Seeking Silence: Homily for Sunday, August 13, 2017

To listen to the entire homily, click here.

Readings for Today

Today’s first reading is one of my favorite readings.  Despite all of the marvelous things God has done, people’s hearts are not being changed.  In fact, it seems the more Elijah shows God’s power, the worse it gets for him. He wants to die. But in an ever so silent way, God comes to Elijah. But not dramatically, as in an earthquake, fire or mighty wind, but in a tiny whispering sound.

It can be so hard today to find a tiny whispering sound.  We are so distracted.  There is so much noise around us.  Cell phones, tablets, computers, and more.  We are constantly bombarded with outside information and distractions.  And while there is good to these devices, there is also a challenge.  Do they bring us closer to God, or do they drive God away?

Prayer: Homily for Sunday, July 9, 2017

To listen to the entire homily, click here.

Readings for Today

It would seem that if we consider the power of God’s love, prayer would come easily.  And while sometimes it does, that is not always the case.  Sometimes, like when we are on a retreat, for example, it can seem easy to pray.  At other times, it can interrupt our lives or can be hard.

Perhaps this is because there are different types of prayer.  I know I can focus too much on petition or intercession types of prayers.  Yet, do I think God? Do I praise him? Do I just sit in his presence? Jesus gives us the example.  Pray often and always.

 

God’s Plan: Homily for Saturday, July 8, 2017

To listen to the entire homily, click here.

Readings for Today

Sometimes when we read a story in the bible, it can result in a surprise for us.  Today’s first reading might be an example. Deception is used to further God’s plan.  The father is tricked.  The younger son receives the blessing.  But despite this deception, God’s plan is fulfilled.

When we think of God’s plan for us, it often is not clear until we reflect back over our lives. How is it then we discover God’s plan? Perhaps the best way is to put ourselves into the place where we will come to know God and what he wants.

Seeking Holiness – Find it in the Silence: Homily for January 17, 2017

Readings for Today

What does it mean to be holy? How does a person become holy? Today we seek holiness.  Today this is done by looking at the life of Saint Anthony, Abbot.  This is not Saint Anthony of Padua, the well known saint for lost objects, but a hermit from the early Church who was known for his holiness.  His pathway to holiness might seem extreme to us today, as he went out into the desert for silence and solitude.  He lived alone.  That said, he often traveled to find others who were holy, and when successful, he sought to discover what they did to be holy.  He sought to imitate their actions, their asceticism, and indeed their attitudes in his own quest for holiness.  It can be quite difficult today to find silence and solitude in the midst of those duties as parents, as those who care for children and who work for a living.  It can even be difficult for those engaged in full time ministry.  But, finding some way to block out those things that take away from our faith is important if we are to grow closer to God and become holy.  Let us ask God to help us to embrace the silence.

Homily for Sunday, February 7, 2016

It is easy to forget that so much of our relationship with God is not dependent upon us. All we need to do is to place ourselves in the presence of God. By doing so, we both lose those sins and shortcomings that keep us from being the person God has created us to be, and we are able to be sent forth for the mission that God gives to only us. As we move into the season of Lent this Wednesday, let us place ourselves in God’s presence to receive the powerful and life-changing love of God.

Homily for Sunday, September 6, 2015

Readings for Today

The American spirit seems to like things that are made strong and tough. Trucks are advertised this way, a popular vehicle in our country. People are often encouraged to be strong in the face of adversity. Little boys are wrongly told not to cry, to “toughen up”, in the face of difficulty. We are told there is “no crying” in any number of things.

But what is it that makes someone truly strong? Is it the false elements I just mentioned? Is it the house built on rock that Jesus uses as an example in the gospels? And how is it we reconcile this idea of strength with Saint Paul who says that when he is weak, it is then he is strong? When we hear the words in today’s first reading, “Be Strong, Fear Not!” what exactly does that mean, and how and in what ways is such a phrase intended for you and me?

As is often the case, as we explore this idea of strength, the world gets turned upside down a little bit. Bold words are expressed to those in the time of Isaiah, to be strong, because they feel anything but strong at the moment. The words are meant as an encouragement, because when they consider their current situation, they do not feel very strong. Weak knees, feeble hands are the way the people are described.

They are not unlike the poor who are shunned in the reading from James. It is not difficult to see how we might become subtly taken in by the lure of people who are rich. We see the challenges that come from those who are under this spell. Build walls to keep out the strangers! Beat away those lazy poor who just want to mooch off of the rest of us! Let us ridicule and blame the poor and weak for being poor and weak! How easy it can be to see the world in this way.

