Follow by Email

Monday, May 15, 2017

It Would've Been Enough! (5th Sunday of Easter, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Not only is today [this weekend] the 5th Sunday of Easter, but it is also Mother’s Day. So, before I begin the homily, I’d like to wish all moms here today a very happy Mother’s Day. Thanks to you who have brought forth and nurtured new life with generous hearts, for which we are eternally grateful. Thank you for your patience, guidance, and sacrifice in fulfilling your calling as moms. So much of what you do is quiet and unnoticed by anyone except God. I hope you all enjoy a wonderful and well-deserved Mother’s Day.    
On this day where we take time to give thanks for our moms, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the role of gratitude throughout our lives. As Christians, as humans, we have been saved by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. An innocent man, the second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, laid down his life to rescue each and every one of us from the clutches of sin and death. This gift we received was completely undeserved and yet Jesus gave it anyway. What is our response? Gratitude should be central to our Life in Christ. In some way gratitude is our Life in Christ. You and I have nothing that we have not received: from our parents, from other people, and ultimately, from God. There are only two ways to respond to a gift: 1) with humble gratitude expressed by some form of “thank you” or 2) with an attitude of entitlement, which is manifested by the thinking “I deserve this”.
There is a humorous story about how much we have received and how little gratitude we often show: A grandmother takes her grandson to the beach. The boy goes out in a boat which tips over. The grandmother starts shouting for help. No one comes. Finally she prays, "Please, God, send someone to rescue my grandchild." As if out of nowhere a man appears, dives in the water and brings the boy, gasping, to shore. The grandmother comforts him and starts straightening out the boy's wet clothes, then stops, looks to heaven and says, "He had a hat!" 

We smile because we recognize our own selves. God has given us everything: life, health, family, friends, talents, material blessings, and so much more. What each of us have is certainly more than we deserve. Instead of constant gratitude we easily get upset when one thing goes wrong. Getting stuck in traffic, a negative comment, a bad meal, poor weather, or any other number of setbacks or inconveniences lead us to think negative thoughts about our life or God’s love for us. We've been given everything but easily become sad when one part is taken away. That is, unless we are in the habit of being grateful and counting our blessings rather than disappointments.

By way of contrast there is a Jewish prayer called Dayenu which means, "It would be sufficient” or “it would’ve been enough.” This prayer is part of the Passover celebration and I was reminded of it when I had the privilege of participating in a Christian seder meal just before Easter with our RCIA people. The prayer is a grateful listing of all the blessings God gave to his people throughout the ages. After each blessing is remembered, everyone at the table says, “dayenu”, meaning “it would have been enough”. So the prayer sounds something like this: If God had led us through the Red Sea, but not to Mount Sinai, it would have been enough. If God had given the manna, but not led us to the Promised Land, it would have been enough. If God sent us the prophets of truth and not made us a holy people, it would have been enough. This prayer of thanks goes on to observe 26 solemn blessings but I think you get the idea. 

When we look at our own lives with this same spirit of gratitude, we are both humbled by God’s incredible generosity and blown away by the sheer number of blessings we receive. If I say the “dayenu” prayer in terms of my own experience, it looks something like this: If God had opened heaven for me but not forgiven me over and over again, it would have been enough. If God had given me the Eucharist but not called me to the priesthood, where I become his presence for so many it would have been enough. If God had called me to be a priest but not a pastor, it would had been enough. And on and on would go my blessings. I cannot tell you how many nights I pause before bed and say, “thank you Lord for letting me pastor of this beautiful parish and these wonderful people.” Hopefully this is not the first time you have heard me say this!

I could easily say the same prayer in terms of my mom. If mom had given me life and not raised me, fed me, and taught me countless points of wisdom and virtue, it would have been enough. If mom had taught me those things but not reinforced them by example, it would have been enough. If mom had forgiven me for all the silliness and pettiness of childhood but not remained loving and supportive, it would have been enough. And of course, my list, and hopefully yours too, could go on and on!

For today, remember this: Gratitude builds faith. The more we say thank you to God for our blessings (both the big ones like faith, family, and friends and the little ones like good food, fun moments, and laughing till it hurts) the more our faith will grow. Rather than focus on what we are missing or what didn’t work out, remember what we actually have. Try to say the Dayenu prayer every day, in your own words for the specific blessings you recognize. I promise you, your eyes will be opened to how present Jesus is in your day. You will find yourself saying, “It is enough” or more appropriately, “God is Enough!”     

