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Monday, May 10, 2021

Love Everyone Like a Mother! (6th Sunday of Easter, Year B)

 To listen to this homily, click here.

Not only is today the 6th Sunday of Easter, but it’s also Mother’s Day. So, with that in mind, I’d like to wish all moms 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, especially when we were unreasonable, selfish, and annoying. 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 perfect segway for jumping into the challenge presented by our gospel. Jesus talks about love and how it defines the relationship God has with us. The ultimate expression of a loving heart is the willingness to give up anything and everything to save and protect the life of someone we treasure. Of course, this is what Jesus does for every one of us on the cross. This is what so many moms are willing to do for their children, although thankfully, they seldom have to pay the ultimate price to prove their love. Most often it is expressed in the little gestures we hardly notice to protect our bodies, minds, and souls. 

Now, it is great to receive this sort of love from someone. I hope every person in this church knows what that feels like. I pray for those who do not. Being loved in such a complete and unselfish way transforms you! In any case, it’s not good enough simply to receive this sacrificial love from God and others; we have an obligation to give it as well. This is relatively natural for us to do with the people we like. But annoyingly, Jesus doesn’t make any exceptions. He says, “love one another as I love you.” Then, just a few lines later he says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." and then he concludes by repeating: "This I command you: love one another." 

But who is one another????? Who are we called to love in the same way that Christ loved us?????? Is it our friends? Yes! Is it our family? Yes! Would this include our co-workers, acquaintances, strangers, and even those who do not love or respect us? The answer is yes! Christ's command to love one another covers everyone, no exceptions! As Christians, we do not have the option of loving only those we like nor do we have the option of liking all of those we must love. Christian love is much deeper; it is more than a passing feeling or fleeting passion.

Jesus’ command demands our reflection today because now, more than ever, there seems to be a hateful mentality in our society, even among those who call themselves Christians. Sadly, it is not unusual to encounter people in this city, people in this archdiocese, people in this parish who have made exceptions to who receives their charity. Christ's command to love one another extends to each and every person made in his image and likeness; and this includes every person on earth, regardless of their color, nationality, creed, or political views. This law of love embraces the whole range of humanity from the unborn child to the terminally ill and elderly. As Christians, we must love all persons, whether they be close to our heart or someone who seems to have a God-given gift for getting under our skin! As followers of Christ, we must love even those with whom we struggle or don't see eye-to-eye.

            Perhaps the reason why we find it so hard to love one another is because we don't understand what love truly is. To love as Jesus loves does not simply mean saying nice things or always grinning and bearing it, or giving someone everything they ask for. Loving as a Christian is always about wanting what is best for ourselves and others in order for all to be saved. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for an individual is to respectfully challenge them with the truth in the hopes of preventing them from hurting themselves or others. Every parent knows about this side of love. Sometimes it means saying things that are difficult to hear or unpopular. Far too often we avoid sharing the truth because we're concerned about being "politically correct" or disliked. As a result, we dilute the gospel message and put people’s souls at risk!

           Friends, our gospel promises wonderful things to those who keep Christ's commandments; by following them we gain the privilege of becoming Children of God!!! To make it even simpler, Jesus tells us that the heart of every commandment is this: love one another as he has loved us. Nothing could be more simple; nothing could be more difficult. In fact, living this type of love is humanly impossible; we cannot do it on our own. We need God's grace to love like Him, especially when it comes to those people who might be difficult, hateful, or just entirely different from ourselves. That is why we are here today, in this Church, at this Eucharist. Our example of love is seen on the cross; Jesus gave his very life for all people, even those who put him to death. We are called to that same level of love. 

Understandably, there are times when people feel like all this preaching is great on the theoretical level, but what is a practical way to live it? It’s one thing to talk about love for all people, but something else to show it to the person who is selfish, proud, irritating, inconsiderate, or never wrong! The best advice I have received is to start with the one I see each morning in the mirror.


Join with me in praying for the grace to love one another as Christ first loved us. Thank him for the people who have modeled that love in your own life. Be that example for someone else. May those beautiful words of Christ reign in our hearts: "I no longer call you slaves, I have called you friends. Love one another as I love you."  

Monday, May 3, 2021

A Peace the World Cannot Give (or Take) (5th Sunday of Easter, Year B)

 To listen to this homily, click here.

