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Second Sunday of Advent, Year B – Homily

2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8
December 10, 2017

We continue our Advent season this week.  You might remember that the word “Advent” means coming.  As such, I spoke last week of how our Church calls us to think about both the first and second of Christ during this season.  Today’s readings refer to both.

Our gospel reading comes from the very beginning of Mark’s gospel.  Mark was the first gospel to be written.  As such, it is brief and to the point.  These eight verses we hear today are the entirety of what Mark tells us before Jesus begins his ministry.

While brief, Mark wants to connect what happens with Jesus to the Israelite past and the prophecies.  So, in these few verses, he refers back to what Isaiah prophesized about a messenger that will come before the Messiah to “prepare the way of the Lord” and to call the people to “make straight” their paths.  John the Baptist calls the people to repentance and points them to Jesus as “one mightier than” he.

We know the date in which we celebrate Jesus’ birth (December 25th).  It is the same date every year.  We know the date and we plan for it.

Many people do better with deadlines.  We are better motivated when we know the date for something is near.  While we know the date of Christmas, we must realize that the Jews, while very much expecting a messiah, had no idea what date the Messiah would come.  They began “lazy” in their waiting and many fell away from the Lord.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this.  Many have come to do the same thing when it comes to the Second Coming of Jesus.  It hasn’t come for 2,000 years so we don’t worry.  We don’t get ready.

In today’s second reading, Peter speaks of the Second Coming when he says, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”  Jesus will come at an unknown hour.  We should be ready.

Some might ask why Jesus hasn’t come.  It’s been two thousand years.  Why so long?  Peter gives an answer.  First, we must remember that God does not operate under the confines of time that we do.  For the Lord, a thousand years are like a day.

More importantly, the Lord is patient.  The Lord delays his coming to give us every chance possible to repent.

We might think then we have nothing to worry about.  We have all the time in the world but we don’t.  As I have said before in other homilies, while the second coming hasn’t happened, many people have come and died.  We need to be ready.

The first coming gives us hope.  Hope that is so needed.  Isaiah writes as a prophet of the Lord in a time when the Babylonian Exile is about to come to an end.  He tells Israel “that her service is at an end.”  Isaiah speaks of giving comfort and speaking tenderly.

Isaiah calls them to “prepare the way of the LORD!”  This is a call to the Israelites in Isaiah’s day but it is also a call on a much bigger level for the coming of Jesus.

Isaiah goes on to speak about how, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”

In his coming, God is going to level the playing field.  We see it some in Jesus’ first coming when the gospels speak of how the Lord will fill the hungry with good things while “the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53).

It is not that God wants to take away earthly riches.  God does not hate the rich.  God just has a different focus.  We might spend much time trying to “get ahead” or to be the best in this world.  What does it gain us?

In Heaven, everything is equal.  Just as Isaiah speaks of filling in the valleys and cutting down the mountains, we are all on the same level before God.

So, what does this say for the priorities we have in our lives?  We need food to eat but how much effort do we put towards gourmet meals and having more that we need.  I know eat too much but I like to think I don’t build my life around it.

We need a place to live.  We need cars to drive but do we buy expensive houses and cars to show off or do we just focus on what we need?

What about time?  We can lead very busy lives.  There’s work.  There’s family.  There’s fun.  Where is God in all of this?  What comes first?

God knows we need to work to provide for our families.  Is that the only thing that drives us at work or do we try to help others?

God wants us to provide and care for our families but where is God in this?

We make time for many things.  Do we make time for God?  What we choose over God says something about what is most important to us.

In this season of Advent when we think about the coming of Christ, how important is it to you to have Christ come into your lives not just at Christmas or in the life to come but every day?

 

 

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B – Homily

1st Sunday in Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37
December 3, 2017

Today begins a new year for us.

As we look around, our banners and vestments have changed to violent symbolizes our season of Advent.  Why today?

