Monday, August 22, 2016

Hail Holy Queen

Feast of the Queenship of Mary
Gospel: Matthew 23:13-22 
August 21st -- the Olympics ended yesterday.
The United States won more bronze medals than anyone else.

The United States won more silver medals than anyone else.
The United States won more GOLD medals than anyone else.
The United States won more medals than anyone else: 121
That’s almost twice as many as the next runner up.
So what?

I fear the implicit message by that statistic goes something like this:
- we are the greatest, the best, and the most powerful
- we are first, we rank higher than anyone else in the world
- all other countries and their peoples are beneath us
- all others must strive to be like us
- we dominate, and we will dominate again.
Sounds like the very people Jesus was so angry about in today’s Gospel: blind guides, those who swear by the gold of the temple, hypocrites.

Let’s see ...  what was the last line of yesterday’s Gospel? Oh:  

 behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

August 22 – thank goodness today we celebrate the Queenship of Mary.
Her image and her feast celebrate a different message. The message she delivers as queen is more appropriate for the Christian life:
- mother of mercy, life, sweetness, hope.
- virgin of virgins
- sorrowful mother who walks with the poor
- faithful mother who never abandoned the Cross
- the first disciple and follower of Christ 

Mary serves as a leader and high priority not because she can outdo everyone else, but because she is a model of humility, service, and compassion.

As Jesus began his ministry and delivered the sermon on the mount, the beatitudes, blessed are the poor, the peacemakers, where do you think he learned all that?
Who do you think was his model for those who are meek, those who mourn, the pure of heart.
  Mary, Queen of Heaven.
In this coming Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus will announce:  "For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Blessed is the Queen of Peace, who rewards us not with gold, but with her immaculate model for leadership.  Humility, fidelity, and grace.                      
Hail Mary, full of grace, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Devil In Her Heart

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
Isaiah 66:18-21    Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13,   Luke 13:22-30
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.”

I am not sure if I have ever preached on hell before.  Fire and brimstone.
Do you believe in hell?  Does our culture believe in hell?  We need to keep asking that because our culture keeps denying it.  Nothing is really wrong.  It all depends.  Relativism run rampant!

Does the Church still teach about hell? Yes indeed! Would you be able to talk about intelligently?  The Catholic Catechism teaches five basics about hell:
     1.  We must choose God. (“We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him.”)
     2. Jesus described hell as fire and eternal separation from God.  Scriptural passages about hell are instructions, images, parables about separation from God.  Jesus is a no-nonsense Man who tells it like it is. This Gospel reveals that His favorite sport is not softball but hard ball.
     3. The Church agrees with Jesus.
     4. The teachings on hell are ultimately a call to responsibility / conversion.

So what is the main purpose of our believing in hell?  It’s similar to taking on the responsibilities of driving.  Traffic laws are serious (and scary) reminders that you are the one driving.  You were given keys / instructions / power / and a destination.  Same with your spiritual journey.  There is such a thing as spiritually wrecking your car (soul).

In Luke’s Gospel, this is serious matter for the disciples:
  Don’t forget that they are on the road to Jerusalem here.  Their destination is Jerusalem.  Scary but Glorious.  God’s people have always been on the road: For example, look at the imagery in the 1st reading:  I come to gather nations of every language on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD,

For us,
we are on the road to something better. A better life.  Greater freedom.  Deeper satisfaction in life.  What is that for you?  Which road signs have you been ignoring.  If you picked up your road map, can you put your finger on where it is you want to go?  If you could make a turn off the wrong road and get back on the highway, how many miles will your drive before you turn the wheel?  In many ways, the lord urges us to turn now!

Why is this Gospel given to us on this day?  Because today is the day for conversion. Right now.  And we celebrate that wonderful choice by announcing Amen when we behold what Christ did, he broke himself, took the hard way and give it up for us.  Before we receive the Eucharist, we beg God’s mercy in the words of the Eucharistic prayer.  God’s desire is to save us from something that is a real threat – hell.

Oh, and for those who like to focus more on judgement than mercy, God predestines no one to go to hell.  God’s desire is for repentance and a contrite heart.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.”

We have no greater modern example than Mother Teresa, who is to be canonized a saint in about three weeks.  As we know from her writings, Mother had doubts about God and His presence in her life, in this world.  Despite her doubts, she still chose to work hard.  One commentator put it this way.  “The greatness of Mother Teresa is that even when she was deprived of the spiritual satisfactions of feeling God's presence in her life, she did not waver, she soldiered on. She was not deterred in her mission. And what she didn't have by way of feeling, she compensated for by way of will. In doing so she teaches us all something about love: it is not merely a sentiment, to be set aside when feelings come and go, but rather a decision of the will.”

