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, December 31, 2016

Maria, Mater Dei

Audio (Sat. 5:30pm): Click here

As we continue the Christmas season with this second Sunday of Christmas, we focus particularly on the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.  If we like the shepherds seek out the Christ child, we always find Him with Mary His mother, and with Saint Joseph.  Mary held this child, and looked into His eyes again and again for thirty three years.  She was the first to experience the fulfillment of the words we heard in the first reading and the psalm: “The Lord let His face shine upon you.” Indeed, in Jesus, the Lord has “looked kindly upon” Mary and upon all of us, giving us His peace.  This is precisely what we experience during the Christmas season: God’s face shining upon us.  In fact, this mystery is ours throughout the whole year, for in the sacraments of the Church, especially regular Confession and the Eucharist in the Mass each week, we encounter the face of Christ looking kindly upon us.
Our Blessed Mother Mary is the perfect example of discipleship.  Even Saint Joseph, himself a righteous man, must have learned something from Mary’s faith, who shows us today how to become holy: by letting God’s face shine upon us, and by pondering these things in her heart.  God is working externally, looking upon her kindly.  She is working internally, pondering these things in her heart.  There is a resonance between the two actions, but the first step is that receptivity that is perfectly shown in Mary’s “Fiat,” her “let it be,” her great “yes!”
So too for us to become saints, we must start with that “Yes” that openness to God, letting Him into our daily lives and into the depths of our hearts.  We must let His face shine upon us, let Him look kindly upon us (even when our feelings deceive us that it isn’t so kindly).  But even that is not enough, we must like Mary “keep all these things, pondering them in our hearts.”  We must allow our hearts to echo what God is doing, to resonate with his love and peace.
Ultimately this is done in prayer.  We have to be people who are close to God in prayer throughout our lives.  And this means personal prayer lives as well as communal prayer lives.  We can’t do this alone, but we can’t rely solely on the faith of others either.  Just like we need two legs to stand on our own, we also won’t stand up spiritually without personal prayer and communal prayer.  The books offered as a Christmas gift were one example of fostering personal prayer.
But it’s also a great idea to try to join Mary in her prayer.  There are two ways you can join your personal prayer to Mary’s work of “guarding all these things, keeping them in her heart.” (those things being the mysteries of her Son).  First and foremost, the greatest Marian form of prayer is the Rosary.  Do not underestimate its power.  The Rosary, particularly if done in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is absolute spiritual dynamite, but doesn’t feel that way.  It quiets the heart and lets us look at Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes.  If we do this regularly, we will resonate with God’s will and carry it out like Mary did, finding happiness and peace.
Another, perhaps less daunting option, is the Angelus.  I’ve talked about this prayer before, on December 8th.  This prayer is a simple way to contemplate the mysteries of Christ’s Incarnation with three Hail Mary’s. It takes about two, maybe three minutes.  But it is a great way to ponder in your heart exactly what Mary would ponder for years: the gift of Jesus in the flesh.  It also remembers Mary’s great yes, and invites us to participate in that yes as well, so that the Lord can continue to come into our world through us.  If you need help learning this prayer, just ask me.

Finally, the greatest way to pray with Mary is here in the Mass.  We don’t speak of her at every Mass, but she is always here, as is the entire Body of Christ.  Mary carried Jesus in her own person, and soon we will do the same.  It is our turn now, and so we can ask Mary to help us to do so as worthily as she did.  Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, guide us and teach us to contemplate the gift of your Son, to stay close to Him, and to treasure Him in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas homily

Audio from kids' Mass: click here!

