Saturday, May 12, 2018

What's in a name?


The Navy Chief noticed a new sailor and asked, “What’s your name?” “John,” the young man said. “Look,” said the Chief, “I don’t know what they’re teaching in boot camp nowadays, but I don’t call anyone by his first name. It breeds familiarity, and that breaks down authority. I refer to you by last name only; Smith, Jones, Baker, whatever. And you call me as ’Chief’. Am I clear?” “Aye, Aye Chief!” the sailor said. “So let me ask again, what’s your name sailor?” The man sighed and said, “Darling. My last name is Darling.” Without skipping a beat, the Chief said, “Okay, John, you’re dismissed.”

What’s in a name? We heard Jesus say, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.” Keep them in your name. That phrase brings to mind the famous question pondered in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Our Gospel invites us to ponder the same question, what is in a name? Just think of your family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. Last names and their meanings are important. First names are also important. For myself, every time someone tells me they are pregnant, I remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?

Time Magazine recently had an interesting article about names. You know, not too long ago, Catholics always gave their children religious names – naming them after Biblical individuals or saints. Why? Because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be. Today, though, we live in an age where names come from different sources – movies, television, sometimes just made up.

But, the good news, according to the Time article is that in the last 10 years, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. Among the top 10 boys names last year were Jacob, Michael, Noah and Anthony – all good Biblical or saintly names. Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one I saw, Nevaeh. That’s Heaven spelled backwards.

So, what’s in a name? We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.” This is a name that each of us has been given through the grace of our Baptism. We too are called Christians. We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the daughters and sons of God. It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.

So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God. In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.

“Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name. Embrace the name of Chistian that has been given to you. Live as a daughter or son of God; as a little Christ in the world. We pray, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be God, blessed be His Holy Name.” And may we be blessed in the name He has given us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"You were made for greatness!"


There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church today, it has been 40 days since we celebrated the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the promised land through 40 years in the desert. Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to today?

Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.

Let me say a word about ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power to ascend on her own. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My friends, we don’t gather here tonight to simply commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that just as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!

Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone. We’re called to remember our commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today; to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed? Have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where Jesus has gone, we too may follow.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Jesus is what God's love looks like


A little girl was showing her mother her collection of dolls one day. The mother asked, “Which one do you love most?” The girl pointed to a miserable, tattered looking doll and said that was her favorite. “Why do you love that doll most?” the mother asked. The girl answered, “Because that one needs my love more than the rest.”

Our second reading the First Letter of John reminded us, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, our Scriptures today and all week have focused on the nature of love – God’s love for us and His command that we love each other.

But, language is such an imprecise thing. Just think of how imprecise the word love is. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are actually different words for love. The two used in the New Testament are philia or the love between friends; and agape, which is love in its highest form. Agape is the word used most often and it’s the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love from God that we are called to imitate in our own lives.

John today paints for us a picture of God’s love tells us why we should love, what love is about, and how we are to love. So, why love? Then John tells us why. “Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John reminds us that love is from God, it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. On the flip side, he tells us that if you don’t have love for others then quite simply you cannot know God. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.

For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.

So, what does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love? John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” So, Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.

Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Human love comes because we want to receive something, something like feeling good in the other’s company. God’s love it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes a climactic sign of the way God loves us and the model for the way we should love one another.

Finally, John brings his point home, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” My friends, God loves us unconditionally, God love us perfectly, completely, personally, and generously; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given.

We can sometimes view the command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments. It should in fact be what defines our lives as believers. As they said of the Christians in Antioch so many centuries ago, should be said of us today, “See how these Christians love.”

May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He loves us.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"You only love God as much as the person you love least."


Consider this quote, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who lived a life dedicated to reaching out to those whom society had cast off. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let that one sink in a little bit as we focus in on our readings today.

As much as Easter is, of course, about Jesus and His resurrection, this season also focuses our attention on another central figure, St. Paul and the life-changing effect of his encounter with the Resurrected Christ. We hear a lot about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles which have such a prominent place in our Easter readings, and of course, we always hear a lot from him, as his letters to the various churches he established are read most Sundays throughout the year.