Everything about our liturgical year in our Catholic Church is determined by two dates, Christmas and Easter.  In the secular world Christmas gets all the attention but in the Church, Easter (including Holy Thursday and Good Friday) is the most important.  Christmas is very important as the beginning of something new but it reaches its pinnacle when Jesus dies on Good Friday and rises on Easter Sunday.

Recognizing Christmas as the beginning of something new, our Church puts the beginning of our liturgical year now, not at Christmas itself but with Advent as a time to get ready, to prepare, for Christmas.  Then Christmas will come and we will celebrate it not just for a day but for a season that lasts until January because it is so important.

We might like to jump right to Christmas.  Christmas is a happy time.  Many people enjoy the parties and the gifts but it isn’t Christmas yet.  We have to get ready.

I’m sure many of you have much to do with preparing for your Christmas celebrations and shopping for gifts but that is not what I am talking about today when I say, “We have to get ready.”

The readiness that is to be the focus of our church season of Advent is to ask ourselves are we ready spiritually for the coming of Christ.  Words like sinful, unclean, and guilt from the first reading might come to mind when we think about our spiritual readiness.  We might ask ourselves how we have wandered from the Lord’s ways.

It’s lot more enjoyable to think about Christmas than it is to think about our sins and failings.  No wonder we tend to jump right to Christmas.

As we get closer to Christmas the theme of our readings will switch to the time just before Jesus’ birth but today they point us to the Second Coming of Jesus.  We are called to “Be watchful!  Be alert!” for we “do not know when the time will come.”

We know when Christmas comes.  We don’t know when the second coming will happen and we often tend not to want to talk about it.

Why not?

The first reason might have to do with being happy and content with what we have now versus the uncertainty of what is to come, which leads us to the second (and main reason) why we might not like to talk about the second coming.  We feel like we have to be perfect in the sense of having no sins and no shortcomings but we know we are not perfect.

Knowing we are not perfect, we fear the pains of Hell but there is hope.  Jesus came the first time because he knew we could not be ready for the coming at the end of the ages on our own.  He came to celebrate the sacrifice of perfect reconciliation that is his death on the Cross that we celebrate on Good Friday and each time we celebrate the Eucharist.  This is our faith.  This is our hope.

What we need to do is hand over our sins to Jesus.  How do we do this.  First, we need to make a good examination of conscience to recall our sins.  Then we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess them.  This is not something to dread.  We dread our sins but we confess them with hope because we know Jesus has given his life for the forgiveness of sins.  We need to name them to admit we need forgiveness and grace.

This month we will have our normal time for confessions every Saturday from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. and on the second Tuesday of the month from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and then one weekday morning closer to Christmas. There is also a time for confessions in Spanish.  We also have a penance service coming up next week with four priests here.  The times are all listed in the bulletin.  We offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help you be ready.  If you haven’t come in a while and aren’t sure what to do, say so and I will help lead you through it.  If you think it will take a while, you can make an appointment.

To help open your hearts to the coming of Christmas we also have Advent prayer books in back that offer a reflection for each day of Advent.  Carlo is offering a time to open ourselves to the grace of the season this Sunday and the next two Sundays at 9:30 a.m. for adults.

One last thing to think about, new year’s resolutions.  People often make new year’s resolutions for the secular new year on January 1st.  I offer you two possibilities.  First, how about making your new year’s resolutions now as we begin our new liturgical year.  Or the second option is to use Advent as a time of reflection to think about what resolution you might make on January 1st to lead you closer to Jesus.

 

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

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:14-31-46
November 26, 2017

Today is our last Sunday before we begin a new liturgical year.  That means today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

To me, it is fitting that we do this.  As we come to the end of the liturgical year, our readings invite us to think about the end times.  It is fitting that as we do so, we think about who Jesus is to us.  What does it mean to call Jesus our king?

