Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost 2018


Pentecost Homily 2018:
Tonight, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost.  In one way this is the end of something, the end of the Easter season.  But, it’s the beginning of something too: the beginning of Ordinary Time.  This is no accident.  Ordinary time is the time of the Church.  This is the time of the Holy Spirit, at work in the world.  From the day of Pentecost until this moment, the Church of Christ carries out his work.  So, as we head back into Ordinary time we think about the gift of the Spirit, and the whole Church prays for the gifts of the Spirit to be renewed in the Church.  
If you get some time this weekend, reflect a little bit on the gifts of the Spirit.  What gifts do you need to fulfill your mission, your vocation in this world?  Let the Holy Spirit work through you to build up the Church and to reach out to the world in need.  Let the Holy Spirit help you to walk in the way of Christ.
I would like to reflect a little bit on the Apostles.  I know it can be easy to think of the Apostles as Christian Super Heroes.  Like they received some super power by being bit by a spider or something.  But, this isn’t true.  They were poor, simple, uneducated, normal people.  They were certainly not perfect.  Yet, with the power of God, they did amazing things. The preached the Word.  They healed the sick.  They raised the dead.  Amazing things.  They carried out the ministry of Christ.  This was all possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit can do amazing things through the lives of his saints. The apostles allowed the Spirit to work through them, great things resulted.  The same can be true of us.  We can do great things, the Holy Spirit can make us great saints, if we allow him to flow through us and to work through us.
But, I think the story of the apostles can highlight a tension I can see at work sometimes in people.  This is the tension between personal and public, between internal faith, and external expression of the faith.  
First, just walk through the story.  All the apostles say: even if we have to die with you, we will never deny you.  Then they all abandon him.  Jesus rises from the dead.  They meet Jesus.  They are filled with joy.  They are filled with faith, right?  Jesus is raised from the dead, they see him, they know him.  So, what is the result?  Do they go out and set the world on fire?  Actually, no… they don’t.  What do they do?  They are waiting in the upper room, almost like they don’t have a mission.  At this point they are certainly believers in Christ. They’ve seen him.  They know he’s alive.  But, they are pretty private about it.  Then, the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they are empowered to carry out their mission, they break down the doors and tell everyone about Christ. 
I think the same thing can happen to us sometimes.  We are believers.  We have connected with Christ.  Through our prayer, we have come to know that Christ is alive.  But, the faith was never meant to be a purely internal and private kind of thing.  Our relationship with Christ is not simply something that lives inside of us and makes us feel good.  Christ also wants every one of us to carry out his work in the world.  Sure, we need that deep and internal love of God that allows us to be connected to him.  But, we also need to live our faith out loud, we need to be able to share it.  This is the way, walk in it.  This means that our faith should live out in our lives.  For the apostles, this was only made possible through the Holy Spirit.  It will be the same for us.
We join in with the whole Church to pray today for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit made the apostles great saints.  He can make us great saints too.  Let us pray for the gift of courage especially.  Life is hard.  Can we all just agree that life is hard?  That is certainly something I have learned by being at St. Jude.  People have allowed me to be a part of their lives.  I get to share the good times and the bad times. Life can be great and rewarding, but it’s tough.  It was certainly tough for the apostles too.  But, the Spirit empowered them to do great things.  Come Holy Spirit and help all of us to be great saints.  Help us to live our vocation.  Help us to bring the love of God to this world. Give us the wisdom to know the path; give us the courage to walk in it every day of our lives.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Sacramentum Caritatis

6thSunday of Easter Year B 2018:
For me, two words really jumped out at me in the gospel today: love and joy.  Aren’t those two terrific words?  I mean, so much of our lives are lived in pursuit of these two things.  We long for love and joy.  And if these things are missing, we can be quite unhappy.  Every human being wants love and joy, unless you’re a big grump or something.
Yet, Jesus shows us that there is a deep connection between love and joy.  I have told you this so that your joy may be complete.  What did Jesus tell us?  Follow my commandments: love one another as I have loved you.  If we want joy, and who doesn’t, the pathway is the pathway of love. A life of love will be a life of joy. 
