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.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Homily: Feast of St. Mary Magdalene - July 22

Readings: Song 3:1-4b • Psalm 63 • Jn 20:1-2, 11-18

Today we celebrate one of the great saints of the Church, one of the great saints of the Gospel, and also one of the most misunderstood saints. Today we celebrate Mary Magdalene. Even though she's mentioned a dozen times in the Gospels, we really know very little about Mary's life.

Luke and Mark both tell us that Jesus cast out seven demons from her; but what these demons were, what they represented, we simply do not know.

Over the centuries many have identified Mary with the sinful woman described in Luke, chapter 7, she who anointed Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee; but there's really little evidence to support this.

Some say she is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, but the Gospel doesn't support this either. And others claim she was a prostitute, but again, there's really no evidence.

Her name indicates she probably came from Magdala, a prosperous fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. And we're almost certain she was unmarried, since married woman were usually identified by their husband's name -- "Mary, wife of Jonah" -- but Mary is identified only by place, by the town of Magdala.

I suspect that, like many of the other women who accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry, she was a woman of means. It wasn't unusual among the Jews at that time for a woman with no brothers to inherit a father's business or property. She may even have been a wealthy widow. We just don't know.

The one thing we do know is that Mary was among Jesus' most devoted disciples.
Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus

And so, to be faithful to the gospel, we should emphasize Mary Magdalene as the woman whose faith remained strong when the faith of others failed.

Mary, whose love for Jesus brought her to the tomb early on that first Easter morning.

Mary, whose loyalty to the Lord made her the first witness of His Resurrection.

Mary, whose joy at what she had witnessed made her the first messenger of the Good News.

Mary, whose faith conquered all her fears as she brought God's Word to the Apostles. Little wonder she who was sent out by the Lord is often called the apostle to the Apostles.

Yes, we know very little about Mary's life, but we know about her faithfulness, don't we? And about her courage. And about her love. That is what we know about Mary.

Demons Cast Out 
What do we know about those seven demons? Nothing. Only Mary and Jesus can answer that. We can only guess. When Mary first encountered Jesus, was she perhaps afflicted by the same demons that still afflict the affluent today? Did she hear those powerful live-giving words of Jesus? Did she feel them moving into her heart, casting out the deadly words of the world, the words of the prince of lies?

We all know the Word Jesus preached. It's the same Word Mary heard.
"...whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" [Lk 9:24]. 
" is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God" [Mt 19:24]. 
When I was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or in prison, you weren't there [Mt 25:43-46].
The rich man begged Father Abraham to let the poor beggar bring him a drop of water. [Lk 16:24]. 
"No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve God and mammon" [Mt 6:24].  
"Your sins are forgiven" [Mk 2:5].
"Your faith has saved you. Go in peace" [Lk 7:50].
Were those the seven words Mary heard one day long ago in Galilee? Were those the seven words that forced seven horrible demons out of her heart?

...a heart Jesu emptied of all its sinfulness, all its selfishness

...a heart now open to receive Him, to love Him, to follow Him.

We just don't know, do we?

But we do know that Mary underwent a conversion, a conversion so great that she became the very model of faith and loyalty. We know that she was given new life through the healing power of God's love and forgiveness.

Perhaps Jesus appeared to Mary first because He knew she would believe. For Mary had already experienced her own resurrection, had experienced the power of God to heal and forgive, to free her from slavery to those seven demons. Who better to break the news -- the Good News -- to a sinful world?

Mary Magdalene is what every woman and every man is called to be: the sinner who became the saint.

She is living proof of the power of God's redeeming love.

She is the fruit of Christ's Resurrection.

Let us pray today for the same zeal and perseverance.

Homily: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have embedded a video of this homily below. The complete text follows the video.


Readings Gn 18:1-10a; Ps 15; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42

Shortly after we moved to Florida, my wife, Diane, decided to help out at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. And like a good deacon, who always listens to the deacon's wife, I too was volunteered. Diane's now been the Thursday cook for 15 years and I continue to do whatever she tells me every Thursday. 

It's really a wonderful ministry, though, a true ecumenical ministry in which over 250 volunteers from 30 local churches participate. Last year we served or delivered over 90,000 meals and will no doubt exceed that number this year.

