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Monday, April 16, 2018

Find Him in the Breaking of the Bread (3rd Sunday, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Today's Gospel begins with a reference to the Eucharist; the disciples share how Jesus made himself known in the breaking of the bread. Even though these followers of Christ walked with Jesus all the way to Emmaus, it wasn’t until he began celebrating the Mass that they recognized him. They are filled with such excitement, wonder, and awe that they run back to Jerusalem the very same night and share their great news with the apostles who are hiding in the upper room.

I think of this excitement, wonder, and awe each year as we welcome new members into our Church at the Easter vigil. In much the same way, I love seeing the nervous excitement and pure faith of our second graders as they receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion. Just yesterday this happy moment took place and their lives will be forever changed whenever they get to be present at Mass and witness Jesus in the breaking of the bread. 

As a priest, I pray in a special way for our people who are going through these milestone moments of faith as new Catholics and first-time communicants. I ask God to protect them and help them grow their spark of Faith into a roaring flame. I ask for some of their zeal and reverence, in case some of mine has been lost from being around our Catholic faith my whole life. Lastly, I pray they don’t fall out of love with God or with His great gift to us: the Mass, the Breaking of the Bread!

Sometimes people tell me they don’t go to Mass anymore because they found it boring or they didn’t get anything out of it. I try not to be defensive but it always hurts my heart. Even when the complaints are not directed at me personally, its hard not to want to shake that person and say, “do you realize what you are saying?” Even with a boring homily, or less than inspiring music, or fidgeting servers, or whatever human imperfection was observed in one of the ministers at Mass, Jesus is still present in the breaking of the bread. Sometimes we make the Mass about us but it’s supposed to be about Jesus, offering himself to the Father for the salvation of the world. Sometimes we want instant gratification, entertainment, comfort, and inspiration, all in less than an hour a week from Mass. But meeting Christ in the Breaking of the Bread is a relationship which takes time and effort to understand and experience its life-changing effects.

Let me give a personal example that might illustrate the point. About five or six years ago I found out I had high cholesterol. Each year it kept going up despite changes in diet and consistent exercise. I didn’t want to go on a statin drug so my doctor said a natural remedy of oatmeal for breakfast and a supplement of red yeast rice might work but I would have to be faithful to using both every day for it to have an effect. Virtually every morning I have a breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries, raw honey, and walnuts. I'd prefer bacon and eggs or cinnamon toast crunch but over the past two years, my cholesterol has nearly been cut in half. If I start to skip this healthy breakfast and only eat it once or twice a month, or simply at Christmas or Easter, or only when I feel like it, I am certain my health will suffer accordingly. 

The same is true with our faith. If I eat Jesus' body and drink his blood at least once a week at Sunday Mass, I will have his life within me. My soul will become spiritually healthy. Sometimes I will enjoy Mass and look forward to being present at the breaking of the Bread. Other times it will be a deliberate decision, a labor of love. The important thing is that I commit to being present and active each and every Sunday regardless of what feelings I experience. This language of eating and drinking is not meant to be a rare event but something a Christian does often: weekly, maybe even daily. Perhaps this is why our wise God made weekly worship one of His 10 commandments. St. John writes in today’s second reading "The way we may be sure we know him is to keep his commandments." Let’s be regulars every week at Mass. Let’s be present at the Breaking of the Bread every Sunday so that we can recognize the Lord and his Love can be perfected in us.

There are three tried and true ways to make sure our relationship with God never stops moving forward: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer, which I have just spoken about with the Mass and of course our daily conversations with God, including reading Scripture, praying the rosary, and so many other ways we stay in contact with the Lord. 

Fasting, is that voluntary choice to give up good things from time to time to grow in self-control and also to remind ourselves that we are not the center of universe. Fasting can involve food, entertainment, sleep, or any other morally good thing and it helps keep us grounded as pilgrims working our way back to heaven.

