The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Homily: Healing Mass - March 21, 2015

This morning our parish celebrated Mass followed by a healing service. I was honored to have been asked to preach, and privileged to join my wife, Diane, as one of the prayer teams who prayed over (and with) those who came for healing. It was a beautiful morning. My homily follows...

Readings: Jer 11:18-20 • Psalm 7 • Gospel: Jn 7:40-53

What a wonderful crowd -- God’s people gathered here today to taste His healing and forgiveness. And I can only assume you’re a very different crowd from that which John just described in our Gospel passage. How did he put it?

“A division occurred in the crowd because of Him” [Jn 7:43].

I trust we have no division here today, certainly no division “because of Him.”

Yes, you and I know who Jesus is. As Peter would later confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Mt 16:16]. But the crowd that day was divided. They had gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem during Sukkoth, or the Feast of Tabernacles. And as they listened to Jesus proclaim God’s Word, they could only ask each other: Who is this Jesus who walks among us and speaks with such authority? The answers were many. Yes there was division because of Him.

A few in the crowd, the unimportant ones, thought He was the Prophet, and they said so openly: “This is truly the Prophet” [Jn 7:40].  It’s the same claim many had made about John the Baptist.

Not “a prophet” but “the prophet.” In this they went back more than a thousand years to the words of Moses, to the 18th Chapter of Deuteronomy. Here Moses had prophesied that God would raise up a prophet, one greater than Moses himself [Deut 18;18].

To others in the crowd Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah; and they, too, spoke openly: “This is the Christ” [Jn 7:41].

But they were scolded by the Pharisees, the self-righteous aristocrats of dogma. This Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. Just listen to Him. Can’t you hear that Galilean accent? Haven’t you read the prophets? It’s right there in Micah: the Messiah will come from Judea, from Bethlehem, the city of David. He certainly won’t come from a backwater like Galilee.

Yes, the common people – those the Pharisees considered ignorant, lawless, and “accursed” – saw Jesus more clearly, didn’t they? It’s evident the Pharisees despised the people. Indeed, the very name “Pharisee” means “separated ones.” Separated from the people, the “accursed,” they knew all they had to know about Jesus; but of course they were wrong. Indeed, they were so convinced Jesus was a fraud they wanted to arrest Him.

And yet, how did John put it? “No one laid hands on Him” [Jn 7:44]. Even the Temple guards, sent by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus, were unable to do so. And what prevented them? John tells us: nothing less than Jesus’ Word, nothing less than the Word of God Incarnate. The guards, themselves, confessed it: “Never before has anyone spoken like this man” [Jn 7:46].

Yes, “this man” speaks like no one else. Jesus speaks, God speaks, and things happen. Not only does God create a universe with His Word, but he also changes least some hearts – hearts that are open and receptive, hearts that ache to experience the forgiveness and healing power of their Savior.

Is your heart, is my heart, open and receptive to Jesus Christ? Are you and I gathered here today to praise God, to thank Him for the gift of life, for our very being? Are we here to ask that He send us His Holy Spirit, that He touch us with His healing power, healing us in ways we’ve never dreamed of?

And, believe me, He will touch us…oh, yes, he’ll touch each one of us today, simply because He promised to do so. When we come to Jesus in faith, when, in all humility, we approach Him with our broken bodies and in our sinfulness, He wants only to heal and forgive.

The question is: do you believe that? It’s an important question because our faith, or perhaps more accurately, our acceptance of God’s gift of faith, is a key ingredient when it comes to God’s healing power.

And so this is our first healing principle: Faith, a deep, living faith, brings healing.

We encounter this again and again throughout the Gospel. At our parish Bible Study, we’ve spent the past few months digging deeply into Luke’s Gospel; and it’s remarkable how often Jesus said those wonderful words: “…your faith has saved you.”

We hear it when Jesus healed the ten lepers, but only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank Him [Lk 17:19]. We hear these words again when He gave sight to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, a man the disciples tried unsuccessfully to keep from Jesus [Lk 18:42].

Jesus also said, “…your faith has saved you,” when He forgave the sinful woman who anointed him in the home of Simon the Pharisee [Lk 7:50]. Unlike the leper and Bartimaeus she was neither ill nor handicapped. To our knowledge she received no physical healing. But just like the others she too was a sinner. She needed salvation; she needed saving; she needed healing, spiritual healing. And it seems she was a public sinner since Simon and his friends apparently knew all about her. Indeed, her very presence in their midst was for them a great scandal. No, Simon and his guests weren’t very happy about her crashing their party, were they?

But Jesus? Moved deeply by her faith, He could do nothing but love her, love her with divine, forgiving, merciful love. And because her faith was a deep repentant faith, she too could do nothing but love. For that’s what her act of anointing was, an act of love, born of repentance.

As St. James instructed the first Christians: “Confess your sins… and pray for one another, that you may be healed” [Jas 5:16] Yes, we’re called to both repentance and prayer: Confess your sins…and pray for one another. We repent, then, for our own healing, and we pray for the salvation and healing of others.

