Homily for Thursday, August 9, 2012

Readings for Today

What is the power of the heart?  It is a popular image on so many levels.  On Valentine’s Day, it would be odd indeed not to see a variety of red hearts wherever we go.  When a talk gets emotional, the person is said to be speaking from the heart.  Something less than our best effort might be a sign we have not put our heart into it.  More than one time I have heard a city, or a mall, or a business to be at the heart of it all.  Moving from idle chatter to the really important things involves getting to the heart of the matter.  All of these expressions do not consider the medical definition, namely a muscle that pumps blood.

Perhaps the reason we use the word heart in so many contexts is because even before we could actually see a beating heart, we knew of its importance to the human being’s life, indeed the lives of many creatures.  So it was also, then a powerful metaphor to describe the absolute loving proximity of God, and the law that leads to human flourishing.

Jesus, too, encourages the disciples to consider this metaphor as well, though not explicitly.  If the heart is seen as the area of belief, and our closest convictions, Jesus teaches an important lesson.  Namely, our faith cannot rest exclusively on others.  Simply considering what others believe is not enough.  To be a follower of Jesus, we must consider what we believe, not just on the surface, but in the depths of who we are.

For the question Jesus poses to the disciples is one for each one of us to answer as well.  And the question of Jesus can have a variety of answers.  We can think of an answer glibly, like something we learned one time long ago.  We can refuse to answer the question, perhaps because we do not care much about the answer.  We could ignore the question, moved to do or consider other things.

Regardless, both readings teach us something quite valuable about faith.  Namely, God plants the answer deep within us.  Careful consideration of our experiences, our thoughts, the wisdom of others, preaching we may have heard, our prayer life, or whatever, because of God’s close presence and intimate care for us, we are constantly given the opportunity to answer the question of Jesus in a powerful way that has deep connection to how we choose to live.

And so, who do you say Jesus is?

Homily for Wednesday, August 8, 2012 (Feast of Saint Dominic)

Readings for Today

These are strange times.  Our country and our Church appear more polarized than ever.  On the political level, Obama is loved by some, reviled by others, and each side is entrenched in their views.  On an ecclesial  level, we are either dismantling Vatican II or correcting the misinterpretations of it.  And the fireworks really begin when the political and spiritual worlds collide.  We have access to more information, at the touch of a few buttons, than we have ever had before.  But, in some ways we know even less about what is really important.  We have a much greater number of ways to stay in touch, and yet some would argue we are more isolated than ever.  We are living longer than ever before, but we hear reports that these “golden” years are not really that golden at all.

We seek to remove moral discussion from modern political day issues, relegating faith as anachronistic at best, a delusional set of fairy tales at worst.  And yet when a horrible event like the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, or a troubling diagnosis like an aggressive cancer hits our lives, we are shaken enough to search for meaning again.

This is not to be cynical, but is rather an attempt to discuss aspects of the present age in which we live.  And I am not pessimistic about the current age in which we live, but rather hopeful and optimistic about what opportunities it provides.  So too was Dominic.  Perhaps when he first ventured outside of Spain, and encountered people not at all like him, he was as overwhelmed as we can be about the paradoxes of our current age.  But he quickly came to “read the signs of the times” to use a Vatican II phrase, and understood an overwhelming need for more informed preaching in ways that were accessible to people.

Things are not that much different today.  A person could be forgiven if they believed the only issues of importance today were abortion, homosexuality and artificial birth control, since the bishops speak about this often, and the press covers it often because controversy sells.  But while I am not suggesting these are not important issues, but I believe there are deeper spiritual questions that the average person questions and seeks answers from God about.

So, since Dominic was empowered to preach, an act that was in his day reserved to bishops, let me be so bold as to suggest the life of St. Dominic provides a life that may need to be more imitated today.  Perhaps we also need to emphasize these fundamental ideas more.  What spiritual issues underlie the current state of things?

First, I think we must be called to  imitate Dominic by finding a more appropriate balance between action and contemplation.  We live in a fast paced world, with a flurry of activity, with things that could distract us twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  It is now common to accept that people can be addicted to the internet, that technology, which was supposed to make our lives easier, has in fact, lengthened our work day and taken away relaxation, because we can now always be reached, and that in the name of keeping our kids out of trouble, we sign our children up for as many activities as possible.  It is said that Dominic either spoke “to God or about God.”  This was only possible because of the balance he carved out between contemplation and action.

