The second episode of this first season – or ‘Book 1’, as the series prefers – continues immediately from where we left off previously. We see both Sokka and Zuko more clearly in their roles, and how woefully under-prepared they are for the position they find themselves in. Sokka in the responsibility that lays on his shoulders, Zuko in the power he wields – neither ready for what they hold. And boy are both of them over-zealous in how they handle their problems! Sokka in his nearly immediate exiling of Aang for his mistaken triggering of the flare on the Fire Nation ship, Zuko in his heavy-handed tactics to intimidate a tribe of women and children.
The image of Sokka silhouetted against the approaching Fire Nation ship is striking – here is a kid who can’t win, knows that he is powerless to defend those in his charge, but dang if he isn’t going to stand in front of them until the end. Of course we know that this won’t work, but I couldn’t help but smile with him when his boomerang lands a lucky blow against Zuko – who otherwise has the upper hand in every possible way.
Despite his exile, Aang returns to defend the village (was there any doubt he would?), and we’re confronted with another child who is in over his head. “You’re just a child!” says Zuko, to which Aang retorts “Well, you’re just a teenager!”. Yup. Aang’s approach – to surrender in exchange for the village’s safety – is the logical, if inevitable conclusion to the confrontation. Equally inevitable is the pursuit by Katara & Sokka, amusingly punctuated by the proof that Appa is indeed a flying bison – along with Aang’s easy escape.
A couple of light moments I especially enjoyed were right in the midst of the escape. Sokka’s triple prodding of Zuko, knocking him off the ship, was a nice reversal after Zuko did the same to him as he tried to defend his village. Similarly, I chuckled at Katara’s pragmatic acceptance of her limits: If you can only fire freezing water backwards, face away from your enemies! Problem solved – at least for this round.
It’s notable that Aang, too, is a boy with more going on than he knows how to handle. Though he escapes the guards with ease and defeats Zuko handily, if less confidently, the entire encounter reveals the truth behind his previous hesitancy: he doesn’t want to be the Avatar. As he recovers from going into the Avatar State during his escape, his response to Katara’s confusion is telling: “Why didn’t you tell us you were the Avatar? Because…. I never wanted to be.”
Our heroes set off to get Aang the training he needs – albeit with a several detours for ‘serious business’ at Aang’s request. Given the revelation of Aang’s reluctance, it’s not hard to guess that perhaps these detours are deliberate distractions – the question is, how do you force someone to be the Avatar?
(It’s worth noting that this episode’s opening sequence is the one that we’ll see for the rest of the series – and that all but one of the benders we see depicting each tribe will eventually be revealed as a major character. The pilot episode had a longer opening and omitted any visual of Aang, presumably to allow us to meet him for the first time inside the show. Also, in the first episode I wondered at Katara’s ‘ruthless Fire Benders’ remark in the opening sequence – no longer present in this shortened version – will this bear true if/when we learn about the Fire Nation, or is this the bias of an opposing tribe?)
The pilot of Avatar: The Last Airbender stands up well as an establishing episode. I’ve watched this series several times now and I’m still impressed at how the show puts its best foot forward right from the beginning.
This is evident first in the opening sequence. Nowadays it seems that television shows eschew narrated opening sequences, but this wasn’t the case before the turn of the century. However, most of the time this was a mark against the show, not a statement in its favor. Notable exceptions were the Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation series (a trend that ended with TNG, I believe) – though I may be biased due to my affection for Trek.
What I love about this shows introduction sequence is that it isn’t just a filler for credits; it introduces you to the world you’re entering, the major factions, the historical backdrop, and a brief montage of the main characters. The only other animated introduction that has impressed me with its ability to do this so well is the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist series.
Also notable from the introduction is the art style of this series. Although Nickelodeon takes its artistic cues from Japanese anime, this is clearly American animation. Additionally, it’s interesting to see the styles of familiar famous anime – notably Hayao Miyazaki – combined with digital animation. On one hand, I find the digital insertions to be a bit jarring. The movement from the drawn map of the world to the digitally placed ships of the Fire Nation shows the stark difference of a softly drawn world and the hard lines of computer rendering. However, the animators seem to have only rarely used digital animation and to good effect overall.
Alright, to the episode. The episode introduces us to our main characters by establishing dual plotlines. We’re first introduced to Katara & Sokka, out fishing for their village. Right off the bat, you’re reminded that this show is geared towards kids as we are thrust into a typical brother/sister teasing, joking, whining, pseudo-fighting scene. But what sets this otherwise mundane drama apart is the undertone of tension (and perhaps even tragedy) in the reality that these two are responsible for their tribe in a largely troubled world.
I really appreciate the alternating plots between character pairs. Katara & Sokka are contrasted with Uncle Iroh and Prince(?!) Zuko. It’s quickly apparent that despite the differing cultures and settings, they’re complementary sets. Katara is to Sokka as Iroh is to Zuko. Both Sokka and Zuko are young men thrust into responsibility before they have the experience to handle it. Katara and Iroh are the calming, mature influences that temper them and provide a reflective counterpoint to the rashness of the boys they accompany, though not without faults of their own.
Having established the four main characters, we’re introduced to Aang and Appa (his flying bison, though the descriptor has yet to be proven!) towards the end of the episode. Though we the audience know that we’re meeting the titular character, his discoverers (Katara & Sokka) are yet ignorant. The beacon of light alerts Zuko and by extension, Iroh, to his awakening. After Aang’s introduction to the village, he and Katara accidentally set off a trap in a derelict Fire Nation ship, giving Zuko the location of Aang and the Southern Water Tribe’s village – and sets the stage for the conflict between our paired protagonists and antagonists.
Throughout all of this, we are introduced to a number of themes that are especially promising: Aang’s guilty evasion of questions about the Avatar, how he and Appa came to be encased in ice, the question of Aang being the ‘last’ airbender and the significance of that to others and for him, Zuko’s status (honor-bound?) and why he has been searching (and for so long, apparently) for the Avatar, Zuko’s constant state of anger, and Katara & Sakko’s backstory as to how they came to be in charge of their village.
It’s a strong start to the series, with foreshadowing for everyone involved. If the series can make good on these threads, we’re in for a fun ride.
