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. ūüėÄ
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

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Erradicar el mal

Homil√≠a: 29¬ļ Domingo del Tiempo Ordinario - Ciclo C
          Una de las cr√≠ticas m√°s extendidas de la fe cristiana es que la Biblia, que los cristianos creen que les revela el Dios del universo, presenta una imagen contradictoria de √©l entre el Antiguo y el Nuevo Testamentos. Dicen que el Dios que Jes√ļs proclam√≥ es apacible, cari√Īoso, misericordioso, y justo, mientras que el Dios que aparece en el Antiguo Testamento es violento, vengativo, y lleno de ira. “Dado que la Biblia no puede presentar una imagen coherente de qui√©n es Dios,” ellos dicen, “entonces debe ser falso.”
          En su defensa, el Antiguo Testamento est√° lleno de historias violentas que narran la lucha de los antiguos israelitas ya sea para entrar en o para mantener su presencia en la tierra que Dios hab√≠a prometido darles. S√≥lo mira la primera lectura de hoy. Detalla c√≥mo Josu√© dirigi√≥ al ej√©rcito israelita contra los amalecitas y la forma en que "derrot√≥ a los amalecitas y acab√≥ con ellos". √Čl no s√≥lo destruy√≥ el ej√©rcito de Amalec, pero a todo su pueblo, tambi√©n. Y leemos esto aqu√≠ en la misa de hoy, como si este tipo de violencia es algo que se supone que debemos sentir bien. ¿No le parece extra√Īo? No s√©; tal vez ya que estamos tan abrumados con im√°genes de violencia, tanto reales como falsas, quiz√° nos hemos "apagado" nuestra sensibilidad a la misma, pero para m√≠ una imagen de este tipo de violencia, aparentemente aprobada por Dios, no me sienta muy bien.
          Una de las cosas que hago yo, a veces, es leer la Biblia demasiado literalmente, como si se trata de la historia cient√≠fica. Ya saben, la mayor√≠a de las historias que se incluyen en la Biblia fueron entregadas primero de forma oral: es decir, s√≥lo por el boca a boca. Ustedes y yo sabemos que los hechos de la historia muchas veces cambian y mutan, ya que se cuenta una y otra vez, y as√≠ que la probabilidad de que las historias que se han conservado para nosotros en la Biblia nos dan la secuencia exacta de los eventos hist√≥ricos es bastante bajo. ¿Eso los hace falsos? ¡Por supuesto que no! Pero esto nos obliga a tomar una mirada m√°s profunda a como leemos e interpretamos estas historias.
          Al leer la primera lectura de hoy literalmente, se puede concluir que el pueblo escogido de Dios es superior a los dem√°s, por lo que cada vez que otros amenazan el bienestar del pueblo escogido de Dios, que todo hombre, mujer, y ni√Īo entre ellos se debe matar. Cuando lo leemos con la imaginaci√≥n, sin embargo, podemos encontrar un significado mucho m√°s profundo que es consistente con nuestra comprensi√≥n de Dios como cari√Īoso, misericordioso, y justo.
          Mira, esto no es s√≥lo una batalla entre dos naciones donde la naci√≥n que se ve favorecida por Dios destruye al otro. En contrario, imag√≠nese que es una batalla entre el bien, representado por los israelitas que fueron escogidos para una relaci√≥n especial con Dios, y el mal, representado por los amalecitas que eran considerados una fuerza que podr√≠a convertir a los israelitas fuera de su relaci√≥n con Dios. Por lo tanto, la batalla no es f√≠sico, sino espiritual, que, sin embargo, se representa en t√©rminos f√≠sicos, para que podamos entenderlo.
          Con este "lente" para la interpretaci√≥n de la historia, vemos que esta es una historia acerca de erradicar el mal de entre nosotros para no ser superado por √©l. Leamos la primera parte de nuevo: "Cuando el pueblo de Israel caminaba a trav√©s del desierto [es decir, en su peregrinaci√≥n al cielo], llegaron los amalecitas y lo atacaron… [es decir, estaba atacado por una mala influencia]. Mois√©s dijo entonces a Josu√©... sal y combatir a los amalecitas [es decir, sal y combatir la mala influencia en la batalla]. Ma√Īana, yo me colocar√© en lo alto del monte con la vara de Dios en mi mano [es decir, colocar√© en oraci√≥n constante mientras usted realiza esta batalla, para que el poder de Dios estar√° con nosotros]."
