Homily: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2015

During my years as a music director for the Catholic Church, I provided music for hundreds of funerals. At nearly each one, the first reading came from the book of Wisdom, specifically Chapter 3, which reads “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.”

The Scripture passage magnifies the first reading from today, which begins with the statement that “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” This is such an important idea for us to understand. Death is in the world because of one man, Adam, and because of sin. It is not something God wants, but it is something he must allow, something we must experience. God certainly has the power to remove death from the world, but doing so would mean that God would have to change our very existence, and take away our opportunity to reconcile our lives and return to Heaven. In Salvifici Doloris, a letter on redemptive suffering, Saint John Paul II writes that “Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance.” By the same token, we need to die so we can be born again in to new life.

But, as always, God will not abandoned us. In today’s Gospel, we see two accounts of Jesus’ healing mercy. The first is when a woman, stricken with leprosy, touches his cloak and is healed by him. Even though a great commotion is happening around Jesus, he is able to tend to the woman as though no one else is there. The second account of his mercy is with Jairus’ daughter, who has died. Just as with Lazarus, death does not worry Jesus. He even refers to them both as asleep and not dead. When he speaks the words “Talitha koum” the girl rises. For us, the hearers of this story, this brings meaning to the words of the Gospel Acclamation we just heard that says “Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.”

Today’s readings confirm for us that death is not permanent, and that eternal life awaits us. However, there is still much for us to do while we are on earth. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul expresses his gratitude to those who have lived their lives well and for others. And he also reminds them of what Christ did for them, and that it is important for them to do the same for others. He tells them they need to supply for the needs of others and ensure that all are taken care of. He even reminds the Corinthians of a principle that was established when the book of Exodus was written: that each person should only take what they need so that everyone will have enough.

Our lives are filled with opportunities for us to live well, to live justly, and to live as Christ taught us. And when our earthly life is over, we can be assured that Heaven awaits us, because Christ conquered death for us.

Homily: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2015

As I was preparing my homily for this week, I tried to relate to the situation Jesus and his disciples were in while they were in the boat. I thought about the times life events caused my faith to be tested. I thought about the times that I had to rely on another person to see me safely through a situation. And then I realized that I had been in this exact situation before, as a father.

There have been a number of times when I have been asleep, either in my bed or on the couch, and one of my kids has woken me up to deal with something that was going on. Sometimes it was a “monster under the bed,” a loud burst of thunder, high winds, or strange noises outside. Regardless of the situation, I would rise from my place – often tired and ready to go back to sleep – to deal with the issue. Once all was back to normal, I remind my kids that I am there for them no matter what happens. I had a similar conversation with my daughter last night, when, for a second day in row, she was scared to sleep because of the storms. I assured her that everything was going to be okay and that if anything serious happened I would be right there to help her. She and I both know that to be true, but sometimes she needs some reassurance.

I believe this is the same assurance that Jesus gives his disciples. I could just picture them scurrying about, trying to figure out what to do. They finally decide to wake Jesus up to solve the problem, and can’t believe how easily he handles it. But, rather than only quelling fears, Jesus is actually able to calm the wind – something my kids wish I could do. Jesus is the real deal. And the question he asked his disciples – “Do you not yet have faith?” – is asked by him not for his own sake, but for that of his disciples.  I have said something similar when I have asked my kids “Don’t you know I will always be there for you? No matter what happens.”

The first reading also reminds us of the importance of faith. It takes place after the trials Job underwent, and in it we see God reminding Job of how he protected him despite his hardships. The reading, like the Gospel, also takes place during a storm. Once again, we are reminded that the power of God is greater than anything.

For someone at sea, a storm is a terrifying and dangerous event. But with God, there is safety and calm. There is nothing to fear. This is an important message for us to take away from today’s readings, but I think there is another.

God was not trying to only give assurance to Job. And Jesus was not trying to only reassure his apostles. They were both pointing to a much greater life for us, if we remain faithful and faith-filled. As Paul told the Corinthians, we now have the opportunity, because of Jesus, to become a new creation. We have a Church, given to us as a foretaste of the Heavenly eternity that awaits us. And we have, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist.

God intends for us to be with Him in Heaven. If we are to get there, we need to live accordingly. To help us do so, he gives us the grace we need to see our way through many situations. And when we need some extra help, he is always there, waiting for us.

Homily: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2015

I have not seen a mustard plant before. I have seen pictures of one, but not an actual plant. I have seen mustard seeds, though, and I must say that they are remarkable. They are remarkable because they are so tiny, no bigger than a grain of sand. I received a bag of them at a training once, and hundreds of them were able to fit on the face of a quarter. From this tiny seed comes a large plant, one that can grow as tall as eight feet.