01 – The Boy in the Iceberg: While out fishing, Katara and Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe make a discovery that may bring hope to a world torn by war and division.
02 – The Avatar Returns: After the flare sent from the derelict Fire Nation ship, the Southern Water Tribe must prepare for the possibility that not only they, but the newly discovered Avatar might be revealed.
03 – The Southern Air Temple: Aang takes Katara and Sokka to the Southern Air Temple, where he was trained in airbending. Meanwhile, Zuko must face off with another who is interested in the search for the Avatar.
04 – The Warriors of Kyoshi: Warrior women rule an island founded by a previous incarnation of the Avatar – but how will they regard the new (and reluctant) Avatar?
It’s a great joy to be with you all this weekend. With our priest rotation schedule, I look forward to my quarterly Masses here and I was excited to see that I’d be coming up in the Christmas season. It is good to be with you.
During this time, we spend the holidays with family and it seems especially appropriate that the solemnity of the Holy Family lands as it does. Folks come from far away or after much time to be with us and we with them. And generally speaking, it’s a good time….but not without it’s difficulties either! There is no one like family that can push our buttons, no?
So it’s good that we have this solemnity and this opportunity to reflect on the Holy Family. Because there is something amazing going on here, in the birth of Christ, in the Word made flesh.
When we talk about God, we often (rightly!) dwell on how immense, how grand, how far beyond us He is. There is so much that we don’t understand – though there are hundreds (thousands?) of books written about God in general and each of the three Persons of the Trinity. And yet, all of those books only capture a tiny fraction of the wholeness of God. And yet, this God who can not be contained becomes one of us. He becomes a child, an infant.
Over the holidays, I was able to spend time with my own family. We had a particular celebration with my brother and sister-in-law, who have been expecting for quite a while and finally welcomed their second son (Oliver) the week before Christmas. Our family gathered around them after Christmas to meet him and celebrate with them.
As he made his way from person to person, I got a chance to hold the little guy myself. If you’ve ever held a child, you’ll probably agree that one of the immediate impressions is how fragile infants are! Everything about them is miniature, vulnerable. And in their state of complete dependence – only able to eat, sleep, and fill their diapers – they are yet a great gift.
Having passed through that time in life and entered into adulthood, I don’t know if I would willingly go back into such a time where I was so vulnerable – being clothed, held, wiped, and fed by another, totally dependent on those around me.
Now consider God – Him who created us, Who formed all of creations – and He becomes an infant. He becomes vulnerable, breakable, contained, a little child. Consider the great humility and love that He must have!
I was online this week and came across a quote from my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, from his book The Weight of Glory:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
Do you think of yourself that way? When you look in the mirror, do you see an everlasting splendor? Too often, don’t we instead look in the mirror and see a litany of flaws and critiques? So too we have a similar litany about others.
This is why the Word became Man. This is why Jesus came to us, humbling Himself to enter our family – not only the Holy Family, but the human family. So that we might recognize in Christ Himself, in His great love for us, that we are beloved, that we are treasured, that we are not ‘mere mortals’ – that we are sons and daughters of God.
Why does Jesus enter into the human family? So that one day we might be made ready, be made worthy, and eagerly so, enter into the family of God!
I don’t know if we’ll ever hold Jesus as a baby, or what Heaven will be like. But we each have the opportunity to hold Christ right here at the altar, again we find Him vulnerable, easily broken. God who can not be contained, who can not be held in any building or even all of Creation, chooses to come in our midst in the celebration of the Mass.
When you hold the Eucharist in your hands or on your tongue, think how fragile, how easily broken, desecrated, spilled, or even crushed underfoot He could be! Why does He risk this? Because in the best of moments, when we receive worthily, when we invite Jesus into our bodies and hearts, we allow Him to transform us – as the Word became Man we become one with God.
This is the mystery we celebrate in Christmas, in the Holy Family, in every Mass. Are you willing to become as vulnerable as Jesus? Perhaps not yet! But this is the invitation of Jesus – that we would place ourselves entirely in God’s hands, presenting even those parts that are yet shameful, sinful, needing healing. Jesus humbly presents Himself in the hopes that we might be inspired to trust Him enough to do the same in return.
May we ask Him to help us. That we would allow Him to be part of our family, and that we might take Him up on the invitation to be part of the family of God. May we hold Christ near to our hearts – and allow Him to hold us near His.
Due to the nature of this homily, I’m uploading all three English homilies, as each is somewhat tailored to the congregation to which it was preached. The text of this homily (below) is offered as an amalgamation of the three.
I have been dreading this Sunday. Not only for the announcement of the closure and sale of Sacred Heart parish in Winlock, but because of the Gospel today.
At the beginning of this week, I was with some priest friends and we were talking about the readings, especially this lesson from Jesus. The Gospel is especially convicting as Jesus asks “Which of the two did the will of the father?” The crowd answers that the first did, the one who said ‘no’, but then changed his mind. Hearing the Gospel, I am faced with the conviction that I am not the first son.
The office of the priest is threefold: to preach, sanctify, and govern. The first office is to preach. I’ve heard people tell me nice things about my homilies, that they are pretty good, that they look forward to them. And that’s nice to hear, I must admit. I even have extra help: I was ordained on the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, who is also my confirmation saint. He was famous for being a great preacher, so much so that he was called ‘the Golden Tongue. I suppose I have no excuse for failing to preach well.
But I don’t preach the truth to you.
I am afraid that if I were to preach the truth you, you wouldn’t like anything I have to say. If I were to preach the truth to you, I would talk to you about how I’ve seen our community struggle with deep sexual sins that we just don’t talk about – sexual sins, especially pornography and masturbation, along with other impure acts. Sins that are afflicting all ages, even down to our school children.
If I were to preach the truth, I would talk to you about the scourge of contraception, that is being practiced even by people in this room, and that that practice is being actively taught to their children. I would talk to you about how our priest shortage is a direct result of contracepting entire generations out of existence.
If I were to preach the truth, I would talk to you about how I’ve watched our young people, our couples, struggle with the lack of support in our parishes. I would tell you that the groups that do exist are either dying from lack of membership or seem to those who want to join to be impenetrable.
