Homily for Sunday, August 23, 2015

Readings for Today

For St. Thomas Aquinas, the will is most rightly used when God’s glory becomes more manifest in our world. In other words, what becomes particularly important, is that when it comes to choosing, ultimately every choice we make can only be evaluated with regards to the purpose for which the choices were made. Do our choices help us to move closer to God, to enter more fully in a relationship with Jesus, or do they lead us farther away from Jesus?
This idea is not a great deal different than the old answer to the question about why God made us, in the Baltimore catechism. Why did God make us? Those of you who have a particular amount of life experience probably remember the answer. God made us to know, love and serve him in this life, and to live forever with him in the next. This is to say, then, that every choice we make, becomes a good or bad based primarily on whether or not it leads us closer to God or draws us farther away from God.
This helps us to understand the first reading. In it, Joshua calls the question. Will you serve the Lord or not? This is because it is tremendously important to recognize the choice to serve the Lord is intended to be in “all in” choice. In other words the most profound choice that we make to serve God is the fundamental choice that lasts our entire life.
And it is this choice, in fact, the Joshua sets before the people today. Will they be served by pursuing self-interest, or will they seek to serve God by placing their lives in the hands of God? The answer comes when they appreciate all the blessings that have been a part of their lives. Many of us have received significant blessings. But it’s not enough simply to receive these blessings, because it can be the case that we simply don’t see them or appreciate them. Rather, we must remind ourselves again and again of the importance of recognizing how it is that God has blessed us in our lives, and to be thankful people for what he has done for us.
It is in this sense that this fundamental choice helps us to understand what it means to be free. St. Paul writes about the challenges faced by people who do not fully comprehend what freedom really is. Freedom must be more than simply the ability to choose this particular thing or that particular thing. It must be understood in a much broader context where we understand that freedom is primarily about the ability which enables us to become the persons that God intends us to be. It means we can couch our ultimate decision for or against God up against the ultimate purpose in our lives.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case in our lives. We know that too often we don’t choose to draw closer to God, we don’t choose to enter more fully and completely and deeply into the relationship that God intends for us to have with him. Rather, often for something short-term and fleeting, we make a choice that takes us away from God. The ultimate irony is that this latter choice which leads us away from God, results in our being less free. St. Paul indicates this when he tells the people in his letter that they have been slaves to sin their whole life long.
Like Joshua, the choice for St. Paul is dramatic and clear. It is that we choose Christ, or re-choose a long set of regulations and rules that we can’t possibly fulfill on our own. It is against this background that we can understand both the second reading in the gospel. Ultimately, our choice for God, is our response to the vocation we were given at our baptism. For some, even most, such a choice for Christ is a choice to become like Jesus Mary and Joseph, a holy family. In fact, it is not overly dramatic at all to say the purpose of marriage as a vocation is precisely so that the couple and their children will grow in holiness in the way in which God intends for them to live with him forever. The purpose of this vocational call of baptism, is nothing less than an eternal relationship with God that make sense of every other aspect of our lives.
It is for this reason, that the second Vatican Council referred to the family as a domestic church. A husband loves his wife just as Christ loves the Church and both mother and father become holier in the way in which they raise their children to be closer to God. And so in its most beautiful sense, marriage is most importantly that invitation to discover who one truly is. Or put another way to discover that one becomes more themselves by virtue of this relationship they enter into an marriage.
For the disciples in the gospel, this question could not be made more clear. Many of the people who heard Jesus in today’s gospel think he speaks like a crazy man. We can lose the sense of how dramatic are these words of Jesus because we have become so familiar with the understanding of what it means to be the Eucharist. Christ becoming truly present to us each Sunday under the appearance of bread and wine so that we can at receive his body and blood.
But to those who heard Jesus in today’s gospel for many of them, this was all too much. Was Jesus calling them to become cannibals? And so many leave. And then comes the dramatic moment in the Gospels, when Jesus turns to the disciples and asks of them about their intentions. Will you also leave?
This is at the heart of the question for us to consider today. Will we, as Joshua did in the first reading choose to serve God, or we like so many in the gospel walk away from Jesus? Because the disciples have already made this choice in their hearts to follow Jesus and to enter into this deep relationship with him, they’ve already answered the question. They have nowhere else to go.
And so today Jesus posed this question to us.  Let us pray that we too might come to the experience of so many what is powerful and profound relationship with Jesus, so that we may proclaim, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Homily for Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Readings for Today