But, I guess it begs the question: what is love?  Most people think of love as an emotion, a feeling. We have these feelings for the people we love: there’s romantic love, love for family, children, love for country, love for justice, etc.  These things might inspire emotions and feelings.  But, love is not the same thing as the emotions.  In fact, love is much deeper.  Love is not an emotion, but it’s a decision.  Love is an action of the whole human person: body, soul, heart, mind, everything.  And what does love look like?  It looks like the cross.  Jesus says: love one another as I love you, no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.  Love is not about feel-good emotions.  Love is about giving one’s self for others.  
In order for the joy of Christ to remain in us, we have to follow the pathway of love.  The pathway to self-fulfillment is the path of self-giving.  The pathway to resurrection and life is the sacrifice of the cross.  We all want that life of joy and fulfillment, so Jesus teaches us the way to that life is the way of the cross.
But, we might find this to be a bit disheartening right? Deep in our hearts we are searching for joy and happiness.  We look everywhere for this satisfaction: money, power, pleasure, prestige: none of them satisfy.  And Jesus comes along to tell us: if you want this joy, peace, and happiness, all you have to do is to love one another as I love you.
Have you ever thought about this command as being a little bit unfair?  Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  He is perfect love and goodness.  He is absolutely free of sin, selfishness, self-interest.  His whole mission on earth is to show the love and mercy of the Father for all of us in the fallen human family.  He is love.  Then, he tells us to love just as he does.  Seems to be well beyond our abilities.  
But, always remember that if Christ calls us to something difficult, he always provides us with the means to attain them.  If he calls us to love one another just as he loves us, he will give us the means.  And this is exactly where I see the importance of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist.  Very often, the Holy Eucharist is also called the sacramentum caritatis, which means: the sacrament of love.  The Eucharist is the very love of Christ.  Jesus loved us so much that he gave his life for us.  He handed over his body, soul, everything.  He continues this handing over until the end of time with the gift of the Mass, with the gift of the Eucharist.  By receiving this amazing gift, we become enabled to live Christ’s call to love.  No wonder the Mass is called the source and summit of the Catholic faith.
I would like to encourage all of us to renew our love and amazement for the mass and for the Eucharist.  This weekend we celebrated First Holy Communion for the young people of our parish.  Talk about love and amazement.  These kids were thrilled to receive Jesus in Holy Communion.  They believe and are convinced that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, which he gives to us because of his great love for us. Now, they were also probably excited for cake and parties.  But, at the heart, they were thrilled to receive Christ.
We would all do well to regain some of that excitement. Christ calls us to a life of Joy. The pathway to this life is the pathway of love.  Christ makes it possible for us to follow this path by giving us the Holy Eucharist. What a joy it is, then, to celebrate this mass and to receive the sacrament of love.  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

5th Sunday of Easter

5thSunday of Easter Year B 2018:
Jesus says in the gospel: I am the vine, you are the branches, remain in me.  This image of the vine is an ancient one.  It even goes back to before the time of Jesus.  The prophets would call Israel the vine of God.  Grapevines were something the people knew.  It was a down-to-earth kind of image.  But, for us, maybe it seems a bit more removed. Not everyone is an expert in grapevines anymore.  But, the analogy is easy to pick up.  Christ is the vine.  He is the source.  All energy and life flow out from him.  If we want to be filled with the joy of being his disciple, it is necessary for us to be connected to him.  The word he uses over and again in this passage is “remain.”  
So, a good question to ask ourselves is: what kind of branch am I?  Do I feel like a green and tender branch that is filled with the life and spirit of God? Or, do I feel like a dried out old cracked branch that is good for nothing but burning?  Somewhere in between?  The formula is simple: remain in me.  But, the challenge is to make it happen.  The life of faith has to have concrete expression, or it won’t happen at all. 
Friday, we had a retreat for our 8thgrade students. They are all getting ready to venture out into the wild world of high school.  They will be going through big changes.  They will have many things that could cause them some stress and anxiety. And, really, our lives are much the same.  We have so much in our lives that can cause us difficulty.  So, I gave them three little steps for growing in their life of prayer.  I think these three steps are a good way to put “remain in me” into action in our daily lives.
