Homily for Friday, December 7, 2012

Today’s Readings

If you’ve ever been to a desert, such as in Arizona or in another part of the world, you understand the power of water. You can see the effects of the lack of water by observing the plants and vegetation that grow there. They are not lush, and often in a desert there are not too many things that are green.

So to help understand in yet another way how God gives us life in extreme ways, we encounter yet another image. Imagine how lush an orchard seems. Imagine how precious is the fruit that is produced in a climate where it is surrounded by dryness.

While we are not describing a climate when talking about our souls, we probably know what it feels like to be dry in a spiritual sense. Great saints had periods of spiritual dryness that sometimes lasted for years. It seems the closer they got to God, the harder it became to see God as he is. When St. Teresa of Calcutta, commonly known as Mother Teresa, wrote about this dryness and her words were published, some took this to mean that she must not have believed in God.

But they missed the point. Wile certainly faith can give us good feelings, and can be a consolation, faith is not simply defined by feelings. Rather, faith is an assent of our will to do God’s will. We do not pray just to feel good, in the same way that parents do not simply care for their children only when it feels good. In the middle of the might, when they would rather sleep, they awaken to care for their children.

It is in this context the gospel can be understood. Certainly the blind men had not been able to see for some time, indeed all of Their lives. They come to Jesus, and he asks them about their faith. It is clear why they approached Jesus. They believed he could cure them. Jesus asks this question not because they needed good feelings, but he needed to know they were open to what he could do for them. Maybe he needed to remind them of what he already knew was true. But in their answer they also became powerful witnesses to the God who can make the dry land fertile.

In other words, when we experience spiritual dryness in our lives, by seeking God we enable Him to feed us, to make the dry land of our soul fertile once again. Advent provides us the time to seek the fertile ground of a deep spiritual life with God. You just need to answer the question of Jesus: “Do you believe I can do this?”

Homily for Thursday, December 6, 2012

Today’s Readings

If you have ever been to Europe, or China, or any place where there are majestic buildings that have stood for centuries, you understand the power of a good foundation. In fact, while a foundation is not the most beautiful part of the building, it is the most essential. With a strong foundation, a building last for a very long time. But the opposite is also true. Take shortcuts with the foundation, and the building will not last a very long time.

So is easy to see why Jesus uses this analogy in the Gospel. Because it is so easy to see the connections between the foundation that supports the building the foundation that supports our lives. What care do we give in the building of our foundation? On whom do we rely? Do we seek out a masterbuilder, one who is known as an artisan? Or do we rely on someone who gets the job done quickly without concern for the long-term viability of a building or a life? These questions are not frivolous, but in fact are quite important for us to live holy life.

But what makes for a good foundation? Too often, I think we are tempted to try to answer the question ourselves. Jesus is not only the foundation of the Church, mainly Lord Jesus himself, but also the one who molds us into his body. Because he knows how human beings can be inspired by the faith of others, he calls us to celebrate our faith in the community of the Church. We come to this daily mass because we recognize how it is that Jesus wants to strengthen us. We come because we receive Jesus in the Eucharist and we hear Jesus speak to us in the Scriptures. But we should also strive to find some quiet time from the hustle and bustle of these days. Time to discover the rock upon which are lives are being built when we open our hearts to receive God’s grace.

Homily for Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Today’s Readings

Are you hungry? Today’s readings focus a lot on food. We have a rather interesting approach to food in United States. Far too often, I think people in the US see a meal as that thing to rush through very quickly to get to the important part of life. After all, we are the people who invented fast food. But today’s readings provide an interesting contrast between the God who longs to Fill us more completely than we can possibly imagine, and people who have been filled spiritually, but have neglected the body.

To be sure, Isaiah writing in the first reading, describes a scene where everything is plentiful. There’s no concern about calories, or eating right or wrong foods. Rather God is so generous that whatever the body needs to be drawn into eternal salvation is given it. This is not just the giving of food that satisfies until the next meal, but rather concerns the giving of what is needed for eternal life. It is in that context that we hear the tremendous joy at the end of the reading. God has saved us!

In the Gospel, Desperate people with all sorts of calamities and illnesses come to Jesus for deep healing. Their suffering is so intense, but there first concern does not seem to be making sure they get enough to eat. Rather, it is to come to the person of Jesus to Leah’s feet, and to receive the tremendous healing he longs to give each one of us.

In fact, the question of food that Jesus poses to the disciples, is not primarily about what to eat. It is rather, to show us, through the disciples, God is one who can meet all our needs. It is not to suggest that we should ignore the physical concerns of our body. It is good for us here on earth to watch will be eat, to exercise, and to do those things that are necessary to help us to be healthy.

But it is to recognize that you and I are destined for greater things. For the correct living of our lives, open to the gift of life, by living so our hearts are ready to receive the tremendous gifts of God’s spirit, we are called to receive the gift of life that lasts forever.

Homily for Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today’s Readings

Don’t the readings today sound almost too good to be true? The reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah paints a world so wonderful and so beautiful that every source of antagonism and difficulty is wiped away. Lion lie down with lamb, the baby won’t play in the adders’ lair. But perhaps most unbelievable, is that person that will judge with justice, not being swayed by those aspects of life tempt us to move away from the kingdom of God. In this unbelievable world the poor gain a fair hearing, justice becomes the delineating mark for every decision. The person of the prophet given to us, the shoot from Jesse will be one who embodies the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon those willing and ready to receive them.

The readings provided two important considerations for us. First, there is the reality that the Lord Jesus Christ, as one who embodies the gifts of the Holy Spirit as a human, shows us the way. And even though we are not always able to imitate Jesus completely or in full, we are reminded today that just as the disciples who saw Jesus and heard his words, Jesus blesses us in what we see and hear. We to hear the words of Jesus in the readings, and we encounter the person of Jesus by receiving him in the Eucharist.

