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.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Homily: Saturday, 3rd Week of Lent

Readings: Hos 6:1-6; Ps 51; Lk 18:9-14
When we look over the broad scope of these 40 days of Lenten readings, perhaps the most common theme, after repentance, is the call to humility. And I suppose that makes good sense because humility is the pre-requisite virtue, without which no other virtue can stand.

Have you ever thought of that? If we don't possess a humble heart there's only one other possibility: pride. And we all know where pride leads us. Just as humility is the foundation stone of the virtuous life, pride is the foundation stone of the sinful life.

Humility, you see, is nothing less than an acceptance of reality. Humility is the awareness that we are the creatures and God is the Creator. But more than that, humility is the joyful realization that God created you and me, each one of us, in individual acts of love.

Humility, then, is the shock of recognition, our breathtaking grasp that this love is supremely manifested in God's humbling of Himself to become one of us, and give up His life for us. Indeed, can anything be more humbling than an awareness of our poverty before God's love for us?

Pride, of course, takes God out of the picture. It must; for pride is the inordinate love of self, the love of self above all else. How can one be filled with pride, then, and accept the greatness of God, a greatness far beyond our comprehension? In a very real sense, the prideful person substitutes himself for God, placing himself and his needs and wants above God and everyone else.

If we are prideful, how can we love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, and love our neighbor as we love ourselves? [Mt 22:36-40] We can't. 

Just consider today's Gospel passage from Luke. It's one of those clear, straightforward passages, a parable that exposes pride for what it really is, while at the same time allowing us to grasp the path to true humility. First of all, Luke tells us to whom Jesus addressed this parable: 
" those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else" [Lk 18:9].
In other words, to an audience of the prideful.

It's also interesting that Jesus' cast of characters includes only two men: a Pharisee and a tax collector. Jesus often castigated the one and the people despised the other.

The Pharisee, while seemingly at prayer, took up a position of prominence. But note that he prays not to God but, as Jesus tells us, "spoke this prayer to himself" [Lk 18:11].

And how does he begin this prayer offered to himself?  "Oh, God..." Yes, indeed, as only the prideful can, he substitutes himself for God...even in prayer. He goes on to thank himself for being so much better than the rest of humanity, revealing a heart devoid of humility.

He especially scorns that sinful tax collector who stands far behind him praying humbly with head bowed. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector are spiritually impoverished, but only one of them realizes it. The Pharisee's pride prevents him from recognizing the truth about himself, while the tax collector's humility leads him to a recognition of this truth.

Listen again to the tax collector's prayer: 
"O God, be merciful to me a sinner" [Lk 18:13].
With these few words he acknowledges his total dependence on God and willingly exposes his true condition to the only one who can heal him.

Jesus also reminds us that only God knows our hearts, that we should resist making judgments based on our personal biases. Because of his humble prayer, the widely despised tax collector "goes home justified" while the esteemed and self-exalted Pharisee must still be humbled.

The Eastern Church has long encouraged praying a version of the tax collector's prayer. [Read The Way of the Pilgrim] Often called the "Jesus Prayer," and prayed throughout the day to the very rhythm of the body's breathing, it too is simple:
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Although prayed by the humble, can you think of another prayer more exalting?

Perhaps you and I can try that throughout the day for the remainder of Lent.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Homily (Video) 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C)

I've embedded a video of my homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C) which I preached on Sunday, March 24, 2019 at St. Vincent de Pail Parish, Wildwood, Florida.

The text of the homily was already posted; and if you'd rather just read it, click here.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Homily: Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

Readings: Is 7:10-14; 8:10; Ps 40; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38

It's especially fitting today, in the midst of Lent, that we should celebrate this wonderful Marian solemnity, the Annunciation of the Lord.

"Mary, full of grace" [Lk 1:28] the angel exclaimed, and that's exactly what he meant. Mary is literally full of God's grace, so full there's no room for any sin within her. And how could it be otherwise? For God incarnate must enter the world via a spotless vessel, born of woman but a woman without sin.
"Hail, Mary, full of grace..."
Here Mary reminds us how to celebrate Lent. She's the perfect Lenten figure because on this day she anticipates the Paschal Mystery. Without her fiat, without her declaration of faith, without the word of Mary, the Word of God could not be Emmanuel, God with us.

