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!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lent - 2nd Sunday - God of (good) surprises

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Our image of God affects everything. How do we really see Him? Especially when life is hard, how do we imagine God? If it’s not the God of the Cross, we are believing a lie.
The snake in Eden fed us a lie about God. Not about fruit. That was just a distraction like the sweet wine in which a poison may be mixed.  What mattered most then is still what matters most now: what kind of picture do you have of God? Because if that picture is distorted it can be critical. In things that aren’t very important, we have room for slight miscalculations. If I cut my steak a little too thick or cook it a 10-seconds too long, I’m still going to have a great meal. If I run for a minute less than an hour, I’m still going to get great exercise.
But if I’m flying to the moon, my rocket ship better be aimed perfect, so I don’t want to be off by 1-degree, not even five minutes or five seconds, since I kind of want to come back to earth and tell my family about it.
So when it really matters, if our vision is wrong, it makes a huge difference.
And as far as God goes, right here is the difference, the poisonous weed the devil sowed in our hearts: “God doesn’t want what’s best for you. He wants to take it from you. He is a tyrant keeping you in bondage.  He’s holding back the best. You need to be your own master and steal for yourself whatever you want.”  Think of every sin you’ve committed and you will find this lie: “if I am to be happy, I must disobey God and take this for myself.” 

How do we imagine God?
If we are honest, I bet we can all think of times when we are afraid of God - that in the end he really doesn’t seem to care; that he won’t come through on his promises; that he is okay with the suffering we see in the world and in our lives.   Waiting for the other shoe to fall.

So that brings us to today. 

Abraham, at multiple times in his life, had profound experiences of God.  Perhaps we can think of times we have too.  Abraham had received promises from God, and most of those promises had to do with his son, his only true heir, Isaac.  So when God tests Abraham by asking for a sacrifice of Isaac, this is more than just a test to see if Abraham loves God more than he loves what God can give him. It’s more than just a way that God can say, once and for all, that human sacrifice is never worship.  Most of all, God is challenging Abraham’s trust in who God truly is.  The questions that can flood our hearts could have been asked by Abraham: Is God trying to take back what he has given?  Is he breaking his promise?  Were all those past experiences of God true?  Or does God really love us and want what is best for us?

But Mount Moriah leads to Mount Tabor.
Christ is the lamb.  “God will provide the lamb”

If God dies on a cross for you, don’t imagine he is a tyrant.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lent 1st Sunday - Spiritual Battle / Temptation

Audio: (from 9:30am) CLICK HERE

We left Jesus in the desert at the end of last Sunday's Gospel from Mark 1:45.  That was actually the third time it mentions Jesus in the wilderness.  Today we get the first account with Jesus' temptation in the desert.

Who said Christianity is for wimps?  The wilderness is not a safe place.  It is exceedingly dangerous physically, but for the Christian it means even greater challenges spiritually.

When we enter the desert, we find that we are not alone.  The tempter is there as he was in the garden.  The wild beasts are there (perhaps representing other demons).  But also, though more quietly, God is there.  His angels are there.  And these great spiritual powers battle not over rock and earth and plant, but they battle over our hearts and souls.  The devil tempts, the Lord guides.  This is the Spiritual Battle that we live every day in our hearts, in our consciences, but more intensely when we run from all the noise of the world to see what noise has gotten into our hearts - has clung to us and begun to shape us.

In the desert we are reminded that the devil does indeed exist, brothers and sisters, and as I've heard it said, his best trick is convincing the world that he doesn't exist.  He isn't some goofy red-skinned thing with a pitchfork.  That's why he's so easy to disregard.  He actually a fallen angel.

(Lk 12:4-5) I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more.  I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.

Who said Christianity is for wimps?  They were very wrong!  Spiritual enemies are worse than earthly ones.

Jesus was tempted.  Wait - Jesus, tempted?  Yes.  A sign for us of the victory that is ours in Him.

A great work about how we are tempted in our world today would be C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.  Screwtape is a demon writing to an understudy, wormwood, about how to bring down the person he is assigned to lead into hell.  It's a great book for high school and older.

If you have felt called to some severe penance, you may feel tempted now.  But remember the most important thing: God is there and God is stronger.  He may be silent, but He is not absent.  He is there.  Call on Him.  He will answer.  Take refuge in His truth and His love.  We are never tempted without hope.  God always provides a victory for us in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Vocation: What about us?

