Fr. Scott and I invited the men of the parish to join us in taking the Nazarite Challenge: a Catholic spin on No-Shave November. We were quite pleased at the number of newly furry faces that began to appear in the pews, and invited those who took part to join us at the rectory for prayer, fraternity, and dinner (and a great photo-op, too). These fine gentlemen and their whiskers (there were several others, too, unable to come) joined us in bearded brotherhood tonight...and I think this is just the start of something very good God has in store for the men of St. André's...
Sunday, November 27, 2016
First Sunday of Advent A
At the beginning of the month, Fr. Scott and I invited the men of the parish to join us in the Nazarite Challenge—a Catholic spin on “No-Shave November.” Taking part was more than an excuse to stop shaving for 30 days (men already had hunting season for that). Spiritual commitments were also part of the challenge, one of which was to give up something, to make a sacrifice, for the month.
As a household, Fr. Scott and I decided to give up drinking alcohol—something that was part of the original Old Testament Nazarite vow. But we each made an additional personal sacrifice, too. Fr. Scott gave up coffee (all caffeine, actually)…which has left me feeling like I need to sneak around whenever I want to drink a cup. I made a commitment to get right up with the alarm first thing in the morning—to be up and moving as soon as it goes off at 5:00am or 6:00am.
Ask anyone who attends the 6:45am daily Mass and they’ll tell you: it’s a struggle for me to get going in the morning. Kay Hall (a fine lady and parishioner here who died about a year and a half ago) walked to that early Mass well into her 90’s, and was always early. If she looked at her watch and it was 6:45am and there still wasn’t a priest standing at the altar, she’d say in a whisper loud enough for all to hear, “It must be Giroux again…”
I’ve tried all kinds of things over the years to improve in this area. Many a Lent I’ve given up the snooze bar…and that’s worked well enough for 40 days. Earlier this year, I bought this new alarm clock—the old fashioned kind, with two loud bells and no snooze bar. I put it clear across the room, so I have to get out of bed quickly to shut off all that racket!
Why is this such a struggle? What is it that keeps me in bed in the morning? Having some time to reflect on this, I’ve come up with four reasons—ones, I think, that can apply to every one of us at some time or another. Sometimes we stay in bed because we’re so very tired; whatever we did the day or the evening before has simply left us worn out. Sometimes we stay in bed because we’re lazy; there’s nothing that seems urgent enough to get us up and moving. Sometimes we stay in bed because we’re afraid; there’s something we must do during the coming day that we simply dread. And sometimes we stay in bed because it’s just so very comfortable: it’s warm and cozy and we don’t want to leave that behind.
Why am I telling you all of this? It’s not to give you some insights into your pastor’s sleeping habits. It’s because this idea of waking up and staying awake is the primary metaphor the Church puts before us on this First Sunday of Advent. In the second reading, we heard St. Paul write to the Romans, “Now is the hour for you to wake from sleep! The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light!” And Jesus, too, tells us, “Stay awake! If the homeowner knew when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and prevented his home from being broken into. At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
I think it’s safe to say that our Lord and his apostle aren’t primarily concerned with the time you roll out of bed each morning. What they’re trying to wake up is our soul. But those four things that tend to keep us in bed all apply in this context, as well.
Sometimes it’s fear that keeps us from making progress in the spiritual life: we’re afraid of the challenges and struggles that lie ahead. To that, we must respond with faith—believing less in the things that frighten us, and more in the God who will see us through. Sometimes we’re too tried and discouraged to work on growing in holiness: we feel weighed down by all that lies behind us. To that, we must respond with hope—keeping our eyes on the Lord’s promises that lead us on. Sometimes it’s laziness or indifference that prevent us from becoming the saints we’re called to be: we get distracted or don’t take it very seriously. To that, we must respond with deep love—tell me what you love, tell me what you’re passionate about, and I’ll tell you what gets you out of bed in the morning.
And sometimes, we’re just too comfortable to want to make the necessary changes in our spiritual lives: things aren’t as good as they could be, but they’re familiar. To faith, hope, and love, we need to add personal sacrifice. When our religion’s central symbol is the cross, when our primary image of God shows him hanging dead upon that cross, we must not be surprised that sacrifice is a crucial means toward growth.
So much for what we’re waking up from. Now to what we’re waking up for…
Everybody knows that four weeks from today it’s Christmas…which makes it clear enough that our Lord’s admonition to stay awake to greet an unknown day must concern something more than that. We want to be wide-awake for our Lord’s return at the end of time. Jesus Christ promised to come again, and that remains true almost 2,000 year later. Just as one eagerly anticipates the coming visit of an old friend, so we need to stay vigilant for Christ’s coming in glory. And we want to be wide-awake for the Lord’s coming at the end of each of our lives. No one knows in advance the day of his or her death, and we need to always be prepared lest we be surprised on the day Jesus comes to take us home.
