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.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Homily: Easter Sunday

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
Happy Easter! 

Yes, it is a happy day, but on that first Easter morning Mary Magdalene was anything but happy. What was going through her mind as she walked that path in the pre-dawn darkness? Did she and other women say anything, or did they walk silently in their grief as they made their way to the tomb? I expect they said little for they were going to the tomb of a dead man, weren't they?

Mary had seen Him die. She had seen Him hurriedly placed in the tomb on the eve of the Sabbath. Mary, the Apostles --  none of them -- had understood Jesus when He spoke of His Resurrection. After all, men don't rise from the dead.

Faced with the finality of Jesus' violent death, Mary's faith and her hope had all but disappeared. Only her love remained, and her love for Jesus carried her along the path to the tomb. But when they arrived, it was open and empty.

The shock of this experience was amplified just moments later. For John tells us that Mary first encountered two angels and then the Lord Himself.

It is the risen Jesus, in the flesh, that led Mary and the disciples to realize that death had not had the last word, for the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, had overcome death.

Faith and hope must have exploded in their hearts. Like St. Paul in today's second reading, the meaning of this glorious event became crystal clear: they too will be united with Him in the Resurrection.

And just as suddenly, all of His teachings, every word He uttered, took on new meaning. They knew now what He meant by the Kingdom of God, for it is in their very midst, catapulted into the here and now by the Resurrection.

Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us that Mary and the women left the tomb "fearful yet overjoyed" [Mt 28:8]. Fear and joy - a rare combination of emotions that I suspect exists only in the presence of God.

Oh, they were fearful, for they had just witnessed God's awesome power, and now understood that Jesus is the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Chosen One, the Son of God. 

And they were overjoyed, for He is risen! 

Overjoyed that their trust in Jesus had not been misplaced.

Overjoyed that they, and all of us, are objects of God's overwhelming love.

Overjoyed that the tiny kernel of faith, almost lost during the dark hours after the crucifixion, has blossomed into sure knowledge of redemption.

Yes, indeed, without the Resurrection, our faith would be meaningless.

An unbeliever, dismissing the Resurrection, once approached a priest and challenged him by saying:  "People who are dead don't rise to life again."

The priest merely replied, "I do believe that was exactly the point."

Listening to Peter preach in our first reading, we come to realize it is the fact of the Resurrection of Jesus, more than anything else, that brought those first Christians into the Church. And it is the Resurrection, this sign of hope, that still inspires people to embrace Christ and His Church.

This was beautifully manifested last night at the Easter Vigil when three people were baptized, three others received into the Church, and all six were confirmed. Here in our presence and in the presence of God, they openly declared their faith, accepted the Good News of Jesus Christ, and rejected all that is evil. In a few moments you and I will do the same as we renew our Baptismal promises.

And yet when I look out from this ambo, I don't see a lot of joy. It's Easter, folks! You should be filled with joy. Let me tell you a story that might make you smile.

Indeed, whenever I renew my Easter promises I'm reminded of the story of Seamus, who'd been working as a ditch digger in Dublin when a sudden cave-in pinned him, up to his neck, under tons of debris. The rescue party quickly concluded that any attempt to dig him out would only cause the walls to crumble upon him. Seamus was doomed.

When they explained the situation to him, he wisely asked for a priest. And so Fr. Flaherty arrived and asked, "Seamus, are you ready to confess?"

Seamus said, "Well, actually, Father, I've never really been baptized. You know, Protestant mother, Catholic father - they just never got around to it."

Father said, "Oh...well, that's okay, lad, but before I baptize you, first I'll have to ask you a few questions. Tell me, Seamus, do you believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?"

"Oh, yes, Father, with all me heart."

"And do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord?"

"Oh, yes, most definitely, Father."

"And do you reject Satan and all his pomps and works?"

Dead silence.

"Seamus," the good priest said, "didn't you hear me? Do you reject Satan?"

Seamus looked up at him and said, "Father, don't you think this might be a bad time to be making enemies?"

Yes, it's a very old story but I think Seamus would be comfortable in today's world, a world where the good is seen as evil and the evil as good, a world where many believe God and Satan are mere figments of the imagination.

The result? Sadly, so many people today live in a state of moral and spiritual confusion, a state that leads only to despair. For them this fleeting life is all there is. They see nothing else.  They live their lives as if God, eternal life, heaven and hell are mere words. And so they focus all their efforts on the gratification of their immediate needs and wants, satisfactions that never last.

What does all this have to do with today, with our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus?

Well, just about everything.

