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!


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Homily: Mass and Healing Service -- 10 Macrh 2018

I was once again honored to be asked to preach at this special Mass on Saturday, March 10. Several times during the year we celebrate a Mass which is followed by a healing service. Saturday's Mass drew several hundred people. Most remained afterwards to join one of the many prayer teams located throughout the church. It was a wonderful morning, a morning enlightened by the hope and deep faith of those who took part, seeking God's healing presence in their lives and the lives of others. It was a morning of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

My homily was supposed to be available as a video, but a technical glitch resulted in a video with no associated audio. No great loss, unless you actually wanted to hear it. But for those few who might want to read it, I have included the entire homily below:
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Saturday 3rd Week of Lent
Readings: Hos 6:1-6; PS 51; Lk 18:9-14

Good morning, everyone...and praise God - praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As always, it's wonderful to see so many here this morning, all of you open to God's healing presence. And we praise God too for this.

After the parish mission conducted a few weeks ago by Father Kevin, several people suggested that I might emulate that good Redemptorist priest by adding a bit of levity to my homilies. So I thought the following story just might do the trick.

Of course, most of us here today are old enough to remember the gasoline shortage back in the early 70s and the problems that resulted.

At the very peak of that shortage two nuns were driving the convent station wagon along a state highway when they ran out of gas. One turned to the other and said, "Sister, you're so much younger, would you mind walking back to that gas station we just passed and seeing if you can get some gas?" The younger sister replied, "I'll be happy to do so," and left.

When she got to the station, she posed her problem to the harried attendant who just shook his head and said, "Sister, I'd love to help you, but the problem is we've run out of gas cans. But, you know, there's a pile of junk and debris behind the station. Why don't you go back there and see if you can find a suitable container? If you do, I'll give you some gas."

She agrees and pokes her way through the pile, but all she can find is an old bedpan. She wipes the dust out of it and takes it to the attendant. He fills it with regular and she carries it back to the car.

As she's pouring the gas into the tank, two Methodist ministers drive by, and one says to the other, "By God, there's faith for you."

Coming together here this morning perhaps this little story will remind us of the angel's words to Mary: "...for nothing will be impossible for God."

And especially today, smack dab in the middle of Lent, it's fitting that we should focus on God's will and His power and His love as we turn to our Lord in need of healing, every kind of healing: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Remember those words of Jesus you heard on Ash Wednesday? "Repent and believe in the Gospel." This, too, is a call to healing, for repentance is the first step on the path to spiritual healing.

Our readings today certainly turn us in that direction, don't they? How wonderful, how providential that God's Word proclaimed here today touches on faith, and healing, and repentance, and prayer, and humility, and hope. Could we ask for anything more fitting today as we - and, brothers and sisters, that's all of us, for we are all in need of healing - as we turn prayerfully to our loving, merciful God?

I've long been a big fan of Pope St. John Paul II, largely because of his message of hope, a message he never ceased preaching. It was a message that inevitably began with the words of the Gospel, words Jesus expressed to so many: "Be not afraid."

If the heart of the Christian is to be filled with the hope God desires for us, it must first expel all fear.
"Be not afraid!" [Mt 14:27, et al.]

We fear so much, don't we? We fear that over which we have no control. We fear the known and the unknown in our lives. We even fear ourselves. Indeed, fear creeps into our hearts like a thief, trying to steal all hope, all faith. And yet, as St. John Paul reminded us, we should have no fear because, quite simply, we have been redeemed by God. Listen to his words:
"The power of Christ's Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could fear."

That power, you see, gives us hope, for only hope, the great theological virtue, this divine gift -- only hope drives fear from our hearts.

But hope does something else, something greater still. My mother used to say: "Hope moves us; it moves us to faith."  She was quite the theologian when it came to such practical matters. I think that stemmed from her vocation as an RN, a nurse forced to confront the practical issues of life and death. And, in truth, theology should always be practical. It should always help us navigate the path to salvation. Otherwise it's just an academic exercise.

