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!


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Homily: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Readings: Is 66:18-21; Ps 117; Heb 12:5-7,11-13; Lk 13:22-30
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When Isaiah proclaimed the remarkable prophecy we just heard in our first reading, the Jews of his time must have been shocked. From the time of Abraham they'd seen themselves as God's Chosen People...and indeed they were. But for what purpose were they chosen? They saw salvation as something only a few would experience, namely them. God's heavenly banquet would be for a select few.

Then they hear Isaiah, a prophet, speaking in God's name and telling them something very different. Isaiah describes a holy gathering where people of every nation of the world enter God's house. God invites all; all are brought into His presence; all worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and to all of them He reveals His glory.
But there's more. God tells Isaiah:
"Some of these I will take as priests and Levites" [Is 66:21].
And so, here in the depths of this Old Testament prophecy, we find Jesus Christ present; for it is Jesus who will institute a new priesthood, derived not from genealogy or inheritance, but from faith. It will be a priesthood that ministers to both Jew and Gentile, that takes the Word of God to the world, a priesthood founded by Christ Himself and made present through the apostles.

Isaiah is preparing God's people to accept the truth that God desires salvation for all - a desire later proclaimed by Jesus when He instructs the apostles to announce the Good News:
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always..." [Mt 28:19-20]
Yes, this is the new heaven and new earth that Isaiah speaks of later in this same prophecy, And how it must have shaken those who heard it, who no doubt asked, if only to themselves, "Is salvation really for all these people?"

Hundreds of years later, this same question is posed to Jesus in today's Gospel passage: 
"Lord, will only a few people be saved?"' [Lk 13:23]
Why did this unnamed person ask it? Is he simply asking, "Hey, Jesus, what are the odds I'll win the salvation lottery?" Or maybe, as a Jew he thought he had an inside track on salvation: he knew the Law, obeyed the rules, did all he was supposed to do as a sign of his justification. 

When you think of it this way, you can almost hear the complacency in the question, can't you? Or perhaps he was complacent because he knew Jesus: that as a disciple he thought he had it made, had walked by Jesus' side as He taught in the streets, had shared meals with Him. Wouldn't this be enough?

Whatever his reasons, I'm sure he was surprised when he didn't get a simple Yes or No answer. But it was really the wrong question. How many will be saved isn't the important thing. The important question, the one you and I should really be concerned about is: "How can we be saved?" And this is the question Jesus answers.

Divine Mercy
Your see, brothers and sisters, salvation is a gift. It's nothing you or I can earn; rather it's the result of Christ's saving sacrifice on the Cross. 

Although everyone is invited to share in God's Kingdom, accepting that invitation means obeying His call to repentance and struggling to do His Will. Thankfully, God's ways are so very different from ours. His judgment and His mercy are perfect. But they are so different that we always question.

Some years ago, at a vigil service for a parishioner who had just died, his wife spoke to me about him.

"He rarely went to Mass," she said. "He fought in two wars, and encountered unspeakable things. He saw a lot of death, some of it he caused himself. I think he spent a lifetime trying unsuccessfully to come to grips with it all. I know he hadn't gone to confession in years." And then she asked me, "How will God judge him?"

It's really the same question, isn't it: "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" It's seems to be a question we never cease asking.

About twenty years ago, I worked for a high-tech firm in New England. One morning a co-worker, one of our young salespeople, knowing I was deacon, asked if we could speak privately.

She began to talk about her older brother. He was her hero, a bright, talented, seemingly happy young man who could do no wrong in her eyes. He had a good job with a major public relations firm, and even talked about starting his own business one day soon. He seemed to be doing so well. 

But then, for reasons she could not understand, he turned to hard drugs. He became addicted. Within months he'd lost his job and had even been arrested in some drug buying sting operation. Then tragically, the week before, he died of an overdose, which they suspect was intentional.

"He was always so bright, so good, so kind, so helpful to everyone," she said. And then she asked, "Will Mark spend eternity in hell?"

Once again we hear it: "Lord, will only a few people be saved?"

How I answered isn't important. How Jesus answers is. Jesus takes this simple question and uses it to teach us about salvation. 

Yes, the door is narrow and we can't pin our hopes on being paid-up church-going people. And those words "depart from me" are a stark and chilling reminder that the stakes are high. 

But God in His mercy calls us...again, and again, and again. Only He knows what's in the human heart. And He shows us the way, if we only listen and respond. Or as we heard in today's 2nd reading from the Letter to the Hebrews: 
"...do not disdain the discipline of the Lord...for whom the Lord loves, He disciplines" [Heb 12:6]. 
It's no coincidence that the words discipline and disciple have the same Latin root: discere, to learn. His discipline is always a learning experience, but an experience delivered in love. 

When we ask that question - "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" - are we willing to accept His answer, His teaching, so we can learn true discipleship?

We don't fully understand this mystery of salvation, a salvation not limited by law, ritual, or our own expectations of who will or won't be saved. There is no formula for salvation.

