Sunday, April 28, 2019

An encounter with mercy

"The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" by Caravaggio

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) – Cycle C
          Over the years as I have been striving to live this Christian life well I’ve found that I’ve come to appreciate more and more those persons that I’ve met or read about who have provided a “lived example” not only of achieving holiness in their lives but also of the struggle to arrive at faith and to maintain that faith throughout one’s life.  This is why I’m enjoying Pope Francis so much.  He has been providing us with a different perspective on the Christian life.  While Pope Benedict XVI invited us to know Christ in prayer, especially with the Scriptures, Pope Francis is inviting us to go out and find Christ in the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering.  With both of their lived examples, we are getting a fuller, more rounded, perspective of how to live the Christian life.
          This is why I also enjoy encountering persons like Saint Thomas in the Scriptures.  I think that it is easy for us to step back and say “Oh yeah, there’s that ‘Doubting Thomas’ again” and fall into the trap made by the Pharisee elsewhere in the Gospel who said: “I’m glad that I’m not like him, doubting the Lord’s Resurrection and all.”  It’s certainly easy for me to stand here and say, “Now don’t be ‘Doubting Thomases, but believe!” (and, if that’s all that I had to say, then I might as well just sit down, because you’ve heard all of that before).  I have a great sympathy, for Thomas, however, because there seems to be something going on with him that is deeper than just a stubborn resistance to believing that the Lord had risen.  I think that Thomas was really struggling with something deeper.
          For years, Thomas had been following Jesus closely.  He had gotten to know him and certainly he had bonded with him.  No one can be that close to Jesus—God… love incarnate—and not feel a sense of intimacy with him.  Thus, Thomas had made himself vulnerable both to him and for him: “Ok, Jesus, I believe that you are the Christ and so I am willing to proclaim this to others, even if that means that I will be ostracized and persecuted by family, friends and the people of my nation.”  Thomas was convinced that Jesus was the one for whom he had been waiting and he put all of his trust in him.  And so, when Jesus appeared to be defeated—when all seemed to be lost because Jesus had been put to death—that hurt Thomas deeply.  He loved Jesus—which was perhaps something difficult for him to admit—and Jesus seemingly let him down.  It wasn’t that he was resistant to believing, but rather that the wound was still fresh and demanded a personal encounter before it could begin to be healed.
          You know, I think that this is an experience that we see both in ourselves and in one another.  Not just the experience of being disappointed or let down by someone we’ve come to love and trust (though that experience is common enough), but also the experience of being disappointed and feeling let down by Jesus (or, at least, by his Church).  A few years ago, I shared a table at a wedding reception with a woman who had a lot of negative opinions of the Church.  I was still a seminarian at the time, and so the woman felt free to express her thoughts to me; and we had a lively, but respectful discussion.  I of course gave her (as best I could) all of the reasoned arguments about why the Church teaches this and why it can’t change that, but she didn’t seem to be buying much of it.  Finally, I realized that there was something else going on with her—that this wasn’t just a philosophical struggle with principles—and so I stopped and gently asked her: “You’ve been hurt by the Church, haven’t you?”  “Yes”, she replied.  She, like Thomas, wasn’t necessarily doubting Jesus, but she needed more than intellectual arguments and the testimony of witnesses to resolve the hurt that she was feeling inside of her.  She needed, rather, an encounter with the one who had hurt her, who had let her down, so as to reconcile that hurt before she could move forward.
          I would guess that many of us know somebody in a similar situation: somebody who has left the Church for reasons unbeknownst to us and who has strong feelings about why he or she refuses to return.  And I would guess that most of these persons have some sort of hurt or disappointment that they have experienced with the Church and that only a personal encounter with the one that has hurt them can resolve.
          In the Gospel today, Thomas receives that encounter.  Notice, however, that it wasn’t immediate.  Thomas had this news for a whole week before Christ would return to reveal himself to him.  And what a blessing it was that Christ gave him this chance to have that personal encounter that he needed to reconcile this hurt within him.  And what mercy Jesus showed him.  For he could have easily chided Thomas for his unbelief, but instead he tried to remove all barriers to his believing—to his reconciling himself to him: “Peace be with you… Come, touch my hands and put your finger into my side… do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
          My brothers and sisters, this is exactly the mercy that we commemorate today on Divine Mercy Sunday.  This is the eighth day of the Lord’s resurrection: the day when he mercifully appeared to Thomas so as to reconcile him to himself.  And so today we too are reminded that Christ offers us the same opportunity to encounter him and to reconcile our hurts with him.  He comes to us, immolated for us on this altar so as to say “Come, see my hands, touch my wounds—the wounds that I received for you—and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  “Come,” in other words, “and be enfolded in my mercy.  I know that you’ve been hurt and I want you to be healed.  And so, whatever it is, just come.  Come and see my sorrow for your pain and let my mercy wash over you to bring you healing and peace.”
          And so, my brothers and sisters, how good it is that we are here to celebrate this great mercy.  May our hearts be open to his heart today so that we, too, may believe and, thus, may have life in his name: the life of the Resurrection… the life of mercy.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – April 28th, 2019