I think that the church gives us Paul during the Easter season as a point of connection between these great events and our own life. In other words, we are Paul. We relate to him in his struggles, in his doubt, even in his disbelief. And, if we can relate to him in those moments, then we can perhaps also relate to him in his conversion; we can relate to him in his zeal to grow in faith, and to share that faith with anyone he encountered. Our life of faith, after all, is not about a life of perfect belief from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle even with our practice; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, newness, constant change, constant return. And Paul reminds us that this is okay. That no matter how far away we sometimes feel from God, we can always return. There is no place that is too far from God for us.

In today’s passage from Acts, St. Paul was still a fresh convert to the faith and newly arrived from Damascus. I hope your ears perked up like mine did at the beginning of the passage: “they were all afraid of him.” Isn’t that stunning? The early Christians knew who this guy was and what he did– he was a persecutor, he was a Christian-hunter. Among the Christians in Jerusalem Paul wasn’t very popular. Nobody trusted him. They even feared for their lives just because he was there. In fact, at the beginning of the chapter we have today, it says that Paul was “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples.” This was one mean guy.

That brings me back to Dorothy Day, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This very mean Paul is not who usually comes to mind when we think of the great saint. So, what happened? Well, of course, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that Paul fell to the ground in that moment. But, it wasn’t just that moment that changed everything. There was also one person in the community of believers who saw something more in him. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul’s conversion – and believed in him. Today’s reading says Barnabas “took charge” of Paul. Biblical scholars think it was more than that. One commentator suggested that there would not even be a Paul if there wasn’t first a Barnabas – someone who after that tremendous moment of conversion became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas was someone who personified Christian love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”

Years later, when Paul wrote his famous passage to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – I believe, he was really talking about this. Not something romantic or flowery. But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. That is unafraid and steadfast. That is willing to risk. Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past; even a horrible and violent past like Paul’s. In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner, a persecutor, even a Christian-hunter, might have the potential to be a saint. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”

Let me share one more detail with you about our good Barnabas. Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name to symbolize his new life in Christ. He was given the name Barnabas, a name which translated means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Saul who through this encouragement grew into the Saint Paul we have come to revere.

To offer encouragement means to support and uplift. It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears. It is to love like Christ loves. To see beyond sin into holiness. This is the effect of resurrection. It will raise us not only on the last day, but it can raise us on this day too, it can raise us every day – right out of whatever weighs us down.

“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”, a man who “breathed murderous threats against them” and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life.

My friends, let us pray today that we too might be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement – for each other, for those we struggle with, for those who seem to need that love and encouragement more than anyone else. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let the person we love least be the person we love most and then we will be loving the way that God loves, and we will be encouraging as Barnabas encouraged, we too will be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven, and bringing everyone else along with us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Inspired by a homily from The Deacon's Bench.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Listen to Jesus!


Jesus was at the Pearly Gates one day and decided to give St. Peter a break from the hard work of sorting those who would enter Heaven from those who wouldn’t. He opened the Book of Life and after he had sorted a few people, looked up to see an old man before Him who looked familiar. “And you are…” Jesus asked. The man responded, “I’m a carpenter. And, I was told that my son was in there. I’d like to see him. You’d recognize him, he’s got nail marks in his hands and in his feet.” Jesus was stunned, He leaned forward, looked at the old man, smiled and said, “Dad?” The man’s eyes widened and he looked at Jesus and said, “Pinocchio?”

“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” As we hear these words about the good shepherd in our Gospel today, the church also invites us to celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is a perfect fit as Jesus gives us this powerful image of Himself as the Good Shepherd. To fully understand the image, we need to know a little bit about shepherds and what they do. In Jesus’ time, there were two kinds of shepherds. First, there was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just a job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would not risk his life for them in a dangerous situation. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same sheep all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.

Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is the heart of vocation. Discovering our best identity – who we are called to be in God’s sight – is what a vocation is all about. God, of course, continually calls each one of us to something special in His kingdom. Our challenge is to create an environment that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that they can follow where He leads. The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something special and He might even be calling someone here today to become a priest, deacon or religious.

The question of vocation is all about our identity. God very simply calls us to be who we are created to be. The question is who are we in God’s sight? St. Francis of Assisi would remind the friars, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. It is only when we know our true identity before God, that we discover our vocation.

If this identity has been nurtured, and if we open our heart to the Good Shepherd, it is here at the Holy Mass that we begin to see this identity emerge. Receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, tells us something about ourselves. When we enter into that personal relationship with Jesus that we can only have in the Eucharist, Jesus helps us to discover who He calls us to be. In fact, we are never more clearly ourselves than we are right here; gathered around the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist. If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do – meet Jesus here in the Eucharist and he will reveal it to you.

