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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Don't Mess With the Heavenly Hippo (2nd Sunday, Year C)

To listen to this homily, click here.

A few years ago, an American actress, singer and former model from Memphis was given a rare and unusual honor. This woman, Cybil Shepherd, was asked to name the twin hippopotami born at the Memphis zoo. The only problem was that the mother hippo, Julie, wouldn't let anyone close enough to the babies to determine their gender. Apparently the two 40 pound babies paddled or walked just under Julie and nobody wanted to upset a momma who weighs more than 4000 pounds by getting too close.  

I don't know exactly what a hippo does to protect her young but I am certain it wouldn't be pleasant to be on the receiving end. The result of the protective hippo was a long delay in naming its offspring. In any case it didn't seem to matter a whole lot. (For all you curious readers, they ended up naming the babies "Splish" and "Splash")

Julie continued to care for her babies: feeding them, protecting them, keeping them close to herself and away from danger. And the babies, untroubled by their nameless state, didn't stray from Julie. As young and simple-minded as they were, they still knew a good thing when they saw it: - that good thing being a two-ton, funny-looking, grey and pink creature who seemed to always provide them with just what they needed. Why would they wander far from that? 
In some respects, hippos, cats, and just about any other animal you'd care to mention know more than people. The young at least have enough sense to stay close to momma; close to food, protection, warmth, and nurture. You won't find kittens turning away from the warm fur they know so well. Chicks don't stray far from the protection of the hen's wings. Such behavior would be counter to their nature--counter to the natural order God created.  

I know we might explain such behavior simply as instinct, but for all of that, even the least intelligent animal young stays close to the one who gave them life; they cry out to the one who nurtures and protects them. 

But what about people? Now, that's another story! Only human beings stray; only the children of God exhibit the unnatural behavior of turning away from the love and protection of the God who made them. 

In today’s readings, we hear once again, the promises of our all-loving and protective God. To an elderly and child-less Abraham, he promises to make a countless nation and to provide them with fertile and beautiful land in which to grow and prosper. Our Big brother in the Faith, St. Paul, reminds us that we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and because of that, Christ will take our lowly, weak selves and transform them into the glory that he himself enjoys. And finally, in the gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up the mountain to pray and is filled with a brilliant light. God the Father speaks to them and lets them know that Christ is his beloved Son, they should listen to him. And the glory and the transformation that they see in Christ is something that will be shared with them if they remain faithful. 

These are incredible promises! And if they were made by anyone other than the Most High God, they would certainly be too good to be true. But they are made by the One who made the universe; the One who sent his only-begotten Son to suffer and die for each and every person that has ever walked this earth. These promises are real, they can and have been kept in a way we could never have imagined and certainly never deserved. Even if we look at it from a purely practical point of view, we have a really good thing going! We have a God who wants to protect us from sin and death, he wants to heal our wounds and feed us with every good thing to build up soul and body. He even wants to take these lowly, mortal bodies and transform them into something that will last forever with him in the perfect happiness of heaven.

So what is missing in this offer from God? What is it that we can possibly hope to acquire away from him? Why do we risk wandering from God and losing his assurance of spiritual safety and peace?

In his promises to us, God provides all that we need but not necessarily everything we want. When we wander from the safety of his protection, it is often to seek our own ambition or to resist the responsibilities that are part and parcel of following him. The pleasure or power or freedom we experience apart from God only last for a short time before remorse and emptiness come calling. So many of us spend too much of our lives trying to fill this void with things or people other than God. But what will really satisfy us is already waiting to embrace us with the open arms of forgiveness and healing. 

Lent is a time to come back to Him and to his Church, which he founded to protect us and keep us safe. It is not simply a period of depriving ourselves of things we like. It is a time to be reconciled and reunited with God, a joyful season of forgiveness and growth, where we lay aside the things that separate or distract us from the Lord. In this time of grace, God moves toward us as well. He wants us back, he wants us close to him, he wants to provide every good thing that we need. 

