Sunday, June 25, 2017

No Secret

 Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A 

A little girl was attending a wedding for the first time.  When the organ blared and everybody stood up, she looked down the aisle toward the church doors and saw the bride in her beautiful gown.   With a big smile she turned to her mother and asked, “Mommy, why is the bride dressed all in white?”   Not wanting to give a full explanation, her mother replied, “Because white is the color of happiness, and this is the happiest day of her life.”  The little girl then looked in the opposite direction and saw the groom standing tall in his tuxedo.  Which is when, with as serious face, she asked her mother, “Then why, Mommy, is the groom dressed all in black?”

“Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be made known.”  Those are some of the first words of Jesus’ message to us in this Sunday’s gospel.  In the original language, they would have called to mind some of the traditional attire worn at a wedding.  When Jesus speaks of things being “revealed” and “made known,” he’s using the same vocabulary that was used to describe a groom lifting the wedding veil to reveal the beauty of his bride.  In Greek, the word is apokalyptein, from which we get our English word, apocalypse.  Now, jokes like the one I just told depend on the notion that many men view their wedding day as if it were the “end of the world”—a catastrophic finale to their days of fun.  But I have no doubt Jesus is hoping that we’ll look to the end of days much more like a joyful bride, in happy anticipation of sharing a life with the one you love.

Listen again—and carefully—to those words of Jesus: “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be made known.”  Jesus doesn’t say that some things will be exposed, or even that most things will be laid bare.  In the end, nothing at all will remain secret, everything will be brought out in the open.  Everything!  (And an already quiet church just got perfectly silent.)  That’s quite a sobering thought, isn’t it?  Little wonder that in this brief passage Jesus tells us three times to not be afraid!

Shouldn’t the thought of meeting God and spending eternity with him have us rejoicing?  So why does this thought have us quaking in our boots?  Because we’ve tried to hide some things.  Because we’ve kept secrets.  Because our outside and our inside don’t exactly match right up as they should.

For some of us, we’ve got it all together on the outside.  We get to church most every Sunday and have received the sacraments.  We’ve got a crucifix on the wall and a rosary on the rearview mirror.  To all outward appearances, we’re pretty good Catholics.  The secret is, however, that we’re not who we appear to be.  Have I cultivated a personal and intimate relationship with Christ?  Is he truly the center of my life, or just another part of it?  Have I given him full control?  Does he get the final say?  Or do I hold back—for fear of what he might ask me to do, or fear of what he might ask me not to do?  Jesus will ask nothing of us that is not for our good.  He who has his eye on the tiny sparrow will not neglect to care for us in our need—in fact, to secure for us the fullness of life.  He even has counted the hairs on our head!  (Admittedly, that’s a greater accomplishment in some case than in others.)   Do not be afraid to take your faith to heart!  You can keep no secrets from the Lord.

For some others, we’ve got it all together on the inside.  Our prayer is frequent, sincere, and intense.  We don’t really take issue with anything the Church teaches.  As far as the Catholic faith goes, we’re all in.  But we keep it all to ourselves.  It’s our secret.  Religion is really a private matter, isn’t it?  You don’t want to stand out from the crowd, do you?  What would the neighbors think?  But Jesus is clear: if we truly believe all that he has whispered to us, then we must be ready to proclaim it from the housetops.  Those who have acknowledged Christ before the world are the ones Christ will acknowledge before his Father.  Do not be afraid to share your faith with others!  You must not keep the Lord a secret.

“Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be made known.”  That’s only a frightening thought if we have something to hide—from the eyes of God or the eyes of our neighbors.  Live your life in such a way that you can look ahead to its end, not with dread but with happiness. You are a member of the Church: the bride of Christ.  When her great beauty is ultimately unveiled, be sure you’re wearing the appropriate color.  Do not be afraid!  Dress all in white.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Buzzing A-Long

I made it out camping last Wednesday-Thursday at Kelly Point on Long Lake along with one of our seminarians, Doug Schirmer.  We were not alone at the water's edge that night: there was a friendly couple camped out in front of the second lean to (the one I really hoped to get)...and more mosquitos than I've ever seen anywhere in my life.  The lean to was just about vibrating with the hum of their tiny, infernal wings (for some reason, they actually seemed thicker in the shelter than outside of it).  The racket did die down quite a bit (though never completely) during the cooler nighttime hours, which allowed them to buzz one-by-one in our ears.  In spite of the many itchy welts, it was still a good time in the woods...