This, then, is our second healing principle: A true, living faith always leads to repentance, and true repentance will manifest itself as love.

When we love each other, we pray for each other, and in that sense each and every one of us is called to the ministry of healing, a ministry of love. We see this manifested most beautifully in all three synoptic Gospels when the paralytic is carried by his friends to Jesus [Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26] But because Jesus has attracted such a huge crowd they can’t get near Him, so what do they do?

Why, they get creative. They make a hole in the roof, lower their friend on his pallet through the hole, and plop him down right next to Jesus. What a remarkable act of love!  But notice, the paralyzed man never says a word. He asks for neither healing nor forgiveness. No, his friends do all the asking, not with words, but through their own faith and their act of love. This moves Jesus to act. All three Gospels declare that Jesus, seeing their faith, first forgives and then heals. He forgives first so we will know that our salvation is the more important result.

This leads us to a third principle: The living faith of the community, a faith that manifests itself in acts of love for others, brings forgiveness and healing.

Of course, whenever we look at faith and healing, we inevitably find ourselves asking: Just how strong does my faith have to be? Faith – that all-important element of true healing – is a gift, but it can be a troubling one for the Christian

I’m sometimes approached by those who are distraught because they prayed for physical healing and believe God has ignored them.
“Deacon, I’ve prayed for God to take away my cancer…or to ease my pain…or to remove this debilitating illness, but nothing has happened. I guess my faith just isn’t strong enough.”
No, I tell them, it’s not because your faith is weak. But sometimes you and I aren’t open to God’s will for us, and so we ask for the wrong things. More than anything else, God’s wants our salvation. That’s why Jesus so often said, “Your faith has saved you.” It’s your salvation and my salvation He desires more than anything else. Whenever physical healing occurs, it’s simply a manifestation of God’s will for that person.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg...How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” [Lk 11:11-13; See Mt 7:7-11]

All too often, almost willfully ignorant of God’s will for us, we ask for the snake or the scorpion and then wonder why God gives us something else. How often do you and I ask for His Holy Spirit, the greatest of His gifts?

The Spirit is waiting for you to call for Him. He wants nothing more than to fill your entire being with His presence. And it’s a miraculous presence, one that will bring you to understanding and acceptance of God’s will for you, one that will bring the healing God wants for you.

Each one of us is here for a purpose, brothers and sisters, and that purpose will always involve the Cross; for it is Christ, the crucified one, who stands at the door and knocks at the heart of every man and every woman. Recall the words of Jesus in the Garden as He prayed to the Father:
“…if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” [Mt 26:39].
Yes, Jesus suffered and died, and did so for all of humanity. His plea to the Father was not for Himself, but for us. You may be here today for healing, but healing for whom? Are you focused solely on yourself, while some of those seated all around you are in desperate need of your prayer, in need of your healing touch?

This is the wonderful thing about our loving God: He doesn’t force Himself on the world; no, He wants us to do His work, to bring the world to Him. It’s summed up well in the beautiful Lenten hymn we all know:
"Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim, ‘til all the world adore His sacred name."
That’s what we’re called to do: to lift high the Cross, to proclaim the love of Christ Crucified to all the world. It’s a task that must start right here, with you and with me. Just look at each other. Look to your left and right. Look at those in front of you and behind you. Do it now!

Unlike the people in Jerusalem, we aren’t just a crowd. We are a community, brothers and sisters, a community of faith and love. We’re not a mere collection of individuals who happened to come here today to beg God for what we think we need. We are the universal Church – One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic – present here and now in Wildwood, Florida.

Later, at the sign of peace, will you reach out in love to these others in our community, in this holy Church, others who need your prayers? Will you offer your prayers for them when the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord and lifted up for your adoration?

God has a plan for the world, but He also has a plan for each one of us, a plan for our salvation. And so our prayer today should echo Jesus’ prayer in the Garden: “…not as I will, but as you will.” Let God be God, brothers and sisters. Let Him decide what is best for you, what will bring you to salvation.

Come to Him today in faith, in repentance, in love, and experience God’s healing touch.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Homily: 1st Sunday of Lent - Year B

Readings: Gn 9:8-15; Ps 25; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
Back in 1968, a few weeks after Diane and I were married, the United States Navy ordered me to San Diego; and so the two of us set out on the cross-country drive from Massachusetts.

One afternoon, as we drove through Arizona, we pulled off the highway and stopped the car, totally captivated by a distant thunderstorm moving across the desert, truly a remarkable sight. Because it was so distant, we could see the entire storm. We watched sheets of rain on the horizon as bolts of lightning struck the ground one after another. It was a spectacular display, but because it was so far away it just didn’t seem real.

That same sense of unreality can affect us whenever we view events from a distance; just as today when we hear about the horrendous persecution of Christians in distant parts of the world. Yes, those storms seem very distant too, don’t they? They’re certainly not happening here…at least not yet. Many Christians simply push it all aside, not really accepting that hundreds of their brothers and sisters in faith are being martyred almost daily. In a word, they become indifferent to it all. Others look out at the world and its troubles and its sinfulness and that’s all they see. They wear blinders of pessimism, all the time forgetting that God has promised to be with us always.

