Sunday, January 20, 2019

Ordinary Time 2 - January 20, 2019


Homily for Ordinary Time 2
January 20, 2019
Invite Jesus Into Your Marriage

            A while back, I was teaching a religious education class for seventh graders, and we were talking about the Sacrament of Matrimony. I invited in a couple from the parish who had been married for over 50 years to present about their marriage. They gave a great presentation, and at the end they asked if any of the kids had any questions. One precocious young man raised his hand and asked, “Did you guys ever think about splitting up?”
            There was a very awkward pause for a minute, before the wife finally said, “Well, yes, there have been times.”
            The husband looked at her with surprise and said, “Oh really? You too?”
            Marriage is fantastically difficult. It is also one of the most exciting, joy-filled adventures we embark on. This young couple in today’s Gospel may have run out of wine – a major faux pas – but they actually did one thing very right: they invited Jesus and Mary to the wedding!
            As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “It takes three to get married” – the husband, the wife, and God. When you think about what marriage is, it seems impossible from a human standpoint – you put a broken, essentially self-centered man together with a broken, self-centered woman and tell them to live together for life…it’s going to take more than just determination to succeed at this challenge! It’s going to take God’s grace!
            And that is the wisest thing you can ever do is invite Jesus to the marriage, as this wise couple did. But how do we do that? Here are some tried and true tips of keeping Jesus at the heart of your marriage – not from me, necessarily, as I certainly haven’t tried them! – but from observing the habits of successful, happy, healthy, holy marriages!
            First, pray together with your spouse and kids – daily! We need our personal quiet time, but we also need to pray together. I remember going over my aunt and uncle’s house and before bedtime, everyone would gather together for night prayers. They consisted in saying thanks to God, asking His blessings out loud on everyone they knew, and reading a bit from the Bible. In my own home growing up, we would recite the Rosary regularly as a family. The Church calls the family “the Domestic Church” – the Church in miniature, because the family is a place where virtues are taught and all members of the family can grow in their love for God.
            Statistics actually back this up. The divorce rate in our culture is about 35%, but for couples that attend church together, the divorce rate is 10%. If you attend church together and pray together daily, the divorce rate drops to 2%. Grace is not a myth or an idea – it’s a power stronger than glue, which can hold a marriage together and strengthen it, and we desperately need it!
            Second, pray about family decisions and stressors. Have you ever prayed about your job, or the new house you hope to move into, or how to deal with your challenging teenager, or what to do about your mother-in-law? Just by taking a moment to invite God into the challenges of your family can make all the difference. We don’t have to face these things alone!
            Some of you may be familiar with the story of St. Monica. She was a Christian woman in the late 300s who was in an arranged marriage with an unhappy, pagan husband and a wayward son. She had several options – she could nag her husband, she could leave her family, she could take a stand and force him to move out – but instead, she chose to pray and fast for him, and for her son. For years she wept and prayed for them, even pleading with the Bishop St. Ambrose to help her pray. Ambrose famously told her, “A mother’s tears are never wasted.” Her prayers were answered – her husband converted on his deathbed, and her son gave up his sinful life and became a priest and a bishop…and a saint, St. Augustine!
            A similar thing happened to my friend Heidi. Her husband said he wanted out. He was just tired of the marriage, and he did end up leaving her and their four kids for about six months. Many people advised Heidi to seek a divorce, but she believes in the power of prayer. Daily she prayed, pleaded with God to change his heart. I was absolutely amazed when he returned home, repentant and with a deeper love for Heidi and the kids. Her faith is what obtained the grace to save their marriage!
            Instead of trying to take on the work stress or difficult children or challenging family stresses by ourselves, why not lift them up to God?
            A third thing we can do (don’t worry, there’s only four!) is to love like Jesus loves. Jesus loved sacrificially, laying down His life for us. But that looks very different on a daily basis. A friend of mine was telling me that he was speaking to his men’s group and asking them, “Do you love your wives?” Thirty tough guys nodded and grunted, “Of course we love our wives.” He then asked them, “Would you take a bullet for her?” “Of course,” they responded proudly. “Great,” he said, “Would you do the dishes for her?” They were reduced to a thoughtful silence.
            Sacrifice looks different in real life than it does in the movies!
            A final thing we can do is to be generous with God. That means making God a priority in your family’s time, making Him a priority in your family’s financial decisions. How much of your family income goes to God? It means being open to life in your marriage, as God may want to give you a generous gift of a new baby – will you be that generous with God? We have to put our money where our mouth is – if we really want to invite Him into our marriage, He has to be a part of our to-do list and our checkbook and our bedroom and every other part of our marriage as well!
            Now, I say all this as one who is not married. But I share with you the wisdom of the Church. As Pope John Paul II said, “The Church is an expert in humanity.” Your marriage matters to God, it matters to society, and it matters to the Church. God can make your marriage into something spectacularly beautiful and holy, just as He made boring water into the best of wine at Cana’s wedding feast!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Baptism of the Lord - January 13, 2019