          ¿Hay alguien aqu√≠ que ha luchado contra el pecado? Esa batalla siempre tiene esta forma, ¿no? Pecado (es decir, una mala influencia) viene a tentarnos. Nuestra conciencia dice "¡esto es malo, tienes que luchar contra √©l!" Y nuestra mente y coraz√≥n dice... ¿qu√©? "No importa, conciencia, ¡esto parece divertido!" Bueno, tal vez eso pasa, ¿verdad? Sin embargo, por lo general, dice su mente "Tienes raz√≥n, conciencia, tengo que luchar contra esto", y siguen luchar contra el pecado.
          Si s√≥lo nos peleamos la batalla contra una tentaci√≥n, ¿qu√© pasa? Se vuelve la tentaci√≥n por segunda vez, ¿no? ¡S√≥lo m√°s fuerte! Y por lo que r√°pidamente aprendemos que no podemos ganar las batallas contra las tentaciones individuales, sino m√°s bien que debemos erradicar la fuente de la mala influencia, as√≠ para evitar todas las dem√°s tentaciones de venir. Esto, mis hermanos y hermanas, es lo que significa cuando la lectura dice "Josu√© derrot√≥ a los amalecitas y acab√≥ con ellos [es decir, la tentaci√≥n y la ra√≠z de las tentaciones]." ¿Se explico mejor, ahora?
          Bueno, ahora que estamos volviendo bien con esto, mira la parte que Mois√©s juega en la victoria sobre el pecado. Hay una conexi√≥n directa, ¿no? La lectura dice: "sucedi√≥ que, cuando Mois√©s ten√≠a las manos en alto, dominaba Israel, pero cuando las bajaba, Amalec dominaba." Mois√©s era el intercesor ante Dios en nombre de los Israelitas, ¿y qu√© m√°s puede esto significa, sino que la oraci√≥n es fundamental en nuestra lucha contra el mal? Si somos fervientes y constantes en la oraci√≥n, vamos a superar el mal en nuestras vidas y acabar con su influencia sobre nosotros. Si nos aflojamos, el mal comenzar√° a adelantarnos y posiblemente destruirnos.
          Pero Mois√©s necesitaba ayuda, ¿no? Con la ayuda de su hermano Aar√≥n y Jur su compa√Īero, Mois√©s fue capaz de mantener sus manos en alto en la oraci√≥n lo suficiente para que Josu√© y sus hombres pueden ganar la batalla. Por lo tanto, nosotros tambi√©n necesitamos la ayuda de nuestros hermanos y hermanas a superar y eliminar por completo cualquier mala influencia en nuestras vidas. Por lo tanto, debemos pedirla con frecuencia.
          Y as√≠, ¿qu√© significa esto? Bueno, significa que tenemos que empezar a usar la imaginaci√≥n para ver nuestra lucha contra el pecado en t√©rminos de una mayor batalla espiritual: el dram√°tico "Bien contra Mal", que constantemente se est√° librando en todo el universo. Y no estoy hablando s√≥lo de las grandes cosas (las cosas de los diez mandamientos), sino que estoy hablando de las peque√Īas cosas: el chisme, la envidia, el juicio que nos encontramos luchando a diario. No es suficiente para ganar una batalla en un d√≠a determinado, sino que tenemos que involucrar a la guerra para acabar con sus ra√≠ces en nuestra vida.
          Para ello, debemos orar y orar constantemente. Al igual que Josu√© no pod√≠a derrotar a los amalecitas sin la oraci√≥n de Mois√©s, no podemos esperar erradicar el pecado de nuestras vidas sin la ayuda de la gracia de Dios en la oraci√≥n. Cuando nos sentimos demasiado d√©bil para orar, no debemos darnos por vencido, sino que debemos pedir la ayuda de nuestros amigos, nuestra comunidad de fe, porque juntos podemos ganar la guerra. Mis hermanos y hermanas, no debemos tener miedo a asumir esta batalla, porque Dios no dejar√° de ayudarnos, porque la victoria... si la victoria ya es nuestra en Jesucristo, nuestro Se√Īor.
Dado en la Parroquia San José: Delphi, IN - 20 de octubre 2019

Rooting out evil.

