Audio Available!

Audio Available!
Be sure to check out in each blog post the links to the audio recordings of my homilies. They are at the beginning of each post! Also, look to the right for links to Audio from other good resources!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Homily - Advent Alertness

Jesus speaks of a struggle in our world for our own hearts using the imagery of sleepiness during the night watch. Our culture is very sleepy, which shouldn't be a surprise because it is guided by the spirit of the world more than the Spirit of God. You can see this struggle even in the commentary about Black Friday pushing back into Thanksgiving. Some people ask deeper questions about it while others have spiritually fallen asleep, some just say "it's no big deal" and others protest. The sleepy spirit of this passing world is literally working overtime to win the war for our souls.
I've been reading this book called The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which the parish read as a group one Lent a while before I arrived. It is a series of letters from a senior demon giving advice to his nephew demon who is trying to corrupt a male university student - perhaps those are easy targets for little devils to practice on. I first read it in college, so I often felt like the letters were written about me! I was practically looking over my shoulders expecting to see something I didn't want to find!
The senior tempter often stresses the desire to remain hidden and work under the radar - to more or less keep us asleep. If we are unaware, we are less likely to protest and run to God. It's like trying to cook a frog (or so I've heard): if you boil the water first he will not stay in.
There is a struggle like that in every one of our hearts and what the world wants, what the devil wants, is for us to fall asleep - to lose focus and drop our radar and forget about why we are here.
"Watch" in Latin is "vigilate". This is where we get the word vigil from, deriving from the ancient practice of guarding things at night from surprise oncomers hoping for some easy looting. Stay awake or keep watch also get to this point.
The darkness around us can be enveloping. It symbolizes our futures - in fact, this is a fundamental religious experience, one that we all can easily use for family members whose faith is weak. Everyone can appreciate that they don't have any guarantees of what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, or beyond. Our lives are a mystery to us, sitting under the stars surrounded by shadows and half-lights.
But that is only partially true. The other side of the coin is that we have a light placed within us, and that the fire of faith, if we keep it burning, will light up our present and show us through this life, one day at a time. The moon which represents Mary and the saints, who shine the light of the sun even in our darkness will also guide us and remind us that the dawn will one day appear in the East.
Advent is about waiting and waiting is hard. Some people wait years for the right person to marry. I waited years for Jesus to call me to the priesthood. It may take years of constant battle to overcome a particular vice or character flaw we have. Jesus doesn't say it's easy. He just says: watch. And pray!
Watch and Pray! Our prayer is essential to staying awake. Why? Because prayer breaks the mold of the devil's lies. Prayer is a wake-up call that rouses us from the sleep of this world, because it gives us a taste of what we were truly made for. Prayer is an art, a fine art, but different from painting or poetry or music, because it is something everyone is capable of and is always beautiful. Prayer is like breathing or walking – it is so deep a part of who we are and so essential to life, and every time it is a miracle even though we don't treat it as one. And it should be as natural and easy as breathing or walking, too. Because prayer is just spending time with one you love. If you set aside time and say “Lord, I love you,” then you have prayed well.
Watch and Pray.   You know, today the Church year begins.  The Church is trying to teach us that our New Year's Resolution should be to get ready for Jesus to crash into our lives.  Watch and Pray. May Advent help us to live these two commands of our Lord all year round.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lost sheep

This Gospel is, in many ways, what it all comes down to.
Thanksgiving always means we are nearing crunch-time for most college and high-school students: just around the corner are exams or finals, whatever they are called.  I remember losing some sleep and certainly cutting back on social time during the last week of college semesters: I wanted to do my best and be ready for that test.
Well, today, Jesus gives us a study-guide for our test, in fact its practically the answer-sheet.
Augustine quote: All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When “our God comes, he does not keep silence.”... he will turn towards those at his left hand:...” I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father—but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence.” from CCC #1039

That's pretty sobering stuff, and that is why we Catholics take this message seriously.  This is why you can find Saint Vincent de Paul societies around the globe.  This is why our parish itself sacrifices close to a tenth of our operating budget to the needy of our area, not including all the collections and other donations that go directly to those in need.  The only test that is going to matter in the end is the five-word test: "you did it to me."  So we take what we do seriously - intensely.  