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Come, be filled with the joy of the resurrection!

Homily: Easter Sunday – Cycle C
Halleluiah, we made it!  After forty days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, here we are on Easter Sunday.  What a joy it is to be here with all of you: my still new family in Christ.  Like any good engineer, however, I’m never content just to arrive at my destination.  Rather, there’s always a little part of me that wants to look back at where I’ve been and how I arrived here in order to see if I accomplished all that I had set out to accomplish.  I think that it is a valuable thing for us to do on Easter Sunday: kind of like looking over photos from a trip as soon as you get home so that you don’t quickly forget the experiences you had.
To begin, let’s go back to Ash Wednesday, all the way back on March 6th.  There we heard Christ call us to repent from our sins and to believe in the Gospel and I encouraged you to look hard at what your Lenten fasts would be to ensure that they produced more than just forty days of punishment, but that they would also produce in you a sense of detachment.
Then, on the first Sunday of Lent, we recounted how Christ modeled for us what our forty days of fasting should produce in us.  He spent forty days in the desert, fasting and praying; and the Scriptures tell us that when he emerged from the desert, he was hungry (Duh!).  What Jesus realized during that time of fasting and prayer was that it wasn’t food or other worldly things that he wanted, but rather it was communion with God towards which all of his desires were pointing.  Therefore, when the devil tempted him to change rocks into bread, to worship him so he could have dominion over the kingdoms of the world, and to put God to the test by throwing himself off of the parapet, Jesus could resist him.  His fasting had led him to detachment from any desire for these worldly things.
A couple of weeks later, if you were with us for the celebration of the scrutinies, we heard about the Samaritan woman whom Jesus meets at the well.  Poor woman was just trying to get to the well and get home without running into anybody, but there was Jesus ready to flip her world upside down.  Jesus innocently asks for a cup of water, but when the woman questions him about asking a Samaritan for something, Jesus reveals to her the real reason why he is there: he tells her that if she knew who she was talking to that she would be asking him for water, because the water he would give would never leave her thirsty again.  What Jesus was revealing to her was that what she was really looking for couldn’t be found in husbands or in a well, but that it was sitting there right in front of her: that what she really thirsted for was to know God and that this knowledge alone would satisfy her thirst.
While I could go on picking out other examples from our Scripture readings from these past seven weeks, I won’t.  Hopefully, however, for these last forty days, this has been the work that we have been doing: removing the “old yeast” of malice and wickedness, as Saint Paul describes it today, so that we can celebrate this feast with the “unleavened bread” of sincerity and truth.  Hopefully, by our fasting and almsgiving we’ve been detaching ourselves from the things of this world: things that only provide a temporary satisfaction.  And hopefully through our prayer—which is where we meet God like that woman did at the well—Jesus has been showing us what it is that we are truly thirsting for.  And so, hopefully, you find yourself today like Jesus did when he emerged from the desert and like the woman did when she encountered him at the well: hungry and thirsty for what truly satisfies.
If you’ve done your work well, then you probably feel a sense of freedom from whatever it is that you gave up.  Thus, you won’t be easily tempted to go back to it now that Lent is finished.  If, however, you haven’t done this work so well, then you’re probably looking forward to getting out of this Mass as quickly as you can so that you can indulge again in whatever it was that you sacrificed for the last forty days.  Either way, I can tell you that the hunger that all of us are feeling today—the hunger that we are left with after forty days of fasting—is not a hunger for worldly things (although it may feel that way); rather, it is a hunger for God.
Saint Augustine famously wrote: “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”  I think that he could have just as easily said the same thing if he would have said: “We are always hungry, O Lord, until our hungers are satisfied in you.”  And so, whether you have used this time of Lent well or poorly (or not at all), I can tell you that whatever hunger you feel inside of you today is truly a hunger for God and only communion with him will truly satisfy it.
Now, I’m enough of a realist to realize that some of us here see this and some of us don’t.  Those who see it are here today rejoicing with full hearts and full voice that God has not left us alone to die in our sin, but rather that through the resurrection of his Son he has redeemed us so that our hungers can be satisfied.  Maybe, however, that’s only a few of us.  Perhaps, though, many of us have gotten a glimpse of this during Lent and so come here today with great hope that something new is happening in our lives that can move us towards finding meaning and purpose in all that we do.  Yet I am sure that there are still some of us here who just don’t see it at all.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  Because we are all here today, just like Jesus’ disciples were all together on the first Easter.  And we are all hearing the same news—the joyful, compelling, and confounding news: He is risen!
And so regardless of where you find yourself today, the Good News is that He is risen and for the next fifty days we will be feasting on the joy of this day, and everyone is welcome to join in this feast from wherever it is that you are at.  This feast is truly the foretaste of heaven: for it is the joy that on this day nearly two-thousand years ago Jesus the Christ of God rose from the dead and conquered sin and death forever, restoring our communion with God and making it so that we can all truly live in harmony and peace.
My brothers and sisters, if you have been waiting for your invitation to join into this feast, then here it is.  Whatever it is that compelled you to be here today, know that God wanted you to be here and that he invites you to experience the richness of this banquet that he has prepared for you—for all of us—from before time began.  He knows that each and every one of us is hungry and he longs to satisfy that hunger.   Therefore, lift up your hearts to experience the satisfaction that only he can give: the union of love that he offers us here in this Eucharist.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – April 21st, 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Letting Holy Week interrupt you

