Sunday, March 29, 2015

Your Part

   Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord   B 

Around this time each year,
I look forward to the annual Spring musical
put on by our teenagers over at Franklin Academy.
So much talent and hard work go into those productions!
This year’s performance was no exception.

But as much I might enjoy the show,
there’s always an invisible line
drawn right at the edge of the stage.
I may have been entertained or even inspired;
a catchy tune or life lesson might follow me home.
But the world I’ve just seen taking shape under the lights
is not my world:
I do not enter it, and it does not enter mine.
There’s a boundary fixed
between the world of the musical and the real world,
between the show’s cast and its audience.

Around this time each year,
we again hear the story of the Lord’s Passion.
And because we customarily break up the reading
into different parts, different voices,
it can seem an awful lot like a script…
…but that’s awfully deceiving.
This, you see, is not a play.
And we, my friends, are not an audience.

When it comes to Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection,
there are no mere observers.
Everyone is an actor in it.

The Church’s annual celebration of Holy Week
is more than a simple retelling of a tale from the past—
however moving or meaningful.
And it’s much more than an historical reenactment—
no matter that all we commemorate is history,
and, indeed, at history’s very heart.

This week—if we allow ourselves—
we are swept up once again into the Paschal Mystery.
The line between past and present disappears.
Because of the time warp that is the sacred liturgy,
“then and there” becomes “here and now.”
There’s no line marking the edge of the stage:
the curtain has not only been raised,
but the veil has been torn completely in two.
That’s why we wave palm branches.
That’s why we break bread at the Lord’s Supper.
That’s why we’ll embrace—even kiss—the precious wood of the Cross.
That’s why we’ll wait in daring hope outside a tomb of stone.
We’re so much more than spectators!
And all that we see taking place
not only happens here in the real world—
it’s the most real thing in the world,
and uniquely has the power to transform the whole world.

If you’re an actor in this drama,
then what part have you chosen to play?
Are you the woman with the perfumed oil,
who spares no expense when it comes to showing her devotion,
or someone who regards such a display as a waste?
Are you Peter, who denies in order to save his own skin,
or Judas, who betrays for reasons
maybe even he doesn’t understand?
Are you a member of the Sanhedrin,
so afraid of change that you’re willing
to falsify the facts right in front of you,
or are you Pilate, who’s easily swayed by political forces,
yet afraid to rock the boat?
Are you swept up with the crowd, calling for Barabbas…
…just because everybody else is, too?
Are you willing to shout, “Hosanna!” one day,
but then cry, “Crucify him!” another?
Are you Simon, reluctantly pulled in from the sidelines,
or Joseph, who had previously followed in secret
but has suddenly found his courage?
Are you Salome or one of the two Mary’s,
who have been faithful all along
and aren’t about to change course now?
Or do you claim to take no part whatsoever—
which is, ironically, to chose the role of so many
who stood silently by, or left and fled?

This is not a play,
and there is no audience.
You must act.
Choose your part.
with inspiration from G. Rutler

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Got the Time?

While I'm doing much better than I was, I am still recovering from the bug that knocked me out of commission last weekend. Good health is returning gradually...much like Spring to the North Country...

   Fifth Sunday of Lent   B 

The calendar tells us
that Friday was the first day of Spring…
…but even a quick look out the window
gives a slightly different impression.
It’ll be a little while yet 
before we’ll be sniffing the flowers
or walking around barefoot in the grass.
I got a little nervous, I must say,
about the way Fr. Justin talked 
about the start of Spring—
even quoting to me more than once
the precise moment of the equinox.
I was worried he might be expecting,
right at the stroke of 6:45pm,
that tulips would sprout and temperatures rise!
Of course, if you’re from the North Country 
you know that the weather in these parts 
pays little attention to what the calendar says.

Ancient Greek—
the original language of the New Testament—
had two different words for time:
chronos and kairos.
Chronos is the time of calendar and clock,
of days and weeks, minutes and hours.
Chronos is measurable time, scheduled time.
Kairos is quite different.
Kairos is the fitting time, the right time.
Kairos is when time opens up.
Kairos isn’t about counting minutes,
but about moments that really count—
a matter of quality, not quantity.

