Sunday, June 26, 2016

I'm Late

 Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

Many here will still remember Sr. Mary Hallahan, the spunky Ursuline Sister who, over the years, served in many parishes across this region before she died at the end of 2012.  Sr. Mary had a nickname for me: “the late Fr. Giroux.”  It’s not that she heard a rumor of my early demise, nor that she wished me dead.  (Heaven forbid!)  It’s that she noticed—especially when I’d arrive for daily Mass—that I was frequently coming in at the very last minute, or very often arriving a little bit late.

Guilty as charged!

Now, some people are chronically late because they’re lazy: they simply can’t get out of bed or out of the chair to go and do what needs to be done.  Others are late because they’re selfish and rude: assuming that their time and schedule are more important than those of the folks they continually keep waiting.  For me, the problem is that I’m always trying to do more than the time at hand will actually allow.  We priests are busy—like everybody else these days—so I try to make the most of whatever time I’ve got.  But when I try to squeeze too much into those last 15 minutes, I consistently end up behind schedule for the next event.

Being “the late Fr. Giroux” helps me to relate to Elisha in our first reading, and those would-be-disciples mentioned in the gospel I just read.  When they hear the call of the Lord, they ask for more time.  “Can’t it wait just a minute?  Or another day?  Or maybe until next year?  There’s so much left to do!”  It’d be easy enough to think the message God’s giving in the scriptures this Sunday is one about good time management—providing helpful hints for organizing your schedule based on spiritual principles.  But God has so much more in mind! 

You see, it’s not enough that God and the things of God regularly make it onto your to-do list, nor that God is the most important item on the list, nor even that he’s at the top of your list.  What God wants is to write your to-do list.  God will never be satisfied with being another part of your life; his place is at the heart of your life, giving direction and purpose to everything else.  That’s because what interests God is not so much what we can do or how much we can accomplish, as it is who we are and whose we are—giving ourselves to him 100%.

So don’t merely include Jesus as one more thing on your very busy agenda.  Instead, let Jesus set your agenda.  And begin doing so now.  Given what’s stake, this is something for which we most certainly don’t want to be even just a little bit late.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Why? No... Who?

 Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

Why?  That’s the question the whole country has been asking this past week following the horrific shootings in Orlando.  Why?  Why did he do it?  How could he have treated the lives of other people with such contempt?  What were his motives?  

We only have a few small pieces of information to work with, but many theories have already surfaced.  Maybe he was moved by hatred for our country, influenced for foreign terrorists.  Maybe he was motivated by an extremist form of religion.  Maybe he acted out of hate for others whose way of life he couldn’t understand or accept.  Or maybe it was really out of hatred for himself.   The fact of the matter is that we may never know for sure. 

Why?  The unanswered question troubles us in the face of such unspeakable violence.  But while it troubles us, it really shouldn’t surprise us.  I know there are plenty of times when I have more than enough trouble just figuring out myself.  Why did you do that?  What were you thinking?  And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this!  St. Paul himself wrestles with the fact that he often fails to do the good he wants, and instead does the evil he hates (cf. Rom 15, 19).  If we can’t get to the bottom of our own motives, what makes us think we’ll get to the bottom of what was going on in someone else’s mind and heart?

2,000 years ago, the crowds were trying to figure out another man.  This Jesus—who is he?  What makes him tick?  Why does he speak the way he speaks?  Why does he do the things he does?  What are his motives?  Who does he think he is?  Jesus himself knew their thoughts, and asks his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  Their answers were perfectly reasonable: “He is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets returned from the grave!”  Their answers are all very reasonable…and all of them are dead wrong.

Who is this Jesus?  Like Peter, we know who he really is…but certainly not because we’ve figured him out on our own.  If we can’t understand ourselves, how could we ever get to the bottom of the Only Begotten Son of God?  We know because God revealed himself to us.  In Jesus, God tells us about himself.   In Jesus, we have a window onto the heart of God.  But Jesus isn’t only true God; he is also true man.  Jesus doesn’t only reveal God to us; he also reveals us to ourselves.  The first chapter of the Bible told us that man, unlike any of the other creatures, was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27).  We see that image most clearly in Christ.  Jesus is the human person as he was originally meant to be.