Fortunately, in the gospel, Jesus provides for us a way to become strong. Any priest or deacon who has performed baptisms has some familiarity with this gospel, as the Ephphatha! is a word used in the baptism rite. But how is it that the healing of a man hard of hearing and unable to speak can have anything to say to us today? Why is it that this specific word is used here? What is the point of the gospel today?

To find an answer, it is helpful to look at the rite of baptism, since today’s gospel is rightly about baptism. “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak.” That is the reminder we are given. The reality is that without the grace of God, without the movement and action of God, we remain in faith like people who are unable to hear God and to speak his word. We are in a bad place when it comes to faith.

For this reason, the reminder that Jesus can make the deaf hear and the mute speak is followed by a prayer that Jesus do just that. “May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” Through the grace of our own baptism, we are asking Jesus to prepare us to be witnesses to the gospel. How?

First, it is essential that we are able to hear the word of God. It is important to know that in today’s gospel, Jesus is in what we might call today a “secular” area of Israel, an area that is not largely Jewish. It may be for this reason there are explanations about Jewish customs.  And yet, in this area, the power of the message of Jesus is taking root. They are hearing, even though they might not seem to initially be those inclined to hear the word. They are ready to hear the word of God. It was not as true in the hometown of Jesus, where he grew up, as they walked him to the brow of the hill in anger. They were not able to hear the word.

And without hearing the word, it is harder to speak. What we hear inside our heads when we speak is not the same as what others here when we speak. You might experience this when you hear your own recorded voice. It may even sound strange to you. And so Jesus, by expending some effort to heal the man (making spit, which was considered a healing thing in the day of Jesus), he also makes clear to us that there is a relationship between hearing the word of God and speaking as a witness to what we hear.

This is what makes us strong. But ironically it is not in getting busier that we are disposed more to hearing Jesus. It is not in more programs, lessons or activities that are the primary way of hearing. It is in quiet. It is in silence. It is in seeking out that quiet time with Jesus, whether in adoration, or in the bible, or in simple requests for him to be present in prayer that we come to have our ears opened to hear the word.

The challenge, of course, is that our world is anything but disposed to hearing the word of Jesus. Greed, violence, lust, objectification of humans, especially women, even religious leaders who like the Pharisees, can lay heavy burdens on people without lifting a finger, these are all the noises that block the word of Jesus.

And so it is not in the typical way that we find ourselves strong as Christians. Saint Paul, who I referenced earlier, reminds us that true, lasting strength, comes when we trust the Lord Jesus to guide us in our lives. It is true strength when we can see the poor as our opportunity to serve Jesus, as our opportunity to be faithful to his voice in the gospel of Matthew that reminds us that serving others is serving Jesus.

As we stand at the beginning of an academic year, let us ask Jesus to open our ears, to loosen our tongues, that we my hear his word an share with others the good news of this unbelievable and fulfilling friendship with Jesus.

Homily for Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Readings for today

Do you like surprises? I suppose a lot depends upon what type of surprise it is. Winning the lottergody might be a surprise we enjoy, notice that we are receiving an audit from the IRS, not so much. Most surprises are not so dramatic. But surprise is a part of our lives. We simply cannot plan for each moment of the day, because life is, by definition, unpredictable.

When we consider faith, it too can create surprises. We may become aware of God’s presence at unpredictable times. We may discover that even though we thought our vocation a “settled” matter, God continues to call us in unpredictable ways. I found this to be true when I moved from a feeling of certainty about being ordained a diocesan priest only to feel further called to life as a Dominican. God’s call is constant in its desire to help us to be led more and more deeply in relationship with Jesus.

But when it comes to the biggest surprise, the Day of the Lord when Christ will return, we need not be surprised. Why? Because as baptized Christians, we are children of the light. God has enlightened us so that we can realize that we are always immersed in the presence and love of God. It does not “catch us off guard” because we have available this life-changing relationship with God.

This does not mean that the awareness and reality of this relationship spares us from all difficulties and suffering. What it does mean is that we are never alone in such difficulty and suffering. And that we may not always know why or how, our suffering has some type of meaning in the larger picture, not because God wishes it upon us, but rather because God can make something good from even the worst events in human history.

We are only caught off guard when we fail to seek the Lord. What keeps us from seeking God? Well, just about anything, really. We can be too caught up in work, materialism, image, avoiding pain or even ministry when its motivation is not about leading people to God. Even good things can become not so good if we are not aware in our lives how this has as its source and purpose this profound relationship with God.