Homily: 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
          One of the things that I find very curious about our culture is the paradoxical fascination that we have with violence.  Daily we are bombarded with images of real violence and the suffering that it causes in the news, on social media, and, for some of us, even in our own neighborhoods.  Yet, we continue to fill our senses with “make believe” violence in movies, television, and video games as if we were somehow fascinated with it.  Thus, the paradox is that real violence ought to cause us anguish and so it wouldn’t make sense that even fake violence would be entertaining.  But just one look at the summer movie blockbusters, the latest hit TV shows, and the most popular video games is all it takes to realize that our culture does, indeed, find fake violence strangely entertaining.
          Of course, this is not limited to our modern culture.  One can look back throughout the history of civilization and see that in every age there was some form of “make believe” violence that was used as entertainment; and that some cultures even came to thrive on real violence instead.  Even our Bible is rife with images of violence, particularly in the Old Testament.  Just look at our first reading today.  It details how Joshua led the Israelite army against the Amalekites and how he “mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”  He destroyed not just Amalek’s army, but his entire people, too.  And we read this here in Mass today as if this kind of violence is something that we are supposed to feel good about because the Israelites, God’s people, killed every person from another nation who threatened them.  Doesn’t that seem odd?  I don’t know, maybe since we’ve been so overwhelmed with images of violence, both real and fake, perhaps we’ve “switched off” our sensitivity to it, but for me an image of such violence, seemingly approved by God, doesn’t sit very well.  Perhaps some of you are like me.
          One of the things that I often find myself doing is reading the Bible too literally, as if it is scientific history.  You know, most of the stories that are included in the bible were first handed down orally, that is, solely by word of mouth.  Now you and I both know that the concrete facts of a history will often change and mutate as it is told over and over again and so the likelihood that the historical stories that are preserved for us in the Bible depict for us the exact sequence of historical events is pretty low.  Does that make them any less true?  Of course not.  But it does force us to take a deeper look at how we read and interpret these stories.
          An allegory is a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.  In other words, it’s a literary tool that is used to express something in a way that helps communicate it in a way that just stating the facts wouldn’t be able to express.  When we read today’s first reading literally, we might conclude that God’s chosen people are superior to others and therefore that whenever others threaten the well-being of God’s chosen people, that every man, woman, and child among them should be killed.  When we read it allegorically, however, we can find a much more profound meaning that is consistent with our understanding of God as loving, merciful, and just.
          You see, allegorically speaking, this is not just a battle between two nations where the nation that is favored by God destroys the other.  No, it is a battle between Good, represented by the Israelites who were set apart for a special relationship with God, and Evil, represented by the Amalekites who were considered a force that could turn the Israelites away from their relationship with God.  Therefore, the battle is not a physical one, but a spiritual one, nonetheless represented in physical terms so that we can understand it.
          With this hermeneutic, that is, with this “lens” for interpreting the story, we see that this is not a story about God’s people conquering other nations so as to reign over them (it can’t be, because we already know that Jesus himself said that his kingdom was not of this world), but rather that it is story about rooting out evil from our midst so as not to be overcome by it.  “In those days, Amalek [that is, an evil influence] came and waged war against Israel [that is, someone part of God’s people].  Moses [who here represents the conscience of the Israelite people], therefore, said to Joshua [who represents the mind and heart of the Israelites] … go out and engage Amalek in battle.  I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand [that is, I’ll be in constant prayer while you engage this battle so that the power of God will be with us].”
          Has anyone here ever battled against sin?  Doesn’t that battle (if we engage it) always take this form?  Sin (that is, an evil influence) comes to tempt us.  Our conscience says “whoa, this is bad; you better fight this!”  And our mind and heart says… what?  “Forget you conscience, this looks fun!”  Well, I guess that happens sometimes.  But usually it says “Ok, you’re right, we need to fight this.”  And so you engage in the battle against sin.
          If you win the particular battle do you say, “Ok, that was enough, I beat that temptation”?  Probably more often than not we do.  Then, what happens next?  Well the temptation comes back again, only stronger the second time right?  And so we quickly learn that we can’t just win battles against individual temptations, but we have to root out the source of the evil influence so as to prevent all temptations from coming.  This, my brothers and sisters, is the allegorical meaning of “Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people [the temptation and the root of the temptations] with the edge of the sword.”  Is it starting to become clear yet?