Story of our riot against a baby sitter when we were little and she sent us to bed as soon as our parents left. Even though we were terrible, she told mom and dad that we were fine…

Have you ever had a similar experience of hearing or reading something that doesn’t line up with the way you remember it? That’s what is going on in the first reading today. The life of a christian for the first 300 or so years, was anything but peaceful. It was illegal to profess belief in Jesus and those who did had to worship in secret. Many of the first followers of Christ were Jewish and ended up getting kicked out of the temple and shunned by their families. There were constant persecutions, countless martyrdoms, and even internal arguments among its leaders. No one was a casual Christian because of the sacrifice and commitment involved. So, why in the world does the first reading end with the phrase, “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace”? It certainly was not! At least not in the way we measure peace.

However, if we look at the early christian community with a different lens, then we see something else. Yes, there was no shortage of controversy, conflict, persecution, and suffering. Externally, all around them, things were blowing up. But internally, within the hearts and souls of believers, they were united in their purpose and belief: Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah who had conquered sin and death. He had absorbed the worst of what the world could do and emerged victorious. This message of hope, along with the gift of the Holy Spirit at pentecost, had transformed these early Christians. Even as the world was falling apart around them, they would not and could not lose their peace because they knew, in the deepest part of their being, as long as they remained united to Jesus, they could not be defeated. Nothing could be taken from them that God could not restore and give back. This is the peace alluded to in the first reading. An internal peace that does not depend on what is happening in the outside world. They were connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ, and his life and strength overpowered anything they had to deal with in the world.

It’s hard to imagine a more necessary spiritual quality for us in our time! How many of us have thought, “I will be happy when this pandemic is over and things get back to normal?” Or maybe, I will be able to relax once I get that raise or position at work and there is a little more money rolling in. Or, once this politician is out or this policy is changed. Or, once the Church gets that issue figured out or my parish starts doing this…Or I graduate from this school or don’t have so-and-so as my teacher. All of us, no matter who we are, at one time or another, set an expectation, a goal of, what needs to happen in order for us to be a peace and happy. More often than not, those conditions rely on other people’s decisions and external factors which may or may not go our way. Even if things work out, we all know how quickly they can change and then we are right back to where we were, anxious, unsettled, perhaps even unhappy. 

The peace we crave, the stability we long for, cannot be given by the world nor can it wait for an end to suffering, conflict, disappointment, or any of the other bad and hurtful things that afflict humanity. The beauty of God’s peace is that it starts from within and works it’s way out into every part of our lives. Since it’s not given by others or based on what the world provides, it cannot be taken away by anything this life deals us. It is truly a peace beyond all human understanding. This is what enabled the early Christians to experience a deep, abiding peace even while they were being persecuted, driven out of their homes, and put to death. Their serenity was not based on the things they had, how they were regarded, or what was owed to them. As long as they stayed connected to Jesus, they had what they needed. 

This seems like a radical and unrealistic way of life for you and me. We like to think that our times and our struggles are different. Maybe the Holy Spirit was stronger back then! But these are just excuses. If we are waiting for things around us to calm down and clear up before we can be at peace and work on our friendship with God, then we will be forever waiting. There will always be another crisis, another trial, some obstacle or reason that we cannot quite be happy, hopeful, holy, or content…yet. The time for peace is now and that peace starts in me from my relationship with God and my sincere acknowledgement that He is what will satisfy my and provide what I need.

Take some time to honestly and deeply consider if you experience the peace described in the first reading. Where would you say your peace comes from? Is it within or does it depend on things and people outside of your control? Do you have peace at all or do you struggle with a nagging sense of anxiety and unhappiness or feel compelled to always stay busy? So many of us modern people are discontent and empty, not because we are bad people, but because we have placed our hope for peace and happiness on external things, things that can be lost and taken away! The secret is ridiculously simple and available to all of us. It’s the reason the men of our parish are on retreat this weekend. Its the reason our young people gave up their weekend to lead and participate in the Luke 18 retreat. That reason is a person, Jesus Christ. He is the true vine described in the gospel. Stay connected to him and your life will bear the fruits of peace, joy, and satisfaction, no matter what is happening around you. Being part of the vine is not easy. There will be parts of our lives, some of our priorities, and even certain relationships that must be pruned away. But any pain or loss experienced for His name will help us stay connected to Jesus who can never be defeated or taken away.  

There is no reason Incarnate Word cannot be described like the early Church in our first reading. At peace, being built up, walking in the fear of the Lord and growing in numbers even in the midst of a world full of conflict and division. God wants that for us; are we ready to want it for ourselves?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Do You Recognize Him?! (3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B)

 To listen to this homily, click here.