Step one is daily prayer.  If we don’t talk to God every day, it’s really tough to be connected to him. If we don’t communicate with God, it’s really hard to be his friend, let alone his disciple.  We should never let a day go by without prayer.  But, for many people, we don’t really know how to pray. It’s not overly complicated. Prayer is different for each person, because prayer is personal.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  Prayer is living with God.  So, if you want God’s life and love to flow through you, make sure you pray every day.
Second step is worshipping God at Mass, especially on Sunday. I don’t have to convince all of you of the importance of Sunday Mass, you are here.  But, how many of us know a friend or family member that has decided they don’t need to go to Mass?  Most of us I’m sure.  The sad thing about missing out on Mass, especially Sunday Mass, is that Mass is precisely the place where we can connect with Christ in a tangible concrete way. The Holy Eucharist is Christ.  He remains in us when we come here for prayer. People might say to me: I can pray in the woods.  That’s great. But, do you?  When was the last time you prayed in the woods?  I know the last time I prayed at Mass.  Making Sunday Mass a priority is important because it gives us a concrete chance to connect with God in a public and concrete way. So, if you know of someone away from Mass, you might just share with them that Mass is a great way to connect with Christ.  He is the vine, we are the branches.
Third step is to frequent the sacrament of confession.  We get all dried out as branches because of our sinfulness.  The best way to restore the life and love of God within us is to go to confession. Confession recognizes that sometimes we wander away from Christ.  Sin is when we do not “remain” in him.  But, by going to confession, we connect ourselves with the vine once again.  Our sins are forgiven and we are filled once again with his life.
So, what kind of branch are you?  Where is your life of faith right now?  If it’s great, that’s awesome.  Keep remaining in Christ and stay connected to him.  If it’s not great, no better time than now to turn back and reconnect with Christ.  Pray every day.  Worship God at Mass.  Go to confession.  These are wonderful ways to stay connected to Christ.
But, I don’t want to end today without mentioning what Christ expects of all of us.  Remaining in him is a great outline for the spiritual life.  But, what’s the goal?  Christ wants us to bear fruit.  Sometimes we can get just a little bit self-centered and think that the spiritual life is all about our connection to Christ for our own sake. But, that forgets that Christ wants us to carry out his works in the world.  If we are not bearing fruit, then what are we doing?  At the end of our lives, each of us will be asked that question: did you bear great fruit?  If you need some ideas on how to bear fruit, just look at the banners in the back of the church.  These banners connect this image of the vine with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These actions produce fruit in the world because they extend God’s love and mercy to those in need.
Today as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, we connect with Christ once again.  He remains in us and we in him.  But, then as we leave this Holy Mass, don’t forget to go and bear fruit.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter

Easter 2018:
Alleluia, Christ is Risen.  Alleluia is a word that means “praise be to God.”  Indeed, we say “Alleluia” tonight (today) and every day.  Praise be to God, Christ is risen from the dead. February 14th2018 we gathered in this church.  Some of us very early in the morning.  We gathered in prayer, we received ashes on our foreheads, we celebrated the Holy Eucharist.  We ended that Mass, and every Mass during Lent, by singing Jesus remember me.  As we have been reflecting on these words of the good thief during these days of Lent and especially during this Sacred Triduum, these words always look to the future.  When the good thief uttered them, he was hanging next to Jesus on the cross.  Christ had not yet died, he had not yet risen.  So, these words looked forward to the glory of the risen Christ.  Today we celebrate that glory.  Today we celebrate the kingdom of Christ.  Today we proclaim the reality behind these words: remember me when you come into your kingdom.  Indeed, Jesus reigns in that kingdom now.
We proclaim that Christ has already conquered sin and death, but we do not yet experience that kingdom in its fullness.  We profess our faith that the Good Thief and all the saints already live in the paradise that Christ promised from the cross.  And yet, we are still on our journey of faith, we still await the kingdom, we do not experience it in its fullness right now.
Our lives are a strange tension.  We live in this present moment, but yet we long for something more. We live this human life full of pain, suffering, even death.  And yet, in the hearts of every human being we long for more.  We long for a life of peace, an eternal life of love and happiness. Every human heart longs for that. This is why we all find the message of the resurrection of Christ to be so powerful.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  This is what we all long for in our hearts.  We want to be a part of that kingdom.  We profess that the kingdom already exists; but, we do not yet experience ourselves.  It’s a real tension.
