “oh no, it would be improper to put the Lord to the test.”  Isaiah, frustrated for God, responds that God will give him a sign, anyway, and predicts the virgin birth of a son who will be “Emmanuel - God with us” for the people.
In the end, Ahaz would make his alliance with Egypt and the Assyrians would conquer him anyway.  He would die, Jerusalem (including the temple) would be destroyed, and the people would be exiled for 70 years.  Ahaz, as the king and religious leader of God’s people, refused to get behind God’s plan and the people suffered.  And the sign that God called for wouldn’t be seen until hundreds of years later.  By refusing to acknowledge God as the one King, and by refusing to be an example of right religion, God’s plans for his people were disrupted.
In contrast we heard of the “annunciation” to Joseph in today’s Gospel reading.  Joseph was a man with no worldly power.  He was a laborer in a small town in a seemingly inconsequential region of the world.  Yet, he was a righteous man: which means that he was just and followed God’s law closely.  We hear also that he was merciful, for although he knew that he couldn’t take Mary into his home after the discovery of her pregnancy, he decided to divorce her quietly so that she wouldn’t have to suffer any more indignation than what she would already suffer by being a single mother in that culture.  For Joseph, God was Lord; and when he heard the message of the angel that told him to do something that every righteous and merciful bone in his body told him not to do, he obeyed.  Through his obedience, God’s plan for mankind was finally fulfilled.  Joseph placed himself, in the state of life and situation that he was in, completely at God’s service, and God’s good will for mankind was fulfilled.  In this way, Joseph was a much better king than Ahaz.
My friends, I’m certain I will surprise no one here when I say that there is a lot more Ahaz than Joseph in our world today.  In other words, there’s a lot more people—especially those in authority—who refuse to acknowledge that there is an authority higher than themselves to which we owe obedience.  For this reason, the kingdom of God is disappearing among us.  Sure, there is still plenty of goodness among us, but it’s dwindling into smaller and smaller pockets of our public life.  While it is important that we recognize that and seek to put in authority persons who recognize God as the ultimate authority and seek to obey him, it is just as important to recognize that there is probably more of Ahaz than Joseph in each one of us.  I mean, isn’t it true that we each want to be Lord of our own lives and, thus, act like we know better when God asks something uncomfortable of us (for example, surrendering to forgiveness of someone who has hurt us)?  Because of this, just like king Ahaz, much of God’s will doesn’t manifest itself among us.  Friends, we do not get to lament the state of society without asking ourselves how we have each played a small or large part of it becoming as it is by our refusals to allow God to be Lord of our lives.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, therefore, we are reminded that, as we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of Christ’s birth among us (and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy!), we are preparing also for the coming of our King.  And so, the question comes to us, “Have I given my preparations over to Him (like Joseph)?  Or am I expecting that he will make my plans successful, in spite of what he may want (like Ahaz)?”  In other words, “Am I the king/queen and expect, thus, God to serve me?  Or do I see myself as a servant before the true King?”  My brothers and sisters, I charge you to reflect on these questions over these last days of Advent: for judgment will be merciless on those who made themselves king, but full of mercy for those who acknowledged the true King and sought to serve him.
Friends, the true King is coming.  May he find us ready to honor him with our obedience of faith so that his will for bringing forth the full flourishing of his kingdom might be known in our time.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 21st & 22nd, 2019

