Saturday, January 30, 2016

Live a life of love

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time year C 2016:
Today in the gospel we hear one of the truly remarkable stories in the life of Christ.  The story starts off with amazing promise.  Jesus proclaimed his mission as the Christ last week and we hear that everyone who heard this proclamation were amazed at the gracious words that come from his mouth.  But, by the end of the story these same people were ready to throw Jesus off a cliff.  Think about that for a minute.  We go from amazement to murder in about 5.6 seconds.  Obviously, Jesus touched a nerve somewhere.  In the beginning, the folks liked to hear the words of Christ, but they didn’t really want to accept them.  “This is just the son of Joseph… his words might sound nice, but who is he to really teach us?  We are not going to change our lives because of what he says…”  And when Jesus doesn’t back down, that’s when the hostility begins.
Now, I’m sure that most of us will say: hey, I wouldn’t be the one to pick up a stone to throw at Jesus.  I mean, all of us are here because we believe in Christ, we are his followers, his disciples.  The reason we are here is because we have heard the voice of Christ and we feel that sense of amazement.  Hopefully the message of Jesus leaves us feeling inspired and enthusiastic.  Jesus told us that he came to set the captives free.  It’s that freedom that we desire.  We recognize that Jesus is our savior.
But, it can be quite easy for us to remain on this level of amazement.  Yet, it’s a whole other thing to let these words really sink in.  It can be quite challenging to put these words into action. 
I don’t know about you, but I have this experience whenever I hear St. Paul’s teaching on love.  What a beautiful reading!  It’s no wonder that so many people choose this reading for their wedding day.  Love is patient, love is kind.  Whenever I hear those words, I can feel a kind of elation.  There is something very moving and inspiration when we hear about love.  That’s because love goes to the very heart of what it means to be human.  We are made in God’s image and likeness.  God is love.  So, love is the pathway to true happiness and fulfillment.  We were made by love and for love.  It’s not too much to say that the very vocation of every human being is the vocation to love.
So, like I said, it’s a wonderful reading and one that can really leave us feeling amazed and inspired.  But, it’s really not that easy to love.  I mean, if I asked you if you were a loving person, most people would say “yes.”  I like to think that I’m a loving person.  But, just think about all that Paul says: love is patient, kind, not jealous, pompous, inflated or rude.  Love does not seek it’s own interest, is not quick tempered, doesn’t brood.  Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.  This is what it means to love.  I think that, if we are honest, most of us would freely admit that we don’t quite match up all the time.  Can I really say that I’m always patient, kind, that I’m not jealous or quick-tempered?
It can be really easy to be amazed by the words of Paul, by the words of Christ.  But, it can be a whole other thing to live these words.  But, don’t we want to?  I mean deep down in our hearts I think all of us would want to have a life filled with love, a life lived with love.  We want to be loved and we want to love.  Like St. Paul says: if I do not have love, I am nothing.
So, how do we do it?  I’m convinced that the only way we can live a life filled with love is to drink deeply from the very source of Love.  We will only live love, if we know love.  If we ever need to know what love looks like, we need to look no farther than right here: look at the cross of Christ.  When Jesus is nailed to the cross he proclaims his eternal love for the Father and for all of us.  This is what love looks like.  Jesus gives himself completely and totally.  He holds absolutely nothing back.  He hands over his body, his soul, even his heart is pierced so that his love can pour out for us.  By pondering the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ we come into contact with the very source of love.  If we want to be patient, kind, generous, and loving.  We can do nothing better than to draw close to Christ so that he can fill us with love.
Of course, Jesus has never stopped loving us.  Right here on this altar he continues to pour out his love for us.  He continues to give by pouring himself out for us in the Holy Eucharist.  When we come forward to receive the very body and blood of Christ, he can fill us with his love. 