When do we find the time simply to relax, let alone enter into that meditative prayer that provides the gateway to make sense of it all?  On many levels, we have bought into (literally) a mentality that calls us to work more and more, but to experience less and less?  Professed Dominicans are not immune from this temptation.  Far too often we are engaged in active ministry at the expense of contemplative prayer.  We too have bought into the western obsession with production, preferring to see what we make, rather than to focus on who we become.

So, firstly, I think Dominic is challenging us to say, “Enough!”  This is time for God and God’s people.  “Be still.”

Second, I think Dominic would challenge us to be people of community.  Namely, to seek out how we can become more connected to the people that should and do matter to us.  Families need to deliberately carve out that time away from television, computers and video games.  Parents need to work less, and spend time together more.  Employers and employees need together to acknowledge that life cannot simply be about work.  And we professed Dominicans, and indeed all in ministry, need to imitate more the person of Jesus who sought out those out of the way places.

Third, we need to inform ourselves about the faith.  How often do we hear, “I do not agree with the Church”, and yet when pushed, people really do not know where the Church taught this or where they even heard it.  Dominic lived in an age of tremendous ignorance, not simply the people he encountered, but the clergy too!  It was why study was to become so important for him, and his community.  Preachers must be informed.  In so many ways the challenges still remain.

Whatever we feel about the Second Vatican Council, we owe it to ourselves, at least once a year, to reread the documents of the Second Vatican Council.  If we are discouraged for whatever reason, we need to read a little Church history.  We Americans are not strong on history.  We do not understand that in the words of the Bible, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Lastly, we need to be close to the sacramental and prayer life of the Church.  We are spoiled here in the United States.  Many of us have easy access to more than one parish.  We can seek out the parish family that helps us to find God.  Whether it is communal prayer, the sacraments, or the devotional life of the Church, we must make efforts to make it a part of our regular lives.

But perhaps most importantly, we need to develop the attitude of Dominic.  The world is a good place, and creation  provides the means to help us come to know God.  For God is indeed knowable.  And we are redeemable.  We are not, in the words of Martin Luther, no better than manure covered with a little grace, but rather are good, even though we commit sin as well.  But God has overcome sin and death!

The reason this is so important is that we live in a world that both needs to be challenged, but at the same time, needs to be reminded of the limitless hope is has, because of the grace of Christ and the tremendous gift he has given to the Church.

If we can begin by embracing the aspects of Dominic’s life I suggest, I am confident we will be more able to live simply, not having more than we need.  If we embrace these aspects of Dominic’s life, we will find it easier to have that type of trust that allows us to be obedient to the will of God.  And if we embrace these aspects of Dominic’s life, all of our relationships will mirror THE relationship, our relationship with God.

Homily for Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Readings for Today

Ever had an experience so terrifying you forget who you are, where you are, you can only focus on the thing that terrorizes?  I certainly hope not.  But the storm described in the gospel must have been a real big one.  For the boat was tossed, and experienced fishermen, the disciples, were terrified.  And Jesus was no where to be seen.

Oh, wait. . . he is to be seen.  But his presence does not bring the disciples comfort, but increases their panic.  They are convinced that things have gotten so bad that they are now seeing a ghost!  Put simply, Jesus did not come to the disciples in the way they expected.  And so it can be with us.

I suspect you have your favorite ways of praying, as do I.  And I hope, that like me, you have experienced deep consolation and peace from those times of prayer.  But I hope too, that like me, you have been “shaken up” by God who comes to you and me in an unusual way.  Maybe like Peter these ways are unsettling, but maybe like Peter you summon the courage to follow Jesus, even in a way that defies common sense.

When did Jesus falter?  Was it not when he took his eyes away from Jesus?  He perceived the wind, the waves, and the fact that he was WALKING ON WATER, and he simply became too frightened to follow Jesus and he sank.  But he did not lose complete sight of Jesus. For when he began to sink he said the most important words he could have spoken, “Lord, Save Me!”

The minute Peter made his prayer in faith, the moment he called out for the salvation of Jesus, life became calm.  The storm subsided, the waves disappeared, and all was right with the world again.  When we face difficulties, even very challenging ones, can we learn from Peter?  Can we come to realize that it is not all about what we do, but most importantly what Jesus does.