Nothing can overcome the love God has for us, it is more fierce and powerful than that 2-ton hippo. It is more tender than a mother’s love, it stops at nothing to bring us back. But he always respects our freedom and allows us to decide. As we continue through this Lent, let us appreciate the gift of love we have been given. Let us look constantly at the crucifix to remind ourselves of what God is prepared to do to keep us safe and close to him. And finally, let us remember to stand with the Lord, who is our shelter and safety, because he will always provide for our need and calm our every fear.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

We Are All Tempted (1st Sunday of Lent, Year C)

To listen to this homily, click here.

There is a story told of four different ministers who decided to take some time off together to get away from their congregations and recharger. They found a nice rustic cabin in the woods, far away from the parish phones and emails and drop-in appointments. As luck would have it, these four ministers were from different faith traditions but they shared a love for ministry. There was a rabbi, a protestant minister, a priest and a permanent deacon. After a couple of days swapping war stories and commiserating, they decided to tell each other their biggest temptation. 

The rabbi went first and said, "Well, it's kind of embarrassing, but my big temptation is looking at ebay for hours. Once I was late to my own sabbath service because I was trying to win an item." 

"My temptation is worse," said the protestant minister. "It's gambling. One Saturday instead of preparing a fire-and-brimstone sermon I went to the race track to bet on horses." 

"Mine is worse still," said the priest. "I sometimes can't control the urge to drink. One time I got so desperate I actually dipped into the sacramental wine." 

The permanent deacon was strangely quiet. "friends, I hate to say this," he said, "but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip - and if you will excuse me, I have some phone calls to make!" 

You don’t have to be a priest, deacon, or rabbi to be tempted. We all have temptations. Everyone who has lived, from Adam and Eve, to you and me, has to deal with this inconvenient truth. As we enter the first Sunday of Lent, let’s address a difficult question: Why does God allow the devil to tempt us? Why doesn’t he make it easier to love him and to do his Divine Will? Why can’t he make our good choices easier and our bad choices harder?  

In today’s gospel we hear that even Jesus experienced temptation. Luke tells us He was "led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." The Spirit actually led him to place where he would be tested. God allowed these temptations to take place because they have a purpose. They are not just the result of God being distracted or falling asleep at the wheel!

But what are some of the reasons God allows us to be tempted? Is there something good that comes from them? The first reason God allows the devil to tempt us is to expose our real selves. I remember the first time I took the test for my motorcycle license. I had driven motorcycles before, mostly off-road and was very comfortable on them. I read the little book and aced the written test. When I arrived the next day to take the driving test, I hadn’t practiced with my brother’s sport bike (why would I need to?!) Instead, I spent the time waiting, looking with snobbish disgust at the swarms of drivers waiting to test for some lame and wimpy car with four wheels. Finally my time came and I took the motorcycle driving test. After smashing a number of innocent little cones and nearly laying the bike on the ground, I failed the test. Miserably.     
That temptation of pride exposed my true faults. I was nowhere near as strong or capable as I thought. This painful awareness of personal weakness had a positive side - it gave me a sense of my personal limits. Without these failures, we can be tempted to think that we are more than we actually are, that we are little gods to be admired by the world. Sooner or later, temptation teaches us a valuable lesson in humility. 

When we recognize our true self, our own weaknesses, we grow in humility - and that leads to the second purpose of temptation: To acknowledge dependence on God. In response to the devil's temptations, Jesus says that we do not live on bread alone, "but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." When we see temptation’s true danger, we can and should fall to our knees. We see this even in Jesus.  He went into the desert for forty days, to be on his knees, so that he could resist the temptations of the devil.

When we give in to temptation and sin, we make ourselves loners in the worst sense. In the beginning, we might feel like we are being set free from pesky rules and guilt, but in fact we are falling into bondage. On the other hand, to resist temptation requires God's help. It takes humility to ask for help, but in the end it leads to freedom. A classic example is alcohol. A person might think, "I am free to do what I want. I can have as many drinks as I please. I am free." That person becomes a slave - to alcohol and ultimately to other things. But the person who recognizes his powerlessness and entrusts himself to a Higher Power becomes free. 

