Sunday, May 29, 2016

Well Hidden

You haven't seen any outdoor "adventures" posted here since January--the end of my 25 months run of at least one monthly night spent out in the woods.  I haven't been holding out on you; I just haven't been out.  I've been dealing with some pain in my right hip since mid-December (the cause is still unexplained, but an appointment with a specialist in a couple weeks should help get to the bottom of it), so I've been hesitant to try anything too adventurous.  But the weather has been great, and the woods were calling, so I took my chances Wednesday/Thursday and went camping.

I stayed in the lean to at Hidden Cove on the eastern shore of Long Lake.  The place is aptly named: I'd walked right by there on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail in 2013, and paddled by there during the Adirondack Canoe Classic in 2014 and 2015...but not found it before this past week.

It's only 1.8 miles from the trailhead, so I figured that was a safe distance in my "condition."  I did pay for it a bit...but a peaceful night in the woods was well worth the price.

How Deep?

   Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ   C 

It was nearly 20 years ago, when I was a seminarian, that I first learned of a most extraordinary woman.  She was a model member of her Catholic parish: the first to step forward and volunteer, gracious and kind, generous with her time and resources.   There was just one problem: she wasn’t Catholic.  Actually, she’d never even been baptized.  I asked her parish priest why she hadn’t yet “taken the plunge.”  His answer: because of the Eucharist.   She didn’t have any problem with the Church’s doctrine on the Eucharist—far from it.  She was moved by the Church’s faith that God would come to his people in a manner as simple, humble, and accessible as a small host.  Her problem was that she didn’t see much evidence of this faith in the lives of most Catholics.  If Catholics really believe what they say they believe, then how come so many of them miss Mass so often?  How come they behave so casually in church?  How come they aren’t any different on Monday for what they celebrated and received on Sunday?  And why aren’t they stopping in to visit the Blessed Sacrament any time their schedule allows—falling on their knees, or even prostrate on their faces, before the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth who has chosen to dwell right here among them?  She just couldn’t figure it out.  To the best of my knowledge, she’s still not a Catholic to this day.

I would guess that all the Catholics in this room right now would say that, yes, they share the Church’s faith in the Most Holy Eucharist: that the bread and wine soon to be offered on this altar will truly become the Body and Blood—the real presence—of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But how deeply do we believe this?  Are we quicker to make excuses for why we can’t get to Mass than to make sacrifices in order to be here?  Would we walk 10, 20, 25 miles, if that was the only chance we had to go to Mass?  (Our predecessors here did precisely that: the historical record shows that the first Catholics of Malone walked all the way to the church at St. Regis in order to hear Mass at Christmas and Easter.)  Do we ever consider getting up just a little earlier, or giving up part of our lunch break, to come to daily Mass?  Would we willingly let go of our hope of grandchildren if our only child said he felt called by God to be a priest?   Would we risk prison living in China, or death living under ISIS, so we could receive Holy Communion?  These are not hypothetical questions!  Just how deep is our faith in the Holy Eucharist?

We are privileged to witness a miracle here at every Mass—one far greater than that of which we heard in this Sunday’s gospel.  When Jesus takes, blesses, and shares the bread and wine we offer, he does much more then multiply their quantity as he did the loaves and fish long ago; he infinitely multiplies their quality as they become his most sacred Body and most precious Blood.  May our entire lives be a resounding “Amen!” to the Church’s faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

With gratitude to One Bread, One Body, for inspiration for this homily

Sunday, May 22, 2016

He Will Guide You

At the 11:00am Mass today, some of our parish's children will be receiving their first Holy Communion, so I'm preaching without a text (and without time to type one up), thus there's no homily to post for you this Sunday.  Please pray for these young people and their families that they might always hunger for the Bread of Life!

   The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity   C 

          Jesus said to his disciples:
          "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
          But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
          he will guide you to all truth.
          He will not speak on his own,
          but he will speak what he hears,
          and will declare to you the things that are coming.
          He will glorify me,
          because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
          Everything that the Father has is mine;
          for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
          and declare it to you."  (John 16:12-15)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

You Will Live

I preached this without a text today, so these are some reconstructed notes...

