Divine Mercy Sunday (April 23, 2017)

Happy Easter! Today we celebrate the final day in the octave (eight days) of Easter. Unlike other octaves in our liturgical calendar, Easter is particularly special – every day is elevated to the highest level of celebration, a solemnity. In this way, we celebrate each day of the octave as if it were Easter Sunday again. And on this final day of the octave, we celebrate both Christ’s resurrection, and also His Divine Mercy.

Some years ago, in my last months of seminary preparation at Mundelein seminary in Illinois, my trusty car gave up the ghost. There was something involving fire & wiring, and well, I didn’t have the money or skill to get it fixed. Going to a friend, I asked if I could borrow his car to run some errands. As he handed me the keys, he offered his only caveat: don’t get into an accident.

With that caution in mind, I set off and went about the various things I needed done. On the way home, at a stop light, I made to change lanes – driving around the car in front of me…..and sure enough I hit the taillight, having miscalculated the distance between us. It was clearly my fault and I felt terrible. To make matters worse, the driver was a clearly frightened young mother whose baby was wailing from the sudden scare. Not a great moment for any of us.

In Illinois it was the law that you had to show up in court, even if you were planning on pleading guilty – which I absolutely was! So I came at the appointed time and waited my turn to admit my fault. Finally my name was called and I approached the respondant’s post. “How do you plead?”, asked the judge. “Guilty, your honor”.

The judge paused. “Mr. Maurer, would you please approach the bench?”.

Already nervous, I did while wondering what more he could want from me. As I drew near, he covered his microphone. “Mr. Maurer, I am not your lawyer and I can not give you legal advice. However, I notice that you are from Washington state and you may not know Illinois state law. Here, if you plead ‘not guilty’ and the petitioner does not show up to charge you, the case is dismissed.  …  Do you understand what I am telling you?”

Confused, but also a little more hopeful, I stammered out my ‘yes’, and he sent me back to my post. “Mr. Maurer, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty, your honor!”

Happily, my friend’s insurance paid for the damage to this poor mother’s car, I paid the deductible for my friend, and when the day for the trial came, she indeed did not show up and the case was dismissed! All because the judge was also, to my surprise and joy, an advocate for me.

How often do we approach our Heavenly Father with the same fear and anxiety, expecting that this will be the moment when the hammer comes down? We know our guilt, are intimately aware of our sin & shame. If nothing else, in the depths of our heart we only know one response to the question of our plea: “guilty, your honor”.

And then Christ appointed by His Heavenly Father as the just judge steps in also as our advocate. These very mysteries we have celebrated – Jesus’ Passion, His Death, and His Resurrection – are presented on our behalf, to declare the innocence won for us.

In the opening prayer at Mass today, we prayed that “all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed”. We have been washed in the font of Baptism, reborn by the Holy Spirit, redeemed by the Blood Christ freely offered for our salvation!

Today at Mass, you’ll notice that we will be celebrating the liturgy of the Eucharistic ad orientem. An option given to us and indeed given preference in the liturgical documents of Vatican II, this way of offering the Pascual sacrifice visibly and naturally demonstrates what is invisibly and supernaturally happening at Mass. Rather than humanity & divinity standing opposed, Christ our judge and advocate stands with us – represented in the person of the priest – offering His very Body & Blood as the proof of our innocence to the Heavenly Father. This is the mystery of faith!

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, there are two invitations given to us. The first is the one we perhaps dare not hope for: to receive God’s mercy! How often do we question God’s forgiveness – while it is surely offered for others, could it really be offered for me? Could Christ truly accept my past, my shame, and wash it clean? To this we have a simple but resounding ‘yes’, offered by Christ Himself.

You’ve heard me say so before and will again: come receive God’s forgiveness – most especially in the sacrament of Confession! Perhaps it’s been a long time, maybe there are secret sins you are afraid to name, and the whole sacrament is frightening or alien. Nonetheless this is the Lord’s invitation to you: be not afraid! Come and be relieved of the sin and shame that burdens you. You will be received with great joy by your priests, guided as you might need, and together we will celebrate the graciousness of our Heavenly Father.

The second invitation follows from the first: to be witnesses of God’s mercy to the world. How simple it is to hear and receive God’s mercy within these four walls – yet Christ also commissions us to go and proclaim His Divine Mercy to the world. And make no mistake, the challenge comes almost immediately: perhaps behind that slow parishioner who cuts you off as you’re leaving the parking lot today, at dinner with the family member who drives you crazy, in the office tomorrow seeing that lazy-good-for-nothing co-worker, or dealing with the neighbor that is just difficult. God’s mercy to the world, to these and all the people you meet, begins with you. He entrusts His mercy to you.

Today we celebrate Easter, and the mystery of the mercy that our Father has given to us through His Son. Let us receive it! Let us proclaim it! May we share this message with the world: “Look what God has done for me – and as He has done for us, so He can do for you too.”

 

Blessed friends of Christ (homily – Jan. 29, 2017)

Some time ago I was coming home from visiting some friends of mine – guys that I look up to, that I admire, and that I enjoy spending time with.  I couldn’t tell you what prompted it, but I started to question our friendship. The question that suddenly began to plague me was “why are they friends with me?” – these good guys, these amazing men….were they just putting up with me or tolerating my presence?

After a little bit of that, I realized I just needed to call one of them up and talk it out. So I did, and rather unexpectedly he responded rather simply “here’s why” – and then began listing a few things that he thought were good traits or qualities of mine. I remember thinking that while I wasn’t necessarily seeking that out, it was rather nice! It really made a difference.