If I were to preach the truth, I would speak about fact that so many of us here never receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. I would speak about those who come up every Sunday with their arms folded, living in a state of sin, but doing nothing to change their lives, to regularize their marriages, or to ask for help in avoiding the sins that enslave them. I would speak of parents, families who prefer to wait years to baptize their children so they can save money for a lavish party – meanwhile leaving their children separated from the Body of the Lord and the grace that is offered by the sacrament.
If I were to preach the truth, I would tell you that Saint Joseph parish is regarded as the least welcoming parish in all of Lewis county – that the common consensus at other parishes is that it is only open because it is ‘too big to fail’. I would talk about how in our parish it is possible for a visitor to walk in to Mass and not be welcomed by a parishioner nor be missed when they walk out.
If I were to preach the truth, I would tell you that Saint Mary parish is considered the most stubborn and angry parish in our cluster. I would preach about the fact that the most excitement and enthusiasm here is in defending itself against change – and that the most fervent conversation, sustained for two years no less, has been whether or not to buy a refrigerator.
But I do not speak these things. Like the second son, I avoid the hard work of doing Lord’s will, simply saying ‘Yes sir’. But I’ll tell you this – I do not think I’m the only one here that is like the second son.
“. . . .tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Because they heard the call, recognized their neediness, and they converted.
It is not enough to claim that ‘I am Catholic’, ‘I go to Sunday Mass’, ‘I pray’, ‘I volunteer’, and that therefore ‘I’m good’. Jesus responds ‘Really? Are you sure?’
If you’re like me, you were probably baptized Catholic as an infant. You didn’t really even choose to be Catholic at first – you just woke up one day as a member of the Body of Christ. A gift, to be sure, but one that we didn’t actively pursue. As for me, even my priesthood and my pastorate has been given to me. Everything we have has been given to us.
And yet, we cling to the illusion that we are the first son, that we’re righteous, that we’re good enough. And yet Jesus challenges us: ‘Are you sure? Because it sounds a lot like you’re saying ‘Yes sir’ and then not doing my Father’s will.’
A great consolation in this is that we are not alone in being reluctant to do the Father’s will. Christ Himself – Christ who came into our midst, who knew from the very beginning of His ministry that He would have to suffer & die on our behalf, Who desperately wanted to achieve our salvation – at the Garden of Gethsemane pleaded with the Father “Let this cup pass me by – yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
How many of us only pray the first half of that prayer?
In a few moments we’ll celebrate the liturgy of the Eucharist. We’ll bring up simple elements of bread and wine to be transformed into the greatest gift we receive: the Body and Blood of Christ. And God offers to transform and purify everything we offer Him.
The lesson of the Gospel, the lesson of Christ, the lesson that is offered to us Sunday after Sunday, is that there is no heart that can not be converted except the heart that doesn’t ask for it. We have to ask. We have to admit that we don’t want to do the Father’s will – and ask Him to convert that reluctance.
May we confess today, offer here at this altar, the hardness of our hearts. Let us just be honest and say ‘Lord, I am not faithful; please make me faithful.’ This is the invitation of the Lord. He doesn’t just want our words, ‘yes sir’, He wants our willingness – to do our Father’s work. That we might glorify Him and that we might glory in His willingness to help us to do His Father’s will.
Yo he estado temiendo este Domingo. No solamente por el anuncio del cierre y la venta de la parroquia del Sagrado Corazón en Winlock, pero por el Evangelio de hoy.
En la empieza de esta semana, estaba con mis amigos – otros sacerdotes de la arquidiócesis. Estábamos hablando de las lecturas, especialmente esta lección de Jesús. Dijo Jesús: “‘¿Cuál de los dos hizo la voluntad del padre?’”. En nuestra conversación, me daba pena que no estoy el segundo.
El sacerdocio tiene la triple función de predicar, santificar y gobernar – la primera es de predicar – proclamando la verdad a la gente, especialmente por el sermón en la Misa. Yo tengo ayuda extra, porque mi patrón de Confirmación es el San Antonio de Padua. Él era un monje, famoso por su talento de proclamar el Evangelio con fuerza y claridad – tanto que recibió el nombre ‘El Lengua de Oro’. ¡De hecho, yo era ordinado el día de su fiesta! No tengo excusa para fallar en predicar bien.
Muchas veces he oído cumplidos de ustedes diciendo que han disfrutado mis sermones – y me da alegría oírlo. Ustedes digan que hablo bien en estos. Pero quiero decirles hoy que no es cierto. No hablo la Verdad. Tengo miedo de hablarla, de decirles lo que ustedes realmente necesitan oír aquí Misa.
Si yo estuviera el buen hijo del Padre, hablaría de los verdaderos problemas de nuestra comunidad. Yo hablaría del problema de pecados sexuales con que tantos de nuestros miembros, nuestros hijos, nuestros niños están luchando. Yo hablaría de las enfermedades de la pornografía, de la masturbación, y otros actos impuros. Yo hablaría de la plaga la anticoncepción – que tantos han usado – que, por su uso, hemos abortado una generación de los que pudieron ser nuestras familiares, nuestras sacerdotes, nuestros amigos.
Yo hablaría del hecho que tantos de nosotros aquí nunca reciben los sacramentos – que tantos vienen cada domingo con brazos cruzados, viviendo en un estado de pecado, pero haciendo nada para cambiar sus vidas, arreglar sus matrimonios, o pedir ayuda en evitando los pecados que los esclavan. Yo hablaría de los padres, las familias que por su preferencia de tener una fiesta grande esperan por años para bautizar sus niños – dejándoles aparte del Cuerpo del Señor y la gracia que es ofrecido por el sacramento.
Pero no hablo estas cosas. Como el niño primero, evito la voluntad del Señor, diciendo simplemente ‘ya voy, Señor’.
Pero les digo esto – no creo que yo estoy él solo aquí que esta como el primero hijo.
“Yo les aseguro que los publicanos y las prostitutas se les han adelantado en el camino del Reino de Dios.” ¿Por qué? Porque ellos han oído la invitación de Jesús y han confesado que necesitan la ayuda para cambiar sus vidas, para convertir sus corazones.