Perhaps the coming weeks might be a good time to reflect in the spirit of Mother Teresa and ask the Lord to show you the right path.  He has trusted you with the car keys.  May we drive with the Light as our guide and Christ as our destination.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Come, and you will see!

“Come, and you will see."
The Oscar nominations were revealed last Thursday.  And there is a movie out that is up for best picture.  It is one of the few I have already seen.  Maybe you saw it too:  Boyhood.  This is a movie about the boyhood of a main character named Mason, who is played by a young actor named Ellar Coltrane.  It shows the boy growing up in a broken family and how he comes of age in today’s changing world.
     But the most impressive thing about this movie is that it was filmed over the course of twelve years --  with the same actors.  So back in 2002 the director started filming when the main character was only six.  The movie ends when he is actually eighteen.  The director confesses that he really didn’t know how the whole thing would end up, until the whole project was finished in 2014.  All kinds of unexpected things could have happened along the way, and the movie may have become a total flop.  But it didn’t.  It’s nominated! 
     Somehow, when they spliced together all the years of filming, the movie came out pretty good.  It may win the Academy Award.
     Sometimes when we look at our own lives, we don’t have the faith that even this director did.  We might not see how the events of our life tie together.  Maybe life seems rambling to you.  Incongruous.  Events unrelated. Some see jobs come and go, friendships start and end, with nothing to tie it all together.  Others feel like they are a victim of circumstances, that there really is no plan to life.  And spiritually ... you may believe God takes no notice of your life.  If your life were shown on the big screen, you might imagine folks would fall asleep.
     No!  That’s not how a vocation works.  That’s not how God calls us, directs us, and reviews our lives.  Our God is more like a benevolent movie director.  And your life is up for nomination.  Your life has been unfolding ever since your early encounter with God as the director, and today he invites you to “Come and you will See” him at work all along the way.
     For me, I remember a moment when I was walking in to church with my dad, I must have been 6.  And when we entered the church, he pointed up to a large stained glass window of St Patrick up in the back of Church.  He told me, “That’s your patron saint.”   I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but when I review the movie picture of my life, I see that it was one encounter where God was planting seeds through my dad.  It was one of my earliest encounters with God who eventually directed my life towards the priesthood.
     Everyone here has a vocation story like that.  It started when God found you very early, and planted seeds of future happiness.   In fact that’s all we hear in today’s readings.
     In our first reading, the prophet Samuel reflects back when he was about eight or ten and he heard God calling him at night.  He asked Eli what it was, and Eli told him to pray:  “Speak Lord Your servant is listening.”  That was the start of the prophet learning to listen to God.  That kid had no idea he’s become Samuel the prophet.  But he tells that story so that we can see how God had been working in his life all along the way. 
     In our Gospel, John the Evangelist tells the story of the day that John the Baptist handed the ministry off to Jesus.  Behold the Lamb of God.  Go to him instead of me.     He recalls that it was Andrew and a second man, unnamed who were the first ones called.     Commentators say that it is likely St. John himself.  And we know John brought James.  So this is John’s memory of what happened years earlier when God first called him. 
     As he reviews the film of his life, he recalls that was how St. Peter came into the group, his brother Andrew told him to join.  And when Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus, the Gospel writer recalls that’s the moment when Peter got his new name:  Cephas. But none of them had any idea that this all made sense, until they came to see Christ.  These are all recollections / flashbacks of God’s work in the lives of these men. 
     They recall these events in today’s readings to teach us this fundamental truth:  God works all the time in all our lives loving and caring for us, even though we don’t realize it til later.   So, how can you realize it today ?  Jesus says, “Come to me and you will see.”
     Ask the Lord in prayer to replay the moments of your life when the two of you met, when you grew in faith, when he was with you in hard times and good times, and you will see.  If you have a question about a certain turn of your life, ask him to show you again and listen as Eli instructed Samuel:  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”    Our readings today are small glimpses into the vocation of ordinary people like Samuel, Eli, the Baptist, Andrew, and likely James and John.  And Jesus.  They all drew power and grace from prayerful remembrance.  I bet there were times when the twelve apostles sat around after Jesus death and asked each other, “Do you remember when you first met him?”
     Well, that invitation comes today to you as well.  Do you remember when you first met him?  Open up some picture albums and old journals.  Come and see.  He’s there.   And it’s not just a thing of the past.  He is still calling you and dying to meet you even today.  They may seem like insignificant events now, and ordinary … but your faith says otherwise.
     You are the star of this movie directed by Christ.   And because he is the director, you are nominated for better than an Academy award!   How will this picture unfold tomorrow?  If you are here to receive Christ into your heart, I would say it will be a blockbuster.   As Jesus says today:  “Come to me and you will see.”