          Now that we’re getting good at this, look at the part that Moses plays in the victory over sin.  There’s a direct connection, right?  “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.”  Moses was the intercessor to God on behalf of the Israelites, and so what else can this mean except that as long as Moses had his hands raised in prayer, calling down God’s power on Joshua and his men, they had the better of the fight; but when he became tired and his hands drooped, Amalek and his troops started to gain advantage.  Prayer, then, is critical in our fight against evil.  If we are fervent and consistent in our prayer, we will overcome evil in our lives and root out its influence on us.  If we become slack, evil will begin to overtake us and possibly destroy us.
          Ah, but Moses had help, right?  No, it wasn’t Moses alone, but Moses with the help of the community: his brother Aaron and their companion Hur.  With their help he was able to keep his hands raised in prayer long enough for Joshua and his men to win the battle.  So, too, do we need the help of our brothers and sisters to overcome and completely eliminate any evil influence in our lives and so we should ask for it frequently.
          You know, one of the things that is happening in our society is that we are giving up our imaginations in favor of stimulation.  With imagination we strive to interpret stories and events in our lives in order to find what meaning it has for us.  Our culture, however, is training us absorb stimulation, instead.  When all we’re doing is receiving stimulation, there’s nothing more for us to do.  It’s either there or it isn’t; and if it isn’t, we’re trained to seek more.  When we engage our imagination, however, we begin to see events in our lives in allegorical terms.  In other words, we begin to see the events of our lives through an interpretive lens that adds meaning and depth to what we experience.
          And so, what does this mean?  Well it means that we begin to see our struggle with sin in terms of a greater spiritual battle: the dramatic “Good vs. Evil” that is constantly being waged throughout the universe, instead of the “self-help” exercise to which society wants to reduce it.  And I’m not talking just about the big things, I’m talking about the little things: the gossip, the jealousy, the judgmentalism with which we find ourselves battling daily.  It is not enough to win a battle on any given day; rather, we must engage the war to root out its sources in our lives.
          To do so, we must pray and pray constantly.  Just as Joshua could not defeat Amalek without Moses’ prayer, neither can we hope to root sin out of our lives without the help of God’s grace in prayer.  When we feel too weak to pray, we must not give up; but rather we must ask the help of our friends, our community of faith, for together we can win the war.  My brothers and sisters, we must not be afraid to take up this battle, for God will not fail to help us; because the victory… yes the victory is already ours in Jesus Christ.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 20th, 2019

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Word of God is not chained

Homily: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
“The word of God is not chained.”  Saint Paul penned these words to his prot√©g√©, Timothy, while in prison.  His point: that although the minister may be bound by chains in prison, the word, itself, is not chained and will continue to move freely about the world.  From those first years after Christ’s Ascension into heaven until nearly 1500 years later, Saint Paul’s words rang true: the word of God truly was not chained and it continued to spread throughout the world.
In the early 1500’s, however, the Church—and I speak of it here using broad strokes: it certainly wasn’t like this in every place that the Church was... which was nearly everywhere—the Church was “resting on its laurels”, it seems, and, while the word of God was still not chained, it was not finding its best witness in its ministers.  Men, therefore, rose up seeking reform.  Finding little enthusiasm in response (except in attempts to silence their voices), they broke away from the Church, hoping to reestablish the Church on its Gospel foundations.  This “protestant reformation”, as we now call it, tragic in that it caused further division among Christians (which had already been divided into “East” and “West” at the time), was, nonetheless like an “intervention” for the leaders of the Church.  The response was to propose an internal reformation, capped by the Council of Trent in the middle 1600’s.  Much more concerned about safeguarding the true identity of the Church in contrast to all of the “reform movements” from outside of the Church, the post-conciliar Church became much more insular—very much “us vs. them"—and this is the way it remained (again, speaking in broad strokes) until the middle 1900’s.
Pope John XXIII (now “Saint John XXIII”), responding to a movement of the Holy Spirit in the wake of the global catastrophes that were World War I and World War II, called for a new ecumenical council—the Second Vatican Council—with the expressed purpose of opening the Church more fully to the world once again.  In calling the Council together, he expressed his desire that there would be a “new Pentecost” in the Church, in which the doors to the cenacle (that is, the “upper room” of the first Pentecost) would again be thrown open and Christ’s followers would go out with the missionary mandate to “make disciples of all nations” once again.  Far from being a call to conform the Church to the modern world, it was, rather, a call to take the Church out into the world—to “unchain” the word of God (which, of course, had never really been chained)—so as to convert what is good in it to the purposes of building God’s kingdom, and, thus, to make more disciples of Christ.
