When the bus comes: A homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

footerBusImageToday’s readings insist that we have a duty, an obligation to help those we know to get on the path of God.  One of the spiritual works of mercy is to “admonish the sinner.”  That means that, in love, we correct when correction is necessary.

An example.  If a bus is coming down the road, and we see someone in the way, it is our duty to help them out.  Perhaps they are looking up into the air, or maybe they’re on their phone.  Maybe they are there on purpose. Maybe they’re rich, maybe poor.  It doesn’t matter!

In fact, St Paul says it great in our second reading:  we owe each other love!  As St Mother Teresa said, “We belong to each other.”  We are all brothers and sisters, because we are all sons and daughters of God.  It is our duty to help each other out, to push one another out of the way when danger comes.

Why? Because it matters to us if someone is in a bad place, especially when that place that will kill them if no action is taken.

I think about the hurricanes and earthquakes of late, that have afflicted Mexico and Texas and Florida and so many places. The bus of a hurricane has come, and it’s our job to help out its victims.  That’s why we have a second collection.  That’s why we’re planning our trip.  Because even if we don’t know anyone in Texas, they’re still our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

And then there are sins.  When someone we know is in a bad place, doing some sin, in front of the bus, going down the bad road….it is our job to do what we can to fix the situation.  In our first reading from Eziekel, God says:  if there is a wicked man doing wicked things, and you see him but don’t do anything to help him stop–not only will he be in trouble, but so will you. In other words, you see a guy in front of the bus but you don’t push him away.  Jesus says the same in our Gospel: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault….”

That is, admonish the sinner.  Get them off the bad road.  Remove them from in front of the bus.

Months ago a mother was crying to me.  She was distraught because her son was at college and not going to Mass.  She was terribly worried, with good reason.  I asked her what she had done to help the situation….and she said, “Well, I’ve yelled at him!”  It didn’t work.  Sometimes we have to be creative and innovative in how we admonish the sinner.  Maybe, instead of yelling, it would be better to share, in passing, about how much the Mass means to you….”I heard the best homily of my life,” you might say!  Or talk about the Eucharist, or the blessing of belonging to this great community.

Another example.  Maybe you know a gossip monger or two.  Maybe, instead of just sitting there quietly when someone is badmouthing another, maybe we should say something nice about that person being badmouthed.  That might be a good way to admonish.

Th bottom line is, it takes a village to get to heaven.  We need to help each other out, point it out in a loving and kind way when someone we love is in front of a bus, in a place that leads to destruction….both here and hereafter.  And there are a lot of people standing in front of the proverbial bus.

I do know this.  People will, in the long run, appreciate it.  Imagine, if you were in front of a bus and a man named George came along and pushed you out of the way, and died while saving you. Not a day would go by we wouldn’t thank God for George and his sacrifice.

Friends, that is Jesus.  Jesus saw the bus coming and pushed us out of the way.  Now we owe it to him to follow his example.

It’s in my bones: A homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

jeremiah-weepingToday we encounter a discouraged Jeremiah in our first reading.  Jeremiah was a prophet with a difficult assignment.  He is known as the “weeping prophet” because of his many sufferings.  He was called by God to a series of assignments that he could not handle, mostly having to do with converting the people in Jerusalem away from the false god they had enthroned named Baal.  He was to bring them back to the true God.

Now Jeremiah put up every excuse he could think of when he heard his assignment for the first time: he was too young, he could not speak, he had nothing to say, he was weak.  And yet God was not persuaded, and so on he went to attend to his preaching, his life’s mission.

The problem was he was a failure.  He was right: he had no experience, he couldn’t speak with his stutter, and he seemed to make more mistakes than one could count.  The more he preached, the more things stayed the same.  Where he led, no one followed.  What he said, no one liked. The more he tried to get people’s attention, the more he was ignored and despised. He even walked the  streets with a yoke about his neck in order to attract attention.  He was a prophet who could not preach.  He was put into prison, and for days he was left in a pit to die in Babylon. He spent the last part of his life in Egypt, but died having not made a single convert we know about.