Just turn again to today's first reading from Genesis, where we encounter one of the first of God's promises, His covenant with Noah. It's a promise He will renew and expand throughout salvation history in anticipation of the Incarnation of the Word of God among us.

Brothers and sisters, there’s no place in the mind and heart of the Christian for either indifference or pessimism.  Indeed, the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is a message of total unabashed optimism. This is what Lent’s all about. It's a time of optimism, a time of renewal. It's a time to turn away from yesterday, focus on today, and look forward expectantly to tomorrow.

Look again at today's Gospel. Jesus entered into the desert, right into the heart of a spiritual storm. Did He have to go there? Did He have to perform such a radical sacrificial act? Did He have to subject Himself to the direct and personal temptations of Satan? Of course not! His Divinity guaranteed the outcome. But He went for us; He always offers Himself to us as a model. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, like us in everything but sin, voluntarily submitted Himself to temptation.

For Jesus it was a time for prayerful communion with the Father, a time of formation, a time to prepare Himself for His ministry and, ultimately, for His passion, death and resurrection. In many respects it was the defining turning point of His life, a sharp dividing line between His hidden private life and His public ministry.

God has given us a Redeemer whose love for us is boundless. No matter what sufferings, pains or temptations we experience, we have our God leading us, telling us to have confidence in His mercy, since He too has experienced these same temptations. Recall the words of today's responsorial psalm: "He shows sinners the way" [Ps 25:8].

In giving us this season of Lent, the Church encourages us to follow Our Lord’s example. The Church leads each of us, as the Holy Spirit led Jesus, to confront our own very personal deserts. Each one of us here today has a desert or two to contend with, some of those inhospitable places that expose the barrenness of our lives, places we’d rather avoid and maybe just look at from a distance.

Has your relationship with God become a desert? Has your prayer life become arid, something you struggle through mechanically only on Sunday morning? Or like the person who claims friendship only when he needs another’s help, is your prayer reserved for times of need?

St. Paul instructs us to "pray constantly" [1 Thes 5:17]. What does this mean? Only that God wants us to place everything – all our plans, burdens, worries, pains – at His feet. He’ll pick them up and bear them for us. Come to Him in prayer. Share your sorrows and joys with Him, and taste His goodness.

Has your family life become like that chaotic storm roaring across the desert? Has mutual respect and patient understanding been replaced by the thunder of arguments and bolts of bitterness aimed at the hearts of those you love? Learn to forgive as the Father forgives, and love as the Father loves. Come together in daily prayer and watch as God unfolds a miracle in your lives.

Or is your desert one of self-absorption or materialism? Do you ignore the hungers of those around you, concentrating instead on your own needs and wants? People hunger for more than bread. They hunger for a kind word, for someone who will listen, for a reassuring touch. And most of all they hunger for God’s love in their lives. Will you be the one who brings it to them?

Do you suffer in the desert of habitual sin? Put it behind you. Taste the forgiveness and mercy of God this Lent in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Or do you live in the desert of pride, in that dark polluted spring, the source of all other sin? The temptations to which Jesus refused to submit are the same temptations we all face, temptations that ultimately merge into one: the temptation to pride. To trust in one’s own power. To trust in Satan’s power, the power of evil. To trust in the power of the world. They all amount to the same thing. This is the great temptation down through the ages: to imagine we can achieve through our own efforts what only God can give.

Remember how they taunted Jesus on the cross: “He trusted in God; let God deliver him if he loves him” [Mt 27:43]. No angels came to Jesus on the cross, but God’s plan wasn’t suspended. Although Jesus seemed abandoned, His trust in God never wavered. Nothing separates Jesus from the Father, not even the desert. Jesus sets His heart on the Father, believes in Him, trusts in Him. And the Father vindicates the Son when and where He chooses. But He does vindicate Him.

Through His resurrection Jesus assures us that victory is ours if only we desire it and persevere in faith and trust. That’s why the Church calls Lent "a joyous season." Yes, Jesus calls us to repentance, but He doesn't stop there. "Repent and believe in the Gospel", [Mk 1:15], He commands us. Believe in the Good News.

Brothers and sisters, the Good News is life, the life God wants to share with us. Believe in life! Christ's life and your life, life here and eternal, life now and forever. Like Jesus, use this Lenten season to confront your deserts, and leave them behind. For Lent is not about yesterday. It is about today.  And yesterday is death, death devoid of meaning. Today is life.  So if you want to repent, live! Come alive! Let Christ live in you and through you. Open your life to Him and to the will of the Father.

Yesterday is sin. Today is love. God's love for us and the love He wants us to share with others. It’s the love that keeps His commandments. The love that can overcome even death, the crucified love that takes away the sin of the world. If you want to repent, love! Love God and love one another.