The experience, both the brief struggle and the unexpected affirmation, stuck with me. So much so, in fact, that I began to see how it was something that I was being called to do for others – for people to whom I minister, my family, and my friends. Especially when they were down, it became important to tell them some of the blessings of their person: “you’re smart, you’re kind, you’re beautiful, you’re generous, you’re funny, you’re self-sacrificing”. What a difference it makes, and a blessing to me too, to see someone who perhaps feels badly about themselves stand a little taller.

I wonder if Jesus Himself wasn’t motivated in part by this same impulse, with the Beatitudes that we hear today. We often hear that Jesus’ heart was moved – upon seeing someone suffering, those who are shunned or outcasts, and even towards those who are pursuing Him as He was trying to take time for Himself. The phrase that often captures my imagination is when Christ looks upon one of these little ones and His heart is ‘moved with pity for them’.

I wonder if that fed into His proclamation of the Beatitudes. While there may have been some who were important in society, I’d guess that a large number of the people who came to Christ were those who couldn’t go anywhere else: maybe they weren’t welcome in the Temple, the poor, the suffering, and so on.

And then Christ gets up and says ‘blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted, who are insulted’. I have to imagine that within that crowd, people were not a little bit in awe – ‘really? Blessed…..me?’ What a great thing to hear, to be declared blessed by the Lord!

How important it is for us to receive this reminder. We’re not simply seeking or fishing for compliments. But we need affirmation that we are beloved, that we are amazing – that we are a miracle. That physically we are wonder, head to toe. Even more, our person – body & soul – is a collection of talents, gifts, skills, ideas and desires. That we are a gift to those around us, friends & strangers alike. That we are loved, a child of God. This is something that Christ wants for each of us.

This message is one that we need ourselves – before we can proclaim it to the world we must first receive this gift. How important it is to go to this wellspring of blessing and allow the Lord to bestow it upon us.

In our times, we seem to be in a moment where we are called to be very deliberate in proclaiming others’ blessedness – to be able to go to others and remind them that they, too, are blessed.

This week you may have seen or heard about the renewed discussion of refugees. First the executive order that bans people from entering the United States if they are from some seven countries and then a court in Texas that put a stay on the order – the topic is a hot one, spurring a lot of debate.

As I was reading the news about this, I was reminded of a conversation I with someone I was having dinner with, long before the elections. They were a family of immigrants and the immigration was the discussion of the time. As we were sitting at the table, one of the family looked me in the eye and asked me “Father Maurer, why do Americans hate us so much?”

It floored me. What a terrible feeling to have settled in one’s heart – that I am not welcome, that I am feared, that others wish I was anywhere except near them.

How important it is for us to be able to respond to that – to be able to say ‘you are welcome, you are a blessing – perhaps you look different, speak differently, come from a different place – but you are a son, a daughter of God’.

Especially in this political climate, in this division, when we are so tempted to speak of anyone as ‘they’ – whoever ‘they’ are – we need to acknowledge and proclaim that we are all brothers and sisters. I must accept them, I need to accept them – because I know what it is to need to be accepted, to hear the affirmation of my goodness from others. They need this no less than I. Blessed are they who do such things, and we who proclaim these truths.

In a few moments we will celebrate the Eucharist, we will be given the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. And Christ doesn’t begrudgingly give, but willingly and freely. He looks on us and where we see sin and shame, He sees His brothers & sisters – “I no longer call you servants, but My friends”, He told us. And immediately after, “Go and do this in memory of Me” – go and do likewise. Go and give this gift to all, particularly to those who most need it.

As we come before this altar, may we first ask the Lord for what we need. Maybe we need to hear our good qualities, why we are His: “why do You hang out with me, Jesus? What do you like about me? . . . why are You friends with me? …. will You tell me what you like about me, why You love me so much?”

Receiving that gift, may we ask Him for the courage – especially if we have fears to overcome and hurts to be healed – to go out and offer that same gift to others. That we might claim them as our brothers, our sisters, our friends, to be able to tell them the good things about themselves, to enjoy together the blessings we have been granted.

Today we are reminded that we are indeed blessed. We are blessed so abundantly, both in our very person and the many gifts God showers on us. May we receive them, may we share them with every person around us – and that we may discover with great joy that the Lord means it when He calls us friends! And that we may proclaim that His generosity is not something held back, but that is given to us – and that we are invited to share with all.

 

A meal beyond imagining (homily – Jan. 22, 2017)

Today is my mother’s birthday, and in honor of that, I’d like to share one of our favorite family stories about one of her many gifts – cooking.

It was one of the first meals between her and my dad, as husband and wife. Now you need to know that her family was just made up of the four of them, Italians all. Food was plentiful and varying.

In his family, there were eleven of them and though his father (my granddad) worked hard, money and food was tight. Meals were simple and when grandma made the occasional pie for dessert it was split into ten – and someone often went without.

So, Mom prepared a spaghetti and dessert. Thick pasta noodles, tomato sauce spiced with oregano, Italian seasoning, and other flavors, meatballs generously spread throughout and Parmesan cheese on the side to be sprinkled on top.

Putting the dish in front of my father, she had every reason to be proud of her efforts.

So, imagine her surprise when dad asked “what is that?” And when she explained that it was her family’s spaghetti dish he blurted out in reply “That’s not spaghetti”

See, he was used to simple noodles, with tomato paste on top – that was what he grew up with.

Dinner continued and mom brought out a pie, homemade. Setting it on the table, she cut in into four and gave him a piece. Again he asked “what’s this?”. And to his great surprise she replied “that’s your piece!”. Unlike him, she had grown up receiving a quarter of the pie every time dessert was served. Even more than the spaghetti, this was a surprise he could get behind!

I have an idea of what my mom experienced, if only for a moment, at that first meal together. For one of the most disappointing things in caring for those you love is to have labored to provide a rich meal, a generous helping, a gift that will meets the needs of the one you love…. and have it spurned, in favor of a lesser good. As a pastor, I feel this keenly, here in our communities.

