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Holy Hour Homily

Advent Holy Hour
Matthew 26:36-46
December 8, 2019

We are here this evening for what we call a “holy hour”.  One might ask we do we holy hours at all and why today.

To understand why we do “holy hours” at all we need to consider two things.  First and foremost, it is rooted in the Real Presence of Jesus.  Unfortunately, not all Catholics believe in the Real Presence. 

We don’t understand how the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  It still looks the same.  The visible substance does not change but there is a change in the “essence” of what it is. 

To believe in the Real Presence requires that we transcend the physical things we see in this world. For people that think science has all the answers that is hard. However, it is not impossible. I think of a man named John Polkinghorne. For 25 years he was a Quantum Physicist working on subatomic particles. Then he became an Anglican priest. People were very surprised. They actually asked how he could believe in God after his science work. His reply (he has written several books on faith and science) was that it what he saw in the subatomic particles that actually strengthened his faith. He saw order that could only come from God.

If we can’t see the change and scientists can’t find any evidence of a change, then how do we know it has changed?  The answer is found in the Bible, specifically the gospels.  It is Jesus himself that says this is my Body…this is my blood.” 

Our belief in the Real Presence is rooted in our faith in Jesus and his words.

Thus, believing in the Real Presence of Jesus, we come tonight to be in his presence.  We place the Blessed Sacrament in monstrance on the altar to help us center ourselves on Jesus. 

The second reason we have “holy hours” is also rooted in scripture.  We hear it in the gospel I read.  When Jesus went to pray in the garden, He took Peter, James, and John with him, saying to them, “keep watch with me for one hour.”  We come to keep watch with Jesus this hour.

So why tonight?  We come in our Advent season.  The word “advent” means “coming”.  In this season we look forward to our celebration of the First Coming of Jesus at Christmas as we anticipate the Second Coming.

You’ve probably heard the terms “First Coming” and “Second Coming” before.  We know that the First Coming happened 2,000 years ago.  We do not know when the Second Coming will happen but we don’t have to wait for the Second Coming to have Jesus in our lives. 

Jesus wants to be in our lives every day.  This points us to what some come the “Third Coming.”  Jesus comes into our lives every day if we let him.  We come tonight to let him into our lives.

We do so with what some call the “bells and whistles,” namely incensing, traditional hymns, and Benediction.  For those who don’t know what Benediction is, it is the blessing I will offer over you at the end with the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance.

What about incense?  Where does that come from? 

The word incense is found 141 times in the Bible.  It is often found worded as “fragrant incense”.  Fragrant being a sweet aroma going up to God. 

The use of incense is directed by the Lord in chapter 30 of the Book of Exodus.  Since it comes from the Lord, we know it is a good practice.  Seeing the smoke rise is also a reminder of the burnt sacrifices offered for forgiveness, sacrifices that no are no longer offered because Jesus made himself the perfect sacrifice, giving his life on the Cross for our sins.

We can pray in various ways during a holy hour.  We pray in two ways tonight.  First, we pray Evening Prayer (Vespers) followed (secondly) by silence where you can pray quietly in whatever way you choose.  We are doing Evening Prayer as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, prayed by priests and religious across the world every day.  We join in union with them as we pray.

As to the silence, when I first started going to holy hours I expected something very profound and just sat there expecting it, almost wanting to force it.  My encouragement to you is don’t force it.  Let God be God.

You might choose to pray your favorite devotion or those prayers you have known for years.  You might look at the hymnal and reflect on a reading or a favorite hymn.  You might just sit and listen to God in the silence.  Don’t pay attention to the distracting thoughts. 

Have you ever just sat with a friend without talking?  Do the same for Jesus.

In a moment, we will continue with the rest of Evening Prayer and then we will have our silence.  We will maintain silence until about 7 minutes before the end of the hour.  Give this time to Jesus.

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C – Homily

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (3)
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

December 8, 2019

Advent is a time to reflect on the coming of Jesus.  Last week’s gospel spoke of the Second Coming.  The birth of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas is the First Coming of Jesus.  Today our gospel is set in the time just before Jesus begins his public ministry.

