Homily for Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Today’s Readings

Do we long to do the will of God, or not?  Today we are presented with two rather interesting persons who encounter God.  Mary, the Mother of God, and Ahaz, the King of Israel.  Both are presented with unbelievable experiences of faith.  But each responds in an unique way.  For Mary, it is her “may it be done to me according to your word”, the yes she gives to God, but for Ahaz, it is a rejection of God, albeit couched in language that might at first seem quite pious.  Why such different answers?

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at Ahaz, the King.  He reigned at a time when Israel was threatened.  He choose to side with Assyria over the promise of God made to David.  The reason God wants Ahaz to ask for a sign is so he might be convinced that God will be faithful in keeping his promise.  So before Ahaz is the ability to see God offer a sign that will remind him of the powerful promise God made with David, or to trust in something that appears to be more certain, the military power of Assyria.  Ahaz chooses Assyria, and he is doomed.  Ahaz will not ask God for a sign, because he does not want one.

Mary, on the other hand, is open to the uncertainty of the message of the angel Gabriel, because she trusts in God’s word.  She is frightened, but she says yes anyway.  She is willing to be the vehicle for Jesus to come into the world as a human being, not fully understanding or comprehending how this can even be.  She trusts God’s word through the angel, and the Incarnation becomes real.

Today’s readings remind me of the choice Moses set before the people, that of death or of life.  Ahaz, though he probably does not fully realize it has chosen death.  Mary has chosen life.  Today, God places before you the choice of life or death.  What will  you choose?

Homily for Monday, March 24, 2014

Readings for Today

What type of God do you wish?  One who is the “Hollywood Special Effects” God, or one who does what is best for us at all times, even in ways that might seem quite ordinary.  Poor Naaman.  He would have done anything had is been spectacular, and not involved and “oh so ordinary” river.  Nothing magic.  Nothing spectacular.  Just go and bathe.  Fortunately for him, Naaman had servants that cared for him.

If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”  While it is true that in the sacraments we are surrounded by the extraordinary, they look very ordinary.  Water.  Wafers.  Oil.  Words.  Laying on of hands.  Our worship, our praise often appears quite ordinary without faith.  But with faith, it becomes eternal.  It affords us eternal life because the extraordinary Jesus becomes present in ordinary ways.

We can be too much like Naaman.  Expecting God to do something extraordinary.  This is a common temptation.  In a few weeks we will hear the people wonder why the one who opened the eyes of the blind man could not do something for Lazarus, or those who mock Jesus by telling him to “come down from that cross”.

The psalm reminds us that authentic discipleship means being athirst for God, to be longing for that relationship with Christ that fulfills more than we can possibly imagine, not by magic, but by the profound love Jesus has for each one of us.

Homily for Saturday, March 22, 2014

Readings for Today

In a general audience on February 19, Pope Francis made a plea not too long ago for Catholics to return in greater numbers to the sacrament of confession.

“Do not be afraid of Confession! When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of Confession! I would like to ask you — but don’t say it aloud, everyone respond in his heart: when was the last time you made your confession? Everyone think about it … Two days, two weeks, two years, twenty years, forty years? Everyone count, everyone say ‘when was the last time I went to confession?’. And if much time has passed, do not lose another day. Go, the priest will be good. Jesus is there, and Jesus is more benevolent than priests, Jesus receives you, he receives you with so much love. Be courageous and go to Confession!”

It is never easy to admit we have done wrong to another.  It can seem almost impossible if we have not been to confession in a long time.  It is for this reason that it is important for those of us who are priests to emphasize how much the sacrament is about God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness and God’s love.  As a priest and a confessor, I have one very important thing on my mind in hearing confessions:  How can I be a vehicle that leads the penitent closer to Jesus?

Today’s readings emphasize the primacy of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  God is like the father, going to the brow of the hill each day waiting for us to return.  Eager, loving, ready to bestow unbelievable forgiveness upon us.   We know the story as the Prodigal Son.  That is because the word prodigal can mean wasteful and excessive spending.  But is can also simply mean lavishly abundant.   In this sense, the mercy of the father in the story can be about lavish abundance.  So, while the son is wasteful, the father is lavish in giving an abundance of mercy.

What is interesting about today’s gospel is that both sons need to learn to accept their father on his own terms.  The older son has been faithful, hardworking and obedient.  He is angry at his father kindness and mercy.  The younger son has felt privileged and entitled.  He essentially says to his father in asking for his inheritance, “I want you dead.”

To be sure, we too can feel that God’s abundant mercy can seem unfair.  But in the end, we seek a deeper relationship with God by accepting God on his own terms.

Homily for Friday, March 21, 2014

Readings for Today

“Resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, or against the success or advantage itself.”  Such is the definition given in Dictionary.com.  And we see this feeling quite clearly in both readings today.  As “the child of his old age”, Joseph has a special place in his father’s heart.  The brothers of Joseph are jealous.  It does not help the situation that Joseph shared dreams that he would have authority over his brothers.