Again, salvation is a gift from a God whose love is so expansive it includes the entire human family. 

Our God respects our freedom, takes our decisions seriously, and accepts the consequences of our decisions, even when we choose to reject Him. But this same loving God has a heart overflowing with mercy and forgiveness, always offering us His healing grace. 

Yes, we must do our part, but we shouldn't be too quick to condemn ourselves, and we certainly shouldn't condemn others.

Maybe when we're upset about the things we're getting wrong, we can count ourselves among the 'last' of Luke's Gospel and I suppose that's good. We just might be more likely to accept help, help from others, and God's help and forgiveness.

You and I are far from perfect but when the time comes I hope we'll be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves in God's presence, and perhaps also surprised by the others we'll meet there, just as they'll be surprised to see us.

We might well encounter that parishioner, plagued by his memories of those battlefields, who spent a life wrestling with his conscience and with God.

Or the young man who in his last moments turned to His Savior in repentance and thankfulness for the offer of salvation.

Yes, brothers and sisters, the stakes are high, and I know the last thing I want to hear from God is, "Depart from me" [Lk 13:27].

How much better to hear Him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant...Come, share your master's joy" [Mt 25:23].

So, instead of judging others - those who seem so lost, whose lives are filled with pain - instead of judging them, let's do as Jesus commanded and simply love them, love them to the salvation Jesus wants for them.

And pray for them...for them and for those who have gone before us. When our prayers depart this time-ravaged world and enter God's eternity, their effects are beyond our imagining.

Homily: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Readings: Jer 38:4-6,8-10; Ps 40; Heb 12:1-4, 8-19; Lk 12:49-53
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In May of 1940, Winston Churchill, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivered his first speech to the House of Commons. It was an electrifying speech, one that united the nation behind his leadership as it waged war against Nazi Germany, a determined and stronger foe. And in that speech he uttered perhaps his most famous words:
"I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.' We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering."
Jeremiah
These were not comforting words, not words a government leader wants to say to the people. But they were necessary words, harsh but motivating words. They were words of truth, words that, despite the metaphors, still told it like it is. Churchill was perhaps the perfect wartime leader, and maybe this is why he was rejected by his nation once the war had ended. We see something similar in today's first reading: Jeremiah tells the hard truth, but many don't want to hear it. And so they try to destroy God's prophet.

In today's Gospel passage, Luke gives us Jesus' words. They, too, seem harsh, so harsh that some, who don't understand what Jesus is telling us, come away puzzled. How can Jesus, the Prince of Peace, tell us that He has come "not to establish peace on the earth...but rather division"? [Lk 12:51]

But that's not all. He also says that He will be the cause of this division, and that He has "come to bring fire to the earth." And then He adds those remarkable words: "And how I wish it were already blazing" [Lk 12:49].

Yes, these are indeed harsh words, the kind of words many Christians try to ignore, thinking that maybe Jesus was just having a bad day. He really didn't mean it. Did He? Like Churchill, who was apparently acceptable to many of his countrymen so long as he was waging war, to many Christians Jesus is acceptable only when He speaks of peace and love and forgiveness. But, in truth, Jesus meant everything He said. 

The trouble is, too often we see and hear only the Jesus we want to see and hear, the Jesus we'd like Him to be, and ignore the real Jesus, the God who speaks to us. Remember last Sunday's Gospel? Remember how Jesus reminded us of the demands of discipleship? 
"Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more" [Lk 12:48}.
Those, too, were not easy words for you and for me, or for all Christians who have been entrusted with so much. Jesus' words in today's Gospel passage are really quite similar. But let's look at them more closely, in the context of His total teaching, and see what Jesus is really telling us. The first thing He says: 
"I have come to bring fire to the earth" [Lk 12:49].
Is He speaking of the fire of war and destruction? No, not at all. But He is speaking of a fire that cleanses and purifies, the fire of God's Light, the fire of God's Truth, the fire of God's Presence.

It's the fire Moses encountered when he approached the burning bush on Mount Horeb [Ex 3:1-6]. The fire that didn't consume called Moses to discipleship and holiness. It is the fire that forms and reforms, a fire that continues its work in the Church today.

It's the pillar of fire that led God's People out of slavery and through the desert on their journey to freedom, to the Land promised by the Father [Ex 13:21-22].

It's the fire of the burning ember that touched Isaiah's lips and removed his wickedness and purged his sin [Is 6:6-7].
In every instance it's the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who appeared as tongues of fire settling on the first disciples as they prayed together in the upper room [Acts 2:3].

Yes, Jesus calls for fire, but it's a fire of purification. It's a fire of a new creation, the fire that brings the Church into being and continues to cleanse and purify her, always calling her back to her holy beginnings.

Oh, it can be painful as it calls us to repentance and conversion, demanding that we reject the world's false promises. But it's also a fire of liberation, a fire that frees us from our slavery to sin and leads us to the freedom of God's Kingdom. 