What did the angel tell her? 
"You shall conceive and bear a son...the Son of the Most High" [Lk 1:31-32].
And Mary agreed: 

"Let it be done to me according to your word" [Lk 1:38].
With this, Jesus is not simply in her thoughts and hopes, in her prayers and yearnings. He is in her flesh. His flesh is her flesh. Hers is His. She waits only to see His face and offer Him to the world. She knows she is blessed, for she told us...
"...He has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name" [Lk 1:48-49].
Words we too should pray every day, because God has done great things for us well. He has given us His Son, a Son who in complete humility takes on our flesh, redeems us through His passion and death, and defeats death through His Resurrection. Christ's redemption of the world requires the consent of Mary.

Brothers and sisters, we are created in and for love. Had God imposed His will on us, we couldn't share His divine life, which is freedom. If Jesus were incarnate Himself, without the free consent of Mary, it would not be true love. Through her love of Jesus, Mary is the first disciple, and the one who lived discipleship to the fullest. Jesus told us clearly what it means to be a disciple:
"Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother...the ones who listen to the word of God and act on it" [Mk 3:35; Lk 8:21]
The Visitation
This is Mary: she who hears God's word and acts. We see it throughout Luke's gospel. What does she do after the Annunciation? She visits her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who was with child. Elizabeth was old and needed the help of her young relative. Mary's first act as Jesus' mother is to carry him, not for herself, but for someone in need. No wonder that when Mary greeted Elizabeth, John the Baptist leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb.

Mary, the perfect disciple, follows Jesus. She is blessed, not only because she bore God's Son, but also because she is the prime example of those who listen to the word of God and keep it. She follows Jesus all the way to the Cross, and beyond. She remains faithful even after her Son's death, listening to the Lord, joining the apostles in prayer, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Jesus came to Mary in poverty and human weakness, He comes to us today, not in glory, but in helplessness.

Just as He came to Mary as a powerless infant, Jesus comes to us in the hungry and thirsty, in the stranger, in the lonely, in the sick and dying, in the confused and troubled, in the addicted and the imprisoned. Again in her Magnificat she sings:
"He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty...for he has remembered his promise of mercy" [Lk 1:51-55]
The trouble is, today God chooses to feed the hungry not with miraculous manna from heaven, but through us. The hungers of humanity cry out to us: hunger for bread, hunger for justice, hunger for love, hunger for truth, hunger for God. The cry is more than a human cry; it is God's Word calling to us.

I can't tell you what God is calling you to do, for God works differently through each of us. But I can assure you He's not telling you to do nothing; for we are Jesus' disciples, in imitation of Mary, only if we listen to his word and act on it.

Lent, then, is a time for action. How did Jesus put it? 
"Repent and believe in the Gospel" [Mk 1:15].
This kind of discipleship is not without cost. "A sword shall pierce your heart," Mary was told - just as it must pierce the heart of every true disciple. But like Mary we can take comfort in God's presence within us. As Jesus told us, if we love Him and keep His word, His Father will love us and they will come and make their home with us.

Christ within us. Christ all around us. Christ leading us. We need only murmur with Mary, "Whatever you say, Lord," and then do it.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Readings:  Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; Ps 103; 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9

A priest friend, the retired pastor of a parish in midtown Manhattan, once told me that sometimes, after he'd heard confessions for several hours at a time, he didn't just get tired, he got bored.

"There's Nothing more boring," he said, "than hearing the same sins again and again, hour after hour." But then he added, "Fortunately, repentance doesn't bore God. He enjoys forgiving."

Long Confession Line
Hearing that I couldn't help but recall those words at the end of the book of Micah, the prophet:
"Who is a God like you, Who removes guilt and pardons sin...Who does not persist in anger forever, but instead delights in mercy"  [Mic 7:18].
God certainly delights in mercy and forgiveness. And that's a good thing, isn't it?