And when he felt like giving up, throwing in the towel–when he decided to just forget about it all, to forget about his God and his mission and everything–it was at that moment when we hear him say those words in our reading today: “If I say I’ll mention God no more, or speak any more in his name, there is as it were a fire, shut up in my bones, and I grow weary in holding it in and I cannot.”

He couldn’t give up.  His mission, his God was in his bones, stamped on his heart….and he had not choice.  He couldn’t not keep going, keep trying.  He couldn’t not help.  He couldn’t not keep trying. Because forgetting about it all, was not an option.

St. Paul felt much the same thing. After all, he too had had many trials and problems and failures. Yet St Paul tells us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. We are to live lives of service, to give of ourselves, to serve God and His church and one another.  Because not doing so is not an option: it is in our bones.  Even, as Jesus says, even if we got the whole world, it wouldn’t be worth it if we had to turn our back on our God.  Forgetting is not an option.

Perhaps we have all had moments where we feel like “forgetting about it all.”  The trials are too big, the problems too large.  Perhaps in our personal lives or families.  We think: how can I keep going?  I’m sick and tired and I’m done. My give a damn is busted.  Thanks a lot God, that’s it. But then we feel those words of Jeremiah: “If I say I’ll mention God no more, or speak any more in his name, there is as it were a fire, shut up in my bones, and I grow weary in holding it in and I cannot.”

Maybe we look at the problems of the world.  Take Hurricane Harvey for example.  It is on all of our minds.  And yet the problems with it are so big.  Easy to say, forget about it.  But there is something in our bones!  We can’t not help.  We must.  And so, an opportunity.  In the pews are cards to see who might be willing and desiring to take a trip to Texas after Christmas time.  Perhaps we will have a youth mission trip with it, but this is open to all. Maybe you can provide meals.  Let’s just see where we are.  I’ve spoken with some other priests and we may do a joint trip.  Friends: we can’t forget about it. We have to help.  It is in our bones.  More, in our hearts.

“If I say I’ll mention God no more, or speak any more in his name, there is as it were a fire, shut up in my bones, and I grow weary in holding it in and I cannot.”

The King, his Kingdom, and the Keys: A homily for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

170px-Pope-peter_pprubens.jpgNote: Audio versions of homilies located here

I love what Jesus says in our Gospel today. He first asks who everyone else says he is. Then he says, “But who do YOU say that I am?” In other words, he is saying, “I want a personal relationship with you.” Then Peter answers and Jesus says, “Great! Now here is my church.” Basically, he says, “You want a relationship with me? Here is my church, my kingdom of love.” It is a heresey of our day that we think we can have Jesus without his Church. St. Joan of Arc said, “All I know is that Jesus and the Catholic Church are the same thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” Jesus is our king, how could we ever hope to have a relationship without his kingdom? You can’t have the king without the kingdom!

But I want to talk about the keys. There’s a lot of jokes out there about St. Peter and his keys. The one I heard most recently was this. Bill Gates gets up to the Pearly Gates and he sees the big “Pearly Gates” sign. He says, “Well, what do you know, even stuff up here is named after me!” A lot of people think that St. Peter is sitting at the gate and when a person dies he has to pass a little exam and then Peter lets them in if they pass. There are a lot of jokes about St Peter and the keys. Those are jokes, not good theology. Peter does not judge us; Jesus Christ does. I really doubt there are any pearly gates and I am certain that it isn’t St Peter who decides who gets in.

The real meaning of the keys is this. I don’t know if you ever watch HGTV. You got six weeks and $30,000…here are the keys. They run into problems, this and that. Then the owners come back and they get their keys back. That’s the story in our first reading. The first reading is about the prime minister in the kingdom of David. When the king was gone, the prime minister ruled until the king returned. Like everything in the OT, it points to a reality Christ would bring about. In this case, it points to Peter and his keys. Jesus is the king, and until the second coming, he has entrusted his keys to the office of the papacy. He has given his keys to St Peter and the 265 popes that have followed him. Pope Francis 266th. That the pope has the keys means that the pope is the primary steward of the Church.

