Thursday, November 29, 2018

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent - December 2, 2018

Homily for Advent 1
December 2, 2018
Embrace Christ’s First Coming So We Won’t Fear His Second

            It’s always pretty bad to be caught red-handed, but imagine the fear someone would feel if they were caught standing guard over a giant pile of gunpowder…as part of a plot to blow up the government. Back in England in 1605, a number of people were unhappy with King James I and his Parliament, so they decided to revolt, by blowing up the House of Lords. These conspirators rented a storage room immediately under the Parliament building and filled it with gunpowder, with one of them standing guard at all times.
            Unfortunately for them, the King was tipped off to the plot, and did a surprise raid on the building. They caught one man – Guy Fawkes was his name – and eventually executed him for treason. Imagine the horror Mr. Fawkes must have felt when they walked in on him, he who was trying to rebel against the King! He knew that his death warrant was sealed, as he was caught red-handed with a pile of gunpowder!
            If someone is found to be a friend of the King, they will receive a reward, a promotion, a blessing. If someone is found to be a traitor to the King, they will receive a punishment. The same person – the King – inspires both love and fear, depending upon your relationship to him.
            And so it is with Christ. I was intrigued as I read this Gospel about the two different reactions people will have at the Second Coming of Jesus. Our Lord says that “some people will die of fright” – they will be so terrified when they see Jesus coming on the clouds in glory that they will drop dead! But then He goes on to say, “But for you” – and He is speaking to His disciples – “Lift up your heads, for your redemption is now at hand.” For those who are His friends and His followers, the Second Coming of Christ will not be a fearful thing, but a joyful event, something we will look forward to.
            Advent is not really about preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. That is a historical event that has already happened. Instead, Advent is about more serious preparation for Christ’s Second Coming. There are two ways in which He will come again – first, He will come at the end of time, when He will come in glory and judge the world. But before that happens, He will come to each one of us at the end of our earthly lives.
            So if we embrace Christ at His first coming as a baby at Bethlehem, we have no need to fear the second coming of Christ as judge. If we follow Him faithfully on this earth, we do not need to be afraid to see Him in eternity. Our choice of whether or not to follow the Lord Jesus on this earth will determine whether or not we wish to follow Him in the next life.
            It always amazes me when I see families that have big dogs like a Labrador or a Great Dane and at the same time have a baby or a toddler. It’s funny to watch how the baby interacts with the big dog; they often seem totally okay with this giant beast hanging out around them, and the dog is usually happy to be pet by the kid – or ridden like a horse! I am amazed when the child isn’t afraid of this animal which is larger than them, but the kids lose their fear because they love the pet.
            St. John writes in the Bible that “perfect love casts out fear”. When we love God, there is no need to fear Him. Yes, He is powerful and awe-inspiring; yes, He is the just Judge and eternal King – but if we love Him with a deep love, and invite Him into our souls and seek to follow Him, then we do not need to fear His judgment or His kingship when He returns in glory.
            So, this Advent, we prepare for Christ’s triumphant coming at the end of time or at the end of our lives – and we prepare by receiving Him into our souls through faith and in the Eucharist. If we willingly embrace Christ’s first coming as a man and in the Eucharist, then we do not need to fear His second glorious coming when He triumphs as our King.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Homily for Christ the King - November 25, 2018