Now, one thing I've learned from this experience is that people volunteer for all sorts of reasons.

Some love to cook, and just can't pass up the opportunity to spend a morning cooking 300 meals.

Some don't know what to do with the free time that retirement brings, and volunteer just to stay busy.

For others it's a kind of social event, a chance to form friendships with other volunteers.

Some volunteer out of a sense of guilt. Their affluence is a burden to them, and they hope to ease that burden by helping those in need.

Some simply want to serve others, and the soup kitchen is a wonderful way to satisfy that need.

We serve Jesus Christ
And some, and I wouldn't try to guess how many, volunteer out of love. They see Jesus Christ in every person they serve and are overwhelmed by a love for God and neighbor. They might not especially enjoy the work itself, but they come anyway. They volunteer solely out of love, following the Gospel mandate to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. Indeed, that's our guiding principle at the soup kitchen: 
"We don't serve meals; we serve Jesus Christ."
When it comes right down to it, it's really a ministry of hospitality; and yet those who exercise this ministry are driven by so many different motives. We encountered just this in today's Gospel reading from Luke.

Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, the fullness of life and truth, walked into the home of a pair of sisters named Martha and Mary. Both women immediately recognized the privilege of having Jesus in their home and set to work fulfilling the sacred duty of hospitality. But the two sisters had conflicting ideas of what that duty entailed. 

Martha's response is very recognizable, typical of how most of us would probably react. Open the best wine, the expensive stuff, and brew some good coffee. Get out the good china and silver. Use whatever food you have in the pantry to whip up your best assortment of hot and cold dishes. And hope He won't want a dessert. 

My mother's name was Martha. When I was about 16, I asked her if she'd be like Martha in the Gospel if Jesus came to our house for dinner. Without a moment's hesitation, she said, "Oh, no, I'd call a caterer."

But while Martha was busying herself in the kitchen, Mary took a different approach to hospitality. For her, the greatest compliment she could pay, greater even than the best of foods, was to give Jesus her full attention.

It's interesting that we hear nothing from Mary in this passage, but we sense she somehow knew that Jesus, the fullness of truth, had come to her home to nourish, enlighten, and transform her. She saw Jesus as a gift, and not to receive and unwrap this wonderful gift was an insult to the giver. And so Mary listened; she listened to the Word as He spoke the Word. Mary became to Jesus what no rabbi at the time would allow any woman to become...Mary became His disciple.

This was pretty radical stuff back then. Women were expected to prepare and serve the meals, and certainly wouldn't be praised for taking part in the discussions. Luke stresses that Jesus takes women seriously, that He came for everyone, men and women, and that salvation comes to all who listen to His Word and act on it.

Luke certainly doesn't relate this incident to endorse laziness, just as Martha isn't criticized because she attended to her guest's physical needs. In our first reading from Genesis, when God, in the form of three travelers, visits Abraham, it's good that Abraham and Sara spare no expense. 

No, Martha's hospitality isn't the problem; but she allowed the activity of hospitality to become an end in itself. She subordinated discipleship to hospitality. Hospitality, by becoming an end, also became a distraction, and turned her into a bit of a fussbudget, so much so that she actually got angry with her sister for not joining her. You can almost feel the tension and pressure building up until it boils over and Martha vents her frustration...but she vents it on the wrong person.

Notice that Martha attacks, not Mary, but Jesus Himself: 
"Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?" [Lk 10:40]
How authentically human of Martha - to work out her frustrations on the wrong person, what Freud would have called displaced aggression. 

Now, were I in Jesus' place, my reaction would be, "Hey, Martha, why blame me?"  But not Jesus. He turns to her, and repeating her name -- "Martha, Martha..." -- calms her down.
Lord, do you not care...?
Yes, Martha, as Jesus reminded her, was "anxious and worried about many things." He doesn't rebuke her for serving Him - not at all. He simply tells her there's something more important. He underlines the truth: they are blessed who hear the Word of God and keep it. 

I'm sure a lot of you here remember the old Baltimore Catechism answer to the question, "Why did God make you?" Remember? "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven." It's still a very good answer. Before we can serve God, we must first know Him and love Him.