I’m sure we have all experienced this tension sometimes. We believe in the resurrection. We sometimes struggle with our beliefs. We know that God is there. Sometimes God feels far away.  We know that God loves us.  We sometimes suffer and are in pain.  
So, if you have this tension in your life, welcome to the club. We all have this tension.  You know what?  That’s ok.  It’s part of life.  I see it all the time in my own life and in the lives of people I meet.  Sometimes people come to me broken down and feeling quite distant from God.  Sometimes people come to me full of joy and feeling like God is everywhere.  Some people are in between.  So, where are you?  It’s ok.  The ups and downs are part of life.
This is one of the reasons why I love Lent and Easter. These two seasons represent both sides of the tension.  During the season of Lent we focus on our own wandering in the desert.  Lent symbolizes our life here on earth.  Our time in this desert is a time of testing.  In this life we experience pain, grief, loss, mourning, death, etc.  Lent is a time that always looks forward to the celebration of Easter.  Our life is a time that always looks forward to the new life in Christ’s kingdom.
Yet, today we celebrate Easter, which proclaims the other side of the tension.  Christ has already won.  The kingdom already exists.  Christ is risen.  We might be journeying in the desert.  We might experience trials and tribulations.  But, Christ has already won.  We experience glimpses of this in our lives.  It’s true we experience difficulties in life.  But, don’t we also experience joys?  There might be pain; but, there’s also love.  There might be dark, but there’s also light.  
Lent teaches us to sing: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” as a way to anticipate our full participation in the kingdom in the future.  But, Easter teaches us to sing that song as a proclamation of faith.  Jesus is already in his kingdom, even if we do not yet experience ourselves in its fullness.
Human life is a life of tension.  We live with this tension every day.  We experience the darkness of sin and suffering; but we also experience the light of love, joy, and peace.  Lent and Easter are two seasons that go together as a way to represent this fundamental human tension.  
So, my friends, do not be afraid of this tension.  It is a part of our lives.  When we experience the darkness, make it a chance to call out to Christ and ask him to be our savior.  When we experience the light, make it a chance to proclaim our faith in the resurrection.  No matter what side of the tension you find yourself on any given day, “Jesus remember me” is a wonderful prayer.
Today we proclaim an important truth: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Alleluia, Praise be to God.  Alleluia in good times, and in bad times.  Alleluia in the darkness, alleluia in the light.  “Jesus remember me” during Lent and during Easter; during the good times and the bad.  We proclaim today and always: Alleluia, Christ is risen: Alleluia.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday


Good Friday 2018:
Jesus, Remember me.  For me, the words of this song open up the deep and hidden meaning of Lent.  We don’t go through our 40 days in the desert, we don’t go through this passion on Good Friday because we think the outcome is in doubt.  We proclaim the resurrection of Christ every day of our lives.  We don’t pretend that Jesus dies again today.  But, we celebrate Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ passion again this year and every year because the process of remembering allows these events to mold and shape our lives.  It’s true that Jesus does not die again each year on Good Friday.  But, it’s also true that remembering Jesus’ death every year on Good Friday gives each one of us a new chance to enter into the powerful mystery of the death of the Son of God.  The yearly remembrance of these mysteries is for our benefit, so that these mysteries can change our lives, change our hearts.
As I mentioned last night, the song Jesus remember me is great for two reasons.  First, the words themselves are the words of one of the most powerful prayers ever recorded in the bible.  The good thief says these words to Jesus and Jesus responds, “today you will be with me in paradise.”  Today we remember Christ’s passion, we remember his death.  One amazing way to enter into this mystery is by making the words of the good thief our own words: Jesus remember me.  We too are dying from our sins and from our crimes, take us with you into paradise.  There is no better day to bring our prayers before the Lord: Today Christ lifts all our prayers with him onto the cross and offers them to the Father along with his life.  So, we pray with boldness: Jesus, remember me.
Second, the song Jesus remember me does a great job of putting us into the story.  Remember, we are not on the sidelines.  The story of the bible is our story, after all.  Walk up to Christ, hanging on the cross.  See the love he has for each and every one of us.  Be there when Jesus takes his last breath and hands over the Holy Spirit to us, his people.  Don’t let the story of Christ’s passion be a history lesson.  Be there and experience it first-hand.