Pope Benedict XVI: The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe.  It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet.  It is rather the motive for everything, the motive for creation.  Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and His creature.
The Gospel is Good News.  The word euangellion (evangelium in Latin) was first and foremost good news of military victory.  It would be brough back from the front lines by “reporters.”  It was the first and most important type of new and postal service.  And so when the Apostles were running all over the earth with their lives on the line, and the Evangelists were writing their own Good News about a generation later, they meant to include this fact in their news stories: there have seen a great military victory in Christ Jesus, by his birth, and above all by his passion, death, and resurrection.  Isn’t it interesting to think that about 2000 years ago, this was a real as what we read in the newspapers and see on television and hear on radio.  It really happened.  Jesus was a real person on this earth, and the stories we hear are family stories, our family stories.
We all have our own family stories, and when we share them, we include all kinds of interesting details that help us to understand more about the people and the events and why they are important.  For example, one Christmas tradition we had as kids was trying to figure out how to sneak one of Grandma’s Christmas cookies before she brought them out and unveiled them herself.  It was tricky business, but even my dad would play the game, and if grandma noticed and said “who’s been stealing cookies?” all our eyes would run around the room to see who it was (or to see if we would get caught).
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ infancy are family stories: it is first and foremost history, but it is blended with meditation and deeper insight into the meaning of the facts.  So the details can be quite important, because it was God who wrote the story, and so on the macro and the micro levels we see a deep use of people, places, and events to help us know what is the point of it all, to know what is really going on with this person Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel includes details such as the genealogy and later the wise men, while Luke uses the reference to Caesar, Herod, and Bethlehem.  Both are using these details to point to the fact that Jesus is a KING, in fact THE king, the new David who would fulfill God’s promise to reign forever as the long­-awaited Messiah.
It is truly amazing that Jesus, to fulfill His role as the new David, had to be born in Bethlehem, but couldn’t live there, since Herod would slaughter all the young children in his paranoid rage.  So God chooses Mary and Joseph, of Nazareth, to care for His Son, and he finds a way for them to get to Bethlehem by Caesar’s selfish census (which was a way of estimating one’s source of power through taxing and forced military service).  While human beings grasp for power, it is the Lord who truly has things under control to carry out His designs of love for us.  The Lord in these stories is certainly carrying out what Saint Paul so beautifully described in his First Letter to the Corinthians: the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
And why does God do all this?  Why does He need to become man?  The angels remind us through their words.  To Joseph they say: “name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  To Mary: “He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  To the shepherds they say: “a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord…Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.”  So why does God do the unthinkable?  To save us, to give us His peace, to establish a kingdom without end, and to bring about the greatest and most important military victory of all time: the victory over sin and death.  The answer to the question why? Can be summed up in one word: Heaven.
God wants us to be with him in heaven.  His love will not allow any less.  A good life on earth is not enough, because earth cannot contain the amount of joys he wishes to bestow on us.  He love us infinitely, and needs an eternity to bestow it on us.
He wants us to be with Him, and to do that, He first needs to be with us.  He needs to dwell among us, to make his home here with us, to come find us and bring us home.

Just this past Thursday I went out to visit my spiritual director in Ohio and then pray beside the casket of a priest whom the Lord had called home outside of Fort Wayne.  And thanks to modern technology, I had no problems getting back to here, my new home.  After I changed that address in the system, all I have to do now is tell it to take me home, to lead me home, then follow where it leads.  Brothers and sisters, this church here, just like every Catholic Church in the world, is not just the home of the priest.  It is your home.  In fact, it is your Bethlehem.  You know, Bayit Lechem literally means house of bread.  Jesus was born in the town called house of bread, and was placed in manger where animals eat food.  Brothers and sisters, this is your Bethlehem.  It is here where God dwells with us.  It is here in the Mass where God becomes bread for us.  O Come All Ye Faithful to your home, O Come let us adore Him in the Mass, in your Bethlehem.  When we discover God present here among us, becoming poor so that we can become rich in heavenly gifts, it is then that we can truly say: Joy to the world, the Lord is come.  Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Obedience of Faith" - following their examples

Audio: click here!