Jesus stressed this when He told the scribes and Pharisees: 
"I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners" [Lk 5:32].
Well, if He came for sinners He must love to forgive. Indeed, God knows us far better than we know ourselves. He knows we all have our particular sins. He understands our weaknesses. Because we're naturally disappointed in ourselves, we're tempted to think: Hey, that little sin's really not so bad. It's a part of me; it's just the way I am.

I've even heard some people make the excuse that God made them this way. How can He expect anything better? Blaming our sinfulness on God! That's even worse than joining Eve [Gn 3:13] and Flip Wilson by saying, "The devil made me do it." 

(If you're under 55 you probably don't know who Flip Wilson was. Just Google him...)

But these rationalizations only weaken our sense of guilt and our fervor for repentance and change. They lead us to make false compromises with our weaknesses, and cause us to choose mediocrity over striving for the perfection God desires for us.

We can grow through our faults, but only if we don't settle for them, but instead learn to live always on God's forgiveness. Listen again to the psalm Dawn just sang:
"He pardons all your sins, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion" [Ps 103:3-4].
Yes, those are the fruits of repentance: forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. Forgiving, then, is no big thing for God. He delights in it, because forgiveness is the completion of love. Have you ever considered that?

In forgiveness, love reaches its greatest purity, its greatest depth.

In forgiveness, love is at its strongest.

In forgiveness, love, especially God's love, generates new life.

God delights in each of us. He rejoices over us and shows His love without inhibition. But so many see God as a kind of Almighty Umpire, focusing on punishment rather then forgiveness. Maybe that's why we cringe when Jesus relates the parable of the barren fig tree, especially when we hear those words "...cut it down"  [Lk 13:7].

Hard words...and so we try to convince ourselves that a loving God wouldn't deal with us so severely. It's about this time that guilt creeps in, especially in this season of Lent, this time of repentance. But guilt is just a warning and should never lead us to despair.

Yes, God will judge us, but He's also a forgiving God, a truth Jesus' disciples had yet to learn. Although they'd never played baseball, they too saw God as the Almighty Umpire. When an evil struck someone, they just assumed God had punished that person. This simply reflected what they'd been taught: If one lives a good life, good things happen, but if one leads a bad life, well, God will get him. It's amazing how many people, even many Christians, still think this way.

A few days ago, a parishioner asked me how God could reward a certain wealthy celebrity with so much money when he lived such an immoral life. I just suggested that God's attitude toward money and possessions is evident by the fact that it's spread around pretty randomly among both the faithful and the faithless. We'd be a lot better off if we focused on our own attitudes toward material things, and prayed for those blessed with wealth, that they use it well, for God's glory.

By adjusting our image of God to His reality, we can better understand how He wants us to live. This is exactly what Jesus does in our Gospel passage. He has to set the disciples straight. In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus readjusts the disciples' image of God and, if we listen carefully, He can help us do the same. 
"Leave it another year..."
The parable really doesn't focus on the vineyard owner's order to cut down the fig tree. No, Jesus highlights the three years of patience that preceded this decision. And the real emphasis is on the plea of the vinedresser: "Sir, leave it another year" [Lk 13:8] more year of hoeing and fertilizing, one more year of gentle care, one more chance...patience extended beyond reason.

This, then, is the key to the parable: that Jesus, Our Lord, is the patient gardener, the patient vinedresser. He's the worker who trusts our souls will blossom over time. He's the patient God who trusts in us even when we lose confidence in ourselves.

Yes, God is patient. What appears to the world as dried up and useless, He views differently. To Him we're always on the brink of producing fruit or brilliant blossoms.

But you and I...Well, if we're honest, we're probably more like the hardnosed vineyard owner. It doesn't take much for us to write off others when they don't seem to measure up to our self-defined Christian expectations. The truth is, we still harbor that childish notion of God wielding His figurative ax. But that's not the Father Jesus describes.

We're called to thank God for His patience, to thank God for a life measured by all those Lents where we ended up no better than when we started. God doesn't dwell on the past. He looks only at this Lent, calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. Jesus speaks to us as the vineyard dresser speaks to the vineyard owner.

God is patient with us because He has a plan for each of us; and he hopes we will accept His gift of grace so we can fulfill that plan. The question is: can we be patient with ourselves?