Isaiah tells us that the shoot of Jesse will be a signal for all the peoples. What if we too were a signal, to all the people? What if we ask God for the grace to be the signal because of the way in which we live our lives, the way in which we care for one another, the way in which we are moved to live the gospel completely and fully? The season of Advent is a time or we are focused in a special way on the coming of Jesus in our daily lives. While we may not yet be ready to do the impossible, we know if we are more and more open to God, even the impossible becomes possible.

Homily for Monday, August 13, 2012

Readings for Today

Ever had an experience you simply could not put into words?  Or have you ever told a story only to end it by saying, “Guess you had to be there”?  It is clear there are some experiences that are almost impossible to convey to someone who has not had such an experience.  Imagine then the challenge of the first reading.  How can one describe the glory of God?  Is it possible?  Can it be done?

The mystics in the world find this a constant challenge.  They write, they attempt to put into words the experience they have, but even the best would admit it was not the equivalent of the experience.  In St. Thomas Aquinas’ often misused quote, that what he wrote was so much straw, it is often not pointed out that he was comparing what he wrote with his experience of the glory of God.  Compared to that experience, what he wrote was so much straw.

Today we can find the same challenge.  How do we describe our faith?  How do we explain to others why we believe in God?  How is it that we can share with people the experiences of God that we have had that compel us to deeper belief to live the gospel life?  To be sure, it is not easy.  And it is why we need each other.  While it may be hard to explain the experience to someone who has not had a similar one, we can find reassurance from those who share our beliefs.

We also must attempt to seek out these same experiences.  The response to the psalm tells us that heaven and earth are filled with God’s glory.  Filled with God’s glory.  Imagine.  Do you see in your life a world filled with God’s glory?   Do you find yourself immersed in a world where God’s glory is all around us?  I know that while sometimes it can be hard, at the same time I find when I am attentive to prayer, it is easier to see the hand of God in my life.

And it may not be as hard as you think.  Those of you who have children certainly can see the glory of God in them.  Those of you who have found the best spouse there is, certainly can see the glory of God in them.  With careful attention, we can believe the words we said in the response to the psalm.  Yes indeed, heaven and earth are filled with the glory of God.

Homily for Saturday, August 11, 2012

Readings for Today

Have you ever had the experience where you were standing near something, or in front of something, which made you feel very small?  I had such an experience not too long ago when I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time.  I do not know what I expected, but it easily surpassed it.  It was so amazingly beautiful.  And is was large.  Very large.  I could not help but think about the power behind the creation of this immense and magnificent canyon.

On the one hand I was aware on some level of the power of water.  But the Grand Canyon is so awesome and immense, I could not help but think of the magnificence of God.  And I felt so tiny, so small, next to something so grand.  (No pun intended.)  So since that visit a few months ago, I hear words like those a little differently in the first reading.  God is from eternity.  And that is a long time.

It reminds me that regardless of what I may think about God, about life, about faith, I simply cannot exhaust the riches of God.  God is eternal, infinite, all-loving.  I need to be humble enough to recognize there is always more to learn about God.  I cannot exhaust God.  Even if I find myself to be a generous person, I cannot out do God in generosity.  Even if I am a loving person, I cannot be more loving than God.

But if I am a person who seeks God, recognizing that in seeking God I find more than I can imagine is even possible, then I am on to something.  And the good news of the gospel is that if my faith is as small as a mustard seed, then everything is possible, since with God all things are possible.

So, do we as believers project that the search for God is worth it?  Do I help those who do not experience God immediately to see that it is in attentive waiting that we can see most clearly?  This waiting, seeking, searching, is not unique to Catholics.  Everyone searching beyond themselves realizes the importance of slowing down life to see it for what it is.

So, think of something magnificent.  And realize, that pales in comparison to the immense and eternal God.

Homily for Friday, August 10, 2012

Readings for Today

Go big or go home.  Go all in.  Leave it all out on the field.  There are any number of phrases that are used to describe that for things that are perceived to be really big, it simply is not possible to hold back.  For things that really matter, we have to make our commitment total.  No where is this more true than when we discuss our vocation.

Think about it.  We do not praise married couples if they only are sort of committed to each other.  It is not true parenthood if one is a sometimes parent.  We have experienced on many levels the deep pain betrayal of religious vows has been for the community in the Church.  When we see leaders more concerned for themselves than for others, we know it is not an “all in” statement of faith.

The first reading is very blunt.  The way to be all in is to be attentive to the poor.  God has a special place for the poor, and time and again we hear that it is our treatment of the poor that is essential as Christians.  More than once I saw on Facebook the saying that Christians certainly were not to be seen at a soup kitchen or a food bank.  And while we do not do things for show, we must consider carefully the words of Jesus that we will become known for our love.

Many Christians that I know are all in.  They volunteer in soup kitchens, donate to food banks, provide free medical and dental care to the poor, they literally try to live Jesus admonition that how we treat one another is the way we treat Jesus.  But this is not simply a club of community service.  It is important to find that time, that quiet reflective time where we allow God to shape us, to form us, into an even deeper reflection of himself.

“Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies”, unless we allow God to mold the worst parts of ourselves away in love, so that we can reflect the images of the divine in what we do, we remain less than we could be.  Many major religions have this dynamic as an important consideration of faith.  For Buddhists, for example, it is eliminating the things to which we are attached, that is the important task of a life of meaning.

Today’s readings, on this feast of St. Lawrence, who gave his life for the faith, reminds me that I too need to give all for the faith.  But that is not far away.  It is as close as the poor person in need, the person who reminds me to seek out always the face of Jesus in the poor.

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.