Maybe then, the invitation today is to move more and more into spaces where we can encounter God. Maybe it is in prayerfully asking God to come to us in the reading of the Bible. Maybe it is finding a place in a Catholic church for quiet prayer or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Whatever it is, know that today God invites you to a deeper relationship.

Homily for Sunday, August 30, 2015

Readings for Today

There is an expression, it is what is on the inside that counts. There are times when we say that a book cannot be judged by its cover. There is a thought that for it to be possible to get to what is important, we need to get to the heart of the matter. Or, we need to look deep inside to reflect upon the most significant aspects of life. These expressions point out to us that we need to look past appearances on the outside to see what is real on the inside.

This is the message Moses delivers in the first reading today. He stresses to the people the closeness of God, and the importance of the heart in understanding the way of life to which God calls us. For it is there where God dwells. “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

But for me, and perhaps for you, the question becomes, how aware am I of this closeness of God? Do I take the time to look deep within, or am I too busy with tasks and actions to seek to discover the presence of God in my life, or to see how God is trying to move my heart closer to the life giving relationship that fulfills?

I do not know about you, but I find it difficult sometimes to slow down from the busy tasks that seem to be important. In fact, sometimes they are important. But sometimes I become surprised when I realize how quickly time has passed, and how much I have missed when I stop to think of all of the things I miss as a result. Even though I think I am about doing good things, too often I am tempted to be so busy that I lose sight of the priorities of the things I should really pay attention to in my own life. I work and work and work only to learn that I have missed out on the very things that are really important.

Harry Chapin expressed this in a folk song in the 70s with his song, Cats in the Cradle. If you are of a certain generation, you probably know it well enough to sing it if I were to begin it. It tells the story of a father who is so busy that he misses out on the relationship with his son. Work, work, work. And in the song we see the lack of receiving the most important gift caused the son to live in the same way.

Do we pay attention enough to the priorities of God? Or are we moving from place to place, from this activity to that one, and as such, find little or no real time for God? For what we learn from the gospel is this lack of attention to the heart is not just about being a good father or mother. It is not just keeping the proper work-life balance. No, this temptation to be perpetually active is the temptation of the spiritual life too.

Talk to me about parishes I have served in, or schools I have taught in, and I will tell you all of the things we accomplished there. But do I ever stop to ask myself, “Through my preaching, and with my prayer, are the people here being made more holy because they see God in my witness?” In other words, do I place so much emphasis on the activities and programs that I lose sight of the importance of simply finding the presence of God, reflecting upon his word, simply being with God, rather than doing for God?

This seems to be a point Jesus is seeking to drive home in this gospel. Were the Pharisees bad people? It is not readily apparent that is the case. Saint Paul, for example was a Pharisee. Some scripture scholars suggest the Jesus too may have been a Pharisee. The difficulty encountered when Jesus argues with the Pharisees does not appear to me to be one where it is incompatible to be a Pharisee and a follower of God, but rather that the emphasis upon external actions is not to grow in deeper relationship with God, but to be seen as someone who might be doing that. In fact, in one part of the gospel Jesus says as much.

The problem we encounter is when we make high demands with our words but fall very short in our actions. I found it interesting to see a headline on the CNN website discussing the hypocrisy of Josh Duggar, the child in the reality show featuring his very large family who admitted to molesting his sisters and then recently was on the “Madison Ashley” list, that website people could apparently sign up for if they wanted to have a little fling or sexual affair. It was not the news story about Josh Duggar specifically, but rather the headline that not only emphasized Josh Duggar as a hypocrite, but had a feature related that referred to as “Other hypocrites”.

What struck me was the tone that suggested it was only the people who were on that list that were hypocrites. Maybe there are others who are not hypocrites, but I know I am a hypocrite. I am like Saint Paul too often, knowing the good I should do but choosing the bad. I tell people one thing and do another. As much as I would like to say I am a good example of witnessing to God’s holiness in my life, I know that I do not. I fail. I sin.

Pope Francis when asked to identify himself in a news interview early in his papacy, said this. When asked, “Who is Jorge Borgoglio?” his answer was that he was a sinner. The pope’s witness to being concerned for the poor and living a simple life has clearly gotten the attention of people all over the world. And yet, he does not refer to those actions as defining characteristics of his identity. He is, rather, a sinner, redeemed by Jesus.

This is what the Pharisees forgot. They felt that by clinging to the traditions of their ancestors in the easy things, they could consider their witness authentic. But the Christian witness is not easy. When a homeless person walks toward me, begging for a gift, inside I want to run the other way. There is a part of me that can feel put out if I have to do something for the less fortunate. Why are they bothering me? Why are they taking my time?