Homily for November 25, 2018
Feast of Christ the King
Royal Standards

            St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his “Spiritual Exercises,” invites people in their prayer to meditate on what he calls the “Two Standards”. Picture this scene – you are standing in a field in between two large groups of people. Each group is huddled around a flag. On your left stands a group huddled around a flag called “The World” and on your right is a group gathered around one that is labeled “Jesus Christ”.
            St. Ignatius then asks us to choose. We can’t stay in the middle – we have to pick one side or the other. So we start to examine the sides. On the world’s side, they have cookies…and nice clothes…and everyone seems good-looking and successful. On Christ’s side, they are joyful, but their clothes aren’t that nice, and they don’t seem like the “cream of the crop”.
            Then you see this group’s leader – Jesus Christ. But He looks nothing like a king. He stands before Pilate, beaten, scourged, falsely accused, hated by all. Would you join such a king? Would you belong to such a kingdom as that ragtag group of misfits?
            Our readings today reveal two contrasting views of Christ’s Kingship. In the Gospel, we see Jesus as we saw Him on earth – merely a human being, and a weak and powerless one, at that. He has to stand, powerless and innocent, before Pontius Pilate, a corrupt and bloodthirsty earthly king. But in the first reading, we see Jesus crowned with honor, triumphant over His enemies, reigning with complete power and authority. He answers to no one; His victory is complete.
            We must follow Christ in His first humble Kingship if we wish to reign with Him in His glorious kingship. In many ways, these two aspects of Christ’s Kingship (humility and glory, the Cross and the Resurrection) mirror the life of every Christian. Because of grace, we are truly glorious! We will someday reign with Him and radiate holiness that we never knew possible. In the Old Testament, Moses’ face actually shone because of his closeness to God; but in eternity, our entire selves will be radiant with glory. But that glory is hidden now, and Christians have to live a life of humility, patience, embracing the Cross and following after the Lord Jesus.
            This means we cannot submit to following the crowd who is gathered around the flag of “The World”. The World wants the glory here-and-now. The World professes pride, not humility; pleasures, not sacrifice; power, not service; hatred and division, not love. You have all promised at your baptism to reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises – these are the empty promises that they are talking about. Glory, pleasure, pride, victory here on earth. Lots of fun for seventy or eighty years. But we follow a religion that makes no such promises for this world – rather, our hope is in the Kingdom to come.
            This feast of Christ the King was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, and he established it during a time of great turmoil. Italy had just fallen into the fascist government of Mussolini who in 1925 officially became Italy’s dictator, and the Communists had just come to power in Russia. World War I had just ended as well. These tumultuous times displayed to the world the type of authority that the worldly flag endorses: harsh and atheistic authority, concerned only with power and hostile to anyone who disagrees.
            In contrast, Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the world that political authority is not the ultimate authority in the world. Instead, look to Jesus Christ as the ultimate King: a humble, loving, compassionate King, Who lays down His life for His sheep. His Kingdom is not of this world – and neither is ours!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Ordinary Time 32 - November 11, 2018

Homily for Ordinary Time 32
November 11, 2018
Undercover Child of God

            Ever seen that TV show, “Undercover Boss”? It’s still on, and still pretty popular. It features a CEO of some company who, for a week, takes on a new hairstyle and new identity and works alongside the entry-level workers in his company. It’s pretty funny to see how the big bosses struggle to perform tasks in their own company – like hauling trash or working on an assembly line or cleaning port-a-potties. At the end of the show, there is always the “big reveal” as the boss reveals his actual identity, and all of the other workers are shocked and amazed. The employees had been treating this CEO as just “one of the guys”, but now that he has revealed himself as the head of the company, I’m sure some of them are wishing they hadn’t said things or done things around them!
            We all treat our bosses differently than our fellow employees. In fact, there are many people we treat differently because of external factors. We treat people differently if they are rich…or if they are good-looking…or if they are talented…or if they are famous or powerful. Many times we do this subconsciously, but we do it nonetheless. For example, a recently-published study showed that attractive-looking people made 3-4% more money at the same job than people whose looks were below-average.
            But Jesus cuts through all of that external stuff and looks directly at the heart. While these dozens of wealthy patrons in the Gospel were putting their contributions into the Temple, I am quite sure that the priests were welcoming them, thanking them, cultivating relationships with them. But then comes this poor widow – was she ignored? Was she disdained? She was old and poor, the opposite of what any fundraiser would look for.
            Jesus penetrates right to the heart, though, and sees the person beyond the externals. He recognizes and praises her generous heart, which was far more virtuous than these self-important wealthy people.
            How do we see people – with the eyes of faith, or just according to the externals? How do we treat them – as beloved sons and daughters of God, or do we treat the rich and good-looking better than others?
            St. Alexius of Rome was a saint whose true identity remained hidden. He was born from a wealthy family – his father being a Roman senator – in the fourth century. His father tried to arrange a marriage for him, but he wanted to dedicate his life to Christ. As the date of the arranged marriage approached, Alexius ran away from home, determined to live for the Lord alone. He fled into the deserts of Syria, living as a beggar for the next several years, all while growing in holiness.
            The people of Syria began to notice his holiness and come to him for prayers and wisdom, calling him a “living saint”. Out of humility, he wanted to live a life of complete anonymity, so he ran away again…back to his father’s house in Rome. But his appearance had changed so much in the intervening years that his father didn’t recognize him. His father reluctantly allowed him to rent a room in his house, a tiny, dark and dirty closet underneath a staircase. For the next seventeen years, Alexius prayed, begged, and lived a life of charity. All the while, his parents still thought he was just some random beggar who was living with them! Finally, upon his death, they found in his room a document that revealed that he was their son. They were overcome with grief and sorrow at how poorly they had treated their son!
            Someday, if we have the good fortune to be saved, we will be in Heaven for the “big reveal” when we see everyone as they truly are. The poor will be princes; the plain will be beautiful; the mentally disabled will be brilliant; the anonymous people will be glorified. I know that many people who I have treated poorly or judged harshly based on external things will be far ahead of me in Heaven. Here on earth, let us resolve to see and treat others as we will know and treat them in Heaven – not according to temporary external factors like riches or beauty, but as sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, in disguise.