Finally, Almsgiving, which is prayerfully giving some of our material resources to support the Church and help those who are less fortunate than us. There are many ways to do this, but probably the two main ways for you and me would be to contribute to Incarnate Word parish and the Annual Catholic Appeal, which Charlie Hildebrand is going to talk to you about now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Mercy of God (2nd Sunday of Easter, year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

One of the first things amateur philosophers like to do is ask seemingly impossible riddles. For example, what came first, the chicken or the egg? Or when they study the philosophy of God: could God make a rock so heavy he couldn’t lift it. They will argue for hours whether the answer is yes or no, but ultimately it is a silly question. God is all-powerful and by definition, anything he creates is within his power. Perhaps more important to our reflection today, on this Divine Mercy Sunday is this riddle: Could God create a sinner so sinful he couldn’t forgive him? It might seem to be a silly question, but it is one that many people end up answering with a loud “yes.”

In our gospel we find the apostles huddled in the upper room. The doors are locked because of their fear of the Jews and perhaps due to their shame of abandoning Christ. Could Jesus forgive the weakness of his closest followers? Right away, we see that he does as he says, Peace be with you”! But even after Jesus appears to the ten who are present, we have Thomas, who was out doing other things. He refuses to believe unless he can put his finger in the nail marks and his hand into the side of Jesus. A week later Jesus returns, and notice, the doors are still locked; even after the apostles saw the risen Lord, they were still afraid, still hiding behind locked doors!! Again Jesus comes to them, gives them his peace and invites Thomas to touch his wounds that he might believe. Jesus will continue to appear to those who believe in him over the next forty days to strengthen them and prepare them to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Pay attention to how often they will need to hear these words-- “Peace be with you”. They need to hear these words before they can go out and spread the good news of his resurrection. Even though they have seen the risen Christ, even though one of them has touched the wounds of Christ, they still struggle with fear and disbelief.  

But the apostles aren’t the only ones who react to fear and shame by locking themselves away in a room. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that there are times that we find ourselves in the very same position in our spiritual lives. For each of us, there are parts of our lives, sins from the past, areas of our hearts that we lock up and hide behind closed doors. Perhaps, just a week ago, we came to this church with some good resolutions from our Lenten journey. Perhaps we saw some things in our lives that we could change so that we might grow closer to Christ. And maybe Good Friday inspired us to live better lives, as we reflected on the many ways that Jesus suffered and died to set us free. But now, a week after Easter, how have our lives changed? What difference has Easter made for us? Or do we find ourselves like the apostles; aware of the empty tomb but afraid and confused. What are those things in our hearts and in our lives that we hide behind locked doors because of fear or shame? 

Maybe we are more like the apostle Thomas in our disbelief. Perhaps we can’t quite bring ourselves to believe the good news of the resurrection until we see some proof for ourselves. 

And these are some of the reasons that the Church gives us this Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday; to remind us of the great love God has for us. Despite all our doubts, despite all of our fears, even with our worst sins, Christ is always present with those comforting words we hear in the gospel today: “peace be with you.” In a special way, we are reminded of the great gift that we have in the sacrament of reconciliation, where our sins, sufferings and shortcomings are wiped away by God’s endless mercy. In this sacrament of confession, Christ enters the upper rooms of our hearts to offer us peace where there is fear, forgiveness where there is self-hate, --- and faith where there is doubt. 

His mercy is always present. But he doesn’t force us to accept it. We have to do our part by inviting him in. And so today, on Divine Mercy Sunday I invite you and challenge you to make use of this great sacrament of mercy and forgiveness. I urge you to experience the peace and forgiveness that only the Resurrected Christ can give you by going to confession. There is no sin too great, no situation too hopeless for our Lord, who has conquered death itself. As St. John Vianney said: ‘the sinfulness of man is like a grain of sand compared to the mountain of God’s mercy.’ 