   Pentecost   C 

"For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the will live." (Romans 8:13)

What's the difference between someone who's dead and someone who's alive?
It's not that their heart has stopped.  (Many hearts stop and start up again.)
It's not that they have stopped breathing.  (Anybody can hold their breath for awhile.)
It's that their soul has been separated from their body.
We are a union of the two: body and soul.
The soul is the life of the body.
And what is the life of the soul? The Holy Spirit.

Have you noticed the popularity of zombies lately?
Maybe it's because many of us feel like "the living dead."
We're living, but not fully alive.
We're busier than ever, but we're bored.
We've got everything we need, and most of what we want, yet we're still not satisfied.
It feels like our lives are living us, instead of vice versa.
We're basically content, but not really happy.
We're spiritual zombies.

And yet we read the lives of there prophets and Apostles in the Bible, 
we hear about the lives of the Saints, and we think, "Wow!  
They're so full of joy and zeal!  They're so full of life!
They're not zombies at all.
How come my life isn't like that?
How can my live be like theirs?"

What's the secret to having a full, fulfilling life?
Having a deep and true relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Notice what Jesus does on that first Easter night: he breathes on his disciples.
That's not normal behavior!
Generally, we'd consider it quite rude.
He breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit."  (John 20:22)
Recall the first chapters of the Bible, when God creates Adam.
The Lord fashions him from the dust of the earth.
How does he bring man to life? God breathes into him. (Genesis 2:7)
In Hebrew, one and the same word means "breath" and "wind" and "spirit."
God put his own Spirit into us; he breathes his own life into us.
What God first did at creation he does anew at our re-creation.
When the world had grown old because of sin, God gave us new life by his Spirit.
The sound the Apostles hear on Pentecost?  It's the wind!  (Acts 2:2)
God's breathing new life into our souls.

On the day of our Baptism, we were given a most amazing gift.
As we were adopted as God's sons and daughters, he put his Spirit within us.
Unfortunately, for many, it's a gift that's remained unopened and unused.
It's still in the pretty packaging, pushed to the back of the closet.
The secret to a full, fulfilling life is releasing this gift of the Holy Spirit.

How can we have this relationship with the Spirit?
How do we stir up not flame the gift we've been given?

(1) Believe.
We must do more than just intellectually affirm that God exists.
(Even the devil does that.)
We must have faith that God came and died and rose.
We must believe in his undying love for us.
We must put all our trust in him.

(2) Repent.
We are all "living in sin" in one way or another.
But the sins to which we cling are roadblocks to the Holy Spirit.
Christ entrusted his gift of forgiveness to his Church and her priests.  (John 20:23)
We must acknowledge our sin for what it is and turn away from it.
We must allow Jesus to remove all barriers to the Spirit's work.

(3) Obey.
This is hard for us Americans as "rugged individualists."
We think we know best for ourselves...even if the evidence is otherwise.
God is not prone to giving us suggestions.
They're not the 10 Helpful Hints, but the 10 Commandments.
God's not looking to be our chief Advisor; he's our Father, and he expects us to obey.
Obeying God may mean losing some independence, but it'll bring you freedom like never before.
The Holy Spirit is given to provide sure direction for our lives.
He'll never force it, but what God wants from us is obedience.

(4) Ask.
This is a gift that is ours simply for the asking.
In the words of the monk, St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), from a homily he gave just after Pentecost:
          As the soul is the life of the body,
          so the Holy Spirit is the life of our souls.
          And as the body collapses if the soul departs,
          so if the life-giving Spirit leaves our souls they too must die….
          Our souls then must seek this Spirit without ceasing;
          by his quickening they live, by his light they see,
          by his teaching they know, by his leadership they their native country.
          Let us then ask of our God,
          not as the poor entreat the rich of this world, for money, or food, or clothing…
          but let us implore him to give us
          that which we need more than anything else,
          and which it most delights him to give
          to those who ask for it.  (Sermon on the Holy Spirit and his Grace)
Sometimes this gift is given swiftly in answer to our prayers.
Sometimes we need to persist in asking
not because God needs to be worn down, but because we do.

If all we have to do is ask, then what are we waiting for?
But I warn you: if you ask, God will certainly awaken his Spirit in you 
and your life will never be the same again.

"For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the will live." (Romans 8:13)

Do you want to lead a full, fulfilling life?