Homily: Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) – Cycle C
In April of 2015 I had the blessed opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  It was an opportunity for me to give thanks to God for the abundant blessings that had come to me throughout the first three years of my priesthood and especially for the gift of healing from cancer that I had received five years earlier.  For me, it was a personal pilgrimage, so I didn’t lead a group, but rather tagged onto a group that was already traveling so I could truly experience the Holy Land as a pilgrim.
Of the numerous biblical sites that we visited, one of the more powerful was walking the “Via Dolorosa” or the “Way of Sorrows”, more commonly known to us as the “Way of the Cross”.  There, in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem, is preserved the 14 stations of Jesus’ passion so that pilgrims can walk the “way” that Jesus walked to his crucifixion, death, and burial.  In fact, the “stations of the cross” that are common in nearly every Catholic church and chapel today are there because of these stations that had been preserved in Jerusalem for pilgrims.
Once the Moslem Turks had taken possession of the Holy Land, pilgrims were not allowed to follow the stations and so, eventually, in the 17th century, Pope Innocent IX allowed stations to be erected in religious houses outside of the Holy Land and he attached the same indulgence to following them as he did to making the pilgrimage in the Jerusalem.  Then, in the 18th century, Pope Benedict XIII extended that indulgence to all the faithful and his successor, Benedict the XIV, instructed pastors to erect stations in every church, where possible, so that this devotion could spread widely.  All those details aside, however, you can probably imagine that it was truly something special to walk the original stations in Jerusalem.
We began our prayer at the praetorium, where Jesus stood before Pilate and was sentenced to death.  We celebrated Mass there in a church erected just beside the location where the “trial” of Jesus took place.  Then we set off on our journey, down the streets of Old Jerusalem, to the hill of Calvary.  What immediately struck me was that, while we were walking down these streets, piously trying to pray and meditate on our Lord’s passion, people were going about their daily business.  In fact, many vendors were calling out to us trying to sell us souvenirs along the way.  At first, I was put off by it; but then I saw a connection.
You see, when Jesus was condemned to death, it was on the Friday afternoon before the Passover (which began at sundown).  In Jerusalem there would have been thousands of people bustling around preparing to celebrate the feast.  Some of these folks probably had no idea who Jesus was or why he was being condemned.  Some, perhaps, had heard the “hosannas” during his entrance but thought, “Here’s another ‘flash in the pan’, purporting to be ‘king’”.  Thus, as Jesus walked along the streets, carrying his cross, many probably shook their heads and sighed in resignation then went back to whatever it was that they were doing.  Perhaps there were even vendors who had some certain wares that they tried to get “execution gapers” to buy as these processions took place.  Regardless, it’s clear that Jesus’ conviction and execution didn’t cause the world around him to stop, even though its fulfillment would change the world.
Thus, Holy Week challenges us.  Unless you’re a priest or work for the Catholic Church, your week this week probably isn’t going to revolve around the coming Passion of Christ.  Nevertheless, this week must somehow be different for us.  We each have to be intentional about breaking our routine to notice and enter into the events leading up to the mysteries that we celebrate at the end of this week: the Last Supper, the Passion and Death of Christ, the silence of the tomb, and, of course, the Resurrection.  Perhaps you can take time to read through the Gospel passages for each day’s Mass this week (found on and other websites) or to stop and make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament each day (all of our churches are open throughout the day for you to make a visit).  Whatever you may choose, choose something that, while you go through the routine things that your week demands of you, will cause you to step back and notice the thing that is happening: the great mysteries of our salvation that are being re-presented to us.  My friends, if you can do this this week, you’ll have finished Lent well; and the joy of Easter—the joy of feeling resurrected with Christ—will be yours.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – April 14th, 2019

