Homily: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 2017

As I was preparing for this homily, I did some background reading about the labor practices of those in today’s parable. In those days, it was normal for a landowner to hire additional help at 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m. Those already working in the vineyard would have been familiar with “extra help” arriving throughout the day. It was the normal practice to pay the late workers a lesser amount, but nothing obligated the landowner to adhere to that practice. In this parable, he did promise fair restitution, though, when he told the workers that he would be just to them. In the same way, we experience the generosity of God not because we have merited it or because we deserve it, but because he is generous and loves us more than we can understand.

The negative response of the grumbling workers was because they mistook divine generosity for divine injustice. They felt as if they were being cheated. But, the landowner responded by telling those workers that it was they who were being unjust. It was not for them to decide the limits of the landowner’s generosity, just as it is not ours to decide God’s.

An excellent way to read Scripture is to imagine ourselves as being in the story. In this case, I think most of us would try to see ourselves in the same position as that of the landowner. At first, this could come across as self-defeating. It does not do us much good to dwell on what we cannot do. In the first reading, God reassures us that we should not expect that. He reminds us that our thoughts are not His and neither are our ways. So, it is okay if we struggle to offer unmerited mercy and justice. In some ways, it almost seems as if he expects it.

There are many messages for us in today’s Scripture passages. I will not try to exhaust them all – I could not if I tried. But, I do want to speak about another idea. Conversion. Today’s Gospel also reminds us that it is never too late to seek God. Right now, our parish is offering myriad opportunities for formation and spiritual growth. Yes, it is true that some of these programs have already started, but I can guarantee that you will not be turned away if you arrive “late.” Perhaps your place in the field of our parish is on the third Monday, at the discussion group. Or, maybe it is on October 1 at the Life Chain. Or, it is through watching online videos from formed.org, or listening to a CD from Lighthouse. Or, perhaps it is in our program for new Catholics, our RCIA program. Regardless of what you do, God is waiting for you with open and loving arms.

In the second reading, we see the classic refutation of the claim that Christians are unconcerned about this life and only intent upon achieving a “pie in the sky.” Paul states it with elegant succinctness: “life means Christ; hence dying is so much gain.” Life and death are the same for one who has been incorporated into Christ by Baptism. Life in the flesh hasn’t been devalued by the revelation in Christ but elevated to the level of a participation in the glory of Christ—even now.

No one lives so fully as a committed Christian. No one values time so much as one who measures it against the aspect of eternity in heaven. That was the way Paul lived, and he challenges us to do the same.

 

 

 

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Homily: Catechetical Sunday

Today (Sept. 17, 2017), the universal Church is celebrating the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. But, we are also taking time to recognize our catechists and educators.

Something you will learn about me is that I love to read. And, in some of the books I have read, I have come across the term: “Divine Pedagogy.” This idea is known more simply as “the way God teaches,” and it is given to us through Scripture, the tradition of our Church, and it’s teaching office. It is a communication of and by God to us; to humanity. St. Augustine tells us that “The education of the human race, represented by the people of God, has advanced, so that it might gradually rise from earthly to heavenly things, and from the visible to the invisible.” Since obtaining eternal life in Heaven should be our goal, it seems that learning the divine pedagogy is worthy of our time.

The theme for this year’s catechetical Sunday is “Living as Missionary Disciples.” This theme is a commision for those who serve as catechists, but can also help us to better understand how we can learn from the divine pedagogy. For me, it brought me back to the words of Pope Francis’ first general audience when he said: we must “move beyond a dull or mechanical way of living our faith, and instead open the doors of our hearts, our lives, our parishes, our movements or associations, going out in search of others as to bring them to light and the joy of our faith in Christ.”

Jesus did not come to the earth and distribute handbooks and tests with Church teaching. Instead, he gathered disciples who he commissioned to be him in the world and to make other disciples.

In the same way, there is not a heaven.com website or a manual that all Catholics must complete. That is not to say that there is not a great amount of value to be gained from the resources around us, but we need more. We cannot do this alone. We need people. We need catechists.

I did not attend St. Monica school, but my wife and I have made sure my children have. Our oldest daughter is now in high school at Hackett (I am not sure when that happened…). We did not solely make the decision to send them because we are so impressed with how the students exceed the standards set by the state, with the innate goodness of their friends and families, or with the rich and varied curriculum that is offered. We considered all of those reasons, but also realized that Catholic schools were an important part of making our children missionary disciples and helping them get closer to reaching Heaven.