From this I think you can see the third purpose of temptation. When we resist temptation, we get stronger. On the other hand, when we fall into a temptation, we get weaker. We become more vulnerable to other temptations too. But if we turn away from one of those temptations - even the smallest one - we gain strength and can resist them better. 

Now let me be crystal-clear about one thing; temptation has a purpose. Because God is almighty and loving, he can make good come out it. But that doesn’t mean we go looking for trouble! I don’t want you all leaving church thinking: “Fr. Schroeder says we should all go and get tempted so that we can learn humility and trust in God. We must avoid temptation and those near occasions of sin; this is an obligation for all of us. However, when unavoidable temptations come our way, we can have hope knowing that with God’s help they will actually make us stronger, better Christians. 

As we begin Lent this year, I invite you to think about what it is that tempts you. Is it lust, laziness, greed, pride, gossip, selfishness, comfort, self-pity, food, or drink? What are our spiritual soft spots that make it easy to wander away from God? This season is an opportunity to examine our soul and our life and honestly acknowledge where we are weak and need to grow. 

All of us are weak in some way, but each time we stand with Jesus, each time we resist temptation, we gain power. That power ultimately does not belong to us, but to God. The power is real, but it is never our own. So let us humble ourselves in God’s sight so that his strength might be at work in our lives. May we constantly acknowledge the fact that we depend on Him to lead a good life and to be good people. And finally, let us thank God for his strength, which can bring good out of temptation and power out of weakness.

Monday, March 4, 2019

What's Your Fruit? (8th Sunday, Year C)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Looking over past homilies, I noticed that, in 11 years of preaching, lent has never been this late. And usually, once the Easter season is over and we hop back into ordinary time, we pick up up in the 9th or 10th week. So I have no notes or past homilies to refer to and these readings are not often preached on or heard at Mass. Which is a shame because they contain a series of practical and relevant teachings any one of us could use in our life right now.

Let’s zoom in on the rapid-fire lessons Jesus is doling out in the gospel today. The first one deals with teaching and being taught. “Can a blind man act as a guide to a blind man. Will they not both fall into a ditch?"  In other words, we cannot teach until we have learned. We accept this truth in many areas of life. We read the reviews of persons, products, and services online. We want the teachers in schools and universities to be qualified. I don’t think anyone would take their car to a mechanic who boasted about having no “formal” training! No one wants a doctor or lawyer who lost their credentials! 

If this is true about matters of this world, how much more important will it be for the things that deal with eternity?! We have a responsibility to carefully choose who teaches us about our faith and spiritual life. We need to take an active role in helping that aspect of our lives grow. It won’t happen by osmosis. Jesus promises his Holy Spirit to guide the Catholic Church with a teaching authority when it comes to matters of faith and morals. We don’t have to blindly figure out these things by ourselves. In fact, it is a really bad idea to try and be our own church and teacher. This divinely-guided authority is called the magisterium and it involves the Pope, Bishops, theologians and consultants. The duty of the magisterium is to make sure we can follow the true teacher, Jesus Christ, in a time and culture that is very different than 2000 years ago. This teaching authority is a great gift but sometimes, out of pride, laziness or even scandal at the human weakness of some of our leaders, we rebel and try to make it on our own wisdom. Some questions to reflect on from this first lesson are: who is my teacher in spiritual matters? Am I teachable? Do I put in the effort to keep learning about my faith from good solid teachers or did my spiritual develop stop in grade school, high school or college?

The second mini lesson deals with judgements. In one of his most well-known quips, Jesus says, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” We are really good at seeing the imperfections of others while being completely blind to our own. Oftentimes our defects are far more serious but we take someone to task for a much smaller fault. And, how little patience we have for the people who have the exact same imperfections as we do. Interestingly enough, Jesus doesn’t say we should stop caring about the splinter in our brother’s eye. But he demands we clean up our own vision first before we help them remove it. That way we can help others grow and improve in ways that are charitable and genuine.