If our lives are spent solely in activity - only in the serving - we can't take the time to know our God through prayer and attentiveness to His Word. It's through prayer, listening to His Word, and the grace of the sacraments, that we can come to know God, and develop the kind of personal relationship that Jesus wants with us. It's only through that relationship that we can continue to deepen our love for God. 

And it's through our love for God that we come to see Him in others, and can accept the call to serve Him by serving them. Our service, then, must be grounded in love; for it is love, and only love, that calls the Christian to serve others: 
"Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" [Mt 25:40].
And so for Christians, the two great commandments - loving God and loving our neighbor - merge into one, a single commandment of love. Yes, hearing and reflecting on the Word of God in prayer is a condition for true, selfless, loving service of the Body of Christ.

Of course, Martha didn't appreciate least, not at first. And so she worried, and was anxious about things, as so many of us are. How human and how easy it is for you and me, just as it was for Martha, to become obsessed with busyness, to move those things - those things that are really just accidental parts of our lives -- to the center of our lives. And in doing so to send the true center of our lives to the sidelines.

Brothers and sisters, this just cannot be.

The fullness of truth, the fullness of life, the fullness of grace deserves our full attention. Jesus can't be merely a part of our lives, but must be the focus of our lives, always at the very center.  

In our excessively busy lives today, too often we don't spend time on the important things. When Jesus knocks on your door and my door, when He enters our lives, just as He enters the soup kitchen dozens of times every day, certainly we should serve Him. But we should serve Him in love and attentiveness; listening to Him; and not allowing our service of receiving Jesus to distract us from Jesus Himself.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Defend the Nation

As someone who spent almost 30 years in the uniform of the United States Navy as an active duty and reserve officer, I certainly support the concept of national defense. And given the state of today's world, and the multiple threats to our way of life, supporting the defense of our nation should be among the top priorities of every citizen.

Unfortunately, our military, those tasked with the actual defense of our nation, have become increasingly isolated from the rest of America. Unlike the past, most American families today have no close connection with the military. Most have little personal experience with military life and the challenges and hardships it brings to families. The military has become almost a separate entity. The nation looks to its members and says, "Thank you for your service," and at the same time wonders why anyone would want to live that life.

Even more troubling: the number of veterans in our two houses of Congress. Just look at the numbers:
These are the people who must decide how the nation will be defended and how the military will be equipped to carry out that defense. We have given them, together with the president, the authority to send our fellow citizens into harm's way. Lacking the experience and first-hand knowledge of military capabilities and limitations, they are far more likely to make serious mistakes.

I've long believed that President Nixon's greatest mistake -- yes, greater even than Watergate -- was the elimination of the draft. Instead of a military made up largely of citizen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, from all walks of life, we have created a professional military. For me this is troubling and could, in certain circumstances, lead to the politicization of the military. Indeed, we've already seen evidence of this happening in the FBI and other agencies. If military leaders are selected based on politics or ideology, and the professionals in the ranks are even further isolated from the citizenry, we could be in trouble. Can one's oath to support the Constitution become blurred by one's duty to follow the orders of one's leaders, includeing the Commander in Chief? I would hope not, but it's a different world out there from the one I knew so long ago.

Is there a solution? I really don't know. No politician who hopes to be re-elected (and, sadly, that includes virtually all of them) would ever suggest reinstating the draft. Perhaps the only thing we can do is encourage the military itself to continually educate its members on their constitutional role and the meaning of lawful orders.


Of course, if you, the typical American citizen, believe you are asked by your government to sacrifice too much, just read the order Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia issued back in 1935 when Mussolini's Italian Army invaded his nation:

"Everyone will now be mobilized and all boys old enough to carry a spear will be sent to Addis Ababa. Married men will take their wives to carry food and cook. Those without wives will take any woman without a husband. Women with small babies need not go. The blind, those who cannot walk or for any reason cannot carry a spear are exempted. Anyone found at home after receipt of this order will be hanged."
Talk about defending the homeland!

