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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, July 29, 2017

Romans Series #5 - "It's all good!" - Homily 7-30

AUDIO - TWO VERSIONS
 (from 11:30am): CLICK HERE
(from 8pm - I like this one better): CLICK HERE

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

This simple line from Saint Paul summarizes the message of the Gospel he wants to preach about Jesus' victory over sin and death.  All things work for good.  Paul lived in a time when the popular vision was that the past was way better and things were constantly and inevitably in a state of decline.  The Golden age was followed by the silver, the bronze, etc.  We can't help but mess things up, so to speak, and (from a religious perspective) sin gets the final word and brings us down one bit at a time.  Paul's response flows directly from his belief in the Lord Jesus' Resurrection, a belief that he knows through personal experience with the Lord, and has transformed his life and the lives of so many others he calls fellow Christians.

This phrase from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans runs right into the universal question that every human person has to deal with: why do bad things happen to good people?  Now there is more than one way to answer this question: some people take Saint Paul's answer.  Others go the opposite way and say, "because God doesn't care," or even doesn't exist.  Some of us are somewhere in the middle: we see that there is "silver lining" in the midst of trials, sufferings, failures, perhaps even sins.

This fits right into the parable of the nets – which has a similar message to what we heard just a week ago from the weeds & the wheat: the good and the bad are often mixed together.

Sometimes, we can see clearly that in this life, good is mixed with bad.  Honestly, we see this every day: good things are often not easy.  They have sacrifices or shortcomings or it requires internal suffering for us to do them.  In heaven, this will not be the case, but in our fallen world, it is the reality, and many times it is quite obvious to us.
For example, every personality has strengths and weaknesses, and very often those traits do us good in certain circumstances, but do us harm in others.  We can get a lot done, but we run over people.  We are quick to connect with others, but we can't maintain deep relationships.  We like to do our best and strive for perfection, but we grow bitter when others don't measure up.  Although transformation in Christ Jesus will eventually overcome these correlations, it is true that good is very often mixed with bad in life.

Other times, it may not be so obvious, and this is where the doubts can really rise as we wonder: why do bad things happen to good people?  Sometimes this is very prominent in our local news, as with this past week with Dr. Graham, and will probably even touch very close to home a few times in our lives.  Truly, we may have to wait a long time in the darkness of faith before we see how we grew through the trials in our lives - and how God's plan ultimately worked for good.  But sometimes it may not be until we get to heaven that it all makes sense.

Really Paul is talking to us about the HOPE that springs from our FAITH.  The fact of our faith is that Jesus conquered, definitely, and that we are participants in that victory through our baptism.  The hope that results from that is that we can live forever, and we will, if we keep up the work of love and of faith.  Hope gets us there.

So how do we keep our hope strong in the midst of life's trials?  PRAY.  St. Padre Pio says it very simply: "Pray. Hope. and don't worry."  So do that.  Prayer is essential to our hope, for if our eyes are focused on ourselves, we will be sad, but if they are focused on God, we will find hope.
Secondly, we must remind ourselves of the ways we are already participating in God's blessings: essentially we need to focus on the good and not the bad.  Every life has problems, but every life has blessings and benefits.  We must keep our hearts dwelling on the good in our lives and praise God for it.

You might have heard this before, but it's very true: our understanding on earth is like looking at a tapestry from from the backside.  All you see is a chaotic mess of strings of various colors all over the place making no sense.  But God has been working from the other side all this time, and when we get to heaven, we will be able to see what He has been doing all this time.  Then we can say with full knowledge what we say today with faith:  all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.     Amen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Romans Series #4 - Longing Heart, Groaning Creation

When I was in high school I went on a retreat with my youth group to Notre Dame. I was taught by Mark Hart, "the Bible geek," an important lesson: the Word of God is powerful. He had us memorize our first scripture verse, Romans 1:16, by singing it to the tune of the Gillian's Island theme song. "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God, for the salvation of all who believe. Romans, one sixteen!"

There is real power in memorizing scripture. Just taking one line and ascribing it to our memory allows us to meditate on the Word of God anytime, anyplace.  Today's first sentence from Saint Paul is another that I intentionally memorized. I read it one day in my prayer while in seminary, and it struck me. So I read it a few more times and kept it in my heart that day and beyond. I've done the same with other passages over the years and I encourage you all to get the same.  The spiritual power of scripture, and it's memorizing, is akin to the physical power we can hear and feel from the lightning during these summer storms we have been experiencing.