No es suficiente decir ‘yo soy católico’. Creo que la mayoridad de nosotros recibimos nuestro bautizo cuando estábamos niños – no era nuestra decisión, y no es un crédito para nosotros que hemos recibido los dones de la fe. Y no podemos decir ‘yo vengo a Misa, yo digo el rosario, yo estoy justificado’.
Jesús responde a nuestra pretensión – ‘¿es eso así?’ Hay muchas pruebas de lo contrario. Estamos más como el primero niño que queremos reconocer.
Pero tenemos un gran consuelo: que el Señor Jesús ha experimentado nuestra renuencia, nuestro miedo. En Getsemaní, la noche ante de su Pasión – aunque Él sabía la victoria que iba a tener sobra la muerte, el oró a Dios: “Padre mío, si es posible, que pase lejos de mí este cáliz, pero no se haga mi voluntad, sino la tuya.” ¿Cuantos de nosotros oran la primera parte de esta oración, sino la segunda?
Esto es la invitación del Evangelio – de hoy, de cada día. Que confesamos que no queremos hacer la voluntad del Señor. Que decimos al Señor ‘He oído que quieres que yo cambio mi vida, pero necesito tu ayuda, necesito que cambias mi voluntad.’ Necesitamos ofrecer nuestra en este altar, aquí, hoy, cada Misa.
Nosotros si estamos como el primero niño. Pero hay una esperanza del Señor que un día nosotros vamos confesar y pedir su ayuda. En este momento, Él va a enviar su Espíritu Santo para cambiar nuestra comunidad, nuestras familias, nuestros corazones. Solamente necesitamos pedir que nosotros, en este Misa, en esta celebración, en este altar, ofrecemos la verdad honestamente que ‘no tengo en mi voluntad la fuerza para hacer lo que pides – pero con su ayuda puedo seguir su ejemplo.’
Y el Señor va a responder ‘Por supuesto Yo voy a ayudarte, Yo voy a enviar mi Espíritu Santo.’ Esto es lo que es ser discípulos. Esto es lo que es necesitamos hacer: confesar que estamos débil. Pero por la esfuerza, el poder del Señor, podemos ser fiel.
For the graduate studies of my seminary formation, I went to Mundelein seminary. In light of the readings for this weekend, two memories come to mind that I’d like to share.
Some background that may be helpful to know – by the time I had gotten to graduate studies, I had quite a chip on my shoulder about Catholic universities. I hadn’t had the greatest of college experiences and so my default status was one of skepticism – that these people leading my formation would probably be an obstacle rather than a help! Not the greatest of attitudes, to say the least, and it led me into a number of bad habits right off the bat: I gave myself license to skip out on a class here or there, avoid conferences, sleep in for morning prayer, and even skip daily Mass – none of which was optional!
Some time after this became a habit, after lunch (which, of course, I never skipped!), one of my classmates comes to my room, closes the door, sits down and says ‘we need to talk’. ….this is never a good sign.
I don’t recall how he phrased it exactly, but the essential message was ‘why are you here?’. He kindly but bluntly highlighted all of the habits I’ve just mentioned and let me know that it was clear that something was going on – and that I needed to face up to it.
I’d like to say that I responded with humility and grace, accepting the truth of his assessment, and thanking him for bringing it all to me as he did. I’d like to say that. The best I can say is that I didn’t react explosively, but rather sort of sullenly, holding back whatever reaction I had and hoping he would quit talking and leave – which he eventually did.
Of course, he was right – and the truth of that didn’t escape me, despite my brave face. Things didn’t change overnight, but I slowly started to address the things he brought up – especially with the help of my friends, one of which eventually was this very classmate.
Hearing the first reading today, where the Lord gives that exhortation to speak out to the wicked, I have to wonder what it must have been like for my classmate – who wasn’t (yet) my friend, but who gathered the courage to walk into a stranger’s room and have a hard conversation.
I think we’ve all had that impulse, that call, when we need to go to someone and speak that truth they don’t want to hear. And yet, the exhortation of the Lord is very clear: ‘I will give you what to say – and if I tell you that someone is going astray, and you don’t speak out, they’ll die for their sins – but I will hold you accountable. On the other hand, if you speak out and they still don’t change their ways, while they will die, you will be exonerated because you spoke the truth.’
This is Christian love – this is what we are called to do. But even now, as a priest no less, this call still twists my guts when I receive it. There is yet the hesitation in my heart, and I think, all of us.
We don’t get to just dismiss this as Old Testament rhetoric, as if that law is no longer applicable to followers of Jesus (a terrible attitude anyway). But also, as if to rebuke that temptation directly, Jesus speaks to this in the Gospel reading we hear today. If a brother sins against us, what are we to do – well, He says that first we go to him privately, charitably to raise the issue. And if that doesn’t work, our work isn’t done but rather we are to go back with two or three witnesses. If this yet fails, we bring the Church into the matter!
Only then do we get to stop trying to approach them in that way. But even in the way Jesus directs us from that point – ‘treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector’ – is not one of dismissal. Because to whom did Jesus give special attention to, if not Gentiles & tax collectors…among many other outcasts, sinners, and exiles. So too, our work is not yet done.
There’s a humility that is required in being one who goes to someone else and makes the claim that you see something wrong and that you have the truth of the matter. I think we rightfully tremble at assuming that position, because we naturally ask ‘who am I to do this?’. And the reverse is true as well. To have someone come to me and tell me ‘you’ve offended me, you’ve sinned, you’re on the wrong path’ – that’s not something I want to hear! …and yet, I need that too. We all need it.
The second memory that comes to mind in light of the readings is another memory from Mundelein seminary. It was the weekend I went there, well before the events of this encounter with my classmate. I was present to do my entrance interviews. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Mundelein seminary hosts the Liturgical Institute.
This was an initiative by Cardinal George to help train not just future priests but any interested layperson about the treasures of the liturgy. And every weekend the Liturgical Institute takes responsibility for the Masses offered at the seminary – the result of which is the highest of liturgies, with all the stops pulled out.
