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Monday, August 14, 2017

A God of Silence (19th Sunday, Year A)

As many of you know, I just spent the last week and a half, hiking and camping in Glacier National Park. Those of you who have been there know the overwhelming beauty of that place. The massive valleys, the abundant wildlife, and the famous Going to the Sun Road all blew me away. One thing, however, caught me by surprise and it was the massive silence and solitude of the whole experience. Even though I went with a priest friend I have known for 20 years, there were huge gaps of quiet and time alone. With no cell phone service, no wifi, or tv, I was amazed how often I missed those distractions during my time away. Even though I consider myself an introvert and a reflective person, there was something challenging and even threatening about being cut-off from the outside world and having days and days which consisted largely of silence.

How surprised I was to see the readings for this weekend when I returned! In the first reading, that beautiful passage with Elijah, where he waits to experience God. There is a mighty wind, a powerful earthquake and even a fire, but God is not in any of these. Only when he heard a quiet whisper, does the prophet fall on his face in awe, knowing that God is present before him. In the gospel, after feeding the thousands in a miraculous way, Jesus hungers for what? A beer with the guys? A few hours binging on Netflix? No! Silence, solitude, quiet prayer on the mountain with his Father where he can hear the voice of God and be refreshed, renewed, and ready for another day of giving himself freely to those who need him. After his prayer, he walks on the water to join his apostles and what does he bring (after the whole Peter wanting to walk on water thing)? He brings calm and silence to the raging sea. 

Our God is a God who loves silence. He does speak but more often than not, hearing what he whispers requires a heart that is quiet, calm, and attentive. 

You and I, we live in a very noisy world. Certainly it has always been that way but our age faces new challenges and a new intensity of chaos and distraction. With increased connectivity and communication comes the unspoken expectation that we should be available and on-call always. A text needs to be read and responded to immediately. A phone message should be listened to and returned as soon as possible. Alerts from social media let us know the moment someone notices our photo or post. The end result, ironically, to all this communication, tends to be not a greater connection with each other or ourselves, but actually a restlessness. We are more and more anxious, insecure, and less present to each other. Notice, if you haven’t already, how often people check their phones while listening or talking to someone next to them. Observe the number of people at a meal, who pick up the phone compulsively to see what they are missing or to immediately fact-check a conversation. If it is that difficult for us to be present and attentive to each other, how much more so with God, who speaks softly in the silence?! 

I’m certainly not judging the people who are addicted to their phone or who check their email 50 times a day. I have done these things myself. I’ve been called out for not being present to my friends and family before and, sadly, probably will again at some point. I’ve freaked out when the internet went down at the rectory or I lost cell service for a while. In fact, it took 8 days in God’s great mountains, to show me how much noise I invite into my daily life. With that noise I accept an unholy restlessness where I become distant and distracted to others, myself, and even God.

Silence is scary. It is difficult. It forces us to look inwards and face tough questions, the nagging ones that we try to run away from, and put off, and drown out with other seemingly more pressing matters. Most of all, silence forces us to be present, attentive, and receptive to what God and others are offering right now. Boy is that hard! It is much easier to plan, to anticipate, to be thinking about the next thing instead of living in the here and now.

We might ask, what is our comfort level with silence in our lives? DO we have any substantial quiet in our daily routines at all? Is there a meaningful period of time each day where a phone, computer, tablet, and tv does not have power over us? Is there a quiet space in our prayer for God to speak, heart to heart?

In the end, it comes down to a choice. What will be the priorities in our lives? What will take precedence? If it is going to be a holy relationship with God and healthy friendships with others then we are going to have to enter into silence often, listening and being fully present to the people around us. We can’t be afraid to step outside the noise for a little bit each day. Take a walk without music, come to the adoration chapel for 30 minutes or an hour, grab lunch with a friend and leave your phone in the car. The world will keep turning, none of us are so important that we can’t be disconnected for a little while! For us as Christians, silence is not a luxury; it is the foundation on which we build our relationship with God and become holy. 