From time to time I hear the words of a priest or bishop discussing how rarely people are able to go to Mass and receive the Eucharist. I have heard Dominicans share the same thing. In some parts of the world, people only area able to get to Mass a few times a year, if that. When people are able to get to Mass, it is not simply a one hour event. No, it can last for a few hours.
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Homily for Sunday, August 12, 2012

Readings for Today

Life is suffering.  This is the first great truth of Buddhism.  Other translations say that “to live is to suffer.”  Suffering is ingrained deeply into human existence.  We get sick, we die, we are evil to one another at times, we have accidents, and we make serious mistakes.  This does not count the suffering we experience for doing right.  Speaking out for justice, speaking for the truth can also lead to suffering.  Parents know that being parents can sometimes be really hard, and cause an initial period of disharmony.  We do not always like to hear the word “no,” even when it is good for us.

While Jesus tells us his yoke is easy and his burden light, he does not mean that we will never suffer.  What makes the burden light?  What makes the yoke easy?  In a world where we are surrounded by hardship, violence and suffering, and in a world where even those who believe the words of Jesus suffer, how is it possible to have an easy yoke or a light burden?

It is certainly something that Elijah found difficult.  He had done all that God asked of him (with success) and yet was still on the run for his life.  Despite the powerful signs God had given, Elijah was not accepted as a prophet of God.  Understandably he is depressed.  He simply wants to sit under a tree and die.

I do not know if you have ever found yourself in Elijah’s place.  It is a lonely place.  When despite your best efforts, you find that you are still unsuccessful, lonely, filled with heartache.  You might find that you are in despair, that things will never get better.  This is a hard place to be, and it can be quite hard to feel understood.

In some ways, the gospel picks up where the first reading leaves off.  The verses immediately following what we heard today in the first reading, are one of my favorite sections.  Elijah goes to a cave to wait for God.  And if you remember the encounter, it is not in the dramatic, the fire, the earthquake, those events that overwhelm us, but rather, it is in a tiny, whispering sound that God is found.

Jesus gives us the same clue about light burdens and easy yokes in the gospel.  He too has not had much success in the reception of his words.  He tells us that it is quite likely we will not be accepted where we are well known.  Especially as vehicles of God’s powerful grace.  Elijah, despite the miraculous display with the fire, and Jesus, with the miracle of the loaves, simply do not find the people to be impressed.

But the clue is in the Eucharist.  The clue is in finding that quiet time with the Son of God, that time to reflect upon our own lives and to find that great God that dwells within, the great God who knows the great things we can accomplish.  Put simply, the yoke is easy and the burden is light because if we choose, we do not have to bear these things alone.  We are with Jesus, the bread of life, the word that sustains, the Son of God like us and divine as well, who makes the difference.

Elijah learns this in the cave.  Jesus teaches this to the people.  We will eat bread and never die because it is his body.  We will not always be accepted, but we will always be accompanied if we open our hearts to God.

To be sure, finding the time to open ourselves to this relationship with God is challenging.  Those of you who have children, know the demands of being a holy mother or father.  Those of you who have demanding jobs, know that keeping a balance between the dignity of work and the domestic church that is our family is not easy.  But take heart — the responsorial psalm tells us to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  While we need to find some time for silence and reflection, we also need to see our vocation as the very pathway to salvation.

That is to say, by being a good father, or a good mother, we move closer to the acceptance of salvation.  In fact, in living our vocation these things are made real — we are saved, because we are being the types of persons God wants us to be.

The start to this new life is to find some time to be alone with God.  You may need to be creative.  Maybe it is those moments in the shower where you can pray.  Maybe it is during the ride to work.  Maybe it is in those few moments before sleep that you can thank God for the blessings and ask God for the grace to meet the challenges.

It is true that our lives can be filled with a lot of suffering.  But with God and with each other, we can face this suffering together.