    Today's Gospel begins with a reference to the Eucharist; the disciples share how Jesus made himself known in the breaking of the bread, which was the earliest form of the Mass. Even though these followers of Christ walked with Jesus all the way to Emmaus, it wasn’t until he began celebrating that holy Meal that they recognized him. They were filled with such excitement, wonder, and awe that they immediately ran 7 miles back to Jerusalem to share their great news with the apostles who are hiding in the upper room. They become passionate witnesses to the disciples who were imprisoned by personal fear and doubt. So much so that as they were sharing their testimony, Jesus appeared in their midst and strengthened all of them.

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

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

Sometimes people tell me they don’t go to Mass anymore because they found it boring or they didn’t get anything out of it. I try not to be defensive but it always hurts my heart. Even when the complaints are not directed at me personally, it's hard not to want to shake that person and say, “do you realize what you are saying?” Even with a boring homily, imperfect music, loud, distracting babies, or whatever human imperfection was observed in one of the ministers at Mass, Jesus is still present in the breaking of the bread. Sometimes we make the Mass about us but it’s always supposed to be about Jesus, offering himself to the Father for the salvation of the world. Sometimes we want instant gratification, entertainment, comfort, and inspiration, all in less than an hour a week, every week, from Mass. But meeting Christ in the Breaking of the Bread is a relationship which takes time and effort to understand and experience its life-changing effects. Some days we will look forward to our time with God and the time will fly by. Other times it will be more of a labor of love that we do because we know it is the right thing, even if it isn’t what we feel like doing right now. What’s key is that we are staying connected and engaged with Jesus through the perfect prayer of the Mass. We are allowing him to love us, feed us, and form us.

Many of us understand this struggle as it relates to our physical health. Sometimes it feels great to exercise and eat healthy food. Other times, it is a total bummer and all we want is a burger, fries and a shake. But staying healthy and in shape is not just a matter of eating well and working out every once in a while or only when we feel like it. We only enjoy good health if our efforts are consistent and cover every part of our routines for eating, sleeping, and staying active. 

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

There are three tried and true ways to make sure our relationship with God never stops moving forward: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer, which includes the Mass but also our daily conversations with God, as well as reading Scripture, praying the rosary, quiet contemplation, and anything else that keeps us in contact with the Lord. 

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

Finally, Almsgiving, which is prayerfully giving some of our material resources to support the Church and help those who are less fortunate than us. There are many ways to do this, and two immediate ways could be to contribute to Incarnate Word parish and the Annual Catholic Appeal, which together support so many efforts here in St. Louis where we live and work.

We should never forget that we have been give a great treasure in the Eucharist. We are witnesses of an incredible truth: Jesus is risen from the dead and he can never be defeated. Eternal life is offered to anyone who follows his way and is fed by him. Let’s ask God for the grace to never take these gifts for granted. Let’s be inspired to share this good news with others so we can all be spiritually strong and healthy. And whether we are on fire to be here right now or just coming because it’s the right thing to do, let’s encourage and support each other like the early church so Christ can be made present in our midst to take away our fear and doubt!

Monday, April 12, 2021

We Are Sinners; We Are Perfect Candidates for God's Mercy! (Divine Mercy Sunday 2021)

 To listen to this homily, click here.

Today’s celebration is always difficult to preach on. It’s not because there is too little to talk about, in fact, it's the opposite; there is too much to consider. God mercy is infinite. There is nothing you or I or any human could ever do that is beyond his power to forgive and heal. That blows our minds because we each have a limit to our mercy. There is a line someone could cross where they become irredeemable in our eyes. But this is not so with God. The only sin he cannot forgive, the only wound he cannot heal is the one that is not placed before him. And so preaching about God’s infinite mercy is a little like trying to contain the ocean, with all its life and richness, into a bottle - Where does one even begin?!

Let me start with a simple observation. It’s not infallible but it comes from being out in the world, hearing lots of confessions and generally spending time with folks, some of whom are confronting their sinfulness and others doing everything they can to run away from it and ignore it. Essentially it boils down to this; we are not a very merciful people. When I was picking up a pizza a few days ago, there were about 10 of us in line, waiting 15 minutes just to pick up online orders. The complaining comments made to staff, the walking out and refusing to pay for late orders was sad to see and hear. I am embarrassed to say I felt some of those same things in my heart even though I didn’t say them out loud. Why are we so easily offended and outraged when something is not ready the moment it was promised?