John the Baptist was sent to “prepare the way of the Lord.”  Thus he proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 

Repent!  You have sinned!  You need to do penance and to turn your heart to God.  Our liturgical color for Advent is violent (generally we say purple).  It is a color that signifies penance.  There will be judgment for as Jesus says, “Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

Yet, we are not to repent simply in fear, fear of judgment.  No, we celebrate Advent and repent in a spirit of hope knowing that Jesus came into the world to save us from our sins.

We need to acknowledge our sins as a sign of repentance and turning them over to God.  Jesus has given us a sacrament for this, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We begin this Sacrament confessing our sins. 

John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees to “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”  The best way for us to give evidence of repentance to live better but it begins with receiving a Penance in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we do in atonement for our sins and as evidence of our repentance.

We do this seeking the Lord’s justice.  We might think of “justice” as one reserving punishment for their transgressions where it be for their sins or secular crimes.  With sin comes consequences but if we repent, God takes the punishment of sin and puts it on Jesus who takes away the sin of the world.

If you examine your conscience and find you have sinned, God offers us the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I encourage you to examine your conscience.  If you find you have sinned, in the bulletin you will find extra times we are offering for the Sacrament during Advent.

What I have said so far focuses on reconciliation individually with God.  This should not flow from just fear with God.  No, for as we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as Paul writes it is through “the encouragement of the Scriptures that we might have hope.”

From there Paul goes on to say that that we “think in harmony with one another.”  As we think about reconciliation with God, we need to also think about reconciliation with other people. 

Here Paul writes, “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  Is there someone you need to forgive and welcome back into your life?

Is there hope for reconciliation?

Of course, we have hope in Jesus.  Jesus is the one who fulfills what Isaiah speaks of in today’s first reading, “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”  Isaiah is speaking of a Messiah, Jesus, that is an heir to David (the son, the stump of Jesse).

The Messiah will open up a new age where “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.”  Likewise the “calf and the young lion” and “the cow and the bear.”  Even “the baby shall play by the cobra’s den.”

Jesus makes this possible for us because “the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him” giving him a spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear of the Lord.

Conflict between people is nothing new.  We know that the Pharisees and the Sadducees did not get along with Jesus but know that they didn’t even get along with each other.  Why?  Because they each thought they knew what was right and won’t listen to each other or anyone else.

We continue to see differences today.  We see it between countries like between North Korea and us.  We see it within our own country between political parties.  This is why we need to pray for our government leaders that God endow them with what they need to know to be good leaders.

We also see divisions within Christianity.  How many different denominations are there?  Who’s right?

Who’s right?  That’s simple!  God is!

The secular world’s answer to all the differences of opinion is “relativism”, meaning you can believe whatever you want as long as you keep it to yourself and don’t hurt anyone else.

That’s not what God asks of us.  God calls us to share Jesus with others and to share the Truth of our faith.  We are not to force it on others.  God gives everyone free will but if a person never hears about Jesus, then they don’t really have any freedom to choose to follow Jesus or not.  By offering to them what we know about Jesus, we give them the freedom to choose.

How do we know we are right?  The Catholic Church certainly has had its struggles and failings in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked on Earth but it has survived the struggles because we are given in Baptism and Confirmation the gift of the Holy Spirit giving us wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord to help us live as children of God.

Let us listen to the Lord and follow him, reconciled with him and one another.

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A – Homily

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44
December 1, 2019

Soon it will be Christmas but not yet.  If you look at the stores, Christmas items have been out for a while.  That doesn’t make it Christmas.

Before we can celebrate Christmas, we first celebrate Advent.  The season of Advent always has four Sundays.  Today is the first. 

When we do celebrate Christmas, it is the First Coming of Jesus that we will celebrate.  The word “Advent” means “coming”.  Advent is a season that we celebrate to prepare us for the coming of Jesus.  As we get closer to Christmas our readings will from the time just before Jesus’ birth (his First Coming) but we begin Advent with a gospel reading that points us to the Second Coming of Jesus.  We are to ask ourselves if we are ready.