Again, it can be easy to stay on the level of amazement and wonder.  But, if we let the love of Christ into our minds and hearts he can change us so that as we leave this Mass we can live a life full of love.  The people in the gospel were ready to throw Jesus off a cliff because they weren’t quite ready to let his love change their lives.  What about all of us?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Glad tidings to the poor

Third Sunday of OT Time and Talent homily,
Today we get a special insight into the ministry of Jesus.  It’s almost like we get to hear his own vision on what it is that he was going to do.  It was almost like his inaugural address.  Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah and outlines exactly what it means to be the Messiah, this is his mission. 
As Messiah, Jesus proclaims that he is full of the Spirit, he will proclaim glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to those who are blind, he will let the oppressed go free, indeed an acceptable time from the Lord. 
Just think about all that Jesus did on earth.  He proclaimed the gospel.  He taught his disciples the pathway to eternal life.  He healed the sick.  He gave his life as a ransom for all of us.  By his resurrection he inaugurates a new age where sickness, death, sin, and misery no longer get the last word.  Before Christ the human race was poor indeed.  Yet, he proclaims glad tidings to the poor.  God loves us so much that he did not abandon us even when we went astray.  He came to break the prison bars of death and to set the captives free.  This is Jesus’ mission, this is his message. 
That message is just as important today as ever.  I mean watch the news for 5 minutes.  It seems like our world needs the good news of Christ as much now as ever.  Watch political squabbling for 10 seconds and we realize that we need more, we need a savior.  We still need Christ to proclaim glad tidings, to set free the captives, to give sight to the spiritually blind, to proclaim that this is an acceptable time.  God has never abandoned us, he is always close to us.
So now, more than ever, the message of Christ needs to be proclaimed far and wide.  And yet, who is going to do it?  How will that message go out? 
When Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to his disciples.  After completing his mission here on earth, he handed his ministry over to the Church.  It is the task of his followers to continue the work he began.  The message still needs to go out, now more than ever.  But, it is up to us to get that message out.
When you think of “preaching the gospel” what do you envision?  I think for many people we think that this is the job of the pope, the bishops, the priests.  Yet, this is the mission of the whole Church.  One of the true blessings of the Second Vatican Council was its proclamation of an ancient truth.  Vatican II stated very clearly that holiness is the mission of every member of the Christian faithful.  Discipleship is the mission of every person.  I say this is an ancient truth because it is basically what St. Paul is telling to the Corinthians in our second reading.  How many of us may have felt like we are inadequate when it comes to preaching the good news?  I can certainly say that being a pastor is a humbling kind of experience.  I am constantly aware that I have my inadequacies and shortcomings.  But, I take great comfort in hearing St. Paul’s words.  I don’t have to do the whole thing, I just need to do my little part.  The body is not a single part, but many.  There are the great and important parts.  There are the smaller and seemingly insignificant parts.  But, without all the parts, there is no body.  We definitely need to have the pope and bishops to carry out the mission of Christ.  But, we also need the dedicated and humble ministry of each member of the faithful. 
Never for a moment should we think: this mission is too hard, this task too important, this goal too grand for me to participate.  Every one of us has a part to play.  Every one of us is needed.  We each have a task before us.  If we embrace our vocations, embrace our lives as disciples then the church can carry out its mission.  But, without all the parts, the Church will struggle to proclaim glad tidings to the poor.  Just as a body that is missing even small parts will struggle and suffer, the Church cannot carry out the mission of Christ without all of us. 
This is certainly true for the universal church, but it is also true for our Parish.  St. Jude can only carry out its mission when everyone here sees this mission as an important part of our daily lives.  There is no member of this parish who is unimportant, there is no member of this parish who doesn’t share in our mission.  We are only able to do what we do here because of the contributions of every member of the parish.
This is our 25th anniversary of Stewardship.  During the course of this year, we have been reflecting on what stewardship is all about.  Stewardship is not a program, but a way of life.  Stewardship recognizes that everything we are and everything we have are gifts that come from God.  But, he doesn’t simply give them to us for our own benefit.  Rather, he entrusts us with gifts of time, talent, and treasure so that we might use them to carry out his will.  Hopefully this year of stewardship will be a chance for us to renew our commitment to Christ.