I also spent a lot of time in the car this past week. I cannot believe how aggressive people have become on all types of roads. 10 mph over the limit makes you a slow-poke and heaven help you if you don’t mash the gas pedal the instant a light turns green or floor it when the light turns yellow. Have you noticed how many people speed up when you try to change lines or merge into traffic? Maybe you do it too; if someone wants to get over they are going to have to get behind me! More often than not, the person driving like a maniac ends up at the very same light as the rest of us and only a few cars ahead on the highway. Why are we so impatient, willing to curse, speed, and even endanger our lives and those of others, to shave a few seconds off our travel, if that? 

Then there are the arguments. Maybe it's about politics, maybe it centers around COVID and the different opinions about how to move forward, maybe it is cancel culture and whether a person who has made a mistake should be given another chance or ought to be fired and banished. In so many of these situations, we do not see a person with whom we disagree, we see a target to be destroyed. I am right, they are wrong and they are going down. Winning and being right are the ultimate goals and any damage that is done to lives, hearts or reputations is the price of entering the ring.

Maybe I’m just focussing on the worst parts of our society but I don’t think so. We are an angry, tense, selfish, and unmerciful bunch. In other words, you and I and every person in this world, we are sinners. This is nothing new but it should never be something we just accept and live with. God knows our wounds; he knows how sin hurts us and him and everyone else and He could not sit back and do nothing, even though nothing is what we deserved. Our Easter celebration, begun last week, highlighted the fact that God stepped in and stepped up to save us from sin, selfishness, and death. That intervention, that forgiveness, that redemption is what we call Divine Mercy and we need it now more than ever.

Forgiveness is not cheap grace that requires nothing on our part. Pay attention to every example of mercy in the bible. God does the heavy work of healing and forgiving but only when the person comes to him with a spirit of conversion and a desire to try and sin no more. Jesus never says, “you are healed, you are forgiven, now go back to what you were doing. You be you!” It requires accepting responsibility, being open to change and a willingness to forgive others unconditionally. If we forgive one another, God will forgive us. As Jesus taught us: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We offer mercy because we need mercy. We thirst for mercy because without it, life is cruel, exhausting, and brutal. 

Asking God for mercy does not mean going on a guilt trip. It's not a matter of thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. That's a lifelong journey that never ends. None of us have arrived at a point in life where we no longer need God’s forgiveness; if we think we have, we have grown blind to our sinfulness and we are missing out on one of the greatest treasures God wants to give. Many times we get sick of asking for mercy because it can be a messy, humbling process. We would be fine admitting we messed up if we only had to do it once and then could cross it off our list. But sinfulness and mercy don’t work that way. 

Our world, our country, and even this parish community, we are tired, we are angry, we are afraid, we are hurting, and we are sinful. We need God’s mercy. In fact, it is the one and only thing that will address the ills that afflict us and cause so much pain, misery, and division. The wonderful news is that he cannot wait to give it. But Jesus never forces us to accept his gift. So, think about the things we carry within us every day that weigh us down and steal our peace and joy. What grudges do we refuse to let go of? What areas of our life remain selfish and self-centered? How might we need to ask the forgiveness of someone we have hurt or ignored? Maybe we struggle with past decisions? Maybe we have a sin we don’t really want to let go of? Perhaps we can’t quite put your finger on what is wrong but we know deep down that we are empty, sad, or unfulfilled. 

Divine Mercy is fully manifested in the sacrament of confession but it begins with a relationship with God. Open your heart to Jesus, both the parts you like and the areas you’d rather forget. Give him permission to heal you. Ask him for the desire to repent and embrace conversion. Be willing to change. Trust that he wants you to love you more than you could ever imagine. Believe that there is nothing you have done that he cannot undo. Then, whether that is today or someday soon, receive his gift of Divine Mercy in the confessional and experience the freedom that will be prayed over you, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Sunday, April 4, 2021

What Is the Meaning of Easter? (Easter 2021)

 To listen to this homily, click here.