Referring to when it will be, Jesus says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…They did not know” when the Flood was coming.  They didn’t even know there would be a flood (one would think seeing Noah building the ark would have raised questions).

As to who will be saved, Jesus says of people that are together at that time, “one will be taken, and one will be left.”  Some people today think everyone gets into Heaven.  That’s not what Jesus says so we “must be prepared.”

We need to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Or, as Isaiah puts it, “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain.” 

It is time to turn to the Lord’s way, to put God first.  We can’t keep putting it off. 

What keeps us from putting God first?  Are our lives too busy?  Maybe we aren’t as involved in our faith as we should be?  Sometimes that is because we don’t always understand why we do what we do as Catholics.

That’s where we need to pay attention to what we hear from Isaiah today, “he may instruct us in his ways, and we walk in his paths.”  When we hear the word “instruct”, we might think of the religious instruction we give to our children. 

Religious instruction for children is necessary and important but, regardless of our age, we all need to learn more about our faith.  This stands at the heart of why I offer the presentations that I do.

 It has been the practice the last couple of years for our parish to adopt a “mission” or “theme” for the year.  We start a new year today with “family” at the core. 

What does it mean to be a “family” and how do we live as good Christian families? 

Families are important in the Bible.  For example, today’s psalm refers to the “tribes”.  This is a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel that started with Jacob’s twelve sons. 

When we refer to family, at the core traditionally are a mother and father living together as husband and wife with children, all in the same household.  This isn’t always the case.  My own parents divorced when I was eight to ten years old.  That is the reality but it doesn’t change the ideal.

Family isn’t limited to just parents and children.  It includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and more.  Again, at the core is parents and children.

Some families are close while others drift apart for no particular reason.  Unfortunately, some families fight.  For those who have fought, I point to Advent as a time for reconciliation.  We talk about reconciling with God through the Sacrament where we confess our sins.  Can this be a time to reconcile with estranged family members?  It can be a time to follow the words from Isaiah today, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Going back to “family” as a theme/mission for our parish for the coming year, we are making plans to develop activities for families and ways to help you live out your faith. 

This will include some gatherings related to our regular Sunday morning classes for children that parents will be part of.  You will find a calendar for the month of December with a suggested activity to do each day. 

For those who do not have children in the house, you can still use the calendar as way to have God in your life.  When it speaks of family, pray for your family wherever they might be.  Maybe you pray for the family with children sitting in church that you don’t really know.  Pray for families that don’t come to church.

You will hear more about Christian family life in the weeks to come.  For now, think about what family means to you.  Think about how you can make faith a bigger part of your family life.  Perhaps think of how we can better support families in living out our faith.

As we move towards Christmas, remember to keep Christ in your heart.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year C – Homily

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year C
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5 (see 1)
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43
November 24, 2019

Today we begin the last week in Ordinary Time before we start a new liturgical year next week.  To mark this point in the year, we celebrate this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. 

It is a solemnity that calls us to reflect on who Jesus is.  We call him “king” but what does that mean?  And why do we call him not just “king” but “king of the universe”?

I’ll address the second question first.  Why “universe”?

When one speaks of earthly kings, or in our case elected government officials, we speak of kings who are in charge/represent a finite geographic region.  For kings, it would be a “country” but there are also villages, towns, counties, and states with elected officials in our country.

No matter what size region they serve, the area they serve is finite.

That is not the case with Jesus.  God’s Kingdom is in Heaven but really it is everywhere.  Writing to the Colossians, Paul uses the word “all” eight times to stress how all things belong to Christ.  It is “in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell and through him” all things are reconciled.  As king over all, Jesus is the King of the Universe.

Even our prayers today carry this theme.  Our opening prayer (Collect) and the Prayer after Communion refer to Jesus as “King of the universe”.  The Prayer over the Offerings speaks of “all nations”. 

Again, Jesus is king of all.  Now, what does it mean to call him “king”?

For the Jews, David was the great king.  There were many kings after him but he was the greatest.  He was anointed king first as chosen by God and then acclaimed by the people. 

As a good king, he was not just an administrative leader.  He was a “shepherd” to the people. 