Homily for Baptism of the Lord
January 13, 2019
Baptized Into His Death

            Pope John Paul II was once asked by a reporter, “What was the most significant day of your life?” There could be lots to choose from – the day he was ordained a priest, or elected Pope, or the day he was shot but survived, or the day that Communism finally fell. But he responded, “My most important day was the day of my baptism.”
            The day of his baptism – St. John Paul II realized that baptism was the start to his relationship with God, and therefore it was the most important day of his life.
            Do any of you remember your baptism? I don’t remember it, but I would agree about its significance! Baptism takes a regular person – infant or adult – and makes them a child of God.
            As a Sacrament, Baptism has many powerful effects on the soul. It frees us from original sin, fills our soul with Grace (God’s divine life within us), makes us members of the Church and heirs to Heaven. But one of the most significant effects is that it marks us for Christ. There is an indelible stamp, called a “character”, imprinted on our souls through Baptism, so that when the Lord sees us, He recognizes, “He is one of Mine!”
            Have you ever seen a cow being branded? Back in the days of the Wild West, before there were fences everywhere marking property boundaries, ranchers would brand their cattle so that they would know which ones were their own on the open range. Branding involves taking a hot iron with a design – usually some letters – and burning it into the cow’s backside, leaving a mark that would always remain. Ouch! Not pleasant! But a safe way to mark who the cow belongs to.
            In the same way, Baptism is a mark on our soul to show Who we belong to – the Lord Jesus. But unlike branding a cow, baptism is far more difficult. Wait…did I say “more” difficult?
            Yes. Because baptism is a death and resurrection.
            In the early Church, all baptisms took place outside in lakes or rivers. The person to be baptized would be completely immersed in the water three times (none of this little “sprinkle water on the head” business – they went completely under!). Three times they would go down, and three times they would rise again. The early Church Fathers saw this as a type of death and Resurrection. For example, St. Gregory Nazianzen said, “We were buried with Christ in baptism so we might rise again with Him.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem said that the three times a person is dunked is symbolic of Christ’s three days in the tomb. St. Ambrose went further to say, “The baptismal font is a kind of grave.”
Our Church Fathers realized that to be baptized is to die to yourself, to die to the things of this world, so that you can be raised to new life in Christ. When you have been baptized, you no longer belong to yourself, or to the world. You belong to the Lord Jesus. He has a claim on you. And so we better live as men and women who have died to the things of this world and be raised in Him.
Consider, for example, St. Therese of Lisieux, who writes in her autobiography, “My desire for martyrdom is profound and unsettling.” Or consider the example of St. John de Brebuef, a French Jesuit priest who was martyred by the Iriquois Indians in upstate New York, who wrote this beautiful prayer in his journal: “My God, I vow to You that, if in Your mercy You offer me the grace of martyrdom, I will not fail to accept it.” How could these saints actually desire to die for Christ, unless they had first died to the things of this world?
All of us, either by ourselves or through our parents, have taken vows at our baptism. This is a good way to consider whether or not we really have died to ourselves. So I ask you now – “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?” – do we refuse to be mastered by sin? Do we refuse to pursue the empty promises of money, power, pleasure, fame? Are we genuinely willing to fight against temptation?
Then we turn to the other three promises – “Do you believe in God the Father, the Creator? And in His only Son Jesus? And in the Holy Spirit, the Church, the forgiveness of sins and resurrection of the body and life everlasting?” Well, do we? Have we ordered our life around God, following Jesus Christ, living with the Holy Spirit and in accords with the teaching of the Church?
My friends, if you have been baptized, your soul is marked forever. You have been set apart, belonging to Christ. You have died to this world of sin, and rose in the power of the Spirit. Are you living as one who belongs to Christ?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany - January 6, 2019