To conclude, I am going to sit down and give us all 2 minutes of silence to breathe in God’s peace and open up that space where God loves to speak.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

If You Had One Wish... (17th Sunday, Year A)

Our first reading has always fascinated me. In it, God gives Solomon the opportunity of a lifetime; the chance to request anything. And because he is a king, I would have expected Solomon to ask for power and victory for him and his armies. I would have expected him to ask God for money and riches, so that his kingdom and legacy would be built into something legendary. If nothing else, I would have expected King Solomon to ask for the pleasure of enjoying himself during his time as king. Why wouldn’t he ask for plenty of food, drink, or whatever else his kingly heart desired? But look at what Solomon actually requests of God. It is not power, pleasure, or money. When God tells Solomon: “ask something of me and I will give it to you”, Solomon asks for knowledge and the gift of an understanding heart. 

This answer pleases God, in fact, it seems like he was almost caught off-guard by Solomon’s request. The Lord promises to give him wisdom and understanding in such abundance that never again will there be someone known to posses such an understanding heart. Even as a kid, I wondered what I would have said if God offered me anything I wanted. I suppose my answer to that question would have changed depending on my age and what was going on in my life. At different moments, I would have asked God for a bulldozer, the answers to my spelling test, and if he would would have appeared to me last night, probably the winning numbers for the Powerball or Megamillions lottery! It is humbling to admit but if I were in Solomon’s shoes, our first reading would probably have been much less inspiring!

What about you? If God spoke to you tonight and said, “ask something of me and I will give it to you” What would be on the top of your list? Would you request the wisdom to be a better husband or wife to your spouse, a better parent to your children, a better friend to your peers? Would you ask for an understanding heart to better live your Catholic faith? If God granted you one wish, would you ask for Godly wisdom and understanding or might you squander God’s generosity on something as transitory as power, pleasure, or money?

Real power, authentic riches, and lasting happiness all come to us if we acquire the Godly wisdom that Solomon asked for. This is not a luxury only for biblical characters; Christ offers us this same knowledge if we are willing to humble ourselves and learn from him, who is meek and humble of heart. And far from being an extravagance, an understanding heart, like the one given to Solomon, is absolutely essential for you and me if we hope to enjoy the kingdom of heaven when we die. So how do we “get” this gift? Is it even something ordinary people like us can hope for? 

This heavenly wisdom is the pearl of great price Jesus alludes to in our gospel. For you and me, we will likely receive this gift slowly, over time, little by little, through a consistent and quiet process of daily prayer. Probably not overnight like Solomon! Oftentimes, when we think of prayer, we imagine a list of wants and needs that we send up to God. Then, if He is in a good mood and we have behaved ourselves, perhaps some or most of those requests will come back granted the way we hoped. For many Christians, this is majority of their prayer. But in reality, there is so much more. Prayer is first and foremost, a relationship, a friendship with God. When we pray, we should be talking (AND LISTENING!) to Almighty God as we do with our best friend. We should be asking for things to be sure, but we should also be sharing our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, saying thank you for everything we have, apologizing for the times we have hurt Him, and also praising Him for his greatness. 

Prayer is a relationship that transforms us over time if we stick with it. What we realize is that the point of prayer is not so much to change God’s mind as it does ours. As we grow in our friendship with God, we begin to trust Him more and more. We ask Him for the things we think we need and trust that whatever He gives us, even if if is far different than what we requested, is exactly what is best for us. This trust, this hope, this confidence in God’s care for us is the foundation of the wisdom of Solomon, that understanding heart which knows how to properly order the rest of our life. This God-given gift is what gives us the clarity to find the Lord in the toughest of circumstances and always choose what is best for ourselves and others from the perspective of eternity. The wisdom of prayer enables us to look beyond the instant gratifications and flashiness of this world and set our heart on the pearl of great price, which is eternal union with God.

So let us ask God constantly for an understanding heart, just as King Solomon did in our first reading. May you and I look for that priceless treasure, which is the kingdom of God, each and every day of our lives. And let us not be afraid to let go of whatever we have, whether it is material, spiritual, or psychological, that might keep us from obtaining that priceless spiritual treasure. For in the kingdom of heaven we will obtain real power, authentic riches, and lasting happiness and we will rejoice in them for all eternity.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Why Does God Leave the Weeds? (16th Sunday, Year A)