Jesus is acclaimed as king but He was not the type of king the Jews were expecting.  They expected a great earthly king like David to set them free from the Romans.  He did not do that. 

Because He was called a king but did not win earthly battles, He was “sneered” by the rulers and “jeered” by the soldiers on the Cross.  They mocked him saying, “He saved others, let him save himself…save yourself.

In mocking him, they even hung a sign over him on the Cross ‘that read “This is the King of the Jews.”’  When you see a Crucifix with the letters “INRI” above Jesus, this is the scripture passage it points to.  The letters “INRI” represent the Latin words for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

For a solemnity honoring Jesus as king, one might expect a passage from the Bible that displays Jesus as a glorious king.  Yet, in today’s Gospel we hear of his Crucifixion.  To non-believers, this would hardly be glorious. 

For us who believe, it points to what Jesus does for us as our king.  He dies for our sins. 

Some people recognize Jesus for who He is.  Some don’t.  We see this in the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus.  One joins the others who mock him.  The other does not. 

In fact the second criminal first admits his own sins, saying, “we have been condemned justly” but recognizes Jesus’ innocence as having “done nothing criminal.” 

It is also this criminal who recognizes that the heart of Jesus’ kingdom lies beyond this world with his words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  It is also a plea for mercy.

Jesus is the one who delivers “us from the power of darkness” and transfers us to the true kingdom.  He is the one who “created all things in heaven and earth, the visible and invisible.”

What is the kingdom of God like?  Our Preface for this solemnity that comes at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer describes speaks of it as “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”

Jesus wants us to be in his kingdom.  That why He dies for us on the Cross.  Jesus does not come to have us serve his needs.  How could we ever do that?  He comes to serve our needs.

Knowing this, knowing his love for us, we can trust in what He teaches us.  Because of his love, we should be willing to obey his commands. 

We should make time for him.  Christmas is coming.  Can you give a little time to Jesus?  Can you make one extra hour for him?

Of course, in our humanity, we can be weak.  We sin.  Jesus died so that our sins might be forgiven.  We have the Sacrament of Reconciliation for this.  You will find in today’s bulletin an insert listing both the regular times for confession during Advent and some extra times we are making available.  I encourage you to examine your conscience.  If you find you have sinned, confess your sins to embrace the gift of God’s forgiveness.

The second criminal admitted his sins to Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him.  What was Jesus’ response?

Today you will be with me in Paradise.

For help on how to confess your sins check out – http://www.renewaloffaith.org/reconciliation.html

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Malachi 3:19-20a
Psalm 98:5-6, 7-8, 9 (see 9)
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19
November 17, 2019

Today we celebrate the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  There are a total of 34 weeks in Ordinary Time (the remaining of the 52 weeks of the calendar are the seasons of Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmas). 

So, our liturgical year is coming to a close.  In two weeks we will begin a new church year with the 1st Sunday of Advent.

You may know that our Sunday readings are on a three-year cycle.  In Year A, we read predominantly from Matthew’s Gospel.  Year B we read from Mark’s Gospel and in Year C we read from Luke’s Gospel.  John’s Gospel comes up mostly during Lent and Easter each year.

During Ordinary Time, we read the gospel in order.  Since we are coming to a close of our liturgical year, we are reading today from near the end of Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus knows his Passion is coming and seeks to prepare his disciples for what is to come.  For us, it symbolizes being ready for the Second Coming at the end of the ages.

Jesus speaks in the context of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  “They asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen?  And what sign will there be?””

Jesus tells them there will be “wars and insurrections”.  In the last 2,000 years since Jesus walked on Earth, there have been a lot of wars.  Nations have risen against nations.  We have seen this multiple times in just the last 100 years, let alone 2,000 years.  The same is true for “earthquakes, famines, and plagues.” 

So, the Second Coming could come at any time.  Still, we might wonder when.  After all, we want to be ready, right?

But what difference would it make if you knew the exact day of the Second Coming?  If we knew for a fact that it would be tomorrow, I’m sure we would be in a hurry to repent and turn our hearts fully to God.

On the other hand, if we knew it won’t happen for 50 years, what would you do?  Would you live 48 years doing whatever you wanted and then when the time comes close, repent and follow Jesus? 