Now St. Peter in art is depicted with two keys: one silver and one gold. The silver keys represent the temporal things, the things of the earth. Frankly, the pope is in charge of a lot of earthly things. He runs a country. He oversees a lot of money, the earthly treasure. But the gold keys are a sign of the heavenly treasure, of which the pope is also the steward. The gold is the mysteries of the Lord, the dogma of the Church, things we believe are right and wrong—which do not and cannot change. The CCC opens with the line: “Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to his Church.”

So the pope is the primary steward of the earthly things and the temporal things. It is the same for bishops and dioceses and even priests and parishes. When I became the administrator of this parish, I got a letter assigned to watch out for the spiritual and temporal wellbeing of the parish. That’s why we have a finance committee. I systematically avoided…

But we have to take care of the physical, earthly things first. We see this with Jesus. People came to him because they were sick, hungry. Then he worked the miracle. Then he taught them the way to heaven. For us in the parish: if we can’t take care of the things of the world, how can we be trusted with the divine ministries? If the Church is not responsible with earthly things—if our buildings are falling down, the places are going to pot, the budget is unbalanced—how can we be trusted with the more precious things.

The same with parents: we know the most important thing a parent can do is give their child Jesus; in doing that you give them everything! Teach them about the faith, but you also have to clothe and feed them. If you mistreat the kids, how will they ever believe what you say?

And that’s the point: we all share in the stewardship that comes with the keys. We all share in the stewardship……not just the pope. We have a role to play in the taking care of things until Jesus returns. While we celebrate the papacy and its importance, it is true what Sr Joan writes in her column this weekend: in some ways, we all have the keys. God counts on all of us to take care of the physical and spiritual wellbeing of our families—that is, our domestic churches—and our parish church.

There is another meaning of the keys. It became real to me when I left Greenwood, which was an emotional thing as you can imagine. Msgr told me at our last lunch together, “Michael, keep your keys.” Which means, I think, that I am always welcome there. That we all have a share in the keys to the Kingdom Jesus came to build—which we call the Catholic Church—means that we are always welcome here, we always have a home here. Everyone! The doors to Mother Church are open wide, our job is to keep the place nice inside and then go get the world to walk in.

God wants, needs, and calls us: A homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

maxresdefaultThe diocese has asked that I preach about vocations today. I am happy to do so; it is one of my favorite topics.  I want to think about three things — 1) God wants us and 2) God needs us 3) God calls us

God wants us.  There is an antiphon that always moves me in the Divine Office: “God loved me and wanted me as his own.”  God wants us, when all the rest of the world has little use for us, God wants us.  Even when we mess up, he wants us back. He wanted us into existence in the first place.  Ephesians 1:14 says it, “God chose you before the foundations of the world.”  Before God made the blueprints for planet earth, he had you and he had me in his mind. And in his heart.  God wanted us into existence, loved us into being.  Such that the world would not be complete if you were not in it, or if I were not in it. That speaks volumes about our worth, a worth that many people question often.  God has placed a high value on us – the blood of Jesus.

God needs us.  And maybe he doesn’t really need us; he could get along without us just fine.  But, as John Henry Newman said it, “God has deigned to need us.”  In his plan, God has determined that the way he wants to get things done is to use you and me.  I read something the other day about how beautiful a God we have – he is almighty, all powerful, but he waits to heal someone until he hears the prayer of a five year old girl.  God needs our prayers, he needs our actions, our words, our lives!!!  God needed me to be a priest in order to do something, or a thousand somethings.  He needed the couple I married yesterday to be husband and wife, mother and father.  He needed Elijah and Moses, Jeremiah and Nehemiah, Peter and Paul.  He especially needed Blessed Mother.  It is no different for us: God needs us and will change the world and build his kingdom using us just as he used our ancestors in the faith.  God needs us.