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Lord is My Shepherd (4th Sunday of Easter, Year A)

I’m not sure how much you know about sheep, but in case you haven’t studied this ovine species recently, I'll fill you in. Sheep are gentle and docile by nature. They tend to have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and they tend to congregate in flocks for safety and protection. Because they hate being alone, sheep are not independent; they need a shepherd to guide them to good, clean water and places of pasture. Sheep have poor vision but exceptional hearing, allowing them to hear and recognize the voice of their shepherd, even when they have drifted far away or are surrounded by the sheep of another flock. Sheep are not very intelligent but they are extremely loyal to their shepherd. Sheep rely heavily on their shepherd for care and protection. For example, if a sheep falls over onto its back, it is unable to get back on its feet and will die unless the shepherd comes and rolls it over.

You are getting a crash course in sheep because the fourth Sunday of Easter, is Good Shepherd Sunday. The Church gives us this feast, with these wonderful readings to continue our meditation on Easter as we hear of Christ as a loving shepherd. But if we are going to appreciate the metaphor of sheep and shepherd, used by Christ himself, we first have to know a little something about sheep. Most of us are so far removed from the care of animals like cows, sheep, and pigs that this metaphor loses some of its power.

In the ancient world, sheep were crucial for everyday life. They were a source of wool for clothing, their milk was used for cheese and nourishment. They could be slaughtered for meat, and even used for temple sacrifice. However, most sheep were raised for their wool and would live 8-10 years in the same flock, with the same shepherd.

But sheep were helpless without a shepherd. The shepherd was an essential figure in the ancient world. He would protect the sheep from wild dogs and wolves and he would find them places of pasture for grazing. The shepherd did not drive the sheep; he would actually walk before them and lead them to the place they were going. Shepherds would name each of their sheep; this helped him to know if one of the flock was missing. Finally, each night, if possible, the shepherd would lead his sheep to a sheepfold. This was an enclosure with walls to help protect the sheep at night from predators and thieves. There was only one opening for the animals to enter and exit. At night, the shepherd would lay down across this opening to block any predators from coming in. The shepherd literally laid down his own body to protect the sheep from thieves and wild animals.

This was the relationship that existed in the ancient world between sheep and shepherd. The sheep were lost without the shepherd; they relied on him totally for food, water, and protection. If they became lost, he would find them and bring them back. In short, the sheep put their trust completely in the shepherd. The shepherd, for his part, sacrificed himself for the good of the flock. He put himself in danger to protect them when wild animals approached. He spent long hours each day making sure all his sheep were accounted for. And he would always lead them, making sure that they would find places for food, water, and safety.

With this deeper understanding of the relationship between sheep and shepherd, we can begin to appreciate the notion of Christ as our shepherd and we as his sheep. As much as we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, independent, and intelligent; there are times for each of us, when we are confused, helpless, and lost in life. For some of us, our valley of darkness will be unhealthy personal relationships, for others it might be some sort of addiction or dependency. The shadow of death for us, for our spiritual lives might be experienced in the loss of a friend or family member, a personal struggle with greed or lust, or even some personal tragedy like a serious injury or grave illness.

Even though we live in the 21st century, even though we live in the United States with so many good things, we are often like sheep. We are still in need of a shepherd. We need someone who will guide us through the dangers and hazards of our everyday lives. We need a good shepherd, who will walk with us and lead us to fresh pastures. A good shepherd who will protect us from all spiritual dangers and will search us out and find us if we get lost.

Christ is that Good Shepherd. He leads us to the fresh waters of grace, especially in the sacraments. He takes us to green pastures, in a particular way here in the Eucharist. Christ knows each one of us by name. Like a good shepherd, he knows us and calls us ever closer to him. If we fall, and we all do, he lifts us up and puts us back on our feet through the sacrament of reconciliation. Finally, Jesus protects us. By giving us the Church, he makes sure that we have a sheepfold for rest and protection from the attacks of the world, the flesh and the devil. Here in the Eucharist he lays down his own life; he sacrifices his very own body, so we might have life and have it more abundantly. In him our souls find contentment and peace.