Homily for Epiphany
Sunday, January 6, 2018
In the Mystery of God’s Plan

            Who were these “magi” anyway? We hear about them coming vaguely “from the East” following a mysterious star. How did they know that a star would lead them to a king? There’s actually a pretty good historical basis for who they were and why they were led to this stable in Bethlehem.
            First of all, magi were not kings. Rather, they were astronomers/astrologers/ philosophers/scientists who would be employed by kings as their advisers in both mystical and practical questions. They were indeed “wise men” – some of the most learned men of their day – and members of the priestly class of ancient Persia. It’s actually from the work of the magi that we get our English word “magic”.
            So, how did these magi find out about Jesus? It all starts over 500 years before the Lord was born…
            The Israelites had, for centuries, fallen into all sorts of sins. Idolatry, adultery, injustice, murder, violence and division…the Lord’s Chosen People were not acting much like the holy men and women they were supposed to be. They constantly broke the Lord’s commands. Now, Israel was supposed to be a nation of such holiness that other nations were attracted by their wisdom and holiness. Israel was supposed to be a “light to the nations” through their virtue. But on the contrary – they were more wicked than the nations around them!
            So in 587 BC, the Lord wanted to correct His children, so he allowed Israel to be taken into captivity in Babylon. One of the children brought to Babylon was a young boy by the name of Daniel. Daniel was gifted, and he was soon brought into the service of the Babylonian King, King Nebuchadnezzar. God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams, to give prophecy, and generally to be incredibly well-respected by everyone, including the wise men of his time. These wise men would have studied Daniel’s religion, and would have been familiar with the prophesies that there would be a King born to the Jewish people who would rule the universe, a King who would be a Savior and Redeemer of all.
            Sadly, Daniel never made it back to his homeland. He died in Babylon before the Israelites were released in 527 BC. But what he introduced to the Babylonian wise men – and then the conquering Persian wise men – was the Jewish faith with its prophesy of a Savior. So for five hundred years, these wise men continually watched the heavens to see when there would be a sign of the birth of the King. Finally, finally, they saw the star and traveled to meet the Lord. These men who traveled to meet Jesus then brought that good news back to their people, becoming the “light of the nations” that Israel was supposed to be, but weren’t.
            So what does this have to do with us? Have you ever had a circumstance in your life that seems meaningless? We often ask why – why did this person have to die? Why did I have to get sick? Why did my parents have to divorce? Why did I lose my job? Why?
            I can imagine Daniel asked that same question quite a bit. Why was he taken from his homeland, never to return? Why was he removed from his family as a young boy and taken to live in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, among these pagan people? What a heartache it must have been! But it was all part of God’s plan – if he had not been kidnapped and exiled by the Babylonians, these people would never have heard about the future Savior. Unknowingly, Daniel was showing them the way to the Lord – but it’s only now, hundreds of years after the fact, that we can see how Daniel’s sufferings fit into God’s grand plan of salvation!
            I once attended the funeral of one of my seminarian brothers who died in a car crash in his young 20s. I’ll never forget the priest’s homily – he began by saying, “In Heaven, we are going to spend eternity saying, ‘Oh! So that’s why You did that, Lord! That makes sense now!’” When things are senseless, we’ve just got to trust that it is part of a grander plan than we can see.
            This plan isn’t mysterious – Scripture tells us what God’s plan is for human history. He is, even now, restoring all creation in Christ. He is making right what went so drastically wrong in the beginning – when sin had separated us from God, caused death and suffering to enter the world. God is working to restore all things – and all of human history – all of your personal history and mine – is accomplishing that goal.
            So sometimes we just have to trust that our lives are a part of that plan. When we can’t see how our lives, our work, our suffering, our joys fit into God’s bigger plan, we just have to trust that God is up to something. After all, Daniel couldn’t foresee that his life would be used to bring the Magi to Jesus…and sometimes we can’t foresee how God will bring good out of every circumstance of our life. But He will. Our lives are part of a bigger plan, one that will see the restoration, healing, and salvation of the world.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Christmas Homily 2018