To us kings are leaders of countries.  In Jesus’ days on earth, kings ruled as least regions if not countries.  If you read stories of kings from the Old Testament, we see that kings were not just political leaders.  They were also leaders in battle, often establishing the country or taking power through military conquest.

In this sense, King David was seen as the greatest of the Israelite kings.  He is the one who, through God’s hand, built up the earthly kingdom of Israel to the greatest status it ever held.  Ever since the days of King David, the Israelites expected a new king like David.  The prophecies refer to this king as the Messiah.

Jesus is the Messiah but not a political king like David.  He did not lead the Israelites into a battle with the Romans.  Instead, Jesus leads us in battle against the evil one.  On the Cross, Jesus is victor over our sins.

As we think of Jesus as king, our first reading and psalm refer not to kings but shepherd.  In the days of the prophet Ezekiel both kings and priests served as shepherds.  Unfortunately, neither were doing their “jobs” as God intended.

What does a shepherd do as a farmer?  The shepherd is there to “look after” and “tend” the sheep.  Kings and priests were appointed by God to care for the people.  Many of them fell short of doing this.  So, in the first reading, God proclaims, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.”  He says, “I will rescue them…I myself will pasture my sheep…I will seek out…I will bring back.

God does not abandon his people.  Jesus will never abandon us.

The kings and priests went astray when they began to worry about themselves more than the people in their kingdom.  They came to want the people to serve them rather than for them to serve the needs of the people.  Jesus sets us straight on this when he says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” (Matthew 20:28, cf. Mark 10:45).

In giving his life for us on the Cross, Jesus gives us the perfect example of what it means to be a king who serves his people.

We might think it is all nice for Jesus but what does it mean for us?  We might want to say we are not kings and might want to say you are not priests, but we are all called to serve.

What happens at a baptism after the water is poured over the person’s head?  The priest (or deacon) anoints the newly baptized with the Sacred Christ saying, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

We are all called to be priest, prophet, and king.  Everyone can serve as a priest in the sense of making sacrifices for one another.

We can all be prophets by sharing God’s truth and love, helping others to know Jesus.

We can all be kings in serving one another.  Think of the sacrifices a parent makes for their children or what sacrifice (what do you give up) to help someone else.

With this in mind, let us turn to our gospel reading.  This reading reflects the “end judgment,” fitting as we reach the end of the liturgical year and think about the end times.  It has the king judging the people for how the people will spend eternity.  It is not for us to judge.  This judgment is for Jesus as our king.

What criteria will we be judged by?  Jesus provides the answer today.  We will be judged by how we serve others.  Do we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty?  We have our Poor Fund that you support.  Some of you help the hunger through the Community Food Closet or Stop Hunger Walk?

Do we welcome the stranger?  Think of the migrants and the ministry offered to them?  What about the Hispanics and Latinos who have made this area their permanent home?

How about visiting the sick?  Besides me visiting people for the anointing of the sick, June visits the hospitals and homebound.  We have parishioners who take Communion to the homebound.  Some to just one or two people.  Some to groups of people in nursing homes and assisted living.  Likewise, there is our jail ministry.

What do you do?  What can you do?  It might be as simple as talking to a sick friend on the phone if that is what you are capable of.  It may simply be praying for those in need if that is what you are able to do.

Do what you can not to get into Heaven but out of love, the same love that Christ shows us.

 

 

 

What Sort of Church Should We Be?

If you are a long-term reader of my blog and website, then you know that I fell away from the Church after Confirmation but returned after 16 years.  It is very important for me to be mindful of those who stop coming to church because they do not understand or appreciate all our faith offers us.  This is why I have this website and blog and it is why I do the adult faith presentations you can view in the videos on this website.

In recent years but most especially in the last year I have done a significant amount of reading on the topic of Evangelization and Apologetics.  Last spring I did a presentation (available online at http://www.renewaloffaith.org/video—evangelization-and-apologetics.html – a little over an hour in length) on the topic.