I’ve told my own vocation story many times before. But, it all boils down to this. As a teen, I had the merest spark of faith. I did not yet know the Lord. In my early 20s I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Eucharist. When I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences. The Mass was speaking to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed in my heart that this was Jesus. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom. And you can too.

To discover that identity requires two things of us. First, can you hear His voice? Can you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls you? And secondly, do we pray for and encourage those around us to discover that call; especially those who might be called to service in the Church? I don’t know if I would be a priest today if it weren’t for the support I received from crucial people in my life as I explored this call – the Dominican sisters who taught me and encouraged a vocation, my aunt Maureen who is a Sister of Mercy and who showed me the joy that can be found in religious life, Fr. Marc Hession who was my first mentor and led me toward a life of priestly service, and most importantly my mother and father, who gave witness to me of what it means to live a Christian life.

We have all been led here by a Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and wants the best for them. We will meet Him in a profound and special way in the Eucharist and discover who we are in God’s sight and what God has planned for us in His Kingdom. Let us pray that more young men and women will have the courage to pursue the vocation that God is calling them to; that they will follow the Good Shepherd. And let us be the people who encourage them to do so.

“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hungry for Jesus!


One of my favorite movies is a little known comedy from the 1990s with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep called Defending Your Life. In the story, Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. Every day he goes to a room, much like a courtroom, where they show scenes from his life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and he has to defend his decisions in each of those moments. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. But, my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. And in Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.

I was thinking of that film because as we make our way through the post-resurrection stories of Jesus, there is a repeating theme you might have noticed. Jesus seems awfully hungry. When He encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they stop to have a meal. This is when they exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us?” And how they came to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then appears to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. Here, after a miraculous catch of fish, He sits down with them and prepares a breakfast.

And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again, and asks the now-familiar question, “Have you anything to eat?” Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!

Now, of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, this focus on eating is there for an important reason. These stories don’t want to merely recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something important – that the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Jesus is a flesh and blood, breathing and eating human being – just like you and me. What the disciples encounter after the resurrection is not a ghost or a spirit; it’s not a mirage or even an angel. Just like before the resurrection, Jesus is a full human being. This is why we profess in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Angels don’t enjoy bread and wine. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as He was before.

This isn’t meant to be just an interesting detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded that through our own baptism, we too are welcomed into a life that is eternal with God. That we too will be resurrected, body and soul, one day. We will not be ghosts; we will not be angels; we will not be spirits in the afterlife – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but somehow perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.

Jesus invites us into a tremendous intimacy through resurrection, and it is all about the body – not only the Body of Jesus raised from the dead , but, also the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at every Mass; the Body and Blood of Jesus that we take into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The resurrected Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity.

Archbishop Tom Murphy was the beloved Archbishop of Seattle in the late 1980s and 1990s. He was a shepherd who loved his flock and was always very present to the people. He had a very close relationship with the teens at one of his Catholic high schools where he essentially acted as their chaplain. Despite his busy schedule, he was always available whenever the sacraments needed to be celebrated for the students. They were his kids and he was their Archbishop.

In 1996, he was diagnosed with leukemia. For the last year of his life, he underwent treatments to fight the cancer which left him in need of regular blood transfusions. His kids saw their opportunity to help this holy man who had done so much for them and organized blood drives so that their Archbishop would have the blood needed for his transfusions. At his last Mass with the teens he said to them, “Since I was a boy, I have always loved the Mass and in particular the Eucharist. I would serve at daily Mass and was always in awe of what took place on the altar. But, I don’t know that I ever fully understood it until now. Today, as I stand here, I’ve got your blood in me and I’m alive today because of your blood. Now I understand the Eucharist.”

My brothers and sisters, this is what Easter is all about. If we keep encountering a Jesus who each week seems to be hungry, it is a reminder to us that we too should be hungry – hungry or the things of Heaven; hungry for the Body and Blood that do not merely nourish us for today, but fulfill all our hungers for eternity. Jesus every day appears on our altar with an invitation: Receive my Body and Blood. Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; giving you eternal life.

My friends, today and at each Eucharist, Jesus wants to be one with us; He wants communion with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Each time we gather, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We are alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins. Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe in the resurrection of the Body – Jesus’ body and ours – and we believe in life everlasting. Amen.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

This is our faith! "My Lord and my God!"