And then Jesus tells us: 
"There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished"  [Lk 12:50].
Once again, many are confused when they hear these words. Hadn't Jesus already undergone a Baptism when John baptized Him in the Jordan? [Mt 3:16-17] Yes, but for Jesus that Baptism by John was a sign, a manifestation of the Trinity - Jesus experiencing the descending dove of the Holy Spirit and the confirming words of the Father. Is He talking now of a second Baptism, another trip to the Jordan? No, not at all. 

In the early Church, and in many churches today, Baptism involves a total immersion in its saving waters. How does the Church's funeral rite begin today?
"In Baptism, she died with Christ and rose with Him to new life. May she now share with Him eternal glory." [See Rom 6:3-5]
Immersed, then, in the waters of Baptism, we die with Christ and become a sign of Christ's suffering and death. Rising from the waters we are a sign of His Resurrection, looking to our own resurrection on the last day.

Does Jesus look forward to this "Baptism" on the Cross? His words answer the question.
"...how great is my anguish until it is accomplished" [Lk 12:50].
Finally, Jesus tells us:
"Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division [Lk 12:51].
For many these words of Jesus both confuse and alarm. Isn't the Gospel all about bringing God's peace to the world? Doesn't Jesus tell us to love one another? Doesn't He call the peacemakers the "children of God?" [Mt 5:9]  And perhaps, most alarming, don't these words encourage Christians to reject peaceful solutions to the problems that divide us?

Such questions betray a lack of understanding not only of Jesus' teaching, but of human nature itself. Jesus simply gives His disciples, and us, a prophetic glance into the future, showing us how much of the world will respond to the Good News.

God doesn't will such divisions, but He warns us that we will encounter them. Indeed, it began when both Jew and Gentile, and that includes all of us, called for Jesus' crucifixion. And it's been going on ever since. 

Christianity and its teachings have not only been rejected by many, but also seen as the greatest threat to the plans and schemes of those seeking to gain or maintain power. It began with Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Romans. And it continues today with Communists and Islamists, with atheists and secularists. 

Stalin once mockingly asked how many divisions the Pope had. And yet it was the faith of persecuted Polish Catholics that began the liberation of Eastern Europe from the Soviet yoke. Thanks to Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and too many others, there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined. Where there is persecution, there is tremendous faith.

Today, while Christianity in the modern west seems to be in decline, in Africa and in Asia its growth is dramatic, and this also includes remarkable growth in priestly and religious vocations.

The Church - and it is truly Catholic, a universal Church - because it defends the truth, demands justice, calls for respect of life and human dignity, and pleads for freedom, will always create division.

Yes, the peacemakers are blessed, but so too are those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. Jesus doesn't separate the two, and neither can we.

God's peace...

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Video & Text -- Homily: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

I have embedded below a video of my homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Tme, Year C (11 August 2019). The text follows the video.

Readings: Wis 18:6-9; Ps 33; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Lk 12:32-48


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Today's Gospel reading reminds me of the old story of the apparition on the corner of Main and Market in a busy city.

It was Saturday morning when Fr. O'Brien heard a knock on the rectory door and an extremely excited parishioner said, "The Lord has appeared on the corner of Main and Market." As Father was trying to decide from what kind of mental illness she was suffering, a second person ran up to the door, "Father, Father, the Lord has appeared on the corner of Main and Market."

"When?" Fr. O'Brien asked. "He's there right now," they both answered. So Fr. O'Brien went down the block where a large crowd had formed, and sure enough, he saw Jesus. After a few moments Jesus looked intently at the priest and then disappeared.

Fr. O'Brien didn't know what to do, and called a wise monsignor friend of his, who told him to call the bishop. So he called the bishop and, after relating what had happened, asked, "What should I do if Jesus comes back?" 

After a moment the bishop said, "Look, Father, let me think about it and get back to you." The bishop then called Rome, and, since he was an important bishop, he was put through to the pope. 

"Holy Father," he said, "One of my priests, Fr. O'Brien, reports that the Lord has appeared on the corner of Main and Market in his parish. He wants to know what to do if the Lord returns."

After a brief moment the pope replied, "Tell Fr. O'Brien to look busy."

Yes, look busy, for the Lord is returning. But, of course, as the pope actually knows, it's not enough just to look busy is it? We have to be busy as well. And there's a lot to keep us busy. 

People all around us are lost, seeking meaning in their broken lives. And we Christians, we Catholics, have been given the answer. Wrapped up in our faith is our recognition of the reason for existence. 

We humans love to complicate things, while God always simplifies. And the answer to all questions is simple: the answer to all questions is Jesus Christ. It's an answer we can offer to others simply by our attitude toward life itself, and by how we live that life, by how we place God first in every aspect of our lives - out there in the world, here among us, and here within each of us. This complicated world of ours really becomes very simple when we make it clear to ourselves that by God's presence we are enriched beyond measure. 

Brothers and sisters, as we each come to a deeper understanding of Jesus' presence in our lives, He is like that pearl of great price the merchant in the Gospel parable sacrificed everything to obtain. When every aspect of our lives is centered on our relationship with God, we will reject those things that distract us from the His Divine Presence. 