Last Sunday, we heard the parable of the sower and the seed and discovered that God has some unusual farming techniques. This week, with the parable of the weeds in the garden, we see once again God's method of farming is different than most. Last week's "parable of the sower and the seed" and today’s"parable of the weeds" are parables about the church, about the field that God plants in the hope of gaining a rich harvest of blessing for himself and for the world he has made. The farmer's parables are parables about us as much as they are about God and what he does.  As I mentioned last week, we are the field of God, the soil where he plants.
Not everyone thinks Christianity and Catholicism are worth the effort. The two main reasons modern people give for not being Christian and for not associating with or attending church are the following:
One: People in the church are just as lousy as everyone else in the world. In general they are hypocrites and in particular there are thieves, liars, gossips, cheats, snobs, and adulterers among them.
Two: The whole idea of a good God is clearly ridiculous because if he was so good why would he allow so much evil to exist in the world.
Do these two reasons sound familiar to you? It's true. That's where many people are.They are upset, understandably so, that not everything is perfect. Like the farmer's servants in today's parable they are concerned: concerned that there are weeds among the wheat, concerned that the harvest might not happen, concerned that the effort of their master might come to nothing.
It is easy to be intimidated by what we might call the weeds in the church. It is easy to focus on the sins and imperfections that exist in the world and in the members of the Church. We can become so preoccupied with the flaws, the weeds that we forget the vast bouquet of flowers that makes up the rest of the church.
It is hard to understand why God allows the devil to cast his seed in his garden. The darnel, the weed referred to, looks like wheat. It even has a head similar to wheat. When the plant is young, it is almost impossible to distinguish it. Only when it is fully grown, without any grain, can it be separated from the wheat and burned. The word that God gives his servants is very clear: do not remove them, ”if you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat along with them. In other words, leave it to me. Wait for the time I have set.
It's hard to wait. It's hard to understand, especially when you see terrible things happening. But when it comes to dealing with other people, both in the Church and in the world, God calls us to plant not to weed; that job is his. We are to resist evil, of course, in ourselves and in others through his grace. We are called to recognize evil, to name it, and to pray to God that he will take care of it, much as the farmer told his servants in the parable that he would take of it. BUT most of all, we are told to do good instead of evil 
   - to bless instead of curse
   - to praise instead of criticize
   - to help instead of walk away
   - to love instead of hate
   - to forgive instead of resent
   - to tell truth instead of lies.
God indeed has a plan but when we look at it with only the dim light of human wisdom, or the closed eyes of doubt and pride, there is almost no explaining why God allows the devil to cast his destructive seed in his garden.
I want to conclude by saying that I am glad of one thing in this whole mystery. In this strange system of divine agriculture, in this field that is so mixed and cluttered with weeds (and some of them are real whoppers), I am glad that God waits a while and tells his servants to hold back. Because, at some point, and maybe even for long periods of time, each of us has been a weed in God’s garden. Some of the things we have done or failed to do were more of the devil than of the Lord. Knowing this, realizing what God has done and can do for us when we let him, I’m grateful to have the weeding put off to the end!
God is aware of the evil in our world. Evil is the price of freedom. If mankind did not have the ability to choose between good and bad, he wouldn't be free. Evil choices affect all people, but it is the price of having the ability to choose good. The farmer does not refuse to plant because he might find weeds among the wheat. He plants knowing that the result might not be perfect, but there will be wheat. 
God created us with the ability to bear fruit. That also gave us the ability not to bear fruit. We call out to God in times of tragedy, in times of evil. We want to be vindicated for doing good and suffering evil. The Lord recognizes our suffering and suffers with us, but he gives others time to choose him also, to be numbered among his wheat. God sees the weeds among the wheat. They are the price of freedom. But without freedom there would be no wheat. 

Today, we pray that we might withstand the onslaught of evil against us and we also pray we might fight to eliminate evil in our own lives. With confidence, with hope, we realize the Lord who sees all will, in the wisdom of his time, remove the weed from the wheat and bring forth an abundant harvest.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

You Provide the Soil, God Does the Rest (15th Sunday, Year A)

Growing up, we were blessed to have wonderful neighbors. An elderly couple lived next door to us, and since their children were grown and gone, they adopted us as their honorary grandchildren. They shared much of the wisdom they had learned throughout their lives. For example, this gentleman taught me woodworking, how to work on small engines, and even tinker around with computers and other electronics. One of the most formative activities they shared with us was gardening. Each spring, they surrendered a portion of their yard to us kids so we could have a garden. For several months, my siblings and I would climb eagerly over the fence to plant, water, weed, and eventually harvest the garden for that year. There's something spiritual about plowing the earth, planting, weeding, and cultivating a seedling into a food-bearing source of nourishment. This hands-on activity was crucial in teaching foundational virtues like patience, hard work, and persistence. 