For today we come face-to-face with the Risen Christ, the very source of our faith and hope - the fuel for that Christian optimism that keeps us going even during the darkest moments of our lives.

Because Jesus lives!

Unlike Muhammad, or Buddha, or Moses or Socrates or Confucius, unlike any other, only Jesus lives.

Only with the living, risen Jesus can you and I have a personal relationship.

Only Jesus lives, His glorified Body displaying the wounds of His redemptive sacrificial act.

Only Jesus, the risen Jesus, can be greeted by those words of Thomas - My Lord and my God - words that define our Christian faith.

Only Jesus, the creative Word of God, can say, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."

Brothers and sisters, the Resurrection is the great event of human history, the culmination of God's ongoing act of love. Greater than the creation of the universe, which cost God nothing, the Resurrection cost God dearly. And for three days we've meditated on the cost God was willing to pay.

In love we were brought into being, and in an even greater act of sacrificial love we were redeemed by God Himself.

That's why, as Christians, we proclaim Jesus Christ.

We tell the world of Him who lives.

We turn to Him in our joy and in our sorrow.

We receive from Him the gift of faith that frees us from our fears.

We look to Him. We search for His face, and we find it, because He told us where to look. Where? In every person we meet. That's where we see Jesus; for He said to us: "...whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" [Mt 28:40]

They and Jesus are one. We and Jesus are one.

Do you see what that means, brothers and sisters?

It's why St. Paul can say, "...I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" [Gal 2:20].

In everyone there is a vision of the risen Lord, and we, you and I, must minister to them.

For the very next person you meet, the person sitting next to you today, might be freed from despair, from the shadow of death, because you obeyed Jesus and ministered to him, because she saw Jesus in your face.

Or perhaps, in your need, in your own spiritual poverty, in your want of wisdom or hope or love, you may see Jesus' face in one who ministers to you.

This is the power of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

He walks with us on our journey, just as he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. But He didn't leave them there on the road, did He?

No, He sat down with them. He took bread, blessed it, and broke it. He left them with the Eucharist, with food for the journey, a journey like no other.

We must never be like Seamus, up to his neck in the world's dirt, unsure of his destination.

For the Resurrection is a promise, a promise fulfilled through God's mercy and forgiveness.

If someone asks you where you're going, simply say: "I am going to a feast, with the rest of the Church. Where else should we go? It's Easter, the day of Resurrection."
Christ is risen, brothers and sisters!
All glory and power be His, through every age...forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Video: Homily for Saturday, 3rd Week of Lent

The lovely Krysten, our parish IT genius, apparently discovered another recorded homily, one I preached at morning Mass a few weeks ago, on Saturday, 30 March 2019. She sent me the video file, so I uploaded it to YouTube and embedded it in this post (below). The text of this homily can be read here: Homily: Saturday, 3rd Week of Lent.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Notre Dame

Because I'm tasked with preparing our parish's liturgies, especially during the annual Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil, I've been more than a little snowed under lately. With lots of liturgy guides to prepare and a rehearsal to plan, there's much to do and little time to do it. I must also practice the Exsultet which I will chant at the start of our Easter Vigil Mass this Saturday evening. And in the midst of it all, I had to meet with my tax guy. I haven't received a refund in years, and have always owed the U.S. Treasury more than a few dollars. I believed it was better that I, rather than the government, be able to use what little money I had. But thanks to the recent tax cut, this year I will actually see a modest refund  What a pleasant surprise. My thanks to the president.

And so today, after completing most of these liturgical preparations, I had intended to post a few comments on current issues facing our nation. But then this afternoon Dear Diane told me of the fire that apparently is destroying Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral. Sitting here in my comfortable easy chair, I am filled with sorrow as I watch the flames consume virtually all of this magnificent structure that has graced God's earth for almost a millennium. 
The Cathedral of Notre Dame Ablaze
Let me share with you a personal irony of sorts. On the table next to my easy chair sits a stack of about a half-dozen books I am currently reading. I suspect Diane has always considered this unusual. My guess is she would prefer I read only one at a time thus eliminating this small pile of books that disturbs her sense of order and neatness. As for me, I find my reading of multiple books comforting, allowing me to adjust my reading to my state of mind. Sometimes I need good fiction, sometimes a little theology, and sometimes a dose of history, whatever... 

Anyway, among these few books on the end table is a delightful history written (and autographed) by Robert Gordon Anderson, and first published in 1944, the year of my birth. The book's title? The Biography of a Cathedral and, yes, it describes the construction of Notre Dame this iconic Gothic church, but more than that, it offers a wonderful history of Paris from the days of Julius Caesar to Saint Louis. I have already read 90% of the book, and tonight will turn sadly to those final pages.