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER (Divine Mercy Sunday), April 8, 2018:

I recently came across a powerful story on one of my favorite blogs by Deacon Greg Kandra. Last year, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.

Following the attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.

Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” And addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”

The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, Amr Adeeb, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”

This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Gospel today calls us to reflect in the midst of our Easter joy on what it means for us to be a people of faith; a people who believe in the saving power of Jesus.

Our Gospel today presents us with the story of the most well-known doubter in the Bible – the apostle Thomas. For obvious reasons, I have always had a great affinity for Thomas and have also always found that he gets the short end of the stick when it comes to this perception as the Doubting Thomas. But, as we just heard in the proclamation, doubting is not where Thomas ends up, but believing. He makes perhaps the greatest profession of faith in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.” But, as you can guess, I don’t think that “doubting” is a fair assessment of Thomas’ faith.

The usual take on today’s Gospel goes something like this – Jesus appeared to the disciples, except Thomas who wasn’t there. Jesus gives them the gift of peace; He breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them a mission to go forth and forgive sins. Everyone believed, except poor Thomas who, of course, gets labeled the doubter. The message from too many preachers will be: Don’t be like poor, poor Thomas, instead have some faith like the rest of the apostles.

However, Bible commentator Russell Saltzman gives the story a new spin. He wrote, Notice that “[the other apostles] didn’t go anywhere, did they? They stayed put. They didn’t venture an inch. They didn’t undo a single sin anywhere. They remained together and they were still there when Thomas finally shows.”

Saltzman goes on to say that if Thomas did indeed doubt, perhaps he didn’t doubt Jesus, but he doubted his fellow apostles. After all, if Jesus appeared as they said, if He gave them peace as they said, if He breathed the Holy Spirit as they said, and if He gave them a mission as they said, then why were they still locked up afraid in that upper room? “If you’ve been sent, what are you still doing here?” is Thomas’ dilemma. From Thomas’ perspective, an encounter with the Risen Jesus should have produced some fruit on the part of his fellow apostles, instead, he finds them right where he left them – afraid in the Upper Room.

Fast forward a week later, when Thomas is present, he receives the same gifts from Jesus and Tradition tells us that Thomas was the first apostle to leave Jerusalem. From his encounter with the Risen Lord, Thomas made a huge leap of faith to the full divinity of Christ that the others didn’t and was able to proclaim: “My Lord and my God.” And with that he traveled, further and faster than all the rest, all the way to the tip of India. This is not the behavior of a doubter.

This is all a simple way of saying – especially on this Second Sunday of Easter – that Easter, the Resurrection, our faith should also make a difference in our lives; a difference that shows. It made a difference in the life of Naseem Faheem and his family. It made a difference in the life of Thomas. And so, our encounter with the Risen Jesus should move us too and not leave us right where He found us. My friends, our God appears to us here again today. He speaks His word, He offers His Son, He gives us a mission. We, just like the apostles, are being sent – will we go anywhere? Will it make a difference in the way we are living our lives?

Pope Francis spoke about this encounter between Jesus and Thomas not long after his election, and how this encounter is meant to send us our in mission. The Pope said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. Jesus tells us [as He told Thomas] that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy; by giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked, humiliated, or a slave; because they are in jail, or in a hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to kiss and bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. And we must do this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."

My friends, today it is we who are in the Upper Room. It is we to whom Jesus offers peace and the gifts of His Spirit. It is we who are once again sent. Let us act in faith like Naseem, with out question. Let us proclaim with Thomas, My Lord and my God, and then bring Jesus to our world.

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

"Were you there?" Mary Magdalene, the most faithful disciple

"When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene." (Mark 16.9)

It is interesting to note that the two times Jesus birth is announced to humanity, that incredible message is delivered to women named Mary. In the Annunciation as it is revealed that the Word will become Flesh, the message is of course delivered by the angel to Mary, the Blessed Mother. And today as Jesus rebirth through the wonder of Resurrection is announced to humanity, it is another Mary - this time Mary of Magdala - who is the first to receive this news.

