Why believe in God?: Homily for Thursday, October 12, 2017

Readings for Today

It seems like there has been one disaster after another.  Hurricanes. Floods. Earthquakes. Shootings. Fires. At some point, even a reasonable person might begin to ask what it all means. There can be in us a feeling that might give into despair.  And for me, that is just from someone who has not personally experienced any of these disasters but has only heard their harrowing stories.

The first reading is filled with despair.  There is no longer a hope in God because it seems like there is no good reason to believe. And yet the gospel reminds us of the value of perseverance.  Even when the homeowner does not feel like getting out of bed at night to help his neighbor, persistence causes him to do so. And when we can remain persistent in prayer, we too can become more aware of God’s grace.

Vengeance: Homily for Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Readings for Today

Isn’t it ironic that today’s reading features vengeance? The day after the Las Vegas shootings and we are face to face with the understandable human emotion. Vengeance. “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Today is a day where it might just be a little easier to understand such an emotion.

But the response of Jesus tells us everything we need to know about vengeance. No.  Jesus rebuked the disciples for their desire for vengeance.  Despite how good vengeance might seem to feel at the time, it fails to satisfy.  Why? Because it does not bring peace.  Quite the opposite.  We fall prey to the very thing we abhor. Lord, please send your peace into our hearts.

This is what I think: Can we ever solve our violence problem? Or anything else?

Yet again there has been another mass shooting in the United States.  Yet again there will be calls for more gun control or calls for more guns.  We will ask for prayers for the victims of this tragedy. There will be news stories, but then life will go on as usual.  And Las Vegas will be added to a long list of other mass shootings in the United States.  Orlando.  Blacksburg, Virginia. Newtown, Connecticut.  San Bernadino. Charleston, South Carolina.  There are many other places where mass shootings have occurred in the United States but have been forgotten.

The violence problem has no simple solutions. Rarely do we consider the complexity of questions that do not yield to answers expressed as either this or that.  We want to jump to these quick answers.  We often rely on those answers we have already come to believe are absolutely true, so that they do not allow for any other interpretation.  More gun control or more guns.  But are we more violent? How is it the United States has so many more gun deaths than other countries? And why is it likely that at the end of the day we will be no closer to a solution to the epidemic of gun violence?

Perhaps we must look deep within ourselves. Maybe we need to ask why, on the surface, we have more gun deaths than other countries.  Are we more violent? Is there something about Americans that makes us more likely to attack each other?  Why is it we have so many more prisoners than other countries? Do we break the law more often? Are we more anti-social than citizens of other countries? Is there something in being an American that makes us so much more violent than the rest of the developed world?  Why is it these instances of tragedy seem to be occurring more frequently?

While clearly the United States is diverse, a reason suggested by some for the greater level of violence seen in the United States, there are areas of the world that are more ethnically and culturally diverse, that at the same time do not appear to have as much violence or crime.  Canada, for example, has many fewer gun deaths while being quite diverse.

The challenges we face with gun violence and other types of violence cannot be easily solved.  Even if we could pass meaningful gun control, there is no guarantee that would solve the problem.  There are an awful lot of guns out there.  They would still be out there.  And while there are mass shooters who obtained legal guns, there remain an awful lot of guns that are available illegally.

Moreover, while automatic and semi-automatic guns gain a lot of attention, the gun of choice in the United States remains the handgun.  I am not aware of many discussing banning handguns.  Guns only seem to get our attention after a mass shooting.  Each and every day people in the United States are killed by guns. And each and every day it seems we become more polarized, more divided. So it seems there needs to be more than just a discussion about gun control or more guns.  The problem requires a much more difficult, but much more meaningful discussion about the state of our country. There needs to be a recognition that we face a problem that is neither Republican or Democrat but is rather a problem of our society that can only be solved if we work together.

It does appear that any discussion of our problems must include discussions about our society.  We are angry.  Almost every significant issue divides us.  And not only do these issues divide us, these issues cause us to insult each other, even hate each other.  We call those with opposing viewpoints idiots, crazy, and refer to them by even worse names.  We find it increasingly difficult that people who disagree with us might also want the common good.  They might also want what is best for the country.

Whether or not one agrees with Donald Trump, is it really acceptable to have a president who speaks about women the way he does? Do we really want to accept a news culture that seeks to find the dirtiest, meanest stories about people even if they are not true? Do we really want to be okay in a society where demonstrable facts can be stated to be untrue, and some will believe that what is true is, in fact, not true? Can we, just for a moment, seek to stop blaming and start listening?

It would be unwise to speculate on the motives of the latest mass shooter.  But if we are to have meaningful dialogue to solve difficult and complex issues, we must first realize that there are certain aspects that are unhelpful to such a discussion. There are certain “fundamental principles” that must be accepted.  And they all involve how we view human beings.