But take note in this Sunday’s gospel of the example Jesus makes of the days of Noah, when people were eating and drinking and marrying, working out in the fields and grinding grain in the mill. They were simply doing the ordinary stuff of life…and I think the Lord mentions these things so that we won’t sleepwalk through his presence in our everyday lives, either: when we eat and drink, in our relationships, in work or school. Jesus is constantly coming to meet us—waiting around every corner—but we need to be alert and awake to recognize him.
Ringggg… That, my friends, is the sound of Advent. It’s a wake up call, a call to rise and shine. It’s the call to leave behind our fears and tired discouragement, our lazy difference and comfort zones. It’s the call of faith, hope, and love, expressed in generous sacrifice. It’s the call to be always alert and ready to meet Christ when he comes on the last day, when comes on my last day, when comes into my life today and everyday.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Quite a change in the weather, isn’t it? When I left Mass yesterday evening, folks were walking about in their shirtsleeves—some even in shorts—it was so warm. This morning, the only things we’re warming up are our snow shovels…
There’s another notable change I’d like to address this morning.
As you know, two weeks ago I left for my annual retreat. You don’t need me to remind you that, at the time, we were on the tail end of rather contentious presidential election campaign—one which, please God, we’ll never see the likes of again. I had the radio on most of my drive down to the Catskills, and there was great excitement in the way people were talking about the candidates and making predictions about the election.
As I drove through the gate of the monastery that Sunday evening, I shut off the radio—and that was my last contact with the outside world for the entire week. I certainly was mindful of what was going on—I had cast my absentee ballot before leaving and was praying (as were the sisters) for the country and the election—but had no idea who had won the vote or how until Sunday morning, when I saw the front page of a newspaper on my way to Mass.
As I drove back through the monastery gate and turned the car radio back on, the tone of things was very different. The voices coming out of NPR sounded more like they were reporting on a funeral than an election. They interviewed folks who rejoiced at the outcome, but also described cities on the verge of riots. Many people sounded rather afraid.
After about a half hour of this, I stopped to have breakfast with a cousin of mine who lives nearby. Walking into the diner I said, “You know, Kevin, it almost feels like I’ve returned to a different country coming off of this retreat.”
I know I’m not the only one to have had that sort of feeling. But with another week to reflect, especially in light of today’s feast of Jesus Christ our King, I’ve come to think that feeling was a bit exaggerated.
You see, here in America, we elect a president for this country alone, who will hold office for just four years—eight at the most. But today, we celebrate a King who rules over every people and nation, things visible and invisible, the living and the dead, and whose kingdom will have no end.
When we elect a president, we vote for a man or woman who is (whether or not we like to admit it) imperfect, using a system that’s also imperfect. But Christ our King is nothing but good and true—perfectly innocent because he’s not only sent by God, but is God himself in our human flesh.
There’s a certain allegiance I ought to pledge to my country and her president. But my respect is a merely human one, and my obedience to her laws is limited to those that are just when compared to the law of God written on my conscience. But to this King and his kingdom, I pledge my whole heart and soul, mind and body. His laws call for my complete obedience, because he not only made the laws, he made me and the whole cosmos that they govern. This King is worthy of more than my respect; he’s deserving of all my love.
Finally—and most critically—the kings and presidents of this world without fail send their people out to die for them. King Jesus does just the opposite: he willingly dies for his people.
The feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It was near the end of a Holy Year—just as today marks the end of the Jubilee of Mercy. These were the unsettled years between the World Wars. The pope looked around and saw society becoming increasing secular and nationalistic. (Sound familiar?) As earthly kingdoms fell, people were increasingly fearful and doubtful—doubtful about the authority or even the existence of Jesus Christ, doubtful about the authority and relevance of his Church. Pope Pius instituted today’s feast not to make people feel better, not to provide consoling thoughts in a difficult time, but to stress a truth that’s just as needed today as it was 90 years ago: that unless individuals and nations submit themselves wholeheartedly to Christ and kingdom, there will not and cannot be true or lasting peace.
Did America change on November 8th? I’m not so sure. I think it’s too early to tell—especially too early to know if it was a change for good or ill. Let me tell you, though, about a day when the whole world and all of history changed. It was a Friday afternoon in spring, around the year 33 A.D. It was on a hilltop outside the city walls of Jerusalem. On the authority of Caesar and Pontius Pilate and King Herod, three men were condemned to die. But one of them, owning up to his crimes, submitted himself to one of the others: the one hanging beneath the paradoxical charge that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” And in so doing, this “good thief’s” sentence of death, rendered in full justice, was transformed into a promise of everlasting life, made in complete mercy. And that promise holds true not only for one man, but for you and for me and people always and everywhere.