Chronos asks, “What time did the movie end?”
Kairos asks, “Did you have a good time?”

Every second is always the same length,
but some moments are worth a whole lot more than others.

This Sunday, 
we find Jesus talking about kairos:
“The hour has come 
for the Son of Man to be glorified.…
It was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”
He’s not saying,
“The Father’s got my crucifixion scheduled 
for next Friday at noon.
Put it in your datebook!
I hope you all can make it.”
No, Jesus is saying
that his coming Passion, death, and Resurrection
is the pinnacle point of all human history:
“When I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw all people to myself.”
While the Paschal Mystery, of course,
occurred at a particular time in the past,
it is also very much beyond time’s reach.
This is the fullness of time:
the moment of man’s redemption,
the moment toward which God 
has been guiding every little thing
since the moment of man’s original sin.

So much about the intersection
of Jesus and time in this Sunday’s gospel.
How do faith and time intersect in your life and mine?

We’re busy people these days—
more often than not, too busy, if you ask me.
What I observe again and again
are Catholics trying to squeeze in their spiritual lives
between all their other interests and obligations.
To be a “good Catholic” in many minds
means being able to document the date of your Baptism,
and then fitting a convenient Sunday Mass onto the calendar
as frequently as you’re able.
I see folks struggling to keep some religion in their schedule,
yet failing to lead a fulfilling life of faith.

My friends, when it comes to matters of faith,
we must step out of chronos
of time measured for the sake of worldly business—
and step instead into kairos
into the time appointed for God’s purpose alone.
Our dealings with God
aren’t about keeping the bare terms of a contract;
they’re about forging a very personal relationship—
about falling and growing in love.
And love, as we all know, demands quality time:
love can’t be forced to follow your watch.
God won’t be just another item on your agenda;
God wants to set the agenda—
to be the guiding force that puts all your plans together.
Since Jesus’ saving work on our behalf
is—if you will—“off the clock,”
               then shouldn’t we be sure to seek after him
outside our regular timetable?

As we inch our way into another Spring,
we are quickly coming up on a privileged season
in the Church’s calendar:
Holy Week—a time particularly open to grace.
We are invited more deeply into the timeless mystery of Jesus,
the grain of wheat mercifully sown among us by the Father:
that seed, once dead and buried three days in the earth,
yet now raised, still flourishing, and bearing abundant fruit.
Holy Week has a special ability to pull us out of chronos
out of that swiftly passing time
where death would appear to have the final word—
and insert us into kairos—into that unfolding and enduring time
where the last word is God’s word, and his word is life.

Whether you’re spending it here at home
or will be away travelling elsewhere,
take full advantage of this blessed opportunity.
Yes, put Holy Week on your schedule;
but even more, let it—let Christ—take deep root in your heart.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Holy Patron

Holy Patron! Thee saluting,
here we meet with hearts sincere;
Blest St. Joseph, all uniting,
Call on thee to hear our prayer.
Happy Saint, in bliss adoring
Jesus, Savior of mankind,
Hear thy children thee imploring,
May we thy protection find.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Middle

This homily was prepared but never preached, since I've been down all weekend with a severe bug of some sort. As they say, "Beware the Ides of March!" I hope and pray you're germ-free...

   Fourth Sunday of Lent   B 

Having recently turned 40,
I’ve been wondering just how a guy knows
when he’s entered “middle age."
So I went to the undisputed source 
of all wisdom—the Internet—
to gain some insight.
There I learned that middle age starts
when a man chooses his breakfast cereal 
for its fiber content,
instead of the free toy…

The middle.

This Sunday,
we find ourselves smack in the middle of March.
Here in the North Country,
we’re at a turning point between the seasons:
any given day—or even any given hour—
we can take a turn back toward the cold and snow of winter
or forward toward bright warmth of spring.

Our first reading finds God’s Chosen People at a turning point:
having heaped infidelity upon infidelity,
God has allowed Israel
to be brutally conquered by the Babylonians—
feeling the weight of its sinfulness.
But God takes what appeared to be punishment
and turns it into a means of purification.
When time enough has passed,
and important lessons learned, important changes made,
the Lord gives his people a fresh, new start—
and by the hand of a most unexpected agent:
another foreign king.