Practically, I learned that four things are necessary for a good harvest. The essential elements, whether it be a small garden in a backyard or a hundred-acre farm are these: Sun, water, good seed, and rich soil. Abundant sunlight is the engine for plant life. It fuels growth and development, it prevents moldy soil, and without it, nothing happens. Water is the life blood of every living thing. Water enables the plant to be rooted in the soil and draw nutrients from the earth. Most of the fruits and vegetables we eat have water as their main ingredient. It seems less important now because we can go to a nursery or hardware store and buy packs of good seed or even seedlings that are ready to plant. But in the ancient world, good, fresh seed was a treasure. You would not waste a single one and hopefully it would be the plant you wanted and not mixed with troublesome weeds and other worthless plants. Finally, there was the soil. The ground that was used for planting would need to be fertile and receptive to life. It would need to be turned and free of large trees, roots, rocks and other obstacles. Sandy or rocky soil, clay and many other types of earth would be undesirable because they would not provide the proper environment for strong, healthy plants. Without one or more of these four elements, the crops would not produce an abundant harvest.

Jesus uses this image of seed and soil, weeds and harvest to describe the kingdom of God. In this parable, Our Lord helps his listeners imagine what it takes to produce good fruit and enjoy the fruits of heaven. What are the practical implications for us, 2000 years later?

This parable reveals the generosity of God in regards to our salvation. When it comes to preparing an abundant harvest, Jesus shows us that God is willing to cover three of the four variables. God is the one who provides the seed for the sowing. The seed is the saving gospel, that Good news that has been handed down through the teaching of Church and the witness of the Apostles in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Notice how freely God sows the seed! He is not cheap, he does not cut corners, he does not withhold it from some areas or peoples. He scatters it extravagantly, without counting the cost, in the hopes that while many will ignore him or burn out, as a result of his efforts, many will be saved.

God also provides the necessary warmth and light that is needed for life and growth. He gives us this in his Son, S-O-N, which is even greater and more essential than the sun, S-U-N. Jesus Christ is the engine of all spiritual life and dynamo for any growth towards God. With him all things are possible and without him, nothing will happen.

Finally, God pours out the rain needed for any good harvest. This is his grace, showered on us through prayer, works of charity, and the seven sacraments, most especially the Eucharist and Confession. God knows exactly what we need and how much we need to get through good times and bad, through dry spells and times of abundance and he is always willing to release these graces into our lives so we can receive nourishment and deepen the roots of our spiritual life.

The only factor that God does not control, the only element he leaves to us is that of the soil. God relies on us to provide the place for the seed of his gospel to grow and develop. He wants us to take an active role in bearing an abundant harvest for the kingdom of God. He wants to share the joy and and satisfaction that come from watching something life-giving and wonderful spring from the smallest of beginnings. 

So where does he sow the gospel? In the human heart, mind, and soul. As we reflect on this parable today, we might ask ourselves how suitable are our hearts, our minds, and our souls. Are they fertile places, ready to receive the Good News of Christ? Are they open to the ways we need to be challenged in order that we might grow and bear fruit? Are we doing everything in our power to be that rich soil that provides a safe, nourishing place for Gods life? Do we have a habit of daily, quiet prayer where our spiritual soil is turned over and refreshed? Or is it full of the weeds of greed, envy, laziness, lust, anger, pride and gluttony? Are we the packed ground that causes the faith to die away in times of trial and difficulty. Have we allowed the routine of daily life and our desire for comfort and control harden us so the seed of the Gospel has nowhere to sink its roots?

