Our weakness, God’s abundance (August 27, 2017)

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?”

“[sigh]….no”

“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.

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.

 

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!