Here in the middle,
we’re reminded that our lives are always turning—
either more toward God, or away from him.
Our actions have consequences—to be sure—
and we must accept them…
…but the Lord also has great compassion
in the way he guides the course of history.
When we were dead in our sins,
God raised us to life again in Christ—
not as a reward for our good deeds,
but because of sheer grace.
God can draw out good
from the worst of our failures.
Here in the middle of March,
we learn that even the most punishing of winters
will yield to the new life of spring.

This Sunday,
we find ourselves right in the middle of Lent.
This fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday—
a Sunday for rejoicing.
It’s meant to be a glad pause
in an otherwise quite sober and somber season.
The liturgy takes on a bit of a cheery tone
to encourage us as we continue with our Lenten disciplines,
heightening our anticipation as Easter comes into sight.

Here in the middle,
we’re reminded that, even when it calls us to penance—
to embrace self-denial, generous acts of charity,
and deep, soul-searching prayer—
the Gospel message is always abundantly good news.
Here in the middle of Lent, we learn again
that Christians should be a people
constantly marked by hope and joy.

And this Sunday,
we find ourselves hearing once more
the very middle of the Gospel—
not when measured by chapter and verse,
but when you get down to what it’s all about:
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.
A single inspired sentences sums up
what lies at the middle, the pivot,
the hinge of all human history:
the heart of the divine plan.

We find ourselves here in the middle,
in what St. Paul describes
as the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4, Eph 1:10),
believing that all things prior to Jesus
were leading up to him;
that all things following Jesus
are different because of him;
that nothing before or after Jesus
makes any real sense without him.

“Middle age”—according to Bob Hope—
“is when your age starts to show around your middle.”

I haven’t figured out when middle age really begins.
But I know that here,
in the middle of March, in the middle of Lent,
again hearing the middle of the Gospel,
is a really good place to be.
Make Jesus the true heart, the center, the core
of everything you are and everything you do—
keeping him right in the middle of it all—
and your life, at every turn,
will be filled with joy.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How to Choose

I've learned to cope with my menu paralysis: order one of the specials.

   Third Sunday of Lent   B 

Long restaurant menus overwhelm me.
It’s simply a matter of my temperament, I guess.
I hate having to pick 
from among so many good choices!
If it’s the end of a festive meal,
and several desserts are being offered,
I’m the guy who asks, 
“Can I please have a small piece of each?”

It’s not that I’m a glutton;
it’s just hard for me to pick from all those options.

It’s one thing to have that trouble 
when it comes to food,
quite another when it comes to faith.

We’ve just heard again the Ten Commandments—
a familiar Bible passage, to be sure.
The first of the bunch reads:
I, the Lord, am your God….
You shall not have other gods besides me.
What if I told you that—if forced to choose—
it’s the only the one that really matters?
God didn’t put it first on the list by accident!

Our willingness to compromise,
our desire to “have our cake and it eat it, too”—
to try and have things both ways—
is certainly clear enough with the other nine commandments.

You shall not steal.
We’re angered and embarrassed if our kid shoplifts…
…but what’s wrong with occasionally
taking home a few supplies from work?
I mean, nobody’s going to notice
and—besides—they don’t pay me enough. 

Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
We make sure to squeeze Mass in (most Sundays, anyway)…
…but then we’re rushing off, quick as we can,
as soon as it’s over—or even before—
to get back to other “more important” things.

You shall not commit adultery.
Several years ago—no joke—
a church-going woman in her eighties
asked me if there was any exception for older folks
to the rule about not having sex outside the bonds of marriage.
“I don’t think my grandchildren should be living in sin, Father…
…but at our age, it’s different.”
(I have yet to find anything in the small print about that!)

But back to the beginning:
I, the Lord, am your God…
You shall not have other gods besides me.
Even more so than with the nine commandments that follow,
we can’t be looking for exceptions or loopholes with this one.
Choosing God;
choosing to believe in Jesus as God’s Only Begotten Son;
choosing to belong to the Catholic Church
as Christ’s living Body on earth;
choosing to live every moment of every day
according to the way of life that Church teaches—
this is not just one choice among many.

It’s the only choice that matters.