A story is told about three know-it-alls who spent most of their lives believing they knew more than everyone else. Alas, not even they could outsmart death and they found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them they can enter paradise if they correctly answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first fool, "What is Easter?" He replies, "Oh, that's easy! It's the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and are thankful..." "Wrong!," replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second fool the same question, "What is Easter?"  The second one eagerly replies, "Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus." St. Peter looks at the second fool, shakes his head in disgust, tells her she's wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third fool and asks, "What is Easter?" The third fool smiles confidently, looks St. Peter straight in the eyes,  saying, ”I know exactly what Easter is. Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later betrayed and turned over to his enemies by one of his disciples. "The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands and feet. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder." St. Peter smiles broadly with delight.  Then the fool concluded, "Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out...and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”

It would be nice to believe the story I told is nothing more than a cheesy pastor joke with no basis in reality. And while few people would confuse Easter Sunday with groundhog day, more and more people, many of them practicing Christians, struggle to understand what is so important about the Easter celebration. For many, it is a commemoration of a historical event that took place a long time ago but has limited impact for one’s life here and now. In other words, it was pretty amazing when it first happened but that was 2000 years ago and what is all the fuss about now?!

One of the hidden and challenging blessings of the past year was how the pandemic shattered the illusion that we were in control of our lives, our world, and our future. For perhaps the first time in generations, at least for us first-world people, we were completely helpless on so many levels. Think of everything that was stripped away overnight: travel, eating out, visiting family and friends, sports, vacations, and even gathering in person for worship. We experienced, in a very real and frightening way, what it meant to be helpless against a foe, a darkness, an evil, that could not be swayed by power, prestige, money, knowledge or accomplishments. All of us were affected, no one had the answer, everyone was hostage to the pandemic. In short order, with so many distractions and diversions stripped away, we came to realize what really matters and sustains us: Faith, friends, and family. It was these profound relationships that allowed humanity to find hope and purpose until the pandemic could be understood and overcome.

As terrible as Covid-19 has been, it is only a small microcosm of the type of evil, darkness, death, and pain that has been unleashed on the human race through sin. Starting with the tragic choice of Adam and Eve at the dawn of time, humanity has been held hostage by the tragic and inescapable results that come from rejecting God. Once sin entered the world, heaven was closed to every human because heaven could only be occupied by perfect and sinless creatures. Every single soul entered the world with something called original sin and a tendency to choose things that were wrong, selfish, and destructive. Finally, as years gave way to centuries and centuries to millennia, human beings added offense to offense against one another and against God. We were completely unable to redeem ourselves as individuals, much less undo the sin that had spread throughout the world and saturated history.

God had every right to let us wallow in our misery and reap the sinful harvest we had sown in defiance of him. He could have started over, created a new world and a new people who would be grateful and responsive to his commands. But God never gives up on creation; from the moment Adam and Eve chose sin and death, he promised them a way back, a redeemer who would open their eyes and cleanse humanity of its sins. This redeemer would have to be as blameless as God to take away the sins of the world and also fully human in order to stand in the place of every person that ever existed. This savior could only be God and that would mean he would have to clean up a mess he didn’t make, he would suffer for a sin he never committed, and he would die for countless people who would reject him and never be grateful for his love. And yet God did this willingly, without bitterness, in the hopes that at least some would be saved and return to him.

This is the miracle of Easter that we celebrate today with such reckless abandon. This is the mystery the Church spends 90 days either preparing for or celebrating. This monumental event is so critical to our past, present, and future that our Church takes every single Sunday to remember it and keep it fresh in our minds and hearts through the celebration of Mass. This is the reason Sunday Mass is an obligation; it is the very least we can do to say thanks to God for suffering on our behalf and ransoming us from sin and death.

Please take some time in the next 50 days to reflect on your own understanding and appreciation of Easter. Jesus’ victory over sin and death should define who we are and how we approach life’s problems. If we have a savior who was willing and able to conquer both physical and spiritual death, is there anything else he won’t do for us now? If God’s power is that complete, what can the world, satan, or our own weakness possibly do to us that cannot be undone by Divine Love? Do our lives and our attitude radiate holy confidence that we cannot be defeated by anything or anyone, whether that be a pandemic, persecution, or personal sin? Our victory, our escape from evil and despair, our rising from the dead is found only in the name of Jesus, risen from the grave this Easter day! Our redemption will not and cannot come from technology, law, politics, personal enlightenment, riches, and the million other things we tend to put our hopes in. These things are not bad in themselves but they cannot save us.

Those who forget the relevance of Easter no longer remember the one thing that will save them from sin and death. Those who do not keep the resurrection as their guiding principle will soon be overcome with the spirit of the world with its many temptations and problems that seem unsolvable. 

