Skip to content

Another School Shooting

Today’s first reading begins “Moses said to the people: “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.”  We each have a choice.  We can choose “life and prosperity” or “death and gloom“.  We would think everyone would want to choose life, life with God, but we see people make bad choices.

Yesterday, (February 14, 2016, which happened to be Ash Wednesday), 19 year old Nikolas Cruz went into Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people with another 14 injured with 5 of them having life-threatening injuries.

 

We are bewildered by such acts.  Why would someone do such a thing?  We can’t make sense of it.  That’s because it doesn’t make sense.

Fellow students have since talked about how he was troubled and how they kept their distance from him.  Did anyone do anything about his behavior?  He had been expelled from the school for fighting.

So, Nikolas, and I use his name deliberately here for he is a person, had a bad history but before we rush to condemn him and his acts, while nothing excuses what he did, we need to think about him as a person.  In reading the news reports this morning, his mother just died in November and I read someplace that his father died a few years ago.  His “bad history” started before his mother’s death (I don’t know when his father died in relation to his behavior) but could his own suffering in his mother’s death been what put him over the top?  It would not excuse what he did yesterday but it does remind us that he too is a child of God.

So, we need to pray for all involved.  We pray for those killed and their families.  We pray for those injured, most especially those with life-threatening injuries, and their families.  We pray for all the school students, staff, families, and the community.  We pray for all the emergency responders.  Let us also pray that, in this season Lent leading us to the Cross, Nikolas repent of his sins and turn his heart to God.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 11 (7)
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
Mark 1:40-45
February 11, 2018

This leper came to Jesus in need of healing.  He knelt before Jesus and begged for help.  He expressed faith that Jesus can make him clean.

We are told Jesus was “moved with pity”.  Why?  Jesus has already healed many people but we have not heard of him being “moved with pity”.  What makes this time different?

Simon’s mother-in-law had a fever that Jesus healed her of.  For others, we are simply told they were ill.  Today the man’s illness is named.  He is a leper.

In biblical terms, leprosy is a broad illness covering skin diseases.  The whole thirteenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus is dedicated to these diseases.

If a person had a skin disease, they were brought to the priest who would examine them in accord with Leviticus and, if appropriate, declared them unclean.

Why would you go to the priest for a physical illness?  We go to see medical doctors for physical illnesses.  Yet, for leprosy a person would be declared unclean.  They were to keep their garments rent and head bare.  If anyone tried to come near them, they had to shout out, “Unclean, unclean!

They had to “dwell apart..outside the camp.”  This was not punishment.  It was to isolate them so that others would not become ill.  They were separated from the community.  I think this is why they were sent to the priest, not for medical treatment, but realizing the significance of the lepers being separated from the community.

This isolation suffered by the leper is at the heart of why Jesus was moved with pity for the leper.  He had been separated from the community.  He was alone.  The “aloneness”, the lack of community, could be worse than the disease.

Left alone, we can feel like no one cares.

Isolation is something we still do today.  When we are ill, we are told to stay home to not spread germs.  Even in church, we take precautions by not holding hands if we might be sick.  At the Sign of Peace, we refrain from shaking heads if one might be ill.  These are smart medical practices.

When we are the one who is ill, we know these are the right things to do but it can be hard.  Most illnesses are just for a few days and so we get by.  Leprosy could go on and on.  Who knows how long the man might have been alone, never touched.

Jesus touched the man.  The man was healed of leprosy but that touch was so important.  It was Jesus loving him.  Think of someone coming to you when you are in bed sick.  Who might touch you without using a gown and gloves?  Think of a time when you were sick as a child.  Who came to you?  Perhaps a parent who loved you.  Think of what their touch meant in that moment.

How does being “alone” make us feel?  As I ask this question, I want to move away from being physically alone to something more.  You might think of an immigrant/migrant who comes to a new place.  They might be near other people but no one they know.  Even in a crowd, they feel alone.  They feel like no one cares.

Chances are you have sat in the same pew for a long time.  Do you know the people around you?  What do you do when you see a new face?  Do you make them feel welcome?  Do you show concern for them?