For example, we don't avoid immorality just because the Church says something is bad. We avoid immorality because by doing so we refuse to allow immorality to cloud the Presence of the Lord within us, or even to steal Jesus from us. Isn't it interesting that virtually all sinful things are habitual, almost addictive, things, that they take over our lives leaving no room for God.

Yes, holding on to Jesus will definitely keep us busy - busy fighting against our imperfections and weaknesses, busy fighting against temptations. And if we truly live our faith in the world, we'll also be kept busy dealing with those who mock us for our Christianity, for living our Catholic Faith. These attacks can overwhelm; it's not easy to defend God in a world that's turned against Him. 

If you're blessed with children (and grandchildren) you struggle to keep them close to God, to help them reject the things of the world. It takes a real effort to help them develop into faithful Christians, all the while realizing that at some point they must make their own decisions. All we can do is provide love and direction and help them accept God's gift of faith. When we do this work, when we provide this love, when children experience Jesus Christ in their homes, God will work wonders in their lives.

Yes, being busy for God keeps you busy. It means doing all the important things in your home: praying together as a family, every day; reading the Bible together, every day. It means letting our children know, and reminding ourselves, that God is there waiting for us to come to Him in prayer. Regardless of your occupation, you can do no greater work than opening your children to their spiritual potential. And, yes, it will keep you busy. Our parental responsibility doesn't disappear just because our children have grown. Oh, it changes, it changes radically, but it doesn't disappear.

Standing up for the Lord also keeps us busy. This applies to us all, married or single. Each of us must treasure the Divine Presence within us. If you're single: your lives should reflect your active Christianity. The Church depends on you, our committed singles, to be generous with your time.

For those of you who are married: a successful marriage takes work, hard work - but it's the work of the Lord when it involves His sacrificial Love. It is not easy to express love as the Lord created Love, as an act of giving, especially when we live in a culture that says love is a way of taking satisfaction from someone else. 

Yes, our culture has degraded marriage to the point that its success is measured in proportion to the satisfaction generated by all sorts of things from pharmaceuticals to who knows what...Married Christians can withstand this exploitation of their sacrament by seeking ever new ways to give themselves to their spouses in loving, selfless care and concern. 

Once again, you have to be busy to make a marriage a Christian marriage. Of course, in this parish most of us have been married for many years, and our children have long since left the nest. Alleluia, Alleluia. 

But As Christians we're still called to make the love of Christ real in other people. We must still reach out with the love of Jesus Christ - to our neighbors, to our friends, even to those we meet in the check-out line at Publix - helping them realize they are loved, not just by you, but also by a God whose love knows no bounds.

How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel passage? Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival...And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Yes, brothers and sisters, the Lord is here, so it's not enough just to look busy. We have to be busy, living our Catholic Faith in the world...and we will be blessed.
But let's not forget, too, that the Lord also said:
"Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more" [Lk 12:48].
As Christians, we have been given a great deal - much of it on trust. Our gift of faith is a treasure for heaven, but we don't always cherish it as one. Indeed, our lives, our gifts, our families -- are all treasures; but, again, we don't always give them the respect and love they deserve. 

One day, we'll be called to account for how we have used God's gifts to help others. This can be a frightening prospect, for who among us can be confident that they have done all God has asked of them? But we can't allow fear or anxiety to lead us to despair. For Jesus also refers to the treasures in heaven that await us. And I expect that, alongside the accounting and judgment, there will also be other questions:

"Did you enjoy all that you were given? Did you make time for all the good things God wanted you to experience? Did you take it for granted? Did you share the good things I gave you on trust with others so that they could enjoy them too?"

We have all been entrusted with much, and some of us with even more, and so let's trust in the Lord and keep busy doing His work in the world. 

And as He promised, He will respond to our determination to live our faith by caring for us.

Video Homily: Saturday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time

Yesterday the IT genius (Krysten) at our parish gave me a video of my homily for Saturday of the 16th week of Ordinary Time (27 July 2019). The text has already been posted here

In my homily I address the foreshadowing of the Eucharist -- the Blood of the Old and New Covenants -- found in the Book of Exodus.

Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Ps 50; Mt 13:24-30

The video follows:





Monday, August 12, 2019

Homily: Funeral for Diane's Cousin, Carolyn Moore

Last Wednesday (August 7) Diane and I drove up to McDonough, Georgia for the funeral of Diane's cousin, Carolyn Moore. I was honored to have been asked by the family to preach at her funeral. Carolyn's pastor at her Baptist Church joined me, so it was a true ecumenical event.

I chose a reading from John's Gospel (Jn 14:1-6): 
Jesus said to His disciples: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way."
Thomas said to him, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" 
Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
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Kim, Steven and David - and to Carolyn's entire extended family - Diane and I extend our love to you all as we join you today in your grief, but also in your joy. Yes, we grieve for ourselves, because the one we love is no longer here with us, but we are joyful too because she is now home, together with the Lord and with those who went before - with Laura, Bubba, George, with Sash and Percy and so many others.