I have noticed, though, that when I feel this way, it is also often at the same time I realize I have not been silent in the presence of God, seeking his will, stilling my heart to discover him. It is, rather, when I think my activities, whatever they are, are more important than seeing the face of Christ in the world, in those most difficult people.

The sinful inclination is fed not first in our actions, but starts in our hearts. Interestingly, the disposition mentioned in the second reading that leads to being a doer of the word is also found first in the heart. So if you are busy, try to take a few moments to slow down and find God.

Homily for Sunday, August 16, 2015

Readings for Today

I suspect all of us have had the occasion to have our eyes tested for vision and other things. It is important, because being able to see clearly is important. Since I have, on both sides of my family, a history of Glaucoma in the family, I get a battery of such tests each year. While they are not difficult or painful tests, they do serve as a reminder of how precious the gift of sight is, and how many threats there can be to seeing well. Having had to use reading glasses for the past couple of years, I am reminded even more often of the importance of being able to see clearly.

Today’s readings show the importance of seeing clearly in another way. That is, just as we may need glasses to see clearly, at the same time, to gain understanding it matters how we see something. Things may not be what they appear if we do not see something clearly. Just as a person may need glasses or contacts to make things visible, so too we learn today that a person needs wisdom to see things clearly.

The “glasses” of faith are used when we engage Wisdom. The definition I have always found helpful for wisdom is this: wisdom is seeing as God sees. The reason I like this definition is that so much of what we do and know in life only really makes sense when we consider how God views things. If we do not consider that human beings are made in God’s image and likeness, it becomes easy to throw them away.

Simply put, as a Christian, we seek to be “people of wisdom” all of the time, seeing the world with the “glasses” of faith. So much becomes possible when we do so. And areas of faith, the way of living life, is only possible in reference to a lived relationship with God. Otherwise we struggle to understand.

This lack of seeing as God sees makes the encounter we read in today’s gospel more clear and real. The words of the gospel take on a greater starkness when we understand their meaning in the original language. The Greek John uses in his gospel can be call “earthy.” What that means is that not all of the vocabulary of John is abstract, but is rather easy to understand.

Take the word “flesh” which we hear in today’s gospel when Jesus says he gives us his flesh to eat. This is no metaphorical word he uses, such as when Paul uses the word body in referring to us, God’s people, as the body of Christ. No, Jesus means flesh, as the Greek work is sarx, which means flesh. That is everything it sounds. Using this word makes Jesus sound irrational at best.

But it is not just the use of the word we translate as flesh. When Jesus speaks about eating, the term used in Greek connotes gnawing, or munching, on the flesh of Jesus. This is quite the experience we are discussing. And so it is not unreasonable to see that many quarrel with these words of Jesus. He is a crazy man, one who might be best to avoid.

Unless we see with the eyes of faith. With faith, flesh becomes the Eucharist, and munching is more than physical. Seeing things in faith, we are then invited over and over again to remember that receiving the Eucharist is something that is meant to stay with us all the day long. The presence of Jesus sacramentally reminds us that over and over again we are invited into the great banquet where Jesus draws us deeper into a relationship of deep fulfillment.

Seeing with the eyes of faith, and thinking of the presence of Jesus as a day long invitation, is also to make the words of the first reading real for each one of us. “Wisdom has built her house.” And that house is nothing less than our hearts. It is the human heart that God chooses as a dwelling, because it it the human heart that is able to be filled with the love of God.

And so it is complete. Seeing the human heart as God’s home, seeing the Eucharist as the invitation to know that God is always present is the powerful reminder that God wants to give each one of us today. Taste, See, Touch, feel the goodness of God. Allow the glasses of faith to open clearer and clearer visions of what God wants us to do.

Even Saint Paul who writes today’s second reading seeks to help us. His commands are easily understood. “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity.” He invites us to “understand what is the will of the Lord“, and to “be filled with the Spirit.” In many ways we are invited to munch on the word of God as well. Psalms, hymns and inspired songs make for the interaction that is best for Christians.

This is what we do each Sunday when we celebrate Mass. We seek to use Mass as that way we use to see more clearly the things necessary for faith. By centering ourselves here, in this house, we are more able to discover the deep connections that are available to us because of God. Pray, read the Bible, seek the silence, consider in your lives what God wants from you. What awaits when we do is a deep and powerful friendship with the Lord Jesus who changes lives and gives love powerful enough for all eternity.