Or are you more concerned for yourself?  Imagine yourself sitting in your pew and you see a new face come in with young children.  What is your reaction?  Are you worried that the children won’t keep quiet during Mass or are you glad to see new children at Mass?  Jesus would be glad.

If the children begin to make noise, do you grumble at the parents or tell them they have to take the children out?  How does that make them feel?  Unwanted?  Unloved?  Do you think they would ever come back?  (Then, do you complain that young families don’t come anymore?)

Children should be taught to behave in church.  This is a must.  For this to happen they have to come to church.  Welcome these families.  Help them to feel loved.  AFTER you show them love, maybe you can offer some support or guidance on helping their children to embrace being in church.  But you can’t do this if you don’t make them feel welcome.

The families with children are just one example.  Look around you.  How many faces do you see that you don’t know.  What can you do to help make sure no one feels alone?

 

New Presentation on Video – What It Means to be a Church

Almost two weeks ago I did a presentation here at St. Michael’s.  I had planned my calendar around being able to edit and caption the video the day after the presentation so I could get it online as soon as possible.  Then I realized I had gotten a new computer since the last video I did.  So, I went to download the video editing program I used in the past only to discover it is no longer available.  That meant finding a new program, downloading it, and learning how to use it.  After all that, I am very happy to say it is now available on my website at http://www.renewaloffaith.org/video—what-it-means-to-be-a-church.html along with the handouts.  In it I explore what  it means to be a church.  Is it about the building, community, mission, or faith?

Please note this is one of my longer videos at 1 hour 20 minutes.  I hope you enjoy it.  My next presentation will be done at St. Michael’s on February 26th and will be geared towards Lent.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 (3a)
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39
February 4, 2018

Jesus helped many people.  He healed Simon’s mother-in-law of her fever.  “He cured many who were sick with various diseases and he drove out many demons,” but is this the purpose for which he has come?

Our responsorial verse today speaks of a different kind of healing.  The verse calls us to “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.”

On the surface we face fevers and other illnesses.  We fail in the battle of temptation from evil spirits and need healing of our sins.  In his mercy, Jesus offers us healing but it isn’t always physical healing.  Jesus is most concerned with what is going in our hearts and our souls.  He wants to heal our broken hearts.

In our first reading today, we hear just six verses from the Book of Job.  To appreciate what is said in these verses we need to know the whole story that is told in about thirty pages in the Book of Job.

In the six verses we hear today Job speaks of our lives as a “drudgery”.  He speaks of having been “assigned months of misery and troubled nights.”  As Job spoke these words, his life was not going well.  He had lost everything, his family, his wealth, and his health.  To lose something means we must first have something.

As the Book of Job begins, Job is a wealthy man.  He has a huge farm and livestock and a great family.  He is praised for his faith.  The devil comes to tempt him, arguing that Job’s faith only appears strong because he has so much.  The devil believes that if Job were to lose everything, he would abandon his faith.

So, the devil strikes against Job and everything is lost.  At first, Job remains very strong in his faith.  His friends think he must have sinned in some way to be punished so harshly.  Job tells them he had not sinned but they won’t believe him.

As Job continues to suffer, he questions what is going on.  He seeks an answering as to why he is suffering.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  Don’t we do the same thing?  If we must suffer (and we don’t want to!  We think we shouldn’t have to!), then we want to know why.

Some will say we must suffer because we are made stronger by our suffering.  I absolutely believe this can be true.  It is in suffering that we find out what our faith really means to us.

As Job goes on to question God, God responds by reminding Job of all God has done since the creation of the world.  Reminded of God’s greatness, Job realizes he can’t expect to understand all that happens but he can trust in God.

For the atheist, this might sound like we are given God an out.  They want proof!  They can’t accept the fact that God would allow suffering.  If God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful, he would get rid of evil.

Their line of thinking is based on the premise that all suffering is bad and must be ended.  Our faith gives us a different perspective.  We see a divine purpose in Jesus’ suffering on the Cross.  If Jesus had not gone through his Passion, we would still owe a penalty for our sins.  In his Passion, Jesus suffered for us.

Do we make ourselves slaves to our suffering?