I actually saw Haile Selassie in person back in November 1963. I was a member of the Naval Academy Catholic Choir and we sang the Navy Hymn -- "Eternal Father Strong to Save" -- on the White House lawn during the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. I recall noticing the Ethiopian Emperor, standing there among all the dignitaries and heads of state. At 5'2" he looked very small, even with all his impressive regalia, largely because he stood next to Charles de Gaulle who was 6'5".
De Gaulle (center) and Selassie (right) saluting JFK

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Homily: 15 Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 14, 2019

Readings: Dt 30:10-14; Ps 69; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37


Don't you just love Moses? In effect he told the Israelites: OK, folks, God's Law is really pretty simple...And you don't have to look for it, because it's already in your hearts.

And that Law, in all its simplicity, is clearly spelled out in today's Gospel passage from Luke: You must love God with everything you have...and love your neighbor as yourself. 

But how many of us do that?  How many of us instead use our minds, hearts, souls and strength to love the perishable things of the world? How many of us seem even to love ourselves more than we love God? And our neighbors? I suppose we tolerate most of them, but do we really love them? 

Consider all the thoughts that cross our minds in the course of a single day. How many are of God and how many are of the things of the world? Yes, indeed, loving God is hard when the world tries to extinguish the light of God's truth. There's a lot of darkness out there, brothers and sisters.

As Pope St. John Paul II often reminded us, the world's darkness is nothing other than a culture of death, one that surrounds us with its evils of war, terrorism, abortion, hatred, infanticide, euthanasia, and so much more. But God is the God of life, who calls us to love Him and each other, even in the midst of all this hatred.
"I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly" [Jn 10:10].
Indeed, how can we love God, while accepting these evils? How can we love our neighbor, but turn our backs on those in need?  Do we even understand whom we're called to love? Like the scribe in today's Gospel, will we too be surprised by the Lord's answer when we ask Him: "And who is my neighbor?" [Lk 10:29]

Well, he's not just the guy next door, the one who joins you for golf on Tuesday, or just the woman who plays Mahjong with you on know, all those folks we like, the ones who are amazingly just like us. 

No, Jesus gets a little radical as He redefines neighbor. 

\Our neighbor, He tells us, is the stranger, the one we've been taught to distrust. The one who's not at all like you and me. He's also the public sinner, the 20-year-old addict, the pusher, scared to death as he awaits trial in the county jail in Bushnell. She's the down and out, the homeless single mom with three kids, wondering how she'll keep her family together, where the next meal will come from. 

That's right, Jesus tells us, our neighbor includes all those wounded by life. And then Jesus challenges us: Stop what you're doing and care for my people.

To the priest and the Levite in the parable, God's house was the Temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus teaches his disciples that God dwells in the ditch alongside the road, that they can see His face in the faces of the beaten, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and, yes, in the faces of sinners.

About 45 years ago, out in Monterey, California, I was one of our parish's youth ministers. At one weekly meeting, while discussing the Good Samaritan, I asked the kids to tell the rest of us who in the parable they most closely identified with - the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan. 

I got the expected answers until this one young man said, "I can't identify with any of those guys. I'm more like the guy who got beat up. And no Samaritan has ever come along to help me."

It was a remarkable moment in the life of that small group of teens. At first everyone laughed, but then, as we talked about it, their opinions began to change. It gradually dawned on them that no one is immune from life's problems and difficulties, that sometimes every single one of us needs help, needs God's healing touch.

Years later when we were living in Massachusetts, our eldest daughter, Erin, chose to attend a college in California. So Diane and I decided to load up the old station wagon (and, believe me, it was old) and drive her there ourselves. 

Somewhere in Arizona, along an empty stretch of Interstate in the middle of the desert, the car's engine simply stopped and refused to start. I immediately did what every red-blooded American male does in such a situation. I opened the hood, stared blankly at the engine, and swore at it. My wife and daughter just prayed. 

Within minutes, though, three teenage Navajos in an old pickup stopped on the dirt service road that paralleled the highway and volunteered to drive to a service station a few miles down the road to get some help. But before they could leave, another car pulled over in front of us. The driver, also a Native American, but from Oklahoma, took one look under the hood and had the car running again in about three minutes. In a hurry, he just drove off before I even had a chance to thank him. And then, no longer needed, the three young Navajos gave us a smile and a wave and sped off down the dirt road trailing a cloud of dust.

Since that day I've often thought of those good Samaritans and how they took the time to stop and help this obviously befuddled white guy from Massachusetts.