When we feel dry and lifeless...

When our lives seems to be spinning out of control...

When our relationships are marked by bitterness and strife...

When the death of a loved one drives home the fragility of life...

When our children seem to be slipping away from us and from God...

When all these things generate unanswered questions in our lives, that's when we need to trust in our God, our God who is patient and forgiving. Brothers and sisters, God wants nothing but good for us. What did He say to Moses on Mount Horeb?
"I have witnessed the affliction of my people...and have heard their I know well what they are suffering" [Ex 3:7].
"I have heard their cry..."
And yet, despite God's gift of freedom, the Israelites turned against Him again and again. But God, Who knew well their suffering, continued to extend His patience and forgiveness.

Jesus, too, knows how we suffer because He, too, suffered, and through that suffering, freed us from the slavery to sin. And so, when St. Paul tells us to be "Be imitators of God" [Eph 5:1], perhaps this Lent we should begin by imitating God's patience, by being patient with each other.

Can we treat each other with the same tenderness we see in Jesus...even when the wait takes every shred of patience, even when we're ready to shout, "Cut it down!"

To celebrate Lent well is to challenge ourselves by asking, "What's my image of God? Is He a cosmic umpire, or a patient loving Father? Whom shall I imitate?"

Our answer makes a huge difference.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Homily: Wednesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Readings: Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31; Mt 20:17-28

Generals, politicians, business leaders, and yes, even cardinals and bishops…sometimes the great among us make the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 

Isn’t it sad when famous people fall prey to human failings, when they forget the real purpose of their lives and work, and become ruled by greed or pride or any of the other deadly sins?

Of course, it’s easy for you and me to shake our heads at those who get caught up in such things, and forget that we too are susceptible. Maybe our sins don’t make the headlines, but they still separate us from God; they’re still sins. And it’s nothing new. Just look at today’s readings.
The Prophet Jeremiah...Weeping
Prophets are like whistleblowers, always telling people things they don’t want to hear. And they tend to be treated like whistleblowers too. Jeremiah’s family had already turned against him, and now the religious and political authorities were plotting to do away with this troublesome man who constantly challenged their decisions and motives. And in our Gospel reading, the mother of James and John seeks to wrangle a promise out of Jesus:
“…that these sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” [Mt 20:21].
Mother of James & John Pleads with Jesus
If Scripture tells us anything, it’s that God’s plans aren’t advanced by personal ambition. But as Christians what should be our attitude regarding those who do these things? Actually, Jeremiah tells us when he says an essential attitude for the disciple is prayer for the welfare of others. How did he put it?
“Heed me, O Lord...Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them” [Jer 18:20].

Like Jeremiah, we’re called to seek their goodness, their repentance, their peace, their life. 

Hard to do, isn’t it? It goes against the grain of our human nature. Indeed, we can’t do it on our own. Jeremiah demonstrates this when he curses his enemies. He’s not proud of himself for doing so; he’s simply being honest and open before God, saying, in effect, “Here’s, how I feel, God. Help me.” By turning to God in prayer for others and for himself, Jeremiah demonstrates his belief in God’s plan for all his people.

And here we encounter another essential attitude of the disciple: to seek the Lord’s will in all things. As St. Paul reminds us, God’s will is revealed in... 

“God’s secret plan…the mysterious design which for ages was hidden in God, the Creator of all” [Eph 3:9].
Jesus demonstrates this when, deferring to the Father, He promises Mrs. Zebedee nothing regarding her sons.

Why does Matthew include this incident? To embarrass the Zebedee family? No, not at all. It’s there to remind us not to seek special status or to focus on our own needs and ambitions, while forgetting the needs of others.

Only through prayer can we keep in touch with God’s hopes for us and begin to sense the small part we are to play in “God’s secret plan.” Today’s Gospel passage begins and ends with an announcement of Jesus’ impending death:
“Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life...” [Mt 20:28].
Like Jesus, then, all the work we do in God’s vineyard is Godly and holy only when it raises others above ourselves and places them before God, whom we should thank and praise for all things. As the psalmist reminds us:
“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” [Ps 115:1].