Before he walks across the water, Jesus has been praying.  He has found that quiet spot to enter into the deep and profound relationship God calls each of us to enter.  And immediately, he saves Peter, and he heals the sick.  Peter knows Jesus for who he is, and the crowds come because they too have seen the healing power of Jesus.

We can be tempted to become frightened and afraid.  We can run far from prayer sometimes because we do not wish to experience God in an unexpected way, one that might upset our way of seeing things.  But when we can let go and trust, we can become like the disciples, we can see with the eyes of faith that Jesus is truly the Son of God.

Homily for Monday, August 6, 2012 (Transfiguration)

Readings for Today

Yesterday I spoke of the fears and doubts that can sometimes beset us when we come upon difficult times.  Today, we are reminded not only that we are never alone, but we are reminded that God is glorious and can give us great signs to help us to know God is with us.  Such is the case with the scene we have in the gospel.

While it is true that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is also fully human, experience everything we do except sin.  To that end, Jesus had to spend time discerning the Father’s will, and it is only natural that he might have struggled with the question of whether or not he was on the right path.  We certainly know that his disciples struggled with this question.

How often do they fail to recognize what type of Messiah the Christ is?  How often do they fail to recognize in the life of Jesus and in his actions the true meaning of them?  Over and over again.  So, the Transfiguration stands as a dramatic confirmation that Jesus is following the right path.  God the Father is not quoted as saying much in the gospels, but ironically, most often he is telling us that he finds his son pleasing.  He finds the work of Jesus, his will, to result in pleasing endeavors.

If God the Father is pleased with his Son, then we would be well served to seek to imitate him.  Not in a robotic kind of way, but rather in a way that brings our best selves forward.  If we were truly the persons God created to be, St. Catherine of Siena tells us, we would set the world ablaze.  In everything Jesus did he was who he was supposed to be.  As a result, more than two thousand years later, we are still seeking Jesus, we are still remembering and proclaiming what he said and what he did, we are still gathering around the table of the Lord to receive his body and blood.

We must allow ourselves, though, to be led by Jesus to the mountaintop, recognizing that the path may seem unclear, and the destination uncertain.  But if we imitate the faithful trust of Jesus in the will of the Father, the Father will be well pleased with us too.

Homily for Saturday, August 4, 2012

Readings for Today

Yesterday we were left with a real cliff hanger.  Jeremiah was surrounded by the priests, prophets, and all the people, and we were left with the harsh words, “He must be put to death!”  And today’s first reading begins with the same harsh words.  But when Jeremiah reminds the people his words come from the Lord, it is the start of a new way of seeing.  However, it is not the words of Jeremiah alone that seems to sway the people.  Rather, it is the reminder that previous prophets who suggested bad things would occur if changes were not made that caused people to take pause.

Being told what we do not wish to hear is difficult indeed, especially if it means having to admit that we were wrong.  It can be difficult to hear, much less recognize, that we need to change our lives.  It can be harsh indeed to be called out for living an immoral life.  In fact, we are often like the people when we hear such things.  We wish to shoot the messenger, call into question the truthfulness, the integrity or the reliability of the messenger.  We go to great lengths sometimes to protect our beliefs and our way of life.

But we need to consider no more than the first words of Jesus’ message.  Change!  Repent!  We do not have everything together and it is not simply a case of finding people who only affirm us.  In the rule of the Benedictines, the monks are warned when someone enters their community and is critical of some aspect of life or another, that it may have been God himself who sent this very person to the monastery for the purpose of correction.

So today’s first reading puts a challenge squarely in front of each one of us.  What are we being called to change in our own life?  What unpretty things must we face in ourselves?  Where is it that we have not accepted fully enough the grace of God in our hearts?  What areas of sin need to be pruned from our lives so that we can become more like Christ?

While our initial reaction may be to kill the messenger, let us remember the words of the first reading, that we may have the grace to hear God’s call to conversion from wherever it comes.

Homily for Friday, August 3, 2012

Readings for Today

I bet you thought things were looking up for Jeremiah after his awareness he needed to change, that the sin was his, and that it was his attitude that needed work.  How wrong!  While Jeremiah does seem to be at greater peace with God, his words do not find a fertile reception in the hearts of the priests, prophets or any of the people.  “We must put him to death!”