Paul tells the Corinthians, “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all.”  What does Paul mean by “free” and “slave”?

Paul is free from suffering but not in the way we might wish.  He still faces suffering.  He is put on trial multiple times for his faith.  They try to stone him at times.  Paul suffers but he does not let the suffering control him or his life.  In faith, he knows if he dies, he will go to be with Jesus (and that’s what he wants) and if he lives, he gets to continue to proclaim the gospel so that more people will believe.  He accepts either as God’s divine will.

If this is what it means to be free, what does Paul mean when he says he has made himself “a slave to all”?

He is willing to give his life to serve all.  Paul goes on to say, “I have become all things to all.”  This verse troubles me personally because it leads me to think about all the things I can’t do.  But Paul does not say he does all things himself.  He had co-disciples.  We know he specifically appointed Timothy and Titus to be bishops in communities he founded.  What he did do was to try and meet everyone where they were at to be able “to save at least some.”

We don’t like suffering.  I don’t think we should ever seek suffering.  Some suffering shouldn’t happen.  Suffering can happen because people choose to do evil but not all suffering comes from evil.  People are still suffering from the Hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico last Fall.  I don’t believe that someone did something evil to cause those hurricanes.

What about the wildfires?  Some may have been intentionally set but many are accidents which we need to avoid but are not evil.

Sometimes we cause our own suffering.  For my mother, in her final years, she complained about her emphysema and lung cancer.  She smoked for years, which lead to the illnesses.  At least she had a cause.  Others get cancer without ever knowing why.

What makes us Christian is not whether we suffer or not.  Our faith is revealed not in the amount we suffer but in our response to the suffering.  Giving into the suffering says the suffering is stronger than God.  In keeping our faith and being the stronger for it proves that God is present and helping us through whatever comes our way.

 

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28
January 28, 2018

As Jesus began to teach for the first time following his baptism we hear that, “The people were astonished as his teaching for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

First, we should realize that the scribes did have some authority.  As the scribes, they held positions that came with some authority in the same way that I have some authority as pastor.  We have government officials who are elected or appointed who have authority by the nature of their election or appointment.  Unless one works alone, normally, wherever we work, somebody holds a position that puts them in charge.  The same is true in school for the staff and students.  Even in families with young children, the parents are supposed to be in charge.

The scribes also had an implied authority that came from the fact that they could read and most of the people in those days couldn’t.  If they said they read something in scripture or ancient writing, those who couldn’t read were not in a position to argue.

While the scribes had authority by position and their ability to read, it seems that authority didn’t seem to be worth much.  On the other hand, Jesus is immediately recognized as “one having authority.”

Besides holding a “position”, what qualities do we look for in a person to say they speak with authority?

On a surface level, it might begin with how much we agree with what they say.  For example, our “respect” for government officials can be significantly influenced by how much they agree with us.  However, we shouldn’t really use this as a criteria for authority because it assumes we are always right and have all the information to make the right decision.

Other criteria might include their background in the field and how what they say matches up with available information.  In the church, this would mean does what the person is speaking match with what’s in the Bible and/or the teaching of the church over time or does it seem brand new?  Jesus himself says (Matthew 5:17) that he comes not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

Another criteria for people we have heard before is to see if what they have said before prove true?  This criteria would definitely be something to check into before investing with a new stock broker.  If their predictions about which stocks and funds will go up in value have always been wrong, then we should NOT place future investments based on what they say.

Looking at Jesus today, we can see the fulfillment of his own words in his passion when he suffered for us.

Still other criteria might include is the person consistent in what they say.  If they speak to different crowds, do they change what they are saying to make the people happy?

How about do they practice what they preach?  Do they speak with confidence, like they believe it themselves?

Jesus would have spoken with confidence but as to seeing his words fulfilled as a basis of authority, the people were recognizing his authority before he had said much.  We see the power of God at work through Jesus as he drives out the unclean spirit but they recognized his authority before he drove out that unclean spirit.

What did they see in Jesus that led to their astonishment at his teaching” as “one having authority?”

Certainly, Jesus would have spoken with confidence from his unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  He would have also spoken with compassion, peace, and justice.