I hear it often, and in varying ways “this isn’t faith…church…parish life”. The way we celebrate Mass, the implementation of faith formation, the model for our youth program, how we do music, and so on and so forth. We want our own things, our own space, our own time. We want our old practices, our previous groups, the things of yesteryear.

And if not receiving what we expect, we complain. Against the priests, against the archbishop, the Church, against each other – anonymously or openly, privately or publicly – “why don’t you give me faith? Why can’t I have what I am used to, what I like?”

….

“This isn’t spaghetti”

Not true – we simply don’t know what true food, true drink is anymore.

There was no menu at the Last Supper, only what Christ had prepared: “Take This, all of you and eat It. This is My Body, given up for You. Take This, all of you and drink of It. This is my Blood, poured out for you.”

There is a joke in Catholic circles, perhaps you’ve heard it. It starts “You know who left Mass early the first time, right? …Judas.”

That stings, right? Who wants to be compared to the betrayer of the Messiah?

But why did he leave? What disheartened Judas to the point that he gave up the one food that would bring him salvation? It was that he could not have the meal he wanted. He wanted a conqueror, a warrior-priest. Judas wanted that dish best served cold: vengeance on the enemies of God’s chosen people Israel. He couldn’t accept the meal Christ had prepared for him, and for us.

What we have in our archdiocese, in our parishes is not simply a priest crisis but a crisis of all the faithful. The Lord is offering us richer fare than we’re accustomed to. It is spiced with sacrifice of old customs, it is a mix of communities to which we are not yet accustomed, it is flavored with surrender to a Will not our own.

But it is filling, and we are offered such generous portions as to have all our needs met.

Not content with the generosity of “Take and eat”, Christ has gone even further: “Do this in memory of Me”, He said. Prepare this meal for all who hunger, for all those who have been fed with lesser far. But how can we carry this invitation to others if we refuse to sit at the table, to receive the gift?

In coming days, weeks, and years, it’s reasonable to assume that our archdiocese and its parishes will continue to change, to adapt. But the meal, the meal stays the same. If we are to do more than survive, of we are to thrive as the chosen people of God, we must first open ourselves to what has been set before us.

If Judas is our cautionary example, the remaining Apostles – especially Peter & Thomas, are witnesses to hope. Though they first ran away, renounced and doubted the Lord, His patient care and invitation eventually brought them to celebrate His feast with fervor even to the point of death.

Perhaps we have also renounced, rejected or run away from what God is presenting us. But it is not yet too late! The Lord is still patiently inviting you and I, offering us more than just a quarter of a pie – but an extraordinary meal, a banquet. While we are still with the Lord, even with our doubts and anxieties, there is the opportunity to yet receive the great feast He offers us. Having tasted, seen how good it is, we might still with Thomas proclaim “My Lord and My God”.

Una comida sin medida (22 de Enero, 2017)

Hoy es el cumpleaños de mi madre, y en honor a eso, me gustaría compartir una de nuestras historias favoritas de familia sobre uno de sus talentos: su capacidad a cocinar.

Fue una de las primeras comidas entre ella y mi papá, como marido y mujer. Ahora usted necesita saber que la familia de mi madre estaba compuesta por los cuatro, todos italianos. La comida era abundante y variada.

En la familia de mi padre, había once de ellos y aunque su padre (mi abuelo) trabajaba duro, no era mucho dinero y la comida era sencilla. Las comidas eran simples y cuando mi abuela hizo el pastel para el postre se dividió en diez – y uno de ellos no recibieron una pieza.

Mamá preparó un espagueti y un postre. Tallarines gruesos de pasta, salsa de tomate condimentada con orégano, condimentos italianos, y otros sabores, albóndigas generosamente repartidas y queso parmesano en el lado para ser rociado en la parte superior.

Poniendo el plato delante de mi padre, ella tenía todas las razones para estar orgullosa de sus esfuerzos.

Así que imagine su sorpresa cuando papá preguntó “¿qué es eso?” Y cuando ella explicó que era el plato de espagueti de su familia él dijo en respuesta “Eso no es spaghetti”

Recuerda que él estaba acostumbrado a fideos simples, con pasta de tomate en la parte superior.

La cena continuó y mamá sacó un pastel, hecho en casa. Colocándola sobre la mesa, ella cortó en cuatro y le dio un pedazo. Una vez más preguntó “¿qué es esto?”. Y para su gran sorpresa, ella respondió “¡esa es tu pieza!”. A diferencia de él, había crecido recibiendo un cuarto de la tarta cada vez que se servía el postre. ¡Incluso más que los espaguetis, esto fue una sorpresa que él podía aceptar!

Tengo una idea de lo que mi madre experimentó, aunque sólo sea por un momento, en esa primera comida juntos. Para una de las cosas más decepcionantes en el cuidado de los que amas es haber trabajado para proporcionar una comida rica, una porción generosa, un regalo que satisfaga las necesidades de la persona que amas … y que lo desprecien, a favor de un bien menor. Como pastor, lo siento profundamente, aun aquí en nuestras comunidades.

Lo escucho a menudo, y de diversas maneras “esto no es fe … iglesia … vida parroquial”. La manera en que celebramos la Misa, la implementación de la formación de la fe, el modelo para nuestro programa de la juventud, cómo hacemos la música, y así sucesivamente. Queremos nuestras propias cosas, nuestro propio espacio, nuestro propio tiempo. Queremos que nuestras viejas prácticas, nuestros grupos anteriores, las cosas de antaño.

Y si no recibimos lo que esperamos, nos quejamos. Contra los sacerdotes, contra el arzobispo, contra la Iglesia, unos contra otros – anónima o abiertamente, privada o públicamente, ¿por qué no me dan fe ?, ¿por qué no puedo tener lo que estoy acostumbrado, lo que me gusta?

