What Must I Do for Eternal Life, Homily

Ezekiel 24:15-23

Today in our First Reading we hear Ezekiel wanting to mourn the death of his wife, but the Lord calls him to groan in silence and ‘continue on’ with the work to which God has called him.

As we remember from last week, Ezekiel was calling his people to accept their exile in Babylon where they were taken in 597 by Nebuchadnezzar, and to accept the destruction of Jerusalem which was coming in 587.

Ezekiel believed that the exiles were the hope of Israel’s restoration once the allotted time for the exile had been accomplished.

In our Gospel from Matthew we hear the story of the young man who came up to Jesus asking what he must do to gain eternal life.

Jesus gives him a few examples from the 10 commandments to which the young man tells Him that he has observed all of these, and asks, what more must he must do.

You can almost see Jesus smile as He says, if you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, then come follow me.

We’re told the young man went away sad for he had many possessions. While that is probably true, it seems Jesus saw him coming a long way off and understood his deeper problem was his Richness of Spirit. Otherwise, Jesus would have increased the load he placed on the young man’s shoulders incrementally without going to the limit that He did.

Jesus knew that the young man’s possessions likely fed into his Richness of Spirit and that it takes a long time in life to reach the level of Poverty of Spirit to be truly useful to the Kingdom. But, since the young man persisted in pushing Jesus to make himself look good to those around Him, Jesus gave him the whole enchilada since nothing less would appeal to him or change him quick enough to be useful to Jesus in His short public ministry here on Earth.

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Reminder of Forgiveness, Homily

Ezekiel 12:1-12

In our First Reading today, we find the Lord calling Ezekiel to perform acts symbolic of going into exile. He has him packing up all his belongings and leaving the city through a hole in the wall.

The Lord is hoping that the people who have so far been oblivious to the prophet’s words about a coming exile, will at last see the symbolism of preparing for exile and take heed.

There are times in our lives, when it seems the same things happen over and over, we jokingly refer to those as Yogi Berra did, by calling those incidents déjà vu, all over again.

But, in fact, it could be the Lord’s way of trying to get our attention about something He wants us to understand.

In our Gospel from Matthew 18, we find Peter trying to ingratiate himself by asking the Lord how many times we are to forgive others, seven times, he asks.

The Lord responds, “Not seven but seventy-seven times.” In other words, we are to forgive an indeterminate number of times just like He forgives us.

The story of the forgiven servant, going out and treating another servant harshly to be repaid a debt he owed, is a look at ourselves and our normal tendencies. We forgot how gracious the Lord is with us when it comes to forgiveness being applied to others.

Eucharist and Poverty of Spirit, Homily

Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:4

As I read the first reading today from Ezekiel, I couldn’t help but think I was reading a very old description say from the OT of a future reality say from the NT, about the Eucharist. The words, “Open your mouth and eat what I shall give you” engenders a graphic to me of receiving communion.

The words, “Eat what is before you and then go speak to the House of Israel” should remind us to fill ourselves with the strength of the Eucharist before we ever go out and try to spread the good news to others.

Otherwise, we find ourselves speaking from human strength only, rather than the Divine.

Our Gospel today from Matthew, with its reference to becoming like little children, reminds us once again of the call to Poverty of Spirit. He says, “Whoever makes himself lowly, becoming like this child, is of greatest importance in the Heavenly reign.”

So, when we find ourselves wanting to be important, more than we really are, we have our first indication of our heart being filled with Richness of Spirit rather than the Poverty of Spirit to which He calls us all.

Miracles of Jesus, Homily

Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28c

If any of you are History channel buffs, you will recognize our first reading today from Ezekiel as a passage often used by the program “Ancient Aliens” as a proof text that we have been visited in the past by other life forms.

If we could get as much enthusiasm generated for the coming of Jesus Christ as we do for that program about the Ancient Alien possibility, we could go a long way in converting the world for Him.

Our Gospel from Matthew shares with us the story of the temple tax and Jesus’ miraculous solution. He has Simon Peter catch a fish and take from its mouth a coin that was worth twice the amount required, enough for both of them.

We’ve heard that story and others so many times that we have lost our enthusiasm for some of the physical miracles that Jesus did perform. The impact is that we forget that Jesus said we, today, would perform miracles just like he performed and even more besides, unquote.

Consequently, we miss seeing miracles happen today or worse rationalize them away.

Yet, I would be willing to bet that every living one us here today has witnessed miracles that defy logic and probability. Wouldn’t it be interesting to sit down one day and have everyone share their experiences? But, not today…

We Don’t Murmur, Homily

Homily, Aug 12th, Cyc B 19th Sun Ord Time: Murmuring

Today’s Gospel reading, the third of the five Sundays from the Sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, begins with the Jews murmuring.  That’s a great word, murmur.  It’s a word that sounds like its meaning.