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Don't give up on waiting

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Is it Christmas?  No.  There, I’ve just given you every small detail of the website whose sole purpose seems to be to answer that question.  The website’s address is isitchristmas.com and when you go to the site all that you see is a big fat NO in your face.  I’m not sure what happens on that website on Christmas, but my guess is that it’ll either say “Yes”, which is boring, or it will invade my computer with a virus, rob my identity, and cause my computer to self-destruct, which would be much more exciting, for sure, but not the kind of exciting that I’m looking for.
You know that we’re a little bit crazy about Christmas when there are websites whose sole purpose is to remind us that it isn’t Christmas yet.  And I think that this is a sign that, frankly, we just don’t get it.  Every year, it seems, we demonstrate that we are so impatient for our self-indulgent winter holiday celebrations that we can’t wait even the three to four weeks of Advent before we start indulging.  I intentionally use the phrase “winter holiday” here because, at least in my experience, these almost never have anything to do with Christ and his coming among us in our human nature (except, perhaps, as a “pious excuse” for having them).  The fact that “winter holiday” decorations come down on December 26th is evidence enough that our celebrations were over long before the event itself arrived.
You may call me “Scrooge” for thinking like this, but I tell you this comes from a deep place of concern.  You see, I’ve read the Scriptures (it’s kind of a necessity of this vocation) and I’ve read about what happens to folks who give up on waiting for God.  Let’s go back to the book of Exodus.  There, in chapter 24, God calls Moses up onto Mount Sinai (the mountain of the covenant) in order to give him the Ten Commandments.  Moses goes up and spends 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain.
Then, we hear that the people got anxious waiting for Moses to return and so demand that Aaron (Moses’ brother and the guy who was left in charge while Moses was gone) build them an idol to worship.  Aaron ceded to their demands and fashioned a golden calf before which the Israelites bowed in worship and then feasted: eating and drinking in excess and otherwise celebrating with great revelry long before Moses returned with the Ten Commandments.  God alerted Moses to this and said that he would slay them right then and there.  Moses intervened, however, and God relented.  Moses then went down the mountain to find what God had described and himself became enraged.  He called forth the Israelites who had not worshiped the idol nor had engaged in revelry and had them punish those who had done those things by putting them to death.  The passage ends with this somber verse: “Thus the Lord smote the people for having had Aaron make the calf for them.”  The Israelites refused to wait and instead gave into self-indulgence: for this they were severely punished.
Advent, my brothers and sisters, reminds us that we are in a time of waiting, and that this waiting is not aimless; rather, we are waiting the return of Jesus.  And not just Jesus our friend who has been away for a while (as joyous as that homecoming would be), but Jesus, our King, who will come with judgment and to usher in the fullness of his kingdom in which right order is finally reestablished through all of creation.  Those who are found in faithful preparation will be like the sheep Jesus describes in the parable of Matthew 25, to whom he says “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  To those who are found to have given up on waiting, that is, to have given up on their faithful preparation for his coming, the King will say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  I hope now that you can see why I am so concerned that we have given up on waiting.
In the Letter from Saint James, from which we heard in the second reading, he instructs us: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord... Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand... Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Take as an example of hardship and patience … the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  Saint James is exhorting us not to give up on waiting, because our King’s advent, that is, his coming, is closer than we think.  Friends, by dutifully waiting to celebrate until the day of the Nativity of Christ, December 25th, we remind ourselves that we must dutifully wait and prepare for Christ our King’s imminent return.  We do this both internally, by repenting of our sins and turning again to the Way that Christ has shown us, and externally, by doing the works of mercy and, thus, producing the signs that the King who is to come has indeed already come.  Friends, everything else is secondary.
In our Gospel reading today, we heard how John the Baptist, imprisoned by King Herod, sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”  Jesus, with great love for his dear relative and friend, sends them back with this instruction: “Go and tell John what you hear and see...” that is, that the signs of the Messiah of which Isaiah prophesied—blind who now see, lame who now walk, lepers who are cleansed, deaf who now hear, and the dead who now live—these were now happening through him.
If someone asked any of us today: "Is Jesus the one who was to come, or should we look for another?" what would we say?  Could we say, "Yes! Look, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised"?  Perhaps you might say, “No, but Jesus isn’t here with us to make those things happen.”  True, but didn’t Jesus say to his disciples, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these”?  My friends, we must say "yes", that Jesus is the one who was to come, but we must also manifest the works of the kingdom, that is, the works of mercy, among us so as to declare that he is still to come again.  Otherwise, even the John the Baptists of the world—that is, persons of great faith—may give into doubt and fall away before the time of his coming.
You know, the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, the apostle James, and those of their time never asked the question “Is it Christmas?”  They, rather, were concerned with a greater question: “Is it Advent?  In other words, “Is it the Coming of the one who is to come?”  For the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist the answer would have been a single “Yes”, for they would not live to look for the second coming (in this world, anyway).  For the apostle James, however, and for every Christian for the last 2000 years, the answer is “Yes and yes”: meaning, “Yes, the one for whom we looked to come has come” and “Yes, it is he for whom we are preparing to come again”.
My brothers and sisters, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus our King that we encounter in the form of bread and wine from this altar is the bridge between these two “yeses”.  As we encounter Him today in this Mass, let us ask for the strength to wait and to faithfully prepare for his second coming, so that we might be welcomed into the fullness of His kingdom to rejoice with Mary and the saints for all eternity.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 14th & 15th, 2019