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Video of Homily: Healing - Saturday 1st Week of Lent

I've embedded a video of my homily at the Mass and Healing Service preached on Saturday, March 16, 2019. The text of this homily was posted several days ago. Click here to read it.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Homily: Mass and Healing Service -- Saturday 1st Week of Lent

This morning our parish celebrated Mass followed by a healing service. I was privileged to preach the homily, which I have posted below.
Readings: Dt 26:16-19; Ps 119; Mt 5:43-48  
"So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48]. y'all doing on that? How's that perfection thing going? Let me guess. 

You not only love all your enemies but you've convinced them all to love you. Right? Well, maybe not.

Well, then, how about persecution? Oh, yeah, nobody's really persecuting you, at least not yet, but you can hardly wait, so you can pray for them. Right?

Sounds like you're probably doing about as well as I am, which isn't so great.

I'm afraid too often we're a little like the Israelites in our first reading when God asked them to "walk in His ways." And then what did they do? Why they walked in their own ways...kinda like us.

Yes, Jesus tells us to "be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" and God told the Israelites to "Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy" [Lv 19:2] Pretty much the same thing, aren't they?

And so how do we do it? How do we make ourselves perfect? How do we become holy?

The truth is - and this is one of those absolute truths - we can't, at least not on our own. We need God's help, and lots of it. Mainly because that pesky humanity of ours keeps getting in the way. Love my enemies? It's really a lot easier to hate them isn't it? And pray for persecutors? We won't even go there. 

Let me share a little experience with you.

As a Navy pilot during the war in Vietnam, I flew search and rescue helicopters. We were stationed aboard ships in the Tonkin Gulf and our job was to pick up pilots who had been shot down, or for some other reason found themselves without an airplane.

We were lightly armed with a .30 caliber machine gun mounted in the cabin door, and some small arms -- not a lot of protection. Anyway, we tried very hard not to be detected. We just wanted to pick up survivors, and get away as quickly as possible. On the few occasions an aircrew actually used these weapons, I don't think they ever hit anybody.  I suppose they made us feel safer though.

The enemy, of course, were the communists of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. As my POW friends will attest, they were not nice people. As my many Marine friends discovered when they liberated the ancient city of Hue, the communists tortured and murdered upwards of 6,000 men, women, and children during their month-long occupation.

Yes, indeed, they were an easy enemy to hate. But hating them troubled me because I had read the Sermon on the Mount and knew what Jesus had commanded us to do. And so one day I paid a visit to the Catholic chaplain and asked him how we could reconcile the command to love our enemies with this conflict in which we were engaged. I'll always remember that conversation.

I won't go into our rather lengthy discussion on the just war doctrine. That's a subject for another time. But I will tell you what he had to say about enemies and hatred and love and forgiveness.

He began by saying that if our enemies are those we hate, we have ceased being Christians. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are to hate no one. But if our enemies are those who hate us, then we will always have enemies.

Jesus, after all, had many enemies, simply because He did the Father's will. He loved, especially those despised by the world. And He also spoke the truth even when it upset people.

Our enemies decide how they will treat us. We decide only to love them or to hate them. You see, love and hate are not emotions. They're decisions. Jesus calls us to love regardless of the evil others do. And He calls to exclude no one from our love.

These are hard words for us, aren't they? Hard indeed...until we come face to face with the Cross, and we hear His words:
"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34].
It's there, on the Cross, where we encounter Divine Mercy: God's perfect love, a love that demands forgiveness.

And, notice, Jesus doesn't say, "Father, forgive them, because they're a bunch of miserable sinners." No, He instead mitigates their guilt: "they know not what they do." Father, they don't know who I am; they don't understand your law; they don't realize the evil in what they do. Forgive them.

Brothers and sisters, the world will never run out of objects for our love or our hatred, especially today when enemies abound. To take that first step toward the perfection Jesus wills for us, we must forgive. We can do nothing else to those we are called to love. If we refuse to forgive, we refuse to love.

If we hope to become the people Moses spoke of in our first reading, "a people sacred to the LORD" [Dt 26:19], we must live up to God's expectations for us, we who were created in His image and likeness.