Do we not embrace authority that shows compassion for us?  At times like the feeding of the 5,000, we hear how Jesus was moved with pity for the people?

And peace?  While what Jesus says at times upsets people, Jesus never spoke to rile people up.  Remember when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his death, his first words were “Peace be with you.”  Jesus brings us the peace that comes with true faith.

Truth (including consistency with scripture), compassion, and peace are among what Jesus offers us.  He offers a renewed sense of justice that comes with the forgiveness of sins that makes salvation possible for us.  These qualities of Jesus lead us to place our trust in him.

As pastor, I try to follow Jesus’ example in the way he leads.  How about you?  Do you show compassion, peace, and justice to others based on God’s teachings?  Or do you use a position of authority to get what you want?

Let us all use whatever authority we have as parents, bosses, teachers, or government position to help people know that they are loved and to help them become who Christ calls them to be.

 

 

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20
January 21, 2018

Back at the start of December we began a new liturgical year.  Our readings as found in the Lectionary for Sunday are based on a three-year cycle.  Each of the three years features one of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The Gospel of John is used during Lent, Easter, and Christmas in each of the three years.

This year we are in Year B.  That means we read predominantly from Mark’s Gospel.  However, during Advent and Christmas we did not hear much from Mark as the familiar Christmas stories are found mainly in Matthew and Luke.

So, having entered into Ordinary Time, we now begin a semi-continuous reading of Mark’s Gospel until Lent.  Our gospel today picks up at the point where Jesus is beginning his public ministry.

While it is the beginning of his public ministry, his message is not entirely new.  As he begins proclaiming the gospel he says, “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel.”  This continues what John the Baptist had been saying as he called for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  John came to “prepare the way of the Lord” and Jesus picks up from where John left off.

Ultimately, Jesus makes possible the forgiveness of our sins by his death on the Cross (proof that suffering has value).  However, repentance was not something new with the coming of Jesus.

We need to look no further than our first reading today.  The people of Nineveh had embraced a life of sin.  God sends Jonah to proclaim the destruction of Nineveh.  How did the people respond to Jonah’s words?  They repented, proclaiming a fast and putting on sackcloth.  Because of their repentance, God stopped the destruction he had threatened.

They had turned away from God’s ways.  The same still happens today.  Instead of focusing on God’s ways, we do what we want.  We learn a little about our faith as children and then stop but being a disciple is a lifelong experience.  What we learn about our faith as little children is just the tip of the iceberg.  We need to constantly ask God to teach us his ways, to show us the path, and to guide us in his Truth.

God summons all of us to be his disciples.  He calls us forth to follow him.  The second part of our gospel today tells us the story of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples.

They responded immediately and whole heartedly. Simon and Andrew abandoned their nets.  James and John left their father.  We might think, “If only our response could be as strong.”

However, their response was not perfect and absolute.  Simon Peter will rebuke Jesus the first time Jesus tells them of his coming passion.  James and John will seek places of honor.  They will all scatter when Jesus is arrested.

Likewise, if all we ever read from the story of Jonah is today’s passage we simply hear that God told Jonah to announce the message that God will give him and Jonah’s response seems to be perfect as he does it.

However, if you look at the verses of today’s first reading, you will see it comes from the third chapter of Jonah.  Going back to the first chapter, God had told Jonah to go to Nineveh but Jonah refused and fled.  He didn’t want to go.  Jonah ended up in the belly of a great fish for three days.  He repented and did what God says.  However, if you read the rest of the Book of Jonah, you will see that Jonah is not happy.  He wanted God to destroy Nineveh.  Jonah had done as God directed but he still needed to work on what was in his own heart.

It takes time to fully turn our hearts to God and “time is running out.”  Sooner or later we will die and then we will be judged.  How will we fair?

I ask this in the context of each of us thinking about it as individuals.  Are we individually following God’s ways?

However, we also need to think about it as a society.  Our second reading ends today with Paul’s words, “For the world in its present form is passing away.”  Paul writes these words in the context of the Second Coming of Jesus that will bring the end of this world.  This is still true today as we await the Second Coming.  However, I also look at Paul’s words “passing away” in the context of where our values as a society are going.  Are we following God’s way or are we passing away into sin?