Monday, December 9, 2019

Repent and be ready to receive the King

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Friends, last week, if you were here and heard my homily, you heard me say that what we celebrate in Advent is really a continuation of our celebration of Christ the King, just from a different perspective.  I said that while the Feast of Christ the King acknowledges and celebrates that the Divine Son of God united himself with our human nature so as to establish God’s definitive kingdom here on earth, the season of Advent spurs us to remember that this very same king will one day return in all of his glory to take his kingdom back unto himself.  Jesus’ exhortation to “stay awake” because we will know neither the day nor the hour on which he will return is our urgent Advent message: for Christ himself said that on that day (the day of the coming of the Son of Man) “one will be taken, and one will be left...” meaning, “one will be lifted up into glory and one will be left to descend into eternal death.  Jesus gives no indication as to who will be lifted up and who will be left except to imply this: that those who were prepared for that day will be lifted into heaven, while those who failed to make preparations will be left behind.  I thus exhorted us to make our Christmas preparations more about preparing for and hailing the coming of Christ our King so that this day will not catch us unaware and, thus, left behind.
This Sunday we continue to focus on Christ the King.  In the reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear just what kind of king Christ will be.  The kings of the world would nearly always rely on fighting wars and making a name for themselves by great military victories and then would use their power and influence over others to take advantage of them.  And this was not just for the wicked pagan kings.  No, we need look no farther than the great Israelite king, King David, to see that this pattern holds.  On the feast of Christ the King, we heard how the Israelites acknowledged that David deserved to be king because of the great victories that he won.  Later we would see how he would use his power and influence to take advantage of his people when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then compounded his sin by trying to cover it up: ultimately making it so that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was killed on the battlefield so that David could take Bathsheba for his wife.  David, of course, humbled himself before God and sought forgiveness, but it nonetheless illustrates the pattern that even the best worldly kings tend to fall into.
Isaiah paints a different picture of the king who is to come.  This king will be a king upon whom the spirit of the Lord will rest, making him wise and just beyond any other king the world has seen.  He will not use force to rule over peoples; rather, the wise words that come from his mouth shall be the power by which he will slay his enemies.  Nor will he take advantage of the people; rather, he will judge the poor with justice and do right for all peoples throughout the land.  Under this king, there shall be unprecedented peace and harmony; and not just among people, but throughout nature: for the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid...  In other words, this is the king who will restore right order to the universe, the king who will lead us back to the Garden of Eden.
We see that Christ, indeed, is this king by his ministry recorded for us in the Gospels.  How many times did he confound the scribes and the Pharisees by disarming the traps they had set for him by his wise responses?  And how about the Roman rulers, too?  John’s gospel records how Jesus’ words confounded Pontius Pilate and left him literally washing his hands of Jesus because he could not withstand the power of his words.  And how many times did his disciples seek to retaliate with violence only to have Jesus rebuke them for seeking to use worldly means of gaining power?  Jesus was just in his public ministry, treating everyone equally and favoring no one.  And his miracles—especially his miracles of healing—show that he came to restore right order to the universe so as to lead us back into Eden: that is, the kingdom of God.
Friends, this is the Christ—the great King—whose first coming we are preparing to celebrate and whose imminent return we are called to anticipate.  Both of these demand that we listen to John the Baptist who calls us today to prepare through repentance.  Why repentance?  Because when the King comes he will look to have his kingdom in order, with his subjects doing the work he gave them in the manner that he instructed them to do it.  Now I know that, as persons who live in a free society—one that was founded in response to throwing off the rule of a monarch—it may be difficult for us to live as subjects of a king who has absolute authority over us.  Nonetheless, that is what we are called to do and that is what Jesus expects of us when he returns.
Remember, however, that his is not the king/queen of England, but rather the great king who the prophet Isaiah foretold would come, and so we should not be afraid to make ourselves subjects of this king.  In fact, we should have a healthy fear of not submitting ourselves to this king and his order, because, as John the Baptist relates, He is coming with his winnowing fan in his hand to clear his threshing floor; gathering his wheat into his barn and throwing the chaff into an unquenchable fire.  The wheat are those who have subjected themselves to his authority and the chaff are those who haven’t.  The wheat, therefore, will be taken up into glory on the last day and the chaff will be left to descend into everlasting death.
Our task of preparation, therefore, is one in which we examine ourselves—soberly, yet seriously—and ask ourselves, “In what ways am I denying to be a faithful subject of my king?”  The answers to these questions are what we call “sins”: ways in which we have denied to act as faithful subjects of our king.  Then, having identified those things, we must make a positive decision to turn from those ways and subject ourselves to him with our whole hearts, minds, bodies, and strength once again.  This starts with a good sacramental confession and continues through changed behaviors and attitudes.  The former is simple enough to complete (there are many opportunities for one to make a confession every week).  The latter, however, will take a good amount of work.  You’ll know that you’ve done it, however, when you’ve detached yourselves from your wants and desires and seek rather to know and to do what God wants: which is to spread the good news of Jesus and to relieve suffering wherever you are able.  My friends, this is true repentance, and this is the way that we are called to prepare for the coming of Christ our King.
Last week I warned you all about a specter running around called “The Christmas Spirit” that convinces people to believe in a domesticated Christmas: a Christmas that’s all about family reunions, meals, and shared gifts.  This, I argued, is a false spirit, because the true Spirit of Christmas is the one that leads us to prepare for and to hail the coming of Christ our King.  This week, we see clearly who is this king for whom we are preparing and the way for us to prepare for him to come.  My brothers and sisters let us earnestly take up this work of repentance with great hope in our hearts: for Christ our King loves us and longs for the day when he will return to take us up into his glory.  This Eucharist, in which his advent is made present to us even now, is the guarantee of this truth.  Let us, then, not be afraid: for his kingdom of justice and peace awaits us.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 8th, 2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Preparing to hail the King

Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Friends, hot on the heels of our celebration of Christ the King, we come to the first Sunday of Advent.  Instead of hearing readings that turn our focus to the Christ Child (perhaps as we’d prefer they’d do), we hear readings that remind us of Christ’s kingship.  And this is totally appropriate since the beginning of our new liturgical year is never a “reset”, but always a “continuation”.  Our declaration last week that Jesus Christ is Lord and King of the Universe necessarily leads us right into the truth that he is yet to come again, and our readings remind us of this.
In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we hear the prophecy of how the Lord will come to establish Mount Zion, the hill on which Jerusalem was built, as the “highest” mountain.  As we know, the city of Jerusalem is nowhere near the highest point of anything.  In the symbolic language of the prophets, however, the cities of the greatest prominence—from which the greatest rulers rule—are the ones built on the highest mountains and so Isaiah declares that God will come to establish Mount Zion as the highest mountain so that Jerusalem will be considered the greatest of cities from which the greatest of rulers, the Lord, will rule over all the earth.
This is an obvious allusion to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, whom Isaiah didn’t know, but nonetheless foretold, and who would, by his death and resurrection on Mount Zion, establish himself as king.  In doing so, he will draw all nations to himself; because, in himself, he has become Mount Zion, established as the highest mountain (for we read in the Gospel of John that Jesus says, “...when I am lifted from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” ~ John 12:32).  Then we hear Isaiah say, “Many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’”  Is this not the embodiment of who Jesus is?  The one to whom all peoples go up to be instructed in his ways so as to walk in his paths?  And yet Isaiah continues: “For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”  In Jesus Christ we see this, too, happening.  Carried first by his apostles and then by the faithful throughout the generations, this instruction has gone out into the world.
Bishop Robert Barron, in a recent podcast reflecting on the feast of Christ the King, reminds us that this was the whole purpose of Christ’s coming: that is, to establish a kingdom that unifies the world.  And this is a real kingdom, with Christ as the king, and with the law of God as the universal rule for all peoples everywhere.  In other words, Christ didn’t come to teach us how to be nice people and then to sacrifice himself for our sins only to return to heaven and leave us alone—as if, as he ascended, he could be heard saying, “Now you better behave, because I’m not going to come down their again and save you!”  No, Christ came to establish the definitive kingdom of God under his own kingship.  This is what we celebrate on the feast of Christ the King.  That he will return in all of his glory to take his kingdom unto himself is what the season of Advent spurs us to remember.
This remembering, however, is never static.  In other words, we’re not meant to go “Oh yeah,” and then continue as if nothing is different.  Rather, this remembering is meant to spur us into action: for we are the ones who have gone up to Christ to receive instruction so as to walk in his paths, and we are the ones who are sent to go forth from Christ into the world with this instruction.  And why?  To prepare for the final uniting of all into the one kingdom of heaven.  And so, how do we prepare?
We prepare by first recognizing that this world is covered in darkness: a darkness that only the light of Christ can penetrate and illuminate.  It is fitting, then, that we celebrate this season at the time of year in which the days are filled with the least amount of daylight.  Advent calls us to recognize this darkness and enter into it, so that we can know what is truly the light of Christ and what is the false light that the world puts forth to distract us.
Frankly, I just don’t see how we can do this if we have already filled our lives with winter holiday lights and festivities.  At the end of the prophecy that we heard in today’s reading, Isaiah exhorts the children of Israel to “walk in the light of the Lord”, and Saint Paul, in the second reading from the Letter to the Romans, exhorts them to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”.  Friends, I declare that this is all but impossible for us if we have already decked out our homes with false lights and festivities that have little to do with preparing for Christ’s coming.  We should, rather, be examining ourselves—going into the darkness of our inner selves—to see if we are truly prepared to meet Christ our King and to be judged by him.
Therefore, I exhort you to leave off the lights and festivities this Advent and instead “seek first the kingdom of God”.  For, as Christ himself reminded us in today’s Gospel reading, we do not know the day when Christ will come.  Rather, it will catch us unaware, going about, as it were, our daily business.  Those who are ready for the judgment will be taken up into the kingdom, and those who aren’t will be left behind.  You know, it is really unfortunate that there are so many teachers in the Church today who will argue for universal salvation: that is, that ultimately everyone will be saved.  Unfortunate because it is not biblical.  The biblical teaching is that there are many who will be lost to eternal punishment: most of whom, I would guess, will be lost because they didn’t take care to be ready for the day that the Lord called them to judgment.  And this for me is very distressing, which is why I am preaching this to you today.
You know, there’s a specter running around called “The Christmas Spirit” that convinces people to believe in a domesticated Christmas: a Christmas that’s all about family reunions, meals, and shared gifts.  This, I argue, is a false spirit.  False because Christ himself cannot be domesticated.  The true Spirit of Christmas is the one that leads us to prepare for and hail the coming of Christ the King: a king more powerful than all the rulers of this world, a king who will judge between nations and impose terms on many peoples, a king who can, once and for all, lead people to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, a king who can bring true and lasting peace through justice by uniting all peoples into one kingdom.  Friends, if your “Christmas Spirit” isn’t a spirit that prepares for and hails this king, then I say to you again: it is a false spirit.
The question, therefore, that this first Sunday of Advent poses to all of us is this: “Where is Christ the King in my preparations for and celebrations of Advent?”  If you struggle to find him there, then perhaps you’ll ask yourself, “What, then, am I preparing for?”  Let us all challenge ourselves to discern in prayer at least one way that we can turn this time of Advent and Christmas into a preparation for and a hailing of the coming of Christ the King.  Perhaps we’ll take up a work of mercy, or spend an hour in adoration each week, or read the scriptures a little each day (especially if that means turning off TV, steaming services, or social media), or any number of things.  Making a good and thorough examination of conscience and sacramental reconciliation is probably one of the best ways to put Christ the King into your preparations.  Whatever you discern, be intentional.  Write it down and make concrete plans to do it.  Share those plans with a friend and keep each other accountable to it.  In this way you will keep yourself awake for the day of the Lord’s coming, which may be very soon, and you will be ready to join the multitudes who sing with the Psalmist: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 1st, 2019