First, a word on Mary Magdalene. It is important to correct a fake news story that has lingered in the church for hundreds, if not more than a thousand years. Mary of Magdalene is not the woman caught in adultery. For too long, there has been a combination of several stories of the women of the Gospel into this Mary. But, there is really no evidence for this. In fact, not only is Mary Magdalene not a prostitute, she was likely a very well placed woman in her culture which was notable for a time when women did not have much of a place aside from the men they were attached to. We know this even by her name. She is not Mary, the wife of so-and-so, or the daughter of that man, or the sister of another. She has a name all her own, Mary of Magdala, a sign that she was an influential woman in the city of Magdala. Talk about a lingering case of "fake news!"

(Great story on this can be found here: Who framed Mary Magdalene?)

Mary Magdalene holds the second place in the New Testament for the presence of women. She is mentioned 12 times, second only to the Blessed Mother. But even all of this is not the reason why Mary had the singular privilege of being the first to see the Risen Christ. She receives this honor for a very simple reason - Mary was there.

By this, I don't mean that she had the luck of the draw to be in the right place at the right time; rather Mary was there through it all. I think of the hymn Were You There? that we sung throughout Lent and so prominently during Holy Week. This could be Mary Magdalene's hymn. Were you there when Jesus preached to the crows? Mary was there. Were you there when he cured the sick and even raised the dead? Mary was there. Were you there when he was arrested and scourged at the pillar? Mary was there. Were you there when he walked the path to Calvary carrying the weight of the cross and the weight of our sins? Mary was there. Were you there as Jesus died for us, was taken down from the Cross, and laid in a tomb? Mary was there. Were you there when they rolled the stone away and Jesus exited risen from the dead as He promised? Mary was there.

Mary Magdalene in fact shows herself to be the most faithful of all the disciples. She never wavered, she never doubted, she never ran. Mary was there. Even as the other disciples denied, ran, or hid in fear, Mary remained faithful to the Lord whom she loved.

And so it is no wonder that Jesus would reward that fidelity by appearing first to the woman who was there for Him through it all. For all of her faithfulness throughout His public life, Mary of Magdala saw the Risen Lord before the world.

May we be inspired by her faithfulness and know that if we too remain close to Jesus, we will also be given the grace of seeing Him. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!

May the Lord give you peace!

- FT

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Set your course on Christ!


Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could enter if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everyone eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holy day that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.” So close!

My friends, as we gather on this beautiful Easter Sunday morning, St. Peter’s question is a good one for us to ponder as well, “What is Easter?” We know the easy answer, which is good news for us in case St. Peter asks, that Easter celebrates Jesus resurrection from the dead. That’s a deeply powerful theological reality, one that we all hope to share in when our lives come to an end. We want to be raised too. We want to live with Jesus in Heaven forever too. But, what does Easter mean for us today, here, hopefully long before we’re called home?

You see, today isn’t just another day. We gather today because we are a people who believe in something that should be impossible. We commemorate that a man was raised from the dead. We say it so often that it seems normal, but it isn’t. It shouldn’t be possible. People don’t rise from the dead all around us. Yes every Sunday we profess this belief, “in the resurrection of the dead.” We believe in the impossibility that death has no hold on us. So what does Easter mean for us today?

Let me tell you a story. Empress Zita of Bourbon was the last Empress of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. She died in 1989 and was the last royal of an age that we usually associate with many centuries ago. Her funeral in 1989 was full of pomp, circumstance and ancient rituals. The most interesting moment came when the funeral procession led to the Franciscan church where she would be buried in the Imperial Crypt. Eight thousand mourners filed out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and fell in line behind the catafalque drawn by six black stallions.

Two hours later, when the procession reached the entrance of the Church, the pallbearers and friars played out an ancient ritual. A friar opened a small window in the church door and asked, “Who wishes to enter?” The pallbearer answered, “Zita, Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow.” The friar responded, “We know of no one by that name,” and closed the window. A second knock and the friar again asks, “Who wishes to enter?” The response, “Zita, Empress and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Austria, and Apostolic Queen of Hungary.” Again, the friar responded, “I do not know this person.” Finally, a third knock. “Who wishes to enter here?” and the answer from the pallbearers, “Zita of Hapsburg, a poor sinner.” With this answer, the doors of the church opened to receive the queen.

So, what does Easter mean for us today? It means that the resurrection transforms us and raises us to something new. It completely changes our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, our relationship with the world – bringing to each of them new life and conquering even what has seemed impossible. It means that in the end the only thing that matters is allowing ourselves to be transformed and becoming that transformation in the world. Empress Zita had all that the world could offer – fame, power, wealth. None of that granted her entry into eternity. Only faith in Jesus, a recognition that in the end we are all the same – simple sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace; a recognition of our need for God, and following God’s ways could do that.