Sunday, June 18, 2017

In My Pocket

  Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ   A 

When I was a boy—and for quite a long time—I had an imaginary friend.  I called him “Mr. McGoo,” and had all kinds of stories about him: about his adventures, about his wife and kids, about where he lived, about his annual vacation in Florida.  Probably the most remarkable thing about Mr. McGoo was his size: he was just a little guy, and I’d carry him around in my pocket.

You’ll be happy to know that I don’t believe in Mr. McGoo any more…but I did think about him last week.

I was taking the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle, in order to bring Holy Communion to some of our homebound parishioners.  I did as I always do: I carefully placed the Sacred Host in the gold pyx, put the pyx in the black leather burse, and then slid the burse into my shirt pocket.

Which is when I realized: the garage sale was going on outside the church, and I’d be walking right through the middle of it to get to my car.  You see, whenever I carry the Blessed Sacrament on my person, I aim to carry on as if I were still standing right in front of the tabernacle—because, in effect, I am.  I turn off the radio in my car.  I don’t brush people off, but I also don’t stop to engage in conversation.  I try to stay very mindful of Who it is that I have with me—and what an immense privilege that is.

And so I thought about how I’d answer somebody at the garage sale if they asked, “What you got there in your pocket, Father?”  And the quickest, truest answer would have been, “Jesus.”  And then I wondered: would most people who hear me say that take me just the way my family did years ago when I said I carried Mr. McGoo in my pocket?

Our Catholic faith is that the Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ—his Body, Blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine.  But to so many modern ears—including, sadly, many Catholic ears—that sounds like talk about an imaginary friend: a comforting idea, but not at all real.

Some of our parishioners recently attended a conference and came back with this story.  Their presenter shared some of the discouraging statistics about the number of Catholics who do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  You may have heard some of these yourselves.  Depending on the survey, the statistics range from 10% of practicing Catholics to more than 50% of all Catholics do not believe what the Church has always taught: that the bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.  

In contrast, the presenter then spoke about a parish she knows—down in Florida, I think—which is located in an area where many people practice voodoo and other occult religions.  Some of their sacrilegious rites call for a consecrated Host taken from a Catholic church.  And so in this parish, they have appointed “bouncers” to stand next to the priest and other ministers of Holy Communion in order to make sure no one tries to leave Mass with a Host. 

The speaker’s point in putting these two things side-by-side was to highlight the sad state of affairs: there are non-Christians who have a greater faith in the real presence than do many Catholics who come to Mass every Sunday.

The Church’s faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament is based on the absolute highest authority: the word of the Lord himself—as we just heard Jesus say in the gospel: “My Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink”; as he has repeated to us in every Mass since the Last Supper: “This is my Body, this is my Blood, given up for you.”  The Father has given us the living Bread from heaven.  We mere mortals are provided with the Bread of angels: the real presence of the Son of God, who remains with us in the Sacrament of the altar. 

We must never neglect this amazing truth!  Pope John Paul II used to encourage Catholics to renew their sense of “Eucharistic amazement”—the sense of wonder, awe, and reverence that rightly should be ours at so incredible a gift.  And our deep faith in it should be clear in how we act and speak in relation to the Eucharist.  Do I reflect faith in the real presence by how I dress for Mass?  By how I behave in church?  By how I speak about sacred things?  By giving the liturgy my full attention?  By how I prepare for Holy Communion?  By how I handle the Sacred Host?  By getting to Mass on time?  And by staying until it’s finished?  By not being too quick to excuse myself from attending? 

My old friend, Mr. McGoo, never really lived in my pocket; he only lived in my imagination.   But I firmly believe that Jesus really and truly comes to me in Holy Communion to live behind my pocket: to remain always in my heart.

May the heart of Jesus, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved, with grateful affection, in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time.  Amen.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Oh Lord!

   The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity   C 

A teacher asked her catechism class, “What is God’s name?”  An eager girl waved her hand and said, “I know!  I know!  God’s name is Howard!”  The startled teacher asked, “Judy, how do you know this?”  To which the girl responded, “Because every time we pray, we say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name…”

What is God’s name?  That’s certainly an appropriate point to ponder on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.  We call God our Father, the Almighty, the Creator and Ruler of all things.  We call his Only Begotten Son Jesus and Christ, the Savior, the Lamb of God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We speak of the Holy Spirit as Life and Love, as Advocate and Counselor.