We, for our part, must be good sheep. We must learn to hear and recognize the voice of our shepherd, Christ the Lord. There are many other voices that try to pull us away from Jesus and the flock of the Catholic Church. We must allow the Lord to lead us through the Church, the sacraments, and prayer. May we be people who follow Christ, the Good Shepherd, as he leads us to the green pastures of our heavenly homeland. May our hearts echo the words of the psalm today: “the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What Are You Expecting (3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

            Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in building things, fixing things, and learning how stuff works. As a result, tools have fascinated me since I was a kid. Between 5th and 8th grade, I would beg my parents to take me to the hardware store at least once a week. When I would enter this splendid shrine dedicated to hand tools, power tools, and other hardware accessories, I would take a deep breath and then slowly proceed down every single aisle, looking at the newest innovations, dreaming of the day when I could afford something as glorious as an air compressor, a nail gun, or a table saw. But it didn’t stop there. Every time my birthday or Christmas rolled around and I was asked what I would like, I just said: “more tools.” I received screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, tape measures, hammers, handsaws, and occasionally, if I behaved and promised to be careful, a coveted power tool.
            I was in the height of this “building” stage, when my twelfth birthday rolled around. After blowing out twelve candles and smiling through “happy birthday,” I was eagerly anticipating the newest addition to my workbench. My parents presented me with a small box, about this size, which was somewhat heavy. I just knew that it had to be some new drill bits and maybe even jigsaw blades. I was so excited; I ripped right through the wrapping paper and that’s when I saw them. My mouth dropped and I just stared at my parents in disbelief. My expression was a strange mixture of confusion, betrayal, and anger. Inside the box was not a tool, or drill bits, or saw blades. Instead there were four books, by J.R.R. Tolkien, which were the classic Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
These were really nice books and it was a thoughtful gift from my parents. But I didn’t like them and I wouldn’t read them for seven years (!!!!) because they weren’t what I was hoping for. Because I had set my expectations on something else, I wasn’t able to see the goodness of their gift! I was blind to what the Lord of the Rings had to offer me because I had made up my mind on what my gift should have looked like.
We see something similar in the gospel today. Two of the disciples are on the road to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. The gospel tells us they were downcast and debating about the life and death of Christ. Jesus approaches them, but they do not recognize him. You can hear the frustration, dejection and confusion in their voices as they speak with this “stranger” on the road to Emmaus. These disciples were hurt and confused. They had such great expectations for Jesus; they had such high hopes for him but then he was crucified and all seemed lost.
During the entire walk of seven miles, the two disciples do not recognize Jesus next to them. Even after he explains the scriptures, they cannot see that this is the Lord. How can this be? Why were they so blind? The disciples are unable to see Jesus walking with them because of their own expectations of how his life should have played out. For them, it didn’t seem possible that the Messiah could redeem the world if he died. Their assumptions made them blind to the wisdom of God. It is not until the breaking of the bread that they recognize Jesus and begin to understand.

Doesn't this happen to us? Throughout our lives, we find ourselves on the road to Emmaus, just like the two disciples. There are times when we are downcast, confused, disappointed, angry, hurt, you name it… because we expected one thing from God but got something entirely different. Perhaps it's the death of a loved one, a personal affliction or illness, difficulties at work or home. These hardships challenge the way we think of God; they can make us feel alone and abandoned. Because of our own expectations of God, we can be blind to the fact that he is walking right alongside us in our time of difficulty. We often have our own ideas of how God should act and what the plans for our lives should look like. When those don’t work out, it can cause us great distress, disappointment, and even anger.
 It's important to learn from our gospel today. Even in the darkest moments of our lives we should not despair; we should not give up. Christ is always walking alongside us during these moments but we may not recognize him right away. Like the disciples, we may walk quite a distance down our road of difficulty before we recognize the presence of Christ. And this healing, calming presence of our Lord may be found where we least expect it: in the kind words of a stranger, in the beauty of fine spring day, or the smile of a friend or family member.