Christmas Homily
2018
Touch the Lepers

            One of the most dreaded diseases in the ancient world was leprosy. Even in the 1800s in America, leprosy was incurable and caused immense suffering. A person would lose circulation in their skin, causing it to rot while they were still alive. They would often lose fingers and toes, become deformed and hideous in appearance. Since no one knew how it was spread, the standard treatment was to isolate the person and send them to live in leper colonies. In the States, the major leper colony was on a small Hawaiian island called Molokai.
            These poor abandoned people, so suffering, had been forgotten by most of society – but not the Church. A religious community in Belgium heard of the plight of these forgotten souls and a priest, Fr. Damien de Veuster, volunteered to go and minister to the people.
            Upon arriving, he was given strict instructions not to touch the people, for fear of contamination. He was horrified to find the conditions appalling – the stench was so strong that he was forced to start smoking pipes to drown out the smell. The people lived like animals – their disease made it difficult to use tools so they lived in caves and foraged for food like rats. So Fr. Damien dispensed with the advice he was given and began to care for the people in practical ways – to bind their wounds, feed them, help them to build houses and a church and a school, to bury their dead. He knew he could not minister to them unless he lived like one of them. He shared their food and their drink, lived alongside them, and shared their lives. In turn, they loved him and trusted him completely.
            Because of how closely he worked with the lepers, he did eventually catch the disease. At the time, members of the government and even Church leaders criticized him for not taking more precautions with such a deadly disease. But he responded, “To win over the lepers, I became a leper myself.” He died of leprosy and is now known as St. Damien of Molokai.
            Now, one may wonder why I started my Christmas homily by talking about an awful disease and a heroic saint who ministered to the sick. But to me, what St. Damien did is exactly what God did by taking on flesh and living among us.
            We are sick with a deadly disease. It goes by many names – greed, lust, pride, envy, selfishness – but it has the same root: sin. This disease was slowly killing us, making our lives fall apart even as we walk around and breathe air and pretend like we’re alive. We’ve been separated from the very Source of Life Himself. We traded our dignity as sons and daughters of the King and instead began to live like animals. We needed…a Savior.
            And this Savior could have been aloof. He could have just dropped down Bibles from Heaven. He could have only sent angels and prophets. But He didn’t. “To win over the souls of men, He became a Man Himself.”
            He wasn’t afraid of our sin. He wasn’t disgusted by our miserable state. He came down and entered into the mystery of humanity – the joys, sorrows, hard work, pain, education, friendship, emotions, and even the death that we all must endure. Christmas is God on a rescue mission for His beloved children, disfigured and degraded by the disease of sin. Love desires to become one with the Beloved, no matter what the Beloved looks like.
            The whole point of this divine condescension is for our human restoration. As St. Augustine said, “God became man so that man could become like God.” What a trade! He took on our humanity, and offered us His divinity. Through our faith in Him, through following in His footsteps, we become vessels of Christ and someday, in Heaven, will be totally united to Him.
            Why do rags-to-riches stories always stay with us? Think of stories like Cinderella, or the Frog Prince. We have this nagging sense that human beings are more than meets the eye. There’s a deep truth there – we know that we are supposed to live for more than just bills and doctor’s appointments and traffic jams. We know that we are supposed to be the living image and likeness of God. And God took on our image and likeness at Christmas, so that we could take on His image and likeness.
            So – what’s the takeaway? How do we open ourselves to His transformation happening in us? It comes from our union with Him in three ways. The best way to be in union with Him is through the Sacraments – frequent Confession and weekly Mass attendance, where we receive Him in the Eucharist which is His true Body and Blood. It’s only through His grace living in us that His healing can change us. Secondly, we seek Him daily in prayer. Jesus came down two thousand years ago so that we can have a daily, living relationship with Him now. Read Scripture, spend time in silence and nature, pray the Rosary, or simply speak to Jesus from your heart – the important part is that we touch base with Him daily. Finally, seek to follow Him in your daily life. He wants to make us virtuous men and women, filled with His kindness, patience, purity, and love – so make your daily life about following His example.
            My friends, there’s only one hope for us to be healed of the disease of sin – to turn to the God who entered into our messy world, becoming a part of the human race with all its flaws and foibles, to bring our souls to Heaven. That hope is Jesus Christ – born for us at Christmas.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 23, 2018