Murmur. Mom makes a large meatloaf on Sunday.  On Monday it returns to the table with red sauce on it.  On Tuesday it’s mixed in with vegetables, and all the family murmurs.  Or school starts on a Wednesday, and on Friday the teacher assigns two hours of homework, and among the students there is murmuring.

The Hebrews of the Bible were world-class murmurers, especially those who lived in the times of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.  These people murmured because the Pharaoh increased their work load.

It was all Moses’ fault they said angrily.  They murmured when they camped next to the Red Sea and heard that the Pharaoh’s chariots were approaching.  They murmured when they had no bread, or no meat, or no water.  You would have thought that they would have had faith in God who had cared for their every need, but no, instead of faith there was murmuring.

The murmuring of the Jews of the Exodus was recalled in the murmuring of the Jews in the beginning of today’s Gospel.  They complained about Jesus. He had fed them with loaves and fish, but now He said that He was all the bread they needed.  He was the Bread of Life that came down from heaven.

They were convinced that He did not come down from heaven.  They said that they knew his family.  And they would have been correct if that was all there was to Jesus.  If He was simply human, He could not be the Bread from heaven.

He could not give them that which was infinitely greater than the Bread their ancestors ate, the manna.

To accept the gift of the Bread of Life, they had to first accept that Jesus was more than human.  He was Divine.

This is the same for us.  To understand the miracle and mystery of communion, our starting point must be that Jesus is Divine, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He gives us who He is, Eternal Life.

Our Founding Fathers, Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, etc, gave us liberty, but they were not liberty.  Abraham Lincoln gave the slaves freedom, but he was not freedom.

But Jesus gave the Bread of the Eternal Life because He is the Bread of Life. He is not just a great man.  He is Divine. The Bread of Life is Jesus, our Divine Sustenance.

And, we take Him into ourselves.  When we receive the Eucharist, we are united to Him, to each other and to the whole Body of Christ.  It is no wonder that those who wish to destroy the Church begin by attacking the Eucharist.

In England of the Sixteenth Century, France of the Eighteenth Century, Mexico of the Twentieth Century, and throughout the world in the Twenty-first century, wherever ISIS or its affiliates rears its head, Christianity is attacked by attacking the Eucharist as well as those who can provide the Eucharist for others.

Throughout history and continuing to the present-day priests are tortured and killed for saying Mass for the people who long for the Bread of Life.

You can see the hand of the evil here.  In the diabolical battle against God’s people, the devil attacks that which binds them to God, the Eucharist.  His attacks are not just overt, though. The Father of Lies works subtlety.

He tries to convince us that Jesus was a wonderful man, but just that, a man.  When Jesus is equated with other great men of history, then the Eucharist has no meaning.  It then becomes a pious Catholic practice with no real significance beyond that of holy water, a sacramental.

The next time you hear someone say that Jesus was a good man just like, Mohammad, or the Dali Lama remind them that only Jesus died for His people.

The unbelieving, murmur that Catholics are not really receiving the Lord when they go to communion. Some Catholics are swayed by their arguments.

When Mass is celebrated people receive the Bread of Life.  Every Sunday, and for some of us, every day, we enter into the Mystery of the Eucharist.  We receive the One who is the Bread of Life.

This is Jesus who unites Himself to Us with His Body and Blood.

This is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Son of the Father, who humbled Himself to become one of us, to die for us, and then gave the gift of His Life and Death to us in the form to the Blessed Sacrament.

This is Jesus whom we will take into ourselves today when we receive communion.

We don’t murmur.

We proclaim.

Wait for the Vision, Homily

Habakkuk 1:12 – 2:4

In our first reading today from Habakkuk, near the end, we find an interesting passage.

“For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.

“If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

A few years ago, while trying to listen to the Lord about a minor issue, I heard in that small voice, the Lord referring to an entirely different issue. Since it didn’t seem to be of consequence in that I did not care one way or the other, I just noted what He said and forgot about it.

As it turned out, as time went by, I found myself actually warming to the idea and looking forward to it and became somewhat aggravated that the Lord had not done, what I thought He said He was going to do.

That little exchange went on and on for almost two years. And my only recourse was remembering the original words, “If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

As with most of these sorts of things, when it did come, it came with no fanfare. It was just a cold day in February and out of the blue, when least expected, there it was.

When I reflected on it, and looked back over the two-year waiting period, I realized I was not as ready for it then, as I thought I was.

What was that two-year period all about? It was about the Lord expanding my faith. Honestly, if He had completed His vision earlier, it would not have been the blessing it turned out to be.