Over the summer I read Evangelii Gaudium and have been doing a lot of thinking for the future of St. Michael’s.  In the area I now serve, Wayne County New York, we are starting a regional process of the Catholic parishes coming together to discuss how we might collaborate to strengthen our Church for the future.

Prompted by this and the reading I have done, in the last couple of weeks, I wrote a new document for my website called “What Sort of Church Should We Be?”  It is in no way a paper on the Catholic Church in Wayne County.  It is a reflection by me articulating what I feel what we must do to be a strong and vibrant Church.  If you are interested in reading it, you can find it on my website at http://www.renewaloffaith.org/new-11-24-17—what-sort-of-church-should-we-be-.html.  It is 3,500 words so it will take a little bit of time to read).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

 

What Do We Have to Give Thanks For?

Today we celebrate our national holiday of Thanksgiving.  While it is a secular holiday in origin, it is a holiday that reminds us to be thankful for what God has given us.  In the spirit of giving thanks, our Catholic Church has special readings that can be used today at Mass.

The gospel reading is very fitting.  It is the story from Luke 17:11-19 of the ten lepers who go to Jesus and ask him, “Have pity on us.”  Jesus’ response might seem surprising.  He simply tells them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  He does not heal them first.  Going to the priests is something lepers would do after they are healed.  Yet, they do as Jesus says.  Their going as he says is an act of faith.  Their act of faith does not go unnoticed.  They are healed.

One of them, “realizing he had been healed,” returned to Jesus to glorify God and give thanks.  What happened to the other nine?  We don’t know.  We might suppose they continued on their way to show themselves to the priests as Jesus had directed.  Yet, we can’t help but wonder.  They must have realized they had been healed.  Why didn’t they return to Jesus to give thanks.  Did they not realize the source of their healing?

With such an obvious healing, it should be easy to realize the need to give thanks to God.  What about miracles that aren’t so obvious?  For example, if we are battling cancer and the disease is gone in an instant, then we should realize God’s hand in it and give thanks.  However, if we fight the disease for a long time with medical treatment and are healed gradually, do we give thanks to God for the healing?  Do we even thank the medical team?

What else might we be thankful for?  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus.”  Paul gave thanks to God for giving grace to OTHER people.  Are we thankful for the blessings we see other people get or are we envious?  Are we thankful when someone else gets a great job or is cured of cancer?  Are we thankful when their life is going well or are we jealous?

Again, what else might we be thankful for?  How about when we have a difficult week and we are just happy it is over?  This is what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Last week was a very busy week for me with meetings scheduled with the diocese, parish staff, holy hour, confessions, etc. all scheduled ahead of time.  I knew I would be busy.  Then to add to it, my great-aunt died and more meetings that had to happen soon came in.  By the end of the week I was exhausted, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually too.  I was grateful the week was over.  It’s not that there weren’t good moments.  Perhaps the best moment of the week was the holy hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament when I could feel God at work in me.

When I realized the week was over and found some relief, it made realize that while it was busy and not everything went the way I would have liked, I got through the week because God was with me.  Some of what happened I would guess wasn’t what God wanted either but he was present with me through it.  For that I am thankful.

What are you thankful for?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Living as Disciples

Today’s first reading (11/22/17, 33rd Wednesday in Ordinary Time, Year One) continues on the same struggle as yesterday’s first reading.  Yesterday, Eleazar, a 90 year old man who remained faithful to the Jewish customs was being forced to choose between being executed for failing to follow the king’s (Gentile) ways or to eat the pork forbidden for the Jews.  This story was written about 100 years before Jesus (who “declared all foods clean” Mark 7:19) so the prohibition against eating pork was still in effect and could not be changed by ordinary human beings.  Eleazar chose to refuse the pork to remain a faithful Jew and not lead others astray.