The third lesson relates back to the first reading from Sirach and teaches us not judge ourselves or others by appearance. "A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” Our thoughts, words, and actions show who we really are. When a person does good things, we know this is a good person. When a person is continually stirring up trouble, we know that this person is troubled. The fruit reveals the person. In the same way, it is not enough for us to say we are Catholics and then live as pagans. In fact, it is not enough to say we are saved. What we need to say is that we are in the daily process of being saved. Our actions must reflect God's gift to us. If they don't, then we are in fact rejecting his salvation. Yes, we always depend upon the mercy of God, but we have to respond to this mercy by doing our best to live the Christian life. If we don’t, then our fruits will demonstrate the insincerity of our conversion. This hypocrisy of Christians, whether it be the laity out in the world or the clergy in the churches, is the biggest turn-off to those who don’t yet follow Jesus. Our thoughts, words, and actions must be consistent with what we believe, otherwise, not only may we be lost but so might others through scandal. 

This Wednesday Lent finally begins. I need this Lent to work on these powerful lessons of Jesus. Perhaps you do too. Lent is a time for us to grow in our faith and let the Holy Spirit guide us through the prayer and teaching of our Church. Lent is a time to look into ourselves and ask the tough questions. Lent is a time to consider our living of the Christian life. Do our actions demonstrate Christ's continuing conversion in our lives? Do our thoughts, words, and actions direct others towards God? How hard am I working to remove that beam from my eyeballs? If we are honest, we all have some work to do. So let us ask the Lord for his patience, mercy, and grace!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Bless Your Enemies!! (7th Sunday, Year C)

To listen to this homily, click here.

One of the great blessings of my priesthood was the opportunity to live and work with Bishop Hermann for the two years I was assigned to the Cathedral Basilica. Bishop Hermann, as many of you know, was also the pastor at Incarnate Word for something like 15 or 16 years. Part of my assignment was to help him, especially when he was running the Archdiocese for the period of time after Cardinal Burke moved to Rome and before Archbishop Carlson arrived. We spent lots of time together going to confirmations, award ceremonies, prayer breakfasts, school masses, and so many other things I didn’t know Bishops did. (It made me certain that I never want to be a bishop!) Bishop Hermann is a blessing to be around. He is a pretty energetic guy, completely genuine and down to earth. Best of all, he is endlessly joyful and optimistic. Sometimes I would just shake my head as he told stories, interrupted by constant laughter, about how he blessed a person who cursed him or insulted him or rejected him because of his beliefs as a Christian. He seemed to be completely unfazed by the anger, hatred, and mean-ness he had to absorb as a bishop and representative of the Catholic Church. 

I really wanted to know his secret, how he not only kept a healthy blood pressure in the face of insults, unfair judgments, and slander but then even found joy in the midst of it all. These ugly, hurtful things had no effect on him even as they made my blood boil.

Bishop Hermann told me, and he would tell any of you, that he wasn’t always this way. He had a nasty temper; he could fly off the handle and cause people to run for the hills. A defining moment came during the term of our 42nd president. Bishop Hermann noticed whenever he saw that person on TV or heard his voice on the radio, his heart would fill with dark thoughts, insults, and not-so-Christian words. His disdain for the president (whose policies and personal life were not the model of Christian values) was starting to eat away at Bishop Hermann. His peace and joy were being stolen away. 

By the grace of God, Bishop Hermann came across a talk by a minister on something called unilateral forgiveness. The concept is simple and it comes right out of the readings for this weekend. “Love your enemies”, “Pray for those who persecute you”, “turn the other cheek”, and “go the extra mile” when someone demands something from you. Most difficult of all, ask God to bless the people who speak badly of you and try to destroy you. My gut reaction whenever I hear this gospel is more like, “Are you kidding me!!”