Yesterday is despair, the despair of a world without a living, loving God. The despair of horoscopes and palm readers, the despair of new-agers resigned to become one with an uncaring universe, the despair of gloomy theologians preaching the heresy of predestined damnation. For today is hope. Hope in God's message of love and forgiveness, the Good News of eternal life. So if you want to repent, hope! Come to know the mercy of God.

Yesterday was slavery, slavery to sin, to pride, to fear. But today is freedom! Not the false freedom of doing whatever we want, but true freedom -- the power to choose good over evil. So if you want to repent, be free! Open yourself to God in free obedience to His commandments, and to each other in unforced love.

And do you know something? The wonderful thing is, you don’t have to do it alone. Indeed, you can’t do it alone. But if you call upon the Father, He will send His Holy Spirit to lead you just as he led Jesus.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Homily: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Readings: Jb 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps 147; 1Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39
A day in the life of Jesus – this is what we see in today’s brief Gospel passage. Here at the beginning of his Gospel, Mark offers a glimpse into Jesus’ ministry throughout Galilee. Indeed, I suspect Mark had a purpose here: to let us experience the urgency surrounding Jesus’ public ministry; that from the very start Our Lord was driven by the Spirit to teach and to heal as He preached the Good News to all He encountered.

Jesus had just called the first of His Apostles to Him: two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. He had called and they hadn’t hesitated. They dropped everything to follow Jesus. Together they entered Capernaum. It was the Sabbath, so the day began in the synagogue.

“…He entered the synagogue and taught” [Mk 1:21], Mark tells us.

The synagogue was a place for prayer and for teaching. Jews spent serious time on the Sabbath reading and commenting on Scripture, so you can be sure Jesus’ teaching wasn’t presented in little, ten-minute homilies.

Mark goes on to say, “The people were astounded at His teaching” [Mk 1:22].

They were astounded because never before had they encountered someone like Jesus. He was different. Unlike the scribes, “He taught them as one having authority” [Mk 1:22]. To punctuate this authority, to prove its divine source, He cured a man possessed by a demon, a demon who openly proclaimed Jesus’ identity: “the Holy One of God” [Mk 1:24].

And so Jesus’ fame spread…

Leaving the synagogue, he and His four companions go to Simon Peter’s home, probably for the day’s main meal. But as soon as He arrives, He’s told that Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. This telling is in itself a form of prayer.

We’ve seen this prayer before. At Cana Mary simply said, “They have no wine” [Jn 2:3] – no request, just a statement of fact, just a telling. And Jesus responds and does so miraculously. Here in Capernaum Peter need only tell the Lord that his mother-in-law is ill, and Jesus heals her quietly with just a touch. The effect is instantaneous.

Has a miracle taken place? Certainly. It all happened because Jesus is there. That’s the one precondition for every miracle: God’s presence. But the miracle seems almost incidental to the reality of the new relationship between Jesus and the woman He has healed. We come to understand this when Jesus comes near to us; for when He approaches us, something good must happen. When Jesus draws near, the gift of faith deepens, conversion begins, vocations are defined, miracles happen.

All these things and more will follow when, in the presence of Jesus, we allow Him to take us by the hand and lift us up. Instead of simply telling God of our sorrows, our joys, our problems, how often does our prayer consist of telling God how He should do things? How often do we try to drag God to our way of thinking, to do what we want? In truth, though, we need only come to Our Lord with our problem and let Him deal with it.

What does this grateful woman do? Jesus has reached out to her, so she lets Him take her hand and help her up. She then waits on Him and the others. She thanks the Lord by serving the Lord.  This, too, is a prayer.

Brothers and sisters, God's healing power restores us not only to health but to active service and the care of others. God has given each of us a service ministry and this is what it’s all about. It’s a prayer, a form of thanksgiving to God for enabling us to serve Him by serving others. But first we must be healed.

You know you’re in need of healing, don’t you? We all are. But have you allowed Jesus Christ to heal you? Have you come to Him, thrown your sins down before Him in the sacrament of Reconciliation and asked for healing?

In the midst of our short lives, our limited, less than transformed lives, Jesus approaches each of us. He calls us by name. He grasps our hand, heals us, and frees us with a touch. And then He helps us up, lifting us up to the freedom He wants for each of us, energizing us so we can respond to His call, so we too can serve.

What about the Apostles? Do you think they knew what He was calling them to do? Probably not. They were likely too overcome by the wonder of it all. Imagine having been called by Jesus, by this man who does the miraculous, called to be His companions, His special friends. They don’t yet know that soon enough they will be doing what He is doing; and soon enough they will experience the cost of discipleship, they will experience the Cross.

Paul, of course, knew this when, in our 2nd reading, he told the Christians of Corinth, “I preach the gospel…and woe to me if I do not preach it!" [1 Cor 9:16] Yes, we’re all called to evangelize, and woe to us if we do not. We are called to share the Good News with the world, even if our little corner of the world might be small indeed.