Saint Paul points today to the cosmic yearning that parallels our internal longing for freedom and the fullness of life.  Humanity cries out in its depths for Jesus and the life we were made for: a life of communion with God and with each other, apart from the destruction that sin causes.  And ironically, the world longs for it as well, since God gave us dominion (or better, "stewardship") over all creation, and our selfishness ends up harming creation, too.  Saint Paul is probably (to some degree) deriving this teaching from the Genesis story of creation, but also in part from his theology of spiritual warfare. The devil is fighting for dominion over the world. He can't win, but he can fight, and will fight even more destructively as the loss becomes clearer. Thus, the world suffers, grievously.  So, for Paul and his Roman audience, now that Christ has won definitively but before His second coming, things get more intense and the longing increases.

The last verse names two of the main results of our baptism: adoption, the redemption of our bodies. These two things have yet to be fully realized, and in fact are only complete in heaven, where God clearly says "You are mine" and our bodies are restored to their original holiness and perfection (many theologians suspect Adam and Eve would have lived forever, had they not sinned).  This is part of the "already, but not yet" mystery of Christian living. We have a foretaste of something, but must await its completion. Christ has won and reigns in heaven, but we are not yet experiencing it on earth. We taste heaven in Mass, but aren't yet there. We are God's children now, but not yet fully so until heaven. Our bodies are redeemed, but still fallen. Even the saints, who are clearly very close to God, cannot yet experience the beautiful eternal union with Him until later.  

Longing is a good thing. Groaning is healthy. It signifies our desire for God and our affirmation that this world does not satisfy and that we are in need of something more, that we are broken. Paul says that groaning is from the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us - but that is for next week.

I encourage you to sit down with Romans Chapter 8 and slowly read through it during your prayer this week. Find one of the many dynamite passages, write it down, put it in your bathroom mirror, and memorize it. You won't regret it. You can even sing it if they helps!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Romans Series #3 - Life in the Spirit


Audio: Click Here!

As we  continue in Romans, we will be in Chapter 8 for a few weeks.  It’s a jackpot.
It also serves as a bridge. Near the middle of the letter, it is a transition from the "bad news" of our former life under Adam to the "Good News" of how we live in Christ.
Chapter 5-7 has terms of Adam, Sin, Death, Flesh – the “bad news” – the situation of original sin, which corrupts our hearts, making us live sub-par lives that are without peace and joy.  This dysfunction we can see easily in others, but sometimes it is more difficult in our own lives, especially when it isn’t something on the outside.  Ch 7 particularly
Chapter 8 speaks of what the “Good News” is, the “Gospel” that comes to us in Christ.  We can change.  The words of Sin, Adam, Death, Flesh, are now contrasted perfectly with Grace, Christ, Life, and Spirit.
We are hard-wired for worship, for giving our lives to something.  Altar. Throne.  When we are at our worst, it is given to wealth, power, pleasure, fame, money, etc.  These end up sabotaging our lives and damaging the lives of those around us.
But now Christ Jesus reigns in us, Paul tells us, because of our baptism.  And it is much better when Christ is reigning us.
Red Sea image is helpful for this.  The people of Israel are lost, dead, and hopeless as pharaoh’s army charges.  But when they cross, everything changes.  They are free to worship God, no longer slaves to their pasts.
Paul is drawing a line in the sand.  It was that way, and now it is this way.  And in many ways he is right.  We are either serving God, or we are worshiping an idol.  There are no other possibilities.
So, as Saint Paul describes, we need to let Jesus come and reign in our hearts.  And this is where the first reading and the Gospel come in.
In Zechariah, the king is entering Jerusalem.  A spiritual meaning of this passage is of Jesus entering the Christian soul by baptism.  He is our king, and he comes on a donkey, not a horse.  Entering a city on a donkey is not a sign of weakness or poverty, and not only a sign of humility either.  It is a sign of peace.  Kings go out on horses and march into towns they conquered on horses.  But it is different with donkeys, because obviously donkeys are not good get-away vehicles: they don’t move fast, and somethings they get stubborn and don’t even move at all!  So a king takes this relaxed easy animal when he is in peace.
When we let Jesus reign in our hearts, to sit on our throne, He doesn’t bring war and destruction to our lives.  He brings His peace and establishes his order, just as the word “GOSPEL” means the “good news” that a king has won a victory on the borders and brought peace and order to the city for years to come.
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
We are going to serve something.  Our lives will end up being wrapped up with something as its focus.
At the end of our days, we will hear God say to us “YOUR WILL BE DONE.”  But what will be our hearts desire?  It is determined by how we live our lives, whether we prefer heaven or our own will.  He wishes us to love Him freely, but He loves us enough to let us choose.
So in our baptism, and every day of our lives, we choose Christ.  Let us check our hearts once again, and re-establish Jesus as the only king on our thrones, so that he can order our lives in a way that brings the true peace we can have only from His Spirit dwelling within us.  Amen.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Romans Series #2 - Fear of Death