Como mi padre dijo: “Esto no es spaghetti”

Pero no es cierto – simplemente no sabemos lo qué es verdadera comida, verdadera bebida.

No había menú en la Última Cena, sino lo que Cristo había preparado: “Tomad y comed todos de él, porque esto es mi cuerpo, que será entregado por vosotros. Tomad y bebed todos de él, porque este es el cáliz de mi sangre, sangre de la alianza nueva y eterna…”

Hay una broma entre católicos, tal vez lo has oído. Comienza “¿Sabes quién salió temprano de la misa la primera vez?   … Judas.”

Eso pica, ¿verdad? ¿Quién quiere ser comparado con el traidor del Mesías?

Pero, ¿por qué se fue? ¿Qué desalentó a Judas hasta el punto de que renunció al único alimento que le traería salvación? Era que no podía comer lo que quería. Quería un conquistador, un sacerdote guerrero. Judas quería ese plato mejor servido frío: la venganza sobre los enemigos del pueblo elegido de Dios Israel. No podía aceptar la comida que Cristo había preparado para él, y para nosotros.

Lo que tenemos en nuestra Arquidiócesis, en nuestras parroquias no es simplemente una crisis sacerdotal sino una crisis de todos los fieles. El Señor nos está ofreciendo una comida más rica de la que estamos acostumbrados. Es condimentado con el sacrificio de viejas costumbres, es una mezcla de comunidades a las que todavía no estamos acostumbrados, tiene la especia del sacrificio a una voluntad no nuestra.

Pero es abundante, y se nos ofrecen porciones tan generosas que tienen todas nuestras necesidades satisfechas.

No contento con la generosidad de “Tomad y comed”, Cristo ha ido aún más lejos: “Hagan esto en memoria de Mi”, Él dijo. Prepara esta comida para todos los que tienen hambre, para todos aquellos que se han alimentado con comida inferior. Pero ¿cómo podemos llevar esta invitación a otros si nos negamos a sentarnos a la mesa, a recibir el regalo?

En los próximos días, semanas y años, es razonable suponer que nuestra arquidiócesis y sus parroquias seguirán cambiando para adaptarse. Pero la comida, la comida sigue igual. Si hemos de hacer más que sobrevivir, de que debemos prosperar como el pueblo elegido de Dios, primero debemos abrirnos a lo que se ha puesto delante de nosotros.

Si Judas es nuestro ejemplo cautelar, los otros Apóstoles – especialmente Pedro y Tomás, son testigos de la esperanza. Aunque primero huyeron, renunciaron y dudaron del Señor, Su cuidado paciente e invitación finalmente los llevó a celebrar su fiesta con fervor hasta el punto de la muerte.

Quizás también hemos renunciado, rechazado o huido de lo que Dios nos está presentando. ¡Pero aún no es demasiado tarde! El Señor todavía te invita pacientemente a ti ya mí, ofreciéndonos más que un cuarto de pastel, pero una comida extraordinaria, un banquete. Mientras aún estamos con el Señor, aun con nuestras dudas y ansiedades, tenemos la oportunidad de recibir la gran fiesta que Él nos ofrece. Habiendo probado, visto lo bueno que es, todavía podríamos con Tomás proclamar “Mi Señor y Mi Dios”.

 

 

A worthy gift for our newborn King (homily – Dec. 25, 2016)

Merry Christmas! After passing through the four weeks of Advent, we’ve finally arrived. How good it is to finally celebrate Christ’s birthday.

As you can see, we’ve got all the trimmings of a grand celebration – Christmas music, poinsettias (80 of them!), a manger scene, Christmas trees, lights, and incense. But is that enough? One wonders.

A couple weeks ago I had an interesting conversation online about car repairs. Now I want you to appreciate just how unusual this is, and my history with cars starts with my first. It was a 1988 Chevy S-10 and I bought it from my grandfather shortly after my fifteenth birthday. It was a V6, 2.8 liter engine – which sounds impressive but truth to tell Bessie couldn’t move quickly, carry much, or tow. The hint is in the name ‘Bessie’ – like your prize cow, she was oversized, underpowered, and moody.

But she was mine, and I loved her!

My father is an engineer and my brother takes after him – both of them have an aptitude for fixing things, and they did their best to make sure I was comfortable in some basics. I learned enough to do simple maintenance – minor repairs and changing the oil. (And if you’re wincing at that second one, you should!)

Fortunately, your average car – even an older one – has sensors and warning lights when things start to go wrong. For example, say you change the oil in your beloved old truck and upon installing the new oil filter, you mis-thread it so that the seal isn’t quite right. You’ll start leaking oil slowly and eventually a little red light will light up on your dash to let you know. No problem, right?

In theory, this system will get your attention and you’ll consult someone to get things fixed. …or you can just keep driving. And you know what, it’ll drive pretty well. Ah, eventually you’ll lose enough oil that the engine will start ticking – that’s the sound of things grinding because there’s not enough lubricant. No problem! Just add more oil until the ticking stops. Hey – if you overfill, the excess will get pushed out of the engine and burn off from the heat!

I’d like to pause here to point out to anyone who is taking notes on car repair…well, don’t. This worked for all of 300 miles of driving – and then my truck wouldn’t start. Something in the engine cracked, the heads fused, and Bessie wouldn’t start. It cost me $2,000 to replace the engine – and no small amount of flack from those same family members who had done their best to warn me about the dangers of driving with this problem.

Nowadays, I have no problem taking my car into a shop and having a professional change my oil – or any other maintenance and repair work that needs to be done. I learned my lesson: if there’s a warning light, don’t be afraid to find someone who can help.