What Jesus asks his disciples that day is quite possibly the most critical question in all of human history: “Who do you say that I am?”  It’s a question that each one of us must answer for himself—not with answers from the Bible or the Catechism, but with one that comes from our own heart and convictions and experience.  The way we answer that question matters so much because upon it depends our salvation!  And how we look at Jesus makes all the difference in how we see ourselves and how we see one another.  The divine image and likeness that we recognize in Christ is the one we also ought to recognize in the mirror, and ought to recognize in every other person—not just other Catholics, and not just other Christians, but in every man, woman, and child, no matter their race or religion, no matter their way of life.  Seeing in this way changes everything!

Why?  Finding the answer to that question pales when compared to how we must respond to the other: “Who do you say that I am?”

When we see Jesus, let us always see our truest selves.  And when we see our neighbor, let us always see Jesus.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bath Time

 Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

When was the last time you bathed?  No, I’m not detecting a particular funk here in church this morning.  Let me rephrase the question: When was the last time you took a bath?  While we all clean up pretty regularly, most of us stop taking baths with any regularity about the time we stop playing with toys in the tub. 

Anther question: When was the last time you gave someone else a bath?  We wash all kinds of things—the dishes, the car, the dog—but bathing another person generally occurs only in two circumstances: with babies, or with the weak and infirm.  Let’s consider giving a baby a bath.  While the soap in the water betrays mom’s or dad’s hope of getting the kid clean, a baby’s bath time is about much more than that.  There’s laughter and splashing, cuddles and kisses.  Bathing another person is a very intimate matter.  It is an act of tenderness, of loving care.   What is apparently about cleanliness is also about togetherness—about bringing two people closer in their relationship with one another.

This Sunday we hear the stirring gospel story of the sinful woman who bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and washes them with her hair.  But in order to better appreciate this striking gesture, we need to give some thought to the story behind the story.  Why did she do this in the first place?  The translation of the Bible we use at Mass leads us a bit astray today.  It has Jesus say, “Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”  It makes it seem that her good deed has earned God’s mercy for her.  It’s actually quite the opposite which is true: “Her many sins have been forgiven, so she has shown great mercy.” 

That makes it clear this woman has encountered Jesus before—and that encountering him radically changed her.  How else could you explain her behavior?  This woman—whose sinful reputation is widely known—barges into the home of a religious leader in the middle of a dinner party and kneels down crying at the feet of the guest of honor.  Her action is not a sudden inspiration, either, because she arrives carrying a container of expensive perfume.   I don’t know about you, but where I come from, this is not normal behavior!  Only something big could cause somebody to act out this way!  Like David and other sinners, great and small, throughout the Bible, this woman recognizes that all sin is a sin against the Lord.  She recognizes, too, that all sin must therefore be confessed before the Lord, for it is the Lord alone who has the power to forgive sin.  And unlike the Pharisee who invited Jesus over for dinner, this woman recognizes that that divine power of forgiveness is at work in Jesus.  Before she bathed his feet with her tears, Jesus had given her a bath—not one of water washing her body, but of mercy purifying her heart.

So, what does all this mean for you and me?

When was the last time you bathed?  Our life in Christ, the life of Christ in us, began with a bath: when we were washed in the waters of Baptism.  But just as in our bodily life, so in our spiritual life: bathing once is not sufficient for a lifetime.  We’re sinners.  We sin.  What parts of your life and mine need to be washed clean by Jesus?  Maybe we have some daily sins—the sort that have been a part of our life so long we just assume we’ll never be rid of them.  Why not ask Jesus to wash them away?  Or maybe we’re bearing guilt for a big sin—recent or long past—that seems too big, of which we’re too ashamed, to seek forgiveness.  Ask Jesus to wash you clean.  Don’t forget what Jesus teaches in the gospel: the greater the sin forgiven, the greater the love.  He wants to cleanse us so he can bring us closer to himself.  We have no reason to be afraid.

