Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ultimate Allegiance

Homily for Thursday, 21 June 2012:  Ultimate Allegiance
Day One of Fortnight for Freedom
Sirach 48:1–14 / Matthew 6: 7–15
We need the spirit of Elijah today, and the double-portion that was poured out on Elisha.  I am hopeful that is happening as our bishops are rising in unified voice about the erosion of commitment, and even respect, for religious truth in contemporary society. We in parishes across our country need to be listening to our leaders –– not those jockeying for power in the political sphere, but the leaders our Lord has given us in the Church who teach the true Christian Faith.
The heart of today’s Gospel is The Lord’s Prayer.  The one thing we would do well to notice today is the phrase: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.... We are reminded that our highest concern needs to be what God wants.  Our highest allegiance is to King Jesus.  Before we are Americans, we belong to the Church –– the Church that trumps every other allegiance and spans every other identity on the face of the earth.
Before we ask, “What is popular? ....   Before we ask, “What is convenient?” .....  Before we ask, “What is pragmatic for the country?”  .... Before any of that, we who belong to Jesus need to be asking, “What does it mean to give witness to what our Faith says is true?”  That is part of what it means to pray, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Starting today and going through our national Independence Day on July 4, the bishops of the Church are calling us to a Fortnight of Freedom. Beyond a neat way to use the word “fortnight” in today’s world (it means “two weeks”, from an Old English usage of “fourteen nights” –– thus “fortnight”), this is an opportunity for the Faithful to unite in a powerful witness of our conviction that Faith based on Truth is meant to go beyond being “personally meaningful” or “expressed within the walls of our parishes.” We believe that we are to live the Truth we believe.... in every arena of life, and that Truth is ultimately good for everyone.  We are calling our government, and all who will listen, to support our historic Bill of Rights for religious freedom (and not just freedom to “worship”) –– the freedom to witness openly to the Truth we believe and to live totally according to the convictions of our Faith.
The Catholic Church teaches that this goes beyond the Bill of Rights. Note these phrases from Vatican II’s “Declaration on Religious Liberty” (Dignitatis Humanae): “....the human person has a right to religious freedom.... No one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publically, whether alone or in association with others within due limits.... This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed.  Thus it is to become a civil right.”
Neither the Vatican Council nor the bishops are saying that everyone in the country must abide by the teachings of the Church (which is the “spin” that much of media tries to put on this). That, too, would be wrong coercion.  But as our culture seems to have an eroding understanding of Christian Truth, it is also wrong coercion to allow laws or even public opinion to restrict free expression, in both word and action, for what it means to practice Catholic Faith.
As we enter this Fortnight for Freedom, we are asked to pray. We are asked to be proactive with our voice in the legislative process –– let Senators and Congressmen know we are concerned and expect support and protection of the historic freedom of religion. We are asked to give the Church’s perspective to the Faithful (and I hope I have helped do that here).
Again, we do not primarily do this because we are Americans (as wonderful as that privilege is).  We do this, first of all, because we follow Jesus Christ, and our Lord has taught us to pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
If you want to study this more, visit the USCCB website for Fortnight for Freedom:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Showing" Our Faith

Homily for Wednesday, 20 June, 2012:  “Showing” Our Faith
2 Kings 2:1, 6–14 / Matthew 6:1-6, 16–18
One of the main points in the Sermon on the Mount is a true view of righteousness. Absolute righteousness is found only in God, and human righteousness has its source in being rightly related to God. Jesus said a person so related to God would be salt and light. Jesus then said true righteousness would go beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees. As chapter six begins, Jesus is still teaching characteristics of true righteousness, but he moves from sins to good practices.
For the Jews in Jesus' day, righteousness consisted of three basic observances: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. Jesus introduces these in v1 and warns of doing these righteous deeds just because people are looking. The reason, Jesus goes on to say, is that your Father who sees in secret.... (v4). That is the omniscience and the omnipresence of God. He knows our selfishness and our selflessness. He knows how often those things which look so good outwardly are really selfish trips of egoism. And he know the times when others have judged us as selfish when that was not the intent at all.
Also, we should know that record keeping –– the Pharisees loved to keep tally –– is not in our favor. The Psalmist knew that. He wrote, If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness (130:3,4a). 
Here is the bottom line: All of our "doing" is to be done as unto the Lord. The focus is not ourselves. There is an ungodly power that can overwhelm us when we are objects of applause. We humans have a weakness for getting drunk on popularity. It can rob us of self-respect. We become fools as we bow to the shrine of publicity. It's like the child in a play who is aways looking out at the audience to see if people are looking instead of only being in character on the set. Public approval twists our values so that the sweetest music is the sound of our own name on others' lips, and the most beautiful sight is our name in print or our photo in the paper. New life in Christ can free us from that. We are free to be generous to others. We are possessed by a generosity that neither calculates nor keeps records. The focus of life in God's kingdom is God himself.
There is something else we need to see here. Jesus is not saying, "Do not do righteous things when you are in public." Rather, he is saying, "Don't act righteously just because you are in public." There's a big difference. Someone has offered this guideline: "Show, when tempted to hide; hide, when tempted to show."
Jesus has already said that his disciples will be salt and light. Jesus said others should see our good works and glorify God. That is the point. The glory here has to be God's. We surely do not have any glory of our own to be displayed. Any glory that appears in us is reflected glory; it has its origin in God. The praise is always to him –– not to us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Be Perfect? Like God?!