But we are afraid, aren’t we, and not just in matters related to vehicles. We’ve been given a vehicle of sorts – the very life we were born into, our body & soul, meant to take us from here to eternity. In the gift of the Scriptures and the Church, we’ve got an instruction manual of sorts – and plenty of people who are there to help guide us. Between the saints, our family & friends, our parish community, and God Himself, we’re all set!

No problem, right?

And then a warning light comes on. Something’s not quite right – we need to stop in for service. And maybe we even know it! ….but we’re afraid. We know that odds are good that even though it wasn’t entirely intentional, we’ve contributed to the problems in our lives. Something got mis-threaded and the consequences sort of spiraled beyond our control. What if we get blamed? How will other’s respond to my mistakes? Will God really help me, or will I be condemned for my part in the mess I find myself in?

So we push on. We substitute anything we can – that extra oil – to avoid putting ourselves in front of the Divine Mechanic.

I mentioned a couple of mechanics at the beginning – my dad and my brother. Especially when it comes to cars, my brother is a genius. Since he discovered tools and vehicles, he’s had a car that he’s working on. His favorite is a 1970-something VW Rabbit – he’s restored three of them and they’re each lovely stripped to the frame and then brought to a point where you’d think they had just rolled off of the lot. Admittedly, a VW Rabbit is not exactly a luxury ride – but to hear him talk about it, you’d never know the difference.

What if the Divine Mechanic looks at us similarly? We have this fear that if we go before Him, if we show him the mess we’ve made, if He sees the sins we’ve committed along the way, that’ll be it! He’ll chastise us, rebuke us, send us away for having destroyed this amazing life He’s given us.

But what if that’s exactly wrong? I submit that it is – I imagine it a little differently. Our heavenly Father – that Divine Fixer – delights in us. And when we roll into His garage, ticking, dripping oil, barely moving at all, that’s when He starts to get excited. I have this image of God popping the hood, rubbing His hands happily together saying “let’s get in here and fix this thing!”. And maybe He’ll have to strip things down to the frame – but He’ll lovely restore us as we were meant to be.

The sad thing is, most of us – myself included – we struggle to really trust the Lord. Could it be possible that He really wants to do this for me? And the Father saw that doubt, that fear – He looked down on us pouring the garbage of the world into our souls to try to make it another mile, and He decided that this was the time to put our hearts at ease. So He sent His Son – trained in the healing of souls, but in the most un-intimidating way possible: as a baby. The infant who would make us whole.

Maybe you come here every Sunday, maybe you’re here only because grandma asked you to be – but you’re here! And this baby, Jesus, He wants you to know that you are beloved, you are the Father’s delight. Nothing in your past, not one of your sins, none of your mistakes will ever undo that love.

All of this – all these trimmings & trappings, all the food & gifts, the music, even our Mass here today – it’s all geared towards one thing: giving the Divine Mechanic permission to heal our souls. How do we celebrate? How do we welcome him? This is the key: taking this opportunity, on the birthday of Jesus, to offer Him the one gift – the only gift – that He desires: ourselves. And with great joy, the One who loves us receives us, welcomes us as His brothers & sisters, and will make us whole.

Merry Christmas to us all.

 

Letting our desires be our prayers (homily – Dec. 18, 2016)

Happy Advent! Though it doesn’t quite roll of the tongue as well as other greetings, we are indeed joyful as we enter this final week of preparation for Christ’s Nativity. We’ve now entered into the octave before Christmas, with special prayers as well as antiphons (the “Oh antiphons” to Mary), as we get ready.

One of the joys of priestly and religious life is the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, a set of daily prayers offered at different hours of the day (thus the name) every day. One of the hours, the Office of Readings, not only includes the psalms and other selections from Sacred Scripture but also selections from the Church fathers. Last Thursday’s text was from Saint Augustine and I’d like to share it in it’s entirety:

From a discourse on the Psalms by Saint Augustine, Bishop
The desire of your heart constitutes your prayer

In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. There is a hidden anguish which is inaudible to men. Yet when a man’s heart is so taken up with some particular concern that the hurt inside finds vocal expression, one looks for the reason. And one will say to oneself: perhaps this is what causes his anguish, or perhaps such and such had happened to him. But who can be certain of the cause except God, who hears and sees his anguish? Therefore the psalmist says: In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. For if men hear at all, they usually hear only bodily groaning and know nothing of the anguish of the heart from which it issues.

Who then knows the cause of man’s groaning? All my desire is before you. No, it is not open before other men, for they cannot understand the heart; but before you is all my desire. If your desire lies open to him who is your Father and who sees in secret, he will answer you.

For the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. The Apostle Paul had a purpose in saying: Pray without ceasing. Are we then ceaselessly to bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? Is this what is meant in saying: Pray without ceasing? Even if we admit that we pray in this fashion, I do not believe that we can do so all the time.

Yet there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless. therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire.

The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer. And that voice of your prayer will be silent only when your love ceases. For who are silent? Those of whom it is said: Because evil has abounded, the love of many will grow cold.

The chilling of love means that the heart is silent; while burning love is the outcry of the heart. If your love is without ceasing, you are crying out always; if you always cry out, you are always desiring; and if you desire, you are calling to mind your eternal rest in the Lord.

And all my desire is before you. What if the desire of our heart is before him, but not our groaning? But how is that possible, since the groaning is the voice of our desire? And therefore it is said: My groaning is not concealed from you. It may be concealed from men, but it is not concealed from you. Sometimes God’s servant seems to be saying in his humility: My anguish is not concealed from you. At other times he seems to be laughing. Does that mean that the desire of his heart has died within him? If the desire is there, then the groaning is there as well. Even if men fail to hear it. it never ceases to sound in the hearing of God.

I don’t know how that strikes you, but I imagine I’m not alone in finding Advent to be a mixed blessing. Oh it’s wonderful, to be sure – I delight in the Christmas music (year-round, in fact!), the festive decorations, and the little traditions that our family has for the season.