Today we hear part of the story of a Jewish woman with seven sons who were also being forced to eat pork.  They refused.  Today’s portion of the story happens when only the last of the sons and the mother survive.  They too hold fast to the Jewish faith and refuse to eat the pork.

As Jews, it was clear to them from the Torah in what we know as the Old Testament that they were not to eat pork.  On the other side, we might wonder why the king cared if they eat pork.  I suspect it was centered not so much on any belief that required eating pork.  It was likely about power and control.  If the king could get them to eat the pork like so many other Jews who were abandoning their faith during the time of Maccabees were doing, it would strengthen the king’s position.  He could say that if these faithful Jews would change their ways, then all other Jews could do the same thing.

Today, eating pork is not a concern for us as Jesus “declared all foods clean.”  However, we are pressured in other areas to abandon what our faith teaches.  Today we are expected by some to accept behaviors prohibited in the scriptures like same-sex attraction.  If we speak against such things, we are accused of hate speech.  Now, there is a right way and a wrong way to speak up for what we believe.  If we do it the right way, it is based on our love for them and concern that they do not live as God teaches.

Does hate speech happen about such behaviors?  Yes, and it must stop.  That doesn’t justify banning all “speech” about it.  For those who want to ban all of it, I think back to the power and control issue I mentioned with regards to our first reading.  Today, it might not be about government power but people want to have it their way.  If no one can speak against them, then it can make them look right.  If they are so sure they are right, then why are they not willing to engage in honest dialogue about whatever their stance is on whatever their issue might be.  Are they afraid they are wrong?

Let us always work to grow in our understanding of God’s teaching and to know when we are to speak up and have the courage to do so.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30
November 19, 2017

Just as the man in the parable “entrusted his possessions” to three of his servants, God has entrusted us with much.  God has given us dominion over the whole world (Genesis 1:28) but what do we do with what He has given us?

The man gave to his servants “each according to his ability.”  Two responded by going out and doubling their master’s money.  However, the third servant who was given just one talent, responded based on his fear of the Master.

Fear can be a powerful thing, so can love.  In our psalm response, we sang “Blessed are those who fear the Lord.”  Yet, this servant was ridiculed for acting out of fear.  He was not blessed.

We can let fear paralyze us, which is what the third servant did.  However, I don’t believe that is what God intends in our relationship with him.

I think when the Bible tells us to fear the Lord, it is speaking of fear as living in awareness of God’s magnificence, including his incredible love.  When we see that love, we should what to do what is pleasing to God.  That is what the first two servants did.

God has given each of us gifts.  What do we do with them?  Do we use them to build up our own wealth or to build up God’s kingdom?

The two servants did well doubling their master’s money.  If they had wanted to, they could have kept some of the profit for themselves and the master would have probably never have known and still been pleased with a smaller profit.  They did not.

This is not to say they were not compensated for their service.  We think of slaves as ones who were given barely enough to live.  In Jesus’ days, slaves would have received a fair wage.  Some were taken care of very well by their master.

What pleases God is that we use the gifts he has given us to help others and to build up his kingdom.  We see this in the woman described in Proverbs whose “value is far beyond pearls” and is “an unfailing prize” for “She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.

Pope Francis has proclaimed today as World Day of the Poor as a call to help the poor.  Today we have our semi-annual second collection for our Poor Fund that we use to help those who come to our parish with food and gift cards.  I say thank you for your contributions.

We will have our Advent Tree going up soon to help some poor children have a good Christmas.

As I have said at other times, we have parishioners who help at Habitat for Humanity, the Community Food Closet, and Catholic Charities, all to help the poor.  God is pleased when we use what he has given us to help others.

We can do it in our volunteering.  We can also serve God’s people in the way we work.  Teachers help us learn.  Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff help us heal.  What about, say, a judge?

A judge can make their decision based on technical rules.  They can choose to give a harsh sentence or a light sentence.  What should their motivation be?  For a violent offender, a judge must consider the safety of others when sentencing.  Once safety is assured, they, as well as those who oversee and work in the prisoners should think about how the sentence and the time they serve might help the offender become a better person.  The “person” must be the fundamental concern.