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Getting past our past

          Last weekend was a "Deacon Sunday" in which our Permanent Deacons preached the Masses.  Therefore, no homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent.

Homily: 5th Sunday in Lent – Cycle C
          Human memory is a marvelous thing.  I mean “marvelous” in the true sense: that it is a thing of marvel.  In ways that we only partially understand, it can bring us back to moments from the past and make them seem fresh and new again.  This, of course, cuts both ways.  This power of memory is a good thing when it brings back moments that were positive.  It is a bad thing, however, when it brings back moments that were negative and hurtful.  In regards to this, though, memory is truly neutral: it stores both the positive and the negative without prejudice to them being good or bad.  Interesting, then, that our Scriptures today all seem to point towards us moving past the past: that is, moving past our memory.
          In the first reading, we heard God imploring the people to forget what had happened to them in the past and to look, rather, towards the new thing that he is doing.  We remember (no pun intended) that Isaiah was a prophet during the Babylonian Exile.  The Israelites, therefore, remembered how their sinfulness led to them being abandoned by God into the power of the Babylonians.  God, however, had seen their subjugation and was ready to lead them back out to their home land.  Therefore, he gives them this message: do not think to what was before, but rather pay attention to what I am doing now and see that I am ready lead you out into a new life.  In other words, “Get ready to move ‘past your past’ into a new future that I’m preparing.”
          In the second reading, Paul, writing to the Christians in Philippi, speaks of forgetting what “lies behind” (that is, his former way of life) so that he can turn towards what “lies ahead” (namely, his new life in Christ).  So much so that he says that he considers everything of his former way of life as “loss” for the sake of knowing the salvation of Jesus Christ. In other words, he has decided to “move past his past” in order to enjoy new life in Christ.
          In the Gospel, among other important things that Jesus does in this story, Jesus tells the woman to forget her past and to go forward in her life, without sin.  This woman was caught in adultery and had her shame confounded by being made a public spectacle, solely for the purpose of trying to catch Jesus in a trap.  (And I won’t even bring up how unjust it was that the woman was shamed for adultery, not the man.)  Jesus, however, (after he shames the scribes and Pharisees) shows her that he doesn’t want her to focus on her past—even her immediate past—but rather that he wants her to move “past her past” and towards a future without sin.
          If you haven’t noticed, Lent and confession call us to do the same; and here’s what I mean.  You see, in the first part of Lent, we are challenged to examine ourselves and to acknowledge our failings.  In other words, we’re challenged to look back and to remember our past so as to recognize our sins so that we might repent from them.  Now, in this, the “home stretch” of Lent, we are challenged to look towards Christ and to look, therefore, towards the things that lie ahead.  In other words, as we have recognized our sins of the past and have turned away from them, we are called to forget about our sin—that is, to move “past our past”—and turn ourselves firmly towards the good work that God has given to us.