But Advent is also a pressure cooker, pretty much starting from Thanksgiving and running through Christmas. We’re making preparations, setting up those festive decorations, hosting other people, cooking, preparing rooms, buying presents (and there’s always that one hard-to-please relative!), and…. the list goes.

Dear God, please let it be done!

Of course it’s all blessing, and we are joyful & grateful for both the Advent season and Christ’s Nativity. But I know that for myself, this extra tension allows to surface the problems that during the rest of the year, I can convince myself are under control. Worries, anxieties, frustrations, sins – they’re suddenly much harder to deal with.  “Pray always”? How am I supposed to do that in the middle of all of this?!?

And then along comes St. Augustine with this assertion – that our desires are prayers.

As if to confirm this, the reading given to us for today from Isaiah has this amazing conversation between Ahaz and God. The Lord says “Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!”. And Ahaz answers in a way that resonates deeply with me:

‘Yeah….I’m not gonna trust that. No way – not doing it.’

Even God’s response is relateable, as exasperated, He basically throws His grace and gift not only to Ahaz, but to all of mankind:

Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

How much the Lord wants to hear and answer the desires of our hearts, the longings that we hold within! And while we struggle to keep them hidden, to avoid putting them to words, we meanwhile wonder how to pray, what is the ‘right’ way to present ourselves to God, and question if we’re worthily presenting ourselves to Him.

And this is what the prophet Isaiah and Saint Augustine are addressing – and what the Nativity of the Lord is all about: that God wants to speak to the desires of our heart.

The word ‘desire’ has been twisted in modern times, given the a salacious tenor, and associated with sin – most often tied to sex and commercialism. But every desire, every longing, is rooted in God, starts with the knowledge that I am lacking something and need to be filled from the Source of goodness.

How has Advent been for you? Maybe it’s been good, maybe it’s been a struggle – perhaps you find yourself echoing the doubt of Ahaz amid the invitations of the season: ‘I’m not so sure….this feels selfish, unworthy, unacceptable to God.’

Again and again, the Lord gently offers the invitation to trust Him, to place ourselves unabashedly in His presence, to open our hearts to Him – and to receive the wonders He has prepared for us, wonders beyond our imagining.

This Sunday marks the second day of the octave before Christmas. What are your longings, your desires? How can the Lord answer your prayers? Maybe they’re specific, maybe inarticulate – but that unsettledness is the very prayer the Lord hopes to hear.

Come, let rest in God. Let us we ask Him to speak to our desires, to give us the confidence to present them without fear trusting that even if they are imperfect He will transform them and make them fruitful, and that we may receive Christ, Emmanuel, the answer to prayerful desires.

Honest to God (homily – Nov. 20, 2016)

Today the Church celebrates the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. Though New Years is still a little ways away, we are celebrating the new liturgical year next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent. This Sunday marks the last Sunday of ordinary time and even has a special solemnity assigned to it: the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

The Church has in mind for us to not only look at the end of the year, but also the end of all time, and the end of our lives. Keeping in mind all the mysteries we have celebrated over the liturgical year – Christ’s birth, life, passion, death and resurrection – we consider His return in glory Likewise keeping in mind the entirety of our lives, we consider that day when we will be called to meet Him face to face as king.

Some years ago I was in Mexico and had the chance to visit several old convents and monasteries that, though out of use, were preserved as monuments for both visiting and prayer. While I was there, I noticed something I had never seen before – over the doors leading out of the convent there were etched a skull and crossbones. Up to that point, my experience with that particular symbol was limited to pirate ships….not something generally associated with religious life!

It turns out that the skull and crossbones is attached to a phrase: memento mori (“remember death’). This isn’t meant to be a depressing or scary thing, but rather a reminder that any day could be the day God calls us home. Those walking through those doors were being given a visual reminder to be ready, to live such that death wouldn’t catch them off guard.

This is the sentiment the Church hopes to elicit for us as we celebrate today’s solemnity. …..how’s that going for you?

This week I came across a blog post that relayed a story of a priest. The blogger was talking about how this priest was praying in the chapel. Now we know what that is supposed to look – that our prayers should be edifying, they should be respectful, they should be holy – that we return the gifts and love we have been given to the Lord.

So this priest goes into the chapel, knowing that this is the way he is expected to pray. But however he is doing, whatever is happening in his life, it’s not true for him. We don’t know the particulars of his story, except to say that he can’t do it. So he says what’s on his heart.

“Jesus, I don’t love you.”

And this becomes his prayer. Every day he goes into the chapel and says what’s on his heart: “Jesus, I don’t love you”. He does this for a year and a half….until one day he comes to the chapel and realizes that it wasn’t true anymore. He could present himself honestly and be accepted honestly, and God worked through it with him.1

This is how we get ready for the day when we stand before the Lord: presenting ourselves to Him and saying “this is where I’m at”. Maybe today you’re doing great and where you’re at is total readiness to surrender to God. Perhaps you’re distracted and can’t wait for this homily to be done so you can finally have that bacon that is waiting for you at home. Maybe you came in and the burden of the last week and the coming week are weighing you down mightily. Where ever you are at this moment, the Lord wants to hear about it right now.

It’s telling that on this Sunday, we would hear the Gospel of Jesus on the Cross, the last moments before His death. Almost the entirety of the Gospel focuses on those who are jeering, mocking, and insulting Him – rulers, soldiers, even one of those crucified alongside Jesus. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”

Did you ever notice how throughout the Gospels, Christ never rebukes anyone – anyone! – for speaking to Him disrespectfully? Of all the people who could say ‘you can’t talk to me like that’, Jesus has the most legitimate claim to indignation. And yet, He always receives what is given to Him, even mockery. Jesus wants us to be authentic, to give ourselves as we are.

