Back to life: A homily for Easter Sunday

IMG_7968A group of second graders was given a task of writing a short letter to God. About anything. Some funny things came out of this! One wrote, “Dear God, maybe Cain wouldn’t have killed Abel if they’d had their own rooms. It works with my brother.” There were some good ones. One girl wrote, “Dear God, If we come back as something, please don’t let me come back as Jennifer Horton. I hate her.”

Now you and I know that we don’t “come back” as something. I won’t come back as a bug or dog or king. That is ridiculous. But I tell you this: God does want to bring us back today….back to life!!

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The answer is love, and it is always love: A homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Apooh few months ago, I had the joy of reading some Winnie the Pooh to one of our younger classes at the school. There was a line in there that today’s gospel makes me think about. There is a moment when Piglet asks Pooh, “How do you spell love?”  He replies: “You don’t spell it. You do it.”

Pooh is about the wisest bear in the forest.  Here he is right on. In fact, in our Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples the same thing.  He says….”Here’s the bottom line: love. Don’t analyze it or spell it or seek to understand it or theologize or pharasize it…just do it.”

I think the Good Lord knew that we humans, we like to complicate things, to add a little drama here and insert some doses of doubt here.  The word “doubt” comes from the Latin word dubius meaning “uncertain.”  There is a lot of uncertainty around, and if we’re honest, a lot of time we have a way of adding to it.

Today we remember the third spiritual work of mercy: to counsel the doubtful. We remember that part of the job of a Christian is to wipe away dubiousness from the world–that is, to wipe away unnecessary uncertainty and doubt and complicatedness, to remind people that the one thing that matters is that we love.

Think about the goodness of our God in what he tells us in our Gospel, that all we gotta do is love. In that statement he gives us the answer to everything, the key to everything. And it’s clearer and easier than we think.

What Jesus is saying is that love is the answer to our every woe, our every bad mood, our every illness, our every sin, our every problematic relationship….and we are faithful to the third spiritual work of mercy inasmuch as we remind ourselves and others that love is all that counts.

Are you having lots of hardships and pain, like Paul and Barnabas talk about in our first reading?  The answer that will help you get through it and even embrace it all is love

Are you going everywhere and doing everything and pulling your hair out?  Paul and Barnabas in our first reading went from Lystra to Iconium to Antioch to Pisidia and then they reached Pamphylia but then had some work to do in Attalia…all in a few months’ time.  Talk about stress and crazy living and overworking. Their asnwer…it was love

Are you dealing with people who don’t believe, who refuse to value what we hold closest to our hearts? Paul and Barnabas were. Their answer…love

Are you lonely?  The answer is, get out and love

Are you missing someone?  The answer is love

Are you dealing with some addiction? The answer is get out of it and love.

Are you doubting  God?  The answer is love

Are you having trouble in a marriage or some other relationship? The answer is not to hold a grudge. It is to love.

Are you overworked and underpaid and frustrated?  The answer is love

Are you lost? The answer is love

Are you mad at somebody and haven’t talked to them in days or weeks or months or years, and you avoid them and run the other way?  The answer is love

Love–it is always the answer. Pray God we forget about spelling it and do it.

“More than ever, great numbers of men and women were added”: A homily for Divine Mercy Sunday (Year C)

divinemercyToday we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.  The readings and the prayers of the church for today’s Holy Mass remind us of the central function of God’s mercy.  That is, Divine Mercy is ultimately about God giving us new life. The rays of divine mercy flowing form Jesus’s side are rays of new life (the red is his blood, the blood of life that floods our veins, and the blue is the water of salvation into which we are baptized).

Those rays of life, those rays of mercy shine upon all of us. They encompass the whole world. That is the ultimate promise of divine mercy, the ultimate promise of Jesus. The Lord by his resurrection gives us new life. He breathes new life into our flower beds, into the trees, into our families, into our world, into our hearts.

But especially—and today our readings focus on this—God breathes new life into his church. Yesterday evening as I was preaching this message, the wind was blowing off the shingles on the roof. It is the Lord fiercely breathing new life into this place, with gusto!

To be sure, God has breathed new life into his church for 2000 years. For 2000 years he has given his church great growth. We see it in all our readings. In the Gospel, we get the conversion story of one man named Thomas. He was the Richard Dawkins of his day. He doubted, refused to believe. But the rays of divine mercy pierced his locked door and fragile heart and brought him to his knees, to fierce belief, to the fold. His story is like billions of men and women down through the centuries. In our second reading, we see new life in the church. We hear that there was an island called Potmus Island. Even there, on a remote island, God was increasing his church by means of John’s proclamation and ministry. Even on an island.

