Thursday, July 19, 2018

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 22, 2018

Homily for 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 22, 2018

            When someone donates blood to the Red Cross, they can save up to three lives. But I know someone whose Blood saved a hundred billion people – the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            A lot of times in the Church, we talk about what we should do. But today, let’s talk about what God has already done for us in the shedding of His Blood. July is the month in the Church year dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus. And today’s second reading speaks about the value of this Blood and what it accomplished. So let’s take a look at why we should speak about and reverence the Blood of Jesus.
            In the Jewish mindset, blood was equal to life. Still to this day, a devout Jew would never consume blood – so no blood pudding or rare steak. To shed something’s blood, even if a few drops were shed, is to deprive it of life. So it is hugely significant that the Chosen People were saved and cleansed by blood.
            You may remember the Passover, when the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God chooses to save them by having the blood of a lamb anoint the doorposts of their houses. Only the houses where the blood covered the door would be spared the death that awaited the first-born in Egypt.
            Once they were freed, God began to reveal Himself to them. He extended the offer of friendship in the way of Covenants, and all Covenants were sworn through the shedding of blood. In fact, after Moses read the Law to the people for the first time, he splashed the blood of calves on the altar and on the people, symbolizing the union between God and His people…but also foreshadowing the Blood that would swear the New and Everlasting Covenant on the Cross.
            But the blood of lambs and calves could not take away sin and reconcile us to God. We needed a sacrifice that was human, since it was humans who sinned. But we needed a human who was perfect, to offer to God a sacrifice unsullied by sin. That one Person was Jesus Christ, who was not afraid to shed His blood for the salvation of the world.
            Jesus could have saved us with a single drop of His blood. He could have pricked His finger and a thousand worlds would have been freed from sin. But He chose to die in such a way that every drop of His blood was shed, to show us the vast extremes that God would go to love us.
            If you’ve seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ”, you know how much blood was shed in His Passion. During the production of the movie, Mel Gibson was highly criticized for being anti-Semitic – people claimed that he portrayed the Jews as heartless and that they seemed to be guilty for the death of Christ. In response to this criticism, Gibson took out a scene which was directly from Scripture - where the Jewish leaders shouted to Pontius Pilate, “Let His blood be upon us and upon our children!”
            When we say “His blood be upon us,” we’re saying that we are responsible for that person’s death. The Jewish leaders were speaking for all of us, for the whole human race, when they recognized their responsibility for the death of Jesus. All of us, without exception, are the reason why Christ died. It was our sins that put Him on that Cross, and it was for our salvation that He shed His Precious Blood.
            But Pope Benedict XVI made an interesting comment about this. He said that while “blood on your hands” usually means guilt, with Christ’s blood it means forgiveness! We should want to invoke Christ’s blood to be upon us, because only those who have been cleansed by Christ’s Blood are truly forgiven!
            So what does all this mean for us? A couple things. First, what an honor it is to be able to receive Christ’s Blood in the Holy Eucharist! We believe in a doctrine called concomitance (don’t worry, this won’t be on a test). Concomitance means that when we receive the Sacred Body we also receive the Precious Blood. So even if you just receive the Host, you are also receiving His Precious Blood. After all, a body without blood is dead, but in the Eucharist we are receiving His Living Body, so we believe that we receive both Body and Blood together! This is how we steep ourselves in His mercy and protection – by receiving His Precious Blood worthily every week!
            And even when we cannot receive Him, we can invoke His Precious Blood upon ourselves. A couple weeks ago I was with our Trinity kids at Brownstone Park, which is this outdoor water park over by Hartford where you can cliff jump, zip line into water, and lots of other things. I was preparing to go on the tallest zip line, over a hundred feet tall, and was being clipped in by one of the Brownstone employees. As he’s clipping me in, I noticed that he was wearing a chain…with a pentagram around his neck! (A pentagram is a Satanic symbol – a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle). Standing on a hundred-foot cliff with a member of the Church of Satan is not a comfortable experience! As I was standing there, feeling quite creeped out, I immediately invoked the Blood of Jesus Christ, asking His blood to cover me and to cover this heavily-tattooed man. Knowing that spiritually I was covered in the Precious Blood of Christ brought me great comfort…as he pushed me off the cliff (which was what he was supposed to do, since I was clipped into my zip line!).
            What a great value there is in the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ! His Blood has saved us, redeemed us, freed us. His Blood was the price paid for our salvation. This month, we honor His Precious Blood and acknowledge all that He has done for us out of love!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 15, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 15
July 15, 2018
Prophets of the New Covenant