God’s Eyes Are On The Sparrow

While it is true as presented in scripture that we walk by faith and not by sight, occasionally, God allows us to see something that defies all odds of being seen.  Our family shared in such a sight on vacation this year.

As we arrived at the lake house and began to explore, someone noticed a bird nest on the porch railing. It was located inside a flower-pot and was filled with baby blue birds. Their mom and dad seemed to be comfortable feeding them as we gathered on the porch. Mom and dad used a tree branch about 20 ft away from the actual nest as a staging area to bring bugs and worms to the babies.

As the week passed there was a noticeable increase in the size of the birds and in the number of feeding trips to the nest by both parents. The little ones began to stretch out their wings and we could tell that it was getting close to the time for them to leave the nest.

Meanwhile, we human parents began to put words in the mouths of the bird parents to the amusement of everyone. For instance, when the larger baby bird started hopping up on the rim of the flower-pot, the father bird would fly down and peck him in the head as if to say, “You’re not as ready to fly the nest as you think you are”. The baby bird would hop back down into the security of the nest. We likened that to human parents telling their teenaged children the same thing when they attempted premature actions.

Early one morning the babies were all still asleep and the father bird arrived at the staging area with a large worm in his beak. He watched and watched for a while and looked as if he hated to wake them and start the day in the feeding frenzy that was sure to follow; so, with a flick of his head he ate the worm himself and flew away.

As the week neared its end, the large baby hopped up on the rim of the pot and flexed his wings and made several bends of his legs and, poof, off he went right to the staging branch where his parents were sitting. They checked him over and he flew off with the mother bird into the trees. She returned after a while and the two parents began their feeding of the remaining birds.

The last day, the remaining babies hopped up on the edge of the flower-pot and one after the other fledged on their maiden flight right up to the same staging branch. Those two were filmed on cell phone video.

Later that evening the mom and dad flew to the flower-pot nest and cleaned out the downy feathers and various other debris and departed, leaving the nest ready for the next family that needed room in the inn.

As we discussed all this activity over the week, we began to feel a sacredness about the event. We had watched Nature at its finest repopulate itself. We discussed that if God’s eyes were on the sparrow as presented in scripture, He had allowed our eyes to be on those blue birds. I must confess a certain envy as I compared the birds’ two-week preparation to enter the world to our human preparation of fifteen to twenty years for our own children.

Then again, it takes us a lifetime of preparation to enter Heaven.

Eradicate Blame

We spend a lot of energy wondering who can be blamed for our own or other people’s tragedies – our parents, ourselves, the immigrants, the Jews, the gays, the blacks, the fundamentalists, the Catholics….
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But Jesus doesn’t allow us to solve our own or other people’s problems through blame. The challenge he poses is to discern in the midst of our darkness the light of God. In Jesus’ vision everything, even the greatest tragedy, can become an occasion in which God’s works can be revealed.
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How radically new my life would be if I were willing to move beyond blame to proclaiming the works of God…. All human beings have their tragedies…. We seldom have much control over them. But do we choose to live them as occasions to blame, or as occasions to see God at work?
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PRAYER FOR TODAY
My God and my refuge, strip away my habit of blaming – either others or myself – for any big or little tragedies in my life. Challenge me to move beyond the “blame game” and to understand that these misfortunes and setbacks are not under my control. Teach me instead to live through these events and see them as fruitful opportunities for faith and love.
Amen.
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Thanks to the Henri Nouwen Society who works tirelessly to spread his wisdom for the ages.

Above the Canopy of Daily Life

In the day-to-day life of most of us, we find little that challenges us or calls us to more effort than we want to expend. We are content to settle. In fact, we find ourselves covered by the equivalence of a canopy of mundane daily issues with which we are familiar and therefore offer us feelings of security. We don’t resist that temptation to settle because it is the easy way out. In fact, we usually relish the opportunity to just coast along and not be challenged.

But, deep inside of us there is that builtin contest between wanting things to stay the same with little effort and the need to look for the challenges that help us overcome our sedentary mental state and embrace changes. It is this struggle between these two extremes that enables us to grow as human beings.

We need the occasional challenge to call us out of our quiet acceptance to get the blood flowing, to turn over new rocks and discover that which lies hidden beneath, to take that deep breath that exchanges the old stale ways for something new that invigorates.

We need to force our heads above the canopy of everyday life to discover the bright sunlight and the life bringing breeze that recharges our human batteries and gives us new purpose.

Who knows, we might discover our creator in a new way and enjoy how that brings us new life.

Internal Leprosy, a Homily

Homily, Feb 10&11-18, Cyc B, 6th Sun of Ordinary time, Leper

Our readings open today with the OT Book of Leviticus giving us insight into dealing with leprosy at that time. It was truly the scourge of the Jews. We could even compare it to our present-day concerns over cancer or heart disease.