I can only repeat the words of Our Lord - "Do not let your hearts be troubled..." - remarkable words spoken to His apostles the night before He died. Knowing what would soon happen to Him, He was concerned not for Himself, but for His friends:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled..."
Yes, these are good words for us as well. Our hearts can be troubled, for death leaves a wound, a wound in our hearts. 

I know my words will do little to heal that wound, because words are just never enough. And these words of mine will soon be forgotten. Indeed, only God's Word, God's eternal Word, doesn't perish.

But if you let Him, if you open your hearts to Him, God will fill that emptiness with His grace, bringing with it His peace and enduring love. It's through this enduring love that our merciful Lord Jesus takes Carolyn to Himself. She's now in His care and, believe me, to be in God's care is greater than anything we can imagine. Through that same love, He will grant you the peace you seek, the peace you need.

And to all the friends who have come here today, thank you for joining this family in their time of need. Your goodness and prayers are signs of God's love, signs of His presence here today.

I've conducted many funeral services, and I know that every life is precious, but today is something special, so very special, because Carolyn Moore was special, special to all of us who knew her and loved her. 

For me it all began over 50 years ago when Diane and I married, and this kid from New York and New England found himself, unexpectedly, thrust into the heart of a remarkable extended family from Georgia. You know, folks, I feel a little sorry for them all because I'm the one who's been blessed while all they got from the deal was me.

Believe me, then, when I say it's truly a privilege and an honor to be here today as we say goodbye to Carolyn - but goodbye for just a little while. This dear woman lived a good, long, and full life, didn't she? 88 years, probably longer than most of us can expect.

It was a life of love, a life of family, a life of hope, and a life of perseverance through good times, hard times, times of joy, and, yes, some times of suffering and tragedy. But Carolyn was woman of faith, a woman who loved and was loved, one who was blessed and shared those blessings with others.

A few days ago, Diane handed me an article written by a friend of mine, Tony Esolen. Tony and I first met years ago when we both worked at Providence College. He taught theology, philosophy, Western Civilization, and French and Italian literature, Tony's probably the smartest person I know. In the article Tony wrote the following:
"I don't know what our schools nurse. It usually doesn't seem to be holiness. But that's what the Christian family is called to be: a seminary of love, human and divine, with its tapestry of relationships reaching out to friends, the poor and the sick, and fellow Christians, made one in the worship of God."
After reading those words, Diane and I both thought of the Moore family, and especially of Carolyn. She and George, who was truly the love of her life, treated each other with the love, kindness, and respect that should typify every marriage - what an example, not only to their children, but also to all who knew them. Yes, indeed, their family was a seminary of love, a domestic church, and for this, this model of the Christian life, we should be truly grateful.

Carolyn's love for her children, her grandchildren, and now her great-grandchildren was a positive love, an uplifting love that praised them for their goodness, and encouraged them in their faith, always pointing to our Lord Jesus, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" [Jn 14:6]. 

Her love extended as well to those who came before her: to her mother, Sash, her grandmother, Mama Booth, and to Mother Moore. Her love and care for them, and her goodness, were again an example for others. 

800 years ago Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the Gospel always; and when necessary use words." And that, brothers and sisters, was Carolyn, preaching the Gospel through the way of her life.

As a Christian she also knew that she must permit others to minister to her. How she loved the members of her Sunday School Class, and truly appreciated their goodness and kindness during her illness. In the same way, I expect she was the best of patients to the nurses and aides who cared for her during her rehabilitation and her final illness. I'm told they often referred to Carolyn as "the sweet one." It's so good to see them here today.

Of course Carolyn's life, like every life, was not always joyful. Indeed, she had to face times of deep sadness. Even though she witnessed the deaths of Laura and Bubba, the eldest of her children, Carolyn's faith, even in the midst of her grief, remained strong, once again providing the love, support, and strength her family needed.

And I expect, too, that George's death four years ago was especially difficult for her. They were two who had lived as one for so long, and yet the challenge his absence presented was a challenge she came to accept...but again it was an acceptance in faith.

Yes, indeed, Carolyn Moore's life calls to mind the promise Jesus made when He said: "...everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life..." [Jn 6:40].

You see, brothers and sisters, as Christians, we all "see the Son" - we see Him here in each other, especially when we serve each other and others in need. As Jesus reminds us, "...whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" [Mt 25:40].

This, brothers and sisters, is what it means to see the Son, to see our Lord Jesus Christ in everyone we meet. And this is how Carolyn lived her life: caring for others, no matter who they were, showering them with God's love.

Again, those words of Jesus: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me" [Jn 14:1]. This is our calling as Christians: to see the Son, and to believe. And through her life Carolyn showed us what it means to live our faith. We are, quite simply, called to love.

God's love turns life's trials, its challenges, its sorrows, its illnesses...it turns them into blessings - for as St. Paul taught us, "We know that all things work for good for those who love God..." [Rom 8:28]. 