What does it look like for someone to be a great basketball player?  We look to Michael Jordan, to Larry Bird, to Magic Johnson, Alan Iverson, etc.  These people excelled at the sport and show us what it means.
Today Saint Paul talks about the “obedience of faith” that was the goal of Jesus’ mission on earth.  What does “obedience of faith” look like?  Well, during Advent, we have looked at John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and now today have another great example today in Saint Joseph.
Joseph is named after a character of the Old Testament who was the youngest of the 12 sons of Israel (whose actual name was Jacob).  He was a righteous young man, who had fantastic dreams.  He was betrayed by his jealous brothers and sold as a slave to Egypt.  Eventually he saved their lives when they came starving to the country he had preserved from famine.
Now today we have another Joseph, this righteous man who receives a divine message in his dreams, asking him to accept Mary as his wife because the mysterious child of God will “save his people from their sins.”  What does “obedience of faith” look like?  It looks like Joseph’s response today: “He did what the angel of the Lord commanded him.”  Even though he could not understand exactly what was happening, he did not deny; he did not doubt.  That is the obedience of faith.
Ahaz in the first reading is the perfect example of what not to do.  In the midst of the most difficult situation this king has ever faced, seeing a huge enemy planning to conquer him, Ahaz sounds very pious when he says to the prophet Isaiah, “I will not ask, I will not tempt the Lord.”  But the reason Ahaz is saying this is actually because he does not want to hear from God, he has blocked Him out and turned his back on God.  He doesn’t have any faith, doesn’t trust what God is doing.  But Ahaz gets his sign anyway, a sign that finds an unexpected fulfillment centuries later in the beginning of the Gospel.
Where do we find ourselves at this point in our lives?  When things aren’t going well, do we react like Ahaz and try to trust in ourselves, to do we act like Joseph and listen to what God is asking of us, trusting that He knows what He is doing even if we don’t understand it.  Perhaps when things are going well we seem more like Joseph and Mary and John the Baptist.  But how about when things are not clear?  When things are scary?  When we don’t have control?  Do we revert back to Ahaz?

We have one more week before Christmas.  I think we need to immerse ourselves in these stories so that we can really enter into the season.  There are many ways to do this, but I think the best would be to simply pray with the Word of God this week, particularly the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.  You could get your bible out today and put it on your favorite chair, or next to your alarm clock, or on the kitchen table.  Wherever you can take 5-10 minutes each day to read a little bit and pray, seeing what “obedience of faith” looks like from the great masters.  Another way, if possible, is to attend daily Mass at any parish you can.  The Gospels this week take us right through these stories.  Nothing prepares us better than prayer, Confession, and the Word of God.  Carve out time for silence, for waiting, for “dreaming” like Joseph, so you can hear and follow God’s will before, during, and after the Christmas holy day.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Healing - fast and slow

A few years ago there was a book that came out titled, Thinking, Fast and Slow.  Today, on this very joyful Sunday, so joyful we see the ROSE color used (Latin for “pink, sort of”) we can see a theme in the readings that might as well be Healing, fast and slow.
The fast healing is obvious in the Gospel.  Jesus is seemingly dishing out the miracles here in order to affirm His identity to His relative, John the Baptist.  But really this is probably a summary of days of ministry, not a few minutes of a flash of miracles.  However, it is the result that matters for John the Baptist, because his disciples can see clearly that in Jesus the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah are coming true.  We see that Isaiah today prophecies such fast healings in the first reading as well.  The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.
I’ve heard that deserts sit almost colorless for months waiting for rainfall, and then within hours of rain the colors start to explode.  Of course, being in the Midwest this is something we have to hear from others, perhaps we know someone who goes to AZ for the winter! Or you could always watch Planet Earth episode #5 on deserts, which I have!  It said in Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, one shower is all it takes for seeds that have perhaps been waiting 30 years.  That instant transformation is astounding to see.
But here we get to the other side of today’s theme.  For although things can happen overnight, more often than not it takes lots of waiting.  We know that physical miracles are real, but also that they are the exception.  So too with spiritual maladies.  The sickness of the soul, the illness of our heart, often does not recover overnight.  Does that mean we should despair in it coming to fruition?  Never!  We need to be patient as well, Saint James reminds us in the second reading:
 Be patient, brothers and sisters… See how the farmer waitsMake your hearts firm!
I kind of find myself getting impatient in all kinds of silly ways in life.  Perhaps now more than ever, with the snow on the ground and the fact that my car isn’t going to be able to get from A to B in the same way.  Have you ever found yourself inching forward waiting for that green light? It’s as if I’m convinced that this ¼ of a second and these 12 inches are really going to make a difference for me and thus for the world because everyone knows I’m that important.  It’s nonsense, of course, and winter helps us remember that.  The snow makes us mozey.  We ain’t got no choice, right?  Take your time, soak it up, be patient, wait.
Be patient, brothers and sisters… See how the farmer waitsMake your hearts firm!
This is an important Advent lesson for us, and an essential one for us to make it to the point of true healing.  If we want to be healed, if you truly are ready for it and pursuing it, you will need to be patient.  Wait like that desert seed, because the rain is coming.  Be patient like the farmer, because the plants will come up and yield produce.  Keep up those prayers, keep carrying that Cross, keep showing love to that spiteful or bitter person, because eventually the healing is on its way.  When God heals us slowly, it is a Mercy of His.  It helps us appreciate it more and cherish it, and establish the good habits we need to keep it.  In fact, during Advent, as we look forward to Jesus’ coming, we are meant to be practicing that patient waiting (not opening gifts, holding back on the all-out parties and fun) because Jesus is yet to come.  That is exactly what HOPE is: looking forward with expectation.