Though I have not seen a literal mustard plant, I have seen figurative ones. I have seen them in the children that participate in the formation programs that I oversee, when they leave their classes eager to use their new knowledge and by their participation in the Sacrament liturgies. I have seen them in my children’s classmates at St. Monica, when they gather together to celebrate Mass and through the strong foundation they are gaining in their Catholic faith. I have seen them in the catechists and teachers at our churches and schools, when they share their tremendous gifts with the children they care for. I have seen them in the clergy and the laity, when they do work for and through the Church. I have seen them in my family, when we mark our day with prayer and do our best to live Christian lives. And I have seen them in all of you, as we work together to carry out the mission of Christ on earth. Wherever the seeds of faith have been planted, there is growth. As the first part of the Gospel tells us, we may not know how, but we know it happens.

The Gospel Acclamation for today says “the seed is the Word of God, Christ is the sower.” I feel this is an apt comparison to the work of God in our world. The tree that is planted in the first reading from the book of Ezekiel represents the beauty and fertility of the Davidic house, the line that Jesus will someday come from. Scholars note that this tree can be likened to the cosmic tree, or one tree which draws sustenance from the earth and provides many things for all of creation.

In the second reading from the letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explains that it is necessary to live a good life and the preserve our bodies because we will someday appear before the judgement seat and our place in the afterlife will be determined. The Jews at the time thought that those who died before them were among the righteous dead in Heaven, but there was no sense of resurrection or eternal life until Christ came. St. Paul’s insistence on living wisely was an attempt to put to rest any remaining ideas new converts to Christianity had that disparaged the body, and to equip people with what they needed live a good life.

St. Paul also noted that we should walk by faith and not by sight. As we go forth in a few moments to receive Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, let us walk with tremendous faith and remember the great things we can do in this world with what he has planted in us.

Homily: Corpus Christi, 2015

Today, our Church celebrates the solemnity of Corpus Christi. Ordinary time did begin after Pentecost, but today we take time to celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, that was given to us as a most perfect gift.

We just heard the proclamation of the sequence, Lauda Sion. It recounts some of the most important moments in our salvation history and the institution of the Eucharist. Combined with the Scripture readings we just heard, they present an excellent framework for today’s celebration of Corpus Christi.

Saint Paul, whose solemnity we celebrate on June 29, asks a very worthy and important question in today’s letter to the Hebrews. He asks: “how much more?” Indeed, this is an excellent question to apply to the saving acts of Jesus and the work God does in the world.

In the first reading from the book of Exodus, Moses is giving instruction to the people of God. They are also given a foretaste of the Eucharistic liturgy when he prepares the altar and those that are gathered. When we ask the question “how much more” we find many examples. First, the young bulls that were sacrificed would someday be God’s only Son. The pillars represent the 12 nations and, ultimately, the 12 apostles. The blood that was sprinkled would later be poured out. And the sacrifice offered is done not simply once, but also for all.

The Gospel recounts the Last Supper – the very moment when Jesus institutes the Eucharist. At the meal, Jesus used the traditional table prayer that was known by all. But through his actions, the words were given much more, a completely new meaning.

The question Saint Paul asks, how much more, can be understood in more than one way. Yes, it does affirm for us that whatever we know and understand, God is more. But, as the recipients of such a gracious gift, we are also called to examine how much more we can do in the world.

The film Schindler’s List ends with a very dramatic and powerful scene. Oskar Schindler, the protagonist of the film, spends many of his resources and risks his life to safely rescue Jews from persecution and death at the hands of the S.S. and Hitler. At the end of the film, Schindler is surrounded by all of those he has rescued and, rather than rejoice in his accomplishments, he begins to sob and exclaim that he could have done more. He looks at all he has and begins to count off how many people he could have saved. He does what we should all do: ask how much more we can do in the world with what we have been given.

I would like to close by sharing some ideas from the U.S. Bishops. Referring to the Eucharist, they say:

  • It is something we experience as a community.
  • It awakens us to our own dignity and to that of others.
  • It unifies and heals divisions.
  • It sensitizes us to those who suffer.
  • It moves us and inspires us to respond.
  • It allows us to live out our Christian vocation.
  • It challenges us to recognize and confront structures of sin.
  • It prepares us for mission.
  • It propels us forth to transform the world.

God does so much for us. How much, we do not fully know. But we must ask ourselves the same question. How much more are we willing to do?