            It takes a lot of guts to tell the Pope that he’s wrong. Especially if you’re a humble Dominican nun in the 1300s.
            You see, because of political pressures, the Pope had moved from Rome to Avignon, France back in the late 1200s. Popes figured that it was better to be protected by the strong French king than to be possibly attacked by the chaotic and disunified Italian city-states. But this meant that the Popes were entirely too wrapped up in European politics, forgetting about their spiritual role as head of the Church. Really, the French government controlled the papacy – not a good situation!
            Enter St. Catherine of Siena. This feisty nun in her 20s felt inspired by God to travel to Avignon and face down the Pope himself. She was granted an audience with Pope Gregory XI, and she told him to his face that he needed to return to Rome and focus on his spiritual duties, not on worldly power. What a daring thing to do! If the Pope were offended, he could excommunicate Sr. Catherine, or even have her executed for heresy. But lo and behold, he listened to her, and heeded her advice, returning at once to Rome and guaranteeing the freedom of the Church from the influence of foreign kings. She was a prophet – and a saint.
            I think there is misunderstanding as to what the role of the prophet is. Prophets are not fortune-tellers; they don’t tell the future. Rather, they live their relationship with God so radically that it’s obvious to everyone around them. They take seriously the call to holiness, and they call everyone around them to that same faithfulness.
It’s not easy being a prophet. Usually when someone is chosen for the role, they try to get out of it. We see Amos in the first reading today explaining that it wasn’t his idea to be a prophet – it was a genuine call from God. And no wonder no one wanted to be a prophet – it usually wasn’t popular with kings and people alike to hear prophets. Even Jesus, as He sends out His disciples, tells them that they’re going to be rejected and unwelcomed because of the message they preach.
            It’s not popular – and it’s precisely what Christians are called to be.
            I always tell my students at the high school that Christianity isn’t cool. It never was, it never will be. It will always be countercultural if you take your faith seriously.
            When you were baptized, you were baptized into Christ Jesus and His three roles: priest, prophet, king. We exercise our priestly role when we offer ourselves “as a living sacrifice,” as St. Paul puts it, offering up our joys and sorrows, work and recreation, bodies and souls as an offering to the Lord. We exercise our kingly role when we use the grace of the Holy Spirit to practice self-control – not being trapped in addictions and sins and vices, but living in the freedom of the Redeemed.
            But we exercise our prophetic role by taking seriously our Catholic Faith. Does our life look different because we are Catholic? Or are our lives totally indistinguishable from the rest of the modern world? Let’s look at a couple ways to live prophetically.
            First, our language. It’s so easy to take the Lord’s Name in vain, and many Catholics do just that, not realizing that His Name is sacred. I once had a young man who struggled with that habit in my youth group, and he decided that to stop the vice, every time he would say “Oh my God,” he would always follow it up with “Praised be His Holy Name.” Of course his friends gave him strange looks…but he stopped the habit pretty quick! He wasn’t ashamed to look like a fool in living his Catholic faith radically, like a prophet. Do you take the Lord’s Name in vain? How radical are you willing to be to rid yourself of that sin?
            Second, our media. A lot of times in my office at the high school, kids will be watching videos on their iPads, and when I ask for a peek, they say, “Oh, Father, this isn’t really something a priest should watch.” Well, my friends, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re not watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood! If a priest shouldn’t watch it, why should another baptized Catholic who wants to please the Lord? That’s a pretty good test of whether we should be watching that movie or listening to that rap album – would I be ok with sharing it with a priest, or Christ Himself? So to live our faith radically, prophetically, we will need to say to our friends, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t want to see that movie.” And they will ask, “Why not?” and we can respond, “Because I love Jesus more than I love that movie, and that movie will lead me away from Him.”
            Third, our priorities, especially when it comes to Mass attendance. For a couple years I used to visit patients in a large hospital in Baltimore. I was always amazed that I would frequently see Muslim doctors and nurses in the nondenominational chapel, praying on their prayer rug, facing Mecca. They knew that they had to interrupt their work five times each day to fulfill their religious duties – and I really admired their dedication. At that same hospital, a nurse was explaining to me that she hadn’t been to Mass in a month because she always had to work weekend shifts. I said to her, “Isn’t that a double standard? Our Muslim brothers and sisters never miss a prayer even if it means they skip work for a bit, but we Catholics are too embarrassed or busy or ashamed to make it to Mass if that would require sacrifice?” Yes, it might mean coming in late to work on a Holy Day of Obligation…it might mean skipping a baseball game on a Sunday morning…but if all this is true: that Jesus Christ really died for you, rose from the dead, invites us to Heaven, left us His Body and Blood…then live life prophetically and make sure nothing stands in the way of our Sunday obligation to attend Mass!
            A warning: people who really live their faith without compromises aren’t always well-loved. There’s always something disconcerting, controversial, uncomfortable about living life radically and prophetically. But if you believe in this Catholic faith, and you believe in what God has done for you, what He continues to do for you in the Sacraments, and you believe that He has promised eternal life to you, then be courageous! Be bold! Be radical! Be a prophet!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 8, 2018

