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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Homily: Saturday, 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 4:13, 16-18; Ps 105; Lk 12:8-12
Were you moved and filled with hope when you heard those wonderful words of Jesus?
“…everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God” [Lk 12:8].
What more could we hope for than to be acknowledged before the angels? What Good News this is – God’s promise of salvation and His call to evangelization.

And yet, sadly, I encounter so many people who, because of their sins, almost despair of achieving salvation. Among their mistakes, of course, is the idea that they, or indeed anyone, can achieve salvation. We can’t…not on our own. Salvation, like every other good thing, is a gift from God.

Yesterday, in his homily during Mass at St. Martha’s House, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives, Pope Francis said:
“One of the hardest things for all of us Christians to understand, is the gratuity of Jesus Christ’s salvation.”
In other words, because God’s love is so far beyond any human love we could ever experience, we find it hard to understand, much less accept. How can God love me in my sinfulness? I always seem to be falling instead of rising, always disappointing myself, always disappointing God.

Pope Francis blesses a prison inmate
Yes, we are called to obedience, to do as God has commanded us as a response to God’s gratuitous love. And yet, we are imperfect creatures, and in our sinfulness often fail to live out our faith. We find ourselves, then, in the midst of this battle, but in reality it’s an internal battle, one we manufacture within ourselves, and not a very productive one.

As Pope Francis suggests, how much better it would be if we would only focus on God’s great commandment:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” [Lk 10:27].
This is the commandment that saves. This is the love that truly reflects God’s gratuitous love for us. How did St. Peter put it?
“Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins” [1 Pt 4:8].
Do you and I truly believe that the Lord saves us freely, that we have done nothing to merit salvation? I hope so, because this is the truth, this is the Good News we are called to bring to others. This is the remarkable love, God’s love, that we are called to share with the world.

And it is through this sharing of God’s love that we can acknowledge Jesus Christ before others. Never forget what St. Paul wrote to Timothy:
“God our savior… wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” [1 Tim 2:3-4].
It is only we who place limits on God’s limitless love. You and I, then, must put aside our judgment of others, and instead do God’s work in the world by helping others “come to knowledge of the truth” which is Jesus Christ...

For He, and only He, is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” [Jn 14:6].

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Homily: Monday 28th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 1:1-7; Ps 98; Lk 11:29-32

The Letter to the Romans is the longest of St. Paul’s letters. In many respects it’s also his most important of his letters in that it touches on all the major themes of the Gospel. Recognizing this, the Church includes daily readings from Romans for the next four weeks.

Today we heard the opening words of the letter in which Paul describes himself as “a slave of Christ Jesus” [Rom 1:1]. Some folks find this a bit odd. After all, as baptized Christians, as adopted children of the Father, doesn’t the Church teach that we’re sisters and brothers of Christ? And doesn’t Jesus also call His disciples, and that’s you and me – doesn’t He call us His friends?

Which are we then? Brother, sister, friend or slave? Well, the only correct answer is “all of the above.”

This is one of the wonderful paradoxes of our Christian faith. Yes, Paul is right: in a sense, we are slaves – servants called to do the will of God. But because we are also God’s children, and because Jesus calls us to be His friends, God doesn’t demand a slavish obedience, an obedience of submission. No, indeed. He allows us to choose. We do as God commands out of freedom. It’s a freedom that comes from our close relationship with Jesus.

As Jesus’ friends, as His brothers and sisters, we want to do as He asks. We respond obediently just as a slave would, but we do so because we recognize God’s great love for us. In faith we know we are loved by the Father who brought us into being. We are loved by the Son who gave His life for our redemption. We are loved by the Spirit who guides us, inspires us, and leads us on our journey of faith. And in faith we return that love by trusting that God will call us to do only that which is good. In faith we accept that God knows best what’s good for us.

When I was a little guy, my parents bought me my first bicycle as a birthday gift. I could hardly wait to ride it, and so I got up early that next morning, climbed on that little bike and tried to ride it. A valiant attempt, but I immediately fell over onto the driveway with a skinned knee and elbow. I was horrified that I had failed, that I couldn’t ride this wonderful thing for which I had wanted so long.

My dad, who had witnessed this from the kitchen window, came outside and said: “Look, if you want to learn to ride your new bike, you’ll have to let me teach you. Will you do that?”

I had to think about it. I hated to admit that I couldn’t do it on my own, but I really wanted to ride that bike. I wanted the freedom it would give me, the ability to go wherever I wanted in our little town. And so I buried my pride and turned myself over to my father’s instruction.

An hour later I was pedaling up and down our street, about as happy as a five-year-old could possibly be. My father, too, was smiling, happy that I had placed my trust in him and learned an important lesson.