If our roles had been reversed, would I have stopped for them? As much as I hate to admit it, probably not. How easy it would have been to rationalize a decision to pass them by. After all, we were in a hurry, anxious to get to our hotel before nightfall. Anyway, a state trooper would probably be along soon. And you can't be too careful, can you? You never know the kind of people you'll run into.

How easy it is to magnify our own needs to ensure they outweigh the more obvious needs of others. And by doing so we ignore the command of Jesus and His Church, the command to act always with justice and charity, to act as the Samaritan acted.

The Samaritan wasn't at all responsible for the victim's plight, but in justice he knew he still had to respond to the man's basic human needs.  Yet he didn't stop there, did he? No, he went on to tell the innkeeper that he would pay for all the man's expenses, something that in charity goes beyond anything human justice might require. 

You see, Jesus is telling us that because we are baptized into the Kingship of Christ, we each must reflect the justice of the Kingdom. We're called to go beyond, to give our lives for others, to give them in love without measure. We can do this only do through the grace of Jesus Christ, who makes us part of His Body, the Church, and lifts us up to heights far beyond our own capabilities  What did St Paul say in today's second reading?

'God wanted all things to be reconciled through Him and for Him, everything in heaven and on earth, when he made peace by his death on the Cross.' 

Brothers and sisters, the love of Jesus Christ, the love of His Cross, carries us beyond man's justice, bringing peace and healing where hope has been lost, and lifting us to the joys of God's Kingdom.

He calls each of us to continue His work, to be Good Samaritans to all God's people, and He's given us a roadmap with the path clearly marked. We're asked to obey His commandments and to love -- to love Him with all our being and to love each other. If we do this, He takes care of the rest.

Allow Jesus to make His home within you. This will happen today through the Eucharist, when we are called to Communion with God Himself. God doesn't force Himself on us, but if you allow Him, He will give you the strength you need to cope with any and all of life's challenges.  He will give you the courage you need to accept your calling. He wants us to do His work in the lives of those we touch, even the lives of strangers we encounter on Arizona highways.

Oh, by the way, after graduating from college and going on to earn her Master's degree in education, our daughter's first teaching job was at a mission school on a Navajo reservation.
St. Bonaventure School - Thoreau, NM
God does have a sense of humor, doesn't He?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Language and Societal Decay

Perhaps a year ago, while reading a biography of John Milton, I came across an interesting comment Milton made in a letter to one Benedetto Bonomatthai. I found it so interesting, I made note of it. And then, just about a week ago, I once again encountered the same quote in a collection of Richard Weaver's essays and other short works. Weaver (1910-1963) is another of my heroes, one of those remarkably smart people who challenge my ill-formed opinions. This particular book -- In Defense of Tradition -- is certainly worth reading, as is everything else Weaver wrote.

Anyway, back to Milton. Here's the quote (an English translation from the original Latin) by the great English poet and written on September 10, 1638: 
"Nor do I think it a matter of little moment whether the language of a people be vitiated or refined, whether the popular idiom be erroneous or correct...It is the opinion of Plato, that changes in dress and habits of the citizens portend great changes and commotions in the state; and I am inclined to believe that when the language in common use becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin or their degradation. For what do terms used without skill or meaning, which are at once corrupt and misapplied, denote but a people listless, supine, and ripe for servitude? On the contrary, we have never heard of any people or state which has not flourished in some degree of prosperity as long as their language has retained its elegance and purity."
This all came to mind because of the quality of the language used by some of today's inexplicably famous people, who seem to capture the interest of the media and those enslaved by the cult of celebrity worship. I refer particularly to the women on the US soccer team who, after beating the team from the Netherlands, celebrated by presenting us with a constant stream of foul language, obscene gestures, and other equally unpleasant demonstrations of the respect they have for the country they represent and its people. 

Behavior, too, is a form of language that communicates sometimes more clearly than words, and the team's display of unsportsmanlike behavior, especially during their 13-0 win over a hapless Thai team, was simply disgusting. The US team ran up the score, cheering madly with every senseless goal, while the Thai women left the field in tears. No humility, no reserve, no grace -- just an in-your-face, "we're something else, you're nothing" display of hubris. I suppose some folks thought this was just fine; but I, for one, was ashamed to be an American that day.