So I’m at this beautiful Mass, with incense, chant, beautifully sung hymns, and all sorts of glorious tradition on display that I’d never really encountered before. And it was awesome. But what really made an impression was at the calling of the Holy Spirit down upon the bread and wine, as the deacon knelt down. It struck me then – and strikes me every time at Mass – that not just him, but all of us are being called to humility, are practicing humility, at every celebration. The people are kneeling, the deacon kneels a few moments later, and the priest himself genuflects not once, not twice, but three times throughout the course of the Eucharistic prayer, all acknowledging the Word made flesh in our midst.
We are called to humility, right here at Mass. And it is meant to be a gift to us, a help to us. We reasonably ask how we can embrace humility, how we can accept the responsibility to humbly call others to humility, how can we humbly accept when other’s make that call of us? How do I do that well? And yet, here at Mass, we are being trained.
If that were not enough, we have the example of Christ Himself. Based on His own merits, Christ had no reason to embrace humility. He could have just shown up in glory and announced His divinity. But instead He slowly enters into our midst, shows up meekly as a child, comes as one of us. He demonstrates His glory, bit by bit in His life and then in dying a death like ours. It is not until His resurrection that His glory is made clear to us.
We hear Saint Paul today exhort us to love one another – that all of the law is encompassed in love. Not that rules don’t matter, but that if we move in love for each other, the rest will come naturally. Even in the hard things of correcting and being corrected, love is the guiding principle.
As we celebrate Mass, standing together in prayer, kneeling together in humility, coming forward for communion, let us ask the Lord for humility. And yes, this is a dangerous prayer – because He’ll give it to us! But it is a gift, a grace – and we can trust that this is so because Christ led the way.
The point is not that we should sit and beat our breast at how lowly we are; the Lord does not desire that we live in humiliation. He desires to show us the way to life, to resurrection, to glory. This is Christian love, this is the call we receive. And if we don’t know how to do it, let us ask for that gift! God will guide us, gently though firmly. Christ shows us the way, so that we might first receive His friendship and having been so led, that we might share that friendship – in both hard and joyful moments – with all.
Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh
Jesus Christ, incarnate by the Holy Spirit
Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary
Jesus Christ, baptized by John in the Jordan
Jesus Christ, beginning His ministry at Cana
Jesus Christ, healing the sick and rebuking demons
Jesus Christ, forgiving the sinner
Jesus Christ, persecuted
Jesus Christ, celebrating the Last Supper
Jesus Christ, arrested
Jesus Christ, suffering
Jesus Christ, crucified
Jesus Christ, suffering death
Jesus Christ, entombed for three days
Jesus Christ, risen from the dead
Jesus Christ, sending breathing on the Apostles
Jesus Christ, ascending into heaven
Jesus Christ, sending His Holy Spirit
Jesus Christ, returning in glory
Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father
Letting the name of Jesus Christ settle into our hearts this morning, I’d like to turn for a moment to a more mundane topic, though it’s near to my heart too: brussels sprouts.
The reason I bring them up is that I see a pretty clear connection with Jesus. See, I love brussels sprouts. It starts with my father and a dish that he has prepared at our family Thanksgiving celebration for as long as I can remember. It’s fairly simple: obviously you start with brussels sprouts, along with broccoli and cauliflower. You boil them for just under ten minutes and then toss them in a sauce made up of butter, honey-Dijon mustard, lemon juice, marjoram, garlic, capers, along with a touch of salt & pepper.
It’s my favorite vegetable dish. In fact, it’s so popular in our family that all of us regularly insist not only that it be made at Thanksgiving, but that it be made several times throughout the year. I’ve grown up with a special fondness of brussels sprouts as a result.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out that brussels sprouts aren’t actually a popular vegetable. Some folks outright refuse to touch them, with one of my friends referring to them as ‘stinky feet’. I guess that’s a reference to how they think they smell?1My friend has since corrected me – she calls them ‘stinky toes’, alluding to her impression of both the sight & smell of brussels sprouts!
It turns out that my father has gotten me – has gotten our whole family – into loving the most disliked vegetable out there. I’ve been tricked!
The prophet Jeremiah has a similar moment in today’s reading: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”
Jeremiah has reason to be frustrated. If we go back to his call to be a prophet, we are reminded of his original hesitant response: ‘I don’t know about this Lord – I don’t know how to speak. I’m too young!’ To which, the Lord replies simply: ‘Don’t tell me you’re too young. You’ll go where I send you and say what I command. And I will put my words in your mouth!’
So Jeremiah does what the Lord asks – and finds it to be both easy to do and hard to take. He does indeed preach the Truth, but time and time again, those to whom he is proclaiming God’s will reject Jeremiah, rebuke him, persecute him. And so Jeremiah questions, wonders what God is doing.
We don’t get off lightly ourselves. In fact, at baptism we are anointed not in one ministry but in three – as priest, prophet, and king – according to the threefold ministry of Christ Himself. In some ways, Jeremiah had it easy compared us!
“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” – darn straight! These could be the words of any Christian, wondering at what God is doing with us, to us.
Lord, I’m too young, too old, too sinful, too weak, too afraid. Lord, I just don’t know what to say.
And yet, the Lord reassures us as He reassured Jeremiah: “Before you were formed in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” And Christ Himself reassures us: “….do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.”
And the Lord has put His word into our mouths – the Word made flesh, incarnate by the Holy Spirit, baptized by John in the Jordan, Who began His ministry at Cana, Who healed the sick and rebuking demons, Who forgave the sinner, Who was persecuted, Who celebrated the Last Supper, Who was arrested, Who suffered, died, and rose again, Who breathed on the Apostles, Who sent His Holy Spirit, Who will return in glory, Who is seated at the right hand of the Father.
That Word is Jesus, Who will be placed into our mouths right here at this Mass. Jesus is the first Word, the last Word, the only Word that we need.
It is so tempting to dwell in hesitancy, in worry, in fear of God’s call. Saint Peter himself, along with the Apostles, was overcome with the fearful lies that Satan whispers in each of our hearts.