That is not what we are supposed to do.  We are to live as good Catholics everyday.  If we do that, we don’t have to worry about when the Second Coming will happen. 

Just this past week there was another school shooting in California.  Children killing children.  Is the violence we see in our world today a sign that the end is coming soon.  I don’t know.

I believe society is on both a spiritual decline and moral decline.  If we try to stand up for what we believe in, people may ridicule us but we shouldn’t be surprised by that.  Jesus told us that “they will seize and persecute” us and that we “will be hated by all because” of his name.

The ridicule might come from individuals.  It might even come from the government saying you can’t talk about things we feel are wrong.  There are those in society and in government who even want to force medical professionals to offer procedures like abortion and operations to change a person’s physical sex.  This is not God’s plan.

Whatever struggles we face in our lives, as Jesus says, “It will lead to your giving testimony.”  We are not to cause fights but we give testimony to what and how much our faith means to us in the way we respond to our struggles.  Sometimes God uses our struggles to help us turn our lives to him.  God can change suffering into opportunity.

As to our “giving testimony”, it might begin with something as simple as wearing a Cross or another religious symbol (scapular, saint medal, etc.) as a sign that we believe in Jesus.

How about a printed t-shirt or a sweatshirt with a Christian message on it?  It might take some courage but it is a good thing to do.

It may not be easy but “giving testimony” is what the saints and martyrs have been doing for centuries.  Paul speaks of how he wanted to present himself as a model for us.

Do you have someone in your family who is a model of faith for you?  You know, the person who always goes to church.  The one you ask to pray for you.  Do you try to imitate them?

Now, who are you a model for?  Your children?  Co-workers?  Neighbors?  Are you a good model?  Someone has to be the first to do good.

None of us is perfect.  That’s why Jesus came to die for us.  Being a good Christian isn’t always easy.  We are never ready on our own.  We can’t save ourselves but Jesus can and does.  May we have the grace we need to follow Jesus and to be an example to others.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15 (15b)
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38
November 10, 2019

We live in a troubled world.  We see in is war and terrorism, shootings in schools and marketplaces.  There is starvation and homelessness.  There are the unemployed and those who fear losing their jobs.  The list could go on.

In the midst of our troubles, we hear Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, that God gives us “everlasting encouragement” because He loves us.  Through his grace, He encourages our hearts and strengthens them.

What we are talking about here is “hope”.   God gives us hope.

Hope changes the way we look at things. 

We see this in the first reading.  Seven brothers along with their mother had been arrested.  They were Jews who refused to worship the false gods of the king.  They were tortured and the king tried “tried to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.” 

Their response?  “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.

What gives them the courage to say and do this?

Hope!  Hope that they have because they believe in the resurrection.  They refer to being “raised up” twice and of the “Resurrection to life.”  They know that there is life after death in this world, so they choose to follow God over life in this world.

The Sadducees, “who deny that there is a Resurrection,” come to Jesus with a question about the Resurrection.  What they are really trying to do is to trap Jesus and prove the idea of resurrection is absurd.

First, we should realize why they do not believe in resurrection and why they are wrong.  The Sadducees only believe what can be found in the first five book of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – all attributed to Moses).  You will not find any mention of resurrection in those books.  Well, you won’t find the word “resurrection” anyway.   

I say the word because Jesus shows where the concept of resurrection can be found in Exodus.  Moses is in dialogue with God and his people.  God is identified as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob and he is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are all long since dead in earthly terms but they are still part of God’s people.  They are still living, just not in this earthly world.  There is the concept of “Resurrection”.  Thus, resurrection theology is found in the Torah, the five books of Moses. 

The Sadducees want to show that the idea of resurrection is absurd.  They attempt to do so by describing this situation of seven brothers dying, having all married the same woman.  They ask Jesus, “Now at the Resurrection, whose wife will she be?”

The problem is that they are only seeing the Resurrection as a continuation of life in this world.  Jesus tells us that Heaven is different speaking of those in the coming age, saying they “neither marry nor are given in marriage.”  This is not to say that people won’t care about their spouses in Heaven.  God is love.  There will be infinite love in Heaven, just not new marriages.