No matter what we do for work, we need to ask ourselves, are we doing our job to the best of our ability.  Here, the determination of what is best must include what is pleasing to God.  We might think God doesn’t care about some jobs.

For instance, does God care what an accountant does?  Yes, he does.  He wants the accountant to treat others with dignity and respect.  There’s nothing wrong with making a profit but not at the expense of a “person.”

What about when one retires?  Going back to the example of an accountant, one might serve on our parish Finance Council or as a counter.  A cook or a baker might choose to help with our Martha Ministry for funerals or the food lunch program at Emmanuel Methodist.

The point is to use what God has given not just for ourselves but to help others, especially the poor.

 

 

Holy Hour Homily – Eucharist & Thanksgiving

Homily for November 2017 Holy Hour – Year of the Eucharist
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Matthew 15:32-39

We come tonight for our monthly hour.  The timing of starting our holy hours comes from our Year of the Eucharist but our turnout has been good and so I hope to continue these hours indefinitely.

So, we come tonight with the Eucharist in Mind, the Eucharist that is Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament on our altar even as I speak.  That is our focus.

However, I also have our national holiday of Thanksgiving in mind.  We will celebrate it one week from tomorrow.  It is a secular holiday but it is a holiday that fits very nicely with our faith.  In fact, do you know that the word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek word meaning “Thanksgiving”?

We are to live with an attitude of gratitude for all that God has given us.  We will end tonight with a song familiar to many, “Now Thank We All Our God.”

In that song, we give thanks “with heart, and hands, and voices.”  These words reminded me of Jesus’ words a couple of Sundays ago when he said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

We are to give thanks to God for the “wondrous things” he has done for us.  God “has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love.”  Thinking of the line “countless gifts” I firmly believe that God gives numerous gifts throughout our lives that we never see let alone the ones we do see.

The greatest gift that God gives us that we can “see” but often is not fully appreciated is the Eucharist.  In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus and as we celebrate Mass, we celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for us on the Cross.

How do we show our appreciation, our gratitude?

One way is what is reflected in our first reading from Deuteronomy.  These are the words of Moses to the Israelites as they are about to enter the land given to them by God.  Moses speaks of the harvest they will receive and the first fruits they are to give.

If we are to be thankful for what God gives us the word “first” in “first fruits” is very important.  God gives us the greatest gift ever.  We need to respond with gratitude.  Our response also needs to be at the top of our list.  We are not to give of what we have leftover but to give to God first.

This does not mean we give more than we have.  God just needs to be at the top of the list of our priorities.  For giving to God is not a simple matter of giving things.  Should we give financially to the church?  Absolutely.  We need your financial support but what is the most important giving to God is the giving of our heart and soul.

This leads to our psalm today, which is the psalm that we use on Good Friday.  “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

Even Jesus, who is consubstantial with the Father, gave thanks.  We see it in the feeding of the multitude in the gospel.  Jesus “took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks” and the crowd was satisfied.  In fact, there was more leftover than they started with.

Are we thankful for the physical food God gives us?  It takes less than a minute to say a simple grace before our meal but to do so is pleasing to God and it helps us recognize and appreciate what God has done for us.

As Paul reminds us of what Jesus did at the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist he “gave thanks.”  Our second reading ends with the words, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are “proclaiming” Jesus’ death on the Cross for us.  I see our regular attendance at holy hours as “proclaiming” our belief in the Real Presence.  We must proclaim the “Real Presence” to the world, not just during our Year of the Eucharist but always.

Paul wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”  In this particular passage, Paul is speaking about the Eucharist.  Where might we be in faith in the Real Presence was not handed on to us?  Where will the future end up if we do not hand on the faith to others?