Through St. Monica school, my children have also learned to live the Heavenly virtues, which are reflected in today’s readings. In the first reading, we are reminded to practice patience, temperance, and charity. In the Gospel, we are reminded to be humble and kind. And the second reading, Paul’s letter to the Romans, reminds us to be chaste in our actions and diligent in responses.

If my children did not have the privilege to attend St. Monica Catholic school, they would certainly be in the religious education programs that are offered. To have two outstanding opportunities for formation through one parish is truly amazing.

I would like to close by sharing the special prayer, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for catechists:

O God, our Heavenly Father, you have

given us the gift of these catechists to be

heralds of the Gospel to our parish family.

We lift them up to you in thanksgiving

and intercede for them concerning their

hopes and needs.

May we be attentive to the presence

of your Word in them, a Word that lifts up

and affirms, calls forth and challenges, is

compassionate and consoles.

We pray that our parish family will always

be blessed with those who have responded to

the call to share in Christ’s prophetic mission

as catechists. May we too be open to the

universal call to service that Christ addresses

to all of his disciples, contributing our gifts to

the communion of faith, the Church.

We ask this in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

 

 

Homily: Thanksgiving for Ordination

When I began the Diaconate formation program, I was a parishioner here, at St. Monica. Because of a job change, I found myself at St. Joseph, but now I have returned because of yet another change. This June I began work as the Director of Faith Formation for Holy Family Healthcare.  And, it seems that Bishop Bradley agrees that this is a great place for me to be, because yesterday he handed me a letter that read: “I am happy to appoint you to provide diaconal ministry to the People of God at St. Monica Parish in Kalamazo.”

My discernment of the Diaconate began when I was in middle school. I met a man, who was a permanent Deacon, who embodied everything I hoped to someday be as a husband, a father, and a man of faith. Although my life included many twists and turns to arrive where I am today, I truly feel God’s will for me was Ordination for myriad reasons and because, well, here I am today.

If I tried to name everyone I am thankful to for being with me and praying for me during this time, we would be here until Christmas. But, rest assured when I say that all of who have been a part of my life, which includes you, are on that list.

There are, however, two thank-yous I would like to share. First, I am grateful to God. It is because of him that I am the man I am today, and I cannot even imagine what my life would be like if I followed my plans and not his will.

I would also like to thank my family. My wife, Nicky, put many parts of her life on hold during my formation, and a great deal was asked of her to help me prepare. I am also grateful to my children. There were many days when I was worn-out or lacked motivation to keep going, but they always reminded me why what I was doing was important. They were never upset when I had to miss their concert or games, and never made me feel bad for taking so much time to do the work the classes required of me.

My Ordination was one of the most meaningful and significant moments of my life. And, just like moments of a similar importance, it was one I did reach on my own. I am forever grateful for all of the people who helped me reach that day.

Homily: Corpus Christi, Year A

Today, the universal Church is celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi. Although Ordinary Time began last week, we set aside today for this special celebration. On this special day, the Scripture reading and prayers are devoted to the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, and where we receive Jesus in his body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Today also marks the end of a four-week collective message from the readings. Four weeks ago, at the Ascension, we were sent on a mission by Christ to be him in the world. As we heard, the ascended Christ was no longer limited by temporal trappings – he was now eternal. Two weeks ago, we learned better how to fulfill our mission by confidently knowing that we had the Holy Spirit as our guide. And, last week we were reminded of the efficacy of having a triune God that is not a distant power, but a person in our lives. Today, we celebrate Christ as he will always be with us in our earthly life – in the form of the Eucharist.

In the reading from Deuteronomy, we see into the way that God makes history and its events into lessons of wisdom for his people. At this early stage in the formation of the Israelites people, God brings them out of bondage from Egypt; yet, he allows them to suffer in order to form their obedience to and reliance on him. Manna is also mentioned which, although it is a gift from God, is an imperfect foreshadowing of the true food and true drink by which God gives us eternal life.