So what is Heaven like?

You can find images in the Book of Revelation about what Heaven will be like.  There are some powerful images of the heavenly banquet in the Book of Revelation.  There are also images that we struggle to understand.

People will describe Heaven in different ways.  Some speak of blue sky, white puffy clouds, and angels flying around.  Others describe as being where they spend their time doing their favorite thing.

The reality is why don’t know exactly what Heaven will be like.  We often describe it in terms of physical things because that’s what we relate to as embodied beings.

What we do know is that in Heaven we will be with God.  Is that not what we seek?

With that in mind, when we talk about Heaven, ultimately, we are talking about being with God.  There I turn to a quote I read this week from St. Augustine, “We are talking about God.  What wonder is it that you do not understand?”  We can’t expect to fully understand Heaven right now. 

What we can do is trust God.  God is the one who so loved the world that He gave his only Son.  Jesus hanging on the Cross is a symbol of God’s absolute love for us.

Jesus died for us.

Jesus revealed himself to us after his Resurrection so that we might know what it means to rise body and soul.  Jesus did all this so that we would have hope.

Whatever trouble or suffering you face in this world, know that God is with you.  Remember that Jesus suffered.  We have a God who knows what it means to suffer.  We have a God who will always be with us.

People spend a lot of time trying to find happiness in this world with money, power, and prestige.  These things might mean a lot in this world but they mean nothing in Heaven.  We are created to be with God.  Think of the responsorial psalm verse, “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”  That’s Heaven.

For now, we may not understand our troubles and sufferings.  So, we rely on the hope Jesus gives us.

Another Presentation on Video

I just uploaded the video from the third and final presentation in my series, Our Saints and Intercessors to my website at www.renewaloffaith.org/saints3.

In this presentation, we talk about St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Luke, and then pull all three presentations together.

Don’t forget you can double-click on the video to make it full screen.

Watch for my next series in January where I will talk about the Sacraments.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Wisdom 11:22-12:2
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14 (see 1)
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10
November 3, 2019

A few years ago, I was ministering in a parish that had a school.  One of the things we would do was bring each classroom to the church for a tour.  One day we brought the three-year olds from the PreK program. 

As part of the tour we would put them in the pews to talk about when to sit, stand, and kneel.  We showed them how to put the kneelers down.  When they knelt, not a single one of them could see over the top of the pew.  I couldn’t even see the top of their heads.  They were too “short in stature.”

We might all relate to going to parades as kids and, if we weren’t in the front row, we couldn’t see anything because we were “short in stature.”

Those memories are from our young childhood when we were still growing.  Today we hear about Zacchaeus who is full grown but still “short in stature.” 

When we are “short in stature,” we might feel insignificant, like people don’t even notice us.  Wisdom speaks of this in spiritual terms when it says, “Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew.”  One might see the single grain or drop of dew as insignificant.  We might feel insignificant before God.

Spiritually, Zacchaeus would have been seen as a sinner because he was “a chief tax collector.”  As a sinner, he would have been treated as an outcast, without good spiritual status.

In earthly terms he was a wealthy man.  For that he would have held some status.  He would not have been insignificant and he would have been expected to act in the proper way.

When he heard that Jesus was nearby, Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was” but being “short in stature”, he could not see through the crowds. 

He may have been a sinner but his desire to see Jesus was strong enough for him to put aside decorum and run ahead to a tree which he climbed up in order to see Jesus.  Decorum would have said no rich man would run or climb a tree to see someone. 

Zacchaeus’ effort did not go unnoticed.  Jesus tells him “come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  At Jesus’ words, Zacchaeus was filled with joy. 

Why was Jesus willing to overlook Zacchaeus’ sins and have mercy on him.  Because, as Wisdom says God “loves all things.”  God creates us in love.  God did not create and then walk away.  God continues to love us and thus He continues to sustain us.  God walks with us always.

Wisdom speaks of God overlooking people’s sins.  Jesus did not hold Zacchaeus’ sins against him but in overlooking them, Jesus did not ignore his sins.  Jesus comes to help us overcome sin.  He comes, as Wisdom says to “warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!” 