Let us pray:
          O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you.
          Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me.
          Tell me what I should do.
          Give me your orders.
          I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me
          and accept all that you permit to happen to me.
          Let me only know your will. Amen.  (Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, 1851-1926)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Give Me a Sign

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

   Seventh Sunday of Easter   C 

Have you ever noticed the church sign out in front of the Methodist church on Main Street?  I was talking with some folks about it just the other day, and we were wondering where they get all those clever sayings.  Some of them are quite funny, others are thought-provoking, and others downright inspirational.  Have you seen what it says right now?  God couldn’t be everywhere so he created mothers!  Isn’t that sweet?  And just in time for Mothers Day!  I looked that saying up to see where it comes from, and a number of different sources were suggested: some say it’s an old Jewish proverb, some say it was written by Rudyard Kipling, and other say it’s from Erma Bombeck.  Regardless of where it comes from, can you guess my first thought on seeing the sign?  “That’s wrong…”  Now, to be clear: I’m not trying to start an ecumenical fight here!  But that saying is flawed on two fronts.

This first is that it sells God short.  One of the things that makes God, God, is that he is everywhere.  God is all-knowing, almighty, and all-present.  He told us so himself.  As we heard in our second reading, from the Book of Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”  God is eternal, and he is everywhere.  The second thing wrong with that saying is that it sells mothers short, too.  It makes moms little more than a replacement, a substitute, for someone who couldn’t be there.  Of course, if you’re going to be an understudy, being God’s understudy isn’t so bad…but still: a mother’s role is clearly so much more than being a second-string player.

In our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear a story about St. Stephen—not a mother, but the Church’s first martyr.   We’re told that Stephen has a vision of Jesus, seeing him off in heaven, seated at God’s right hand.  Especially in these days following the Lord’s ascension, that can give the impression that God isn’t actually everywhere: he’s up in heaven while we’re here on our own down on earth.  And then we’re told about Stephen’s martyrdom.  As he’s being stoned to death, we hear him day two things: “Lord, forgive them this sin!” and, “Lord, receive my spirit!”  Those should sound familiar:  they’re things we heard Jesus say from his Cross.  Again, we could get the impression that Stephen is an understudy: just repeating the Lord’s lines.   But what’s happening here runs much deeper than Stephen’s words; he’s doing exactly what Jesus did his whole life long: reaching out to others with mercy, and reaching up to the Father with complete trust.  We can recognize Jesus alive and active in St. Stephen—not distant in heaven, but very close: suffering in him and with him on earth.  God is very present in that moment and in that man dying for his faith.

What’s true of this martyr is also very true of mothers, who also lay down their lives for others.   Yet it’s not only true of mothers, but also of fathers, and of children, and of single people, and of priests, and of religious—of all the Christian faithful.  God is present everywhere, and one of the ways he chooses to make his presence known is in you and me.   We see this in our gospel reading.   Jesus is still at table with the Apostles at the Last Supper, and he’s praying: praying not only for them, but for you and me, too—for all who will come to believe through them.  Jesus makes it clear that just as the Father is in him, so he will be in us.  His disciples recognized the Father’s love and glory in Jesus; he prays that that same love and glory will be apparent in us.   Just as the Father sent the Son, so the Son sends us into the world to make him known: God living in Christ, and Christ living his followers.  That’s so much more than being second-string!  God is, in fact, everywhere, and that’s why he made mothers—and all the rest of us, too: to be present with and in and through us.

 So, if that saying is wrong, what ought we do about it?  I know what you most certainly should not do: do not call the Methodist church and tell them that your pastor said they need to change their sign!  What we need to do is live in such a way that the truth of the matter is abundantly clear; we need to live in a way that fulfills the prayer of Jesus.  We need to be a clear sign for others.  You and I are to live our lives in such a way that people who see us can’t help but say, “I know that God is everywhere.  I know because I’ve seen him: I’ve seen him in them.  Not only have they been sent by Jesus, but Jesus lives in them.”