Of course, we encounter similar behavior and hear the same foul language from our politicians, including U.S. Senators and Represenatatoves. Even our president occasionally utters the mild expletive, especially during his roadshow rallies, but he's truly mild when compared with AOC and her staff. These folks spit out f-bombs like pieces of chewed up gum, as does another lovely New Yorker, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. And in California, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris refused to be out-profaned by her Empire State colleagues. She, too, demonstrating the class with which she graces the upper chamber, let loose with a steady stream of obscenities while discussing, of all things, healthcare. 

A person's language and its associated behavior usually provide a fairly clear picture of the state of his or her mind. These folks, apparently unable to develop and articulate their arguments, resort to meaningless obscenities designed to do nothing but shock their listeners. Their "words" certainly don't offer convincing evidence that their beliefs are worthy of acceptance. 

The degradation of language and its effect on a people intrigue me, so maybe I'll continue the discussion in a future post.

Of course, if Milton was correct, and there's certainly much evidence to support his hypothesis, we might well be doomed as a nation.

We sure do live in interesting times, don't we?

Homily: Monday 15th Week in Ordinary Time

I have embedded a video of this homily below. The full text follows the video.

Readings: Ex 1:8-14, 22 • Psalm 124 • Mt 10:34-11-1

The most obvious question about today's Gospel passage? Why does Jesus describe His mission and the coming of God's kingdom in terms of conflict and division? Why does He come not to bring peace, but a sword, a weapon of war? After all, didn't Jesus come in peace to reconcile a broken and sinful humanity with a merciful and loving God?

Well, Yes, He did, but He also came to wage war, to overthrow the powers and principalities arrayed against God and His kingdom. And the sword that Jesus brings is a therapeutic weapon. This sword is none other than God's terrible and fiery Word, Jesus Himself.

There's a wonderful passage in the Letter to the Hebrews that spells it out for us:
"Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart" [Heb 4:12]
We see this, too, in Revelation where John sees a vision of the Son of Man and writes: 
"A sharp two-edged sword came out of his mouth, and his face shone like the sun at its brightest" [Rev 1:16].
No, Jesus didn't come to bring ease and comfort. He came to bring life. And He does so through His Word, which causes a thorough and frightening interior transformation of everything it touches. It was for this redemptive, transforming act and nothing else that the eternal Word of the Father took on flesh and came into our midst as one of us.

And if you visit the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, you'll encounter that huge statue of the Apostle, with a sword in his right hand Sacred Scripture in his left. Paul knew exactly what we face when we carry Jesus' Word into the world.
St. Paul Outside the Walls
Jesus comes to wage war: spiritual warfare. That's right -- Christ, the Prince of Peace, comes brandishing the sword of God's Word - a sword that slices through our delusions, cuts away our self-deception, and opens in us a wound - a window to God's truth, the truth that shatters the empty promises of this world. Christ brings peace from the Father, but it's not at all like the peace of this world. No, Christ's peace is often a companion with tribulation.

Scripture tells us there are only two kingdoms: God's kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness, and they are engaged in a battle. In his first letter John contrasts these two kingdoms: 
"We know that we belong to God, and the whole world is under the power of the evil one" [1 Jn 5:19].
Wow! No neutral ground there. We're either for or against the kingdom of God; and our choices and actions reveal whose kingdom we choose to follow. That's why Jesus challenges us, for a true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ. 

Some years ago I was approached after Mass by 16-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, who wanted to become Catholics. Their parents were atheists and refused to let them join any Church. This was a hard and courageous thing these young people were doing - placing God's will over that of their parents.

Yes, indeed, family members can sometimes draw people away from God; just as excessive love for another can keep us from doing God's will in our lives. 

Now amidst all this talk of spiritual warfare, we must understand that Jesus never calls for "holy war." He preaches no Christian political ideology. He doesn't call for Christian nations to wage war against unbelievers. No, the sword of Jesus, His Word, pierces the heart and soul of each individual, in a sense causing an internal war.

Nor does Jesus say that we should not love father, mother, daughter, son - just the opposite. We're called to love them, even when they act as enemies of God. But we're not to love them more than we love God Himself.