Homily for Advent 4
December 23, 2018
Hastening After Holiness

            Mary goes “in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth in this Gospel. But why? For many years I thought it was because she wanted to share the good news of her own pregnancy, or to help with the care of Elizabeth. Then as I was reading this Gospel more carefully this past week, I noticed something interesting at the end – Mary was there, in her cousin Elizabeth’s house, because she believed in the Lord’s promises.
            Imagine a fourteen-year-old girl who is going about her daily business when an angel appears in her room and tells her that she was miraculously going to be a mother, and that this Child would be the Savior of the World. Mary has faith, yes – but the angel gives her a sign that all this mysterious news would come true: the sign was that her elderly cousin, far beyond usual childbearing years, was six months pregnant! With the assurance of this genuine miracle, Mary gives her assent.
            So as soon as the angel leaves, the very next verse says that Mary traveled “in haste” to visit Elizabeth, to see with her own eyes this promise fulfilled. It’s not that Mary doubted; it’s rather that she believed so strongly in the Lord’s promises that she could not contain her expectation of seeing it fulfilled. Elizabeth recognizes as much when she says, “Blessed are you who believed that the Lord’s promises would be fulfilled.”
            Let’s apply that to our lives. What are His promises to you and me? And do we really believe them, and are we hastening towards them? I’d like to mention two promises that the Lord makes in Scripture for us.
            First, He promises in Romans that “all things work for good for those who love God.” That’s pretty comprehensive – all things – not just the good and the pleasant things but the unemployment and the family trouble and the cancer. But the key is to look at it in the light of eternity. As Pastor Rick Warren says, “God is more interested in your character than your comfort.” He wants to make you holy – and this is the good that God will work through all things if we are docile to His will.
            I remember hearing a parable about a poor man who had only a wife, a son, and a horse. One day the horse ran away. His neighbors all came to visit him and said, “Oh, it’s too bad that you lost your horse!” The man replied, “It could be good, it could be bad, who knows!” The next day, the horse came back with five other wild horses into the man’s stable. The people rejoiced with him. The following day, the man’s son was riding the horse and he fell off and broke his leg. The neighbors visited him and said, “We are so sorry to hear about your son!” But the man replied, “It could be good, it could be bad, who knows!” The next day, the government came to his door trying to draft his son into the army to fight in a war, but because his son had a broken leg they didn’t take him. The people rejoiced with the man that his son was saved.
            This promise, that God will bring good out of all things in our lives, is one we must cling to even when things get darkest. If Mary could trust that God would place His Son into her womb, then we can trust that He can take everything in our lives and make something eternally good and holy out of it.