Jesus came “to seek and to save what was lost.

How do we expect a sinner to change if they do not come to Church and hear the gospel proclaimed?

The Jews had been taught to avoid sinners.  Why?  To avoid the near occasions of sin.  We need to avoid what leads us to sin but this must be balanced against trying to help the sinner repent.  We should not go to places that may cause us to sin but we must open the doors to our churches for any sinner who, like Zacchaeus, is seeking Jesus.

This does not mean we ignore their sins.  We need to hate the sin, but love the sinner.  They need to hear the Truth, the truth of right and wrong and the Truth that God loves them.

Is this not what we all want to hear, that God loves us?

Zacchaeus was seen as a sinner but allowed God to transform him.  He put effort into seeking Jesus.  How much effort do you put into seeking Jesus?

The reality is that we are all sinners.  We are all in need of God’s mercy.  We need God to make us “worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose.

Remembering Our Dead – Homily for Mass of Remembrance

St. Luke Parish – Mass of Remembrance
Wisdom 3:1-6, 9
Psalm 103
Romans 8:31-35, 37-39
Matthew 11:25-30
November 2, 2019

It is Fall outside.  That should be obvious.  The leaves have been changing colors.  The grass has stopped growing.  The gardens are dying off.  Birds have migrated.  Compared to a few months ago, nature seems barren of life.

Yet, we know this is part of the natural cycle of life.   What is becoming barren now will bloom again with new life when Spring comes.  “We flower and we fade.”

So it is too with human life.

It is in this month of November when nature seems barren of life in the northern hemisphere that our church calls us to have a special time of prayer for the dead.  This is why November is a month of praying for the dead.

It’s also why we choose this time of year to offer this annual Mass of Remembrance as we pray for the dead, especially those who have died in the last year.

Some of them died almost a year ago, others more recently.  Everyone grieves differently and at their own pace.  Even people in the same family may be at different points in their grieving.  The circumstances of the death, whether it be from age, illness, or an accident also impact our grieving.  As Wisdom says, “their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction.” 

Whatever led to their death, we may feel we are separated from them now.  Paul speaks of what might “separate us from the love of Christ?”  Death is among the things he considers but death does not separate us from Christ.  In fact, death from this world can lead us to the fullness of God’s presence in Heaven for our hope is “full of immortality.

We might fear the consequences of sins but “not according to our sins does God deal with us.”  Rather God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all.”  Jesus died for us.  There is the love of Christ.  There is our hope.

It is Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins that we celebrate in Mass.  When we offer a funeral Mass, the intention for that Mass is for our loved one’s time in Purgatory to be swift.  When we offer a Mass intention for our loved one, it is not just a way of honoring them.  It is to pray for them in Purgatory. 

We don’t know how long one is in Purgatory but it is a good place even though it involves pain.  It is good because, if we are there, we know we will make it to Heaven.  Purgatory exists to cleanse us of the effects of our sins (already forgiven).

So, today’s Mass is offered for all those who have died in the last year. 

We also pray for ourselves.  As I said before, each person might be in a different place in the grieving process.  The loss of a loved one can feel like a burden.  Here I turn to Jesus’ words in the gospel today, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

We might feel labored and burdened with grief.  How do we find rest from the burden of grief?  There is a saying, “time heals all wounds.”  The grieving process naturally takes time but what really gives us “rest” from our grief? 

Hope.

The hope that we have in Jesus.  Hope that comes knowing that Jesus loves us enough to die for us on the Cross.  Hope that comes in knowing that Jesus rose and that He promises that all who believe in him as “the way and the truth and the life” will share in the Resurrection.  We may be separated from our deceased loved ones now but we will be reunited in Heaven.

If you count the number of words about death and hope I have said today, one would probably find that in quantity I have spoken more words about death but it has not been my intent to speak about death.  The whole purpose of ALL my words today has been hope

I have only talked about death in the context of “When pain and sorrow weigh us down” (verse 1 “Eye Has Not Seen) to talk about hope. 