Audio: click here

We have covered the Vocations of the Institutions of marriage, consecrated life, ordained ministry.  But before we embark on the season of Lent, we should look once more at those who do not fit into these categories.  Whether widows, divorced, unmarried, youth, displaced persons, or all other groups that don’t seem to “fit in,” there is a real sense that these people could feel like modern lepers – isolated, unclean, and abandoned.  And this isolation, this way that our culture breeds separation in the midst of technology, breeds fear of your neighbor in the midst of so many freedoms, this is perhaps the greatest disease of our developed world.  It is a spiritual sickness, not a physical one; and as Jesus makes clear for the leper today, it is nothing to be ashamed of, and the leper is not guilty of any sin.  So too the isolated of our day needs to be welcomed into the community of the church so that they can be healed.
But what about the vocation of those who are not part of the main institutions we covered over the last few weeks?  We see their vocation in light of the universal vocation, and in a parallel way from the other vocations.  Let’s start with a text that outlines a basic truth of Christianity.  In a homily for a priestly ordination in 1993, the future Pope Benedict noted how important it is for us to find the truth of the human person not in self-actualization, but rather in self-gift:
[T]his self-abandonment, this allowing the ego to be immersed and to disappear in him, and so too this placing of my own will in his, very profoundly contradicts our attitude toward life—and I suppose this has been the case in every age. For, indeed, this ego is precisely what we want to assert; we want to fulfill it, put ourselves forward, have ownership of our life, and thereby draw the world into ourselves and enjoy it and leave a trace of ourselves in such a way that this ego persists and keeps its importance in the world. It is characteristic of the present era that [there is] an ever greater, ever more dominant sector of the population made up of persons who enter no lasting relationship but are just “I” and lead only this life of their own. And, indeed, there is something like an almost traumatic fear of fruitfulness, because the other might take our place away, because we feel that our share of existence is threatened. And ultimately this retreat into wanting to be only myself is fear of death, fear of losing life, all that we have and are. But as the Lord tells us in the Gospel: Precisely this desperate attempt to possess the ego entirely after all, to possess at least this and as much of the world as can possibly fit into this ego—leads to it becoming withered and empty. For man, who is created in the image of the triune God, cannot find himself by closing himself up in himself. He can find himself only in relation, in going out, in self-giving, in the gesture of the dying grain of wheat.
So truly here we can see the reality not only of priesthood, but of all vocations.  It is a reality that Jesus expounds for us clearly when he said “He who saves his life will lose it; he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”  All of us, no matter what our vocation is, must give ourselves away, must lose ourselves in something greater, ultimately losing ourselves in God.
One of the huge traps of our super-individualized culture is that we are tempted to shy away from permanence.  We see the world as changing too fast, and in ways that are too hard to predict, so therefore we fear making choices that will tie us down and trim our options.  How can I remain my true self (worldy wisdom would say) if I am stuck in a certain way of living?
This spiritual disease of our culture looms most dangerously over those whose vocation is not concretely tied up with lots of obvious things.  The priest, the married man or woman, and the religious brother or sister have a clearer sense of how they are to give of themselves from day to day.  The single person, the divorced, the widowed, etc. do not have that clarity, and the temptation to remain free from some kind of commitment is powerful.  I think it is important for these people (and for all of us in many ways) to not be afraid to step one bit at a time into a deeper commitment to sacrificial self-gift: whether in the parish, in your families, in your friendships, in a volunteer organization, in your prayer.  The question should be: God, how are you calling me to give myself in a committed way to building up your kingdom?  Lord, give me the courage to walk where you lead me one day at a time.
Let us finish with a poem, a prayer, by Cardinal Newman, when at a dark time in his life he had trouble seeing the way but knew who could show him.

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
          Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
          Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
          Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
          Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
          Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Vocation: Marriage and family

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          These readings may not seem at first to be very illustrative for the vocation of marriage.  At first glance, we only see the mention of Simon’s mother-in-law, which means he must have been married.  Now instead of any of the hundreds of possible bad jokes that could be said on that point, it is better to simply focus on another: the first reading is actually an even worse text (on the surface) for speaking about marriage: “life is a drudgery; things are miserable, and I’ll never see happiness again.”  Okay that has nothing to do with marriage, and in fact it is a good point to remember, one that was often stressed in seminary: no vocation is ever going to “fix you” and magically make life into rainbows and cotton candy.  The person you are before you are ordained (or married, or consecrated) is the same person you are after.  Life is difficult, but that is one thing that allows it to be so beautiful.
          In marriage we see a parallel to God. This comes straight from the word of God, where in the book of Genesis, man and woman are created in God’s image and likeness to be a gift of love to each other and thus to bear fruit beyond themselves - to be for each other and thus to be for others beyond themselves.  In marriage we see an exalted, even in many ways the most exalted, form of what human relationships are supposed to be like. 
          Marriage is meant to be more than just the two.  If it’s orientation is turned inward, then it already fails at its exalted vocation to be a sign of God’s love in the world.  In some ways children starts that outward focus, which is perhaps the biggest reason I would encourage married couples to not put off parenting out of financial fears or any other kind sense of unreadiness. You’ll never be fully ready and you risk your marriage turning sour with self-focus.
          I just heard a story from an engaged couple that I think illustrates this very well. They had planned a mini-vacation to travel south and see the man’s grandfather so they could announce to him in person that they were engaged. However, when they arrived it was clear that grandpa was in very poor health and needed some serious care. So they naturally got busy with everything they could to help get him on the mend and prepared meals for after they had left. Despite losing some relaxing days of vacation and filling them with all this needed work, they found the experience very uplifting and beneficial for their relationship. They got closer doing these things together for another, especially someone so important to them.  
          I told them this seems to be a perfect example of how we were created to live for others, and that is true even for marriage. 
          In a real sense, marriage is not so much “us vs. the world” as it is “us toward the world”!
          We really can see this truth about marriage in today’s Gospel: symbolically, marriage is the safe haven to which the world comes for what the world cannot get anywhere else.  The house of Simon, because Jesus dwells there, is turned into a house of healing.  So too marriages are meant to be turned outward, toward the world, so that the good preserved within their marital love is ultimately poured upon others.
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”  Saint Paul’s words today are meant not just for apostles, or missionaries, or priests, but for married couples as well.  “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” – if our marriage is focused only on ourselves.