In the gospel, The chief priests and Pharisees are jealous of the success Jesus is having in preaching to the people.  His preaching is touching the hearts of the people, and from the chief priests’ and Pharisees’ perspective, risking upsetting all of the privileges they have come to enjoy.

In both stories, the jealousy is so powerful it causes the consideration of serious things.  Joseph’s brothers contemplate killing him, and then sell him into slavery.  The chief priests and Pharisees want to arrest Jesus, but they are afraid.  Still, they will continue to seek out the opportunity to do so.  Jealousy can make human beings do some awful things.

And yet, In Exodus 20:5 we hear that God is a jealous God.  Does this lead God to do terrible things?  And if it does not, what does it mean for our moments of jealousy?  God is jealous in the sense the God demands total allegiance.  But unlike wanting something he cannot have, God’s wishes for us always result in what is best for us.  God demands total allegiance because the alternative is simply much worse for us.

When we as humans get jealous, we are not thinking of the good of the other, but rather how we can have the talents, relationships or possessions of the other.  And therein lies a huge difference.  In us, when we cannot admit we are jealous and deal with it, then what happens is we turn inward to uncover our worst selves.  When God is jealous, it always results in our best.

Homily for Thursday, March 20, 2014

Readings for Today

In whom do you trust?  Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD. With these words, we are issued a warning.  In whom do we trust?  When I think back over my life, one question I ask myself when I am feeling tempted to doubt the Lord, is this:  When has God ever let me down?  While it may feel at times like I am being let down, often sad or difficult times really become those times when growth occurs and something greater awaits.  My becoming a Dominican friar came out of one such time.

The first reading presents the outcomes of trusting in God or trusting in humans.  This is a choice we need to understand carefully.  The reading is not suggesting, in my view, that we should never trust in human beings (in fact, just get in your car and drive on an expressway or any other road and you trust other human beings), but it is suggesting, I think, that all trust is first grounded in our trust in God.  God is dependable.  God is reliable.  God knows us better than we know ourselves, and God’s wishes for us are more spectacular than we can even imagine.

The gospel also presents a story about a person who trusted only in human beings, the rich man who ignored the beggar Lazarus day in and day out for years.  When he realizes that his choices ultimately impact his salvation (or his lack of salvation) he seeks then to undo the damnation.  But by then, his heart is too callous, and his decisions too set.  It is likely that he would revert to his old ways if he was able to make such a choice.

We are challenged in our lives to open our hearts to trust in the Lord.  Out of this love and trust comes the ability to see the world in a new way.  We see the beggar Lazarus, not as a nuisance, but as the person of Christ.  We reach out to serve others not because we wish to feel good about ourselves, but rather because we wish to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus and others.  So today, ask yourself, “In whom do I trust?”

Homily for Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Readings for Today

Is there any other significant person in the Bible that has no spoken lines recorded?  It is hard to imagine.  But when we consider St. Joseph, he is a man who is not quoted as saying one thing.  All we know about him comes through somebody else.  People know him as Jesus’ father, we are told, not by Joseph, but by the writer of the gospel, that Joseph was having serious doubts and had decided not to take Mary as his wife, and by Mary herself we learn that Joseph was anxious at the disappearance of Jesus.  Further, Joseph does not “stay on the stage long” in any gospel. Shortly after Jesus turns twelve, Joseph exits.  There is not even any account of his death.  Joseph is the silent man.

But what we do know of Joseph in the gospels is that Joseph was a just man.  We see time and time again that Joseph displays his faith in God.  In these stories we come to see that while he may not be recorded as speaking much, he clearly spoke much by the way he lived his life of faith.  And in so many ways, that is the best speech that can be made.

All of the readings, through David, Abraham, and Joseph stress the promise. And in all instances, the message is clear: When God makes a promise, God keeps it.  Plain and simple.  David, Abraham, and Joseph all had difficulties, but in the end, all kept their faith in God that the promises made would be promises kept.  And so as we celebrate St. Joseph, let us remember his faithfulness, and seek to imitate that in our own lives.

Homily for Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Readings for Today

Do you ever feel that you are unredeemable?  That is to say, do you feel you have committed sins that are simply too big, too evil, for God to forgive?  The people of Sodom and Gomorrah must have felt this way.  In a footnote in the New American Bible, in a note to the reading, many reasons for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  “The immorality of the cities was already hinted at in 13:13, when Lot made his choice to live there. The “outcry” comes from the victims of the injustice and violence rampant in the city, which will shortly be illustrated in the treatment of the visitors. The outcry of the Hebrews under the harsh treatment of Pharaoh (Ex 3:7) came up to God who reacts in anger at mistreatment of the poor (cf. Ex 22:2123Is 5:7). Sodom and Gomorrah became types of sinful cities in biblical literature. Is 1:910;3:9 sees their sin as lack of social justice, Ez 16:4651, as disregard for the poor, and Jer 23:14, as general immorality. In the Genesis story, the sin is violation of the sacred duty of hospitality by the threatened rape of Lot’s guests.”