Today, I would like to ask everyone to think and pray about how God is calling you to engage in the mission of the parish.  As a parish, we are one body.  This body will only function with the participation of every part.  I ask you to think and pray about how God is calling you to use your time and talents for the good of the Church and for the good of the parish.  We live in a world that desperately needs to hear those glad tidings.  We are living among captives who are longing for freedom.  Christ wants to reach them, but he needs your help.   Next month you will all be receiving information from the parish about renewing your commitment to the stewardship of time and talent.  If you have already been giving of your time and talent, please sign up to continue.  But, also don’t be afraid to try something new.  If you haven’t signed up for something in the past, consider this to be the year to start.  Paul said that some people are called to be apostles, prophets, and teachers.  God is still calling people to carry out his mission.  He is calling each one of us to a special task, a special mission.  We are one body in Christ.  As one body, we carry out the mission Christ sets out for us in the gospel today.  So, the words of Isaiah can be our words as well: the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, so that we might proclaim glad tidings to the poor.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Marriage

Second Sunday of OT year C 2016:
Today we hear about the Wedding at Cana.  St. John tells us that this was one of the first signs that Jesus performed.  People began to believe in him because of what he did there at the wedding.  And, what did Jesus do?  We know that he made the water into wine.  But, there is much more going on in the story.
As is often the case with St. John’s gospel, you can see deep and profound theological truths in this story.  This story clearly intends to tell us something about the life of Jesus, but we also learn a great deal more.
First of all, this first sign takes place at a wedding.  I don’t think this is random.  The first sign of Jesus takes place at a wedding because it is the married couple that is the first building block of our human society.  At the heart of the Christian family is the committed married couple.  But, I don’t have to tell you that there is a great deal of controversy about marriage in our society today.  There are endless debates about marriage: what is marriage?  Who can get married?  There are endless questions about divorce and remarriage, homosexual unions, and more.  So many people in our society think that marriage is something that can be defined by anyone.  “Marriage is what you make of it.”  But, that’s not what we believe.  As Catholics we believe and profess that marriage is an institution written into the very fabric of the human being.  We believe that marriage is a loving commitment between persons that is open to new life.  This is not something that we invented.  Rather, God invented marriage.
But, marriage is difficult.  You might ask how I know that since I’m not married, but I talk to many married couples about their difficulties and struggles all the time.  Marriage is hard because marriage entails two people giving of themselves for the good of their spouse.  Marriage is about sacrifice and giving, not about taking and self-fulfillment.  But, as human beings, we have never been good at sacrifice, service, and humbly following God.  If we were good at that, we would still be in the garden.
This is why Christ came to us.  He came to be our savior.  He came to show us the way to salvation.  He showed us that the way to salvation lies in the cross.  When he gave himself up to death, he granted to the human race the power to overcome sinfulness and selfishness.  And there is no place that needs that gift more than in marriage.  We cannot overcome sinfulness and selfishness on our own.  And there is nothing more damaging to marriage than selfishness, sinfulness. 
So, of course Jesus’ first sign was at a wedding.  He came to help us overcome everything that holds us back.  How amazing then that he does so in marriage.  Don’t be afraid to let Christ into your married life.  It says in the gospel that Jesus was also invited to the wedding.  Do you invite Jesus to your married life every day?  I’m sure for many of you, you invited him to your wedding by having a religious/Catholic wedding ceremony.  But, don’t let that be the last invitation.
If you invite Jesus into your marriage he always brings something with him.  We hear about the wine in gospel.  Jesus made about 100 gallons of wine for this party.  What is that all about?  Is Jesus promoting drunkenness?  I don’t think so.  Actually, in the Bible wine is often used as an image for joy.  This couple had run out of wine.  They had run out of joy in their lives.  But, by listening to Jesus, he brings them an abundance of wine, an abundance of joy.  How many couples today feel like that, like they have run out of wine, out of joy?  But, Christ can do amazing things if you invite him into your lives and into your marriage.