There are people who will talk about the wonderful freedoms of today.  They say we are free to choose whatever we want.  We can choose whatever we want but are we truly free to choose what we want?

I am afraid many are not as free as they think.  It is true that God gives us the freedom to choose our actions.  The problem comes when those who talk about the great freedoms of society today insist that we not talk about what our faith teaches.

If people do not hear about God’s ways, both in the context of commandments and the reason behind the commandments, they are not truly free.  One is only truly free when they hear both sides.  God allows evil to have its say.  We need to make sure God’s ways are heard.

When we face decisions, we need to ask what God has to say about what choices we have.  To make an informed choose we need to ask why God commands as he does so that we understand what his way truly is.  For instance, we all know the commandment thou shall not kill.  Do we also hear Jesus’ words that the commandment centers on not being angry?

We are not perfect.  God knows that but we have to try and do our best.  If we fall short (and we do), then we know we can repent and believe in the gospel that tells us that Jesus dies for the forgiveness of sins.

May we always see to know and live in God’s way.

 

Homily for January 2018 Holy Hour – Unity in Faith

Homily for January 2018 – Year of the Eucharist
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 25:1, 4-5, 8-10, 14
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Luke 10:25-37

The Jews were called to be the people of God.  What we call the Old Testament was the Hebrew Scriptures to them.  What they called the Torah, what we know as the Pentateuch (the first five books, attributed to Moses), held the highest status.  There are also the prophetic writings as well as the narrative books that tell the story of God and his people from the time Joshua led them across the Jordan River leading up to the time of Jesus.

The scriptures revealed God’s way to them.  Our psalm tonight is the 25th psalm and it refers to God’s ways (paths/truth) no less than six times in thirteen lines.  If one is to be faithful to God, one must learn God’s ways.

Of course, we know that the truth is the Jews didn’t always follow God.  They strayed numerous times.  God allowed to them to choose their own way but when they strayed, they faced consequences.

One of the times the Jews strayed was in the 7th & 8th century B.C.  So, God allowed them to be defeated by the Babylonians.  Many were taken into Exile.  Our first reading is written at the end of the Exile.

It is the same reading we heard recently on Epiphany.  Isaiah speaks to the Jews of how the light of the Lord again shines on them as God forgives them and sets them free.

They are to live as children of God and be examples to others.  Isaiah writes, “Nations shall walk by your light, kings by the radiance of your dawning.”  They were to show the light they had received to others.

I mention the Epiphany because visit of the magi is the part of the Christmas story that reveals the gospel message will ultimately be for all, not just the Jews.  From the Epiphany story, we recall how it was the Magi who were Gentiles rather than King Herod, a Jew, who recognized the grace of what was going on.

Jesus Christ came first to the Jews but then the gospel was taken to the Gentiles.  Our whole Christian Church is founded upon Jesus as its one foundation.  We are to unite through Jesus as “One Lord, one faith, one birth!” (quote from the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation.)

Beginning with the Apostles, the Church as we know it began to grow and spread the gospel message.  It was centered on Christ but people’s different views caused some division.

We see this in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  He calls them to “agree” and “that there be no divisions among” them.  Yet, there are “rivalries among” them.  Some say they belong to Paul, others Apollos, and still others Cephas.

Now, while there is also going to be differences of human opinion, we need to put the focus on God’s ways.  Are we living as Christ calls us?  Jesus refers to Deuteronomy 6:5 when he says, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind” and Leviticus 19:18 when he calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Who exactly is our neighbor?

For the Jews, it was narrowly defined and centered on other Jews.  To lead us to understand that everyone is our neighbor, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Samaritans were despised by the Jews.  Yet, it was not the priest or the Levite who stopped to help the man who had falling victim to the robbers.  It was the Samaritan who showed love for his neighbor.

2,000 thousand years later are we doing any better about divisions?  First, while gone are the Roman and Greek “false” gods, there are still numerous religions besides Christianity.  There are the Jews and the Muslims who share the God of Abraham with us.  There are also Buddhists, Hindus, and various tribal religions to name a few.