We show our gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist by coming for Mass often and by coming to our holy hours.  In coming, we say we believe it is Jesus.  The next best way to show our gratitude and appreciation for what God has given us is to share it with others.  To put our faith into action.

So, as we enter into our quiet time ask yourselves these questions:

  1. What does the Eucharist mean to you?
  2. How do you show gratitude/appreciation for the gift of the Eucharist?
  3. Who has shared the faith with you? Have you thanked them?
  4. Who have you shared the faith with?

 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Wisdom 6:1-16
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13
November 12, 2017

Today we hear the parable of the ten virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom.  Five of them were wise and came prepared (ready) for a long wait with plenty of oil.  Five of them were foolish.  These five were ill prepared for the wait.

The bridegroom for us in this parable is Jesus.  Are we prepared?  We near the end of our liturgical year.  As we do so, we may think about the end times when Jesus will come again.  Are we ready for his second coming?

Now, since Jesus hasn’t come in almost 2,000 years, it can be easy to think that we don’t need to worry because it won’t happen soon.  Yes, Jesus hasn’t come in 2,000 years but how many people have been born, lived, and died in those 2,000 years.  Were they ready for their passing?

We need to regularly examine our lives to ask ourselves if we are ready.  Are we living our lives as Christ teaches?  However, today I want to reflect on what we do when we know a person’s death is coming and what we do when they have died.

We have the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  Some of you may have grown up calling it “last rites” or “extreme unction.”  It used to be done only when death was very near.

In the mid-20th century many ancient documents were being found and it was discovered that the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was not always just for those whose death was near.  This realization pointed people to James 5:13-15 that calls for the anointing for the sick.  So, we have a renewed (emphasis on the “re”) understand that we anoint not just at the point of death but for those facing serious illness.

Yet, we still retain some prayers for when death is near.  Key to this is a prayer known as the “Apostolic Pardon” that includes prayers for the remission of sins and that God open the gates of Paradise to the dying person.

When should these prayers for the dying be done?  Some people still want to wait for death to be very close.  When I say “very” I mean “very” but you don’t have to wait for the last minute.  Sometimes we don’t know until the last minute.  Then call.  Sometimes we don’t know the person is going to die.  The priest is never called.  Then, our Church reminds us that God always provides the needed grace.

However, if the medical team says two weeks, don’t wait.  I say this for two reasons.  First, the time they say is only an estimate.  Sometimes it happens sooner, sometimes longer.  Secondly, if you want to the last minute, a priest might not be available.  If you call when the person is still able to talk, there is also the opportunity for confession and their participation.  If you call ahead, it can also be scheduled for when family can be there.

After our loved ones die we have our funeral rites.  Central to the funeral rites is a funeral Mass but please note there is more.  If you read the funeral rites book, it doesn’t just have a Mass.  It includes vigil prayers that can happen at the calling hours because our church sees the calling hours as part of our rites to remember the dead, sharing memories.

There are burial prayers that are also part of the Catholic ritual.  At the funeral Mass, you might notice that when the body or cremains are present, there is no final blessing at the end of the funeral Mass.  This is because our ritual hasn’t concluded.  We go to the place of burial and offer some prayers there.  Only after those prayers is the final blessing offered.

Death can be a sad time.  Recognizing the loss that has occurred, it used to be the norm for people to wear black at funerals.  Even the priest wore black vestments.

Now white is the common color for the funeral vestments worn by the priest.  White is a color that symbolizes hope in our faith.  At funerals, the white pall reminds us that our deceased loved ones were dressed in white at their baptism when their journey towards eternal life began.

The readings and prayers at funerals are designed to help us find hope at the time of death.  (Here, one might think about the last sentence of today’s second reading, “Therefore, console one another with these words.”)  For instance, the most common gospel reading for funerals is John 14:1-6 where Jesus tells us that he goes to prepare a place in his Father’s House for all who believe in him.  These words give us hope, the hope of a place in Heaven.