The resurrection of Jesus reminds us to once again set our course on Christ, to live lives that give witness to resurrection by what we say and more importantly by what we do. We make the resurrection present today when we love when it is difficult to love, when we welcome those who live on the margins of our society with love and compassion, when we go the extra mile and show the unexpected kindness.

To a world that chooses vengeance, we are called to offer compassion and forgiveness; to a world that seeks only power, money and prestige, we are called to offer humility and kindness; to a world that selfishly cares only for itself; we are called to show great love and concern for everyone. Change often feels impossible – sometimes as impossible as rising from the dead – but we are reminded today that we are the people of the impossible and so let us change the world by our peace and care, our compassion and joy – especially in the situations, times and places where they are least expected.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of the movie Chocolat. In the final scene on Easter Sunday, the young priest says in his homily, "We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. We’ve got to measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create and whom we include." This is what Easter means for us today.

Ultimately, belief in the resurrection asks us to believe that, despite a strong experience to the contrary, reality is gracious; that light triumphs over darkness, love conquers self-interest, justice banishes oppression, peace calms chaos, fulfilment quenches every hunger in our lives. Faith in the resurrection is the trust that, in the end, everything is good and will work as God intended.

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

I want you to be the Church


A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After the checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from very severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The doctor said, “Every morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. Make him something nutritious for lunch. At dinnertime prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him and don't discuss your problems with him. Most importantly, never nag him. If you can do this for the next year, your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband saw how distressed his wife was and asked, “What did the doctor say?” The woman looked at her husband and said, “Honey, the doctor said you're going to die.”

This humorous story points out the reality of what we gather to celebrate tonight – if love isn’t paired with service, we cannot truly live. We gather tonight and begin the Sacred Triduum – three days which really serve as one singular feast. Tonight’s feast recalls three things in particular – the institution of the Eucharist, the mandate to service in the washing of the feet, and the establishment priesthood – but ultimately I think tonight focuses on God’s bounty; God’s goodness to us. On this holy night, our God wants to spoil us.

These Holy Days seek to inspire us; to remind us who we are as children of God and members of the Church; and most profoundly to remind us through dramatic moments of ritual and sacrament and prayer of one powerful reality – that Jesus Christ is real. We do not merely gather here tonight to tell an old story. We gather tonight to meet a real person – our Savior Jesus Christ, who – although He walked the earth 2,000 years ago – is still living and active and in our midst today.

One of the most powerful statements of this realness came from the 4th Century. St. Ambrose, in a Holy Week homily instructed those entering the church about the awesome power of the Eucharist. He wrote, “Perhaps you say, ‘The bread I have here is ordinary bread.’ Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ…When the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore it is Christ’s words that bring this sacrament into being. What is this word of Christ? It is the word by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and all creatures came into being. See, then, how efficacious the word of Christ is. There was no heaven, there was no sea, there was no earth. And yet, as David says, ‘He spoke and it was made; he commanded and it was created.’ To answer your question, then, before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created…You see from all this, surely, the power that is contained in the heavenly word.” What is St. Ambrose’s point? Quite simply and quite powerfully – that Jesus is real!

What we celebrate tonight gets at the very heart of why we do all that we do as people of faith. Why do we come to church? What sense does it make in our modern world? In a very real sense Jesus says to us tonight, “I don’t want you to come to the church. I want you to be the church.” This is why we celebrate not only the Eucharist, but also the call to be foot washers. If we only celebrated the Last Supper we might begin to think that the Eucharist is a commodity that we come here to acquire. We come to acquire this special grace and then we leave on go on our way. Jesus reminds us that He is not a commodity, but that the Eucharist is a transformative prism through which we are transformed into people who love differently, who care differently, who reach out differently – or more simply, we become people who wash the feet of those around us, in love, and mercy, and joy. The Eucharist transforms us from being a consumer of the divine, to becoming a contributor to the divinity of our world. We come here not to be served, but to become servants.