We cannot ever say there are good people who march with white supremacists.  White supremacy can never become acceptable.  Ever.  We cannot insult people who suffer from natural disasters.  We cannot reduce the killing of unborn babies to the euphemistic word “fetus.” We cannot objectify human beings sexually, for then it becomes easier and easier to objectify them in other ways too. We cannot describe all welfare and food stamp recipients as lazy, or moochers.  We cannot ignore that one is much more likely to suffer at the hands of poverty if they are a person of color.  We cannot equate all cops.  Most are hardworking, upstanding, courageous men and women who keep us safe every day by putting their own lives on the line.  We cannot ignore black Americans who are crying out for justice.  We must provide a reasonable answer to the question about why so many of those in prison are black, when whites and blacks commit drug crimes, as one example, in roughly the same numbers. Quite frankly, whenever we sin against the human dignity that all people possess, we open the door to the type of violent behavior that we see all over the world. Behavior we just witnessed in Las Vegas.  And the obvious answer to the question Cain asked God about whether he was his brother’s keeper, is yes.  We are our brother’s keeper.  We are our sister’s keeper.

If we cannot admit the dignity of all human beings, then finding a solution to this problem is not possible.  While the above list is by no means exhaustive, the list represents some real challenges.  At the heart of all of these issues is the question of human dignity.  As Christians, we believe every human being is made in the image of God.  In the gospel of Matthew, we are told by Jesus that the way we treat others is, in fact, the way we treat Jesus.  Think about that for a moment.  We are all held accountable for the way we treat others.  Every one of us.  Every time.

Certainly, there is evil in the world, because of Original Sin.  Despite sin, just imagine how different our world could be if we realized that every human being is made in God’s image, and must be treated this way. What if in discussing an issue like this mass shooting, we could begin from the premise that we have a violence problem? We want to be safe.  But at what cost? Hardening our hearts to those in our world in desperate need because we are afraid? Hardening our hearts because we do not want to be generous? Giving into our anger because the suffering of others can remind me of my own suffering, my own vulnerability?  Or, do we want to address this problem in a way that helps us to preserve the dignity of every human being?  What if we committed to hearing, listening, dialoguing with each other? What if we sought to imitate Jesus and were generous to not only those we care about, but also those we may not like.

I do not know what the solution to gun violence is.  I do not know how to solve the situation about health care in a just way.  I do not know how to create more just economic situations so that all people are given the opportunity to thrive.  But I do know that every time I set myself against another, dismissing them, either their ideas or their very persons, I am part of the problem.

Why does it become so newsworthy when Republicans and Democrats work together? I think it is because we are more concerned about our side winning, and not what is best for our country. And when winning, not what’s best for every human being becomes the goal, we all lose.

USCCB Migration Chairman Deeply Disappointed By Administration’s Decision To Terminate The Central American Minors Parole Program

August 21, 2017

WASHINGTON—Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, expresses his opposition to the Administration’s decision to end parole processing for individuals in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who apply to enter the U.S. through the Central American Minors (CAM) program. Bishop Vasquez, who is currently in El Salvador, says that the elimination of this program puts the lives of vulnerable children at risk for greater harm.

Bishop Vásquez’ full statement follows:

“My brother bishops and I are deeply disappointed by the Administration’s decision to terminate the critical parole option of the CAM program.  In terminating the parole option, the Administration has unnecessarily chosen to cut off proven and safe alternatives to irregular and dangerous migration for Central American children, including those previously approved for parole who are awaiting travel in their home countries. Pope Francis has called on us to protect migrant children, noting that “among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group.” We supported the CAM program, which included both refugee and parole options, precisely because it provided a legal and organized way for children to migrate to the United States and reunify with families. Terminating the parole program will neither promote safety for these children nor help our government regulate migration.

In El Salvador, we have seen first-hand the very real problems that these children face. The Church, with its global presence, learns of this violence and persecution every day, in migrant shelters and in repatriation centers. We know that children must be protected. They must be given the ability to remain in their home countries and find opportunities, but they must also be able to leave and migrate safely to find protection when there are no alternatives. The CAM parole program offered part of that solution – a legal way to migrate for the most vulnerable of children.”

Homily for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Readings for Today

We have a very important story to tell. The world, weary from too much evil, sin, violence, a lack of sharing even the most basic things, selfishness and greed, is tired. The world is weary, and it needs so desperately a word to rouse it. The stories of the world are all too often the same refrain, the same sadness, and have the same inability to lead anywhere significant. Think of the world for a moment.

When we consider the world on a global scale, what do we see? We see beheadings by ISIS, those sold into sexual slavery, humans trafficked like cattle, sold and used in the most banal ways, we see young school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. There is so much blood in the Middle East is can seem impossible for the earth to hold it. Throughout too much of the world we see people die, not because of something external, but for lack of something basic — food. Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libia and countless other countries experience far too much in the way of violence, death, evil.