I wonder what would have happened if the rulers, the soldiers, and that man on the cross had made a habit of coming to Jesus regularly with their disbelief and mockery. What would that have looked like? What healing and conversion might have come about from being accepted even in the apparently ugly honest of doubt and jeers?

We see Christ’s response to that kind of frank honest in that one thief on the other side, who rebukes the mocking thief and makes that key plea of remembrance. His amazing response is what we are left with at the end of the Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

How many of us desire to hear those very words, to be affirmed by Christ Himself, clearly chosen to be with Him in heaven?

How do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ the King? We start by doing it right here and now: to be before the Lord in church, in the car, at work, at home, wherever and say ‘Lord this is me, this is how I am right now. ….will you accept me as I am?’

We are looking to mock or jeer or insult the Lord, but sometimes we have harsh things to say. And may we not be afraid to say even those things to Jesus, because He wants to hear everything we have to say. This is the only way we will be healed and converted: if we invite Christ into every part of who we are.

Today we celebrate the kingship of Christ at the end of this liturgical year. And thank God, we start over again – practice makes perfect and we’ve got practice aplenty with our liturgical cycle! May we end this year and begin the next with total honesty to God. Praising the good, presenting the bad, but giving it all to Him.

May we make ourselves constantly honest with the Lord, and presenting ourselves to Him every day. Then, when the day comes that we stand before Jesus, it will be like every day because we’ve been doing it our entire lives – and there we might here those same words: ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’.


  1. This was actually a story told twice, originally by Joseph Prever at www.stevegershom.com and slightly more recently by Simcha Fisher at www.simchafisher.com. Both posts are excellent – and the blogs are worth visiting on a regular basis!

Sodom & Gomorrah, ‘Our Father’ and mercy (homily – July 24, 2016)

Thanks to the generosity of many generous donors, my seminary has a pilgrimage program for seminarians in their third year. So about ten years ago when I was in my third year, I was able to spend about two and a half months in the Holy Land – a month in Bethlehem, a month in Jerusalem and about two weeks in Nazareth.

Among many neat places was the Dead Sea. The salt content of the Dead Sea is so high that it is toxic to all life. There is so much salt that the floor of the sea is covered in rocks of salt, the size of your fist. Our guide warned us that staying in the water overlong wasn’t advisable, and that we should be especially cautious of getting the water in our eyes. Too much and our vision could be damaged – to the point of blindness even.

Happy swimming!

But swim we did, because there is another, neat thing about the Dead Sea: buoyancy! You practically can’t drown, as even a person with the lowest possible body fat will float with ease. I have a picture of one of my classmates sitting in the water, feet up, with a newspaper in his hands looking for all the world as if he was in a recliner.

Though interesting, these are just details. See, the most significant thing about the Dead Sea is it’s location: it is the site of Sodom and Gomorrah.

If you know a bit about the history of warfare, you might have heard about a particularly thorough method of wiping out one’s enemies. After conquering their soldiers, after burning their villages and farms to the ground, armies would then salt the earth. In this way, they made even their enemy’s land useless: nothing would grow for quite some time after.

This is what has happened at the Dead Sea, and for thousands of years!

Knowing that this is the site of Sodom & Gomorrah, it seems wise to find out what prompted God to deal out such a serious and lasting statement. What were the actions that cried out to God for a response?

If you were to continue to read Genesis past the passage of our reading today, you’d quickly see the nature of the sins – they’re sexual sins. When Abraham and his companions (later revealed to be angels) arrive in Sodom, the entire town accosts them. That’s not hyperbole, by the way: the Scriptures are careful to highlight that every townsman was guilty.

These are the sins that still exist today. So often we dance around sexual sin, so let’s take a moment to name some of the more prevalent sexual sins in the world:

  • pornography
  • masturbation
  • fornication
  • adultery
  • contraception
  • sodomy

These are the sins of Sodom & Gomorrah, and the sins of our time. And they cry out from earth to God for a response.

What is God’s response? We know how Abraham thought God was going to respond – with a blind vengeance that would strike down both innocent & guilty.

There’s a real temptation in that presumption, one that we’ve seen played out over & over. People have heard this story and come to the conclusion that they are empowered, sent forth even, to go out and strike down, to condemn, to vilify anyone who has been part of, anyone who has participated, anyone who has even been tempted by sexual sin.

I know that there are people in our parishes, perhaps who sat next to us at Mass today, who struggle with sexual sins, for whom the sins named above or other sins are an ongoing battle, who are enmeshed in temptation, in a relationship outside of marriage, in a lifestyle that on one hand is clearly sinful and yet on the other hand seems inescapable.

To you first I want to speak. Because it is an undeniable fact that many within the Body of Christ, perhaps even in positions of authority, have made you to feel condemned, have told you that you are not welcome, that you are ‘other’. To you I want to say – on behalf of the Church, on behalf of Her clergy, and on behalf of Her members: I am sorry. For every time that you have been made to feel less than fully welcomed  and at home here in this community, I apologize. This is not the message God has for you, or for anyone.

 

So what is to be our response to grave sin – to the sins that call out for a response? We can look to today’s Gospel, at this moment of Christ’s disciples petition Him to teach them how to pray. And so He teaches them the ‘Our Father’.

Take a moment to consider just those first two words: “Our Father”. How could God bestow His fatherhood on us? We, who are guilty of so many sins – grave sins, no less? The betrayal of misusing God’s gifts, of perverting the treasures He has entrusted to us – these deserve castigation and punishment.

This is the goodness of God on display. In the face of terrible, grave, awful sin – sin that calls from the earth to the heavens for a response from the Creator, His response is ‘I choose you to be my beloved child. I choose to adopt you.’

How do we reconcile this assertion, implicit in the ‘Our Father’, with the reality of Sodom & Gomorrah, with the salted, ruined earth that even when covered in the Dead Sea still now stands lifeless?