“His fame spread” [Mk 1:28], Mark tells us. Jesus had become an instant celebrity in Galilee. The sick, the possessed, the confused, the curious – all of these and more ether came to Jesus or were brought to Him by others. Many, led by the Spirit, came in faith, begging Jesus to heal.

“The whole town was gathered at the door” [Mk 1:33].

Does Mark exaggerate? I don’t think so. Everyone came to Him. And why not? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you want to see Him for yourself, this man who did such remarkable things. Mark sums it all up briefly:

“He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him” [Mk 1:34].
Interesting, isn’t it? The evil one recognizes Jesus for who He is, but so many others haven’t a clue. What about us? Do we know Him…well enough to take our troubles to Him in expectant faith?

Jesus wants to heal.

He wants to help us with all our troubles.

He wants to free us from every form of bondage.

Again, we need only ask, ask that God’s will, the will of the Father, be done in our lives. We need only ask just as the people of Capernaum had asked. No doubt they asked far into the night.

It had been a long day for Our Lord; and yet an exhausted Jesus rose early and off by Himself, to a lonely place, to pray. Did you notice how Jesus’ time of prayer – His time with the Father – energized Him? It gave Him the strength to continue His mission of bringing the Good News to God’s People. Through prayer Jesus brought healing and comfort to thousands.

How about you and me? Is our prayer like the prayer of Jesus? What do we pray for? Do we pray for strength in carrying out the mission God has given us, in carrying out the Father’s will in our lives?

Jesus walked this earth. He knows our hardships. He knows the sorrows and joys that fill our lives. He knows our sufferings because He suffered Himself. Yes, He became human to conquer death; but he also came to bring hope – not only to the people He encountered 2,000 years ago, but to all of us…today and every day.

“I came,” Jesus proclaimed, “so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” [Jn 10:10].

Life! Life here and eternal life. Today, as we actually partake in God’s Divine Life, as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, as we experience this miraculous Communion with God Himself, let us remember that we too are called.

Have you responded to His call?

How is He inviting you to come closer to Him?

Can you, with childlike abandon, grasp His hand and let Him lift you up?

Will you join Him on His mission to bring God’s love, to share the Good News, with the world?

For this is our calling.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Homily: Wednesday, 4th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1

Readings: Heb 12:4-7, 11-15 • Psalm 103 • Mk 6:1-6

In my previous parish on Cape Cod I used to visit a local nursing home a couple of times a month. After conducting a Liturgy of the Word with Communion I’d take Eucharist to the rooms of those who were unable to attend. Once, right after I’d given Communion to a 96-year-old man, a doctor, who looked to be in his early forties, entered the room, introduced himself, and began to examine the patient.

After a long moment the old man looked closely at the doctor and said, “Wait a minute! Aren’t you Jack Snow’s little boy? What was your name…Charlie wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” the doctor replied, “and it still is.”

“Yeah, well you’re the kid who was always getting in trouble, always doing stupid stuff. And now you’re a doctor? Well, you can’t be a very good one. I don’t want you working on me.”

The doctor simply said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place” [Mk 6:4]. Then he added, “Apparently it’s the same for doctors…now, open your mouth and say, ‘Ahhh.’”

Of course, I can no longer read this Gospel passage from Mark without thinking of those two men. It seems many of us are not unlike the Nazarenes. Of course the young doctor wasn’t divine. He was imperfect, a sinner like all of us. But his elderly patient just couldn’t accept him for who he was.

Jesus teaching in Nazareth
The people of Nazareth ask, “Where did He get all this?...Is this not the carpenter?” [Mk 6:2-3] Yes, those who recognize Jesus bind Him to the limitations of His earthly profession, and set the same limits to His ministry, His teaching, and His miracles. What they really want to say is, “Why isn’t He just doing what carpenters are supposed to do?”

They then push their doubts even farther: And isn’t He just “the Son the Mary”? [Mk 6:3] Don’t we know all His relatives? But Mary – the theotokos, the Mother of God whose mission is part of her Son’s mission – means nothing to them. They can’t grasp the truth because they know only the woman, not the Blessed One, only the carpenter, not the Redeemer.

And so they take offense, for how can the local carpenter bring the Kingdom of God into the world? How can the Son of Mary be the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets? Yes, they take offense because they refuse the truth, the free acknowledgement of the truth that comes with the acceptance of God’s gift of faith. Jesus chastises them for their lack of faith; He exposes them, puts them in their place, the very place He came from.

But the Lord perseveres. He heals some, a few Mark tells us, apparently a select few. Nazareth rejected the Good News of salvation, and Jesus left them…at least for a while. He would gladly have received them all, worked miracles among them, deepened their faith, but they don’t want Him. They have taken offense. Amazed at their lack of faith, He does nothing to break their resistance. He moves on to other more welcoming places.

What about you and me? Do we see the necessity of faith? Have we kept the Lord from working miracles in our own lives? Has weakness of faith blocked the healing God wants for us?