Monday, November 25, 2019

Subjects of the One True King

Homily: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
In anticipation of our celebration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe this weekend, I took the opportunity to speak about this feast with our second and third graders here at Saint Mary’s School during my weekly visit.  I used that to lead into a presentation of various royal saints—that is, men and women royalty (kings and queens) who lived holy lives after the manner of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.  The kiddos always have a lot of questions (notice that I didn’t say great questions, because they aren’t always great questions, but they do always have a lot of them!).  I am usually equipped to answer them, but sometimes they’ll stump me, and this was one of those times.  In one of the third-grade classes, a student asked, “How does someone become a king/queen?”  We all knew part of the answer, of course, which is that the person is the son/daughter of a king/queen and so inherits the throne, but we quickly came to the conclusion that we didn’t know how the first person in that heritage becomes royalty.  Much to my credit, I didn’t immediately consult Google.  Much to my discredit, however, I threw their teachers under the bus and said that they can look that up for them and let them know. 😀
I did think about that question over these last few days and realized that, in general, there are two basic ways that one becomes a king/queen: by inheritance (as I’ve already mentioned) and by merit.  Inheritance, of course, we know very well: So-and-so is the son/daughter of King/Queen so-and-so and so will inherit the throne when the king/queen dies.  While the lines of succession can get somewhat complicated, especially when there are many generations of inheritance, this way of becoming a king/queen is still pretty straightforward.  The way of merit to become king/queen is also pretty straightforward: more so, perhaps, than we might initially think.  In this way, someone leads a grouping of people through some great challenge (overcoming and enemy, fighting through a hardship, etc.) so as to establish that people as a people of their own.  The people then turn to make that person the leader—the king/queen—of this newly established people.  This can also happen even if the people already have a king/queen as another may prove him/herself even more worthy than the current ruler.  This latter case is the example we see in our readings today.
In our first reading, we hear of the people choosing David as their king.  For many years after entering the Promised Land, the Israelites did not have a king, but rather managed their lives through recognized elders and the adjudication of priests and prophets.  At one point, however, they became jealous of other nations that had kings and so they demanded a king for their own.  The prophet Samuel was aghast at the idea, since he knew well that it was God who had established this people and so that it was God who was already their king.  The people insisted, however, and, by God’s prompting, Samuel anointed Saul—a great warrior—to be their first king.
Saul displeased God, however, and so was cut down in battle.  His direct heir, Jonathan, was also killed in battle.  That left the Israelites without a direct heir to succeed Saul.  This is when they turned to David.  David was an indirect heir to Saul, as he was married to Saul’s daughter.  Nonetheless, as we heard in today's reading, it wasn’t because of this connection that they asked David to be their king.  Rather, it was because of his merit.  “You led the Israelites out [in battle] and brought them back”, the leaders of the Israelites declared, and so they agreed with David that he would be their king.  In other words, he proved his ability to lead them and so they chose him to be their king.
This, of course, leads us right to Jesus.  Jesus, as we see, is king both by inheritance and by merit.  By inheritance because he is of the lineage of king David (you can go back to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel to read the genealogy of how Jesus came from David’s line).  Still more, Jesus is king because he is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  This inheritance is a stronger one than the first, since it was truly God the Father who was king of the Israelites all along.  Nonetheless, Jesus also earned the kingship for himself by engaging in the battle against sin and death and overcoming them.  In our Gospel reading today, we hear again the familiar story of the criminal crucified with Jesus acknowledging him as king, in spite of the others there who did nothing but mock him.  This man did not recognize Jesus’ heritage, but rather his merit.  And, in recognizing his merit, the criminal submitted himself to Jesus’ authority and asked that he would be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom.  Jesus not only promised to remember him, but rather to give him a place in that kingdom.
Friends, Jesus is the true king of the universe and we must acknowledge him as such, both because of his inheritance and because of his merit.  As Saint Paul says, “[God the Father] delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  Jesus is King because he is the Son of the King, God the Father, who has given his Son the kingdom and made us members of it.  He is not just a spiritual king, however, but rather a human one, which can make it so much easier for us to acknowledge him as our king.  The Israelites, when they came to David to anoint him king, said, “Here we are, your bone and your flesh.”  In a similar way, we can say the same to Jesus: “Here we are, of the same bone and flesh that, in your divinity, you took on to save us.  And you did save us!  Now we implore you, rule over us: for you know us and have shown us to be worthy of the honor.”  And we must acknowledge and honor him as king if we hope, like the criminal crucified with him, to dwell in his eternal kingdom.
And so, how do we do this?  By submitting ourselves completely to his authority.  This means submitting our minds, wills, and bodies to his will.  This means that, as subjects of our King, we don’t get to pick and choose which teachings of Jesus that we will follow.  Rather, we submit to the reality that, if Jesus has revealed it and if the Church that he established teaches it, then we must submit to it and uphold it.  This means everything!  Especially the teachings on the sanctity of life, marriage, human sexuality, service to and solidarity with the poor, care for the environment, etc.  Simply stated, if Jesus is king, then he must be king of EVERY ASPECT of my life!  To live otherwise is to be a hypocrite.
Friends, as we know from elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus ain’t got no love for hypocrites.  Let us, therefore, examine ourselves to see if there is any area in our lives in which we do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King.  Regardless of what we find, let us turn back to him and submit ourselves to him—particularly through the sacrament of confession.  Only Christ has saved us, and only Christ can save us now.  Therefore, let us boldly acclaim him as king in all that we think, say, and do, and thus make our hearts and this place ready to acclaim him when he comes again.  Long live Christ the King!
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 23rd & 24th, 2019