Lest you thought that when we fully embrace God’s will that things will all fall into place, we need only look at Jeremiah to learn it is not always the case.  He needed to learn how to better present the message he had been given by God, and when he embraced this, the “only” difference, it appears, is in the quality of his relationship with God.  While this is no small thing, it is not exactly the happy ending we were seeking.

It seems the gospel presents a similar problem.  Jesus is recognized as having wisdom, while at the same time he is challenged because he was not so long ago that “little brat” that was running around Nazareth.  The people knew his relatives, they new him, and they simply seemed quite unable to accept that this little Jesus, son of Joseph the Carpenter and his wife Mary, could really be capable of such wisdom.

Ever felt dismissed in your life? Ever had that experience of not being believed and accepted, not because of the ideas you speak, but because of the pre-determined view of those to whom they are spoken?

It is important not to lose sight of the common denominator in both of these readings — both Jesus and Jeremiah were clearly speaking the words of God, and were punished for such by those who heard them.  We must be careful to realize that we must be persons of prayer before engaging in the same things.  “Contemplare aliis tradere” is a motto familar to Dominicans.  To contemplate in order to hand over the fruits of contemplation.  Remember, Jeremiah may have even been right in what he spoke (as we heard earlier) but he was not effective.

Our words will only become effective when we can embrace that life-changing reality that is a deep life of faith.

Homily for Thursday, August 2, 2012

Readings for Today

I was recently in Rome for a class in education.  It is not possible to be in Rome and to walk even a few steps without coming across something ancient, old, something dating back hundreds or even thousands of years.

The purpose of the class was to help the educators who were taking it come to realize that there is a tremendous connection between the new and the old.  It can be quite the temptation, particularly in a young country like the United States, to believe that we have made such tremendous progress in everything.  A visit to a place like Rome can remind us that we have much to learn.

For, as is often the case, what we consider to be new, is often times something that is really old.  As the Old Testament says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  Today’s readings remind us that the old and the new are often a mix of the same things.

I have tried my hand at pottery, though never on a spinning wheel.  It is not easy, and I admire those who can make it look easy.  But Jeremiah reminds us that often those things that look so awesome when they are finished are often the result of a lot of hard work.  They are often the result of trying something new over and over again.

In our modern age, it is not really simple to get the mix of old and new right.  As we look at the modern age in which we live, we can both be amazed and repulsed at what we can do.  As we look back at the ancient world, be can both be amazed and repulsed by what they did.

So how do we find the wisdom mentioned in the gospel?  We know our storehouse has both good and bad.  How do we keep the good and throw away the bad?  This is not easy.  As I was in Rome I read a suggestion that if the Church simply sold all of the stuff it had, it could end world hunger.  But as I experienced my own emotions in these settings, and saw the tremendous impact such buildings, art work and monuments had on so many who visit them every year, I came to appreciate more fully the foolishness of this suggestion.

Our faith reflects this same struggle.  There are those who want to “turn back the clock”, believing that by embracing a Church they believed existed before the Second Vatican Council, we will be able to turn back the complexities of our age to a more simple time.  There are others who believe the Church must move forward to “adapt with the times.”  Indeed, both have had there time and place in the history of the Church.

But the Church is not a political party, where we align with a set of political ideals.  Rather, it is the Kingdom of God, whereby we evaluate the new and the old, the good and the bad, through the best and only standard: God himself.

Homily for Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Readings for Today

Poor Jeremiah.  Things are really going badly for him.  Modern psychologists might suggest he is depressed.  His life is simply not turning out like he intended.  Perhaps he thought that when he accepted the call of God everything would be very easy.  Say yes to God and become a hero lauded by all.  But, as we hear the words he speaks today, he is far from universally being accepted.  He sounds like he is literally at the end of his rope.

Perhaps you have had a similar time in your life, where it seems like there is nothing good around you, and you have the feeling that things will never, ever get better again.  Such is a very dark place to be.

So often, when we find our selves in such a place, we are challenged to a new way of seeing.  Whether that is in seeking out the legitimate work of a psychological professional, the wise counsel of a holy spiritual director, or the time we spend in private and communal prayer seeking to hear the voice of God deep within us, the path to healing is usually one where we are challenged to see things differently.

Such is the case with Jeremiah.  In Jeremiah’s own words we hear that his preaching has been filled with indignation, anger, so consuming him he cannot sit with merry makers, but rather finds himself alone.