And so we call on the name of Jesus – to rebuke Satan as He did in that moment on Peter’s behalf, now asking Him to rebuke Satan’s whispered discouragement to us. In Jesus name we renounce the lie that we are too young, that we are too old, that we are too sinful, that we are too weak, that we can be controlled by fear. Let us focus not on the lies of Satan, but on the name of Jesus.
And let us receive the Word made flesh, made present in this Mass at this altar. Let that Word be the only one we rely on, that we proclaim, in which we put our trust. Let us receive the Word that nourishes us and proclaim His goodness to a world that desperately thirsts without knowing why. Let us proclaim the one Word that has the power to fulfill every desire: Jesus Christ.
Jesucristo, la Palabra hecho carne
Jesucristo, encarnado por el Espíritu Santo
Jesucristo, nacido de la Virgen María
Jesucristo, bautizado por Juan en el Jordán
Jesucristo, comenzando su ministerio en Caná
Jesucristo, sanando a los enfermos y reprendiendo a los demonios
Jesucristo, perdonando al pecador
Jesucristo, celebrando la Última Cena
Jesucristo, sufriendo la muerte
Jesucristo, sepultado durante tres días
Jesucristo, resucitado de entre los muertos
Jesucristo, enviando respiración sobre los Apóstoles
Jesucristo, ascendiendo al cielo
Jesucristo, enviando Su Espíritu Santo
Jesucristo, regresando en gloria
Jesucristo, sentado a la diestra del Padre
Dejando que el nombre de Jesucristo se asiente en nuestros corazones esta mañana, me gustaría dedicarme un momento a un tema más mundano, aunque también está cerca de mi corazón: las coles de Bruselas.
La razón por la que los planteo es que veo una conexión bastante clara con Jesús. Me encanta las coles de Bruselas. Comienza con mi padre y un plato que él ha preparado en nuestra celebración de la día de Gracias de nuestra familia por todo tiempo como puedo recordar. Es bastante simple: obviamente empiezas con coles de Bruselas, junto con brócoli y coliflor. Se hierve por poco menos de diez minutos y luego tirarlos en una salsa de mantequilla, miel de mostaza Dijon, jugo de limón, mejorana, ajo, alcaparras, junto con un toque de sal y pimienta.
Es mi plato de verduras favorito. De hecho, es tan popular en nuestra familia que todos nosotros insistimos regularmente no sólo que se haga en el día de Gracias, sino que se haga varias veces durante todo el año. Por eso, he crecido con un cariño especial de coles de Bruselas.
No fue hasta que yo era un adulto que me enteré de que las coles de Bruselas no son realmente un vegetal popular. Algunas personas se niegan rotundamente a tocarlas, con uno de mis amigos refiriéndose a ellos como “pies malolientes”. ¿Supongo que es una referencia a cómo creen que huelen?2Mi amigo me corrigió después de oír sobre este sermón – ella los llama “dedos de los pies apestosos”, aludiendo a su impresión de la vista y olor de coles de Bruselas.
Resulta que mi padre me ha engañado – le ha engañado a toda nuestra familia – en el amor de la más desagradable verdura por ahí. ¡Me han engañado!
El profeta Jeremías tiene un momento similar en la lectura de hoy: “Me sedujiste, Señor, y me dejé seducir.”
Jeremías tiene razones para sentirse frustrado. Si leemos de su llamado a ser profeta, nos recuerda su respuesta vacilante original: “No sé acerca de este Señor – no sé cómo hablar. ¡Soy demasiado joven! A lo que el Señor responde simplemente: ‘No me digas que eres demasiado joven. Irás a donde te envíe y dirás lo que mando. Y pondré mis palabras en tu boca.’”
Así que Jeremías hizo lo que el Señor pide – y encontró que es fácil de hacer y difícil también. De hecho, él predicó la Verdad, pero aquellos a quienes proclamó la voluntad de Dios rechazaban a Jeremías, lo reprendieren, lo persiguieren. Y así Jeremías se preguntó, se preguntó qué está haciendo Dios.
Creo que nosotros tenemos la misma llamada. De hecho, en el bautismo no somos ungidos en un solo ministerio sino en tres – como sacerdote, como profeta y como rey – según el ministerio triple de Cristo mismo. Jeremías lo había comparado con nosotros.
“Me sedujiste, Señor, y me dejé seducir.” Estas podrían ser las palabras de cualquier cristiano, preguntándose qué es lo que Dios está haciendo con nosotros.
Señor, soy demasiado joven, demasiado viejo, demasiado pecador, demasiado débil, demasiado asustado. Señor, no sé qué decir.
Y sin embargo, el Señor nos tranquiliza con las mismas palabras con que el tranquilizó a Jeremías: “Antes de que fueras formado en el vientre, te conocí, antes de que nacieras te he dedicado, un profeta a las naciones que te he designado.” Y Cristo mismo nos tranquiliza: “… .no te preocupes por cómo debes hablar o por lo que vas a decir. Se le dará en ese momento lo que debe decir.”
Y el Señor ha puesto su palabra en nuestras bocas, el Verbo hecho carne, encarnado por el Espíritu Santo, bautizado por Juan en el Jordán, que comenzó su ministerio en Caná, que curó a los enfermos y reprendió a los demonios, que perdonó al pecador, fue perseguido, Quien celebró la Última Cena, Quien fue arrestado, Quien sufrió, murió y resucitó, Quien sopló sobre los Apóstoles, El que envió Su Espíritu Santo, El que regresará en gloria, Quien está sentado a la derecha del Padre .
Esa Palabra es Jesús, que será puesto en nuestras bocas aquí en esta Misa. Jesús es la primera Palabra, la última Palabra, la Palabra única que necesitamos.
La tentación que enfrontemos es vivir en la vacilación, en la preocupación, en el temor de la llamada de Dios. San Pedro, junto con los Apóstoles, fue influenciado por las terribles mentiras que Satanás susurra en cada uno de nuestros corazones.
Y así invocamos el nombre de Jesús – para reprender a Satanás como lo hizo en ese momento en nombre de Pedro, ahora pidiéndole que reprenda el desánimo susurrado de Satanás a nosotros. En el nombre de Jesús renunciamos a la mentira de que somos demasiado jóvenes, que somos demasiado viejos, que somos demasiado pecaminosos, que somos demasiado débiles, que podemos ser controlados por el miedo. No nos concentremos en las mentiras de Satanás, sino en el nombre de Jesús.