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Time To Repent

Second Sunday of Advent  December 7, 2014 

Readings:   Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11    2Peter 3:8-14   Mark 1:1-8  

Do you have the time?
     In the steeple out front of St Xavier Church are four clock faces.  The one facing west is always two minutes slow.  When the bell rings for noon, for example, the west face reads 11:58.
    I am always looking for the correct time.  The right time.  So, is it better for me to get up on the face and simply pull the hands so it looks correct on the outside?  Or should I go inside the tower and repair the inner workings of the clock that governs the movement of the hands?  Do I want something that just looks good, or do I want real repair?  I want to be able to say:  this is the right time, both inside and out.
    That is why, on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, we hear John the Baptist proclaiming repentance.  This is the right time for fixing, inside and out.  If you want real spiritual repair, inside and out:  Repent.  This is the right time.

What is repentance?
      “Repent” does not mean just being sorry for the past.  It is a call to do much more than that:  to change our ways, to prepare new ways.  To repent as a Christian involves a radical transformation in our way of living.  It means a conversion, a real turning around, a redirecting of one’s whole life.  That sounds like a massive undertaking, but just like falling in to sin starts with one step, repentance starts with just one step.
     And be sure, repentance is an entirely interior act, and should not be confused with the changes of life that proceed from it.  Repentance is inward and silent.  It only takes but a second.
     On the other hand, the fruits of repentance take some doing:  going to the sacrament of reconciliation, making amends, repaying stolen money, a change of habit, reparation of wrongs, losing weight, tempering your compulsions, all these signal that one actually went through with repentance.
     Have you ever seen someone make an altar call and proceed from their stadium seat down to the preacher?  Well, that outward expression was based on a prior decision to repent.  Someone who speaks out at a 12-step meeting is following through with a prior inward decision to repent.   Sincere repentance, which is private, leads by God’s grace to outward goods, which are public.

Some examples.
      Isaiah.  He is the prophet who speaks in our first reading.   In the 40th chapter of Isaiah we hear, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  He sounds pretty sure about God’s power:  “Cry out at the top of your voice, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to everyone around you, Here is your God! Here comes with power, the Lord GOD” This is one of the most famous passages for the season of Advent. 
     Now what happened inside Isaiah for him to speak so powerfully?  Probably repentance.  That passage was from Chapter 40.  Listen to what we find earlier in chapter 6:  Isaiah says: “Woe is me, I am doomed, for I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.”  That’s Isaiah’s prior inward reflection – his personal conversion.  He repents, and look what happens next:  God asks, “Whom shall I send?”  Isaiah replies, “Here I am Lord.  Send me.”  What happened in chapter 6 is manifest in chapter 40.
Inward repentance leads to outward transformation.  You too can make that inward reflection and really go through with it, to outward action.
     What about our second reading?  Who is the author?  St Peter.  Do you know of a time when Peter repented?  Yes, right after the Resurrection, eating breakfast by the lake, “Lord you know I love you.”  The Lord then invited him “Feed my sheep.  Peter was forgiven 3 times and his life was changed.”  And so Peter is able to write in this letter today:  “The Lord is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  Peter knows what he’s talking about because he went through with it.
    So does John the Baptist.   In the Gospel, we see John appearing in the desert.  But what happened before he shows up?  Scripture doesn’t tell us, but you can bet it was some sort of repentance.  Some kind of letting go.  He trimmed down his clothing and diet, and he emerges changed – strong enough to proclaim this simple message he knows from experience.  Repent.  He is so strong in his transformation that it eventually gets him beheaded.   The Baptist really went through with it.   So, if there is one message I would like to emphasize even further today, I would say, not only to repent, but to go through with it.  It is time to finally, go through with it.

     Finally, let me quote one of my favorite authors.  C.S. Lewis in his popular work Mere Christianity, claims that repentance is no fun at all.  It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie, or telling God you are sorry.  It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years.  Lewis says “real repentance means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.” 
     But Lewis also reminds us that God will help us with the going through with it.  He writes, “Very well, then, we  must go through with it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us?  We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.
     Here today, at this altar, God puts Himself into us for just that very help.   Advent is the right time for Repentance.   It takes an inner silencing of the heart during this hectic time, and takes the quiet time to acknowledge sins and failings before God.  Everyone here could do that tonight.  It takes no more than five minutes.  That’s how long it takes to come up with the greatest burdens of your soul and humbly beg God for mercy.  Once you repent, then go through with it:  as Isaiah did, as Peter did, as the Baptist did.  Let it show in virtuous action, good deeds, changes for the better, positive resolutions, and real repair.

Do you have the time?  This is the right time for repentance.  This is the right time to ask God’s help with going through it:  inside and out.