And then let us consider our own country. We too have people who are poor, suffering, and blamed for their own situation. Too many young lives, many without much to begin with, find themselves killed every day at the hand of gun violence. Far from providing opportunity that leads to a good life, in too many places we are preparing too many young people for a life in prison.

And in our own families, we can see too much suffering, sadness, disease and death. There can be too many broken relationships, too much hurt, sadness, loss. In too many families this is the case.

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Homily for Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Readings for Today

There cannot be two moves more different than today’s first reading in today’s gospel. Poor Jeremiah. Things are not going so well for him. This is not simply in a small way, but in fact in a way that is so significant Jeremiah even regrets his birth. As the prophet, he has the task of speaking words that no one wishes to hear. He is not a prophet that is popular, and he is not a prophet who appeases.  Yet in the gospel, we encounter someone who is so excited about the kingdom of God, they’re willing to give up everything for it.

How is it that both individuals who have given everything for the sake of God’s kingdom in God’s message, for the sake of God himself, to react so differently? The answer is obvious: it is easy to be joyful when the outcomes of following God are good. And, it is natural to feel sad, even tremendously depressed, and following God’s will brings nothing but difficulty.

That is why great and holy saints, like St. Teresa of Avila, or St. John of the Cross, caution us about becoming too attached to the consolation I can be hours because of the faith. This is so, because they were both well aware that there can be times in our life, even long times in our life, where we do not experience the consolation of our faith. While faith certainly can bring joy, committing ourselves completely to God can also sometimes bring sadness, and heart ache.

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Homily for Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Readings for Today

I have been fortunate in my life to witness true married love. While married love is beautiful in all its stages, there is something especially beautiful in witnessing a couple who is been married for a very long time. It becomes a concrete way to experience how two people can become one.

They do so many things where it appears they are one. They anticipate the needs of each other. They often finish the thoughts of each other. They remind me of watching my parents polka when I was a little kid. Knowing nothing about how to polka, I noted the complexity of the dance steps. Even though I was a little boy, I appreciated the difficulty in watching my mother perform all of the steps while moving backwards. But what I noticed more than anything, is how my mother and father were one on the dance floor.

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Another Act of School Violence

Once again the country is facing the reality of another act of violence in our schools.  While the weapon of choice was not a gun, but a knife, the same sad and tragic result is happening.  Families are sad, innocence is lost, and at least one family is left asking themselves how was it possible they could not see this action (or anything like it) as even possible for their son?

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Statement on the Shootings in Newtown, Connecticut

Greetings in Christ,

I am sure everyone is saddened still by the events that occurred last week in Newtown, Connecticut. I want to provide some updates and to offer some reflections as to how these events will affect us here Blessed Sacrament, and what people of faith might do to make sense of the senseless. Before I write anything else, let us continue to offer prayers and support for all those whose lives have been so dramatically affected in such a sad and tragic way. As we focus on the arrival of the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus, we pray our words and actions will reflect our faith. What I write is my initial attempt.

Blessed Sacrament Parish and School have a safety plan, but events like these demonstrate the importance of constant vigilance about making sure we do everything we can to provide a safe environment. We are fortunate here so many in fact do feel safe. But tragic events rightly cause schools and parishes to examine their existing plans to see how to improve them. We do the same. Specifically, a committee will be formed to examine various aspects of our plan, a work that will proceed quickly but judiciously. It is important to note that even before this committee is finished you will begin to notice changes in the access to various parts of the parish and school. Seeking to make sure everyone is safe is obviously the top priority.

Many times when human beings have an encounter with God or an angel, the first words are “Do not be afraid.” I believe God is saying that to us now. Rather than responding out of fear alone, we ask, “How do Catholics, and all persons of faith, make sense out of such a senseless tragedy? At times like this, believing there are simple or quick solutions to complex problems is a naïve quest for the impossible.

We live in a broken world, the signs of which are all around us. While events such as the tragedy in Newtown gain national attention, there are too many parents each day who grieve the children who die by violence. And, too many parents worry about providing food, shelter, healthcare and other basic needs to their families. And most if not all of us have life experiences that have caused brokenness.

In seeking out a foundation for reflection, I begin with a quote from the U.S. Catholic Bishops document, Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action, written in 1994, but still relevant for today.