First of all, we have to acknowledge that unilateral forgiveness is not a natural response to hatred and persecution. It is supernatural, which means we can only do it with the help of God’s grace. But God loves to spread that grace freely, Jesus says it will be poured into our lap with overwhelming generosity. All we have to do is ask. And we see lots of real people practicing this amazing grace of forgiveness and blessing: David, who shows mercy and respect to Saul, even as the King keeps trying to kill him out of envy. Jesus, who blesses his enemies and prays for them, even while they are crucifying him on the cross. The apostles and so many martyrs, pray for the very ones who kill them and are able to die gruesome deaths with peaceful joy instead of bitter agony. 

There is great power and freedom in unilateral forgiveness. Imagine what it would feel like to not lose your joy and peace when people are nasty and thoughtless and do things like cut you off on the road, or gossip about you and spread rumors, or even deliberately try to hurt you and make your life difficult? What if you and me could float above the fray? What if our happiness was not affected by even the most terrible actions of other humans? That incredible peace is not only possible but actually demanded by Jesus.

In the gospel, Our Lord forcefully tells his listeners and us, to stop judging the hearts of others and to respond to every instance of hatred with love, to curses with blessings. Most powerfully for me, is the line where Jesus says, “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” What a simple but challenging formula to live by! God gives us the equation he uses in dealing with humanity; it is directly controlled by us! Jesus couldn’t be any more open and transparent about it! So, when I curse the person who insults me or says untrue things to others about me, I am telling God, “give me the very same for all those times that I do wrong; let me be cursed.” Or, when I am mistreated and judged and I pray that the offender be blessed and filled with every good thing, I am telling God, “give me that same blessing, even when I have done wrong and been a sinner.” Which one sounds better to you? I think the choice is pretty easy, even if doing it out is much harder.

To wrap up, let’s go back to my experience of living with Bishop Hermann. That man’s joy is real; it’s not some sort of superficial, naive, kumbaya-mentality. When he prays for those who have hurt him, he means it and he wants God to overwhelm them with blessings. I am nowhere near that level of unilateral forgiveness but I am working on it. Sometimes I catch myself asking God to give people a taste of what they’ve dumped on me. Then I notice I lose my peace and joy. That vindictive attitude doesn’t fulfill me. Even my body pays a price by becoming tense and unsettled. But I thank God for those two years at the Cathedral. Because now I notice when I go down that road of bitterness and retribution. And with God’s help, I pray for my enemies, for those who don’t like me, who don’t respect me and I am overwhelmed with a deep, abiding peace that cannot be taken away, even by the worst of what people can do. It really works! 

If this is hard for you, start by forgiving your enemies just for the sake of your own happiness. God will still be happy to send the grace. Treat yourself! Stop holding grudges; they only punish you. Just like any skill, unilateral forgiveness takes practice to make perfect. Let’s start right now, at the offertory. When I am preparing the bread and wine at the altar, let’s place every person who has hurt us in any way on this altar. And then as I lift up the bread and the wine to heaven, let’s ask God to bless, in whatever way he sees fit, those same people. If we do this, as strange as it seems, we are calling down blessings upon ourselves and I guarantee you will not have to wait until heaven to experience the peace and joy God will send your way!

Monday, February 18, 2019

"Blessed Are They Who Hope in the Lord" (6th Sunday, Year C)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Sometimes people ask what it was like growing up in a large family. I always answer that it was great because our parents, either by choice or necessity, allowed us to be free-range children, which is one step above feral ones. This freedom allowed us to learn much by exploring, making mistakes, and problem-solving. Of course, there were limits to that freedom. If one of us had a really bad or dangerous idea, mom or dad would step in. But for the most part they showed a remarkable amount of restraint as we children offered thoughts and plans we believed to be quite wise, most of which were shown to be rather foolish.

One instance of problem solving I remember involved the exhaust on my dad’s car. The pipe had rusted out and if you’ve ever heard a car without a muffler, you know it needed to be repaired. I was sure I could fix it. My first attempt was to wrap an old cotton diaper around the broken ends of the pipe and join them together with duct tape. It actually worked for about 10 miles until the diaper caught on fire and burned off. Numerous other attempts were made with creative materials but the eventual fix was a tomato paste can which was the perfect size and two radiator clamps.