As a loyal son of my country I can still reasonably say, “Hail to the chief!” But as a citizen of heaven, my heartfelt cry, now and for eternity, remains: “All hail, Christ our King!”
Sunday, November 6, 2016
By the time this appears online, I should be on my way to my annual retreat--spending it this year with the Sisters of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, NY. I'll be there all week, so no homily next Sunday.
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time C
In advertizing, a good slogan, a good jingle, doesn’t only tell you something about the product; it’s also makes what your selling enticing, appealing, attractive, and in a way that’s pretty hard to forget. To prove my point… What’s “good to the last drop?” Maxwell House. Who “brings good things to light?” General Electric. Who answered the question, “Where’s the beef?” Wendy’s!
It’s clear this Sunday that Jesus didn’t have a degree in marketing, since the slogan which practically emerges from the gospel reading we’ve just heard goes something like: “Follow me to heaven…and when we get there, there’ll be no sex!”
When the Sadducees pose their ridiculous question to Jesus, he responds by pointing out that, while in this life people marry and remarry, in the resurrection of the dead it will not be so. And since Jesus teaches us elsewhere that, by God’s design, the rightful place of sex is within marriage, then there will be no marital relations in heaven.
This is not because sex is bad, of course—quite the opposite, actually. God invented it when he told our first parents, “Be fruitful and multiply!” God looked upon what he made, upon the two become one flesh, and saw that it was good.
Rather, it’s because, in heaven, sex is completely surpassed.
Human beings are made male and female primarily for purposes of reproduction. We’ve tried hard to separate making love from making babies, but in God’s plan they are intrinsically united. Reproduction is nature’s way of outwitting death—by replacing life that was lost. But when death has been definitively defeated in the resurrection, there remains no need to reproduce.
Not only won’t we need it; we won’t desire it. Our hearts are made for something far greater than pleasure; they’re made for intimacy: to enter into union, into communion, with another; to love and to be loved. In heaven, our intimacy with God and, in God, with one another will be so total, so complete, that sex would be redundant.
Why do I bring all this up? Certainly not to be crass or controversial…but because in looking at this seemingly odd example, we see a much bigger principle at play.
As a priest, I attend more funerals than most people. And when people face the loss of a loved one, they naturally speculate quite a bit about heaven. I’ve noticed a pattern in those speculations. When most people talk about eternal life in heaven, it sounds quite a lot like mortal life here on earth—souped up, of course, and never ending, but essentially a continuation of what we already know. In our imagining, anyway, we make heaven look an awful lot like earth. And if there isn’t really much difference between them, what encouragement do we have to live any differently than everybody else?
But that gets things exactly backwards! Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be about making earth look more like heaven? Isn’t that one of the things we pray for each time we say the Lord’s Prayer? You see, heaven far surpasses all we know in this world. Even blessings like marriage and family are but reflections of what awaits us there. In heaven, all our needs will be met and all our desires fulfilled—perfectly and endlessly—when we know love without limit. And when we recognize this, and get a small taste of heaven here on earth, then we can face death courageously at the hands of the wicked as did the seven sons and their mother in the Second Book of Maccabees. Then we can live as did St. Paul, with confidence and endurance in the face of any adversity. Then our lives become a far better slogan for the faith: “Follow me to heaven—it’s out of this world!”
In this month when we prayerfully remember the faithful departed, may this truth renew our hope. At the start of this week when we consider God’s call in each of our lives, may it strengthen us to persevere in taking up our place in his plan. During this season when we review our stewardship of the Lord’s many blessings, may we do our part, with all the resources at our disposal, to make earth more and more like heaven.
Acknowledgements to J. David Franks and Peter Kreeft
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Solemnity of All Saints
Notes from a rather visual homily with the kids from Holy Family School...
Simply putting on a crown doesn’t make you a king; generally, you have to be born into it.
Donning a chef’s hat doesn’t make you a good cook; even if you have natural talents, it’s still pretty much something you must learn.
And even if you put one on your head, it’s simply impossible for you to become a flamingo.
But a halo? What does it take to become a saint?
Unlike becoming king, it’s not something you can inherit.
Unlike becoming a chef, it’s not a skill in which you’re trained.
And unlike the flamingo, it’s something that actually quite possible.
Yet how—how to become holy?
First, like the multitude John saw in his heavenly vision, we must wash our robes white in the Blood of the Lamb: we must repent; we must seek forgiveness for our sins; we must let God wipe the slate clean.
And then we allow God to paint his image anew in us. As we read in the First Letter of John, “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him…”
To be a saint mean to be like God, and only God can make us like himself.
It’s one thing to model a hat. It’s quite another thing to model holiness. We praise God for the models we have in the saints, who show us that holiness is possible—possible because it is God who accomplishes his wondrous work in us.