Let us resolve today to cultivate a rich place in our lives for God. No matter who we are, no matter what mistakes we have made in the past, God is here to help and get us ready to bring forth a wonderful harvest. May we be the ones who who hear the word and understand it,the ones who bear fruit and yield a harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What Yoke Are You Wearing? (14th Sunday, Year A)

One of the places I love to visit most on vacation is the mountains. I find them inspiring, humbling, and truly awesome. Even though it is strenuous to hike and camp in the wilderness, the rewards of reflecting on God’s beauty are well-worth it. In fact, in just a few weeks, I will be heading to Glacier National Park to camp and hike for 10 days. A few years ago I was in Yosemite National Park and the highlight of that trip was to climb Half-Dome, a 16-mile hike to the top of a massive rock formation carved out by glaciers ages ago. Leading up to this adventure, I was exploring some of the shorter trails in the park. But there was a major problem. I had bought some new boots in St. Louis that didn’t fit quite right. They were quality footwear but they were just a little too small. Even after a short hike of 4 or 5 miles, I would be unable to go any further because of how badly my feet hurt. There was no way I could make it to Half-Dome using them. Even though I had trained and was fit enough in terms of cardio and leg strength, the ill-fitting shoes made it impossible. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a pair of boots for the rest of my time in the park which enabled me to enjoy the remaining hikes, including Half-Dome.

The importance of a good fit is present in our gospel today. Jesus tells us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

What is this talk about yokes and burdens? Jesus is using an image that would have been immediately familiar to the people of his time and anyone who worked with beasts of burden. Throughout human history, even in poorer countries today, much of the power and muscle needed for farming and logging came from oxen. These animals are capable of hauling huge loads and they can budge heavy objects that seem unmovable. The secret to the power of these magnificent animals is in the way they are harnessed to the load. For oxen, they are most often tied to their load by something called a yoke. A yoke is a curved object carved from hardwood that fits over the neck and head of the animals. It allows the weight of the load to be distributed evenly over the shoulders of one or two animals so it can be pulled safely and quickly. 

But yokes are not one-size-fits-all, just like there is no one boot type or size that fits every hiker. As a matter of fact, each yoke would address the needs and unique qualities of the animal that was going to use it. The carpenter would come and take general measurements. Then he would carve a yoke that was roughly the right size and shape. After this, the ox would be brought in and the yoke set on its shoulders. From here, the carpenter would fine-tune the yoke until it fit the animal perfectly. Because of this, oxen could carry incredible loads over many years. 
Christ sees the heavy loads people carry and he has compassion on them. He knows the weight of human suffering and he offers relief and rest. Christ lightens the load of the heavy burdens this world imposes and he gives us hope in the midst of our suffering. The heaviness of the world weighs us down; its yoke never fits us correctly. But how often we allow this weight to be hung around our own necks!!! Often we give in to sin, we do our own will instead of God’s and we become weary and heavily burdened. Worldly concern, suffering, and the effects of sin can discourage and overwhelm us; they seem like a load too heavy to budge. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus promises us relief when he says, “Come unto me - all you who are tired - all you who are feeling drained -all you who are feeling empty - all you who are burdened by a sense of disappointment - all you who are exhausted by the struggles of life and weighed down by your sense of duty, of what is right and wrong- and I will give you rest.  I will cleanse you - I will fill you with new joy - and establish you in a relationship with God that will give you new life - now and in the world to come.
That is the first part of what Jesus had to say. The second part is this: "take my yoke upon you and learn from me." This seems like a contradiction! We might be thinking, “How can I rest with a yoke on my shoulders?”  After all a burden is still a burden - a yoke is still a yoke. However, Jesus is telling us that there is no such thing as a burden-free life; life on earth always has its difficulties; the question is what KIND of burden will we choose to carry.
Jesus has no interest in unburdening us completely from the cares and concern of life; that is simply impossible. Rather, he is interested in lifting the burdens off our backs that suck the life out of us, so he can replace them with something better fitting. He is interested in removing the harness that we forge for ourselves and that the world forges for us, so he can place around our necks his own yoke which ironically brings new life, new energy, and new joy.
His yoke fits perfectly; it enables us to carry loads that we thought were impossible to move. Christ promises rest from the constant worrying and struggle this world imposes. If we seek his forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation, if we are wiling to come and place our trust in him, our burdens of mind and spirit are healed and we are given rest from our anger, guilt, and shame.  