            Finally, we can see our time here at Mass each week as our own journey to Emmaus. Here in this first part of the liturgy, we can bring all those things we have on our minds and present them to God. Here we have the Word of God, which is opened up and explained to us as it pertains to Christ. Jesus is working in these readings each and every week to show us how they point to him and his saving message. 
But Jesus doesn’t stop at explaining the scriptures. In a few minutes he will become present in the breaking of the bread here at the altar. It was this breaking of the bread that opened the eyes of the disciples and helped them to recognize the risen Christ in their midst who walked with them during their journey to Emmaus. He does the same thing for us. He wants our eyes to be opened, so we can see him working in each and every situation of our lives. He wants us to let go of our own expectations of God so we can believe and trust completely in his plan of salvation for us. 
My prayer is that we approach this Eucharist with the eyes of faith, a faith which sees Jesus walking alongside us, each and every step of our journey on earth. May we be a people who recognize the presence of Christ here in the breaking of the bread. May we, like the disciples, say to one another as we leave this church: Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”  


Monday, April 24, 2017

Everyone Needs Mercy (2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

         Almost twenty years ago, St. John Paul II designated the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. He did this to help deepen Catholic awareness and appreciation of the gift of God’s mercy. In instituting Divine mercy Sunday, the Holy Father also showed the connection between the resurrection and mercy. In order to understand Easter and the resurrection we have to embrace forgiveness.

         There is not a single person in who doesn’t want mercy. It's something we've all experienced and even begged for at one time or another.  Kids, you know how much you shoot for mercy when you’re grounded. For whatever reason your parents tell you that the car, the xbox, the computer, the phone, or TV are off limits. Naturally, when you are grounded these are some of the things that you want to do the most. Which one of you doesn’t ask “Mom, please, can’t I just watch my favorite show?” or “Dad, I know I am grounded but all of my friends are going out tonight and they asked me to go with them?”

         Those of us who drive know the horrible feeling when we look in the mirror and see a police car behind us with the lights on. The feeling of dread and doom as the officer approaches often turns into a plea for mercy and forgiveness. “Officer, I did not realize how fast I was going,”, "I didn't see that stop sign", or “I thought the light was still yellow.”

         Many of us might also know how the desire for mercy springs up after flunking a test. We suddenly find ourselves asking the teacher for a chance to retake the test, earn extra credit, or be graded on a curve. This is especially true when we feel like it wasn't our fault; maybe we had a game the night before, we were sick, or the teacher asked unreasonable questions.

         In each of these cases, we desire mercy; we want a break even if we don’t technically deserve one. And often people go easy on us. Any one who has driven away after being pulled over with a mere warning knows how good mercy feels. The same could be said for those cases when a teacher grades a test mercifully or our parents ease up on us when we are grounded.

         I vividly remember one of my first experiences of mercy. I was a mere lad of 6 or seven and while I was playing outside, I broke our neighbor’s window. I was devastated. I had no money to pay for the window and there was no way to fix it either. I ran into the house distraught and told my mom; then I waited for the police to show up. I figured jail was the only way I could pay the penalty for breaking a window. A short while later my mom came and told me that I was not going to jail. Our neighbor told me not to worry about the broken window at all and he was not angry about it. Let me tell you, this small act of mercy took the weight of the world off my shoulders.


         Of course, these examples of mercy are only a taste of the mercy God has for us. Our mercy towards each other is shown by words and actions. God’s mercy is so powerful it actually became a person: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the mercy of God who came to save us from sin and death. He did not have to become man, suffer, and die. He had no sin; but he suffered and died because of his merciful love for us.

As Christians, the celebration of the Easter resurrection is inseparable from mercy. In the resurrection of Christ, God’s mercy is fulfilled; sin and death are defeated forever. The message of Divine Mercy Sunday is that God is offering each of us the freedom over sin and death. Just as he opened his arms on the cross, Christ waits with open arms to give you and me mercy.  But he will not force it on us; we have to meet him halfway.

Do we take advantage of opportunities to receive mercy? As Catholics, we have the wonderful sacrament of reconciliation, where God wipes away our sins. Do we go and encounter Christ in this sacrament of forgiveness or do we put it off month after month and year after year? Don’t wait any longer!! Christ wants to heal you if you just approach him!! We can’t fully appreciate and understand the joy of the resurrection if we are not receiving God’s mercy on a regular basis.

But mercy is not simply about receiving; it must also be given. Think of it as a two-way street; in the gospel, Jesus reminds us we will be forgiven to the extent that we forgive others. Some of us have people in our lives who are waiting for our unconditional forgiveness. Some of us might be withholding mercy because of grudges, past hurts, or pride. We cannot become people of the resurrection until we show mercy to all those in our lives: friends and enemies, those we enjoy being with and those people who drive us crazy. Our lives must become a continual cycle of giving and receiving mercy over and over and over until it becomes part of who we are.