Whatever the reasons, Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous for places steeped in sin, places beyond the mercy of God.  But the readings today present a different picture.  There is hope, a chance at redemption.  “Wash yourselves clean!”  “Cease doing evil, learn to do good.”  “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord.”  We know that of our own accord we cannot set things right, that it is only by the grace of God that such occurs.  Rather, it is when we heed the words of God, when we are “willing and obey” that we are able to accept the Lord’s forgiveness and have our sins, as bright and obvious as scarlet on snow, will indeed become white, pure, clean.

Indeed, Lent is a time for us to turn to the Lord.  Many parishes have reconciliation services, those times when people can be made who through the grace of the sacrament of confession.  Take advantage of these opportunities.  Hear today the words of the Lord:  Wash yourselves clean!

Homily for Monday, March 17, 2014

Readings for Today

We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets . . .” Not such a good day for the Israelites today.  An open and honest admission that they have failed to follow the will of God.  A lot.  Sinning.  Being wicked. Doing evil.  Rebelling.  Departing from commandments and laws. Not obeying.  This is a pretty complete list.

I know I can point out similar things in my own life.  I sin, am wicked, do evil, rebel, depart from commandments and laws, and do not obey.  Such is my list.  Where is the healing for such a list?  To be sure, we experience profound forgiveness of God by asking.  But, Jesus also knew the weakness of our hearts, and the effects of our sins.  He knew we needed to speak them, not only in prayer, but to another.  Such brings a greater awareness of the will of God.

Jesus stresses those things that make it more likely our hearts become open to this forgiveness.  Stop judging.  Stop condemning.  Forgive.  At the heart of our sins I think is that pride that says we know better than anyone, even God.  So we judge and condemn those who do not live up to our standards.  We find it hard to forgive such people.  Yet, when we sin, we desire the forgiveness of God, which is primary, and the forgiveness by others.

Look deep into your hearts today, into your souls, and invite God inside.  Ask God to help you to be merciful just as he is merciful  Can we become known as the givers of compassion and mercy, especially when it is undeserved, as when we go before God?

Homily for Saturday, March 15, 2014

Readings for Today

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Easy, right?  After challenging us to be as attentive to the interior of our lives as well as the exterior, Jesus ends with what seems to be spoken as if it were easy.  And, the truth is, were we to follow Jesus with our whole heart, it would be.

Just what is the way to perfection?  To be sure, we look to Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life.  But how is it that we get on that “Way”? What do we need to do?  Who do we need to be?  As with everything, it all starts with God.  It can run counter to our western understanding of life to say this.  Wait, it does not all start with me?  I just need to be more active. do more things, work on more projects, and I will be perfect, right?

Quite honestly, the way to perfection is to recognize the God who made us, and to be that person.  We are made in the image and likeness of God.  If we are really to be what and who we were created to be, then we would be perfect.  But of course, we sin.  We do not always strive to act like God acts.

Such is the fundamental choice Moses lays out before the people.  Observe the decrees of God (be perfect), or life will ultimately turn out badly (choosing death).  We should not get confused here.  Being perfect is not, however, a choice of checking off a set of rules on a piece of paper.  No, being perfect, as Jesus tells us in the gospel, is to have that heart that is inclined to God’s will.  It is making sure the grace of God makes its way into the very depths of our heart and soul.

To do that means very much to be hearers and doers of the Word.  To turn our lives over to the God of majesty who has more in store for his followers than can possible be imagined.  So, choose life and be perfect.

Homily for Friday, March 14, 2014

Readings for Today

“That’s not fair!”  How many times has a child said this to mom or dad?  “That’s not fair!”  Equality seems to be a fundamental value in the United States.  The word is thrown around a lot in politics, it is an early concept learned by children, and it is something we all desire, to be treated fairly.  But what does equality really mean?

The word equal can be translated the same as.  So when we speak of a right, such as the right to free speech as being a sign of equality, it means the right given is the same for everyone.  It does not treat one person differently than the next.  No, in the name of equality, every person has the same right to free speech.

There are other moments, however, when we do not treat someone exactly the same, and doing so, creating some inequality, is ok.  Parents do not treat their children equally, because each child has unique needs and a unique personality.  An effective teacher does not treat all children equally, because each child has a different way to effectively learn.  And each child has unique needs.  We do not punish children who wear glasses by telling them to take them off, because we want to treat all children the same, and since some children do not have glasses, then no one can wear them.  That would be silly.  We recognize that treating children fairly does not mean treating them equally.

I worked in a school where a teacher had this taped to her desk:  “Fair is not always equal.”  And so it is with God.  God loves every person he has created.  But God also knows that every person is not the same, precisely because God is the creator.  Differences require that God deal in a unique way with each one of us.  And these differences, if celebrated, make for a more complete picture of the image of God.

Where do we see this in the Church?  There are different religious orders, stressing different gifts, there are different styles of preaching, different cultures, different ways of expressing the call of God in our lives.  How is it that God invites you to a deeper prayer life?  What is it that God does that helps you to grow closer to him?  How is it that you need to change your life to be more attentive to the presence of God?