And so He calls each of us to view this life as a pilgrimage of love, one in which we seek out others, finding Jesus Christ in each person we meet, and letting them recognize Jesus in us. Let God be the one who judges His creations. We need only love...even our persecutors.

Now, what does all this have to do with healing?

Do you remember the movie, "Dead Man Walking"? It was about the execution of a condemned murderer named Robert Willie. But one person you won't see in the movie is Debbie Morris. She was the one victim of Robert Willie who miraculously survived her horrific ordeal.

After Willie's execution, she said, "Justice didn't do a thing to heal me. Forgiveness did."

Yes, it's easy to hate and scream for justice, for man's justice, but it never brings healing. It never brings the closure the world promises. Only forgiveness does that. Only forgiveness heals.

Have you noticed that Jesus often turned first to the soul before He healed the body? Remember that paralyzed man who was lowered through a hole in the roof by his friends? It's really a remarkable healing [See Mt 9:1-8].
First of all, the paralytic never says a word. His friends take him to Jesus, and they go to extremes to get him there. But Jesus, seemingly ignoring the man's infirmity, says:
"Courage, child, your sins are forgiven" [Mt 9:2].
You see, it's the state of the man's soul that troubles Jesus; it is his sins that demand His attention. And it is his soul that Jesus heals. Indeed, Jesus seems to cure the man's paralysis almost as an afterthought, as a means to convince skeptical scribes of His authority to forgive sins. He then heals the body as well: 
"Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home" [Mt 9:6].
And, unlike so many healed by Jesus, he actually obeys and simply goes home. How about you and me? Do we want to experience the healing power of Jesus' blessing? Then just obey. How did Jesus put it?
"Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it" [Lk 11:28].
You're here today for healing? Me too. Join the crowd, because healing is something we all need. So let me leave you with a few thoughts:

First, Look up and pray. Tell God everything, openly and honestly and humbly. You can ask Him for anything. 

Our God is the God of miracles, the God of great wonders, and He can be trusted. His answer may not come right away or in the form you want or expect, but God will answer. 

Is your prayer that of the adult who tries to make a deal with God, or do you come to Jesus as a needy child seeking His saving grace? 

Second, look back and remember what God has done in the past for you and others. 

Yes, God wants us to tell Him our troubles, our sorrows, and needs, but so often we fail to praise Him and thank Him for His goodness, for all He has done for us. In the words of the psalmist:
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles" [Ps 77:12].
Then, look forward. A few hours before she died my mother said something remarkable to me: "For the faithful, everything is a gift from God, everything... even this illness. It has taught me so very much."

What might you learn? What does God want from you? What do you know He will do because His ways are perfect?

Finally, look again. Turn your eyes away from the world and look again at your life, but with eyes of faith.

Remind yourself again that He is the God of great wonders and can be trusted.

And know that God loves you, this unique unrepeatable you, with a love beyond your imagining, beyond your hopes and dreams. 

Come to Him today, for His healing touch, and taste the goodness of the Lord.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Video of Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent

The text of this homily (for the 1st Sunday of Lent) has already been posted: Click here to read it. A video of the homily is included below:

Video of Homily for Ash Wednesday

I have already posted the text of my homily for Ash Wednesday. Click here to read it. I've included a video of the homily below:

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Homily: 1st Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Readings: Dt 26:4-10; Ps 91; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

One of the more disturbing attitudes I encounter among many Catholics today is a one of mild desperation...and sometimes not so mild. They look at the world and its troubles and its sinfulness and see nothing else. It's as if they wear blinders of pessimism, forgetting that God has promised to be with us always.

Indeed, in today's first reading from Deuteronomy, we see how a people who had lived for generations in slavery reaped the benefits of God's promise of freedom.

Pessimism really has no place in the mind and heart of the Christian, for the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is a message of unabashed optimism. And trust me, it's alive and well in the world. In the event you're not convinced, let me share some experiences with you.

A few years ago, my wife, Diane, and I made another pilgrimage to Rome. We had a great time. But the magnificent basilicas, the ancient landmarks, the breathtaking art of Michelangelo, even the wine and pasta - it all paled in comparison to an experience in St. Peter's Square one sunny Wednesday morning.