Jesus, remember me is a great song.  Let it live in your hearts today.  It’s a powerful prayer that brings salvation to the singer.  It’s a powerful prayer that allows us to enter the very mysteries we celebrate.  Let these words live in your hearts today as we celebrate the Lord’s Passion on this Good Friday: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday 2018:
Every year when we celebrate these three amazing days of the Triduum, I like to think about these three days as a single continuous event.  I like to see the connection between tonight’s Last Supper Mass, tomorrow’s Passion, and Saturday’s Easter Vigil.  These three days, these three events are like facets in the face of a jewel.  All three allow us to peer into the central mystery.  This mystery is the love of God poured out for us in the death and resurrection of Christ.  This is the mystery of mercy.  And this mystery is celebrated for three straight days, it is renewed at this mass, and at every Mass. 
So, for the next three days, we enter into a powerful kind of remembering.  A couple of weeks back it struck me that remembering is the key to the triduum.  Every year in Lent, we sing Jesus remember me at the end of every mass.  So, not to count, but that means I’ve sung it probably 100+ times if you think about how many times we repeat it.  And you know what?  That song never gets old.  That’s because those words are more than just some song.  Those words are a powerful prayer, and a deep reminder of a profound truth.
First, powerful prayer.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  These are the words of the good thief.  He was crucified next to Christ.  He was literally dying because of his crimes and sins.  And yet, he utters these few words to Christ, spoken with deep faith: Jesus, remember me.  Christ says: today you will be with me in paradise.  Amazing!  These words literally saved the eternal life of the good thief.  I heard it said one time that this life-long criminal ended his life with one last theft, by his faith he was able to steal heaven.  It’s an amusing line.  But, it reiterates the power of these words we sing every day.  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  We have been speaking these words since Ash Wednesday, and now that we enter the Sacred Triduum, it seems like they become more urgent.  Jesus, tonight as you celebrate the Eucharist for your apostles, as you wash their feet, remember me.  Ok, the music might not fight quite as good.  One thing I love about that song is that it encourages each of us to see ourselves in the story.  Don’t stay on the sidelines of the drama of salvation.  Become an active member of the story: Jesus, wash my feet.  Jesus remember me.  So, first it’s a prayer that puts us into the story.
Second, it’s a reminder of a profound truth.  This is the power of memory.  The power of Christ’s memory brought the good thief to paradise.  So, this prayer asks Christ to remember us as well.  But, even more, it reminds us of the importance of remembering these events every year.  From a certain surface level understanding, we might scoff at our yearly observances of the paschal mystery.  We all recognize that the Last Supper took place 2000+ years ago.  The cynic might say: that’s simply an old event.  But, this negates the great power of memory.  For Catholics, memory does not simply transport our minds back to past events.  Rather, memory brings these past events into our dynamic present.  This is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So, when we gather tonight to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s supper, it’s not a history lesson.  Rather, it gives each of us a chance to enter into this great event, not in the past, but in the present.  So, maybe we can add another verse: Jesus remember me, as I remember you.
So, tonight we peer into the mystery of the mercy of God and see Jesus kneeling down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus celebrates the first Eucharist with his apostles, then he commissions them, go and do likewise.  Our remembrance of this Last Supper is a powerful entrance into these events again.  Tonight, Jesus Christ kneels down to wash the feet of his disciples, 12 parishioners will come forward to participate in the foot-washing ceremony.  Tonight, Jesus Christ will break the bread and feed us with his body and blood right here at this altar.  At this mass, and at every mass, we will learn of the deep mercy, love and compassion of Christ.  We will remember it in such a way that it becomes real and concrete here and now in our own lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
My friends, I would deeply encourage each one of you to spend some time exercising this powerful function of memory.  We do this every year because the process of memory is powerful and it can change our hearts and our lives.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will make these events a lasting part of your life.  Tonight, hear Jesus saying to each one of us: I have given you an example, go and do likewise.  Remember the example of Christ.  Allow it to shape you lives.  Make these days a time of prayer.  Especially, continue to pray these three days: Jesus remember me, as I remember you.