God calls us. St Paul talks a bit about a vocation today in our second reading.  He says that the vocation God has given us is “irrevocable.”  Meaning: it cannot be taken back.  It is unchangeable. It is permanent.  And sacred.  You cannot escape it; the call is there.  And he calls us to do something that only we can do, something that we are in a unique position to do.  O

And the reality that God wanted us into being, that he has need of us, and that he calls us—this is of crazy importance!  Because it means that we cannot take our lives casually, we cannot sleepwalk through life.  The fact that God made me for a purpose ought to make me think: what is that purpose!?  And then we do well to answer that question with the Lord.  Young people: take that question to God, and see what he says.

I just have to share with you: I love being a priest.  Yesterday, I did every sacrament except Confirmation and Ordination….and that’s only because they won’t let me.  I brought God to the earth at Holy Mass, I absolved sins, I brought me 30th couple together in marriage, I gave three children the chance of salvation through baptism and another one this morning, I prayed with the sick and visited some homes.  Then I ate dinner and went to the K of C, all the while entertaining our school’s adopted seminarian who is with us a few days.  Some people don’t want their sons to be priests because they don’t want them to be lonely.   My friend Fr. Peter Bucalo and I were talking about that one day. He said, “I’d give my right arm for a little loneliness!”  And that is so.  Good priests—that is what we need more of—and a good priest is never lonely, because he is always with God and His people.

In your pews are the Called By Name cards.  Write down the name of someone you think would be a good priest or nun and put it in the collection.  I think we do this for two reasons: 1) sometimes a person hears God’s call through other people telling him.  2) it is a reminder that it is everyone’s job to pray for vocations to priesthood and religious life, and it is everyone’s job to promote them.  No priest, no sacraments.  We must do all we can to promote vocations….with grandkids, kids, brothers, sisters, so on.

Thank God that he wants us, needs us, calls us.  Now it is time to help the diocese identify….who does God want to be a priest/religious, who does he need for that, who is he calling for that.

The importance of daily silent prayer: A homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

mtnToday’s readings insist on the importance of silence in our lives, and, in particular, they stress the importance of silent prayer.  We hear the story of Elijah in our first reading. He was frustrated when we see him in our reading today. He was the only prophet of God left, and there were 450 prophets of the false god Baal says scripture. Elijah was the only prophet of the real God that remained, and he had a lot of work to do. He was trying to save everyone from their bad ways.  And he was failing in his efforts.  No one seemed to listen to him or his message.  He was busy and tired, stressed and sad, lonely and angry. So he climbs a mountain and finds a cave. He prays in silence.  We see Jesus doing the same thing in our Gospel today: he climbs a mountain and prays in silence to the Father.  Not just for a few minutes or even an hour.  He prays all night.

Both Elijah and Jesus climb mountains and pray in silence.  The lesson is simple: we must pray in silence. When we are silent, we can hear the voice of God. So many of us never have a moment of silence. We have phones, televisions, radios, full calendars. We are always running from one thing to another and we can’t hear God. I know that God is calling many men to the priesthood, and many women to be nuns, but they are too busy to hear, there is too much noise in their lives that makes it impossible to hear Jesus. There are many married people who cannot hear what God is telling them — and if they did hear it, they would be better husbands and wives and parents.

We must, like Elijah and Jesus, go up the mountain and pray with God in silence. [Mountains are important in scripture; they signify the sacred encounter of God and man….which is why traditionally monasteries and churches are built on hills.] On the mountain, in silence, we gain a new perspective on life. We rise above our preoccupations, busy schedules, and problems. In silent prayer, when we reflect on things with Jesus, we see things differently within his presence.  We calm down and the small things remain that: small things.