To this day I am a firm believer in creative problem solving and hold that most broken things can be repaired with either duct tape, gorilla glue, zip ties or a combination of all three. But the process of solving problems has to follow certain rules and limits. We had to run things by mom and dad first and they would let us know if our idea was ok to try or might lead to destruction of life and property. Some things would never work no matter how many different ways we tried it. Oftentimes there was a very fine line between a brilliant solution and stubborn foolishness.   

Apply this truth to the spiritual realm. In the first reading, Jeremiah says, "Cursed be he who trusts in human beings." At first glance that seems a little harsh. Is he suggesting that be suspicious of everyone? Of course not! Jeremiah is not talking about the trust we have to have in each other in order to function in healthy families and communities. Rather, he is reminding us that it is impossible to address the problems of our families, our nation, and our world if our lives and our solutions do not have God as their foundation and goal. 

Jeremiah’s audience had some serious issues that needed fixing. Their kingdom was besieged by the Babylonians, who were far stronger and more ruthless than Israel. The king kept trying to find salvation with worldly wisdom. He was willing to make a deal with the devil to try and buy peace. Again and again God spoke through his prophets that the resolution would come only through fidelity to the covenant; following his rules and trusting in Him. The Israelites could not solve their problems on their own. If they operated on their own wisdom, disaster would follow. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened.

The sobering, humbling truth that we cannot solve our own problems apart from God, is a message we still need to hear. There are many good people in our world who are determined to fix the ills of humanity. This is a wonderful intention and a noble goal. However, many of these same people think we can do it by trusting completely in our own cleverness and technology. This does not work. Think about the last century. 

The twentieth century began with the most terrible war humanity had ever endured. It is thought that nearly 40 million people were killed or wounded as a result of World War I. In 1919, after the war ended, the victorious nations gathered in Versailles to formulate a treaty which, they said, would guarantee this kind of war would never happen again. When the treaty was signed, Pope Benedict XV warned that the treaty and the peace was doomed to fail because there was no mention of God. There was no reference of eternal, spiritual values. The treaty relied completely on mankind's ability to restore peace to the world. The Pope, we know now, was correct. Within twenty years the world was engaged in an even worse conflict, World War II. Ultimate reliance upon human capabilities is a sham. It didn't work for the people of Jeremiah's day. It didn't work after World War I. It won't work today. The one lesson we need to learn from history is that our only true hope must be in God. Faith and trust in him must be the starting point as we creatively work to address the problems around us.

Christians are called to be problem-solvers. We cannot be satisfied to put our heads in the sand or circle the wagons and just take care of our own. God wants to use our minds, our gifts, our creative perspectives to help solve the many things that burden ourselves and others. He does not want us to be helpless or hopeless in the face of what sometimes appear to be insurmountable challenges.

And boy aren’t there a lot of them! Of course there are the usual suspects like illness, hunger, poverty, persecution, racism, and division. But there is also a growing despair and emptiness in our young people, the breakup of marriages and families, disrespect for human life, broken trust in our Church, and so many others. 

We can’t let these things get us down, as serious as they are. God has proven to us that he cares about our world and our problems through the life and death of his Son. He continues to send leaders and prophets to guide us. We cannot stop working to solve the ills of society but we must always consult the One who made us and who knows better than we know ourselves. He will keep us from falling in love with our own ideas, becoming stubbornly foolish, and adopting solutions that ultimately harm us. 

Today’s Scriptures challenge us to reflect on several fundamental questions. 1) In whom or what do I place my trust when I face challenges and setbacks? Is it God, —- myself, —— another human, or even material things? 2) Have I considered inviting God into the problems that affect me and the people I care about? Am I willing to trust his Wisdom over mine and open to pursuing the path He indicates for me through Scripture and teaching of our Faith?