My prayer for each of us here today is that we experience the joy of this Easter season by encountering the divine and endless mercy of our God. May we let go of the fear and doubt in our lives that causes us to hide from God and from others by going to confession. In this way we will become a people of the resurrection, a people who hears and experiences the words our Lord speaks to each one of us, “peace be with you.”

Monday, April 2, 2018

He Has Rescued Us! (Easter 2018)

To listen to this homily, click here.

On October 14, 1987, a toddler named Jessica McClure was playing in her aunt’s backyard when she fell into an abandoned well, becoming wedged in a narrow crevice 22 feet below the surface. As rescue operations began, reporters and television crews descended upon Midland, Texas, where Jessica’s teenage parents were struggling to make a living. Glued to their tv’s, people around the world learned that “Baby Jessica,” as she was famously called, spent her time underground sleeping, crying, singing songs, and calling for her mother. They watched as emergency workers piped fresh air down the well, burrowed through solid rock to create a rescue shaft and, more than 58 hours after her ordeal began, hauled the frightened but alert toddler out of her cramped, dark prison.

In January, 1945, 121 volunteer U.S. Army Rangers set out to rescue more than 500 allied prisoners of war who had already survived the Bataan Death March, a brutal multi-day forced walk through the searing heat of the Philippine jungles. The POW’s were held in a notoriously brutal camp which was seen as the end of the line for the unlucky souls in captivity. To free their fellow soldiers, the Rangers snuck behind enemy lines and launched a surprise attack on the Japanese. The assault lasted 30 minutes and freed hundreds of soldiers, with minimal American casualties. 

These stories are just a couple of the countless, amazing moments where human life has been saved through courage, persistence, and ingenuity. People love the story of a successful rescue. In recent times we can think back to the miraculous rescue of 33 miners from a collapsed mine in Chile which took over two months or the "miracle on the Hudson” where all 155 passengers and crew were rescued after splashing down in the Hudson River.

In each of these cases, when people heard about these rescues, they were the talk of the town. There were celebrations, parades, and even trips to Disneyland. It was the topic of conversation everywhere and everyone felt good about the successful outcome. But over time, the memory of these miracles faded. In just a few years many people struggle to remember the details of what exactly happened or how amazing it was. Of course, it’s safe to say that those who were rescued never forgot the joy of being saved or the gratitude they felt towards those who helped them. More than likely, they gave thanks daily for their “second chance”, their new lease on life. 

One of the great doctors of our Church, St. John Chrysostom, exclaims that each and every one of us has been rescued by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Easter Sunday is the celebration, throughout the entire world, of the most important rescue that ever did and ever will happen. Before Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, humanity was trapped in the darkness of sin and death, unleashed by the original sin of Adam and Eve. We were completely unable to help ourselves regain friendship with God or enjoy the rest of heaven. Death had the final word and we were powerless in its grip. 

Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead, we were given another chance. Death no longer reigned supreme. Christ showed us he could defeat this ancient enemy when he rose from that tomb in Palestine, some 2000 years ago. 

One of the dangers for you and me, is that we have heard this story before. It happened a long time ago. We might feel far removed from that daring and life-saving rescue which changed the course of our world and our own personal destiny. We might even be at risk of being ungrateful to the Lord or unaffected by his heroic sacrifice which set us free. 

Which is why our Church calls us to pull out all the stops in our celebration (tonight) today. It’s why we will bask in the glory of the resurrection for the next 50 days of the Easter season until it ends with Pentecost. This is why we are asked to come to Mass each and every Sunday to join together in the saving sacrifice of the cross, right here at the altar. Those who remember are grateful and those who are grateful make sure their rescue is never forgotten and the sacrifices that were made were not in vain.

  Easter Sunday is a joyful reminder to say thank you to the God who rescued our souls. It is a reminder that Jesus loved each of us so much he died for our sins and made it possible for us to be with him in heaven. Today, as we gather with friends and family to celebrate and enjoy time together, let’s make sure we don’t neglect to thank the very person who gave everything so we would no longer be trapped by sin and death. Let us not forget His sacrifice! Every Sunday is a little Easter and every time we come to Mass, we say “thank you” to God for setting us free from the clutches of sin and death.