Even within Christianity we have Catholics, Episcopals, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists,….the list goes on.

And let us not forget the agnostics who question the existence of God as well as the atheists who deny the existence of God.  We have moved from Psalm 25 where God’s ways were desired to what we call “relativism” today that says there is no one truth.  Anything goes as long as you don’t hurt someone else.

I can’t possibly address all these differences tonight.  Tonight, I want to focus on Christian unity.  Tomorrow is January 18th when we began a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that will end on January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  We ask God to bring us together in unity.

In a society where relativism is growing and many say religion is solely a private matter, it is hard to have genuine dialogue about our faith, our commonalities as well as our differences, but dialogue is exactly what we need.

We need to ask ourselves what is the goal of Christian dialogue.  Some might seek more understanding of other denominations without expecting any real change.  Others might want to say we should dialogue and then reach a “compromise” on a common belief.

We should not and must not water down our faith.  Genuine dialogue is not about proving who is right.  The purpose of dialogue goes back to Psalm 25 where God’s ways are what we seek.

I firmly believe our Catholic Church flows from the days of the Church that began at Jesus’ Resurrection.  Central in our belief is the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Our belief that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus is based on what we read in the Bible of the Last Supper.  Jesus himself says “this is my Body…this is my Blood.”  While we find this is found in the Bible and has been the teaching of the Church from the beginning, it is not a common belief to all Christian denominations.

As Catholics, we believe in transubstantiation where the bread and wine are permanently changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  I’ve heard of denominations that speak of “consubstantiation” where Jesus becomes present in the bread and wine during the prayers but does not remain present afterwards.  And, of course, there are Christian denominations who see Communion only as a remembering of the past.

As we come here for this holy hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is at the very center of why we are here tonight.  In fact, the document Lumen Gentium from the Second Vatican Council describes the Eucharist as the source and summit of who we are as Catholics.

So, out of genuine love for God and for our neighbor, let us pray for genuine dialogue between Christians and that all may know the presence of God that we find in the Blessed Sacrament that we see on our altar.

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Homily

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
John 1:35-42
January 14, 2018

What are you looking for?

What are you looking for?”  These are the very first recorded words of Jesus in John’s gospel.  Jesus directs these words to the two disciples that come to him from John the Baptist.

If the question was “who are looking for?,” the answer would be obvious, Jesus.  Jesus knows they come to him because John the Baptist has pointed to him as the one he had been preparing them for.  John does so as he points to Jesus with a short but profound proclamation, “Behold, the Lamb of God.

Jesus knows what John has said to them.  Jesus knows they have been waiting for a messiah.  His question, “What are you looking for,?” is a much deeper question.  Yes, Jesus is the Messiah.  Yes, he is the Lamb of God but what do they expect from him.  Jesus will bring them freedom but not freedom from the Romans.  Jesus will bring them, as he brings us, freedom from our sins.

Jesus offers us freedom.  He offers us eternity in Heaven but I ask you as you come here today, “What are you looking for?

Are you looking for something that makes you feel good for one hour (perhaps less)?  For example, do you want music that makes you want to dance but as soon as it is over, you go right back to feeling the way you did when you came in or do you want music that draws you into a deeper relationship with Jesus?  What makes us feel good for a few minutes is often not what we need to hear in the long haul?

How about the readings and the homily?  What are you looking for here?  Is the most important thing to you that the readings and homily are short?  Do you want readings and a homily that tell you the way you are living your life is okay?  Or do you want readings and a homily that helps you become a better Catholic?

The Lord called Samuel but Samuel assumed it must be Eli calling because he was the only one around.  Samuel was not familiar with the Lord to recognize his voice.

This should seem odd because Samuel was sleeping in the temple.  How could he be sleeping in the temple, and not just for one night but regularly, and not be familiar with the Lord?

What does it mean to be “familiar with the Lord”?

Now, I assume everyone here wants to end up in Heaven.  Are we willing to do what it takes to enter Heaven?  Do we come here thinking that the fact that we come to church makes us “familiar with the Lord” and that is enough to get into Heaven?

If sleeping in the temple is not enough for Samuel to be “familiar with the Lord,” then we should realize that we need to do more than show up at church once in a while.