Finally Jesus calls us to follow Him, for that's what a disciple does. But to follow Jesus isn't merely to imitate Him. Nor does it mean bringing Him into my life. No, to follow Jesus I must enter into His life, so I can be what He is. That is the Christian life. It's not I who make room for Jesus in what I do. It is Jesus inviting me to renounce all, so that I can enter into His humanity and His divinity, into His mission, into His life.

Jesus also tells us we don't follow Him empty-handed, for the Gospel calls us to embrace that which is a condition of discipleship: the Cross. Brothers and sisters, the way of the Christian is nothing less than the Way of the Cross. Like Simon of Cyrene we take up Jesus' Cross and follow Him, as if both His Cross and His road were our own.

This is what made St. Paul so joyful when he wrote:
"But may I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" [Gal 6:14].
Can we say the same?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Homily: Mass and Healing Service

This morning, Saturday, July 13, we celebrated a Mass followed by a healing service at our parish, St. Vincent de Paul in Wildwood, Florida. A nice crowd of folks attended and most took part in the healing service that included prayers over each individual and the laying on of hands. The sacrament of Reconciliation was also available. 

The Mass was for Saturday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time, and was celebrated by Father Cromwell. I assisted and was privileged to preach the homily.  

A video is embedded here, and the complete text follows:


Readings: Gn 49:29-32, 50:15-26a; Ps 105; Mt 10:24-33


Good morning. Praise God in His goodness, Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It's so good to see so many here early on a Saturday morning. And how good it is just to be here today. How good it is to come together this morning to thank our loving, merciful God for His gifts, especially His gift of life. And not just for the gift of this earthly, bodily life, and all that comes with it: 

The loves of our lives, and our family and friends;

The lifetime of experiences that form and transform us;

The beauty and wonder of God's Creation that surround us.

Not just for these gifts, but for the gift of our true vocation, the gift of eternal life.

Yes, indeed, we are receivers of God's gifts. I first learned this just as the Lord intended us to learn, from Him, but through another. I learned it from a disciple of Jesus, from my mom. 

Mom in the 1950s
She died on March 12, 1977. I had just flown in from the Philippines on emergency leave to be with her at Cape Cod Hospital. I had only a few hours with her before she died, but in that time, she said something remarkable to me:

"Everything is a gift," she said, "even this horrible disease. God takes it all and turns it to good. It has taught me so much."

At the time I was in my early 30s, too young, probably too dense, too broken, and too grief-stricken to understand what she was telling me. But if we listen, over time life itself has a way of teaching us the truth.

Yes, God takes it all and turns it into good, something we see demonstrated beautifully in today's first reading from Genesis.

Joseph, Jacob's fair-haired boy, had been treated rather shabbily by his jealous brothers. I suppose that's a bit of an understatement; in their hatred they'd actually planned to kill him but thanks to Reuben ended up just selling him into slavery.

And here they are, years later, cowering before a now powerful Joseph, afraid that he will take his revenge on them. But not Joseph, and to them he says these remarkable words:

"Have no fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people. Therefore have no fear. I will provide for you and for your children" [Gn 50:19-21].
Did you catch all that?
Joseph and His Brothers in Egypt
That evil done by his brothers, like the evil that took my mother's life - "God meant it for good." Is Joseph saying that God desired the evil deeds of his brothers? No, not at all.  Joseph is simply telling his brothers and us exactly what Paul told the Roman's when he wrote:
"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" [Rom 8:28].
Brothers and sisters, God calls us, just as He called Joseph. We "are called according to His purpose." Just think of what this means. As baptized Christians, you and I, each one of us, has an active role in God's plan for His Creation, His purpose.

We are called. We ain't just spectators, folks. 

But Jesus always challenges us. And it's through these challenges and our response that God reveals His plan for us. These challenges take many forms: physical illness, emotional distress, damaged relationships, spiritual dryness...and all involve suffering. And when we're in the midst of suffering, it can be hard to accept that we still have a role in God's plan. 

Diane and I are hospital chaplains, and on our assigned days we receive a list of newly admitted patients. We try to visit as many as we can. A few months ago, I stopped by the room of a man on our list. Unfortunately Diane wasn't with me that day, or I'm sure it would've gone a lot better.