In the second reading, Paul says that the “cup of blessing”—likely a reference to the third cup of the Jewish Passover Seder that Jesus offered at the Last Supper—is a “participation in the blood of Christ,” and then that the “bread that we break”—likely an echo of the many New Testament references to the “breaking of bread” as a common facet of the early Church— is also a participation in his body. This word in the Greek is koinonia, which is sometimes translated as “communion” or “fellowship,” as well as “participation.” It comes from the root koina, meaning “common.” In the many uses of the term in the New Testament, it implies a deep form of shared life. Paul goes on to say that this sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ makes for both a mysterious sharing of his life and a mysterious sharing of oneness in his Body, the Church.

Today’s Gospel asks us to examine Jesus’s statement in a new way, because when we really look at them, his words are as shocking now as they were two thousand years ago. Jesus is telling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood! Little wonder people thought he was suggesting cannibalism when they first heard this teaching.

As Catholics we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ each time we receive the Eucharist. But do we really believe that? It’s a question worth examining because in the Mass, Jesus is truly made present under the appearance of bread and wine.

Each time we attend Mass, we celebrate the fact our God loves us so much that he nourishes us with himself so that we can become saints. It is both the greatest gift—and greatest mystery—of our faith. Ultimately, it is also the principal reason to be a Catholic—in order to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, just as he commanded the Jews of his day…and invites us to do today.

In the Eucharist, we receive Jesus just as he promised. If we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we remain in him and he remains in us.

I would like to close with the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “If we truly understand the Eucharist; if we make the Eucharist the central focus of our lives; if we feed our lives with the Eucharist, we will not find it difficult to discover Christ, to love him, and to serve him in the poor.”

Homily: Most Holy Trinity, Year A

Today, the universal Church has devoted the Scripture readings and prayers of the day to one of the greatest mysteries of our faith, the Most Holy Trinity. This is the day when we focus on what some theologians call the “economic Trinity,” or the idea that God is revealed in his activity in history through the sending of his Son and the outpouring of his Spirit. Two weeks ago, the Scripture passages of the day detailed the events of the Ascension, the culmination of God’s saving act of sending his son. Last week, we heard about Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured onto the earth. It is certainly fitting that, as we move into the Ordinary Time of the Church year, we pause to reflect on these most-significant moments in our Salvation history.

When I was in graduate school, I spent many years researching and studying the various religious traditions in the world. Many of my peers and colleagues wondered how I could stay Catholic after I had learned the “truth.” My counter was always that it was precisely because I knew the truth that I stayed Catholic, because there was no question in my mind that what I was doing was correct. Of the many unique features of Catholicism, there was one that was very significant to me: the God of Catholicism was very personal and cared deeply for me.

We first see this desire for a close and intimate relationship in the first Scripture reading from today. In the reading, God speaks to Moses, saying his own name, Yahweh, and Moses speaks back to him. We do not meet an abstract God. We meet a person, not a power.

In our Second Scripture reading, we get a very similar message to the passage from Exodus in our First Reading. St. Paul, in effect, exhorts the Corinthians not to be “stiff-necked.” If they will mend their ways and live in love and peace with one another, then “the God of love and peace” will be with them. In order to have God remain “in our company,” we must remain true to the great commandment of the new covenant to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. From its foundations, one of the primary characteristics of the Church has been the love that its members show for one another.

We also see this in the Gospel, when we are reminded that God’s son was given to us because of his great love for us. His son is a gift to us, not because we merited it our qualified in some way, but because of his absolute love. Here, we see that love is an action, not a feeling, and that love is expressed in giving.

How are we to do show this love to others? We certainly cannot be expected to do exactly as God has done. Nor do I believe he expects us to. What we can do is use the gifts God has given to us.

For twelve years, I served as the music director for various Catholic parishes in our Diocese. During my tenure, I also served as the Director of Choral Studies for Hackett Catholic Prep. One of the pieces I made sure was always performed was a piece by John Stainer, from his work The Crucifixion. The piece was based on the text from today’s Gospel reading from John 3:16. In my mind, it is one of those pieces that every musician should study in college and possibly even have a chance to perform. As a composer, Stainer did a remarkable of setting these words to music.

To me, John Stainer is an example of someone who used the gifts from God to share Christ with the world. This is what God asks of each of us.

Perhaps we are good at caring for the sick. Perhaps we are good at educating others. Maybe our strengths lie in managing or motivating people. Or perhaps, as with John Stainer, our gifts are with the arts. We have each been given different gifts and have each been called to use them in God’s name.