The book of Leviticus says that anyone with a skin eruption or scab was to go to the priest. If the priest decided it was leprous he declared the person unclean and set in motion other protocols about how they were to behave.

Why the priests? The priests in those days did more than offer sacrifices for the people. They were also the Public Health Officers of their day. I mentioned to Msgr that as I got older more skin spots appeared on me, did he want to inspect them. He said, “no no, you must have an MD after your name to do that today.”😊

Leprosy in Biblical times was a terrible thing. While it described what is known today as Hanson’s disease, the word probably included other skin diseases as well and you could not always tell them apart. Hence, the need for isolation to give them a chance to dry up if they were not leprosy.

The only way they could deal with it was through isolation of the person from the rest of the community to keep it from being spread. Unlike today where we receive care and healing from the medical profession and support from family and friends. In OT times, isolation was all that was available to them.

When you think about it, isolation, while protecting the rest of the community, was brutal for the person with leprosy.

They had to leave their homes, leave their families, and were forced to live on the outskirts of towns with other lepers. They had to keep their garments rent, heads bare, beards muffled, crying out “Unclean, unclean” when approached by others, devoid of the care and consolation of family and friends.

What a hopeless existence.

It is that background that leads us into the Gospel today where we hear that as Jesus approached a town, a leper ran out ahead of Him, kneeling he ask to be made clean if Jesus wanted to. We are told that Jesus was moved with pity and said, “I do want to, be made clean.”

Jesus did not see so much the unclean leper or his disease. He was not so much concerned with the strict prohibitions of Jewish society. He saw a human soul in desperate need. He reached out His hand and healed him with His touch.

Unfortunately, the man was so happy He was cured that he ignored Jesus’ admonition to tell no one; he told everyone. As a result, Jesus was unable to enter a town openly because the people were overwhelming Him as a healer and miracle worker and not listening to His message.

Today, we all suffer from time to time with serious illnesses. The way it usually plays out is we become symptomatic and go to our doctor. He prescribes some treatment that sounds like it will go on for a long time with medications, maybe operations, or maybe procedures.

The first thought that strikes us when we hear the doctor’s prognosis and plan is, “Oh Lord, this is not going to be quick.” And, we get that sinking feeling.

But, in the process of acting in faith on the doctor’s word, the odds are, we usually recover from the illness and find that our faith has grown as a result – after the fact. Difficult times in the future won’t seem quite so difficult.

While we have it a lot easier today because of huge medical advances, unbelievably there are still things that isolate us today just like in the OT. Mostly we isolate ourselves by our own behavior. We prove the old saying, “I am the author of my own pain.”

In this present flu season, we wish we could isolate those who have it from those who don’t.

As far as things we do to ourselves that isolate us: there are behaviors such as suffering from the illness of negativity. Because of our personality, or life experiences, we have difficulty being positive and other people separate themselves from us.

People can only tolerate a certain amount of negativity before they start looking for the door. So, in effect, we end up living on the outskirts of town alone, much like the leper.

The same goes for the illness of being judgmental, or being an angry person, or a dishonest person. We are given a great big letting alone by others, and we suffer isolation and its pain all by ourselves.

What about those who are spiritually sick? How about those who have left the Church or even left Christianity? They have isolated themselves. Are they to be cared for? Yes, certainly, as much as they will allow us to try. But, try we must.

How about those family members from whom we have disassociated ourselves for one reason or another? Certainly, our reasons seemed valid at the time. Are the reasons still valid today? Maybe it’s time to reach out and see.

The truth is, often we have no idea, no clue, that we drive others away. We feel like we are fine and just can’t imagine we are the cause of their withdrawal.

So, the answer to all these things is for us who feel isolated and alone to follow the lead of the leper in today’s Gospel. We go to the Lord Jesus and ask for His healing of that thing, known or unknown, that visits upon us the pain of isolation.

The Gospels often note that Jesus was moved with great pity for the people as He preached the Kingdom of God. When He faced the troubled, the abandoned, the sick, when His heart was stirred by the blind, when face to face with the leper, He reached out to them. That’s who He was and is and wants us to be.

Jesus was moved not by disgust, not by antagonism, but by compassion and mercy. Having compassion and showing mercy are the Christian qualities of great minds and large hearts.

Today this Gospel calls us to allow our hearts to be enlarged by Christ, to try to reduce the isolation and loneliness of others and show them a Christ-like love that encompasses all things, especially them.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What a great time to take a hard-interior look at ourselves.

What a great time to rebuild the relationships with family and friends that have languished.

What a great time to build up and repair our own relationship with the Lord. So that we can meet Him at Easter in all His glory.

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