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Hope makes us live differently

Homily: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Friends, we are now well into the month of November, which for us Catholics also means that we are approaching the end of the Liturgical Year.  Although the readings for Mass have already been hinting at it for the last several weeks, this week our readings shift our focus away from the nuts and bolts of our daily discipleship and toward consideration of “last things”, that is, the things that will come at the end of time.  This week, in particular, the focus of our readings is on the reality of the resurrection from the dead.
In our first reading, 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 make them apostatize—that is, denounce their faith—by eating pork, which they believed God forbade them to eat.  Each of these three courageously handed over their lives to their torturers rather than denounce their faith in God by breaking the Law that he had given them; and it was their hope in the fact that God could and would raise them to life again that gave them that courage.  In other words, 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, even if they should die at the hands of men, God would one day raise them to life again.  And so, we see that our belief in the resurrection means something about how we live our lives before we die: for if there’s no resurrection, then eat pork and enjoy your life, while you have it; if there is a resurrection, however, then we ought to seek to serve the one through whom the resurrection will come (that is, God), so as not to incur his wrath.
In the Gospel reading, in answering the dilemma that the Sadducees put forth, Jesus doesn’t describe for us how we should live our lives in this world, but rather describes a glimpse of how eternal life will look.  He describes life after the resurrection of the dead as one in which those who have been raised to life “can no longer die”, indicating that it will be an immortal life which will extend through all eternity.  Now eternity, I think, can be a very hard thing to imagine.  Fr. Larry Richards, who is a parish priest from Erie, Pennsylvania, and who travels to speak nationally, has one of the best illustrations about the length of time which is eternity and he describes it in this way: he says, “Imagine that, in eternity, every step requires 1,000 years to take and that you have been given the job to take every grain of sand from every beach and on every ocean floor, one at a time, to the top of Mt. Everest.  You can imagine the countless billions of years that it would take to accomplish this task.  Yet once you have finished this task,” he says, “eternity is just beginning.”  He describes it in this way in order to put into sharp contrast the reality that with our infinitesimally short time on earth (in comparison to eternity) we will determine how we will spend eternity (either in heaven or in hell).  Thus, once again, our belief in the resurrection of the dead means something about how we ought to live our lives before we die.
In his encyclical, Spe Salvi (in English, In Hope We Were Saved), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “the one who has hope lives differently.”  Hope, as he speaks about it and in the Christian sense, is not merely “optimism” about the future—that is, good feelings that, in the end, things will come out positive for us.  Rather, it is the grace of a vision of a real, positive outcome that we see is concretely possible for us to attain in the future, even if it is beyond our power.  Thus, we see how it is possible for one who has hope to live differently: for he/she no longer need worry about what can happen in the present time, because one sees the vision of the positive outcome for him/herself in the future.  This is the hope that the Israelite brothers and their mother had which gave them courage to endure horrendous torture and death: hope that provided the vision of the positive outcome for them—that is, the resurrection to an everlasting life.
Last week, at the end of Mass, we heard a testimony from our parishioners describing how being involved in the ministries of Saint Mary’s has made a positive impact on their lives.  Each one of them was a testimony of hope: that what is sacrificed in this present time is of no account in light of the positive outcome that awaits those who are faithful to the Lord.  I pray that you have reflected on these things over this past week and are now ready to make or re-make your commitments of your time and talent to the ministries of Saint Mary’s.  I pray that your reflection has been full of hope (and, thus, gratitude): gratitude for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ which has made a life beyond this life possible for us, and hope that, through baptism, we will one day enjoy that life.
Therefore, if you are ready to do so, I now invite you to make your commitment by turning over your time and talent commitment card to us.  Hopefully you brought yours with you today.  If not, there are extras in the pew.  I’ll give you a few moments to complete them, if necessary, before inviting the ushers to come forward and collect them.  They will then be brought forward to be placed at the altar and, thus united to the sacrifice that is our hope: the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood for our salvation.  If you are not ready to make your commitment today, don’t worry.  Know that you can make your commitment at any time.
May God bless you all for your openness to serve and may Mary’s prayers strengthen us to bring these good commitments to fulfillment.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 9th & 10th, 2019