So what are we waiting for??? If you feel weary and burdened with the concerns of this world, if you feel heavy in mind and in spirit, if the challenges of life seem more than you can bear, then run to Christ who promises to make them lighter. Allow him to remove that worldly yoke and replace it with one of his own. He assures us that it is light, easy, and we know that it is fashioned out of love and compassion. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

What Do You Do With Your Fear? (12th Sunday, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

In our readings today, we hear quite a bit about fear. The prophet Jeremiah, speaks about those around him who are plotting his downfall and looking for ways to kill him. Not even his friends can be trusted any longer. Our psalm speaks of bearing shame and insult for the sake of God. The suffering of the psalmist is more than mere insults. As a result of his witness to God, he has becoming an outcast from his own family. But our Lord tells us to fear no one, except the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.

 So what are we supposed to think about all of this talk about fear? Certainly, throughout human history, it is one thing that has never been in short supply. I am sure that we have all experienced fear in our lives.  Perhaps when we were young, we found ourselves afraid of the dark, afraid of leaving our parents, or even frightened by clowns, chores, or getting sick. As we grew older, our fears may have changed. As young people, we may be afraid of public speaking, standing out from the crowd, or making our friends angry. Even as adults, we still struggle with fear. Perhaps your fear is related to your job and the economy. Or a rocky marriage or an abusive relationship. Many of us are frightened by health problems, struggles in our society, difficulties in our families, and our own personal shortcomings and insecurities. Even though our specific fears may change, the notion of fear is a constant presence in our life. We never quite grow out of it.

Fear, however, is not always entirely bad. While it can make us helpless and paralyzed; it can also move us to perform great acts of courage. Take Jeremiah in our first reading. He was a man who had a lot to be afraid of. He was called by God to be a prophet at a very young age. His countrymen and king turned against him because his message was unpopular and challenging. He was put into prison for proclaiming the message of God and his life was threatened. This didn’t just happen once but a number of times.

The truth is, Jeremiah was afraid. In chapter 1:6, when God asks him to proclaim his word, Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord, I know not how to speak; I am too young.” And the Lord simply says, “to whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you.” That is all the Lord promised. He didn’t say it would be easy, glorious, or fun. But he did promise to be with Jeremiah as he proclaimed the message of the Lord. And Jeremiah responded in faith and trust in the power of God to protect him. He didn’t let his fear, as natural and understandable as it was, keep him from becoming an instrument of God’s word to the people of Jerusalem. His fear of being inadequate, persecuted, and too young, ended up deepening Jeremiah’s faith in God and enabled him to do great things in the name of the Lord.

The same is true for us. (I can tell you that the last few months have been full of fears and apprehension as I get ready to say goodbye to all of you and wonder what the next parish will think of me and my corny jokes!) Just as he did with the apostles in the gospel, the Lord sends us out each and every day to proclaim his saving truth to our friends, family, and those we encounter in our daily business. And his advice to us is very, very, simple. So simple in fact, that it is only three words: “fear no one.” But it is often difficult to witness to the teachings of Christ and his Church in our everyday lives. How often we fail because of our fears!! Perhaps it is the fear of speaking up when someone says or does something that is wrong. Maybe we are afraid offending someone with the gospel or we fear what the repercussions might be in our friendships, our careers, or our reputations. These fears are perfectly natural. But if we allow them to keep us from witnessing to the Gospel of Christ, then we will fail to be instruments of God. And we will not play a part in spreading his saving message of joy and peace to a world profoundly affected by fear and suffering. 

Our Lord knew the power that fear can hold over us. He knew its ability to overtake and paralyze his followers. He assures us, his disciples, not to be afraid. He makes it clear that we are cared for and protected by our heavenly Father. Our God is mindful of each and every one of his creatures; he even cares for the lives of sparrows. He knows us inside and out; he has counted the hairs of our heads. He is aware of the things that frighten us and he will protect us, but we must have faith. 

As we celebrate the Eucharist once again, let us present our fears to the Lord honestly and openly, just as Jeremiah did. But once we have done this, let’s be a people of faith, who take God at his word that he will protect and care for us even when things are difficult, dangerous, or uncomfortable. May we resolve to witness to Christ and his gospel with our lives; never allowing our fears to keep us from becoming instruments of God’s saving message. Let us be a people of faith, a people of courage who does not fail to proclaim the truth of Christ Jesus, even in those circumstances when it is hard, frightening, or painful.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Careful Are We? (Feast of Corpus Christi, Year A)

To listen to this homily, click here.

I want to take a moment to wish all of the dads present today a very happy Father’s day! Selfless Fatherhood is becoming increasingly rare in our world today but for all of you who have loved, guided, protected, and provided for your families as dads, thank you and God bless you!