Hope is what faith is about.  Hope changes the way we look at things, most especially death.  Hope points us beyond the things of this world to the things of Heaven.  Hope points us to Heaven where we are meant to spend eternity.

Thank God for the hope we have in Jesus.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23 (7a)
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14
October 27, 2019

We continue to hear about prayer in our readings this week.  Today, the question addressed start with whose prayer gets answered.

First, we hear that God “knows no favorites.”  God listens to everyone’s prayers.  Yet, He is “not unduly partial towards the weak.”  One might be confused by this, if God is “partial” doesn’t that mean He has favorites?

The answer lies in understanding what is meant by the word “unduly” before the word “partial.”  Is there a reason for God to answer the prayers of the weak, the oppressed, and the widows before the prayers of others are answered?

Yes!  These words all describe people in great need.  The very words “weak” and “oppressed” indicate their need.  The weak don’t have all that they need.  The oppressed are taken advantage of.  As to “widows”, today some widows might be perfectly capable of taking care of themselves while others, like a mother with young children whose husband died unexpectedly may live in great difficulty.  We should remember that, In the days when Jesus walked on earth, the culture gave little status to women so widows would often need to rely on the help of others.  God knows their needs.

Our needs are what God is concerned with.  God is not concerned with making the rich richer.  Actually, neither is the Lord interested in making the poor richer, but He is interested in fulling their needs.  God is concerned if we have enough to eat and a place to sleep.  That’s why God shows what the Church sometimes calls a “preferential option for the poor.”  It is not about favoritism.  It is about need.

The readings today never say that any one person’s prayers will go unanswered.  In fact, Sirach says, “The one who serves God willing is heard.”  The psalm today speaks of the “brokenhearted” and the “crushed in spirit.”  The rich can be just as “brokenhearted” and the “crushed in spirit” as the poor. 

Turn your hearts to God and strive to live as He teaches and your prayers will be heard.  When we sing, “the Lord hears the cry of the poor,” it might be just as much about the poor in spirit as the poor in material things.

So, what do we need to do, how should we pray, to ensure the Lord listens to our prayers?  Jesus answers this question with a parable addressed “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”

In the parable we hear first about a Pharisee who seems convinced of his own righteousness.  He goes to the temple to pray.  That much is good.  He starts by saying, “O God,” so he acknowledges there is a god.  This seems like a good start.

Then we begin to see his attitude behind his prayer.  We are told that he “spoke this prayer to himself.”  To himself?  Now, this might be interpreted as simply meaning that he prayed silently.  However, his words that follow would indicate a different attitude.

The Pharisee says “I thank you” to God but we need to understand what he is thankful for, that he is “not like the rest of humanity.”  There lies a great pride.  He should be thankful that he is not “greedy, dishonest, adulterous” but not in a way that makes himself to seem better than others.  He goes so far as to say that he is not like the tax collector.  He exalts himself with his words, even bragging that he fasts and pays his tithes. 

He is full of himself.

We see a very different attitude in the tax collector.  As a tax collector, he would have been seen as a sinner for gouging people and keeping the extra tax for himself.

He admits his sin.  He comes to the temple to pray but he stands “off at a distance.”  He “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.” 

How about the words he prays?  The tax collector prays only eight words, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” 

His words are simple but powerful.  He admits he is a sinner.  Unlike the Pharisee who considered himself “saved”, the tax collector knows he must rely on God’s mercy to be saved. 

There lies the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The latter is open to God at work in him.  He submits to God’s love.  He humbles himself.

I want to bring in a third person after the Pharisee and the tax collector to help us understand what it means to humble ourselves.  Paul’s words to Timothy may not seem much different than the Pharisee’s.  Paul says himself, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.”

Paul’s words might seem not much different than the Pharisee’s.  Paul speaks of what he has done.  What’s different?  The attitude behind the prayer.  Paul goes on to say about the “crown of righteousness” that is the Lord who will award the crown to him, that it is the Lord who stood by him.  Paul acknowledges that it is because of the Lord that he has done good things.

So, rather than being prideful, Paul humbles himself like the tax collector.  They are both open to allowing the Lord to be in work in them.  For this, they will be exalted by the Lord.