Anyway, after I introduced myself, he just said, "Well, I'm kind of a Christian..."  I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but I figured it was a good start. He went on to tell me he'd just turned 60, had been retired for two months, but had suffered a heart attack. He was now recovering from emergency heart surgery.  But then he said something unexpected:

"I can't believe this has happened to me. I probably won't be able to do all the things I'd hope to do in retirement. What kind of life will that be? God sure does mess with you sometimes, doesn't He?"

I just looked at him and said, "Brother, you're alive! God has given you another chance to live, to do His will in the world. You should be overjoyed."

Listening to him, his real problem became evident,. It wasn't his disappointment over what just happened; no, it was his fear of what might happen.

Diane and I have never viewed this hospital ministry as a time to proselytize, to "convert" people. No, it's just a time to call them back into the loving arms of God, because that's what life is really all about. And quite simply fear was keeping this man from God's embrace.

In our suffering we so often ask God the wrong questions. Instead of "Why me, Lord?" perhaps we should be asking Him to ease our fears and help us accept our new role as a wounded disciple.

It's there in our readings, in both Genesis and Matthew. Twice Joseph tells his brothers not to fear. And Jesus? Three times in that brief Gospel passage he tells the apostles, "Do not be afraid..." 

Yes, God knows fear can paralyze. It can blind us to the reality of His love for us and undermine our faith. Most people think that the opposite of faith is disbelief or doubt or skepticism. But they're wrong. The opposite of faith is fear.

This is why Jesus, so often, tells us not to fear. It's why, throughout the Gospels, those who came to Jesus for healing, came to Him unafraid. They came to Him in faith. Had they been fearful they never could have approached the Lord.

They knew the truth about themselves but they weren't stopped by it. They didn't think, "I'm not holy enough. I'm such a sinner. Why would God heal me? Why would He even consider carrying out His will through me?"

Oh, they knew they were wounded. And they knew they were sinners, but they came to Him anyway. They came to Him in faith. They heard God's call and responded.

God calls, and in that call He reveals his plan for us. You and I are still growing up in Christ, still struggling to be like Him. How did Jesus put it?
"So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48].
What does this mean? 

Well, since Jesus very clearly said: "The Father and I are one" [Jn 10:30], maybe if we just look at Jesus we can come up with an answer.

He certainly did a lot of preaching and teaching, didn't He? But the one thing He did everywhere He went was heal; and He called His disciples to do the same. St. Paul explained that call when he told the Galatians: 
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" [Gal 6:2].
That's right, we are to bear more than our own burdens; we must bear each other's burdens. In other words, we are healers - that's what we all are. We are all healers. OK, let me qualify that a bit: we're all wounded healers.

And we're wounded in so many ways: spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and, yes, physically. We're wounded because of our humanity, because of our fallen human nature and we can't escape it, not on our own. We need God's healing help.

What a marvelous paradox: we are healers in need of healing. Yes, indeed, we are wounded and we are healers - wounded healers - but God isn't finished with us.

In His patience, He waits for our response because He wants so much more for us. And through His grace He offers us mercy, forgiveness, and healing as we stumble along on our pilgrim way to the Kingdom.

How to be a wounded healer? 

Well, this morning you might try looking at the folks seated around you. They're wounded too, in need of God's healing grace.

Right now, just take a moment to turn to those seated near you -- you know, your neighbors, the ones you're called to love -- and tell each of them you will be their intercessor, you will pray for their healing. And tell them the same thing later when we extend the sign of God's peace to each other.

If you're going to be a wounded healer, the kind you are called to be, the kind filled with faith and not fear, you must extend God's love to others. How did John put it? 
"Perfect love casts out fear" [1 Jn 4:18].
And so today, lift up your own healing need to the Holy Spirit, who does God's work in the world. After all, He is the Lord and Giver of Life, so let Him fill you with His divine life, His grace, His peace. Give Him your permission to heal you. Place your need in His hands and let His will be done in your life.

And then, brothers and sisters, having abandoned yourself to God's will, you can turn your heart to another, and another, and another, to those who need a wounded healer in their lives.

Praised be Jesus and forever.