Humans have a natural appreciation for things we believe are valuable or precious. When we encounter someone or something of great value, we are cautious, careful, taking whatever precautions are necessary. Consider a few examples: before a doctor goes in for surgery, what does he do? He changes out of his street clothes into clean scrubs, his arms and hands are thoroughly washed, special covers go over his shoes, and a mask goes over his face. The instruments to be used are sterilized, gloves are put on, and only then is the procedure begun.

Or what about the case of a newborn baby? Have you noticed how carefully people prepare to hold the newest bundle of joy? How they make sure their hands are clean and that they are not sick? How they cradle the child securely against their body and support the weight of the baby’s head? 

And how about a fine painting in a museum or private collection? No one in their right mind would walk up to a priceless masterpiece and drag their hands across it, or poke their finger through the canvas. And when you take your nice new car in to a good shop for maintenance or repairs, if the mechanic is considerate, he might put those protective mats on the floor to prevent the oil on his shoes from staining the inside of the car. 
I could give more examples but you get the point; when we are around precious and delicate things, we are careful, thoughtful, and deliberate. We pay attention to every detail of what what we are doing and how we will proceed out of respect for the beauty or value of what what we are encountering. Keep this principle in mind as we reflect on today’s beautiful feast of Corpus Christi, which is Latin for the “Body of Christ”. The Church gives us this feast as an opportunity to remember what a gift we have in the Eucharist. 

In the Eucharist, we are given the greatest privilege and honor we could imagine. Every time we come to Mass and receive Holy Communion, God says to us: “here is my precious Child, my only begotten Son, I am going to let you hold him, touch him, receive him so that you can become my child too and have the strength to follow me and love your neighbor.” In the Eucharist, God becomes vulnerable for us. How do we respond? Do we have the same care and concern for the Body and Blood of Christ as we do for a newborn infant? Can people see in us that same tenderness, awe, and attention to detail? Is it fair to say that we are at least as careful, diligent, respectful, and awestruck to the Body and Blood of Christ as we might be to an artistic masterpiece, celebrity, or exotic sports car? 
Fortunately for us, the Catholic Church gives us many traditions and procedures to help us maintain our piety and love for Jesus in Eucharist. For example, that is why we are asked to fast from all food or drink, except water or medicine, one hour before we take holy Communion. Our respect for the Eucharist is why we genuflect towards the tabernacle when we come into church. The same is true when we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus; we should bow as the person before us is receiving: when it is our turn we raise our hands before us, one on top of the other as a throne for the King of Kings. We should also feel comfortable receiving the Eucharist on our tongue, as this is still the normative way to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. If we choose to receive the Precious Blood, the same reverence applies as we take a small sip of the Blood that was shed for us on Calvary. If we are aware of some serious sin that we have committed since our last confession, we should not receive the Eucharist until we have gone to confession. We should also pay attention to other details, like taking some time to prepare to receive the Lord, perhaps as we are driving or walking here to church, or even getting here a few minutes early so that we can set aside any distractions or worries that we brought with us. Finally, we should make sure that we never do things that appear disrespectful or careless when it comes to the Body and Blood of Jesus. We should never be chewing gum in church, playing on our phone, or taking Holy Communion without consuming it immediately.

Speaking again to our dads here in church, I believe the Eucharist, which we highlight today, is the perfect inspiration for all fathers. At every Mass, our spiritual father, the priest, repeats the words of Jesus at the last supper: “this is my body, given up for you”, “this is the chalice of my blood, poured out for you”. When I think of the fathers, both spiritual and natural who have impressed and inspired me, they have all imitated Jesus’ example of giving up and pouring out for the good of others. They did not focus on getting what they wanted or being the center of attention. Instead, they made and make tremendous sacrifices so that the ones they love and care for have what they need to be safe and flourish. What Jesus does in the Eucharist, every father is called to emulate. It’s certainly not easy but imagine the blessings that will come to our church and world as more and more men live out their fatherhood inspired by the Eucharist! 

In just a few minutes, we will be entrusted with God’s Son in the Eucharist. Let us be careful, let us be filled with awe, let our piety radiate as we receive this precious gift. May the Body and Blood of Jesus transform our lives and help us to grow even more in love with him!