It’s becoming increasingly common—even among Catholics—
to approach faith the way you would a buffet:
a little of this, a helping of that,
all according to my personal tastes.
“Of course, I believe in Jesus…
but I also like these Buddhist ideas
and those New Age meditations.”
Some people are as quick to change their religion
as they are to change their clothes.
Such mix-and-match methods
were actually quite popular in Jesus’ day, too.
What distinguished the Jewish people and the first Christians
from the wider culture, however,
was that they would make no such compromises.

I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.
God is jealous, you see, not in the sense of envy—
part of being God means needing absolutely nothing at all;
no, God is jealous in the sense
of wanting us wholly, totally, completely for himself alone.
The Lord asks: Are you with me, or not?  For me, or against?
Not sometimes.  Not mostly.
Not just when it’s convenient or you need something.
Will you be entirely mine?

That’s because God doesn’t want to be your Boss—
some all-seeing supervisor in the sky.
And God doesn’t want to be your Cop—
yes, protecting you from evil,
but also ready to ticket you for any moral infraction.
What God wants is to be our Friend—
even more, what God wants is to be your Lover.
That’s why making compromises in faith
isn’t like saying, “I prefer Pepsi, but sometimes I drink Coke”;
it’s more like saying, “I love my spouse,
but sometimes I sleep with other people.”

Are you committed to this kind of exclusive relationship with God?

I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.
Is this not a window into Jesus’ zeal for his Father’s house?
Jesus has no problem, per se,
with the Temple’s system of sacrifice;
we know Mary and Joseph offered two doves there
40 days after their Son was born,
and Jesus himself will have his Apostles
procure a Passover lamb from the Temple
to be served at his Last Supper.
What upsets him, though, is the perspective
that sees religion as a means to gain:
that looks upon faith as a way to profit—
whether from worldly goods like money, power, or prestige,
or even from spiritual benefits,
as if God’s blessings could be earned.
I mustn’t try to stay close to God
because of what’s in it for me!
Keeping faith isn’t about what I stand to get,
but about what I’m willing to give.
That’s the true nature of sacrifice—
as we’ll soon enough see upon the Cross.
The Lord, this jealous God,
is looking for nothing short of the gift of myself—
given to him completely.
After all, that’s just the sort of gift
this jealous God has given to me.

I, the Lord, am your God…
You shall not have other gods besides me.
Obeying the first commandment
is not a matter of my tastes, but of what is true;
not a question of what I like, but of Who I love above all else.
That’s why, if we get this first one right,
the other nine fall right into place.
The Ten Commandments aren’t a menu you choose from;
they’re a full meal deal.

There’s only room for one god in the temple of your heart.
Choose the God of Jesus.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Listen, Trust, & Obey

   Second Sunday of Lent   B 

We had "Children's Church" again this Sunday, so I don't have a word-for-word homily for you...but below are a few notes that guided my chat with the kids.

What's most precious to you?
What would it feel like if God asked you to give it up?
Isn't that what happened in the story were heard about Abraham and Isaac?
(By the way: we grown ups find that to be a pretty terrible, scary story, too.)
What did God really want from Abraham?
To know that Abraham loved God more than anything else.
To know that he would obey God in everything.
Who are some of the people you have to obey?
Who are some of the people grown ups have to obey?
(By the way: we grown ups like obeying other people even less than you do.)
When we obey other people, they can sometimes make mistakes--but not God.
God only ever asks us to what's good for us.
When we obey other people, we usually understand what they're asking--but not God.
God is mysterious, and that means we have to trust him.
Even (especially!) when we don't understand, we must obey God.
Why?  Because God loves us.
Because we're precious to God--even more precious than Isaac was to Abraham.
Because God only asks us to do things because he wants us to be happy.
God loves us so much he gave up his precious Son, Jesus, for our sake.
We hear another story today: Jesus is on the mountain with his friends.
They see Jesus in all his glory, and God's voice is heard.
What does God say?  This is my beloved Son; listen to him.
Where do we still hear Jesus speaking?
In the Bible.  In the Church.  When we pray.  Through other people.   In our hearts.
If Jesus is still speaking, and he wants what's best for us, shouldn't we listen very carefully?
We listen carefully, we trust completely, and we obey even when we don't understand
          because we know we're very, very precious to God.