Homily for Tuesday, 19 June, 2012: Be Perfect? (Like God?!)
1 Kings 21:17–29 / Matthew 5: 43–48
Today’s Old Testament reading brings some completion to the Naboth story. It shows God doing what he has promised, and an appropriate epistle selection to complement today’s readings could be from Romans 12:  "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord (v19b).
But the Gospel reading leaves us just as uncomfortable as yesterday’s –– maybe more so.  Jesus ends by giving us what seems an impossible standard: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.  And in the context here, there is one specific way we are to be “perfectly” like our heavenly Father: love your enemies.  This was the context for the Romans quote (from Deuteronomy32:35): Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17–21).
Why does our Lord command such a hard thing? You see, when evil is committed by another person, it is not just that person doing a bad thing. It is that person being acted on and through by the power of evil itself. The person who is unfair to you is also a victim and needs to be set free by the saving power of Jesus Christ. All of us have been unfair to another in some way, and all of us need to be forgiven. And once we come into that forgiveness, we all need to be agents that God can use to help other people find forgiveness. God wants to extend the grace we have received to everyone. How can we be agents of God’s forgiveness and so help others find forgiveness if we spend our time and energy trying to get back at them when they do not treat us like we think they should?  Receiving grace means knowing that apart from our Lord’s love and forgiveness we, too, are helpless and hopeless. 
Can we believe that God will judge faithfully the unfairness in our world, or are we compelled to seek our own satisfaction? Jesus knew he could trust the Father to make everything right in his way and in his time. And if Jesus, in his perfect obedience, was willing to bear the unfairness and wait on the Father, then how much more do you and I need to lay aside our tendency of self-vindication and wait for God to bring true justice to the world? If we are not prepared personally to absorb acts of unfairness committed against ourselves, we cannot know what it means to follow Jesus Christ into the depths of his obedience and passion. Jesus trusted God, and Christians today are called to follow Jesus with that kind of trust and love.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Responding Like Jesus

Homily for Monday. 18 June, 2012:  Responding Like Jesus
1 Kings 21:1–16 / Matthew 5:38–42
What happened to Naboth was grossly wrong, and he is far from the only one in human history to suffer horrible injustice. Life is unfair. No matter who you are or where you live or what you do, something will inevitably happen which makes it abundantly clear that life is unfair.  How do we respond when life is unfair? Do we get resentful? Do we try to justify ourselves? Do we plot to get even? Maybe you’ve seen a certain bumper sticker which says: DON’T GET MAD –– GET EVEN!  If we are honest, there is a bit of Rambo in all of us.
How do we respond to unfairness? If we are Christians, our model is Jesus Christ. We are called to make him such a part of our lives that we respond to unfairness like he did.  Think about it: Jesus did not “feel” like dying for us (in his humanity he dreaded his suffering and death), but he was willing to die in obedience to the Father. Neither will we always “feel” like letting wrongs go and "turning the other cheek," but we can learn to ask Jesus for humble and obedient hearts.
An appropriate epistle selection to complement today’s readings could be from 1 Peter 3, which has a classic section about following Jesus in the context of suffering. St Peter tells us that Jesus is our model: He left us an example in his suffering that you should follow in his steps. In other words, in the unfair things of life we are to be like Jesus. We are tempted to think that if we are being obedient to God, he will keep hard times away. Jesus shows us that obeying God may be the very thing that brings the unfairness of the world down upon us.  Naboth was a righteous man.
So, how can we live with this? Does it not matter if others take advantage of us? Does it not matter if we are cheated and abused? Does unfairness not matter? It is here that the Christian answer is so distinctive: Notice what Jesus did.  If Jesus was obedient to the Father (and he was), and if he trusted in God's vindication rather than seek his own (and that is what he did), it is because Jesus knew this world is not the ultimate reality. We need to know that, too. Jesus knew that what happens in this life is not the last word. The unfairness of today will be made right, and those who are obedient to God will know justice beyond comprehension in the coming kingdom.
When Jesus was unfairly arrested, tried and killed, he was not only God's unique sacrifice for sin (and he was that), he was also showing us how to live, how to die, and most of all, how to love. How do you respond to the unfairness that comes against you? Take time to listen to the One we claim as our Savior and Lord.  Jesus has something here to teach us.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Neophyte's Reflection on the Sacred Heart