  Todays readings promise many blessings for the person who does one thing: trust in the Lord above else. May we follow that advice and always place our hope in God who is our solution for every problem and source of all blessings!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Speak the Truth (4th Sunday of OT, Year C)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Almost two years ago, the Archbishop called me in and said, “ Kevin, I want you to go to Incarnate Word as the next pastor there.” Having just settled in at my previous assignment, I was looking for a way out; I didn’t want to move so soon. Naturally, I turned to Scripture to save me. “Archbishop”, I replied, “that is my parents’ parish and you know what happened when Jesus went back to his hometown synagogue and preached? They tried to throw him off a cliff!” Archbishop Carlson dismissed my concern immediately and simply said, “Don’t worry, there are no cliffs in Chesterfield.”

Today we hear two stories that highlight the challenges of speaking truth, especially to people who know us well. First up is Jeremiah who was given the task of prophesying to the King and upper class of Jerusalem. After completing that difficult job, he was told by God to speak to the everyday people. By the time he was done, he wasn’t very popular. Because of his challenging message to return to God, many rejected him and he was persecuted, attacked, even left to die in a cistern. Despite all this suffering, often at the hands of those who were his friends and neighbors, Jeremiah remained true to the Word he had been given. He wouldn't stop preaching or soften the message. He complained that he wished he could keep quiet, but the Word of God was burning like a fire within him. He had to share God’s message no matter how it was received.

Jeremiah sensed that God has created him for a special purpose, to proclaim His truth in a specific way that no one else could. Despite the difficulties, how could he run away from that?  Certainly the Lord’s words, "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you" must have helped him along. God was telling Jeremiah that he had picked him out to be his prophet before Jeremiah was even conceived. And this is not just true for Jeremiah. The reason we reverence every single human life as sacred is because, before each of us was born, or even conceived, God knew us and had a role to play in the universe. How incredible! God knew you and me before our mothers and fathers ever met. He was excited to bring us into being. He is thrilled to call us to proclaim His truth. We are not just random results of nature. God has been thinking about us before time began.

One of the things all of us have in common, regardless of of our upbringing, job, or vocation is a responsibility to speak and live God’s truth. As a human being, created in the image and likeness of God, we cannot fail to do our part in sharing God’s message with others, especially as it relates to fundamental values like human rights, the family, marriage, and the right to life. We should keep in mind the Lord’s encouragement to Jeremiah, "They will fight against you, but I am with you to deliver you." He will be with us as we proclaim the authentic way of life, living for the Kingdom of God. 

In the gospel we read about Jesus returning home to proclaimed the truth about his relationship to the Father. His homies had heard about his miracles and they wanted Jesus to perform some for them, as if he were a magician or some sort of entertainer. But they to believe; they couldn't get past His family background. When he told them the truth, that he could only work miracles for those who had faith, people like heathens and non-believers, they wanted to kill Him. Instead of examining their hearts in light of the Truth, they tried destroy truth. True to his word, God took care of his truth-teller. Ironically the people got a miracle. He walks though their midst and they are unable to throw him off the cliff.  But their hearts were hardened and they couldn’t see it!

If Jesus and Jeremiah were rejected and persecuted for speaking God’s truth, we can expect the same. There are people who don't want to hear God's truth because it is deemed too challenging or extreme. We should not be surprised if we are mocked, vilified, or dismissed. Some may try to push us off the cliff of respectability. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know how hurtful, unfair, and awful that can be.

But the One who called us before we were conceived, will not desert us. His way, his truth will prevail. Those who live it and speak it with charity will be vindicated. There is nothing anyone can do to us that will take God from us. If he is for us, who could be against us? We have to proclaim all that is right and moral and true, but how do we do it?  Our wonderful second reading makes it clear, we have to deliver truth with charity. We are to proclaim God’s truth with patience and kindness, and not with all the negatives St. Paul describes. We cannot proclaim God's love if we are arrogant, jealous, selfish, angry, and vengeful. If others cannot see the love of God behind our words and actions, then we are not proclaiming His Kingdom properly. We cannot use the truth like a 2x4 to beat people into submission. If we let anger determine our actions, we will get nowhere. God is calling us to be patient and kind with others, even, and perhaps especially, those who do horrendous things. 