I managed to get good seats for the audience, up on the platform, just about 30 feet from the Holy Father. But as I looked out at the huge crowd I noticed that most were young people from dozens of nations. The expressions on their faces - of expectation and joy, of optimism and deep faith - were simply beautiful. 
Pope Benedict Surrounded
Still not convinced? Well, a couple of years later I had the opportunity to visit our seminary and meet our young seminarians.

Another wonderful experience - to spend time with these young men, to share in their hopes, to pray with them, and to experience the love and optimism that define their lives. We are blessed to have future priests with such remarkable faith and total commitment. 

This, brothers and sisters, is what Lent is all about. It's a time of optimism and renewal; a time to turn away from yesterday, focus on today, and look forward expectantly to tomorrow.

Look again at today's Gospel. Jesus' time in the desert is 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 in His life, a sharp dividing line between His hidden private life and His public ministry.

Did Jesus have to go into the desert? 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. He did it all for us, offering Himself to us as a model. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, like us in everything but sin, voluntarily submitted Himself to temptation.

God has given us a Redeemer whose love for us is boundless. No matter what sufferings, pains, or temptations we experience, our God leads us, giving us confidence in His mercy, since He too has experienced it all.

During these 40 days, Jesus calls us to let the Holy Spirit lead us, to confront our own personal deserts. And we all have deserts, don't we, those inhospitable places of our lives. Don't be afraid to confront them and then turn from them!

Has your relationship with God become a desert? Has your prayer life become arid, something you struggle through mechanically only on Sunday morning? 

Dou pray only when you want something from God? Have you forgotten how to thank and praise God? St. Paul, after all, instructs us to "Pray without ceasing" [1 Thes 5:17]. But what does this mean? 

Quite simply, God wants you to place everything, all your plans, burdens, worries, pains and heartaches at His feet. He'll pick them up and bear them with you. Come to Him in prayer. Share your sorrows and joys with Him, and taste His goodness.

Is your family life like a chaotic storm roaring across the desert? Has mutual respect and patient understanding been replaced by arguments and bitterness aimed at the hearts of those you love? Forgive as the Father forgives; love as the Father loves. Come together in prayer and God will unfold miracles in your lives.

Is yours a desert of self-absorption or materialism? Do you ignore the hungers of others, 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. Will you be the one who brings it to them?
The Bread of Life
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. The temptations which Jesus rejected are the same temptations we all face, temptations that ultimately merge into the temptation to pride, that dark polluted spring, the source of all other sin.

Satan tempted Jesus just as he tempts us: to trust in one's own power; to trust in the power of the world; to trust in Satan's power, the power of evil. They all amount to the same thing. That's the great temptation: to imagine we can achieve what only God can give.

Remember how they taunted Jesus on the cross:
"He trusted in God; let God deliver him if he wants to" [Mt 27:43].
No angels came to Jesus on the Cross, but God's plan was not suspended. Abandoned on this side of the tomb, His trust in the Father never wavered. Nothing separates Jesus from the Father, not a desert or a Cross. Jesus sets His heart on the Father, believes and trusts in Him. And the Father vindicates the Son when and where He chooses. 

Through His resurrection Jesus assures us that victory is ours if only we persevere in faith and trust. This is 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]. Yes, indeed, believe in the Good News.

Brothers and sisters, the Good News is life, Christ's life and your life, life here and eternal, life now and forever. Lent is about today, not yesterday. Today is life. Breathe it in and thank God for every life-giving breath.

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 overcomes 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, and séances, the despair of New-agers resigned to become one with an uncaring universe, the despair of gloomy theologians preaching the heresy of predestined damnation.

Today is hope. Hope in God's message of love and forgiveness, the Good News of eternal life.
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 license, the false freedom of doing whatever we want, but true freedom, the freedom to choose good over evil.

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 you don't have to do it alone. Indeed, you can't do it alone. Call upon the Lord and He will send His Holy Spirit to lead you just as the Sprit led Jesus.