May the joy and peace of Easter fill our hearts and homes. May we never take this gift of salvation for granted or fail to thank our heavenly rescuer, Jesus Christ, risen and victorious forever!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Create A Clean Heart In Us, O God! (5th Sunday of Lent, Year B)

Believe it or not, there can be a great deal of truth revealed in cartoons. Occasionally, we run across one of these comics that hits the nail on the head and articulates some universal truth, often in a humorous way. One example of this is the cartoon titled, Peanuts. In this particular episode, Linus enters the room to find his older (and perpetually crabby sister) Lucy crying bitterly, as if the world itself were about to come to an end. And the reason for her sobbing? “Mom promised me a birthday party and now she says I can’t have one”, she wails. Now Linus, in his quiet, wise manner, offers this advice: “You’re not using the right strategy. Why not go up to mom and say to her: “I’m so sorry dear mother. I admit that I have been bad. You were right to cancel my party. But from now on I will try to be good.”

Lucy thinks about it; she really does. She even takes the time to prepare a little speech for her mother. Then she thinks about it some more…and some more…and some more. Finally, in the last panel of the cartoon, the stubborn Lucy cries out, “I’d rather die!”

I think we are all familiar with this reaction of Lucy, this inherent tendency within each of us to resist acknowledging our faults and wrongdoing, sometimes even thinking death to be a better, more attractive alternative. There is something about the human heart, after the sin of Adam and Eve, which hates to be wrong, which hates to be obedient, which hates to be conformed and crucified to the gospel. And for good reason. This process of molding our heart to the will of God is difficult and painful. As a matter of fact, it is impossible without the strength of God’s grace. But the pride and stubbornness of the human heart, portrayed in the Peanuts cartoon causes a pain all its own. The effects of sin and selfishness tend to make our hearts into hearts of stone. And even though these hearts of stone can feel familiar and even comfortable at times, they are hard and impenetrable. Their growth is stunted because they are shut off from the grace of God. As a result, we cannot grow in the ways of God’s grace. These hardened hearts, the product of sin, do not allow us to truly live and love as God intended.

It’s for this reason that the psalmist pleads with God in the responsorial psalm to create a clean heart within us. Seeing the damage and pain that a sinful, hardened heart can cause, the writer asks God to create a new heart within him. And we hear of that same thing happening in our first reading. The prophet Jeremiah describes the Lord’s plan, a plan which will write God’s law on the very hearts of his people, a plan which will give them loving hearts in place of stony hearts, a plan whereby all people will come to know the Lord not by what they do but by how they love.

But this kind of love doesn’t come easy. In the second reading, we hear that Christ himself, the Son of God, learned this obedient love through his suffering and death on the cross. 
In our gospel today, Christ makes it quite clear: unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain and bears no fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Jesus is talking about his imminent passion and death, but he is also telling us that we will also have to make a choice of whether or not we will be the grain of wheat that must die. And if we wish to save our lives for all eternity and bear great fruit for the kingdom of God, then dying to ourselves is really the only choice we have.

The irony of all of this, is that Lucy, in the Peanuts cartoon was on the right path. Her line of “I would rather die” is the same attitude that helped Christ conquer the fears and temptations that would have prevented him from embracing the cross. The important distinction was that Lucy was afraid of dying to herself, to her pride, to her way of doing things while Christ was willing to die to all those things so that we might live. This mindset of “I would rather die” is exactly the mindset that you and I need to have in regards to sin, selfishness, pride, and all the other vices that keep us from drawing closer to Christ. We should be more willing to die in this life than to give in to the type of behaviors that kill the life of grace in our souls and separate us from the source of eternal life and happiness. 