Not all violence is deadly. It begins with anger, intolerance, impatience, unfair judgments and aggression. It is often reflected in our language, our entertainment, our driving, our competitive behavior, and the way we treat our environment. These acts and attitudes are not the same as abusive behavior or physical attacks, but they create a climate where violence prospers and peace suffers. We are also experiencing polarization of public life and militarization of politics with increased reliance on “attack” ads, “war” rooms and intense partisan combat in place of the search for the common good and common ground. Fundamentally, our society needs a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence with a renewed ethic of justice, responsibility and community. New policies and programs, while necessary, cannot substitute for a recovery of the old values of right and wrong, respect and responsibility, love and justice. God’s wisdom, love and commandments can show us the way to live, heal and reconcile. “Thou shalt not kill, thou shall not steal” are more than words to be recited; they are imperatives for the common good. Our faith challenges each of us to examine how we can contribute to an ethic which cherishes life, puts people before things, and values kindness and compassion over anger and vengeance. A growing sense of national fear and failure must be replaced by a new commitment to solidarity and the common good.

I believe there are common threads in these experiences of violence. How often do we hear about individuals who perpetrate such terrible evil is being as loners? Having just arrived from Chicago, so much of the violence there comes from young men who even at an early age feel alienated from the larger community. While not meant as judgment, how many seek to fill up those empty spaces in their soul by the use of drugs and alcohol, by shopping and the Internet, by casual sex or by the quest for more stuff? How many of our senior citizens are removed from family and isolated by the circumstances of their life? While it is too simplistic to draw a causal connection between violent movies, violent lyrics in rap music, and violent video games to the violence perpetrated in real life, we must confront in faith the depictions of violence so realistic they cause us to become numb to violence and its effects.

I propose community, and more specifically a community of faith, as the rightful antidote to a culture of violence. This is not to minimize the role of our legislators or public servants who will seek solutions to uphold the common good and protect the safety of our societies. It is to suggest small communities of faith focused on the common good can strengthen the bonds which connect us and to make it less likely individuals find themselves alienated.

We are dedicated to the concept all human beings possess a dignity that reflects the holy and divine image of God. We must be committed to working for peace at every appropriate level, from the individual to the world community. This vocation is ultimately an invitation to strengthen our relationship with Christ and to acknowledge the necessary connections between our faith and our actions.

When comedians like Bill Mahar ridicule the concept of prayer and parents hugging their children a little bit more often they miss a critical and fundamental point. No policy, no law, can be effective in a society that does not recognize the profound and holy vocation to treat all with dignity they possess. Subsidiarity and solidarity, the right balance between fostering action at the local level and in larger soceity, and standing with the most broken, must form a foundation for what we do.

Moments such as these test our faith. One could ask, “How is it God allows such terrible tragedies to occur?” The greatest act of God’s love for us is the profound respect for our freedom. We are a sinful people, but we stand in hope because of God’s abundant love, mercy and forgiveness. Just as human beings are capable of violence, we are more capable of peace.  We know this because of the loving self-gift of Jesus on the cross which brought us salvation.

As a people of faith, there is no more important solution than to deepen our relationship with God. And so, in the midst our busy daily activities, I suggest we carve out some extra time for prayer. You might consider a visit to the church in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to ponder and reflect in silence and quiet. You might make the reading of the Bible, God’s powerful word, the greater part of your life. You might seek to attend a daily mass, the source and summit of our Christian life. I will also place resources on our website to help.

Second, cherish the people God has graced you with in your lives.  Seek never to take them for granted, and hug them and share your love for them often.  And remember every person you encounter is an invitation to grow closer to God.

God reminds us gently and forcefully of his profound love.  We imitate our God in this profound love as we seek to create the care essential for connected communities.

Homily for Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Today’s Readings

God is with us. Have you really spent any time to think about the beauty of that statement? God is with us. It can be easy for us to take for granted this basic truth of our faith. God is with us. In just a few days we will commemorate the tremendous gift of God become human. The Word made flesh. God is with us.

But do we fully comprehend the beauty of our God who is close to us? Understandably, as in the first reading, people who have experienced difficult situations, circumstances, or events in their lives have a hard time believing that God is with us. Those who suffer because of domestic violence or abuse may have a hard time believing that God is with us. Those parts of the world that are wracked by violence because of war, or even in our own country because of gun violence, and other types of violence, may question whether or not God is really with us.

In fact we know the problem of evil is a barrier that many cannot overcome believing in God. How could an all loving God permit evil? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God step in and prevent senseless tragedies? How can it be that God is with us when so many of these horrible things are still occurring?

The truth is very complex, and even the answers traditionally given do not always satisfy. But what today’s readings assure us of is the fact that God is indeed with us. It is not the case that we are spared from every difficulty of life. We know for instance that many of the things that occur in our lives that are in fact people come because of our own hands. We fight too much, share too little, and harm too often. We commit evil actions against one another.

The truth when encountering today’s readings is that God is indeed with us. God stands with us. God extends to us the gift of new life. God becomes one in our messy existence. Even though we do not always treat each other well God remains always with us, by our side, forgiving, loving, and caring for us.