My friends, if we want to survive the storms of life, we must do as Elijah did and find a cave and be silent with God for a while.  [By the way: God does not cause the storms. Notice that in our first reading, the scripture says: God was not in the earthquake, he was not in the fire, he was not in the wind. And he was not in the storm in the gospel. God does not cause the sufferings, the storms of our life, and sometimes we need to stop telling God how big our storms are and start telling the storms how big our God is…because he is our peace, our strength, our grace in the storms.]

We all have storms to deal with, from the oldest person here to the youngest.  Jesus had storms to deal with, so did Elijah, and so do we. Peter had a storm to deal with, too. And in the midst of it he started to walk on water. As long as he was looking at Jesus, he was fine. But when he got started thinking about the storm and the problems at hand, he sank.  The message is simple: keep focused on Jesus and we’ll be fine. What I’m saying is we can’t keep focused on Jesus if we don’t have silence in our lives, if we don’t stop for a few minutes each day and pray in silence.

My friends! There is no better way than time with God in Adoration, with the Holy Eucharist.  We have adoration here almost every day.  Mon-Fri we have it at noon till one, and we have 24 hour adoration on First Fridays.  Other times also.  I get excited about our master plan because I really want us to have in Shelbyville a place where we can all come, around the clock, to find silence, a mountain where we can reach God and speak with him anew and see things in perspective.

There is power in the blood: A homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

bloodHere we are nearing the end of the month of July, a month that is traditionally set aside to reverence in a special way the Precious Blood of Jesus.  Pope Saint John XXIII talked about the pious tradition in his family growing up that had them praying the litany of the Precious Blood every day during July.  I have a particular devotion to the Precious Blood partly because I had a Precious Blood Priest, Fr. Don Davison CPPS, growing up.  The Precious Blood of Jesus, is a powerful thing.  So I want to reflect a little on the power and sanctity of the Precious Blood before July is over.

Back when I was teaching third grade religion in the CCD at St. Charles (btw I’m super excited to be teaching religion here at St Joe’s to our fourth and fifth graders this year!!), before I even went to seminary, I remember particularly precocious young man. He was brilliant, and full of energy. The young man’s grandmother had dropped him off on the first day of class. She gave me a warning about him. She told me, “he’s got the blood of a tiger.” Now I’ve thought about the phrase a lot since then. I think she meant by it that her grandson wasn’t quite human, that he was full of some superhuman energy.   She was right, that boy had some kind of superhuman blood and wild blood in him.

I think we do, too. We don’t have the blood of tigers, but I submit to you that we have something even more amazing, even more powerful in us. We have the blood of Christ in us! We have royal blood flowing through us, royal blood in our veins.   It’s simple theology 101. You and I come to Mass, and we drink the blood of Christ. Then we have the blood of Christ in us. I want us to pause and contemplate the awesomeness of that!

Because it means a lot. It means that the Precious Blood of Jesus–not a symbol, not a sign–but his blood in all its majesty and glory circulates through our veins! It means that we have the lifeblood of God himself in us, we have power of Christ in us, and it means St. Paul was right: I no longer live, he lives in me.  And I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.  Sometimes I get discouraged and think, how can I do thiis or that?  Then I try to remember: I have the life of God, the blood of Jesus in me. I got this. Having his blood in us also means we are to shed our blood for others, because that is actually Christ’s blood in us.  You show me a priest or a parent who has not shed his blood, sweat and tears for those entrusted to him, and I will show you a man who has failed at his vocation. We have Jesus’ blood in us.  It means he floods our very bodies with his strength, his very life.  Jesus says in John 6–“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you….but he who eats my flesh and drinks my life, I will raise him up on the last day.”  We who take in his blood, we have life…here and hereafter.

We read about the religious importance of blood all over the scriptures, but especially in Exodus. There we see how God told Moses and Aaron to direct all the people to go and get a particular lamb and put the lamb’s blood on their doorposts. Those houses marked with blood would have life, they would be saved.  And then they sprinkled the blood over the people; those covered with the blood had life, they had salvation.  I tell you it is a miracle that we have something greater here. We don’t have blood on us, we have the lifeblood of God IN us.  That is something wild.