And then we see in our first reading that the family of the early church is increasing like crazy. Acts gives us some stats from some early church censuses. The Church, we hear, started with 12, but then by the time of Judas’ betrayal, there were 120. Chapter four of Acts tells us that a few days later there were 5000. Chapter five tells us of a single day when 400 newbies came in, in an instant. Chapter 6 tells us of the first deacon class: there were 7 of them. There are all kinds of statistics and numbers in Acts. But today’s reading from Acts is a little less precise. It simply tells us that “more than ever, great numbers of men and women were added.” It’s as if the surveys of the early church officials were exploding and the statitians could not keep up, couldn’t keep track of the numbers.

Today we have the benefit of Excel. Today I have some numbers I consider good news from the Pew Research Center. Of the world’s 7.3 billion people, 89% consider themselves religious. In 1900, there were 267 million Catholics in the world. Today there are 1.2 billion Catholics. By 2050, 3 billion people will be Christian and 1.8 of those will be Catholic. Statitians say that we are growing at a slightly higher rate than the world population growth rate. That is good news!  Let’s think more locally. Today I baptized a young man born on Good Friday. Even on the Devil’s Day, life wins. And the Easter Vigil. 46 people entered the church a week ago right here at OLG. There is cause for rejoicing here! 46 people—a great number. But there is a story behind each one of them. That is 46 stories of God’s grace, each of which could fill a library.

Here’s our call today folks.  We are meant to be agents of divine mercy, agents of the new life Jesus is pumping into his church.  Which means that our names should be in somebody’s conversion story—our children, our parents, our friends, for sure—but also our teachers, our students, tour baristas and bartenders, our real estate agents and waiters, our classmates and employees.

There is a story told of a man who went to ask his girlfriend’s father for his permission to marry his daughter. Now this father had many kids, many of whom were young. The father looked at his future son in law and said, “You really think you can support a family?” The young man looked a little frightened and, after a moment, said, “Well, I can support your daughter, but the rest of you are going to have to fend for yourselves.” HAHAHA.

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. We celebrate that God is giving new life to his family the church, and that we never have to fend for ourselves. His mercy is always at hand and its rays are seeking to draw in the whole world. Let us be agents of it!! And let’s not stop until the whole world is baptized!

Where did you put Jesus: A homily for Easter Sunday (Year C)

easterHappy Easter!  I know many of you are visiting from out of town. Some of you, the Lord tugged your heart and brought you here today for the first time in a while. To all, I say, welcome home.  We’re delighted that you are here, to celebrate that moment that changed the world and our lives forever.

This past week is one of the busiest weeks of the year for us church people.We’ve had priest gatherings, school and parish Holy Week services, a procession around Indy. We’ve worked with preparing our 46 new Catholics who entered the church last night. Then there was decorating and practicing and of course the praying. It’s been a whirlwind.  There was a lot to get done, and it didn’t help that a whole day was spent looking for Msgr’s phone.  That endeavor became priority number one on Wednesday. You should see what happens when the boss loses his phone.  It was kind of like Armageddon.  Finally, 36 hours later, I found it by accident at 1am. I put it on his car hood, and he said, I knew I looked there. I toyed with sneaking into his room in order to plug it in like it had always been there, but I wanted to keep my job.

It’s interesting, how crazy life gets when we lose something important to us, something we depend upon. Now I think a lot of us have lost something far more important than our telephone (hard to imagine such a thing exists), something we need and depend upon much more than our texts and tweets.  We have all, in a way, lost the Lord.

Today’s first reading and Gospel take us back to the moment when humanity thought that it had lost the Lord forever. In our Gospel today, we see Mary Magdala frantically searching for Jesus. She thought she and the world had lost him for good. She is running around looking for him, and she finally cries out, “Where did you put him?”  You can hear her desperation. In the first reading, the early disciples ask the first pope, Peter, the same question, and Peter says, “You put him on a tree, remember? That’s where you put him.” And humanity thought it was over, that its Good Friday mistake could not be corrected, that God was dead.

Now that question–where did you put Jesus–it is the same question that God is asking us now.  I guess it stood out to me in our texts today because a young boy asked me the same question at Christmas. The Christmas Mass begins with an empty crib, and the priest is supposed to bring in the baby Jesus. A boy was rather upset before Mass about the empty crib. He came up and said, “Fr. Mike, where did you put Jesus?”  I told him not to worry, that I would carry him up at Mass. Then things got busy and Mass started. I forgot Jesus. Epic fail.