Jesus tonight also reminds us that we are connected to one another as radical expressions of God’s love for the world. We love without exception – the homeless and the hungry, the immigrant and the refugee, the gay or transgendered person, the Muslim and the atheist, we love even our enemy – we love without exception. Too many voices in our world encourage us to love selectively, to love only those who are like us. It is not easy to love the way Jesus wants us to. Through the Eucharist, we become a community that loves in this transformative way together, side by side, arms linked in an unending chain of love; changing our world by it.

You see, in the washing of the feet, Jesus turns the Mantle of Privilege that comes from being the Son of God into an Apron of Service transforming the world with humble love. Jesus shows us that when we recognize Him in the Eucharist; when we have make Him part of our lives; then we powerfully make Him present in our world by the simple act of washing feet; the acts of service that make Jesus real.

So, the question tonight is this: are we willing to take off our outer garment? Are we willing to lay down our own Mantles of Privilege, or pride or jealousy, anger or selfishness, laziness or greed? Whatever our Mantle is, can we lay it down and replace it with the Apron of Service? When we take off our outer garments all things are possible for us. Someone said, “When we’re young we think we can change the world by sheer force of will. We march for our causes, speak out to be heard, we protest and write letters. But, as we grow in spiritual maturity we realize that the way to change the world is to put down our placards and pick up a towel and basin.”

My friends, on this Holy Night, look into the mirror that is Jesus Christ in His Sacred Body and Blood. Look there until you see your own image reflected in the face of Jesus. Then, become that mirror for the world, reflecting the face of Christ to all who see you. Reflect Christ through your own humble, simple acts of service to one another. Put on the Apron of Service and follow the example that Jesus has given us. My friends Jesus is real! Let us be filled once again with the Real and Abiding Presence of Christ here tonight and let us become his Real and Abiding Presence in our world. And, let us become like Him, washers of feet.

“Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Lord has need of you!


Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. Today, in this one liturgy, we move in dramatic form between great highs and great lows, we move from the cheers of “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” that lead Him to the cross. These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week that lies ahead. Today is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around to see how this all turns out.

But today, let’s focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and in particular, let’s look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. It’s easy to focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about two characters no one ever seems to mention – the donkey and its’ owner. Think about it. How different would this story be if the owner of the donkey had refused to give it up? Without them, we might not have a story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The point is that no matter how unknown or seemingly inconsequential a person is, no matter how small a role someone plays, every part is important in the unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as He needed even a donkey and its owner in His entry to Jerusalem, if He is to complete His mission.

Now, a donkey was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. People used it to move around and do their shopping, to carry a heavy load, and in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that this donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high market value. So, giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was actually a big sacrifice. It was a generous and heroic act of faith on the part of its owner; even though it seems very simple.

It begs the question of us – do we respond as quickly and as generously when God calls for our gifts, our talents and our treasure? We are reminded today that each one of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs; each of us has something. Will we give it to Him freely?

The spiritual writer Max Lucado offered a reflection on this Gospel moment. He wrote, “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and His story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to God. Your gifts are His and the donkey was His.”

My friends, as we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure – our donkey – to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not yet know Him.

So, what is your gift, your talent, your treasure? Your Master has need of it.

Have a blessed Holy Week and may the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Trusting God with the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, March 18, 2018:

A man was standing on the edge of a cliff admiring the beautiful scenery. Suddenly, without warning, the ground beneath his feet broke away and he began to fall. In desperation he grabbed a small branch and held on with all his might as he hung over the edge. The rocky ground was hundreds of feet below his dangling legs. He began to yell, “Is there anyone up there! Help me!” Suddenly the man heard a loud voice that said, “This is God. I will help you. Put all your faith and trust in me and I will take you safely to the top. All you have to do is let go.” The man paused for a moment, looked intently at the ground far below and then back to the heavens and yelled, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Letting go and fully trusting in God is one of the most difficult things we’ll ever face in our spiritual journey. But, it is also one of the most necessary parts of truly living as people of faith. Jesus tells us as much in today’s Gospel passage, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Jesus asks us to trust fully in Him – not to trust in ourselves or our own ability – but to trust that His way is the right way – even when we can’t see the bigger picture; even when we don’t know the outcome. He simply asks us to trust and to follow. It may be the most difficult thing we are asked to do – simply trust.

There is a story about an emperor trying to choose his successor. He decided he would choose from among the children in his kingdom. Calling them together he said, “I am going to give each one of you a very special seed today. Plant it and care for it and return in one year with what you have grown. I will then judge and the one I choose will be the next emperor!” One boy, Jack, went home and excitedly told his mother what had happened. She helped him get a pot and planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. Weeks and even months went by, and Jack faithfully cared for his seed, but nothing ever grew.