I visited the cathedral twice, once in the summer of 1965, 54 years ago when I was a Naval Academy midshipman, and again 20 years later on a business trip in 1985. On this latter trip I took many photographs inside and outside the church -- all Kodachrome slides -- but the Kodak processor somehow managed to destroy many of the photos, leaving me with only a few dozen slides from the many rolls of film I had taken. But at least I have these few, even though most of them were also badly processed. In reparation, I thought Kodak should finance a return trip to Paris, but no, they decided an apology and five or six new rolls of film were sufficient. 
One of my few photos of Notre Dame (1985)
Like many of Europe's great cathedrals, Notre Dame is filled with magnificent works of art. On that first visit in July 1965, my 20-year-old predecessor was touched most deeply by a beautiful Medieval sculpture in wood. It depicts St. Thomas, the doubter, as he places his hand in the wound in the side of the risen Jesus. Gazing at the sculpture those many years ago, I could hear Thomas' words calling to us and echoing through the ages: "My Lord and my God." 
Thomas and the risen Jesus
The memory of this sculpture hit me today as I realized it had likely been destroyed. This was followed by the thought that Thomas might actually foreshadow today's Western Europe, a collection of nations that has largely rejected its Christian roots and lost its faith in a cloud of self-absorbed, fact-seeking, materialistic doubt. 

Perhaps by allowing the destruction of her cathedral, our Blessed Mother is giving Europe, and all of us, a not too subtle wake-up call that will lead many doubters back to the faith. Moment ago, I watched thousands of secular Parisians standing in the streets, tears flowing down their cheeks, as they witnessed the cathedral's destruction. I could only hope and pray that they would come to realize that the true cause of those tears is not the burning of a building, but the lost faith the destruction of that cathedral represents. 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].

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Homily: Saturday, 4th Week of Lent

Readings: Jer 11:18-20; Ps 7; Jn 7:40-53

"Never before has anyone spoken like this man" [Jn 7:46].
Hearing those words brought to mind someone I first met over 60 years ago. I think it was my first week of high school, and to get there I had to take a train for a few miles, and then a 6-mile bus ride with lots of stops. It took a while.
Bus - Westchester County NY
That morning, when I got on the bus, this kid sat down next to me. Like me I guess he was a little nervous, and so for a while neither of us said much, but he seemed kinda nerdy...not that I wasn't. He was an Italian kid from the tough town and I was an Irish kid who lived in a slightly ritzier town. I sized him up and decided we had little in common, and I should probably seek friendship elsewhere.

Then he told a joke, and another, and another, and had me crying with laughter all the way to school. Yes, indeed, I'd never heard anyone speak like that before. And you guessed it: we became lifelong friends. Today he lives in Jersey and we had another long phone call just a few nights ago.

Reading today's Gospel passage brought him to mind, and made me realize how wrong I can be when it comes to first impressions. And usually the error is rooted in me, not in the other. I had sized up my friend in a few minutes, pretty much all based on my personal biases. I suppose I was a little snob, but my friend, John, and many others have cured me of that fault.

I was like the Pharisees who, knowing little about Jesus, dismissed Him as a nobody; but a dangerous nobody, a threat to their own authority. Without having heard Jesus speak, without having heard His words, they rejected the Word of God. This, of course is exactly what Nicodemus tried to tell them.
"Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?" [Jn 7:51]
Nicodemus, too, was a Pharisee, but he had taken the time to seek out Jesus, to question Him, to listen to Him, to see if He spoke the truth. And it was to Nicodemus that Jesus first spoke those words of redemption:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" [Jn 3:16].
Sadly, though, most of the Pharisees, like that younger me, were a bunch of snobs. You can almost hear them, can't you? This Jesus? He's from Galilee, a nobody from nowhere. How had the Apostle Nathaniel put it?
"Can anything good come from Nazareth?" [Jn 1:46] 
Even a soon to be Apostle can be a bit of a snob.
"Never before has anyone spoken like this man."
Isn't it interesting that so many of the people who encountered Jesus, even the Temple guards, who'd been sent to arrest Jesus, actually listened to Him, and realized they'd heard the truth?
"Never before has anyone spoken like this man."
What a remarkably courageous thing to say, knowing how much the chief priests and the Pharisees, despised Jesus.

What about us? Do we have the courage to speak out for our faith, to proclaim Jesus as Lord when He is under attack, as He is in our world today?

The world really hasn't changed all that much, has it? The Word of God causes division today just as it did in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. 