But here’s the good news: Easter is a reminder that Jesus always turns up again in our lives, that he rises.  Even when we put him where he doesn’t belong–on a cross, in a tomb, on the curb, out of our minds, at the end of our priority lists…even when we TRY to put him outside of our homes, our relationships, our schools, our workplaces–no matter where we have put Jesus in the past, now he asks for one simple thing. He asks for a place in our hearts NOW.  He asks that of everyone here.  Will you give it to him?

Folks, it’s worth it. St. Paul tells us today to seek the Lord always. Jesus says the same: Seek first the kingdom, he says, and everything else will fall into place, will be given to you. I’m here to tell you that life is better with our Risen Christ.  Let’s live our lives so that, when we pass to the next life, and St Peter asks us, “Where did you put Jesus?” we can say, Jesus is my everything. I put him in the middle of my heart, I put him into my body at every Eucharist, I put him into my family and marriage. I put him into my kids, into my grandkids. I put him into my schedule, into my Sundays. I put him at the center.

So let us renew now our faith in him, and then put our Risen and Eucharistic Christ where he belongs: inside of us.

A weekend of Divine Mercy

Three deacons and a priest

Three deacons and a priest

This past Divine Mercy weekend goes down in the books.  So many mercies.

First, it started Friday night.  Tons of folks were here for the ordinations–former seminarians, college seminarians, friends, priests, lay students, overseers, and family and friends of the ordinands.  It was a joyous evening, with a holy hour and plenty of Unstable time. Plus, the archbishop took us Indy sems out to the Schnitzelbank in Japser….yum!

On Saturday morning, seven friends from Indianapolis were ordained to the diaconate. Talk about a glorious liturgy!  It has been such a grace to go through seminary with these guys.

On Saturday evening, I went to dinner with a good friend. After a great dinner, the waitress came over and said that our bill had been taken care of by another customer who wished to remain anonymous. Looking around, we had no idea who it could have been. We thought better of the idea to go around thanking everyone. I thought about this in holy hour, about how mercy is often anonymous and unexpected.  And, much as we wish to give proper thanks for the mercies that come our way, we never can.  Ultimately, all mercies have God as their source, and we can never pay God proper thanks for all that he does for us.

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At the Lamb’s high feast we sing

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
praise to our victorious King,
who hath washed us in the tide
flowing from his pierced side;
praise we him, whose love divine
gives his sacred Blood for wine,
gives his Body for the feast,
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.

Where the Paschal blood is poured,
death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
through the wave that drowns the foe.
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal victim, Paschal bread;
with sincerity and love
eat we manna from above.

Mighty victim from on high,
hell’s fierce powers beneath thee lie;
thou hast conquered in the fight,
thou hast brought us life and light:
now no more can death appall,
now no more the grave enthrall;
thou hast opened paradise,
and in thee thy saints shall rise.

Easter triumph, Easter joy,
sin alone can this destroy;
from sin’s power do thou set free
souls newborn, O Lord, in thee.
Hymns of glory and of praise,
Risen Lord, to thee we raise;
Holy Father, praise to thee,
with the Spirit, ever be.

My first homily, given on Divine Mercy Sunday last year

divine mercyA priest gave me some preaching advice last week. He said, “Not everyone can be eloquent and mind-blowing in preaching, but everyone can be brief.”  I said, “Then you haven’t met my pastor.” But Fr. Tom, thanks for the ambo today, and more for your support. Few pastors are as good to their seminarians as you are to me, and I am so very grateful.

My first time at this ambo, I was a first grader. It was a Friday in the early 90s, and my class was assigned to do the readings at the school Mass that day.  My shirt was tucked, my loafers were shiny, and my clip-on tie was attached, at least for the moment. I remember my classmates and I felt proud to be doing the readings, to be doing something so public  in our church. I think I was so proud because I had a strong sense even as a tiny tike that there was something special about the Church.

I was an astute young man indeed, because there is something very special about the Church.  This Easter day—we are still in the octave—we celebrate that Christ is not dead; he is alive, and he lives in and through his body the Church.  On top of that, today is Divine Mercy Sunday, and so we also remember that Christ and therefore his body the Church is, before all else, in the business of mercy.

Ours is a beautifully merciful Church indeed!  Mercy is at the heart of the Church’s every doctrine and practice.  Everything Jesus stood for and did when he was in the flesh 2000 years ago to save a despairing world gone to hell, his body the Church stands for and does now.

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