            A second promise – equally as important – is that “no eye can see, no ear can hear, nor has the mind of man ever conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” He has promised Heaven and everlasting life! That’s really an incredible promise and it is a direct result of the first promise. Allowing the circumstances of our daily life to make us holy because we trust that God brings our spiritual good out of everything, we seek after that great promise of Heaven!
            Are we hastening toward Heaven like Mary hastened to visit Elizabeth? Mary wanted to see the promise fulfilled in her cousin; do we want to see fullness of God’s promises revealed in eternity? Some of us are only crawling towards Heaven – or worse, some of us may be moving away from the Lord, instead of towards Him!
            I was recently reading the life of a saint named Bl. Anthony Neyrot, who started out pursuing God with a snail’s pace! He was ordained a priest but achieved great success through his preaching – people loved him, and this caused him to be filled with arrogance and pride! He eventually thought he was too good for his assignment, and asked to be transferred. But he wasn’t happy in his new assignment, so he asked for yet another! This pompous young man still wasn’t happy and asked for a fourth assignment, and as he was sailing there (this was the 1400s), his ship was attacked by Islamic pirates. They captured him and made him a slave – but this still didn’t cure his arrogant attitude, as he was so rude and pompous to his captors that they put him in prison with only bread and water to eat!
            In order to get released from prison, he decided he was going to become Muslim himself. He denied Christ publicly, was released, married a woman and began to translate the Qu’ran into Latin to try to lead Christians away from the true Faith (remember, this was a former priest!). As he continued to read the Qu’ran, however, he realized more and more that it could not be true; nevertheless, he desired his freedom and his wife more than Heaven. One night, however, he had a dream in which his recently-deceased mentor, a saintly priest, appeared to him and told him that his salvation was in jeopardy if he continued to deny Jesus Christ. Upon awakening, Anthony realized that he had been a lukewarm priest and a lukewarm Muslim – it was time for him to choose!
            He realized he needed to return to Christ and to start seriously pursuing Heaven. He dressed in sackcloth, went to Confession, and began praying the Rosary on his knees. After several days, he realized that he had publicly denied Jesus – now he needed to publicly proclaim his faith in Him. He went to the town square and began to declare, to anyone who would listen, that Jesus Christ is Lord. His Muslim friends urged him to be silent, but he proclaimed all the louder that Jesus is Lord and that Heaven is worth pursuing. He was finally arrested and stoned to death for leaving the Muslim faith – but he is now a blessed in the Church. For years, Anthony had just “gone through the motions” and not hastened toward the promises of God – but at the end of his life, he realized that Heaven was the only thing worth pursuing!
            Are you hastening to Heaven? Mary was excited and hastened to see God’s promises fulfilled in her cousin; are you as excited to possess the promise of Heaven? God’s promises are real and trustworthy – today rouse yourself to seek them out, to journey with haste to Heaven. After all, Christ came, bringing Heaven to earth, so that He could bring earth to Heaven. What a promise that is! I know I want to hasten there!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent - December 16, 2018