 Living mercifully is difficult and we will need God's help to do it properly. When we step out of church we will be faced with opportunities to give and receive mercy. For some of us this challenge may seem overwhelming. There might be many things we have to do in order to become merciful. Let’s resolve to start with small things, perhaps a kind word when we are losing our patience, a compliment to someone we don’t necessarily care for, or letting someone go before us in line.  If we commit ourselves to the practice of mercy every day then we will truly understand the joy of Easter and the meaning of the resurrection. May we reflect Divine Mercy to everyone we encounter this week, knowing that God will repay it many times over in forgiving the wrongs we have done.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Jesus the Hero (Easter 2017)

To listen to this homily, click here.

Last Summer, July 7th to be exact, a tragedy unfolded that exposed both the best and worst of human nature. It was a Thursday night in Dallas, about 9pm and protestors were finishing up a demonstration against recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. Without warning, an enraged gunman opened fire on police officers. Because of the ensuing confusion and his previous training in the military, this shooter killed five police officers and wounded nine others, along with 2 civilians before he was stopped. Having several family members in law enforcement, I followed this particular story closely. A theme came up time and time again in witness accounts of that evening (and remember, many of the people telling the story were there originally to protest the actions of police in other situations). Over and over again witnesses observed how the police officers ran into danger as everyone else was running away. Not knowing they were the target, they focused first on getting all of the protestors to safety rather than saving their own skin. Many of the demonstrators praised the police for their selfless service, for putting their own lives on the line, moving to neutralize the suspect when every instinct was telling them to run away or hide.

That is the true definition of courage, the real meaning of hero: to put one’s own safety, comfort, and very life on the line to help or save another person. We hear stories of true heroes fairly often, not only in law enforcement, but in so many first responders, soldiers, medical professionals, organ donors, and good-hearted strangers who see someone in trouble and jump in to help.

The only appropriate response to a hero is gratitude. Those who are saved or protected have been given a new lease on life. Through the sacrifice and courage of another, they are alive and more than likely, will never take another day for granted. Many times, the price of being a hero is significant; for some it costs the ultimate price, life itself. For that reason, there is something within our human nature that venerates a hero and never wants to forget their sacrifice. 

Today, on this happy day we call Easter, Christians around the world celebrate the ultimate hero, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead! Before the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we were in mortal danger from sin and death. Nothing we could ever do would release us from its grasp. Until Christ, not a single person could enter heaven. The human race was a prisoner to its sins and weaknesses. Because of that first offense of Adam and Eve, each and every one of us was born into darkness with the tendency to resist God and live for ourselves. God did not have to save us. We did nothing to deserve his salvation. But God has a heart of Love and couldn’t bear to watch his children suffer. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, throughout the centuries, he prepared the world to receive his Son, who would be willing to do anything to save us. 

When Jesus was born into the world, he wanted to experience everything we do, except for sin. He grew up in a family, he learned a trade, how to pray, and so many other things that each of went through as a developing human. He did not choose an easy life for himself because he never wanted anyone to doubt his love for each and every one of us. Ultimately, Jesus would pay for his kindness in the worst way possible. He would be tortured, humiliated, betrayed by one of his closest friends, and executed on a cross. Let’s not forget, Jesus did not have to do this! He could have tapped out at any time or called on armies of angels to destroy those who were trying to destroy him. Instead of pulling back or running away, he goes headlong into the worst that humanity has to offer. By laying down his life, he ends up saving ours.

Easter Sunday is a reminder to say thank you to the hero who saved our souls. It is a reminder that God 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 have to be prisoners to sin and death. Let us not take that sacrifice for granted! Every Sunday is a little Easter and every time we come to Mass, we say “thank you” to God for running into danger on our behalf and saving us.

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 hero, Jesus Christ, risen and victorious forever!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Jesus Wept (5th Sunday of Lent, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

About 21 years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, my family was in the middle of a lot of activity. I was in the first year of high school. My mom was pregnant with child number 13, my sister Theresa Rose. We had recently sold the home we grew up in in Hazelwood and moved to a larger house in St. Peters. Life was pretty good and exciting but that was all going to change very quickly. One night my mom started to experience extreme pain unlike anything she had felt before. What she didn’t know at the time was she was bleeding internally, something that quickly put her life and the life of my unborn sister in extreme danger. In the middle of the night, while many of us still slept, my mom was rushed to the hospital. By the time the doctors diagnosed the problem, my mother had lost half of the blood in her body and my baby sister had been without oxygen for a devastating amount of time. Theresa Rose was delivered immediately to give her and my mother the best chance of survival. Within a short time the doctors gave us terrible news; my sister would not survive the day and my mother’s condition was critical.