The Eucharist it the pearl of great price, and the Eucharist is Jesus.  Jesus is so good that he pours himself out for us on the cross and at the altar at every Holy Mass!  We should be so excited about that. This is why we come to Holy Mass. It is why we have our school and catechetical programs….to teach kids, but to hopefully make them fall in love with Jesus and the Euachrsit.  It’s not just church. Here we receive life in its fullness!  We should want everyone to join us.  Think about that with RCIA coming up.  Most converts I’ve met, what did it for them was the Eucharist.

My friends we have the lifeblood of Christ in us, flowing through us.  It is worth everything!  One drop of blood amounts to more than all the money in the world.  And God generously pours that blood into our veins.  It is the pearl of great price.  Solomon had the right answer.  God asked him, “So what do you want? I’ll give you anything!”  Solomon answers: “I want you, I want to do right by you!”  And God says, “Amen!  You didn’t ask for riches, for money, for this or that….you asked for me.”  In our heart of hearts, if we could have one wish, I hope it would be Jesus.

Wake up and be watchful: A homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

wheatToday our readings invite us to wake up and look out.  In our collect at Holy Mass, we prayed that we might be “watchful.”  It is a good thing to be, watchful.  And there are two big reasons we must be watchful.  First, to watch out for the devil. Second, to watch out for God.

First, the devil.  The Lord Jesus talks about a plot of land that has wheat in it.  Into this beautiful land of wheat, an enemy comes, and this guy is up to no good. He comes to plant weeds among the wheat.  It is while everyone was sleeping: “While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.”

My friends, the devil works this way.  He comes when we are sleeping to destroy all the good things that we have going on.  He wants to plant his weeds in your houses. In your families.  In our hearts.  In our city.  In our parish.  In our diocese.  When we are tired, or confused, or stressed, or bored, or just plain blah….the devil comes in those moments.  We had better be watchful lest he get away with it.  Thing of it is, I think there are a lot of Catholics who are pretty content to let the devil do what he wants, who don’t really care too much when he enters.  Because we underestimate just how bad his weeds are.  Make no mistake: those weeds cause more destruction than we could possibly imagine.  Let’s not let them come up on our watch.

We must also be watchful because we don’t want to miss God.  All of our readings are about hidden things, small things, seemingly insignificant things. Consider our scriptures today:

  • The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a tiny mustard seed. It is hard to see at first, but capable of producing something wonderful.
  • The kingdom of God is like a little yeast, hard to see but without it there’d be no leaven.  Again, a small, seemingly insignificant thing, hard to see, but important and necessary.
  • The kingdom of God is like a field of wheat and weeds, and the reality is that you can’t always tell them apart.  Zizania–the weed discussed here–looks exactly like wheat in the early stages of life. You can’t tell them apart
  • God, says our first reading, is all powerful, mighty…but he hides his greatness in clemency and kindness.
  • And then there are the longings that St Paul talks about in our second reading.  Invisible things, but powerful. Just the other day a woman came and told me God planted a desire in her heart to reconnect with someone she hadn’t spoken to in 5 years.  It started with a longing–a longing you can’t see or even put words to.  Our innermost longings, desires, thoughts….they matter to God.

Point is this.  Sometimes the most powerful things–and the stuff of the very kingdom of God itself–are those things that are hidden, small, seemingly unimportant.  Sometimes they are invisible.  We have to be watchful to see it all and to see and worship God in it.

A last thought.  Those weeds.  They seem to have no value, but to one who is watchful, there is value even there.  Jesus says the weeds are to be used for burning.  Everything has a purpose for Jesus.  I’m reminded of Fr. Charlie, my childhood priest. He said he thought he was the weed of the priesthood. The rest were holier, smarter. But that weed, he was Jesus to me. He changed my life, that man who thought he was a weed.  There is beauty even in our own weedines, even in the weediness of others.  I hope we are watchful to see it.

May be always be watchful!