God's love overcomes all, even death, making it merely a gateway to eternal life. And once we accept this, once we actually come to believe this truth of our faith, then our understanding of God's precious gift of life undergoes an almost miraculous transformation. Indeed, we come to realize that everything is a gift for those who believe, because God turns all to good.

Sadly, so many in our world today don't believe. Unable to accept that God created them in love, they turn to self-love. But Carolyn and her family, in their quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet ways, have told the world how wrong it is. 

And so today we can celebrate this woman's life, while also realizing that the time we're sharing here today is primarily an act of worship, worship in the form of thanksgiving. Sisters and brothers, this is a time of thanksgiving - right now in this place - a time when we turn to our loving and merciful God to thank Him for the unique, unrepeatable gift of Carolyn Moore and the times we were all blessed to share with her.

But more importantly, as Christians, whenever we gather in prayer, we thank our God for the gift of His Son, Who gave His life for us. For without that gift, we would have no hope -- no hope of forgiveness, no hope of mercy, no hope of salvation, no hope of eternal life.

It's because of this gift that we can gather here today and not be consumed by grief.

It's because of this gift we can go on with our own lives knowing that Carolyn, and you, and I, that we've all been redeemed by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Yes, Jesus is here with us because as faith-filled Christians we gather in His name. And in His presence He offers us His peace, and the wonderful consolation that He has prepared a place for Carolyn.

Last Wednesday morning, as He called her to Himself, God blessed her with a peaceful death. And it was peaceful. As we gathered around her during those final moments of her life on earth, we all sensed God's presence, God's peace. The struggle ceased, and as she closed her eyes to this world, she entered eternity in the peace promised by her Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Carolyn now rests in His loving embrace. He has taken away the pain, wiped away the tears, and given her the first taste of that eternal joy we all hope to share. 

In baptism Carolyn died with Christ and rose with Him to new life; may she now share with Him eternal glory.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Everything Is a Gift

"Everything is a gift." I've uttered those words many, many times -- in homilies and during conversations or meetings with parishioners and others, and yet, I still groan and moan when seemingly bad things happen to me. You'd think that by now I'd have learned that God always comes through when we turn it all over to Him. How did St. Paul put it? 
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose [Rom 8:28].
Let me offer a wonderful and very recent example.

Last week Diane and I drove up to McDonough, Georgia to visit her cousin, Carolyn, who was very near death. As usual I decided to take the more scenic route and stay off the interstate.

As we neared the town of Fargo, Georgia we had a blowout in our right, rear tire. I'll admit that, overcome by the moment, I probably uttered a few bad words. But then I asked God to help us handle this unexpected crisis. And I know Diane offered a prayer because that's what she always does, and her prayers are much better than mine.
Interestingly, just the day before I had stopped by the local Firestone dealer, got an oil change, and asked them to check the tires. As I expected, they recommended getting new tires fairly soon. But it was a busy day, so I decided to wait until we returned from our 700-mile round trip to Georgia -- not a good decision.

Hearing that flat tire popping against the blacktop, I pulled over onto the grassy shoulder of the rural two-lane road. After checking the tire, I reached for my cellphone, thinking this might be a good job for AAA. But then I saw those hated words: "No service."

Resigned to my fate, I opened the back of our Kia Sorento, moved all the luggage into the back seat, and retrieved the jack and lug wrench. I then went through the laborious process of lowering the spare tire (one of those useless donuts) to the ground. Whoever last tightened those lug nuts on my right rear tire must have over-torqued them because I couldn't budge them. 

While all this was going on, perhaps one vehicle had passed by. Well, Diane decided to seek help and waved down the next vehicle, a large pickup towing a working trailer. I asked the driver if he had cell service, and of course he didn't. But he pulled over in front of our car, got out, and offered to help.

Between the two of us (he was a few years younger and obviously stronger) we got the lug nuts off and replaced the flat tire with the donut. I was concerned because the donut was obviously in need of air. That little tire requires 60 psi and I suspect it's pressure was no more than 30. Our Good Samaritan -- a man named Bill Stewart -- then led us seven miles down the road to a gas station in Fargo that fortunately had a working air pump.

After I'd ensured all the tires were properly inflated, Bill came out of the station's convenience store and handed me a package of Stewart Candy. "My brother and his wife run the family business," he said before waving good-bye and driving off. It was good candy, too -- those soft peppermint balls that Diane likes so much. Here's a link to their website: Stewart Candy. We'll be buying more from this company in Waycross, Georgia, since I've decided to check out their other products. It's the least I can do.

But the gift isn't over...not yet.