Homily for Advent 3
December 16, 2018
The Joy of Mercy

            The classic French novel Les Miserables starts out with one of the most famous acts of kindness in all of human history. The main character, Jean Valjean, had just been freed from nineteen years of prison, but because of his criminal background he is rejected by society, poor and homeless. The kindly local Bishop gives him shelter for the night, but Valjean responds by stealing all of his silverware. When the police catch Valjean, the Bishop, out of mercy, fabricates a story about how the Bishop had given Valjean the silver. To make the story believable, the Bishop goes on to give him two silver candlesticks that he “forgot”. The police believe the Bishop’s story and release Valjean. The Bishop – obviously a saint – tells the former criminal that it was God who spared his life, and that he should take the silver candlesticks and sell them, using the money so that he could live an honest life. Jean Valjean takes to heart the Bishop’s admonition and turns his life around, becoming the hero in the novel.
            A little mercy goes a long way. And this is precisely the kind of mercy we rejoice in today. I find it interesting that the end of today’s Gospel features John the Baptist “preaching the good news” to the people. Why is the message of salvation “good news”? And why is there so much focus on rejoicing in today’s readings?
            Jesus came to offer us mercy. Justice requires us to receive what we deserve – the punishment for our sins. But mercy gives us what we do not deserve – forgiveness, freedom, love. Mercy turns a slave into a son; it turns a sinner into a saint.
            And this is the “good news” that John proclaims – that the Savior of the world is on His way! Looking back from the other side of the Cross, we know that because of Jesus’ death, we now have access to complete mercy and forgiveness!
            Our world lacks mercy. Just this week I was reading about two people – an actor and a Heisman trophy winner – who have been attacked in the media for tweets that they had posted on Twitter years ago. Yes, their tweets were inappropriate and wrong – no doubt. But even after they apologized for them and took them down, the blogs and the news continued to rip into them, to criticize them and slander them. Where is the mercy? The football player’s tweets were posted when he was fourteen – for heaven’s sake, haven’t we all said things we regret when we were teens? The media is always on the lookout for shame, for scandal, for juicy details of someone’s past…never for mercy.
            And some of us feel that way, too. Maybe it’s a big sin you have never confessed; maybe it’s small things but you just feel unloved or unlovable. Have you ever seen one of those ball-and-chain devices that was used in England for centuries? A prisoner would have a chain secured around his ankle, and he would have to walk dragging a 20-pount iron ball behind him. For many of us, we feel like we’ve got something in our life that is dragging us down and preventing us from running freely after Jesus.
            But the Lord Jesus offers us mercy. There was a wonderful story of a nun who was having visions of Jesus. She told her mother superior about them, but the mother superior did not believe her. She said, “We will put these supposed ‘visions’ to the test. The next time you see Jesus, ask Him to tell you what I said in my last Confession.” Later that day, the nun did have a vision of Jesus and she asked the Lord what the Mother Superior had confessed. Jesus responded, “I don’t remember.”
            I don’t remember! It says in Scripture that our sins are taken from us as far as the east is from the west. East and west go on infinitely – unlike north and south, there is no “east pole” or “west pole”. If you go north far enough, eventually you hit the north pole and you start heading south. But you can never go so far east that you start going west – no, east and west are infinitely distant from one another. And that is how far our sin, our shame is taken from us because of the love of Jesus!
            So what is our response? Two things. First, get to Confession so we can lay down that sin! My friends, we are offering Confessions here three times every week during Advent – Mondays from noon to 1pm, Wednesday from 7-8pm, and Saturdays at the usual time, 4:15-5:15pm. Break the ball and chain, lay down the burden and sin – come to Confession.
            The second response is to extend that mercy to others. When the people asked John the Baptist what they must do, he replied that if they had two cloaks, they should share one with someone who had none, and likewise with their food. We extend mercy by generously giving freely, to people who may not deserve it but who need it anyway. So that person who cuts you off in traffic, you extend mercy and respond with a smile. We do our chores even when it’s the other person’s turn. We let people go ahead of us in the shopping line, we make the extra effort to be kind to the barista and the mailman. As we have freely been given mercy, we extend mercy to others.
            With all the craziness that is always happening in the world – and in our busy, frantic lives – it’s easy to feel dragged down. The Church gives us this Sunday to rejoice – not in holiday office parties and gifts, but in the ultimate gift of God’s mercy freely given. With everything else that might be happening this season, we must not forget that Christ came to offer us His mercy – and that should bring us joy.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent 2 - December 9, 2018