Brothers and sisters, there’s no limit to Jesus’ power. He asks only for faith, God’s door into human hearts, but one that can be opened only from within.

Open your heart to the Lord. Call on the power of His Holy Spirit and let His gifts, His healing, fill you, and bring you the joy He promises.

A few chapters later, Mark introduces us to a man whose faith has been tested. He is one like us who strives to accept God’s gift of faith in the midst of distress. Chastised by the Lord, He responds prayerfully: “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!” [Mk 9:24] Let us pray the same.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Political Weakness

Thousands come together for the 2015 March for Life

Otto Von Bismarck, who famously defined politics as "the art of the possible," was a perfect example of the ideologically flexible politician who could turn on a dime to achieve his desired political ends. (One is reminded of former President Bill Clinton.) As opposed to our current ideologically inflexible president, who seemingly cannot abide the thought of compromise with anyone who opposes him or his ruling ideology, our Republican congressional leadership prefers compromise even when it is politically unnecessary. 

Observing what happened on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the psalmist's warming comes to mind: "Put not your trust in princes..." [Ps 146:3] Too many pro-lifers seem to believe that our politicians will eventually come to the rescue and stop the slaughter of innocents, a slaughter that now exceeds 50 million unborn children In the United States alone. As several hundred thousand pro-life advocates marched in Washington, the House Republican leadership caved by pulling a pro-life bill that polls have shown would be supported by a significant majority of Americans.

The bill would, in essence, have prohibited infanticide, the murder of unborn children after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Instead the House passed a significantly watered-down bill prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, something already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment. Time and again our president has declared his support for unrestricted abortion. He believes that abortion must be permitted at any time for any reason, no exceptions. He even supports the post-abortive killing of a child who happens to survive an abortion procedure. He would, therefore, have vetoed this bill after its arrival on his desk. This would have clearly demonstrated his total disrespect for human life. The same would be true of all those politicians of either party who did not vote for the bill. 

Most Republican politicians, who for 40 years have talked much but done little about abortion, want to keep the issue alive, but only in the safe political background, so they can pull it out and use it when hustling for votes among pro-life constituents. Most know full well that without the pro-life vote they would not be elected or re-elected. But despite their fine words while campaigning, their actions have produced little of any consequence. One suspects they consider their careers far more important than the lives of innocents. In truth they have done nothing to slow the progress of our society's acceptance of the "culture of death."  And so today Republican politicians are patting themselves on the back for their "courageous" vote to de-fund abortion, but ignoring their cowardly rejection of a ban on infanticide. "Put not your trust in princes..." 

It should be clear that this horrendous plague of abortion, the greatest killer of human beings, will not be brought to an end by politicians. No, it will continue until the people themselves experience a change of heart, and this can come only as a gift from God, an infusion of His grace. Yes, we must march, but we must also pray constantly that God will come to our aid, to the aid of the innocents.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homily: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Readings: Jon 3:1-5,10; Ps 25; 1Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
Did you notice that our readings today all relate to time, or perhaps more specifically, to the passage of time? Of course, at my age – and I suspect more than a few of you share that particular demographic – the passage of time is very evident.

When we were children time crept by, carrying us slowly and deliberately through our young lives. And what a blessing this was! That movement of time let us anticipate and savor the good things of life – to observe, to learn, and to absorb all that we encountered. It also let us distance ourselves from the not so good.

Years ago, Diane and I took foster children into our home – children who often came from difficult family situations. But, amazingly, regardless of the tumult and confusion they had endured, these little ones were able to set it aside. Moved by the love they had for their parents, their fervent hope was to return, to return to a renewed family where all would be set right. One need only look at a child to see the true manifestation of hope as a virtue.

But then, as we age, time seems to move along far more quickly, doesn’t it? It hurries us through our days, pushing us relentlessly to the very culmination of our lives. It’s as if time, like today’s readings, pleads with us, reminding us that we cannot bargain with it; and that for each life, time has a definite limit. And it’s a limit that can come on quickly.

In our second reading St. Paul doesn’t pull any punches, but comes right out and tells the Corinthians and us that, “time is running out…the world in its present form is passing away” [1 Cor 7: 29.31]. Paul wants us to be ready, to prepare for that which is to come, to prepare for God’s transformation of the world, and to prepare for judgment. We are, then, called to prepare – not by our own power, but by God’s gift of grace, through which He comes to us.

Yes, God comes to us. He comes to us here in His Word, proclaimed in our hearing, and entering into our minds and hearts. He comes to us in the Eucharist, joining our very being with His body and blood, soul and divinity, and joining us to one another in this shared Communion. Through the Eucharist each one of us becomes a God-bearer, called to take Jesus Christ to others. And so He comes to us, too, when we encounter Him daily in each other and in His least brothers and sisters: in those in need of God’s love who turn to us in expectation, in hope. Do you see Christ in them? And do they experience Christ in you?

God encounters us in all the times of our lives, preparing us by His gift of faith freely offered. How foolish to ignore these encounters. And yet so many of us do just that when we make the mistake of thinking that the little slice of time we’ve been given belongs to us.

