Homily for Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Readings for Today

If you are a fan of Harry Potter, one character that was really annoying (especially if you are a kid) is Delores Umbridge, the sadistic rule making character that served as High Inquisitor and Headmistress at Hogwarts. Her solution to every problem was to maintain control, which she did by creating an endless collection of rules, so numerous that the wall upon which they were hung collapsed under the sheer weight of the tablets upon which the rules were written. By creating these numerous rules, she was able to maintain to control over the students at Hogwarts, the wizardry school that Harry attended. The problem was the rules did not liberate, allowing a person to live more fully as a human being. Rather, they enslaved, causing a person to become more resentful of the rules and finding ways to avoid having to follow them.

There are some people who come to view religion as simply a collection of arbitrary rules. And there are some religious leaders who in fact enforce such a view. The problem is that is not the type of religion that Jesus invites us into during our lives. It is not a religion simply designed so that we will follow a seemingly endless set of rules, but is rather a time where we are invited into a relationship with Jesus. To be in such a relationship does mean that we must live in a certain way, but not because we are primarily afraid of breaking a rule, but rather because we see the loving relationship requires us to live and act in a particular way because of the one we love.

The Scribes and Pharisees could not understand, or were unwilling to understand, a religion expressed in this way. It was easier to worry about paying tithes on mints than on loving all humans created by God. Worrying about these tithes, and rules like it, became more important than the purpose any authentic religious rule has: to grow in justice, mercy and faithfulness. And to worry about these more weighty parts of the Law of God, means that our lives have to become aligned with God’s way. Or, as Paul writes in the first reading, not trying to please men, but rather seeking to please God.

The applications of this way of seeing religion are numerous. Parents who help their children to be generous are seeking to provide this view of life, and ultimately of God. Spouses who have before them the pathway to holiness and seek to make themselves and the other more holy, understand this. Teachers who can balance appropriately the mercy that is necessary with the accountability that allows for learning are able to witness to the “weightier parts of the law.”

I think it is for this reason that Paul refers to the Law as leading to condemnation, while the pathway to salvation is in relationship with Jesus. While Jesus has “rules”, they are always to be set in the context of a loving relationship with him. And failure to see the love of God, the warm invitation of Jesus, means that rules can be reduced as something we follow only to give ourselves satisfaction, and to show that we might be more important than others. So today, clean out the inside of the cup by inviting Jesus into your heart.

Homily for Friday, May 1, 2015

Readings for Today

These have been some troubling days. There was the absolutely devastating earthquake in Nepal and the riots in Baltimore. There was news of Iran had seized a cargo ship. These on top of many other things too numerous to mention here. Even a short thought about the news could lead someone to lose hope, to experience despair. Our own personal lives can also lead to question whether or not there is a God. Illness, unemployment, broken relationships, and other sad events can equally cause us to wonder about life.

To celebrate the Easter season is to remember that because of the actions of Jesus we are held out a promise that is filled with hope. As bad as things may appear (and they can appear bad), they are never as bad as the victory Jesus won for us. If there is a challenge, it is the challenge to remember this.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. This can be, at times, easier said than done. But the one who tells us this is trustworthy. The one who invites us to do this is dependable. We can trust Jesus because he has paid the price for us. We can trust Jesus because we have witnessed his powerful love in word and deed.

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Homily for Sunday, August 12, 2012

Readings for Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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