The prayer that I will say over the gifts in a few minutes will begin, “Grant us, O Lord, we pray, that we may participate worthily in these mysteries…”

I put emphasis on the words “we” and “participate” because we are not just here as spectators.  You are not here just to listen to the words I say.  I am not here just to say the proper words.  We are here to participate.  We need to actively engage ourselves in what is going on.  In praying for the Lord to help us participate in these mysteries, we need to let the Lord change us.

This begins in opening ourselves to God’s words from scripture.  Think about how once Samuel realizes it is the Lord speaking to him, he says in reply, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”  For me, this listening is not just with our ears.  When I dismiss the RCIA group at the 8:15 Mass or the children at the 10:30 Mass, I offer a blessing that includes the words to ask the Lord to help them open their lips AND their hearts.

If we want to be real disciples, when we listen to the Lord, we need to do the same thing.  This requires some effort.  For me, it means that my preparation to preach today began last Sunday afternoon when I spent about 30-40 minutes reflecting on the readings. Then, almost every day during the week I spend forty minutes to an hour looking at commentaries on the readings and thinking about what the words mean for us today.  I don’t expect you to spend as much time as I do but to help bring the readings alive in your own life I strongly encourage you to spend at least one time during the week, looking at the readings.  That’s why we give out books like the At Home With the Word books.  You can also go online to the USCCB website (www.usccb.org) where you can click on the calendar on the right to see the readings each day.  You can find video reflections on the readings there or in written reflections in booklets.

Of course, there is more to Mass than sharing God’s Word from scripture.  We also celebrate the Eucharist.  As we celebrate the Eucharist, we are to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross giving his life for us.  This should lead us to be willing to make sacrifices in our lives for our relationship with God.

I know that sacrificing for the Lord isn’t easy.  Part of the challenge is that we may not see the benefit of the sacrifice until we die.  Meanwhile, things like the benefits of money are much more apparent.  Likewise, there can be things going on at the same time church is that seem much more enjoyable in the moment but gain us nothing for eternity.

Earthly things can bring immediate happiness but how long does it last?  When we come to know the Lord, it is for eternity.  It is worth the effort.

 

 

 

 

The Epiphany of the Lord – Homily

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12
January 7, 2018

As the Babylonian Exile ends, Isaiah told the people, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”  They have been set free by the Lord.

The Israelites were a chosen people but were supposed to share the light with others, “nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.”  The light is meant for all, Gentile or Jew.

Paul writes to the Ephesians of his mission to the Gentiles who are coheirs to the promise of the gospel.

The Magi are drawn by a star to the newborn king of Jews.  They are not Jews but Gentiles yet they are open to what is going on.  On the other hand, there is King Herod who is a Jew but it seems he is a Jew in name only.  He sees Jesus’ birth not for the grace it brings but as a threat to his power.

Are we open to grace?  Are we open to light of Christ guiding us?

The Magi were guided by a star.  Prior to GPS and modern maps, navigation by the stars was coming, especially at sea, but what wasn’t coming was the star moving to guide them!  Clearly, this was something very special.  The Magi travelled some distance and brought gifts because they were open to what was going on.

King Herod was not.

Are you open to God guiding you?  How much do you go about your life, finding your own way instead of asking God to guide you?

What about our leaders?  How many people in position of leadership do we wish to reject because they want to do their own thing?

Do we pray for them?

The first verse of our psalm says, “O God, with your judgment endow the king.”  We must ask God to guide all leaders.  This includes our government leaders who take the place of kings but it is not just our political leaders that we need to pray for.  We should pray for all leaders, in government, in business, and in our church.

What is it that we are to pray for our leaders?  We might be tempted to pray that they do what we want.  This might seem reasonable but it is not what the verse from our psalm speaks of.  This verse asks God to endow our leaders with God’s judgment.  God is the one who knows what is best.  We need to let God lead.  We need to pray for God to guide all our leaders.

We can all have our own opinions.  Sometimes the different opinions are based on personal preferences.  For instance, when I first got here it was summer and we were “saying” the Lord’s Prayer at Mass.  As we moved into Fall, some people asked when we going to start “singing” the Lord’s Prayer again because they liked to sing it.