As St. Paul reminds us in today's first reading:
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" [Rom 10:13].
Can anything be better than that?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Homily: Ash Wednesday

Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Ps 51; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6,16-18

Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th Century Jesuit poet, frequently corresponded with the poet laureate of England, his friend Robert Bridges. In one of these letters, Bridges, an agnostic, asked Hopkins how he could learn to believe, expecting, I suppose, some deep theological answer.

Hopkins replied in a letter with only two words: "Give alms."

What a wonderful answer! Even though it was probably lost on Mr. Bridges. You see, in his own search for truth, a search that ultimately led him to the Catholic Church, Hopkins had learned something most people never grasp. He hoped to show his friend that the love of God is experienced most fully in our love for others.

Only in loving others that we recognize and experience the source and being of all love.

Only in loving others can we see in every other person the divine image.

Only in loving others can we come face to face with Jesus. 

How did Jesus put it? 
"...whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" [Mt 25:40].
But Jesus didn't stop there, did He? For in today's passage from Matthew, He tells us not only to give alms, but to take it a step farther, to do what doesn't come naturally: He tells us to give alms in secret.

Imagine that? Being charitable but telling no one. Taking no credit for the good we do? No bows, no bouquets, no recognition, no thanks. Why, it's almost inhuman. is inhuman, because it's what the Father wants, and He will repay us.
As we begin this Lenten season of repentance, this season when we look forward to the joy of Easter, let's remember that in giving up we're also called to give. But real almsgiving is a giving of ourselves, a giving of time, a giving of talent, a giving of our presence to others in need... those who are ill and suffering those who hunger and thirst, not only for food and drink but for the Word of God those who are dying and afraid, who need the touch and reassurance of another

The opportunities are all around us, brothers and sisters. The question is: will we respond? Will we be the ambassadors for Christ that Paul says we are?

But Jesus talks about more than almsgiving, doesn't He?

He also calls us to prayer. And here too he tells us to act in secret, to withdraw from others, to pray to the Father in the intimacy that comes from contemplative prayer.

Public prayer, the faithful coming together, as we assemble here today, is a necessary and holy act. But as Christians we're also called into an intimate, personal relationship with God. Now that certainly takes place through the Communion we experience through the Eucharist. Indeed, can anything be more personal, more intimate?

But this relationship must also be continually reinforced through prayer, through the private prayer commanded by Our Lord. This is the kind of prayer that leads to the interior transformation for which we strive during Lent.
And that's not all. Jesus continues by telling us to fast; and here, too, He urges discretion, to fast without ostentation, to avoid praise.
Once again we're in conflict, because the world admires only the spectacular, even when it comes to sacrifice. It places little value on hidden and silent sacrifice.

The Church, then, following Jesus' command, fasts during Lent.

As a worldwide community of faith, then, we give alms, we pray, and we fast.

We recognize and turn away from our sinfulness.

We reject self-absorption and greed, hate and despair, and once again heed the first call of our baptism.

Pope Benedict, on the day he announced his resignation, wrote few words on his Twitter account:
"We must trust in the mighty power of God's mercy," he said. "We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new."
Yes, we are all sinners, and only God's grace can transform us. Only through God's grace can we do as the Prophet Joel proclaims: "Rend your hearts..." [Jl 2:13] allowing God to tear open the secret places of our hearts so He can enter and be present to us. 
"Rend your heart..."
To rend our hearts: to see ourselves as God sees us, to let Him shows us our innermost being. And that can be a scary thing, to come face to face with the real me, to come to an understanding of who I really am. For whom do I live?  Do I live just for me, or do I live for the God who brought me into being? 

To rend our hearts: to open ourselves up to others because God's infinite love demands it.

To rend our hearts: to perform the great works of Lent - almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

Yes, we are all sinners, but we are still called to mirror God's love and forgiveness in our own lives. 

Lent is an opportunity to share in and alleviate the sufferings of others. But Lent is also an opportunity to be forgiven for our refusal to forgive; to be cured of our secret pride and hatreds.
"Repent, and believe in the Gospel" [Mk 1:15].
Moments from now, as your forehead is marked with the sacramental sign of ashes, you will hear those words of Jesus. 

Yes, indeed, we are called to repent and to believe the Good News, the promise of redemption, the gift of eternal life. 

We need only open our hearts to God's healing presence.