It should come as no surprise that it’s one of God’s most common names that gets precious little thought from us—and that’s Lord.  I counted it up last night, and we we’ll address God as Lord at least 62 times in the course of today’s Mass—and that’s without the homily or the hymns!  We call on God as the Lord constantly (sometimes, sadly, in not the most prayerful tones), but what does that mean?  What does it mean to say that God is the Lord, our Lord, my Lord?

In Hebrew, the language of Moses and the Old Testament, the word is adonai, indicating one who holds authority.  In Greek, the language of St. Paul and the New Testament, the word is kyrios, meaning master or ruler, one who decides for others.  In Latin, the traditional language of Roman Catholics, the word is dominus, pointing to an owner, one who doesn’t just use something but possesses it.  Our English word, lord, comes from an old expression: the loaf-ward, the keeper of the bread, the one in control of doling out the provisions.

This little vocabulary lesson makes it pretty clear: to be lord means to be in charge, to be the boss, to call all the shots.

I think we can all easily agree that Lord, then, is a very appropriate name for God, who holds supreme authority, who rules as King of creation, who provides us with all we need.  But to speak of God as Lord of the universe holds him off at a safe distance, doesn’t it?  On this feast of the Holy Trinity, we often focus on how far God is beyond us—an immense mystery well beyond the ability for our mere mortal minds to conceive.  Today, I want us to consider just how personal it needs to be when we call God our Lord.

I’m sure you remember last November’s election, and how some protests quickly sprang up against President Trump with the slogan, “not my president.”  You don’t have to like Mr. Trump, or agree with what he says, or even abide by his directives, but that doesn’t change a simple fact: he’s the duly elected president of this country, and your personal preferences cannot change that.  It is quite similar when we say that God is the Lord.  God cannot be the Lord of all things if he is not also the Lord of your things—your every little thing.  Choosing to live as if things were otherwise doesn’t alter the reality one bit.

To call God your Lord is not theoretical, but a very personal affair.  It means giving God permission.  It means bending your will to his.  It means letting him set the agenda for your entire life—in matters both great and small.  God wants to be Lord of more than just this one hour a week.  As God tells us of himself repeatedly in the scriptures: he is a jealous God.  He won’t settle for second best.  God has no interest in being your “senior advisor.”  He will be Lord, or nothing.  God doesn’t give us suggestions, but commandments.  God isn’t waiting around to provide you with affirmation; he longs to give you direction.  As an old bumper sticker puts it, “If God is your copilot, you need to swap seats!”

God wants to take complete charge of your life, not because he’s bossy, not because he has control issues, not because he’s bent on pushing you around.  God wants to be your Lord because he loves you.  God made you—as you may recall from your own catechism days—to know, love, and serve him in this life, and to be happy with him forever in the next.  To follow his will is the shortest, surest route to holiness and happiness. 

But it’s so very, very hard to do!  You know that.  I know that.  And God knows that, too.  Which is why God sent us his beloved Son—not to condemn the world, but to save it.  In Jesus, we’re given the perfect example of total obedience to God’s will—all the way to the Cross; living and dying in our human flesh, he shows us the way, and assures us that following it is possible.  And God didn’t stop there!  As we celebrated last Sunday, God also sent us his Holy Spirit, to dwell within us, to guide us always, to fill us with grace—giving us God’s own strength in place of our own weakness.

If you’re wondering if God is really the Lord of your life, here’s a little test…  Take a look at your bank statement.  Where does most of your money go?  Take a look at your schedule.  How do you spend the majority of your time?  What’s the first thing you think about when your roll out of bed in the morning?  What’s the last thing on your mind when you’re falling asleep at night?  Whose opinion concerns you most when you’re making a big decision?  The answer to these basic questions provides pretty good insight into who (or what) is truly the lord of your life.

I don’t know of anyone who actually calls God Howard, but we all call him Lord again and again.  Let’s make sure it’s more than just a name.  Give God permission.  Let him take full control of your life.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Lord, Send Out Your Spirit

No homily for you again this week: We're on a parish pilgrimage to St. Jospeh's Oratory in Montréal today to pay a visit to our holy patron...