Then, shortly after we started singing the Lord’s Prayer, other people came to be asking if we could just say the Lord’s Prayer instead of singing it.

There are always going to be different preferences.

Some things will always be a matter of personal preference but on things of significance, we need to ask for God who knows what is best and has a plan to show us the way.

With this in mind, I encourage you to pray for our church leaders, for our pope, our bishop, as well as myself.  Pray for all in leadership positions in our parish to follow God’s will.

Singing or saying the Lord’s prayer seems pretty simple but there are bigger things we need to work on.  For instance, we struggle to find volunteers and leaders for our parish festival.  One might ask what does the festival have to do with God’s work.  It helps fund the ministry and it can build community.  On Monday, we have a meeting about the future of our festival.  Please pray for this meeting to be led by God’s Spirit.

In terms of funding ministry, there is also our parish deficit that we spoke about in our annual report in August.  We will be offering a six-month update in the coming weeks but collections have not risen much.  If you are able to increase your parish contributions, it would help.  Whether you can contribute more or not, please pray for all to give within their means.

As you pray for our parish, please also pray for more volunteers, not just for the festival but the rummage sales, and for our ministries to help poor and for new ministries if that is what God wants.

Please pray for myself and all our parish leaders as we discern what to do with our school building.  It’s a big building that needs work and costs a lot to heat.  Pray that God leads us.

As we think about declining numbers in the parish, please pray that we follow God’s lead to awake faith in more people.

Many of these issues are not unique to our parish.  Please for all our area parishes, that we might find ways to work together to strengthen our churches to bring the gospel to all.

God led the Magi by the star to Jesus.  May the Lord lead us as individuals, as a parish, as a diocese, and a universal Church to accomplish his will.

 

From Too Many Priests to Too Few Priests

Today we celebrate the Memorial of St. John Neumann, the first American to be canonized.  He was born in 1811 in Bohemia in Europe.  He was studying to become a priest there when the bishop there announced there would be no further ordinations as there were too many priests.  Today, this might seem impossible for us to believe but John Neumann found it to be the case throughout Europe.

He learned English and was interested in mission work.  So, he wrote to bishops in America.  The bishop in New York offered to ordain him to serve here.  He became one of thirty-six priests serving 200,000 Catholics.  He served an area stretching from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania.  So, I would imagine at least some of that was in what became our Diocese of Rochester in 1868.  He later joined the Redemptorists priests until he was ordained Bishop of Philadelphia.  As bishop, he served in a time when the Catholic Church was not widely accepted in America but the Catholic population was growing.  He was a great promoter of the Catholic school system.

While there were “too many” priests in Europe in St. John Neumann’s day, there were “too few” in America.  He came to America when it was still considering mission territory for the Catholic Church.  In the years following his life, the Catholic Church grew in America to as much as 25% of the population.  Much of the growth came from immigrants who established communities of people speaking the same languages centered in the parish.  The culture in America continued to look down on Catholics for many years.  For example, when Catholics tried to run for president, many thought a Catholic should never be president because of their ties to the pope.  It was not until 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President before a Catholic would serve as president.  Our parishes had more than enough priests.

While the Catholic church grew for decades in the United States, we are now facing large declines in church attendance.  For some it is a rejection of the existence of God.  Others think they can be spiritual on their own without needing any church institution.  This is true for all religions in America. From fewer people coming to church, we again have “too few” priests.

God exists!  We can pray on our own but we need the help of our churches to persevere in a world that is turning away from God.  We need help to grow to a deeper relationship with Jesus.  In the decades since the death of St. John Neumann, the way our world functions has changed greatly from modern transportation and communication.  The gospel does not change but we need to find new ways to bring our faith to the world and show what Jesus taught is still relevant today.

We have much ministry to do to restore growth in our church.  Knowing St. John Neumann served in a time when the Catholic Church was small and growing, let us pray for his intercession to help us in our ministry of evangelization.  We also pray for more priests to serve like St. John Neumann did.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

*Bibliography – The above biographical information is largely based on short biographies of him available online