So don’t begrudge the fact that most of the time God doesn’t want to be treated like a vending machine or a computer that yields instant results to our unending demands for healing.  Thank Him for His patient love, and patiently wait for the Graces that are on their way.  Watch and pray, in joyful hope.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Not easy, but worth it.

Audio: click here
The coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the "First Covenant". He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming.  These words from CCC 522 speak to us about what we hear from the prophet Isaiah today.  It is almost shocking to think that Isaiah looks forward to the Messiah from our side of history, because we know that Jesus doesn’t come for another 550+ years.  Can you imagine that?  Just think how long 5 and ½ centuries really is: the prophecies about the Messiah were going on for more than twice the existence of the United States.  550 years ago the people of Europe didn’t even know this land existed.
But Isaiah speaks of it like it is around the corner.  That, my friends, is the power of hope.  How much hope to we have in our hearts?  If not much, where do we get more?
I think the more we look up, the more hope we will have – because when we focus on God we will find peace, but when we look at ourselves, we will only find an incompleteness.  Maybe the more we love, or the more we give thanks, or the more we learn about our faith, the more hope we will have.  I think the more we prepare for Christ, the more hope we will have.
The journey of conversion is the most important way to prepare for Christ.  You know, Isaiah’s prophecy of comfort when the Messiah comes is easy to focus on, but John the Baptist speaks in a totally different tone that is just as important for us to remember.  He doesn’t mince words does he? I’m sure I’d get some letters in my mailbox if I said to you guys, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”  Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. Yet the advice is just as necessary today as it ever was.
John’s image of the threshing floor is a good one for us to focus on.  He is referring to how the harvest is carried out: the wheat is spread out on this floor, is stomped all over and crushed underfoot (or some other weight) then it is winnowed (tossed into the air and fanned so that the good stuff drops and the winds take away all the chaff.
This image of crushing and shedding off the unnecessary excess is a good way to describe what John is trying to do, and what Advent should do for us.  Conversion is a messy and difficult business, so much so that the Catechism reminds us in CCC 1431: This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
So yes, it will be difficult, but conversion is worth it.  It’s like doing exercise or taking care of your health: it’s not always easy, but it is worth it.  Or like overcoming an addiction, even to coffee: it’s going to hurt at first, isn’t it?  But it gets better.  You know when you lift weights it kills, but then you get stronger.
That’s what John the Baptist’s mission is: preparing us for Jesus with a real wake-up call: you are not okay and you should try to get things in order, no matter what the cost.

If we do so, then the comforting images Isaiah uses for us will be our own, because we will be living already in the Kingdom that Christ will establish here on earth at the end of time.  So prepare for Christ’s coming by shedding off what doesn’t matter, focusing on the core of your identity as a child of God, and live more deeply from the hope that is in Christ Jesus.  And no matter how much it may hurt, make sacred time each day for prayer and waiting, for looking up to where our hope comes from.  It's not easy, but it is worth it.