In my homily for the Ascension, I reflected on the words of Saint Teresa of Avila, who said that Christ has no body now but ours. By using the gifts we have been given, we can share him with the world, and, as the Gospel tells us, to bring Christ into the world to save it. We can make disciples of all nations and confidently know, as St. Paul tells us, that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit will be with all of us.

 

 

Homily: Ascension

During this time of the year, our local schools are celebrating the end of the academic year. This year, my family is celebrating two graduations. One is for my oldest daughter, who is graduating from eighth grade. The other is for my youngest son, who is graduating from kindergarten.

As class president, part if my daughter’s responsibility is to write the speech for commencement. The purpose of the speech is to reflect on the years she spent with her classmates – what they learned and experienced. And, to offer words of encouragement for the challenges to come. I think that this is one of the things Jesus hoped to accomplish at the ascension when he said: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

In the first reading from Acts, the disciples ask Jesus when he is going to restore the kingdom of Israel. He responds not as he did before, by saying that “not even the son of Man knows” but now by saying, with more levity, that they are not “to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.” The disciples still do not understand that he is talking about things that are eternal, not temporal. He is speaking not of what is, but what is to come.

The ascension which follows is the final time we see Jesus physically present on the earth. We now only see Jesus through the eyes of faith, and he is only present through his priests, in persona Christi, and through us as the mystical body. The kingdom is wherever Jesus himself is present and God’s will is loved and obeyed. Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit; it would remain unshaken by fetters and imprisonment, exile and hunger, fire, torture, and persecution. Throughout the world women and men have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

In the Gospel, Jesus admonishes his followers to do as he commanded as they remain on the earth. As we heard in the Gospel just two weeks ago, he said that “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” And just last week we heard that him say “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

Jesus is going through the final steps to prepare us to carry out his life. After his ascension, he is no longer limited to having an effect only on the place he is. If Jesus had remained on earth in his physical body, he would have been present and visible in only one place. Now he is present in his Mystical Body, the Church. He is truly present in the Scriptures, in Baptism, in Confession, and in every sacramental action of the Church. And he is really present in his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He is now able to affect the world through us, wherever we go. Many of his miracles, such as feeding the hungry and healing the sick, are now our missions.

In the second reading, Paul reminds us of what we are to do on earth. He says: “And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”

These words by Paul bring to mind a poem by St. Teresa of Avila. In this poem, which I am sure many of us have heard before, she wonderfully explains the notion that we are now on earth as the mystical body of Christ. She writes: “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.”

 

Reflection: Colossians 1:3a-6

For those who have stayed awake during my homilies over the years, you may recall that I often like to focus on the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. And, although Scripture tells us that the greatest is love, I personally focus on hope.

To me, I see clear references in this Scripture passage to all of these virtues, but that is not what I am going to reflect on. Instead, I am going to “get real” for a moment.

Paul’s and Timothy’s correspondences with the cities they have passed through are often written as reminders of their teachings. Sometimes, we even see warnings being given to try and stop certain behaviors that are not in line with the truth given to the Church by God Himself. At the end of this passage, we see one such warning. The case of the Colossians is of particular interest because knowledge of their actions came to Paul through a report from his friend, Epaphras. Epaphras’ “report” tells Paul that the Colossians are doing good work and serving faithfully. Their faith community is part of a larger participation in the work of God on the earth. Based on the information he was given, Paul reminds those in Colassae that everything that they need to live a full and happy life has already been given to them through the Gospel. From that, we can deduce that anything that is not from the Gospel is not good for us.

At this point in the Scripture passage, Paul does not name any particular thing, but he uses the faith-driven positives they already know to paint a bad light on the seductions that may cause them to fall away. He later says that the faithful should “see to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8).

We do not need to pause and reflect for very long before we begin to see ways that these pseudo-spiritualities and false teachings are present in our world today. As we know, Scripture is relevant both for the time it was written as it is in our current day. Just as it has always been if false teachings are given too much of our attention, they can lead to sin. But, this is not because we are bad people – it is because we are human. It is okay if we find difficulty in taking up the cross as Jesus did, but, as long as we continue to try, and ever hope for the best, our effort is not wasted. I like to think of a phrase Matthew Kelly uses in his program, Decision Point. He says that we need to work to be the best version of ourselves. The self God has willed us to be.

Despite what I said at the beginning, there is no way I can share a homily with you without talking about hope. Paul reminds us that our hope should not be in the trappings of the world, but in Heaven. For me, that is enough of a reason to try and be the best version of myself.