I think this has most impact on the small level: in the one-on-one encounters we have with the needy, like Dorothy Day did.  I was once told, in regards to this passage: "you have to see Jesus in them."  Even those people at stoplights whose stories are mysteries to us.  When we see people begging it should get under our skin, make us uncomfortable.  Because people make demands on us - we are responsible and God won't forget it.  I speak this more as a challenge to myself than to you, frankly. But like Blessed Mother Teresa did, we should see Jesus in them, no matter how disguised or disfigured Jesus looks within them.

Jesus himself practiced works of mercy.  He is our model.  He treats every person with dignity and love.  We have to see them through the eyes of their heavenly Father, and tend to their needs: both body and soul.  We call these the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
2447    The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.242 Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.243 Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity.
Jesus actually spent much more time on the spiritual works of mercy, and perhaps we should, too, without neglecting the physical needs.  We should accompany, as P. Francis likes to put it.  How will the world recognize us Christians? By our charity.  Let's be a strong witness of that love that we receive in this Eucharist, the Sacrament of Charity.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day

There are many things in this world we can't fully understand and have to let our faith help us to truly "get it." Death is one of the great mysteries of human existence.  There is a great movie about an autistic young adult named Temple Grandin, who upon attending a funeral can't help but ask the question: "where do they go?"  She knows that the person she knew wasn't in that casket anymore, that the immortal soul that animated those "remains" was somewhere else.
Today, as we remember all the faithful departed, those who have persevered in their faith unto the end of their earthly journey, our faith answers that question ("where do they go?") in a mysterious way - not completely, but only partially: "The souls of the just are in the hand of God."  This may not be the perfect answer we wish for, but that is what we have.  Jesus says "I will not lose anything that the Father gives me, and I will raise them up on the last day."  
This is what we believe, and in many ways it is the essence of our faith.  Everything the Catholic Church teaches only makes sense with our eyes looking toward God and toward our eternity with Him in heaven.  If we aren't making decisions with our heart and mind in the clouds, then odds are we will be making the wrong decisions.  Saint Paul expounds upon this further when he says we have to live in this world like we don't belong here.  Today he tell us we are already dead by our Baptism.  We die in Jesus.  We die to this world and all the vanities and decorations that don't make sense in view of eternity.  We have to remember heaven!  One way to do this is read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce (which is heaven & hell, where humanity is divorced from itself and its creator), or Till We Have Faces.  These will keep our eyes up.
So we as Christians our different, very different from our culture.  We must not be afraid of death, nor forget to keep our heart & mind in heaven.  We look at death and almost mock it, as Saint Paul calls it just "falling asleep," and says "where O Death is your victory, where is your sting?"
My grandma's only fear was dying alone, without anyone around her.  Others fear dying in front of another person.  Still others are afraid to face sins from many years ago.  Some of us might be afraid of leaving people behind, or projects unfinished.  But none of us should be afraid of death, because it really is the greatest invitation.
Think of the infant child in its mother's womb: it is so content, having everything it could possibly want and need: warmth, food, protection.  But after the traumatic experience of birth is forced upon it, it is opened up to amazing experiences, opportunities, and blessings that it never could have foreseen.  In fact, parts of what God had prepared in that infant from the beginning (such as lungs, eyes, and mouth) only make sense after that great transition.  Death is like that for us: traumatic, painful, unwelcomed.  But only through that door are we able to be welcomed to live on a much higher plane, and parts of us (our immortal soul that stays strong as our bodies fall apart, and those longings for something greater) only make sense when we are placed back into God's hands.
Yesterday we celebrated that perfection of human destiny when we celebrated All Saints Day, rejoicing at the Church made whole in heaven.  Today we look at those who are a work in progress, even after death, as they are molded more into their perfect selves in Purgatory.  I think we might forget that these two other parts of the One Body of Christ: the Church victorious and the Church suffering, are present with us who are one in Jesus - especially here at Mass.  We pray for the poor souls who are overcoming their residual selfishness so they can truly love, and we recall the Saints and as for their prayers.  Today, preparing our hearts to receive the Body of Jesus in the Eucharist and share a foretaste of the glory of heaven, let us intercede for those family and friends who had died in faith, that the Lord will look upon them with Mercy and lead them to His Kingdom of Glory.