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Importance of Being Earnest

Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C

          The Oscar Wilde play, The Importance of Being Earnest, takes as its starting point a play on the homonyms “Ernest”, the man’s name, and “earnest”, the adjective meaning: showing sincere or intense conviction.  In the play, two men use an alter-ego named Ernest to woo young ladies to their favor.  Their deception is discovered, of course.  After a few, quite humorous plot twists, through which the men come clean on who they are—and then, in one case, discover that they are more than they thought they were—each of the men end up with their chosen maidens.  Without giving the whole plot away, it turned out to be very important that one of them actually be named Ernest; and, for that to happen, that man had to be earnest (that is, he had to be sincere).  It is a delightful comedy and I recommend that you read the play or watch one of the movie adaptations if you have a chance.

          I bring this up today because of the story of Zacchaeus in our Gospel reading.  It’s a great story and worthy of our reading over and over, thinking about who Zacchaeus is—imagining ourselves as him—and thinking about how Jesus responds to him—and how we would feel if Jesus would respond to us in the same way in that situation—and then how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus—and whether we would be so bold as to respond in the same way.  I encourage us all to make this a prayer exercise that we engage this week.

          Putting all of that aside for right now, here’s what Zacchaeus can teach us today.  Now, Zacchaeus was a bad man.  Not only was he a tax collector, but he was a chief tax collector!  Thus, he was despised by all of his kinsmen for collaborating with the Roman occupiers and for making money on it, to boot.  You could imagine that he could have become complacent and have given up his religious upbringing, seeing how lucrative it was to work for the Romans.  Perhaps, to some extent, he did just that.  Nevertheless, he didn’t give it all up; and we know this because of his reaction to Jesus’ passing through Jericho.

          Instead of ignoring the commotion as an inconvenience to his day, he still felt a fascination with the religion of his upbringing and, therefore, sought to see what the “hubbub” about this preacher from Galilee was all about.  His actions—climbing a tree to see Jesus, rushing down to welcome him into his home, and denouncing any unjust actions from his past and promising to make restitution for them—demonstrate that Zacchaeus was, indeed, earnest.  Because of this, Jesus declared that salvation had come to him and to his household (much to the chagrin of those around him who wanted to see him condemned as a great sinner).

          My friends, a lesson, therefore, for us to take away today is this: While our sins do, indeed, separate us from God and harm others, if we earnestly seek to know Jesus, if we earnestly respond to his invitation to communion, and if we, therefore, earnestly strive to turn away from our sins and make restitution for them, then salvation will be ours.  Because of the weakness of our human natures, we may fail miserably in our efforts to do these things; but if we, nonetheless, do them earnestly (and constantly!), then God will have mercy on us and grant us the salvation that we could not earn for ourselves.
Friends, if this isn’t “good news”, then I don’t know what is.  Let us give thanks, therefore, in this Eucharist for this gracious gift; and let us ask for the grace of earnestness—the earnestness of Zacchaeus—so that we might be ready to greet the Lord when he comes on the last day.

Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 3rd, 2019

Monday, October 28, 2019

Submitting to God's mercy

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          A few years before I entered the seminary, I had hit what I would call a “personal low-point”.  Things in my life seemed to me to be unraveling.  I had been working as an engineer for a few years and was very disappointed in the way my career was already shaping up.  I had also just been through the disastrous breakup of a relationship that had lasted nearly three years (with the disastrous part being completely my fault).  On top of that, I found myself questioning the faith in which I was raised.  Basically, the foundation rocks of my future—career, marriage, religious faith and practice—seemed to be crumbling in front of me and I was in crisis.
          By God’s grace, in the midst of all of this, I was moved to participate in the mission my parish was having.  At that mission I came to recognize that the things that I thought were the rock foundation of my future were really just sand, because I had ignored God’s commandments and was building them of my own accord.  I felt ashamed and for the first time in my life truly knew what it meant to ask for God’s mercy.
          From that point on, however, I began to build.  I tried to learn more about my faith and began to study the Bible and the Catechism.  I began to attend Mass daily and started to get very involved in my parish.  I made many positive friendships with people who helped support my desire to live virtuously and, two years later, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
          At that time, I also met a wonderful young woman and we began to date.  I was so excited about this relationship because I felt that it was the first time that I was truly dating according to God’s plan and not my own.  The only problem was that I had started to become complacent and self-assured in the daily practice of my faith.  So much so, that I started to exhibit some self-righteousness.  This woman who I was dating began to see through that and when she called me out on it I was shocked, then angry that she had done so, but then, once again, I found myself ashamed and in desperate need of God’s mercy.
          And so, for me, I find a lot to relate to in the Pharisee from today’s Gospel reading.  He had mastered all of the regulations in the Law of Moses, which was no small feat!  The Law contains over 600 regulations and, just to be sure that they never encroached even on those, the Pharisees added their own “safeguard” regulations on top of them.  Thus, to master all of these laws, one had to be very disciplined and conscientious.  His problem, however, was that he let all of that get to his head and his self-assuredness became self-righteousness.  And so, we see in the Gospel reading how he came before God not to lay his work before God’s judgment, but rather to crown himself with a crown of righteousness.
          I relate to him because I feel like I had been acting similar to him.  I was following all of God’s commandments and often found myself judging myself righteous in comparison to others.  I boasted of always “striving to do God’s will” even though I was not actually prayerfully discerning what God was calling me to do.  I knew that I wasn’t perfect, but I had become complacent in being “better than most”.
          Nonetheless, I also find a lot to relate to in the tax collector.  On top of being a job that other Jews would despise him for doing, the job itself didn’t pay a salary; and so, the only way that he could earn money would be to tack on fees to each transaction.  Well, he quickly realized that he could make a lot of money doing that and so he began to tack on exorbitant fees that were inconsistent with the taxes being paid, which he knew to be unjust.  Thus, he knew that he wasn’t perfect and so it was clear to him that only the mercy of God could earn him any semblance of righteousness.  Therefore, he came before God in the Temple not to proclaim his own righteousness, but rather to accuse himself before God and to beg for his mercy.
          I relate to him because both at the beginning and at the end of this time that I have been describing, I found myself in a similar state: recognizing my own failure to be righteous and thus turning to God to beg for his mercy.  In the first instance, I could accuse myself.  In the second, however, I needed another to accuse me.  In both I either saw or came to see that I needed God’s mercy in order to earn any semblance of righteousness.
          “Ok, so I’m a little confused, Father.  Are you saying we should or shouldn’t strive for righteousness? because it sounds like you just said that the better thing is to remember our need for God’s mercy, but that when we are achieving righteousness we’re apt to forget it.”  Yes, we still need to strive for righteousness; and no needing to constantly remember our need for God’s mercy is no excuse for continuing to commit your favorite sins (useful, perhaps, but not a good idea).  What we need to do is follow Saint Paul’s example, who was righteous in every way according to the Law, following all of the Lord’s commandments, yet who never counted it to be more than rubbish compared to what God’s mercy could do (and did do) in him.  Or how about Pope Francis, who when asked by a reporter to describe himself replied firstly, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”  Yes, my brothers and sisters, we must strive for righteousness, for it is what God has made us for.  But we must also acknowledge our inability to crown ourselves: that is, that we, too, are indeed “sinners whom the Lord has looked upon.”
          Recently I visited one of our homebound parishioners.  When I arrived, he asked almost immediately if I would hear his confession.  He said that he couldn’t really think of any specific sins that he had committed, but that he realized that it had been a long time since he last went to confession; and, acknowledging that God could call him home soon, he didn’t want to have to explain to God why his short memory or weak conscience kept him from receiving His mercy.  “I try to be good,” he was basically saying, “but I know that I’m not perfect.”  “You know what,” I thought, “he gets it.”  This is the humility that Jesus is talking about: the humility that, although he couldn’t accuse himself of any particular sin, nonetheless still acknowledged his need for God’s mercy.
          My brothers and sisters, we are all constantly in need of God’s mercy.  Let us, then, humble ourselves here today before the one who alone can exult us.
Given at Saint Mary Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 27th, 2019