Sunday, May 1, 2016

His Will, Our Peace

E'n la sua volontade e le nostra pace.
In his will is our peace.
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, III, 85

   Sixth Sunday of Easter   C 

This is a season of many birthdays in my family.
Among them, my grandfather Leo turned 92 last Sunday,
and my sister Jen turned 40 on Friday.
(Today is also my mother's birthday...
...but I know better than to give away her age from the pulpit!)
Somehow, we managed to surprise Jen
with a small party on Friday night
which included a little slideshow of family pictures through the years.
It was a fun trip down memory lane.
(It was particularly enjoyable to listen to my nieces and nephew
as they saw old photos from back in the day
of their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles…)

Of course, the whole thing was approached in good humor.
That’s what you’d expect on such an occasion,
avoiding calling undue attention to hard times in the past
(not to mention that we rarely take pictures
of life’s more challenging moments).
But even when tough stuff was brought up—
like the way my brother and sister
used to constantly fight when they were much younger—
it was done with big smiles and much laughter.
It wasn’t to make light of it all,
but because we’ve gained some needed perspective since then:
we can look back in a way
we weren’t able to when in the thick of it;
we can now see those hard times within the grand scheme of things.

In the gospel, we find Jesus preparing his disciples
for his coming Passion and death,
for his Resurrection and Ascension.
That same perspective which mature souls have when looking back?
Jesus wants his followers to have it when looking forward, too.
Life in general, and the life of faith in particular,
is quite often a rather rocky road.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus tells us;
“my peace I give to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”

What does the world usually mean by “peace”?
The absence of all our troubles.
But there is no way in this world of woe
to be completely free of problems.
So the best this world can offer us and call it “peace”—
whether its between peoples and nations,
or within the family, or inside of our own hearts—
is a temporary ceasefire or uneasy truce.
Needless to say,
the real difficulties haven’t actually been eliminated;
we’ve just chosen to ignore them…for now.

That’s not the peace that Jesus gives!

Admittedly, in modern America, 
turning 40 hardly makes you “old,”
(despite everything that’s written on balloons and greeting cards).
But it is around 40 that many have to start reckoning—
like it or not—with such signs of mortality
as aching joints and wrinkles and receding hairlines.
You and I both know people who fight hard against such things,
whether it’s with clothing or cosmetics,
with a fast car or a tattoo or reconstructive surgeries.
They don’t want to look their age
(nor frequently to have to act it, either).
Denial, however, only results in a brief respite, at best.

The other, healthier approach is one of acceptance.
That doesn’t mean we like it.
That doesn’t mean we have to pursue it.
Nor does it mean being stoic—
resigned to our fate,
as if the only option were to grit your teeth and bear it.
Acceptance is a matter of perspective,
of seeing the bigger picture—
taking what we can usually do pretty well in hindsight
and applying it to our present and future, as well.
What you’re accepting isn’t difficulty and diminishment;
what you’re accepting is the truth.
And this doesn’t just apply to getting older;
it’s meant to be a guiding principle for all of life.

What I'm talking about is accepting God’s will in all things—
about being convinced
of the truth and beauty and goodness of God’s ways,
rather than trying to convince God of the merits of our own.
(As an article I read recently put it so well:
two essential rules for living are to always remember that
(1) You’re not God, and (2) This is not heaven.)
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,” says Jesus.
“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.”
An accepting heart is able to look at
whatever circumstances in which it finds itself—
easy or difficult, good or bad—
and say, “I trust that God has put me here
and God has made me this way.
Whatever the Lord’s plan may be in this
I trust he'll give me the strength to keep his word.”

That, my friends, is the peace only Jesus can give!

On my grandfather’s birthday last Sunday,
sitting around the big table where he and my grandmother
have watched their 10 children and 26 grandchildren grow,
they got to reminiscing about the days
when I was small enough to walk on that same table,
when I was a teller of many tall tales,
and when most of those stories involved my imaginary friend
whom I carried around in my pocket.
(Don’t worry: he moved away years and years ago!)

The peace Jesus came to give 
is one of constant divine companionship.
Yes, Jesus died (as we celebrated on Good Friday),
and, yes, he returned to the Father
(as we’ll soon recall on Ascension Thursday),
but he has never left us—and never will.
Love Jesus, keep his word, accept God's will,
and he and the Father will make their dwelling with you
not in your pocket, but in the depths of your soul.
The Father has sent the Holy Spirit to be your Advocate,
to teach and encourage you always.
Whatever life may dish out,
there’s deep peace in knowing
that we’re continually in the best of company:
the company of a Friend unseen, 
but not at all imaginary.

“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.”
Have you ever noticed
how we repeat these words of Jesus at every Mass,
right before Holy Communion?
True peace, you see, is not found 
in the absence of trouble,
but in the real presence of Christ.