After we arrived in McDonough I knew I had to get four new tires, so I asked Carolyn's sons where I should buy them. Steve is a retired police captain and David is a successful commercial contractor, and they both recommended Carver Tire in McDonough. So I made an appointment for 10:30 Wednesday morning and dropped off the car. It would be ready by noon.
Carver Tire - McDonough, Georgia
Carolyn died that morning, July 31, just before noon. Diane and I joined several of her children and one of the wonderful home health aides who had cared for Carolyn, and we all gathered around her bedside during her last moments. I gave her a blessing and sang the "Song of Farewell" and moments later Carolyn closed her eyes. With that God blessed her with a peaceful death and took her into His loving, merciful embrace.
Diane's cousin, Carolyn Moore
As Carolyn lay dying, I received a call from the tire dealer telling me our car was ready. A while later, not long after Carolyn's death, her son, Steve, drove me there in his huge F-350 diesel pickup and dropped me off. The manager handed me the paperwork and my keys, thanked me for my business, and wished me a safe trip home. I held out my credit card and said, "Thanks, but don't you want to be paid?" He replied, "It's all taken care of...all paid for." When I asked who had paid for it, he just shrugged and said, "Don't know. You owe me nothing."

When I got back to Carolyn's house I discovered that her son, David, had paid for my four, new Cooper tires, all $650 worth. He just laughed and said it was their gift. Nothing I said could change his mind. I had to accept the gift.

So let's see...I had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere (apologies to the folks of Fargo, and trust they'll understand). Normally this would not be a good experience. But then God went to work.

We met a wonderful man who helped us, ensured we were good for the rest of our trip, and then gave us candy. 

David, one of Diane's cousins, gave me four new tires, which is even better than candy.

Steve, another cousin, and his wife Kathy, put us up in their lovely, lakefront home in Jackson, Georgia.

And, most wonderfully, Carolyn, one of the world's sweetest women, went home to the Father peacefully.

Oh, wait...there's more. The gifts keep coming.

After I returned to Carolyn's home with my new tires, the family asked if I would conduct the funeral. It was scheduled for a week later on Wednesday, August 7, in McDonough. Now realize that the entire family are good, faith-filled Southern Baptists and they've just asked this Catholic deacon to conduct their mom's funeral.

Several days later Diane and I drove up to Georgia once again, this time on I-75. As it turned out I ended up conducting the funeral jointly with one of their pastors, a delightful man, Pastor Tom Bergman. He gave the welcome, read a passage from Scripture, gave an opening prayer. Of course there were several hymns. I then preached the homily, based on John 14:1-6.

After lunch we drove 100 miles north to the cemetery in Bowman, Georgia where many in the family are buried. I led a brief committal service, Steve blessed us with a beautiful prayer, and we returend to McDonough.

Diane is the last of her generation on her father's side of the family, so it was a joy to get to know better those in succeeding generations. We're hoping that Steve and Kathy, as well as Carolyn's daighter, Kim, will come and visit us here in The Villages. They all seemed to like the idea.

It all began with a flat tire near Fargo, Georgia -- a minor catastrophe for these two senior citizens -- and brought us blessing after blessing, gift after gift.

And Carolyn? We will miss her terribly, but for 88 years she lived the life Jesus asked her to live by loving God and neighbor. May she rest in God's peace. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Homily: Saturday, 17th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Lv 25:1,8-17; Ps 67; Mt 14:1-12

When we view this Gospel passage in context we find Matthew, in these verses and those that precede and follow them, offering us a litany of rejections. We encounter scribes and Pharisees, priests and kings, and even ordinary folks, all rejecting Jesus. Each seemed to reject Jesus out of a kind of personal pride, that same lack of humility that plagues the human race and leads us to believe we are such independent beings we really don't need the God who created us out of love. Perhaps we can learn something about ourselves from all these rejections.

Teachers, those scribes and Pharisees, wanted recognition and respect for their knowledge and scholarship. They certainly didn't want to be criticized and embarrassed by Jesus, this nobody from Nazareth.

Priests and Levites wanted to be admired by the people as holy and justified, and not called out in public as hypocrites.

A king, even a small-time king like Herod Antipas, wanted to satisfy his every desire and exerted his power over others to do so.

Even the crowds, the ordinary folks, wanted to escape the anonymity and banality of their everyday lives. But they simply couldn't accept that one of their own was something very special.

It's as if Matthew ran all these people by us, one after another, so we can identify our reasons for rejecting Jesus  Although their reasons may differ, they all suffered from the same spiritual sickness that prevented them from recognizing Jesus as He truly is. They're just so wrapped up in themselves, so tightly wrapped, that their minds and hearts can't accept what their senses tell them. As for us, whether we accept Jesus with faith or reject Him with indifference, our choice, like these others, will reflect our circumstances and our desires.
John Chastises Herod
Just look at Herod Antipas and his desires, his weaknesses, his fears. Matthew presents this son of Herod the Great as a fearful man, one so afraid of John the Baptist's moral authority that he must shut him up by locking him up. We encounter a self-important, power-hungry, lustful little man, whose shabbiness symbolizes the evil and sin that ruled his life. Herod killed John to satisfy his lust and his pride, and then in a communion of evil, a self-absorbed celebration of his birthday, had John's head brought to Salome, his niece and stepdaughter, on a platter.
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist
But even Herod had a conscience, though grossly deformed and deformed by fear. We see it in his fear, not a fear of God, but a fear that this Jesus, who has such mighty powers, might be John resurrected.