Let’s take care not to become a fool who does not know the meaning of Easter. This knowledge does not require an advanced degree. It is given freely to those who believe in Jesus’ name, choose Him as the solution to every problem, and thank him as the source of every blessing. The rising of Jesus from the dead is just as relevant to us as it was to the first disciples 2000 years ago. Believe it. Live it. Proclaim it. Amen! Alleluia!  

This Is My Body, This Is My Blood (Holy Thursday, 2021)

Less than two weeks ago, on March 22, in Boulder, Colorado, a disturbed young man entered a grocery store and proceeded to murder ten innocent people, who were going about their day, running errands, and doing their jobs. As has become increasingly common, after the initial shock and confusion which emanates from such random crime, we learn more details about the victims. Who they were, what they did, and how their death leaves a void in their family, their community and ultimately in our society as a whole. No one can deny the terrible tragedy of the Boulder shooting nor are there easy answers as to why this wanton taking of innocent life seems to happen more and more often with no warning. However, evil, pain, suffering, and death were not the only things to emerge from this awful crime. As authorities sorted through survivors’ stories, bystander’s videos, and eyewitness accounts, there also emerged a narrative of courage, love, and supreme self-sacrifice on the part of a police officer, named Eric Talley, who was first on the scene. He ran into the supermarket immediately to stop the threat and as he rushed into danger, he told others to run to safety. Moments after entering the store, he paid the ultimate price for his efforts to protect and serve those entrusted to his care as a first responder. Officer Talley immediately became numbered among the many brave men and women who are held in highest esteem as civic and spiritual heroes for their willingness to give up their body and pour out their blood in an effort to shield others from evil, suffering, and death.

The Boulder shooting, the victims it made, the bravery and kindness it brought forth, and the tragedy it imposed, mirrors in a smaller way the great conflict between good and evil, hate and love, selfishness and sacrifice that is present in tonight’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In our second reading, St. Paul recalls the words of Jesus to his apostles at the Last Supper, just hours before he gave himself up completely to redeem all creation. These are words we hear at every Mass and perhaps have grown numb to; but we should constantly remind ourselves to be in awe of what they mean. Our God, perfect in every way, took human flesh so that he could suffer and die for our redemption. Our God humbled himself so that he could say on this holy night, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” and also, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Tonight we remember the fact that Our Lord gives us a gift which is a total and complete act of love. He gives his body to save and shield us from the evil of sin and everlasting death. He pours out his blood to protect us from the effects of our sins and to bring us back to life in the spirit. He holds nothing back to protect us, his defenseless brothers and sisters, so that we might have life and have it abundantly. I think we sometimes forget that before Jesus offered himself on the cross, heaven was completely closed to humanity. Until that saving sacrifice, sin had the upper hand and there was simply nothing we could do about it!

This gift of supreme sacrifice, this laying down of his life and pouring out of his blood that we might live and not die, takes place at every single mass which is celebrated each day, everywhere in the world. It shields us from the unrelenting hatred and evil that Satan is constantly wishing to inflict on us. The Holy Eucharist is a buffer that protects us from so many threats of sin, selfishness, and death.

But what does the Lord require of us, who can receive this bread from heaven each and every day? Knowing our complete inability to repay this heavenly debt, Jesus gives us an example for us to follow in tonight’s gospel. Those who have received the gifts of God, in the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, are not to lord it over other people or hoard the good effects for themselves. Instead, Christ shows us, by his own example, that we are to serve one other, humbly and generously. The more we have been blessed by God’s grace, his mercy, his patience, and his love, the more we must share these same things with others.

After bestowing the gift of the Eucharist on his apostles, he shows them how they are to repay such generosity. He removes his outer garments as a display of utter humility and a sign of shedding his prestige and status as teacher and Master. He then proceeds to wash the feet of each of his apostles, even as they protest. As he completes this beautiful gesture, he says, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Friends, our celebration tonight reminds us of a two-fold reality: Christ has blessed us with the complete gift of himself in the Eucharist, where his body and blood are given to us without any reservation or strings attached. He wants us to receive that gift readily, willingly, and often so we might be saved. But receiving is not the only action he desires. He also wants us to imitate him in giving ourselves to others in generous and humble service. We must never forget that his gift of the Eucharist must always be repaid by our own acts of love and sacrifice for others.