We need no better example of the Church doing just that than the pontificate of Pope John Paul II (also now “Saint John Paul II”).  As someone who grew up under the Nazi regime in Poland and suffered under Polish Communist rule (backed, of course, by Russian communists), John Paul II experienced the threat that these ideologies posed not only to the Church, but to humankind.  Did he call the Church to turn in on itself so as to insulate itself from these threatening ideologies?  No!  Rather, he went to the front lines to engage the modern world with all the force of the Gospel.  His influence, backed by the power of the Gospel, led to the downfall of Communism in Poland, and, in a domino effect, to other places where dangerous ideologies had taken hold.  Although it may be hard to believe, next month will mark 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall!  These facts alone are evidence that, following the Second Vatican Council, the word of God had certainly been “unchained” once more.
In our day today, Pope Francis has again renewed this missionary mandate of the Council.  In his encyclical letter “Evangelium Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), he further urges us to take the Gospel out of our churches and into the streets—to those who are on the margins of society—to bring to others the “joy of the Gospel”, proving once again that the “word of God is not chained”.  Our own bishop, Bishop Doherty, chose for his episcopal motto this phrase, proving that he, too, believes in the urgency of this missionary mandate of the Council.
This truth, declared by Saint Paul, was true even before he declared it, however, as we see from our readings for today’s Mass.  In our first reading, we heard how Naaman, a high-ranking official in Syria, came to the Israelite prophet Elisha—in many ways, the only truly faithful person among the Israelites at the time—to seek a miraculous cure for his leprosy.  Generally speaking, he wouldn’t have sought recourse to a foreigner for aid, but one of his servants was a young Israelite girl who, after Naaman exhausted all of the resources in Syria looking for a cure, suggested that Naaman go to Elisha.  “The word of God” was not chained and, thus, came to Naaman through this young girl.  Having responded to it, and having been healed, Naaman was converted.  He abandoned his pagan gods to worship the one true God: the God of the Israelites.
In the Gospel reading, we heard how a group of persons suffering from leprosy call out to Jesus to ask for healing.  What great faith they had in Jesus!  When Jesus commands them to go and “show themselves to the priests”, they all believed that, through his word, they would find healing; and they did!  Only one, however, found true freedom: the Samaritan—the foreigner—who returned to glorify God and give thanks to Jesus, through whom he received healing.  True freedom, because, while the others went on to show themselves to the priests and, thus, remained under the Law, the Samaritan returned to Christ, through whom he could find fulfillment beyond the Law.  When Jesus says to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you,” he speaks the truth that, through faith in Christ, one finds true fulfillment apart from the Law.  Through this one, too, we see that “the word of God was not chained”; but rather went out to bring healing and freedom to those “outside” of the covenant with Israel and to incorporate them into Christ.
Today, this continues to ring true as we continue to welcome men and women from outside of the Church—men and women to whom the word of God has gone out and drawn to us—to become one with us as part of the Mystical Body of Christ.  Tomorrow/Today, we will formally welcome already baptized men and women who seek full communion with us in the Church and accept those who have not been baptized into the Order of Catechumens as they seek the definitive rebirth in Christ through the waters of baptism.  These persons are proof that, even in our modern times, the “word of God is not chained”.  We must, therefore, be grateful for these persons as it is proof that God is still with us and that he desires his Church to grow and blossom.
Nonetheless, we Catholics are called today to recognize that we ourselves were all once outsiders who, by God’s gracious mercy and the ministry of those around us, have now been incorporated into the true freedom of Christ.  In recognizing this, we are, thus, called to turn away from any complacency that might lead us to take this gift for granted: instead, giving ourselves more and more to an “apostolate of martyrdom”, that is, an “apostolate of giving witness”, so that this “unchained word”, might continue to go out and draw in men and women into Christ’s Mystical Body.
            My brothers and sisters, we are the lepers that have been healed by the unchained word of God that has come to us.  We (hopefully) have returned here to this altar to give thanks.  Let us, therefore, never neglect thankfulness.  For, in doing so, the word of God will remain unchained; and the kingdom of heaven—the kingdom of harmony and peace among all peoples—will be known among us.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 12th & 13th, 2019