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.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Homily: December 17

Readings: Gn 49:2,8-10; Ps 72; Mt 1:1-17
When people first turn to the New Testament, they often get discouraged because right there on the first page of the first book is Matthew's genealogy. And so they just jump ahead to the Nativity story. That's really unfortunate because this rhythmic poetic passage tells us some very important things.

Indeed, Matthew begins as Genesis begins, with the beginning, and summarizes 2,000 years of history, from Abraham all the way to Jesus Christ. In this genealogy Matthew offers the Gospel as the New Genesis, a new beginning through Jesus.
Abraham, Our Father in Faith
From this we encounter a major Gospel theme: the New Testament doesn't replace the Old; it fulfills it. And Matthew first aims this Good News directly at you and me - at sinners - by drawing our attention to Judah, Tamar, Rahab, and David.

He reminds us that the sinful relationship between Judah and Tamar led to King David and ultimately to Jesus Himself.
Nathan to King David: You Are the Man! (1 Sam 12:7)
He reminds us that Rahab, Boaz's mother, was a prostitute, and that Solomon's mother was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. We recall how David seduced her and had her husband killed so he could marry her.

Yes, Jesus' family tree is littered with sinners, just like mine and just like yours.

St. Joseph: Blessed are the Merciful
But through this revelation we come to realize the depth of God's mercy. Despite our sinfulness, we're all called into God's family. What a gift! Here too God pleads with us to extend mercy to others. For in that genealogy we encounter those who went far beyond the demands of the law: Judah, Boaz, Uriah, and especially Joseph.

It's a plea expressed explicitly a few chapters later in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy" [Mt 5:7]. Advent, then, is the perfect time to repair shattered relationships, especially family relationships, the perfect time to extend mercy to others and to yourself.

But Matthew's not finished. He also reminds us that God's ways are not man's ways. Throughout the genealogy we find God rejecting our ways, tossing aside the patterns of inheritance and choosing whom He will choose.

Jacob is "the father of Judah and his brothers" [Mt 1:2; Gen 49:8] Here and elsewhere Matthew reminds us that God will bypass first sons and choose younger brothers like Isaac, Jacob, and Judah to lead His People. This, too, is Good News, for unlike man, God is not only merciful, but His ways are just.

God continues to pile up the Good News, for Jesus' family, the family of the Kings of Israel, is not a family of ethnic purity. It's littered with Gentiles. For example, with the sole exception of Mary, the women mentioned are all Gentiles: Tamar and Rahab are Canaanites, Ruth a Moabite, Bathsheba a Hittite. God's plan of salvation, then, is universal. The entirety of humanity is called into God's family.
The Women in the Genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1)

This is the Advent message, brothers and sisters, the message of the angel: "You shall name him Jesus and he shall be called Emmanuel" [Mt 1:23; Lk 1:31], which means, "God is with us."  God is with us - not some nameless, faceless them, but us - and not some of us, but all of us. It's the message of a passionate God, of a God whose love is overpowering. This is what we celebrate: God's fierce zeal for us, His commitment not to leave us abandoned.

It comes down to this: God is unwilling to leave us in the darkness of our own sinfulness. Advent demonstrates God's terrible desire to "be with us," to be part of the human condition: God with us in our entirety. Quite simply, God won't let us alone. He wants to be Emmanuel.

Inundated by materialism, by the spiritual sickness of the world, so many forget why the Magi carried those first gifts to a newborn baby in a manger. The true Advent and Christmas message isn't Amazon dot com. It's Emmanuel, God with skin on and a human face. God became one of us to turn His face to us, to speak words of comfort, reconciliation, and redemption, words we can understand. This is what we anticipate today, an advent that heralds our salvation.

A few years ago at the soup kitchen, while schmoozing with our guests, I spotted a mother and her little baby girl. As I approached, little Alisha saw my smile and reached out her arms to me. I couldn't resist. I picked up this beautiful child and she just snuggled right up against me and buried her little head into my chest with her tiny hands gripping my shoulder.

My first thought? "Here's a little baby that needed a hug." Then I realized how wrong I was. Alisha had been perfectly happy being held by her mom, with whom I could never hope to compete. No, Alisha didn't need my hugs. But she knew that I sure needed hers.

You see, brothers and sisters, in a very real way, little Alisha is the meaning of Advent. God with us. God with Alisha. For that brief moment Alisha is God's love. She's the Advent of God reaching for us. She's God's arms; she's God's zeal; she's God's passion for each of us.

For God loves us despite our foolishness. He loves us with our broken lives, our selfishness, our tattered relationships, our foolish sins. God is two tiny arms determined to break into our lives. On Christmas Day He's a fierce little baby who makes no distinctions but embraces the least likely along with the most likely.

This is what Advent is all about: preparing us for God's unrelenting love feast. Not a sappy sentimental love, but a love as searing as any passionate romance. We celebrate God's fulfilled desire to be with us. This is His gift.

If God isn't Emmanuel, if He's not with us, if He hasn't embraced our tattered lives, then there's no hope, no light, only darkness and despair.