For most of us, we will wash the feet of others with simple, practical acts of virtue. Imitating Jesus in our lives will mostly consist of being patient with family and friends, forgiving others who have hurt our feelings or been inconsiderate, and also building up those around us with kind words and charitable thoughts. For most, laying down their lives will mean enduring unfair criticism or gossip, defending the reputation of others, forgoing certain things we are owed, and embracing the monotony of daily life with a spirit of love and prayer. Are we willing to accept this call to sacrifice and service?

But no matter who we are or what we will be called to give in remembrance of Our Lord, one thing is certain: every time we gather for the Eucharist we are cared for without limit, we are protected and redeemed by the body and blood of God, who laid down his life for us long before we became his friends, and we are sent forth to love, serve, and protect others with that same generous and humble spirit. 

After Officer Talley died and the world learned his story, thousands of people, most of them strangers, pledged over a million dollars in gratitude for his sacrifice and to support his grieving family. How do we show God our gratitude for laying down his life for us? Don’t forget to thank God tonight for this incredible gift and every time you receive the Eucharist! Let us ask him to make our hearts more like his, so we will never hesitate to do all these good things in memory of him without counting the cost or complaining.  

Monday, March 29, 2021

A Shout of Joy in the Midst of Darkness (Palm Sunday, 2021)

 To listen to this homily, click here.

What a difference a year makes! Last year was the most restful Holy Week I’ve ever had and it was miserable. Preaching to a camera in an empty church was not great. So, I already feel blessed to enter these holiest days with you present in this church, seeing the whites of your eyes! Sharing this journey together has brought its own blessings and I hope you feel God’s grace as we commemorate the saving mysteries that freed us from sin and gave us hope in the darkness of the pandemic!

Today we received a palm branch in memory of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We never thought that deeply about the palm as kids, preferring instead to torture each other throughout Mass by sticking them in each other’s ears. However, these palms represent the majesty of Christ the king of heaven and earth. Then, in terrible contrast, we heard about the betrayal of Jesus, his humiliation by scourging and then...the cross.

Those standing near the cross heard those stark words of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Christians throughout the centuries have been troubled by those words: How could Jesus - who is God - feel abandoned by God? But this is not exactly what is happening. In Jesus’ time, rabbis would begin prayer or worship with a line or two from the psalms. Because most people had many of them memorized, this line would prompt those who heard it to join in and recall the message of that psalm. I know it is a poor comparison, but remember a few years ago when the movie “Frozen” came out. All anyone had to do was sing or say, “Let it Go…” and those who had seen the movie would join in the song and remember the movie and its message. For those who had not seen the film, seeing children and adults erupt in song with only the prompt of a few words seemed very strange. Jesus’ uttering those seemingly strange words,"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" would have caused every faithful Jew to bring the entire psalm to mind which begins with fear and pain but ends in the firm belief that God will deliver the faithful one from evil and suffering. 

Jesus endured the entire range of human emotion, starting with the today’s glorious and triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the devastating feeling of abandonment and betrayal of Good Friday. He can sympathize with every feeling we experience, both the high and the low. When we feel desolate, abandoned, defeated, when we wonder where God is; that is the time to come to Jesus, to come to the cross.

        When we go to Jesus, feeling abandoned, overwhelmed, or afraid, something unexpected happens. We see it in the Gospel: After expressing abandonment and ultimate trust in his Father, we hear that "Jesus gave a loud cry." Many Scripture scholars see this as a cry of triumph. In St. John's Gospel, always read on Good Friday, Jesus cries out, "It is finished.” In the ancient Greek it is only one word, “Finished!”, like something we would exclaim after completing a most challenging and monumental task. Jesus' loud cry is a shout of victory.

At the beginning of Mass, we received a victory symbol in the form of the palm branch. Please take it home and place it behind a crucifix as a reminder that if we embrace the cross we will triumph, not because of our own strength and cleverness but because of Jesus' Resurrection.

Next weekend we will begin a fifty-day celebration of Jesus' Resurrection. If at all possible, come to the sacred celebrations of the Triduum on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. These are the central mysteries of our faith and defining moments of the world’s salvation. To celebrate them is to remember them and to remember them is to make them present and effective in our lives.  

On the cross Jesus took our evil on his shoulders, he bore the full consequences of sin, including the sense of abandonment, betrayal, and fear. But He knew what came next and what always wins! God’s faithfulness and power cannot be defeated, ever. That is the reason why in the end he gave a loud cry - a shout of victory. Amen.