Indeed, speaking of John, Herod uttered those words that seem blasphemous from one such as Herod, the same words the angel spoke to the women at Jesus' tomb:
"He has been raised from the dead" [Mt 14:2; 28:6].
But Herod couldn't bear the thought of God and His justice, or even His mercy. Perhaps he hoped that this evil distortion of the true Resurrection would free him of the guilt he carries for John's murder and so much else. 

Yes, indeed, Satan was working overtime in Herod's palace. Herod wanted a world safe for his desires and will do anything to maintain it. This becomes clear by the verbs Matthew uses to describe Herod's actions: arrested, bound, imprisoned, feared, killed, beheaded.

Are we all like Herod? One would hope not, but I can speak only for myself, where the difference is perhaps just a matter of degree. What Herod lacked, and what every sinner lacks is the virtue of humility, the one virtue that drives all the others.

And so perhaps each day, as we wake and greet our loving God, we should thank Him for making us so dependent on His love. How did God put it to Moses at the end of our first reading? 
"...stand in fear of your God. I, the LORD, am your God" [Lv 25:17]. 
Yes, stand in fear, in awe, of our God. Thank Him for our smallness, for our weakness, and for the gift of recognizing the presence of His love, His greatness, in all the others we encounter.

And perhaps, too, we should do the same at the end of each day, thanking Him for all the opportunities to share His love, and repenting for those opportunities we ignored. Then, like John, we too can be joyful as we pray: 
"He must increase; I must decrease" [Jn 3:30].

Homily: Saturday, 16th Week of Ordinary Time

To view a video of this homily, click here.
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Readings: Ex 24:3-8 • Ps 50 • Mt 13:24-30
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Our first reading from Exodus describes a remarkable event in salvation history, for here we read how the Israelites, the children of Abraham, confirmed their covenant with God. It was really quite a formal occasion. But for us today, it also offers insights into what actually happens right here at Mass, helping us better understand the words of consecration during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Let's look at our Exodus passage a bit more closely.

Moses assembled all the people and then led them through a rather interesting ritual. Perhaps it was a little primitive for our 21st century sensibilities, but let's try to set them aside for a few moments. The rite included sacrificial slaughter of young bulls. Moses then took half of the blood of these bulls and splashed it, poured it out, on the altar. Note that the altar represented God's presence and its 12 pillars the 12 tribes of Israel, God's People.

Moses then read the Book of the Covenant to the assembled people, so they would know exactly what obligations they had and what God had promised. When Moses asked the people if they agreed, if they ratified the covenant, they responded:
"All that the Lord has said, we will hear and do" [Ex 24:7].
Of course, If you know your Biblical history, you'll know that for the next 1,000 or so years they seldom listened to the Lord and only rarely did what He told them. 

But at the time they seemingly had good intentions. And so Moses, after accepting their agreement, took the other half of the bulls' blood and sprinkled it on the people. But listen again to Moses' words as he splashed that blood on them.
"This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of His" [Ex 24:8].
Yes, the people, by their agreement and this shedding of blood, were now bound to the Lord God in a most solemn way. It's all of one piece: the altar, representing God; the people assembled before it; and the blood, which for Jews was the sacred life force, is sprinkled on both. Can any agreement be more solemnly ratified?
Moses Sprinkling the Blood of the Covenant
Well, yes, it can, and it happens every day right here on this altar, and in the presence of this assembly of the People of God. What were those words of Moses?
"This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you" [Ex 24:8}.
And what does the priest say, what words does he use, over the chalice of wine, during the solemn consecration?
"Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of Me."
These, of course, are words of Sacred Scripture, straight from the Bible, from four passages in the New Testament. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says:
"Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" [Mt 24:27-28].
In Mark's Gospel we find similar words:
"This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many" [Mk 14:24].
And again in Luke:
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you" [Lk 22:19].
And finally, St; Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians also describes the Lord's words of consecration:
"This cup is the new covenant in My Blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me" [I Cor 11:25].
Blood of the New Covenant
The difference between the two covenants? This New Covenant, this final covenant, does not involve the blood of animals as a symbolic representation of the covenant between God and His people. No, this New Covenantal bond is solidified by the Blood of God Himself. And to be real, to be a true bond between God and us, it must be real Blood, God's Blood. 

Jesus, man and God, through His sacrificial death on the Cross, binds us to our God so uniquely, so deeply that, with the Incarnation itself, it tears down the all the walls that would separate us from God. We, then, are His people, and this bond happens right here, through the Blood of the Lamb of God. 

Just as Jesus perfected and completed the sacrifice of Moses, so too did He perfect and complete the Law of Moses. This is why the consecration is real, why the Blood is real. If it remained only wine it would be meaningless, just another symbol, signifying nothing. 

Brothers and sisters, leave here today, bound to the Lord, ready to do His work in our broken world.