I think we all have a great responsibility to pray for one another.  But, I’m asking everyone to pray especially for married couples.  Say a prayer every day this week for all married couples.  If you are married, this includes your marriage as well.  Let’s all pray that Christ would bring joy and peace to the hearts of all married persons.  Jesus’ first sign was a blessing on a married couple.  Let’s pray that this blessing continues for all the married couples of our parish and of our world.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Epiphany

Epiphany 2016:
It’s hard to believe that we are already in 2016.  This is our first Sunday in the New Year and we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany.  Now, we begin the New Year every year celebrating the feast day of Mary, the Mother of God.  But, the first Sunday is epiphany.  I think this is a beautiful way to start the year.  Epiphany is a word that means manifestation.  Manifestation means: to appear or to be made known.  What we are celebrating today is the fact that Jesus has appeared on earth, he was made known.  He was made known not only to the chosen people of Israel, but also to the whole world.  The Magi in the gospel represent all of us, who come to Christ from all over the globe.
Today is a neat day to think about the universality of the Church.  Right now the Mass is being celebrated all over the world.  Right now, Christ is being worshipped in every language, by people of every nationality and background.  The Mass is universal because our faith is universal.  Jesus Christ came for all of us. 
Really, our parish is not too different.  We come from many different backgrounds and nationalities.  Some of us were born in this country, some came from far distant lands.  Some of you were born and raised here in this parish, some of us, like me, are relatively new to St. Jude.  Yet, this is a parish for everyone.  This is a universal parish, open to any and all.  That’s because this is a Catholic parish.  That’s what it means to be Catholic, to be universal.
But, while the Church and our parish are indeed open to everyone, what is it that unites us?  Look again to the story of the Magi.  I think they show us 4 interesting things that will help us to grow in our faith and be more closely united to one another as a parish.
First, they were called by the light of the star.  We are called by the light of faith.  This light leads us closer to Christ, just as it did for the Magi.  Drawing near to Christ is certainly something that we all have in common.  One of the great things about belonging to the Church means that we know that we have something in common with everyone else in the Church: we are all trying to grow closer to Christ.  That’s feature number 1, growing closer to Christ.
Number 2, when the Magi arrive in Bethlehem, they see Christ and they worship.  This is another feature of the Catholic Church that unites us.  We all worship together. I once had the privilege of travelling to Rome.  My group went early to St. Peter’s basilica for Mass.  As we walked along there were many other pilgrimage groups having Mass there as well.  I must have heard 5 different languages.  I had no idea what they were saying, but I could tell exactly what was going on at each station because they were celebrating the Mass.  The mass is not just an expression of our diversity as a body, it’s actually what unites us.  We are all Catholics because we come here to Mass, we are a part of this parish because we come here to Mass.  This is what makes us to be who we are as a people, we come here to Christ and worship.
Number 3, the magi gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They gave Christ the very best of what they had.  This is another thing we do as well.  Every time we come here to Mass we give God the very best of what we are.  First and foremost, we make a gift of our hearts, our lives.  This is the kind of sacrifice that we can all make when we are gathered here around the altar.  But, then we also make our gifts of time, talent, and treasure.  Giving back to Lord is a recognition of all that God has done for us.  Every month when I give to St. Jude via my electronic withdrawal I’m not giving money to the parish because the parish needs the money, I’m giving to God because I want to give him thanks.  So that’s number 3, we give back to God because of all he’s done for us.
Number 4, once they encounter Christ, worship, and give gifts, the Magi return by another road.  I like to think about this as the ongoing journey of conversion.  After we meet Christ and worship him here, I hope we don’t just go back to the same kind of living.  I hope we don’t just go home as the same kind of person.  Ongoing conversion is an important part of what makes us who we are as Christians.  We all know that we are not perfect.  But, we are all called to that perfection.  Hopefully, we are each striving each day to be better people, always closer to Christ.

This is why I think Epiphany is a great feast for the first Sunday of the New Year.  I know many of us like to make some New Year’s resolutions.  But, I think there is no better resolution we could make than to grow in our faith as disciples of Jesus.  As we start 2016 we can take the Magi as our examples.  They show us the pathways of faith: grow closer to Christ, worship him, give to God, and go home a changed person.  This sounds like a great way to spend 2016.