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