   Pentecost   A 

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
        And from your celestial home
                Shed a ray of light divine!

from the Sequence for Pentecost

Sunday, May 28, 2017


No homily for you this weekend: our deacon preached!

   Seventh Sunday of Easter   A 

All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,
together with...Mary the mother of Jesus...
Acts 1:14

Sunday, May 21, 2017

If You Love Me...

This homily was for First Holy Communion today...which will explain the question & answer/outline format...

   Sixth Sunday of Easter   A 

Do your parents love you?  Yes.
How do you know?  Food, clothing, shelter, teaching…  They care for me.

Do you love your parents?  Yes.
How do they know?   I obey them.
Is it always easy to obey?  No.

But it is easier to obey when we know we are loved—when we can trust the person who asks us to obey, isn’t it?

Does Jesus love you?  Yes.
How do you know?  He gives me everything I need.  He cares for me.

And the greatest way Jesus shows his love for us is right here in front of us: his Cross.  That’s the biggest, best love the world has ever known: that Jesus was willing to die for us.  That’s what we are celebrating during this Easter time: that Jesus died and rose again to take away our sins so that we can live with him forever.

Do you love Jesus?  Yes.
How does he know?  I obey him.

Jesus says to us in the gospel today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Is it always easy to obey the commandments?  No.

But just like with mom and dad, it is easier to obey because we know that Jesus loves us.  We can trust him.  He knows what is best for us, and whatever he asks is meant to keep us safe and make us happy.

Jesus has given us many commandments to follow.  There are two I want us to think about today.

[1] After Jesus rose from the dead, on the day he’s returning to heaven, he tells his friends: “Go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).  Jesus gives a commandment that those who believe in him be baptized.  You were baptized, right?  And your baptism comes with a mission: to tell other people about Jesus—to tell them about his love so that they can love him, too.  That job belongs to all of us.

[2] On the night before he died, when Jesus shared a Last Supper with his friends, he took bread and wine and said, “Do this in memory of me” (1Cor 11:23-25).  Jesus gives a commandment that those who believe in him should come together with others who love him.  And that’s what we do today, that’s what we do every Sunday, when we come together for Mass, when we celebrate the Eucharist, when we receive Holy Communion.

Telling others about Jesus and coming to church on Sunday are two very special, very important ways we keep the commandments of Jesus and show him that we love him.

But do you know what else?  These two Sacraments—Baptism and Eucharist—are also two ways that Jesus keeps showing his love for us.  They are two ways that Jesus has chosen to remain with us always.

[1] In Baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to be with us.  Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to teach us the truth and show us the right way.  We cannot see him, but the Holy Spirit is with us always as our Helper.  He leads us to Jesus.

[2] In Holy Communion—which you are about to receive for the first time—Jesus comes to live within us.  We do as Jesus did: we take the bread, and it becomes his Body; we take the wine, and it becomes his Blood.  Regular food and drink goes to our stomach, but through his Body and Blood Jesus goes to stay in our heart.  The Eucharist is Jesus living within us, his love now found in our hearts.

Boys and girls, I know that your parents love you very, very much.  I know that because they brought you to be baptized years ago.  I know that because they prepared you for your first Holy Communion.

But I also know that Jesus loves you even more.  Remember that every time you see his Cross.

And make sure that Jesus knows you love him, too.  He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  Remember the commandment he gave to you at your Baptism: your special mission to tell the whole world about his love.  And remember the commandment he gives us about the Eucharist: to come together again and again with him and with one another around his Body and Blood, so that Jesus may live in us now, and we may live with him forever.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Make Yourself Right at Home

   Fifth Sunday of Easter   A 
What’s the most important work in the world?  That, of course, depends on your criteria.  If we look at how much money people get paid, we’d have to say that movie stars, music makers, and professional athletes do the most important work in the world.  A better argument might be made for doctors, who cure and comfort the sick—who are among the very first and the very last people we see in life.  Having grown up on a farm, I could say that farmers do the most important work: if there were no farmers, there’d be no food, if there were no food, we wouldn’t be able to eat; if we couldn’t eat, we’d all be pretty cranky…and it would quickly go down hill from there.  One might also make the case that priests do the most important work, since without the priesthood we wouldn’t have the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist or our sins forgiven in Confession.