Homily for Friday, 15 June, 2102
The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Hosea 11:1, 3–4, 8c–9 / Ephesians 3:8–12, 14–19 / John 19:31–37
I have come into the Catholic Church relatively late in life. I brought with me the strengths of a personal conversion, extensive biblical study, and years of living out a strong commitment to Jesus.  I was drawn to Catholic Faith because of a breadth and depth I did not see anywhere else.  That is not to say there are not non-Catholic Christians who have an incredibly deep relationship with God –– there are myriads of such people, but it is my conviction that depth with breadth needs the catholicity of Catholic Faith.
While that breadth drew me to the Church, it also intimidates me.  There is so much to Catholic Faith that one person could never embrace every expression and practice.  There are “spiritualities” for all cultures, personalities, and educational levels.  Some are very intellectually oriented. Others are very subjective –– even mystical.  Some are so rooted in what I call “Catholic culture” that it is hard for someone without life-long nurture in the Church to be able to identify and understand both the nuance and the depth a particular spirituality can offer. (I might add, this is one thing that makes it difficult for Catholic and non-Catholic Christians to communicate easily: while it is the same Jesus, both the context and the vocabulary can be so different.)
I have found it important to see that the unity of Catholic Faith is what makes the particular spiritualities so appropriate.  Non-Catholic Christians have some good spiritualities, but they become the focus of each particular group so that there is imbalance and distortion of Christian truth (but the Lord, in his mercy, still gives his graces).
One way to express the foundational unity of Catholic Faith is the Incarnation.  Of course, all orthodox Christians confess the Incarnation, but Catholic Faith takes it further.  Catholic Faith is incarnational.  We take matter––physicality––seriously.  God works through material substance, even bodies.  The Incarnation takes us to the Sacraments.
So, God the Son became Man; Jesus in the flesh is a real, true human being.  A recent “favorite” song of mine (I have so many) begins this way:
Look and see; look on this mystery –– the Lord of the universe.... nailed to a tree.
Christ our God, spilling His holy blood, bowing in anguish, His sacred head.
God chose to become like us!  He did it to save us!  He did it at the price not only of great humility, but also great pain. Using metaphorical language we say, In Jesus we see the loving heart of God.
But it is more than a metaphor.  Jesus was made like us. He had a heart that pumped blood throughout his body so he could physically stay alive.  When John leaned on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper he could hear and feel the heartbeat. When the soldier thrust that spear into Jesus as he hung on the cross, it pierced his very real heart and very real blood and water flowed out.  That is how much he loves us.  That is how much he wanted to save us.  That is how much he wants us to know him.
Some Christians are captivated by grace just in hearing and knowing that much.  There are others, though, who want to “feel” more deeply, and their own hearts cry out for that.  St Margaret Mary wanted to sense the heart of Jesus just as the Apostle John did when he leaned against Jesus’ chest.  In some way that most of us may never know, the Holy Spirit enabled her to so focus on Jesus’ heart so that she had a mystical experience of his closeness and love –– and she wanted everyone to draw close to Jesus in that way.  The Church concurs and says that is a good thing.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a way for us to focus on one facet of the huge truths which encompass the Incarnation.  We may never be able to get much past a mental comprehension of what it’s all about –– and even that, if we give ourselves to it, can transform our lives.  But what if the Lord is wanting to draw you and me into the depths of his Sacred Heart?  The only way we will know is if we are open, and asking, and seeking: Oh Loving Heart, give me a heart like yours.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Short homily for Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Short homily for Wednesday, 13 June 2012
Feast Day of St Anthony of Padua
1 Kings 18:20–39; Matthew 5:17–19
Jesus said,  "I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come to fulfill them."
We too often forget we live in a world that is in rebellion against God. There are untold ways people try to by-pass or change the law of God and its witness through his prophets. There are even some traditions claiming to be Christian which say that Jesus fulfilled the law for us so that we do not have to worry about it. It is a mercy –– because he loves us –– that God has given his law and sent his prophets. In this world that ultimately leads to death,God wants us to know the way of life.
It can seem there is a great inequity: only one true prophet of God for every 450 prophets of Baal –– and there are "prophets of Baal" in our our world today.  The name has changed to something else: Freedom, Tolerance, Choice, Success, Pleasure....  But like the prophets of Baal long ago, these "gods" cannot deliver what they promise.
Yet God always provides a witness to the Truth for those who will hear.... Elijah knew that truth is not proven by majority opinion. Jesus says that truth is to be followed to its completion. He modeled that, and then gives us his Spirit so that his law –– his very character –– can transform our lives.
Today we celebrate St Anthony of Padua, who was mighty for the Truth in the late 12th / early 13th centuries. His message was Jesus –– the ultimate expression of Truth. We remember him today for his great witness to the Kingdom of heaven.
We today are privileged to be part of the Church.... a Church that teaches us to obey the commandments in spite of a culture that seems more impressed with the many prophets of "Baal" that scream their empty words.
Let us be people who believe in the Jesus Christ who said he was the Truth (standing against all who say there is no absolute truth). Let us be people who want to obey the commands, knowing they lead us to life (in contrast to the many people who think "authority" and "obedience" are stifling and even deadly).  Let us be people who seek to be great, not in the eyes of this world, but in the Kingdom of heaven.  We are here to follow Jesus –– the Jesus who completes the smallest part of a letter of the law in order to lead us into the very fullness of God.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Good perspective!