Homily for Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 8, 2018
His Power In Weakness

            Everything seemed to go wrong for poor Joseph. Born into poverty – actually in a cowshed, as the family house was in foreclosure - in 1603, he was underfed and scrawny growing up, catching every disease and sickness from pneumonia to ulcers. He was sent to school but failed every class; he had no friends because he was ugly and clumsy and boring to talk to. When he finally failed out of school as a teen, he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, but he failed at that too. Finally, in the midst of his aimless and hopeless life, he met a beggar coming through his town that changed his life.
This beggar was a Franciscan priest, begging for his community’s food. Joseph realized, “Hey, I may not be good at anything else, but I can beg!” And he applied to the local monastery to become a Franciscan priest. But he failed in this too: he was turned down twice, and when a third monastery let him in, they soon kicked him out because Joseph’s absent-minded ways and stupidity were causing a distraction in their community life.
Penniless, with nothing left but his faith in God, Joseph returned home where his own mother refused to allow him to enter the house. Instead, she got him a job tending the donkeys’ stable at another Franciscan monastery. There amidst the filth of the stable – where he not only worked, but ate and slept as well - Joseph spent long hours in prayer as he did his work, growing in his love for God.
The Franciscan monks began to notice his holiness and joy, even despite his humble circumstances and apparent failures. After a couple years, they decided to invite him into the monastery, where he impressed everyone with his deep love for God despite his evident weaknesses. Finally, the Franciscan priests decided that he should study to become a priest, because of his evident holiness.
Joseph was elated and began his studies – but continued to fail his classes. Finally, the day came for the big exam to determine whether or not he would become a deacon. He studied day in and day out, but could only remember one single line of Scripture – the rest of his lessons were completely forgotten! When the day came for the test, he was brought in, and the only question asked of him…was about that particular verse of Scriptures! He was thus able to miraculously pass the test. The following year, when they were testing to become priests, the students who went before Joseph impressed the teacher so much that he came out and declared that the entire class passed, without Joseph having to take the test – thus, despite his mental failings, Joseph became Fr. Joseph.
And then the miracles started. Fr. Joseph was granted the grace of seeing visions, of healing the sick, and even levitating in prayer! He would be so absorbed in prayer that he would literally lift off the ground – a phenomenon witnessed by thousands of people! Thousands of people came to see and hear him each year, just to get his blessing – his humility showed people the great love and humility of our God. We now call him St. Joseph of Cupertino, a saint who had nothing of his own to be proud of – and every reason to rejoice in God.
We boast of all sorts of things. We boast of our bank account, our cars, the fact that we played college baseball, our kids’ honor rolls, everything. And we do have many gifts from God. But how many of us boast of our weaknesses? St. Paul tells us to do just that – not to be ashamed that we’re bald, or bad at math, or struggle with alcohol or impatience.
But why would we boast in these bad things? St. Paul goes on to say, “So that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” It is precisely the weakest, the frailest, the smallest, the most sinful human beings that God often chooses to use. The Apostles weren’t the best and brightest; Mary was too young and uneducated; St. Paul himself was a murderer. None of them were what the world would consider sleek and successful. And yet God chose all of them and did something wonderful in their lives.
And this makes perfect sense. God can’t work in a person’s life when that person is full of themselves; they must be empty to become full of God. He gets more glory from using weak instruments, from making saints out of sinners and weak people and broken, messed-up lives. It would be easy for God to take an amazingly talented person and work through them; but God’s power is shown precisely in taking ordinary folks with messy lives and making them holy.
So don’t think you have to be perfect to invite the Lord into your life. He is the one who will perfect you; and He plans all things – even your weaknesses – for His glory. So boast of your weaknesses – invite Christ into your weaknesses. In His mercy and love, there is nothing to fear, as He will make something beautiful out of your weakness, if you let Him.