It is interesting that when God speaks to Jeremiah, it is not those to whom he preaches that the call to change is given, but rather, it is to Jeremiah himself.  How easy is it to blame our problems on others?  “If only that co-worker was not so mean to me.”  “If only my boss would see things rightly, like me.”  “If only those Republicans would only stop blocking good legislation.”  “If only those Democrats would stop wasting my money.”  Whatever the view, it is often much easier to look outside of myself when I am unhappy, rather than seeking to look to God to heal my own sinfulness.

For, while we may not always see it, the spiritual life is a treasure that deserves our undivided quest to imitate Jesus in all we do.  To “sell” those aspects of our life that do not lead to a better self, more like Jesus, and to “buy” the field in our hearts ready to bear abundant fruit because of how God will transform our lives.

Homily for Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Readings for Today

Have you ever had the experience of driving by an accident, and despite your best efforts, simply having to look at it?  I suspect you have.  I know I have.  Even traffic reports have developed a term to describe this:  “rubbernecking.”  There are times when we simply cannot avoid looking at suffering.  We are both repulsed by it and attracted by it.

I wonder if the words of today’s first reading describe “rubber necking”.  Only, in this case, the destruction is pervasive.  Everywhere the writer looks there is destruction.  Individuals slain by the sword, those who are hungry, those waiting for peace without satisfaction, seekers of healing who only experience terror, and those priests and prophets who find this land so strange they cannot recognize it.

It only takes a little bit of time with a newspaper or the television to know that little has changed.  Our city of Chicago has evidence every day of people who are the victims of the modern day “sword”, the gun.  Each weekend we hear about more shootings around the city, to a point where at least I find I do not even find that I am affected by it any more.

Wherever I walk, I cannot help but come across those who are hungry, poor, homeless.  I cannot help but feel the despair that is described in the first reading.

But these feelings are the easy part.  The hard part is when the first reading takes me where I do not want to go, namely the acknowledgement that these things exist, at least in some way, because of my sin.  MY SIN.  Not the sin of others, but my sin, which has contributed to the world of evil.

It begins with the acknowledgement of my sin because I can too quickly move to the communal sense of sin.  Yes, it is true, I alone am not responsible for world hunger.  But I am responsible.  I waste food, I do not consider how I could live more simply, I find there are times I cannot even bring myself to look at the poor.

And, there are times when I all too easily let myself off the hook.  But Jesus did not.  He spent time with the very people who may have been described in the first reading.  He was with the tax collectors, the outcasts, those who are victims of violence and hunger.  In short, Jesus often sided with the very people I sometimes find it hard to be with in my own life today.

In the gospel, as always, the key to the mystery is found.  Becoming detached from the barriers to being that person who is the seed planted in the ground that will yield such a rich harvest.  Less activity, less anxiety, and more reflection on the presence of God in my life form the way in which God answers our prayer, “For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.”

Homily for July 30, 2012

Readings for Today

Little things can become big things.  There are so many instances in life where we see this truth.  In March of 1982, an article was published that became known as espousing the “Broken Window” theory.  Namely, ignoring “small things” caused them to turn into “big things”.  While not all agree with the broken window theory, it was cited as a successful underpinning to the cleaning up of crime in New York City by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point.

Anyone who has looked at an acorn can see the difference in size between it and an oak tree.  Recent pictures of Michael Phelps’ mother reminds us that even he was a small baby at one time in his life.

We also can look at how our faith can be the same way.  Small, unchecked bad attitudes, habits or seemingly harmless actions done with out reflection can be the fertile soil for much more negative things.  Or, with proper reflection and prayer, such small things as good attitudes, habits, or seemingly inconsequential actions can be the fertile soil for such activity to be rooted in the Kingdom of God.

Today’s gospel challenges us to be attentive  to the little things.  First, the gospel awareness of the Kingdom of God is really about acknowledging that while we can see patterns in our life, we are not always certain how these patterns arise.  Namely, there is a tension between our belief that the world is knowable, with the tension there is a mystery present to in human existence.

Certainly it is possible for us to become impatient with the pace of our spiritual growth.  At the same time, because growth can occur so slowly, we can ignore it altogether.  But inside of us, because of God’s grace, there is immense possibility.  We can become far more than we ever imagined.

We, small and insignificant human beings, can become large, like a mustard seed in our faith.  We, small and insignificant human beings, can have tremendous impact throughout our world, like yeast in dough.  As we are reminded, with God, all things are possible.