Anyway, getting back to hope - that's what repentance is. It's a sign, an image, of hope. The very fact that we can repent of our sinfulness means that we hope for forgiveness. Indeed, it is our hope that calls us to repentance.

We see this brought to life in our first reading from Hosea, the last prophet of the Northern Kingdom, a prophet called by God to experience in his own life the same unfaithfulness that God experiences when we turn away from Him. Yes, Hosea's marriage to Gomer became a sign, a crying out against all Israel. And yet, despite his broken heart, Hosea becomes the prophet of love.
As Hosea ransomed Gomer, God will ransom us
He reminds us that the God of creation is in love with His creature, in love with those who draw their very life from Him, in love with those who have nothing to give Him. God's forgiveness, God's mercy is not the result of pity or mere compassion; it's the result of love, a love beyond all human imagining. Hosea pleads to God's people:

"Come, let us return to the Lord. It is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence" [Hos 6:1-2].


To heal, to bind, to raise up.

It's in this prophetic prayer of repentance that Hosea calls a rebellious people to conversion, that he calls all of us today to conversion.

It's a prayer of hope...the same hope we encounter in today's Gospel passage from Luke.

Jesus offers a parable. He presents us with two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, two men who represented polar opposites in the mind of the average 1st century Jew. But Jesus, as He does so often, turns everything upside down.

Jesus contrasts a prideful Pharisee, focused on the meticulous, external fulfillment of the Law, with a tax collector, a public sinner despised by all, and yet driven to repentance by humility, by reality. For that's what humility is. It's the grasp of reality, a true understanding of our relationship with God, an awareness of His goodness and our sinfulness.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
Both men approach God in the Temple, and both begin to pray. The first thing we notice is how they pray, that the content of their hearts drives their approach to prayer, and even shows up in their posture.

The Pharisee stands erect, right up front where he can be seen and heard, and not just by God.

And the tax collector? He stands "far off" bent over in humility, beating his breast in repentance.

Not surprisingly, out of those two very different hearts come very different words.

The Pharisee, brimming over with self-congratulatory praise, seems to be praying not to God but to himself. And from his words we come to understand that a heart filled only with itself must despise others. Since the Pharisee believes himself righteous, his heart sees no need for humility, for repentance, for conversion.

He's simply perfect, just the way he is. Yes, such is always the way for those who refuse to accept the fact of their dependence on God.

And then, we hear the simple, humble prayer of the tax collector - "O God, be merciful to me a sinner" [Lk 18:13] - and immediately we recognize it for what it is. It's a prayer of poverty, of spiritual poverty, a prayer that shows us what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" [Mt 5:3].

We see in his words a foreshadowing of the ancient, Eastern Jesus Prayer - "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." - another prayer of reality.

The tax collector, you see, has that firm grasp of reality. "Oh God, be merciful..." He knows who God is, mercy personified. "...to me a sinner." And he knows who he is, simply a sinner. In his prayer he remains himself, and he lets God be Himself. And then he leaves it at that, trusting in God's mercy, trusting in God's forgiveness.

Brothers and sisters, his prayer, too, is a prayer of hope, the kind of hope that brought you here today. If you had no hope of healing, would you be here?
A Healing Community
Are we here, filled with hope, coming together in a healing community, a community dedicated to extending God's love to all in need?

Is this why we're here -- driven by hope and moved to faith, yearning for God's Presence?

Do I throw myself at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, and beg for the mercy I know I don't deserve?

Or do I come here, as yet unmoved, and just pleading, "Why me, Lord?" It's a question that smacks a bit of the Pharisee's attitude, isn't it? -- as if in my goodness I don't deserve this misfortune.

I suppose these are the questions we're all faced with today.

Think about your answer as you come forward today to receive our Lord's precious Body and Blood, the gift of His Presence until the end of the age. For Christ's Eucharistic Presence, is also a gift of hope, one that moves us to the faith that heals.
God's Healing Presence in the Eucharist
Be not afraid, brothers and sisters, and just open your heart to God's healing Presence.

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