Have you ever heard of C. S. Lewis?  He was an Irish-born writer—the author of the classic book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—who taught at Oxford University.  He was one of the keenest Christian minds of the 20th century.  One might have expected him to say that professors do the most important work in the world.  But when Mrs. Johnson sent him a letter in 1955 complaining that a housewife’s work was never-ending and felt like it was going absolutely nowhere, he gave a reply that was surprising then—and is even more surprising now, 60 years later: that the work of a housewife (or, as we’d say today, of a homemaker), “is surely in reality the most important work in the world.”

If Mr. Lewis were introduced to a woman and asked what she did for a living, and her reply was, “Oh, I’m just a stay-at-home-mom,” I have no doubt he’d be quite distressed.  He’d be distressed, not that her career options were limited, but that she didn’t recognize the great dignity and nobility of her lofty, God-given vocation.

In his letter, C. S. Lewis writes:
[Being a homemaker] is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy, to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.  (Letter to Mrs. Johnson, March 16, 1955)

That’s a different perspective than we’re used to, right?  Here’s another novel idea: that Jesus spoke of himself as a homemaker.  Did you catch it in this Sunday’s gospel?  Jesus says, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  Jesus makes a solemn promise—in the midst of his Last Supper—to make a home for us.

That gospel passage is one of those most commonly chosen to be read at Catholic Funerals—and for obvious reasons, given its very comforting message.  But when Jesus first spoke those words, his disciples wouldn’t have thought about death; they would have thought about a wedding.  In order to better understand what Jesus is saying, we need to know a little bit about the wedding customs of the day.

Nowadays—despite Church teaching and countless studies to the contrary—it’s most common for people to live together for a while before they get married.  In the time of Jesus, however, it was exactly the opposite: a couple would get married, and then it would be a while before they moved in together.  You see, a man and a woman would first be betrothed.  That was much more than a simple engagement: they exchanged vows, and were considered legally married.  (If the relationship broke up, they would have to get a divorce.)  Then the husband had up to a year to prepare a place for his new wife.  He’d return to his father’s house, and spend his time and resources to build or renovate a room for her—the very best he could provide.  And only when everything was ready would he come to take her home, to start their new life together and man and wife.  And only then would they have the wedding feast: their relatives and the whole community celebrating that a new family was making its home.

Knowing that, let’s listen again to the words of Jesus: “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  Do you now hear what he’s saying?  Jesus wants to be one with us just as husband and wife become one—just as he is one with the Father.  He wants to share his whole life with us!  He’s proven that by laying it down for us. He has vowed to love us freely, fruitfully, faithfully, and forever—and we have done the same in our baptismal promises, which we renewed at Easter.  Each time we come into this church, he is bringing us deeper and deeper into his Father’s house.  Each time we celebrate the Mass, it’s Christ’s wedding reception: the celebration that he is taking us into his home to be with him always.

That’s pretty amazing, right?  But what’s the practical import of all this? 

We need to make sure we make room for the Lord in our homes.  By and large, that means setting aside space for Jesus in our schedules and priorities—and not just some hidden corner that’s left over after everything else is taken care of, but the very best, most valuable spot we can provide.  We must make our relationship with Christ—as individuals and families—our main concern.  One way to help us do this is to actually make some physical room for God in our houses: to set aside a little space where we can hang a crucifix or holy picture, where we can enthrone our Bible or light a candle, that becomes a sacred space for us to pray—alone or together, in good times or bad.  As St. Peter reminds us in the second reading, we are to be living stones that are built up into a spiritual house.  We need to be sure we make a real home for Jesus in our lives.

We also need to be sure we never lose sight of the home Jesus has made for us.  This is more than a matter of mansions in the sky, awaiting us down the line in a far distant heaven.  The new life Jesus wants to share with us is meant to begin right here, right now.   He paid for it dearly—with the price of his own blood—sparing no expense.  Let us not neglect his gift!  Let us return to this house of the Lord regularly to receive the sacraments—the great tokens of his love.  Let grow in our intimacy with Jesus by speaking with him daily in prayer.  Let us make ourselves right at home in Christ.

The work of the homemaker is surely the most important in the world.  All other work exists for it.  The Son of God himself has made it his own.  Let’s be sure to make a home for Jesus in our families, in our daily lives.  And let’s be sure to fully move into the home Jesus has made for us, that we might enjoy the new life he longs to share with us—now and for all eternity.