From the Moral Reflections on Job by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
(Lib. 29,2-4: PL 76, 478-480)

The Church moves forward like the advancing dawn

Since the daybreak or the dawn is changed gradually from darkness into light, the Church, which comprises the elect, is fittingly styled daybreak or dawn. While she is being led from the night of infidelity to the light of faith, she is opened gradually to the splendor of heavenly brightness, just as dawn yields to the day after darkness. The Song of Songs says aptly: Who is this who moves forward like the advancing dawn? Holy Church, inasmuch as she keeps searching for the rewards of eternal life, has been called the dawn. While she turns her back on the darkness of sins, she begins to shine with the light of righteousness.

This reference to the dawn conjures up a still more subtle consideration. The dawn intimates that the night is over; it does not yet proclaim the full light of day. While it dispels the darkness and welcomes the light, it holds both of them, the one mixed with the other, as it were. Are not all of us who follow the truth in this life daybreak and dawn? While we do some things which already belong to the light, we are not free from the remnants of darkness. In Scripture the Prophet says to God: No living being will be justified in your sight. Scripture also says: In many ways all of us give offense.

When he writes, the night is passed. Paul does not add, the day is come, but rather, the day is at hand. Since he argues that after the night has passed, the day as yet is not come but is rather at hand, he shows that the period before full daylight and after darkness is without doubt the dawn, and that he himself is living in that period.

It will be fully day for the Church of the elect when she is no longer darkened by the shadow of sin. It will be fully day for her when she shines with the perfect brilliance of interior light. This dawn is aptly shown to be an ongoing process when Scripture says: And you showed the dawn its place. A thing which is shown its place is certainly called from one place to another. What is the place of the dawn but the perfect clearness of eternal vision? When the dawn has been brought there, it will retain nothing belonging to the darkness of night. When the Psalmist writes: My soul thirsts for the living God; when shall I go and see the face of God?, does he not refer to the effort made by the dawn to reach its place? Paul was hastening to the place which he knew the dawn would reach when he said he wished to die and to be with Christ. He expressed the same idea when he said: For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

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