This is the news I woke up to that day. First being told I had a new baby sister and secondly that she would not be with us very long. I cannot describe the impact of the news; I was shocked, I was in disbelief, I had trouble breathing; it was too much to handle. In the following hours I remember pleading with God asking him to spare my sister, to save my mom, to make all of this go away. I wondered how He could let this happen, I wanted to know what I did wrong, what I needed to do to make it all better.  I was frightened, I was sad, I was angry with God. But these thoughts and feelings did not change the reality; my sister would soon die and pass from this world to the next. Perhaps one of the most beautiful and difficult moments of my life came when mom and dad called me into the room to hold my little sister for the first and only time, to kiss her and to thank God for her life which would end moments later in my parents arms.

There were few words that could console me after my little sister died. But the shortest verse in the bible did, the verse in today’s gospel from John. Jesus also loses someone close to him, his friend Lazarus. And when he sees the grief and confusion this death causes to Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, dear friends of Christ, the shortest verse also becomes one of the most powerful and profound. It simply says, “And Jesus wept.”

The power of this verse is that it reveals the heart of God, the heart of Jesus Christ. He was a man like us, He felt love and joy and anger and yes, even sadness at the death of a beloved friend! This verse reminded me in my suffering that I was loved and cared for by a God who was not indifferent to the hardships of life. He knew how I felt because He himself had wept for a loved one who had died. 

I believe now, more than ever, we need to remember this extraordinary scripture! At a time when our world seems to falling apart with natural disasters, civil unrest, multiple conflicts, horrendous crimes and heartbreaking tragedies, it can be easy for us to wonder where God is. Does He even care when we are suffering? Does it matter to Him whether our loved ones live or die? We can easily question his Love for us, his Power and Wisdom, and why He continues to let bad things happen to innocent people. 

The end of the gospel story gives us the answer to that seemingly impossible question. The tears that Jesus cried for Lazarus were not tears of despair or hopelessness. They were tears of sadness, profound sadness at the pain of death and the confusion and separation it brings. But after He cries, Jesus shows us that neither death nor sadness is the final word. He raises Lazarus, He calls him out of the tomb to show the people of his time and people of every age that his power defeats all death, every evil. His life is now the final word for all who believe in Him and nothing, not even death or the separation it brings can defeat his Divine Love. The good news of the gospel is that we have a God who loves us so much he is moved by our sorrow, our suffering, and our loss. He is never indifferent

This power of Jesus, his victory over death didn’t heal my sister or bring her back to life. It will not always take away the loss and pain we are bound to experience in this fallen world. But it always gives meaning and value to those awful moments. God doesn’t cause our sufferings, He is saddened by the loss and the pain they cause. He loves us so much he desired to experience all of the emotions that we do in our daily lives.

Although I didn’t see it right away, the power of the resurrection was found in every aspect of my sister’s death. Before she died, she was baptized and confirmed, assuring her a place in heaven with the God who made her. And as short as her life was, she taught me the dignity and value of a life, no matter how short or damaged. And perhaps most beautifully, it was through her 14 or so hours here on earth that my own heart was opened to hear God’s plan for me. My sister’s death helped me to hear God’s invitation to the priesthood.

Reflect often on the lesson of today’s gospel where Jesus shows us his power over death. Let it free you from those fears that paralyze you. Let it bring you courage and hope in difficult times. Let it bring meaning to your own suffering. Christ turns loss into gain, defeat into victory, sadness into joy, death into life. Let us be faithful so that He can do the same in our lives!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Treasure Within (4th Sunday of Lent, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

One of the destinations during my recent pilgrimage to Italy was the great city of Florence. Florence is one of the world’s cultural gems and the home of the powerful Medici family for hundreds of years. Even today, it is still one of the premier places to see fine art, eat good food, and buy the best clothing and jewelry. One of its most famous sons was  the incredible Michelangelo Buonarroti and some of his best work is displayed in the Florence Academia of fine arts. One of the many artistic gifts Michelangelo had was the ability to visualize his sculptures within a block of marble. For him, creating a masterpiece was just releasing the figure trapped within. There are a handful of unfinished statues in the museum and you can almost feel the figures struggling to escape their stone prison. Just down the hallway is his renowned sculpture of King David as a young man. This 17 foot, 11,000 pound image of the great Jewish king took two years to craft and is amazing to behold. The features are unbelievably lifelike, with muscles, veins, and other details so finely carved you begin to forget he was working with stone and not something soft like clay. Even 500 years later, this great statue holds your attention and impresses from every angle.