I suggest two things for our consideration. The first is this: grave sin doesn’t just destroy our earthly lives – though we can see that it does indeed do that as we observe the rampant depression, suicide rates and ruined families that sexual sin leaves in its wake. But more than that, grave sin destroys souls. God, seeing that grave sin was eating away at the very essence of His beloved children, takes away their earthly lives so that their eternal souls might be saved.

But that isn’t the end! Because we must also consider the prayer that we pray with every rosary – the Apostles Creed. Recall the part where we talk about Christ descending into Hell. We believe that! We truly believe that Christ went into the depths of that inferno, and offered to all who had preceded the Word becoming flesh the chance for salvation.

Those same townsmen who attempted to molest Abraham’s companions, who were destroyed by God, we also chosen as His adopted sons.

This is the response of the Lord. This is what we assert, affirm and celebrate each time we pray the ‘Our Father’.

I’d like to offer three invitations. The first is directed especially to anyone steeped in grave sin, especially sexual sin. To anyone who has wondered if they’re lovable, to anyone who has questioned if God would really forgive the terrible things of their past. To  you especially, I invite you to come to confession.

People at my parishes know that this is my favorite invitation to make, and that I make it often. As a priest it is a special privilege and a particular joy to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation. But even before I was a priest, I was – am –  a sinner. I too know what it is like to question God’s love for me, to carry the secret shame and sorrow of grave sin, and live in a shadow of doubt. Because of confession, I also know the great joy and peace of having those doubts – along with my sins! – washed away. This gift is available to us all.

The second is to those who are living in an irregular situation, in a relationship that is contrary to God’s call. To you I want to extend the invitation to come talk to a priest. Find a priest, your pastor, the parochial vicar, the priest you’ve heard good things about – any priest! – but find one and go speak with him about how the Church can help you, can support you, can assist in making the irregular regular.

And finally to all, the invitation is to pray. Whatever your situation is – whether you’re struggling with sexual sin, whether you’ve never been tempted or you find yourself no longer tempted – the invitation to prayer is universal. Pray that we overcome the temptation and the scandal of divisions against each other. Pray that we may never make anyone ‘other’, that we may never say ‘You aren’t welcome here’ to another person. Pray that those suffering in our very midst may never doubt that God’s love and our love is available to them.

May we reflect the Father’s adoption of us as His by claiming each other as our brothers & sisters. God does hear the cry of the poor, and as we call upon Him as our Father, may we support each other in receiving & rejoicing in His mercy.

Corpus Christi homily (May 29, 2016)

Holy Thursday, Last Supper (Isaac Jogues Missal)
The Last Supper

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi! Today is the celebration of the mystery of the Body & Blood of Christ.

Today’s celebration has a special place in my heart, as it is the anniversary of the first Mass I celebrated after my ordination – or as a friend coined the phrase my ‘liturgical anniversary’.

The feast of Corpus Christi is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Mass. In short: why do we come and celebrate Mass?

A quick answer might simply be ‘because I have to’! Sometimes our default motivation comes from the various shades of pressure, guilt or outside expectation to come to Mass. We may also be driven by our desire for fellowship, prayer, song and inspiration.

Though these are valuable aspects of our celebration, they’re not exclusive to the Mass, right? I mean, we could find fellowship at a BBQ, prayer at a football game, songs in our shower and inspiration from the bookshelf.

At its core, our celebration is about offering sacrifice.

The idea of sacrifice, reasonably, makes us uncomfortable. It calls to mind thoughts of having to give up or lose something, that we’ll be called upon to give our ‘pound of flesh’ as the saying goes.

…. sacrifice implies debt, something we owe to someone else. …. sacrifice is necessary because of sin. We often avoid the language and reality of sacrifice because we want to avoid the reality of sin – that I am a sinner, that you are a sinner, that we all are sinners.

“O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

Do you remember this line? It is from the Exultet – the chant offered at the beginning of the Easter vigil Mass.

“O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

With this one line, after having recounted much of the faults and failings of mankind, we are reminded of God’s great mercy, of His wondrous love for us – incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ.

Yet we can not truly know our Redeemer without acknowledging that we need one.
Tomorrow we celebrate Memorial Day weekend. We honor those who have willingly sacrificed their lives in defense of our lives and freedom. We show our appreciation with a feast, often with a barbeque of some sort, music, fraternity and maybe even a patriotic song or reading.

At some point in the celebration, drinks are passed around – age appropriate, of course! – as someone calls for silence. Particular names of the fallen are shared, and then we raise our glasses in honor of them, and of their comrades. It is a fitting memorial to the brave men and women who offered so much out of love of our country.

In the Usus Antiquior or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, there was a psalm that the priest quoted before receiving communion – a tradition received from the practice of our Jewish forbearers:

“How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me? I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

Sound familiar? We won’t just do that tomorrow for our soldiers – we’ll do that in a few minutes here at this altar. ‘Do this in memory of Me’, He told us. And so we do, at every Mass.

We can’t possibly repay the debt we owe for the forgiveness of our sins – that cost is ever beyond our means. But we have been given a gift that we can worthily offer in our thanksgiving – the gift of Christ Himself, the gift of His perfect self-sacrifice on our behalf: His Body – broken on the battlefield of sin – and His Blood – shed for sin’s forgiveness.

If you find yourself not entirely understanding the Mass and the Eucharist, you’re in good company! It’s all a bit heady, and a lot to take in. Thankfully, complete understanding isn’t necessary to join in the celebration – by God’s grace that may come later. What is necessary, what is vital, is that we enter into this mystery, that we take this cup of salvation, that we offer it to the Lord in thanksgiving and that we receive it with gratitude. May it transform us, so that the sacrifice Jesus made for our us may not be in vain.