The apostles didn’t make that mistake. They had encountered Jesus in the flesh – hearing, seeing, touching Him – and realized that they had been called, called in God’s time, not theirs. They had no time to do anything but drop their nets, turn away from their former lives, and follow Jesus. They didn’t fully understand it, but moved by the Spirit, they knew it was a special time.
"Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."

Indeed, in that same brief Gospel passage from Mark, we find Jesus beginning His public ministry with the words, “This is the time of fulfillment” [Mk 1:15]. Here is Jesus, the Lord of History, standing at the very center of all time bringing everything that went before to fulfillment – a most special time. The very thought of the Incarnation, God’s thought, was made outside of time itself, in eternity. But with His coming, all has changed.

The time of the Old Covenant has passed. It is no longer present, but has been fulfilled. Yes, Jesus tells us, all of time that came before, every moment from the creation of time itself out of eternity, is brought to completion. His coming has thrust us into His time; and Jesus, our God become man, is now ever-present. We are in the midst of His time.

It is God’s time, for Jesus goes on to tell us: “The Kingdom of God is at hand” [Mk 1:15]. To be sure, then, this fulfillment of time also means the presence of the Kingdom, the time of the Kingdom of the Father. But other than this, Jesus really tells us very little about this time, or what we can expect as it unfolds. He tells us only that God has acted and has fulfilled all.

But then, continuing His teaching at that first moment of His ministry, Jesus commands us to act as well – for we must do our part. “Repent,” Jesus commands, “and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15]. Instead of telling us what we can expect, Jesus tells us what God expects of us. First, we are to repent. Translated from the Greek, metanoia, it means a change of mind and heart. Combining time and change, repentance calls us to look back, if only to acknowledge the sinfulness of our lives; but then, filled with hope, to look forward to conversion and to the joy of the Good News.

Do you see what God desires of us? He calls us to believe, to accept the Gospel, the Good News, in faith. And because the Good News is so very good, we should greet it with joy. But He doesn’t want us to come to Him only in the joy of the Good News. Yes, His sacrifice on the Cross certainly brings us redemption, and this must be a source of tremendous joy for all of humanity. But first, He tells us, first we must repent and follow the path of conversion. Only then, with our minds and hearts turned toward God, can we experience the surprising joy of the Good News.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus addressed these words to the people of Galilee who gathered around Him that day. He spoke to each one of them, personally, individually, calling them by name, calling them to accept His gift of faith, calling them to repentance, conversion, and joy. And He speaks this same message to each us as well; for we, too, are called. And as Paul reminds us, “time is running out.”

Are we like the people of Nineveh? Like all of us they needed to repent. They had turned from God…until He placed the ultimatum before them. When God set a 40-day limit to their lives, when they heard Jonah’s message, the message of a most reluctant prophet, they realized their time was running out. But they didn’t wait, did they? -- not for a moment. No, they acknowledged their sins, turned to God in repentance, and He lifted the dire sentence He had placed on them. They responded to their salvation with joy.

Repentance, conversion, and joy. Are we like the Ninevites? Is our time, too, running out?

People move here to our little corner of the world to have the time of their lives, don’t they? But all too often they forget that the time of their lives is coming all too quickly to an end. Christ’s message, then, is one of urgency. It’s a message that demands an answer. To put it off is to run the risk of missing the coming of the Kingdom into your life. In the words of St. Augustine: "God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination."

This Gospel message is for every person, for every single one of us, for all of humanity stretched out over the entire span of time. It’s a message aimed directly at the heart, at your heart and mine, for we are loved. God marks each of us for repentance and for the joy that follows.

Brothers and sisters, believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ, the salvation He offers us, and live that belief in lives that glorify God. Then, and only then, can we truly have the time of our lives.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Homily: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Readings: 1Sam 3:3-10,19; Ps 85; 1Cor 6:13-20; Jn 1:35-42
Do you remember that poem, "The Hound of Heaven", by the British poet, Francis Thompson? If you attended a Catholic school way back when, you probably do. Remember the first lines?
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
"I fled him..."
Those words, and the rest of that long poem, didn’t mean much to me when I was young, but now…well, I’ve come to understand it. Because that’s the way God is: He doesn’t let go. I know, because He’s been after me all my life. That’s right…it started when I was just a kid, and hasn’t stopped.

“Follow me,” [Jn 1:43] He says. Always asking me to stop what I’m doing and change the entire direction of my life. And didn’t He say something about not being worthy to follow Him unless you “took up a cross?” [Mt 16:24] Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t like the sound of that.