Homily for Advent 2
December 9, 2018
Behold, He Knocks

            In the 1850s, British artist William Hunt painted a very famous portrait of Jesus called “The Light of the World”, based off a scene from the Bible. It features Jesus portrayed as a king, carrying a lantern up a garden path and knocking on a large wooden door. When art critics saw the painting, however, they pointed out that Hunt had made an error – the door had no door handle! He explained, however, that he painted it that way purposely, because the door of our souls can only be opened from the inside – Jesus will never force His way in!
            John the Baptist proclaims today that we ought to “prepare the way of the Lord”. But Jesus is a gentleman – He only comes where He is welcome. He knocks, He calls, He waits – but it is up to us if we wish to have a living relationship with the Lord.
            So how do we do this? John the Baptist goes on to say that “Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth.
” Let’s break this down to see what it means for us to invite the Lord into our lives.
            First, every valley and every mountain shall be level. There is a trail in the Catskills mountain called “The Devil’s Path”. It is often listed as the most difficult trail on the East Coast. A couple years ago, a friend and I found out why! Over 24 miles, there is over 18,000 feet of elevation change – up and down. Traveling over five solid mountains, it took us three days to cover 24 miles – because, as I once heard, every foot of elevation gain is equal to 10 feet of flat walking in terms of energy output…so those 24 miles felt more like several hundred! For anyone to get somewhere quickly, it’s always easiest to take a flat route. And for Christ to invade your life, it helps for the valleys to be filled in and the mountains to be made level.
            What are the mountains and valleys? We often talk about “towering pride” – the mountains are our ego, our selfishness, all of our unhealthy focus on ourselves and our own pride. The first thing we need to do is to humble ourselves and recognize our need for God and His Saving power. It’s so significant that the Savior came as a little baby, humble and meek – because He can only be accepted by someone who is meek.
            If mountains are our pride and ego, then valleys are our weaknesses and sins. The Gospel says that John the Baptist’s mission is to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins, because our sins are valleys, chasms, which separate us from God. So once we humble ourselves and recognize our need for the Savior, we get to confession so that our sins are no longer an obstacle to our friendship with the Lord.
            “Winding roads shall be made straight”. If you’ve ever been to Nebraska or some other Midwest state, you know something about straight roads. I think that Google should test its self-driving cars out there because literally all you need to do to get somewhere is to point your car in the right direction and drive. You can take your hands off the steering wheel for fifty or sixty miles because the roads are literally that straight. But…you have to be pointed in the right direction. So to have a straight road is to point your life in the right direction – to make your decision to follow Christ and to seek holiness. If we have as our life’s goal to glorify God and live in intimate friendship with Him, then we will arrive at our destination. So to make straight a winding road is to point your life in the direction of seeking the Lord.
            Finally, John urges us to make rough ways smooth. To polish a stone, you have to grind it with something harder – they make those rock tumblers where stones can hit against each other to rub the rough edges off. In the same way, we need to spend time with God in prayer, who will scour off our edges and polish us with His Spirit, making us a beautiful gem for His Kingdom. Spending time with Him makes us more like Him!
            My friends, if Advent and Christmas teach us anything, it is that God is not just some myth or some distant, unapproachable being. He took on flesh at Christmas precisely so that He could establish a deep, daily friendship with us. He wants to be more than just a fairy godmother we turn to when we need something – no, He is inviting us into so much more: a deep intimacy with Him, a life lived with His grace and His Spirit within us. But He will not force – He knocks and waits patiently for us to invite Him in. Tear down the mountains of your pride and admit that you need Him; fill up the valley of your weakness through Confession and repentance; make your life’s path straight by keeping Him ever in your sight; allow prayer to make your rough ways smooth. Then will Advent be a time of ever-increasing friendship with the God who has already come in Bethlehem, and who will come to take His friends home to Heaven at the end of our lives.