Audio (from 9:30am) CLICK HERE
This week is the second in our series on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and before I go any further, I would like to give a fuller context of the letter.  It’s probably around the year 60-62.  After 3 missionary journeys that filled up the majority of the 40’s and 50’s AD, Paul went to Jerusalem around 58 to try to show his support for the Jewish church (he was taking up a collection of financial support for them since they were marginalized and indigent).  Jews seize Paul and demand a trial, which doesn’t immediately happen.  Paul is held in custody for a couple years until a new governor takes the position and addresses the situation.  Paul appeals to Rome as a Roman citizen and makes the journey by boat under arrest.
Rome at the time has around 50,000 Jews probably.  Not sure the size of the Christian community.  In 49 Jews were exiled “because of debates about a man called ‘Chrestus’.” (aka Jesus Christ).  Paul met some of these Jewish Christian exiles in Corinth years earlier.  Eventually they find their way back after things settle down, so Rome is a great hodge-podge of the hub of pagan religion, with a strong Jewish community, as well as the smaller new group of Christians of both Jewish and pagan backgrounds.
There are many unique things about Paul’s letter to the Romans.  First, it’s his longest letter.  Second, it’s to a community he has never visited yet.  Thirdly, because he has had lots of time to think during his imprisonment and most likely isn’t writing in one rushed sitting as is probable with the other letters, Romans is more like a thesis than an e­-mail, which is the form all the other letters take.  Any current or former college students might sympathize with the connection between the word thesis and imprisonment, but unfortunately for Paul writing this masterpiece did not mean freedom.
So Paul’s main message, as we discussed last week, is the “Gospel” as he calls it, based off the secular use of the term: it is the Good News that Jesus is this king who has conquered his enemies in battle and has established the order and peace that provide for human flourishing.
One of the main parts of that Gospel is that God has done something completely new in Jesus, above and beyond the law of the covenant with the Hebrew people. He has always been close to humanity from Adam through Abraham and Moses, etc. But now in Jesus God has offered the greatest gift of salvation, justification, redemption, and a host of other words that Paul uses interchangeably.  As we heard last week, the offer is greater than the sin. Paul used the contrast of Adam and Jesus to drive this point home.  In Adam all die, but in Christ all are raised to eternal life.
Now today in chapter 6, we look at how that happens more concretely for the Christian, namely, through our Baptism. 
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?... Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
BAPTISM UNITES US TO JESUS’ PASCHAL MYSTERY.  AND TRULY INTO THE WORD OF GOD HIMSELF.  Into Christ Jesus. Co-died. Co-buried. Co-raised. Co-live.
Death is not a pleasant thing for us to face.  Fear of death is quietly one of the greatest false gods we can worship.  It is very similar to any false worship of this or other things: wealth, pleasure, power, fame.  Think of how when we let our lives be controlled (enslaved) by these things, how we end up suffering so much, and harming ourselves and those around us.  Now of all the false gods to put at the center of our lives, avoiding death is one of the most appealing.  Death is the greatest evil, and thus the greatest source of fear, and it would seem that you must avoid it in order to have any of the other natural goods.  And besides that, death is (in Hamlet’s words) “the undiscovered country from which no traveler returns.”  So it has lots of pull on our hearts.  So Paul is right to stress our need to face it.
Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Christianity is not for wimps.  We have to face our fears, including life’s greatest fear.
Have you ever conquered a serious fear in your life?  I remember riding roller coasters, or jumping into a lake, or giving my first homily.  I may have been terrified, but after I faced them, it no longer had any power over me.  Paul wants Rome (and all of us) to know that with the Gospel he preaches, we don’t need to have fear of the greatest evil in our world anymore.  We can face death in Jesus and conquer.

The holy water we bless ourselves with is a reminder of this death.  It is a facing of our fears.  It is a sign that we are dead to the world and death no longer has power over us.