The seemingly supernatural vision of Michelangelo to look at a piece of stone and see a masterpiece within is just a hint of God’s ability as he looks at us. Today’s readings tell us stories of God seeing something in people that everyone else misses. The ignored and dismissed become the glorified as they are handpicked by the divine artist and their lives sculpted into something great. 

In the first reading, the Lord sends the prophet Samuel to anoint the next King of Israel. He heads over the house of Jesse, as the Lord directs him, and gets out his flask of oil. The oldest son walks over and Samuel thinks to himself, well, this will be easy, here is the next king. But God cautions him not to judge by appearance but to wait for the Lord to look into the heart. The eldest son is dismissed and the next one follows, one after the other until seven sons pass by Samuel, yet none are chosen. Finally, the baby, the Fr. Boehm of the bunch, the most unlikely to be the next king, strolls in, and immediately (we can almost hear the excitement in God’s voice) the Lord tells Samuel to anoint him so the Holy Spirit can rush down upon him from that day forward. We know how this story played out; God worked on David over the course of his life and he became a magnificent king, an unstoppable warrior, a holy ruler who brought peace, prosperity and holiness to the Chosen people. God saw something great in this simple shepherd boy and drew it out, little by little, like the Divine Artist he is.

Something similar is at work in gospel. Jesus is passing by a man born blind and the prevailing wisdom at the time suggested that his affliction was due to some sin committed by him or his parents. Once again, God sees into the heart and knows there is something special in this man. His physical blindness does not mean he is spiritually corrupt. To walk past him, to assume his blindness is because of sin would be to ignore a masterpiece in the making, a figure  who is stuck in stone, trying to escape the prison of suffering and rejection. Jesus knows this man’s true potential and heals his blindness. Not only that, but once he regains his sight, he becomes a teacher to the religious authorities who thought they had nothing to learn. The irony is that the person who once was blind ends up seeing who Jesus really is: the Savior and Lord. Meanwhile, the Pharisees remain completely blind in their hearts and only see Jesus as an enemy and imposter.

Far too often, our fallen human nature judges other people and writes them off. Even though it is impossible for any of us to look into a person’s heart, we often draw damaging, hurtful conclusions from someone’s decisions, actions, words, income, or status in society and perpetuate the blindness displayed in the gospel. This is one of the wounds of Original Sin.

Thankfully, not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” When Jesus looks at you and me and every person who has ever lived, he does not see a failure, a weakling, or a disappointment. He envisions a potential masterpiece; as Catholics, we also call them saints, friends of God. Most of the time, we see far less potential in ourselves than God does. Our hopes and plans for ourselves and the people we love will always fall short of what God wants to do for us. His dream for us is always so much more refined, rewarding, and joyful than we would ever dare imagine. 

As the Divine Artist, Jesus wants the artistic freedom to sculpt us according to what he sees hidden behind the block of sin, weakness, and fear. He won’t come at us with a jackhammer or a stick of dynamite; he waits for our permission. If we let him, he will work on us like Michelangelo did on his sculptures, personally, lovingly, one little chisel mark at a time until all the rough edges are smoothed out and every little detail is highlighted for all to marvel at. The degree we have faith and allow God to sculpt us will be the extent of our glory and happiness in the life to come. The more we cooperate with his grace, the quicker the process. The more we fight and resist, the longer and more painful it will be. Because he is so kind and merciful, as long as we die in the state of grace, Jesus will continue to perfect us after death in purgatory so we can eventually live with him in heaven.

Let us thank God for taking such a personal interest in each and every one of us. Let’s pray to be healed of our spiritual blindness that causes us to judge others and write them off. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for that Divine Gift of seeing the masterpiece within each and every human person, to appreciate the potential greatness and holiness of everyone we encounter, no matter how hidden or trapped it might be!