The prophet Jeremiah encountered the same kind of division centuries earlier, when all the important folks plotted against him, just as their successors would plot against Jesus.

Remember how Simeon had revealed to Mary that Jesus would be "a sign that will be contradicted" [Lk 2:34]?
"a sign that will be contradicted"
And how many ignored Jesus, the sign God had sent, the sign of the Father's overwhelming love, and instead contradicted? 

Jesus' deeds both amazed and provoked, and His words affected all who heard that call to conversion: 
"Repent and believe in the Gospel" [Mk 1:15].
Some responded with hatred, some turned away unwilling to accept God's grace and the changes it demanded, but others underwent a fundamental, transformative change of heart. 

Brothers and sisters, Jesus never stops calling us to conversion: to repent and trust in His mercy; to love God with all our being; to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; to speak always as Jesus spoke, in the language of the Father's love.

As we move through these last days of Lent, you and I must listen and respond to that call. We have to choose because God never wants to force Himself on us. He simply looks on us with love and lets us make the choice [See Mk 10:21].

So today, let's all open our hearts to Jesus, and listen to the One who speaks as no one else has ever spoken. Let His Holy Spirit fill us with the humility and repentance God asks of us. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Homily: Monday, 4th Week of Lent

Readings: Is 65:17-21; Ps 30; Jn 4:43-54

A few weeks ago, right after a Saturday morning Mass, we experienced a time of prayer and healing right here in our church. My wife, Diane, and I made up one of the many prayer teams that were available to pray with those who entered this church that morning in need of God's healing presence in their lives and in the lives of those they love.

Now I can't speak for the other teams, but I expect their experiences mirrored ours as we listened and prayed and shared God's overwhelming love, His forgiveness, His mercy. 

Of course many of those who were here that morning were experiencing deep suffering in their lives - physically, emotionally, spiritually - and they came humbly seeking God's help.

I'm always impressed by the extraordinary humility and faith of all who come to this healing service, driven by hope and willing to accept God's will. I'm impressed because their faith and humility are so much greater than my own, and it would be more fitting if the roles were reversed.

But there's something else. So many, despite their own suffering, come to us not just for themselves but for others. They come in prayer, in hope, in faith asking God to extend His healing presence to family, friends, neighbors, to those in need.

In today's Gospel passage we encounter another who comes to Jesus hoping for healing, not for himself but for his son. Probably an official of the court of Herod Antipas, he had traveled 20 miles from his home in Capernaum to find Jesus in Cana.
"Sir, come down before my child dies."
As John tells us, the official approached Jesus and  "asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death" [Jn 4:47]. Did he assume that because he was an important official Jesus would simply drop everything and do as he asked? And did he think that Jesus had to make that trip in order to heal his son? If so he was in for a surprise, wasn't he?

Jesus actually seems a bit exasperated by it all, doesn't He? And He gives a rather sharp reply:
"Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe" [Jn 4:48].
Was this rebuke directed solely at the official, or was it also aimed at the people of Galilee in general? Probably a little of both.

But the official accepts the rebuke. And humbled by Jesus' words, he doesn't allow himself to become discouraged. Moved by love for his son, he now pleads for help:
"Sir, come down before my child dies" [Jn 4:49].
Humility succeeds where arrogance had failed, and Jesus replies simply: 
"You may go; your son will live" [Jn 4:50].
Hearing these words, John tells us, the man now understands. He believed the Word of Jesus and departed on his journey home. But he had to be moved to faith, didn't he? His hope for his son's healing led him to Jesus, but it was the Word that brought him the gift of faith.

It's interesting, though, that on the way home, he meets his servants who tell him his son lives. He has been healed. That should have been enough for him, but perfect faith is never easy, is it? And so he asks exactly when his son recovered. The answer, of course, confirms the truth and as John tells us, with that "he himself believed, and all his household" [Jn 4:53].

Yes, sometimes God has to lead us to faith, one small step at a time, so we can request good things from God.

Jesus is present here today just as He was 2,000 years ago in Galilee. And it is through His healing Presence in the Eucharist that we too share in the divine life.
Christ's Healing Eucharistic Presence
Perhaps, like the court official in the Gospel, we should measure ourselves against Jesus' rebuke. 

Do you and I need signs and wonders before we're willing to believe the Word of God?

Is our prayer filled with our own demands or do we turn to God in humility..."Thy Will be done..."?

Any child will be happy to tell you that we are surrounded by signs and wonders, all pointing to God's presence...just as he will tell you that God, like a loving parent, will take care of you.

We are so blessed, but so often we don't know it.