If God isn't with us, we're here today out of fruitless hope, or pressured routine, or empty sentimentality.

But if we're here out of love, if we're here like ragtag shepherds to kneel and rejoice and let God take us in His arms, then we've caught the meaning of this Advent: Emmanuel, the passionate God, has had his way and has hugged us fiercely.

When sin, suffering and death scatter our souls far and wide that's when we need God the most. And that's when Jesus comes to us to guide us to His Father's loving arms.

It's all grace, brothers and sisters. It's all gift. What more is there to say?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Homily: Monday, 2nd Week of Advent

Readings Is 35:1-10; Psalm 85; Lk 5:17-26


The event Luke described in today's Gospel passage occurred not long after Jesus called His first disciples [Lk 5:1-11]. 

Just imagine the effect of all this excitement on these new followers of Jesus. They'd already seen Him do the unthinkable: he'd spoken to a leper and actually touched him. And then he did the impossible: he cured him [Lk 5:12-16].
Jesus Heals a Leper
This and many other cures, and His preaching, had attracted a lot of attention, so much attention that Pharisees and Scribes and others had come to see what Jesus was all about. As Luke tells us: 

"They came from every village in Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem" [Lk 5:17].
But they weren't there to praise Jesus, were they? No they watched and listened to Jesus as the crowds, the curious and the hopeful, anxiously approached Him. And in the midst of these crowds several men carried a paralytic to Jesus.

Before we go on, let me share 2 simple truths with you. They're relevant at this point in our brief journey.

Truth number one: Everyone needs healing.

That's right...everyone! Some of us might not need physical healing -- at least not yet -- but every single one of us needs spiritual healing. We're not all physically ill, but we are all sinners.

And the second truth? Each of us, at one time or another, experiences fear.

These are Gospel truths, you know. They're Gospel truths because they're such an integral part of the Gospel. Jesus did a lot of things during His public ministry. He preached, He taught, He listened, He warned, He prophesied, he blessed. But everywhere He went He always did two things: He healed and told us not to fear
Be Not Afraid!
The blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers and many others, moved by the Spirit, overcame their fears and, often in great humility, went directly to the Lord and begged for healing. 

But others were paralyzed, physically paralyzed or paralyzed by fear, unable to take that step on their own. That's where the rest of us come in. That's right; we're called to take part in Jesus' healing ministry by bringing others to Him.

Now back to Capernaum...

Luke, who loved to fill in the details, described how the men lowered the paralytic on a stretcher through a hole in the roof. But the same key point is made in all three synoptic Gospels: the paralytic did not come on his own, but was brought to Jesus by others.

What about the man himself? He was paralyzed physically; but was he also paralyzed spiritually? I suspect so, based on what Jesus said and did. At first Jesus didn't even address his physical condition, but simply said:

"As for you, your sins are forgiven" [Lk 5:20].

In Matthew's Gospel Jesus uses slightly different words:

"Courage, child, your sins are forgiven" [Mt 9:2].
 Courage, that which moves us despite our fears, and our unforgiven sins, the source of spiritual paralysis. Yes, doubly paralyzed, he needed others to help him find the healing power of Jesus Christ.

"Your sins are forgiven..."
This man's friends, despite all the obstacles, carried him to Jesus, even if it meant cutting a hole in the roof. How important were those men? The Gospel text is explicit. Jesus didn't respond to the faith of the paralytic; indeed, it's never even mentioned. No, Jesus responded to the faith of the friends, those who carried him to Jesus.

What kind of healing did our Lord provide? The kind that brought this man to wholeness, to  spiritual healing, "...your sins are forgiven."

The physical healing came later, almost as an afterthought, as a way for Jesus to prove His divine power, to demonstrate that he had the power and the authority to perform the greatest miracle of that day, to heal the soul, to offer spiritual healing through the forgiveness of sins.

You see, physical healing by God is never an end in itself. It always aims at something else, something much greater: the soul's spiritual healing, to remove our fears, to continue the lifelong conversion that our faith demands of us.

But notice the disciples, those first-century versions of you and me. What were they doing? Pretty much what they'd always done: creating obstacles, blocking the way to Jesus.

What about us? Do we make it easy for others to approach Jesus for healing and forgiveness? Are we stretcher-bearers or obstacles? And even when we do respond, so often we just go half-way. 

Sometimes our words are too sharp, or dismissive, or even silent.

Sometimes we keep Christ tucked away in a pocket, instead of holding Him up for all to see. 

Sometimes we flat out miss Jesus, even when He's right there in front of us: when He's hungry, or thirsty, or too sick, or a bit too shabby, or just too different.

Do we see now how Jesus comes into our lives? He does that, you know, through others, every day.

Do we see now what Jesus meant when He said, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Yes, far too often I've been a obstacle to healing or, at best, a pretty incompetent stretcher-bearer, but I like to think I'm learning to follow the Spirit's urgings when Jesus calls, or when He just shows up right there in front of me.

Pray for me and know that I'll be praying for you.