In just a week we will enter into the holiest time of the Church year, those days when we walk with Christ through his passion, death and resurrection. And in this holy time, we have the chance to lay down our lives, each in our own way. If we haven’t been preparing ourselves to die with Christ during these forty days of lent, then we risk missing out on so many graces. If we have been trying to save our earthly lives, our sinful habits, or our self-centered practices instead of drawing closer to Jesus, then it’s possible that we that we have not and will not bear spiritual fruit.

The good news is that it is not too late. If we have been a little lax, a little too concerned about our worldly business, there is still time to embrace the season of lent and allow Christ to transform our stony hearts into hearts modeled after his own loving heart. It is never too late to die to sin in our lives; Christ saved the good thief moments before he left this world. As we celebrate this 5th Sunday of Lent, let us ask our Lord to create a new heart within us, a heart that despises sin, a heart that loves God above all things, a heart that loves our neighbor as ourselves. Create a clean heart in us, O Lord, that we might bear great fruit for you in this life and rejoice with you forever in the life to come. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Live In the Light (4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Some misunderstandings are funny. Like the case of John, who travelled down to a secluded, rural part of Georgia to visit his 90 year-old grandpa. After spending a great evening talking and catching up, John woke up to a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, all prepared with love by his grandfather. The only thing that seemed slightly wrong was a film-like coating on his plate. So John asked his grandpa, “Are these plates clean?”

Grandpa replied, “They are as clean as cold water can get them. Just you go ahead and finish your meal, young man!” For lunch, the old man made thick, juicy hamburgers. Again, John was concerned about the plates since his appeared to have tiny specks around the edge that looked like dried egg. So he asked, “Are you sure these plates are clean?” Without looking up, the old man said, “I told you before Sonny, those dishes are as clean as cold water can get them. Now don’t you worry, I don’t want to hear another word about it!”

Later that afternoon, John was on his way to a nearby town and as he was leaving, his grandfather’s dog started to growl and wouldn’t let him pass. John yelled and said, “Grandpa, your dog won’t let me get to my car.” Without turning his attention away from the football game he was watching on TV, the old man shouted, “Dang it Coldwater, leave that boy alone and go lay down!” 

The humor of this story lies in the misunderstanding, in the delightful confusion of the words and their meaning. The same sort of misunderstanding can be hurtful and tragic when it deals with the Word of God, especially the passage of today’s gospel, John 3:16. This is perhaps one of the best known lines of the entire Bible, certainly one of the most profound and moving, “that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that those who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.” How odd that many people would know this verse as the scripture to be found on signs throughout sport venues and playoff games. Not quite the appropriate setting for a  scripture so solemn and profound! Even more hurtful and sad are those that simply refer to this passage in order to condemn those different than themselves. Perhaps they should read the rest of the passage that states, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” 

Perhaps worst of all are those who are unaffected by the power of these verses from St. John’s gospel. How can it be that some people are indifferent to those beautiful words of hope and salvation written with the guidance of the Holy Spirit by the pen of John? To ensure we don’t fall into this category, let’s explore two words of John 3:16 and reflect on them in light of the coming dawn of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.
The first word of the passage that leaps out is composed of only two letters, the simple word “so”. We are loved, our whole world is loved by a God who is neither distant nor disinterested. In fact, he “so” loved us and our world, that even after we had turned our backs on him and thrown away the paradise and perfect relationship we had with him, he did not abandon us. The first reading reminds us that “Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.” Early and often, God tried to raise us out of our sins. But when that wasn’t enough, he so loved us that he sent his only Son, the One who has been with him and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. God spared nothing to save us, to draw us out of sin and back to his redeeming love. This is the power of the divine love found in that simple word “so” of John 3:16.