Let’s spend some time this week reflecting on the fact that God has called us, even before we were in our mothers' wombs, to proclaim his Truth. He has given each of us a unique set of gifts and a personality to help the people we interact with as part of our personal and professional circles. Sometime that Divine Truth will be well-received and welcome. Other times it will be rejected. May we, like Jeremiah, always be authentic to who we are, a daughter, a son of God. May we believe that God has a purpose for our lives that is unique and irreplaceable for the good of the world. And as long as we live and speak His truth with love, He will always be with us. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Great War (2nd Sunday of OT, Year B)

To listen to this homily, click here.

On of the ironies in my life is that Netflix helps me to keep the weight off! Many days I don’t want to go to the gym but I bribe myself with watching an episode from a show while I am doing cardio.

I recently watched a doc by Ken Burns on WWII which was 12-15 hours long when you add up all the episodes. ( a lot of time on the treadmill!)

This documentary does a great job of chronicling the impact of the war on specific towns and individuals from the beginning of the conflict to the very end.

One thing that really struck me was the effect on the soldiers when they liberated the concentration camps on the way to defeating Germany. Some of the men interviewed still had trouble talking about what they experienced even though it was more than 60 years ago. 

I noticed their sense of righteous anger as they described going through the camps and seeing the extent of evil, the number of lives that had been taken, and the ways humans were stripped of all dignity. 

This anger was directed not only at the German army who ran the death camps but also at the civilians in the towns that surrounded them because they were either willfully ignorant of the atrocities happening next to them or they knew about it and chose to turn a blind eye.

The American soldiers knew this was wrong either way and in their outrage, they made the civilians care for the surviving prisoners and dig graves for so many who had been executed. I think in one of the interviews, a soldier mentioned that a German nun told the men that she had no idea such things were taking place and the soldier handed her shovel and said, 'even if that is true, you should have.'

In some ways, the allies expected this behavior out of enemy soldiers but to see the indifference and willful ignorance of German civilians FOR YEARS, as fellow humans, —— sometimes even their neighbors, friends, and co-workers, disappeared, never to be heard from again,—- was inexcusable for many of our troops.

I thought of this as we prepare to mark the 46th anniversary of legalized abortion in our country this Tuesday. What would those brave soldiers of the greatest generation think about us? How would they rate you and me, not only as Americans but also as Christians in terms of our efforts and concern to end the continual slaughter of unborn innocents that has gone on for more than 6 times as long and with 6 times as many casualties as the Holocaust? More importantly, what does God think of of our efforts? Is it on our hearts as we pray for and try to serve the men and women who think abortion is their only option? Is this scourge on our mind as we make decisions on what companies, political candidates, and public policies we will support? Do we intentionally pray and offer sacrifices for an end to offenses against human dignity and the taking of innocent lives? Or, have we gotten comfortable, like those civilians in WWII, with the modern day holocaust that takes place right next to where we live and work? Have we turned a blind eye and gone on with our business?

The good news is that the majority of Americans are pro-life, at least to some degree. Also, there are so many more resources available to men and women facing an unplanned pregnancy and to help them with every challenge they will face as a result of choosing life. Even for those who have chosen abortion, there are so many more ministries that exist now to help them experience the mercy and healing of God so their lives are not defined by shame and self-hatred. 

These are all good steps. But the evil still remains. Some difficult but necessary questions each of us should consider asking: how comfortable have I gotten, as a christian and as an American, with the fact that abortion is practiced in my country, state, and city? If it were some other egregious offense against innocent people, like a concentration camp, would I be acting the same way or would I be doing something different to make sure no more people could be harmed? Have I accepted this evil because it's been going on so long or given in to despair, thinking what can I do about? Lastly, am I willfully ignorant about this issue, choosing not to learn more about the many factors and policies that allow it to continue? 

We start by praying for a conversion of heart for all who are gripped by the culture of death. We ask for God’s love to transform them and set them free. We pray for ourselves that we have the courage and conviction to address this issue for what it really is: the taking of innocent lives. Finally, we ask God’s pardon for our own indifference, laziness, or willful ignorance which has kept us from fighting to put an end to abortion and all other offenses against human life.