And when was the last time you bathed the feet of Jesus?  Some of us haven’t thought to do so because we didn’t even know we could.  Of course, we don't wash Jesus' feet because he needs our forgiveness; we do it to show out lovebecause we long to get closer to him.  We can wash Jesus’ feet by our devotion.  We literally sit as his feet when we come in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, but find ourselves there, too, whenever or wherever we pray.  Pour out your heart by “wasting” some time on Jesus.  And we can also wash his feet in our acts of charity toward one another.  Did Jesus not say that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him?  Who among our friends and neighbors, among our coworkers or schoolmates, needs to be bathed in mercy?   Reach out to comfort them and you reach out to Christ.

When was the last time you bathed?  Let Jesus wash away your sins in his Divine Mercy.  And when was the last time you gave someone else a bath?  Console the Sacred Heart of Jesus by reaching out to him in devotion and to your neighbor in charity.  Experience Christ's mercy and show him your love.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Mystery of Faith

  Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

On Friday morning, I found myself at the graveside as a mother buried her only son—a life lost tragically, and much too young.  As things were winding down, she took my hand and said, “I’ve read the readings for Sunday, Father.  Why can’t Jesus do for me what he did for that mother in the gospel?”  It was a hard question to hear, and an even harder question to answer.

Not much more than an hour later, I was visiting the home of a widow in the parish—a mother of four, who had buried two of those children before they turned five.  Years later, she lost her husband.  Her living children moved away, and no longer practiced the Catholic faith she worked so hard to instill in them.  One of them was estranged from her mother—not even speaking to her.   This past winter was a long string of serious illnesses, leaving her pretty much confined to her home.  And yet she spoke to me with such a radiant smile: “Father, I’ve lived long enough and endured enough hardship and heartache to know that whenever I suffer, whenever I face a loss, whenever somebody or something dies, that just means the Lord has some even greater blessing in store for me.”  Here was a woman who understood that in order to get to Easter, one must pass by way of Good Friday.  When she feels the wood of the Cross pressing upon her shoulder, instead of being weighed down by it, her heart is uplifted and her spirit raised.  Her hope is clearly anchored in the core mystery of our faith: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”

The four gospels record only three people ever being revived by Jesus during his earthly ministry.  I tend to think of this, not only as the most spectacular, but also the most cruel of his miracles.  Where are any of them now?  The young daughter of Jairus, and the Lord’s dear friend, Lazarus, and this son of the widow of Nain—they were all restored to life, only to die once again.   Yes, Jesus came to rescue us, but not from those things that pose a threat to the life of the body.

The first Christians of the city of Rome were called a most unusual nickname by their pagan neighbors: The Diggers—as in the gravediggers.  Long before Christians could build churches for public worship, they were digging out catacombs outside of town to reverently bury their dead.  This was not the Roman way.  The ancient Romans had a deep fear of death, and a deep distaste for looking upon a dead body.  They were rather unsure about a life after this one, yet dreaded being haunted by the departed.  The human body was seen as little more than a disposable container for the soul, to be discarded as swiftly as possible: into a mass grave for the poor, or by cremation for the rich.  These new Christians, however, were notably different.   They carried the bodies of their dead in procession.  They entombed their remains as something sacred.  They would regularly visit their graves.  They were not afraid of death nor of the dead—which affected not only how they treated their dead, but also how they treated the living.  This distinguishing feature of their lives was rooted in their faith “in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

The world around us is increasingly like that in which lived the first Christians of Rome.  We need to distinguish ourselves just like they did.  It’s not because, in the face of the hard questions raised by life and death, we have all the answers; it’s because we still know there’s only one source for sure hope: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”