The second word worth mentioning is “world”. God so loves our world. All of it and everyone in it. It would have been much easier for him to start a new world, to forget about our fickle and sinful hearts, to leave us to our own devices and the consequences of our choices. But he doesn’t; he sticks with us and throughout history, sends us everything we need to come back to him, to be freed from sin and selfishness, and live as children of his glorious light. It should blow our minds that God has this sort of love for our world, for each and every one of us. The One who has everything, who is everything stops at nothing to redeem us and lead us back to him. 

If we appreciate this love, which moved God to send his only-begotten Son, we will run towards the light. A strong theme of John’s Gospel is that of Jesus’ being the “light”. Bad things happen in his Gospel at night or in the “darkness”. Remember, Nicodemus comes to visit with Jesus at night. John uses this symbol to present Jesus as the One Who has come into the darkness of the world to show us how beloved we are. There are those who choose darkness and so remain unaware of their being so loved. These choose the works appropriate to darkness. The real evil is that those who choose darkness choose the evil of not knowing, accepting, and living the truth as loved and saved in Christ. The result of this Gospel is that those who know who they are in the light of Christ will more clearly desire themselves to be shown in the works of “light” which they live. The opposite is true as well. If we do not know, or refuse to accept who we are, then personal darkness will rule us. We will seek hiding and secretly hope our selfishness is never exposed.

May we never forget that “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.” May we consider these profound words as an invitation to trust him completely, an invitation to thank him for his ongoing patience, and a reminder to repent of the times we have been indifferent to this gift which will provide all we ever need. Let us live in the light of Christ and joyfully invite others to join us!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Zeal For the Family (3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

I will freely acknowledge I was a somewhat-unusual child growing up. There were things that bothered me; things most children probably didn’t even notice. One example was the cast iron stack in my family’s house. Nowadays, these pipes, which carry all of the wastewater out of the home, are made from PVC plastic. But until 30 years ago, they were made out of heavy cast iron. The stack in our childhood home was starting to rust all over and it drove me crazy. With my parents’ permission, I took a wire brush and scraped all the rust spots off the pipe and then applied a slick coat of black spray paint. It looked as good as new. For about a month. Then the rust spots reappeared, right through the new paint, again and again, no matter how many coats of paint I put on. I was frustrated until my dad explained that the pipe was rusting from the inside out and could never be fixed from the outside. The water had slowly compromised the inside of the pipe over the past 40 years and that damage was finally starting to show on the outside. Only replacing the pipe would fix the problem.

Two weeks ago, our nation was rocked once again by a mass shooting in Parkland Florida. This was just the latest in an increasing number of violent attacks in places that have been traditionally regarded as safe havens for learning, leisure, and worship. Before Parkland, there was Las Vegas, before that there was Sutherland Springs church in Texas, before that the Orlando nightclub, preceded by San Bernardino which came after the movie theater in Aurora Colorado and Sandy Hook. The sad list goes on and on. Now, more than ever, there is an outcry to make this stop. Punish the NRA. Get rid of semi-automatic weapons, high capacity magazines, and bump stocks. Raise the age to purchase firearms, do more rigorous background checks, do something, pass some sort of law to make it safer for everyone.

These are noble intentions and I think we all agree we want our schools, churches, and public places to be safe. The frustrations and fears that erupt after each occasion of senseless slaughter are understandable. The need for something to change is real. Sadly, the current conversation is woefully insufficient. The answers we seek, the safety we crave, the peace and respect we long for will not be a quick fix and won’t come about simply through the actions of congress or some sort of magic law. That is like me scraping and painting that old pipe in our house. That is trying to fix a problem from outside. It might make us feel better for a while, it might appear to be the answer. But the rottenness is much deeper and very few people seem to be willing to talk about it. But we must if we want to stop hearing about these horrible massacres.