But, you know, the more I ignored Him, the more persistent He became. Really irritating. I wasn’t leading a bad life. I suppose it wasn’t a particularly good one either. It was…well, it was normal. Anyway, there seemed to be plenty of folks out there who needed God a lot more than I did. So I went through the motions of Christianity, and ignored the hard stuff…you know, the Cross. But God just kept coming like that “Hound of Heaven”, and I responded…well, just as the poet did…

Foolish, isn’t it? To think we can simply run away from God, that like Adam and Eve in the Garden we can hide from Him, or like Peter we can deny Him: “Who? Jesus? Don’t know Him. Never saw Him before in my life.” Or that we can make so much noise in our lives that it will somehow drown out God’s incessant, but gentle call. And do you know what? Here I am, old and in Florida and He’s still calling -- “Follow Me” -- still leading me to new forms of discipleship.

And if my past is any guide, I’ll take them on in fits and starts. For unlike Samuel in today’s first reading, or Peter and Andrew in the Gospel, “Follow Me” just won’t be enough. As He has in the past, He’ll have to drag me behind Him kicking and screaming.

I suppose that’s the question for each one of us: “What does God want of me?” Well, first of all, He wants us – that’s you and me – simply to listen and to respond to His call.

"Speak, for your servant is listening."
Look again at today’s 1st reading. Samuel is just a child, and when God calls him, it takes Eli to explain what’s happening, to point the way. And so Samuel responds to God’s call with an act of faith: “Speak, for your servant is listening” [1 Sam 3:10].

This is the first thing God wants from each of us. He wants an act of faith. It was pretty much the same for Andrew and Peter in today’s Gospel. Like Eli, John the Baptist points the way: “Behold, the Lamb of God” [Jn 1L29] The disciples heard and followed. This is Jesus’ call, the same call God issued at the very dawn of salvation history when He told Abraham to: “Walk in my presence and be blameless” [Gen 17:1].

Notice, God’s always the One who takes the initiative. It’s He who calls Samuel in the night. It’s He who seeks out Abraham and Moses and Paul, the persecutor of Christians. It’s He who turns to the disciples and speaks to them. Later on in John’s Gospel Jesus states this clearly: “It is not you who chose me. I chose you” [Jn 15:16].

But discipleship has a cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young Lutheran pastor and theologian who was executed by Hitler in the final days of World War II, wrote a wonderful book, The Cost of Discipleship. In it he writes:
“And if we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we will have to go to Him, for only He knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ…knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.”
Yes, discipleship has a great return, but also a cost.  Only Jesus knows the cost. Only He knows the demands. And so He keeps this “cost of discipleship” from the least for now.

Behold! The Lamb of God!
That’ll come later, much later. For now He just asks them. “What are you looking for?” Why have they turned to the Lamb of God? But they don’t answer the question, and instead ask one of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” [Jn 1:38]

You see, they’re not exactly sure what they’re looking for, but they know they’ve found it in Jesus. They want to be with Him. They want to spend the day with Him. And Jesus knows this. His answer is brief, “Come and you will see” [Jn 1:39]. But He’s not speaking of a house. He’s speaking of discipleship, for Jesus stays wherever His disciples are. He abides with them and within them. It’s just what happened to Samuel after responding in faith to God’s call. How does Scripture put it? “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him…” [1 Sam 3:19].

To be Jesus’ disciple, to be a Christian, we must first respond to His call, and we must do so in faith. But that’s not all. We must live in Jesus Christ and He in us. In other words, we must follow Him wherever He leads us. And of one thing we can be sure. Following Christ always leads to the Cross.

Now I don’t mean that, like Peter and Andrew, every Christian must suffer martyrdom, although in today’s world many Christians are doing just that. There’s no discipleship, no following of Jesus, that doesn’t include His cross.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks the disciples. And He asks each of us the same question. What exactly are you looking for? Why have you turned to Jesus?

Is He your security blanket, something warm and fuzzy to hide you from a hostile world?

Is He your problem solver, the one you call on when you mess up some piece of your life?

Is He your miracle worker, a superman-God, the one you turn to when things get really bad?

In other words, are you the kind of Christian who calls on Jesus to follow you? Or, like Samuel and Andrew and Peter, have you turned to Jesus simply because He called you? Simply because He whispered, “Follow me.”

He’s really called you, you know. He’s called each of us. I’m not going to argue the point, because if you don’t believe this, you’re not a Christian. He called Samuel to be a prophet and a kingmaker. He called Peter – weak-willed Peter, full of bluster and empty promises – He called Peter to be the head of His Church. What has He called you to do? You’ll never know until you respond in faith.

“Come and you will see,” Jesus says.

Only if you say yes to Him: yes to joy; yes to sorrow; yes to all His brothers and sisters – the weak, the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the despised, the hated and the haters… all those sinners out there, sinners like you and me. Come and you will see…only if you say yes to God’s call to live the life of Christ.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus asks. What kind of disciple are you? Follow Jesus and you will come to know Him. Live like Him and you will love Him. Live in Him and He will live in you, and you will die with Him and live eternally with Him.

Oh, yes, one final thing…If, like the poet, you decide to run away from Him, if you decide not to be His disciple, your decision means absolutely nothing…because He’ll keep calling and chasing you right up to the moment you breathe your last breath. He does this because He loves you…and that, brothers and sisters is the Good News.