          Confession, in this light, is really just Lent in miniature.  In order to prepare, we must first look at our past and identify the ways in which we’ve turned from God.  Then, we place these things before God in the sacrament and we ask for his forgiveness.  Once we receive it, we are sent forth to focus again on the work that God has given to us.  In other words, we’re called to move “past our past” into the future to which God has called us.
          Friends, this is super-important to say, because focusing too much on the past—especially our past sins—is to continue to be enslaved by it.  Too often people come to confession and say “I just feel so guilty for my past sins”.  When they do, I often highlight two things: First, that this means that they haven’t forgiven themselves for their sin.  I tell them that, since God is the only one who can condemn them for their sin, to continue to condemn themselves for their sin is, frankly, silly!  Second, I tell them that, to continue to feel guilty for their sin—and, therefore, to dwell on their past sins—is still to be enslaved by them.  If they had already confessed their sin, God has forgiven them and set them free.  Nonetheless, they voluntarily return to being enslaved by them because they can’t let go of the guilt that they feel.  I then remind them that God is only concerned about their past in as much as they have acknowledged their sin and have turned away from it.  Once that occurs, God is only concerned with where they are today and with where they are going in the future.  God is “eternally present”: so the past isn’t “past” to him and the future isn’t “future” to him; rather, all of it is (somehow) right now.  Thus, if someone is living in the past, he/she cannot find God, who is here, now, in the present.
          This is the story of the woman caught in adultery.  She was caught in her sin and condemned before God (that is, Jesus).  Presumably, Jesus could see the sorrow in her heart for her sin and so decided to show her mercy.  Thus, after shaming the scribes and Pharisees to turn away from their pride-filled, murderous rage, he turns to her, sets her free, and charges her not to return to her past, but rather to go forward in a new way when he said, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more”.
          Friends, these last two weeks of Lent must be about making our definitive break from our past sinfulness in order to focus on that which lies ahead.  Otherwise, Easter will pass and we’ll have no great memories to show for it.  A great way to do this will be to spend a lot of time meditating on the Lord’s passion.  I adjure you to take time to think about who Jesus is and about what he suffered because of our sins (yes, yours and mine, right here in 2019).  If you need help, go to the book rack in the gathering space and look for a book that can help you.  Or, if you’re on, look for “Three Days that Changed the World”, a talk by Fr. Hector Perez, or some of the other talks available in that online library.  Then, having reflected on his passion, think about being united to him: united in his suffering, yes, but also in his resurrection.  In this, you will begin to see that the things of this world will need to be left behind so that you can focus on this thing—that is, being united to Christ in his resurrection—which lies ahead.
          Finally, make a good confession, if you haven’t already done so, and turn to Our Lady and allow her to lead you by her motherly care.  Friends, this is everything!  And so, please don’t ignore this time.  I promise that you will find great peace in your life if you can learn to leave your past in the past and focus on what lies ahead: which is the glorious life of the resurrected Christ; the life which is foreshadowed here in this Eucharist we celebrate today.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – April 6th & 7th, 2019