The deeper problem is the moral health of our nation, most especially in the fundamental building block of human society: the family. Our families are under constant attack from many forms of anger, violence, indifference, and selfishness; many children breath this poisonous air, day after day. Over the course of years and generations, this begins to affect the whole fabric of society, whether we like it or not and becomes a sort of incubator for violent acting-out.
Consider some alarming facts and patterns. You and I live in a nation that has, in the last 40 years, sanctioned the deliberate murder of 60 million unborn babies through abortion in what is supposed to be the safest of all places, their mother’s womb. If a society allows its most defenseless members to be dispatched under the pretense of law and freedom, is it so shocking that troubled individuals now feel entitled to snatch that so-called right for themselves as they callously snuff out the lives of others with no seeming regret? 

As our culture continues to push a “me-first” mentality, is it any surprise that more and more children are born into unstable families, uncommitted relationships, and single parent situations? More and more children in America are growing up in broken homes and a culture of toxic stress, disrespect, and domestic violence. Most of these children will never commit a crime. But many will end up living in poverty. Suffering addiction. Feeling emotionally neglected. Being homeless, in insurmountable debt, or chronic unemployment – or a combination of these things – trapped in lives without the opportunities others take for granted.

The connection between the breakdown of the family and the serious social issues that plague us is well-researched and well-established. But many people don’t want to talk about it or confront it because it means confronting something that is very personal to each of us: how we choose to live our lives and what our priorities are.

The elephant in the room is marriage. Would it surprise you to know that, on average, children who are raised in stable homes with both parents do better? Children from divorced parents, or whose parents never married in the first place, do worse – whether that’s in terms of lower levels of social mobility or higher levels of poverty. Of course, averages have exceptions. The sacrifices of so many single parents are heroic and selfless. Many children from broken homes do well. Some of my dearest friends and family are examples of this. But that shouldn’t blind us to the overall picture. A few decades ago, over 90 percent of children were born to married parents. Today it’s less than half. No matter what your political or religious leanings are, we should all agree that it would be better for our society if our families were healthier and whole, if each person were challenged to think about others before themselves, and begin taking personal responsibility for their actions. Strong families —— and individuals with virtue and integrity are the foundation of a strong and prosperous society.

As always, our faith gives us hope. Following Christ each day gives us the strength to challenge the parts of our culture that have become selfish, dangerous, and hostile to life and human dignity. The example of Jesus in the temple from today’s gospel, reminds us that we cannot sit by and just throw up our hands in despair. Zeal for God’s plan of salvation, zeal for the dignity of every human person, zeal for the flourishing of our human families must consume us and move us to action. 

No one should ever be afraid to go to school, see a movie, worship at church, or attend a concert. That safety can never be guaranteed by simply passing more laws or taking things away from others. It only happens when human beings share mutual respect for each other and value the life and rights of their neighbors as much as they do their own. This lesson begins in the home and is strengthened by faith. Take this week to prayerfully reflect on your own family. Make it a place of virtue, generosity, service, and respect. Make it clear that each person in your home is appreciated and loved. Be accountable to others and take responsibility for your actions. This is the way of peace. This is how we stop the cycle of violence and bloodshed in our world.  