This is a central purpose of the funeral Mass, to celebrate the gift of eternal life.  Our funeral rites do call for us to think about the person and what they meant to us but the Mass with its prayers and readings point us to eternal life.

There is one last item associated with our funeral rites where I find misunderstanding about what our Catholic faith allows.  It is the question of cremation.

For a long time, cremation was not allowed by the Church. If the person was cremated, the remains could not be brought into a church.  This is because some cultures that cremate as part of their rituals do so with beliefs that deny the resurrection of the body.

Times change and the Church understands that sometimes people choose cremation for matter of having burial space.  Cremations is now officially allowed and the remains can be brought into the church for the funeral.

I think a number of people realize this much.  I think what is not known is that, while our Church allows cremation, it still calls for the cremains to be kept together and buried in a proper place.  It is the remains of a body that served as a temple for the soul.  The remains should be treated as such, kept together and given a proper burial.

I hope this has helped you have a greater appreciation for our funeral rites.  When we lose someone we love to death, we are going to be sad but we can find hope in what Jesus offers us in eternal life.

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10
Psalm 131:1, 2, 3
1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13
Matthew 23:1-12
November 5, 2017

The Lord said to his priests through the prophet Malachi, “You have turned aside from the way and have caused many to falter by your instructions.”  The priests were chosen by God to help the people in their quest to follow God.  The priests were not following what God asked of them.  Even worse, they were causing others to falter.

That was in the 5th century B.C.  The same problem existed in Jesus’ day.  The scribes and the Pharisees are not doing what they are supposed to.  “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders but they will not lift a finger to help them.” They, like their predecessors before them, are falling short of what God asks of them.

In fact, they did things just for the honor.  They looked for seats of honor where they went.  They wanted to be called by titles because of pride in their hearts.  They were more concerned about their status than helping others.

Does this mean the people should stop listening to them?  No, as Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you but do not follow their example.

One of the Pharisees was a man named Saul who would become Paul the Apostle.  At first, he rejected Jesus as a false messiah and persecuted those who follow him.  But God did not give up on him.  Paul encountered the risen Jesus and underwent a conversion.

After his conversion, he continued to serve the Lord bringing the gospel to many people but he was not like those who wanted honor for themselves.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.”  Paul was not looking for status for himself.  He was not just doing a “job.”  He gave of his very self to help others know the gospel.

So, where does this leave us today?

Do we have good priests or bad priests?

Of course, I have a bias in answering this.  I like to think that most priests see their role as priests not just as a job but as a calling from God.  I like to think most priests are trying to do the right thing.  Some are more ambitious than others.  Some are closer to being all that Christ calls a priest to be.

Yet, none are perfect.  At least I know I am not perfect.  I try to do my best but I have to admit I can fall short.  Sometimes I try too hard and overwork myself.  Then I weaken or lose my connection to God.  I lose the sense of peace that God offers.

It’s that connection to God that is so important to each of us.  We come to Mass each week but is that really enough if we want to stay connected to God?  For me, it is not enough.  I need to pray more frequently.  In fact, I try to pray multiple times in a day.

You might say, “Well, Father that is good for you but we don’t have that kind of time.”  Sometimes, I don’t either.  I am going here and there, preparing for this meeting or that visit.  Honestly, even when I do pray, sometimes it is rushed and disconnected.

That’s why I try to take a retreat each year.  Just a few days ago I went on retreat at the Abbey of the Genesee.  Retreats there are silent.  You can join the monks for prayer and Mass.  The rest is quiet.  I read.  I walked, I prayed.  I get back in touch with God.

Why am I saying all this?

Well, looking at today’s readings, I want you to know I do my best to be your priest and your pastor but I am human.  I can fall short.

I don’t do this for the honor.  I don’t do it for the title.  Quite honestly, being an engineer was easier than being a priest.  Please pray that I serve you in the way that God wills and I will pray for you and do my best to serve you.