I learned that day that I couldn’t do everything myself, that first I had to learn and grow, to accept that I needed help. Paul teaches the Romans much the same thing by focusing on God’s call to each of us.

Paul was, he wrote, “called to be an Apostle” [Rom 1:1]. And he was writing, in his words, to those “called to belong to Jesus Christ” [Rom 1:6]…those “called to be holy. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” [Rom 1:7]

What exactly is this calling of ours? No less than the actual meaning of our very lives; for we are called to be holy. Indeed, Paul’s Letter to the Romans is really an explanation of this call.

Jesus calls us to follow Him, to deny ourselves, to take up our own cross, for only by doing so can we be His disciples. But that’s just the beginning, for we’re also called to “make disciples of all nations” [Mt 28:19]. And how do we do this?

Not by relying on our human strengths, not by thinking we can do it all ourselves, not by trying to fix things, or to solve problems, or to convince others to be just like you or just like me. Too often we try to force others, to argue them into discipleship.

You see, the making of disciples is God’s work. Let God work through you, especially through your weaknesses. Most often it means simply being there when another is in need. It means seeing Jesus Christ in your spouse, in your children and grandchildren, in everyone you meet…and letting them see Jesus Christ in you.

Yes, Jesus calls us to love the unloved, to feed those who hunger and thirst for God’s presence in their lives. And He calls us to be that presence, to be God’s quiet, loving presence.

We are the called, brothers and sisters. This is our identity as Christians. This is the meaning of our lives. Let’s all try to live a life worthy of our calling.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Homily: Monday, 27th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jon 1:1-2:1-2, 11; Jon 2:3-8; Lk 10:25-37

Jesus was always teaching, wasn’t He? And like any good teacher, He was always being questioned.

Even as a child, as a twelve-year-old in the Temple, Jesus answers the questions of the wise. Luke tells us that “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers” [Lk 2:47].

And the questions continued right up to that final barrage of questions Jesus received from Pilate, as He stood before him facing death.

Yes, even Pilate, the upper-class Roman who no doubt considered the Jews little more than rabble – even Pilate sought answers from this Jesus, this teacher whom he would soon judge under man's law.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” [Jn 18:33]

“Where are you from?” [Jn 19:9]

“Do you not you know that I have…power to crucify you?” [Jn 19:10]

And of course that sneering question from Pilate: “What is truth?” [Jn 18:38]

Pilate should have asked, “Who is truth?”, because he was in the presence of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Yes, almost everyone Jesus met asked Him questions. It’s as if, somehow, they all knew, if only subconsciously, who He really was. Those He encountered seemed to sense He was more than just a teacher.

What did the centurion say as he stood at the foot of the Cross?
“Truly this was the Son of God” [Mt 27:54].
In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus is again asked a question: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" [Lk 10:25]

Jesus didn’t need to invent an answer, for the answer was already there in the Word of God. And so He answered with a question of His own: “What is written in the Law? [Lk 10:26]

The scholar responded correctly, didn’t he? He simply went to Scripture:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” [Lk 10:27].
You see, it’s not necessary to be a scholar to know God and what He expects of us. Indeed, just moments before Jesus had prayed to the Father:
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” [Lk 10:21]
But not being very childlike, the scholar, hoping not so much to learn as to justify himself, asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” With that Jesus offers us a gift, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable both scholar and childlike can understand:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...” [Lk 10:30]
But what exactly did the Samaritan do? After all, he was a Samaritan, despised by the Jews and thought to be outside the Law. And yet, did he not listen to God’s Word? Did he not obey the Law? Well, at the very least, it seems he listened to his conscience and acted righteously. And this set him on the path to eternal life.

Remember that original question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [Lk 10:25] This is what Jesus' answer is all about.

Yes, there were three who encountered the wounded man on the road, weren’t there? But only one of the three did anything to help. How did Jesus put it? “Many are called but few are chosen” [Mt 22:14]

And so today, let’s reflect on our own lives. Who are the wounded you and I encounter? Those who are physically wounded? Or mentally wounded? Or spiritually wounded? Do we even recognize them in the busyness of our lives? Or perhaps we do see them, but turn away, preferring not to be bothered. Anyway, someone else will take care of them.

Is that how we hope to inherit eternal life? As Christians we should know better. To inherit eternal life, we must come to know God, to know Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

But this knowing of God is knowledge of love. As John reminds us: to know the Truth that is God is to know God, who "is Love" [1 Jn. 4:16]. It always comes back to Love, doesn’t it? To love the Lord your God with all your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. How did Mother Teresa put it? "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

Yes, indeed, we spend so much time judging others, and so little time loving them. St. James reminded us all of this when he wrote that "mercy triumphs over judgment" [Jas 2:13].

As we look forward to the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, let's make an effort as individuals and as a parish to replace self-absorption with a love for others, to replace judgment with mercy.