Finally the year went by and everyone brought what they had grown back to the emperor. When Jack arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were beautiful - in all shapes and sizes. But still all he had was an empty pot. He put it on the floor and the other kids laughed at him. When the emperor arrived, he said, “My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown.” Then he spotted Jack at the back of the room with his empty pot. He called him to the front and asked his name. He looked at the boy, and then announced to the crowd, “Behold your new emperor! His name is Jack!” Jack was stunned. He couldn't even grow a seed. How could he be the new emperor?

Then the emperor said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. But I gave you all boiled seeds, which could not grow. All of you, except Jack, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jack was the only one who trusted to do what I asked no matter what, and so he will be the new emperor!”

Jack trusted even when it seemed difficult; even when it felt like his actions were not accomplishing anything; even when he felt like he was failing. How many times in our own lives are we unwilling to offer pure and honest trust and instead try and change things ourselves, without God’s help. We try and force the outcome that we want and ignore God’s bigger plan because we can’t see it in the moment. Scripture shows us time and time again, that when we fail to trust in God, things don’t go our way. Just think of Abraham who didn’t trust God’s promise to him and his wife Sarah, just think of Jonah who didn’t trust God’s mercy for the people of Nineveh, just think of Thomas who didn’t trust Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead, Jack couldn’t understand what was wrong with his seed, yet he didn’t change his course; he continued to trust and for that he was rewarded. How much more so for those who trust and follow God.

So today, place all your cares on the Lord. Cry out to Him with all the challenges that burden your heart. Share all your hopes and dreams with God. And, then simply trust that all will work out for the good; that all will work according to God’s plan. “The Father will honor whoever serves me… And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Walking, talking Temples of the Holy Spirit


I want to invite you to think about a simple question today. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that. Historically, our Church was tied directly to the Cape Cod Canal that sits right out our front door. For those who didn’t know, St. Margaret’s was built in 1915 as a mission of Corpus Christi Church in Sandwich mainly to serve the population that suddenly appeared here as a result of the digging of the canal at the same time. We didn’t become a separate parish until 1946 when two mission churches – St. Margaret’s and St. Mary’s (which was a mission of St. Patrick’s) were formed into a single parish community.

So, history is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer – this church was built to be a temple. Every Catholic church was built to be more than a merely ordinary space. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we come to meet God in Word and Sacrament to be formed once again into members of His family. It is a unique place of real encounter with the living God.

A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where we can be together with God. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.

And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do only here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We dress respectfully. We stand and kneel and bow and show a special reverence that says we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him.

And this brings us to our Gospel today. This extraordinary passage is really the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – treating God’s dwelling place differently than the sacred space it is meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if our church were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.

But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church – any Church – are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they encounter us – believers in Jesus. Each one of us is a walking, talking, living temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.

Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living, breathing, walking, talking Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us.

”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.

My friends, as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God into the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you and be renewed this Lent.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Becoming luminous beings


We just heard a truly amazing story unfold in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment to take in that sight. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.

It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.

Now we may not have had quite the experience that Peter, James and John did; but hopefully, we have had some experience of transfiguration in our own lives. Hopefully, we have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst.

The Eucharist we gather for every week is our preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.

A few years ago, the BBC did a story on St. Mother Teresa and her sisters at a shelter that they ran for the dying in the slums of Calcutta. The shelter where they brought the TV crew was poorly lit inside and the crew thought it would be difficult to get any usable footage. To everyone’s surprise, the footage turned out to be spectacular. The whole interior of the shelter was bathed in a mysterious warm light impossible to explain. Writing about this, one journalist said, “Mother Teresa’s shelter is overflowing with love. One senses this immediately on entering. This love is luminous, like the halos artists make visible around the heads of saints. I find it not at all surprising that this luminosity should register on film.”

My friends, Jesus takes us up that mountain of transfiguration with Him once again today and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changed the life of Mother Teresa forever. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever.

My friends, let us open our hearts to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. He wants to take us up to be with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again the luminous beings that this encounter makes us. Let us together stoke the flame of our faith so that we might see Jesus more clearly all around us; and be His luminous presence in the world.

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

May the Lord give you peace.