Y recibamos el Verbo hecho carne, presente en esta Misa en este altar. Que esa Palabra sea la única en la que confiamos, que proclamamos, en la que confiamos. Recibamos la Palabra que nos alimenta y proclama su bondad a un mundo que desesperadamente quiere aunque no sabe por qué. Proclamemos la única Palabra que tiene el poder de cumplir cada deseo: Jesucristo.
Today’s antiphon for the beginning of the Mass reads “Turn your ear, O Lord, and answer me; save the servant who trusts in you, my God. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to you all the day long.”
I’d like to start this homily by sharing a story with you that relates to this antiphon in particular, and it starts with this little thing I’m holding in my hand – an oil stock.
You all are aware that every Holy Thursday the (arch)bishop blesses the oils that are used throughout the year. There is the Oil of Catechumens which is used for those to be baptized, there is the Sacred Chrism which is used at baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations, and there is the Oil of the Infirm, which is used to anoint the sick.
Most of us priests have what are called oil stocks, which is this little metal container that has a little cotton swab soaked with the latter oil – if you were to look closely you could see the little ‘OI’ engraved in this oil stock. We carry these around, usually in our cars or our pockets for the emergency call or request from a parishioner.
This particular oil stock has a special significance for me, because it was given to me under special circumstances that I’d like to share with you.
The story of this oil stock starts back at my first pastorship, at the parishes of Saint Joseph and Holy Rosary in Tacoma [Washington]. If you’ve ever drive up I-5, you’ll see near the Tacoma Dome a giant steep just south of the dome – that’s Holy Rosary parish. Four blocks south of Holy Rosary is Saint Joseph parish, where I also lived (we had nuns living at the rectory of Holy Rosary).
Let me just say, the commute was awesome! Quite a difference from my current assignment where my commute from end-to-end was closer to 100 miles.
The two parishes were great communities and fairly old in comparison to many of the churches in our archdiocese. Both communities were over a hundred years old, with the buildings being around the same age. Built in the gothic style, these are impressing buildings, with arches that go on forever, stained glass windows brought from Europe, and a classical beauty in the altars, statues, and architecture in general.
However, that kind of age doesn’t come without some history – and the burdens that may have been picked up along the way. Holy Rosary had over half a million dollars in debt, struggled mightily to make ends meet, and the building was old.
Here in Lewis county, we know about rain and the devastation that so much water can wreak. In Tacoma this generally isn’t as urgent as we don’t get that kind of volume there in flat land. But old buildings are, well, old, and a few years ago we had pretty big rains. To boot, at that time I was a fairly new pastor, still getting my feet wet (hah!).
Around the same time, a dear friend from seminary – who had discerned that God was calling him not to the priesthood but to married life – asked me to baptize the second of his four daughters in Everett at the end of the weekend. This was the weekend that the rains hit, pouring down all weekend.
Now church design seems to have gone through a phase where there was a principle that nothing should be placed on the outside of the church so that nothing would mar the outside appearance of the building. So instead of having gutters and drain pipes around the roof and down the side of the building, the walkway of the tower was lined with special material that would direct rain water to a drain and pipe that went down the center of the tower. The pipe would go down the middle of the tower and then exit through the wall at the bottom of the tower to finally carry water away from the building. This system worked well for about 80 years.
And then, at this parish that had significant debt and no money to speak of – on a day I was about to drive 100 miles to baptize my best friend’s child – it failed.
The first sign that something wasn’t right was a call through our parish emergency line. I’ve got this set up to ring to my phone with a big red cross on the screen, which always gets my heart pumping. It’s our alarm company, calling to alert me that there is a fire alarm (and possibly a fire) in the library in my church….which is located at the base of the tower.
Rushing all four blocks to the church, I barrel into the building. Thankfully there is no smoke and apparently no flames. Making my way to the back of the church to the library, I open the door and …. splash. I step into inches of water. There are inches of water covering the entire floor.
Looking up, I see that the ceiling tiles are coming down – but hanging from two wires, along which water is streaming down before falling to the floor, is the fire alarm that had shorted out after sending a false alarm to our company.
I’m just looking in disbelief at the room. I follow in the footsteps in carpenter, but I don’t know to fix any of this! So I call parishioners, beg and plead a number of them to come help place buckets and move what might be saved. A very gracious contractor even came and climbed the tower to assess the problem! No small task this, as the ladders are not a little sketchy – just before Jesus ascended He told the disciples “I expect the ladders at Holy Rosary to be replaced before I get back” ….. I guess the good news is that we still have time? But this contractor braved them nonetheless and effected a temporary fix.
Satisfied that at least we have temporary reprieve, I go off to celebrate the baptism of my friend’s baptism. Coming home the next home, I brace myself to face the music. And what a cacophony it was – the smaller church, built with the same design principle, had the same flaw and had also suffered a catastrophic leak.
So we spend go through weeks going through insurance claims, dealing with repair bids, assessing the extent of the water damage, heaters, blowers, and sealed off areas while it all gets fixed. But praise God, after all that, it is all fixed.
And the week after it gets fixed, the rains come back – not as bad as the first time, but pretty darn bad. And now conscious of how this could go, I am paying attention throughout the entire Mass, listening for any telltale sound of dripping. I was relieved by the end of the weekend to find that everything seemed to be fine.
On Monday, I am awakened to a phone call. This time, it wasn’t on the emergency line, but nonetheless it is from my groundskeeper at the smaller church. My groundskeeper at this smaller (still poor) church is a faithful woman, but 80-hundred years old: she’s not fixing anything. And she has a request:
“Father would you check the garbage can in the choir loft?”
“what do you mean?”
“Well, didn’t you hear the dripping during Mass?”
“you need to go up there, Father – it was dripping the whole time”
So I go up into the church, and sure enough there is a garbage can in the choir loft – just above a river of water that is flowing down the steps. The can had indeed caught all of the water – that had subsequently drained out a small hole a few inches above the bottom of it.