Monday, February 26, 2018

Let God Lead! (2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

There are few stories more intriguing, more confusing, or downright disturbing as the one in our first reading. This account of Abraham and Isaac hiking up Mount Moriah is enough to make us wonder what sort of God this is, who would ask a father to sacrifice his son. This is especially true, if we understand how special Isaac was to Abraham. For the longest time, Abraham and his wife Sarah were unable to have children. But then, when all hope seemed lost, when both Abraham and Sarah were quite old, God blessed them with a child of their own. God displayed his goodness and power by enabling Sarah to give birth to a healthy son, even though scripture tells us she was 90 years old!! This child grew up and was sacred to Abraham and Sarah; he was the embodiment of God's promise to them. He was the one who would carry on Abraham's lineage to the next generation. Few fathers loved their sons as much as Abraham loved Isaac. And fewer still realized what a gift and blessing they had in their sons.
            God puts Abraham to the test in order to see the depth of his faith; He asks Abraham to prove his faith, love, and devotion by sacrificing Isaac, his only, beloved son. Parents, could you imagine hearing this from God? Can you imagine the turmoil and struggle? This certainly seems like a no-win situation for Abraham; satisfy God by sacrificing your son or keep your son and fail God's test. Abraham chooses to follow God's command and takes Isaac to the land of Moriah to be sacrificed. As he raised the knife to slaughter his son, God steps in and says, "wait!!" Now I see how devoted you are to me. Because of your faith and willingness to give everything to me, even your only son…. I will bless you." And how does God bless Abraham? He blesses him abundantly, beyond his wildest dreams. The Lord tells Abraham, an old man with only one son, that he will multiply his descendants until they become as numerous as the sands of the sea and as countless as the stars in the sky. And those descendents will be blessed with many good things all because Abraham had faith in God and was not afraid to give up the one thing that was most important to him, the one person who was nearest and dearest to his heart.
            Even though I have heard this story many times, it never loses its power. And while I am confident none of us will ever be asked to sacrifice a child to the Lord, (even though some of you with teenagers might have entertained the thought), this story of Abraham's testing has something profound to teach us. First of all, it help us appreciate Abraham's faith? Here was a man, willing to entrust the life of his only son to the will of God. Abraham was able to look beyond the very logical and reasonable fears that would have said "no" to God's test and somehow trust that God would make things right. And God did. Abraham is our father in faith and he serves as a beautiful example of what we should strive for in our own relationship with God, even when the Lord's commands seem too much, too hard, or simply don't make sense.           
            Haven't we all been in a spiritually-confusing situation before? That place where God asks us to give him something or someone near and dear to our hearts. In each of our lives, God has, God is, and God will call us to make sacrifices that involve the things most precious to us. He does this to test our faith; he does this to test our love; he does this so that he can bless us abundantly, beyond our wildest dreams.
            In my own life, I have experienced this "Abraham moment" whenever the Archbishop has asked me to move to another parish. For whatever reason, I have never stayed in one place for more than a few years. I have been very happy in the different parishes I have served but I have always tried to be generous and trust that when the Archbishop asks me to move, it is the voice of God inviting me to give up one good thing so I can experience something even better! And I have been so blessed each time I have trusted God and moved forward with faith!
This Lenten season is a time for sacrifice, a time of testing. What is God asking you to offer back to him? Most of us Americans have an obsession with control. Could it be that he is asking you to let go and trust him in taking a different job or being open to another child? Perhaps this sacrifice might be seen in God nudging you to commit a more significant amount of time, talent, and money to those who are less fortunate. Is it possible that he is asking to let go of the gadgets and the busyness that so often keep us from deepening our relationship with God and others? Could it be that God is even calling some to leave everything behind and follow him as a priest or consecrated religious?
            Or maybe God is asking you to offer someone back to him, just like he did with Abraham. Is there a good friend or a beloved family member that Christ is asking you to share with others or offer up in prayer? Is there someone whom we are putting above God right now? Is there a person we can't let go of, even though we know it is the right thing for us and for them? Is there someone dear to us who needs to be challenged or brought closer to God? These examples are just some of the ways that God might be testing our faith, asking us to give back to him our greatest blessing so that he can bless us even more.

            Perhaps this seems too tough or far-fetched. Indeed it might have been, if God hadn't done it himself. You see, God so loved the world; God so loved us, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to suffer and die on the cross so we might be reunited to him and enjoy eternal life. God has shown us how to give up what is most precious to us and demonstrates the blessings that come from such a complete sacrifice. The story of Abraham and Isaac should give us courage in our own journey of faith, especially during this Lenten season. God is asking us to make sacrifices, to offer our greatest blessings back to him so that he can bless us even further with a generosity that defies our imaginations and expectations. Let us not be afraid to let go and offer whatever that might be so we can share in the glory God has prepared for us. We have nothing to lose; we have everything to gain.