I have to admit that I had a bit of a melt-down right there with God. I want to say that we had words, but really, I had words – words that aren’t really repeatable in a homily.
Of course, the water is still there and needs cleaned up, so I go into the rectory and gather every towel in my possession while calling my secretary to cancel all the appointments of the day. Upon returning to the church, I open the door to see white footprints, about my size, that had been tracked from the choir loft to the door.
The paint on the floor of the loft – softened and liquified from the sitting water – had adhered to my shoes and was providing a clear path marking where I had walked out of the church.
….. cue more words that can’t be repeated.
So I get it all cleaned up, throw the towels in the washing machine, change my clothes (clean my shoes), and go down to the office, a complete wreck. The nuns at Holy Rosary call somewhere in the midst of this to report several small leaks at the rectory and oh by the way, the Holy Rosary church had some water issues again too.
If you’ve ever worked at a church you know that if the priest suffers, you’re suffering too. Because I’m calling around to get things fixed, my staff are calling everyone, and I’ve cancelled all my appointments except for one.
This particular appointment was made because a longtime and dear parishioner had passed away some time prior and his sister was handling the estate. He had some pretty significant medical and financial difficulties before he died and she was looking for some support.
So she comes in, and the first thing she does is hand me a box of religious items that had been recovered from among his belongings. Unsure of how they were supposed to be disposed of, she was hoping that I could do that for her, which I was happy to do.
And then she tells me that things are actually going quite better than when the appointment was originally made – the hospital bills were negotiated down and the house sold for more than anticipated. And Hal (the name of the deceased parishioner) had directed that if there was any money left over, a certain percentage would go to the church. This was a rather pleasant surprise, but I wasn’t expecting much as Hal wasn’t especially wealthy.
She writes a check and hands it to me – it’s for $34,000. And I look at her and said “Miriam, I think you’ve made a mistake.” ….which she assumes is an accusation of holding back, so she pulls out this big ledger and starts to justify the amount on the check. To which I quickly assure her: “no, no – I think you added a zero!”.
She calms down and explains that it turns out that Hal had more than expected and that this was the amount according to the percentage that he had set, it was to go to whatever needs the parish had. And shortly thereafter we ended our meeting and she left, me sitting there afterwards in stunned silence.
If this is what God gives when I curse at Him – twice – I wonder what it would be like if I just trusted Him?
So I, well, I played a little prank on my secretary, who was frantically calling around. I put the check face down on her desk and left so as to not interrupt here. And then I sat in my office and waited. Sure enough, the little red light on my phone blinks off as she hangs up and I hear as she picks up the check “FATHER MAURER IS THIS REAL?!?!” (“Yes it is, and you’ll be off to deposit that right now.”)
That one gift, that one response of the Lord, covered the nuns’ roof replacement, helped out with the leak at Holy Rosary, and helped us with a budget shortfall in that year (Saint Joseph’s insurance came through especially well for even the second leak).
This oil stock that I carry came from that box of religious goods of Hals, and I carry it with me as a reminder of that day, of this lesson: that the Lord does hear us when we cry out to Him.
All of that to ask you this question: how is that going for you?
I’m confident that I’m not alone in having those moments when I stand before the Lord and question what is going, what we’re doing. I still wonder this at times! Especially in light of my age and the great responsibilities of pastorship, I often joke with my staff “whose dumb idea was this?”.
I suspect many of us have that thought in our own lives – who thought up this putting me in charge of my work, of my family, of the souls of my spouse and children? What are you doing Lord that I should be in this position?
We can see this even with Saint Peter! When we look at the disciples we see a collection of guys who, well, they weren’t the brightest of bulbs. They were fishermen, so they weren’t well-educated to start off with, though dedicated and faithful to a degree. And Peter especially just didn’t get it. Every time that Peter opens his mouth and speaks to the Lord, he’s kind of like that kid in school who would raise his hand and everyone else thinks ‘here we go…’.
And so many time this proves to be true. Peter sees Jesus and asks Him to invite Him onto the water (which He does) and then he starts to sink, Jesus explains His Passion and Peter decries it so vehemently that Jesus has to rebuke him (“get behind me, Satan”), and even at the Last Supper when Jesus speaks of His death Peter gets a special warning of the trial he is to face – and Peter not only abandons Christ along with the rest of the disciples but goes on to indeed deny Christ three times.
And what does Jesus do when He returns? “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”
…. ‘are you sure about this?’
And yet, Jesus sticks with that. While we may not be the foundation of the Church (Peter gets to keep that role!), we are indeed the foundation of our own lives, of the life that Christ has entrusted to us. And we do feel that way from time to time – ‘this is too much, it’s overwhelming, how is this going to work?’
I wonder if the Lord doesn’t put in charge, give us these responsibilities to emphasize first of all His trust in us: “I give you this not to test you, not to try you, but because I want you to know that I believe in you, I know you to be good, I know you can accomplish my will.”
And for the second reason: “Because I will support you – even as you are weak, I am strong. And if you allow me to fill you in your life, to be present to you, to send you even unknowingly and unwittingly these gives, you will be a firm foundation, you will build up in your life a beautiful structure that will glorify Me.”
So I ask you again: how is that going for you? Where are you in that story?
Maybe you have stories like I do with this oil stock, maybe you’re still crying out to the Lord, maybe you don’t know how to cry out to the Lord or fear that if you do, it will go unanswered.
I’d like to offer that encouragement to you, that the antiphon and its psalm does offer to us today, to cry out to the Lord even right here in the Mass, especially in the petitions and at the altar.
‘Lord I want to do the good things you ask of me, I want to treasure the gifts of my life, my family, my friends, my vocation. But it’s a lot, Lord. Please give me what I need! Help me so that I might do well, and glorify your name’
The Lord does hear the cry of all, not just the poor or the rich, but all of us. May we at this very Mass today pour out ourselves to the Lord – and perhaps find to our delight that the Lord not only chooses those who are weak, but also supports them.
May we cry out to the Lord, that He might have mercy on us, that He might shower us with gifts, and in glorifying our lives, He might glorify us and demonstrate through us His glory to not only us but to all those in need.