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!

The power of the Word: A homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

bibleI want to focus on two things today.  1) God’s word for us and 2) God’s purpose for us.

God’s word for us.  We know the power of a word.  When someone says a good word about me, if it’s really good, I think about it for days!  And conversely, when someone says something less than kind, sometimes such a thing might keep me awake a night. I suppose it is the same for all of us.  We know the power of a human word.

And yet God’s word is a thousand times more powerful. Our first reading tells us that God sends his words down for a purpose.  He speaks them for a purpose.  And his word is meant to change our lives!  Change the world!  I think about Millard Fuller, a man who founded Habitat for Humanity.  Do you know that over half a million houses have been built with Habitat?  I heard how he felt a calling to create Habitat because he was reading Matthew 25.  That’s about 2 million people whose lives have been bettered because one man read one chapter–maybe one verse–of Scripture and acted on it.  That’s pretty wild!

I know this.  I know that men are better husbands and fathers when the read God’s word.  And women better mothers and wives.  Kids are better kids.  We must make God’s word a DAILY part of our lives.  As Fr Larry Richards says, NO BIBLE NO BREAKFAST, NO BIBLE NO BED.  His word has real power.  He has a lot to say to us every day.

Sometimes it’s kind of small, but yet important.  You know I came here from Greenwood. I have to tell you that although I was so happy to be coming here, I was quite sad to leave and a bit…nervous….about the assignment here.  My last day thereat OLG, July 4, I discovered that I had an overdue library book from the school library.  It had been under my bed for a year and a half!  So I went over to the school to return it.  Walking those school hallways, a thousand memories flashed into my heart and sadness overtook me at the thought of leaving all those kids and memories behind.  I put the book down on the librarian’s desk and turned around.  There is a bulletin board there, and each of those recent 8th grade graduates had posted a scripture verse there.  I’d seen them before.  But my eyes immediately went to one of them….it was a God thing.  It was the scripture that Connor had chosen.  It was Josh 1:9: “Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Peace came over me and I said, thank you God and crossed myself.

God always has something to say.  We better be listening.

2.  God’s purpose for us.  We hear in our Gospel, the purpose of the ear is to hear. The purpose of the eye is to see.  The purpose of a seed is to grow.  The purpose of God’s word is to do his will.  Everything has a purpose.  It is a good exercise, I think, every now and again to ask: What is my purpose today?  This week?  In my life??  God made us all for a reason, for a thousand reasons.  Ours is to discover why.  It also strikes me as a good idea to ask: what is the purpose of this parish?  Why do we exist?  What is it that we do?  What for?  More on all that later!

God provides for our lack: A homily for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

08-770x468I am happy to be starting my ministry here in Shelbyville.  I have to tell you I feel a little unable to do it all.  What consoles me–and all of us who have projects bigger than we can handle, and that is everyone–is the message of our readings today.  The readings remind us that all of us have difficult projects, heavy crosses, problems to deal with, sins and addictions…..and we cannot deal with any of that on our own strength.  Sometimes, it can scare us.  But Jesus says, for that reason, Come to Me. Come to me and I will give you rest.  I will recharge you. I will give you strength!  I will give you my spirit, and with his power you’ll be fine.

That is a great invitation for us.  Because we are not sufficient on our own to deal with everything.  The Gospel says that kids understand that better.  Which is true, because kids know that they are not enough.  They know they need mom for food.  They know they need their parents and brothers and sisters.  And they don’t try to pretend otherwise.  They know they need strength from others.

God tells us today:  you are not enough on your own, you need my help. I will supply for your lack.  Now how he does this is interesting.  So, a story.  As you know I arrived on Wednesday. I moved in and the first project was to set up the chapel. I had it all set up, except for the red sanctuary lamp.  I did not have one. So I decided to go to Cincinnati to buy one at the Catholic  store there.  On my way, the truck broke down. That is a whole other story.  But I finally got back, much mater than expected, after all that drama….but I had my sanctuary lamp.  Then I came over to church to celebrate Mass and, I’ll be darned if there isn’t a whole box of red sanctuary lamps behind the altar here.  Then I found three of them upstairs int he rectory. Who would have thought??

But here’s what I learned:  sometimes, what we think we need, we already have.  St. Paul says this today to our first christian ancestors.  He’s talking to them and says, Look, I know life can be hard and there’s big stuff you gotta do and things you gotta overcome….things that are bigger than you are!….but don’t you realize, you have the Spirit of God in you!  Not just a little part of the spirit, but the fullness of the Spirit!  He lives in you!  The same spirit that rose Jesus fromt he dead, is in you!  With all his gifts–knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, fear of the Lord, and piety–and all his fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  All that stuff, St Paul says, it’s in you!  Just plug into it!  What you think you need, you’ve already got!  And through it all, God provides for our lack.

Three things before I go: A homily for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

fbb4169b8bb84895322b520d4447185cMsgr is away this weekend at his annual family reunion. I would love to be a fly on the wall. He told me a few weeks ago, “Some people think I’m a little cranky. But I’m the nicest one in my family.”  He is a good man, our pastor, and I’m filled with gratitude that God gave Msgr to me as my first pastor. He has trusted me a lot and I have learned many things from him.  He’s got me preaching all the Masses this weekend in order to say goodbye.  I wasn’t sure what to say. There is so much to say, even after only two years. So I asked my spiritual director, Fr. Joe. He said to tell you three things: Thank you, I’m sorry, and I love you.

Thank you. Our readings today tell us about the importance of seemingly small things. Jesus tells us that it means quite a lot to give someone a glass of water.  Seems like a small thing, but that act of giving a glass of water is for Jesus divine.  And then we see a rich woman in the first reading who prepares a room so that whenever Elisha would come through, a room would be prepared for him, complete with a lamp, a bed, and a bedstand. It seems like a small thing, this act of hospitality, but it means a lot to know that you have a place in someone’s home. You have given me a place in your homes, in your families.  I have eaten about four dinners in the rectory since I got here. Msgr and I have breakfast together sometimes, but our lives are crazy and we’re always running around. Thank you for all the dinners and casseroles and cakes. Thank you for inviting me into your families.  I am thankful for so many things.  I have a list of things…perhaps I will post it later. I’m thankful though, because what Jesus says in the Gospel is true. He says, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” I think it’s true that when one enters religious life, he or she gives up his or her life. We lose our lives.  But then we find them all the more, that is the promise of Jesus. And it is true!  I’ve never felt so alive and so spirited as I have these two years. You have made me love being a priest and I thank you for that.  This is a special place and I’m thankful to have been a part of it.

Next, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry if I ever forgot to return a phone call or email. I do my best. I’m sorry if I was ever impatient or ever said anything that offended you (unless it was truth!).  I’m sorry if I ever made you feel….less than great.  I did not mean to.

Last, I love you. I will never forget a dinner I had with my friend Ashley. She is a youth minister back where I come from in Bloomington. We were at Chickfila and talking about some of the youth we know and love. At a certain moment, she stopped talking in the middle of a sentence, paused for a second, and said, “Do you think they have any idea how much we love them?”  We decided they couldn’t possibly.  That is the sentiment I feel for you all, especially the youth of our parish. I love you so much.  You know, when we receive Holy Communion–our hands become His hands, our feet His feet….and our heart becomes His heart.  Human love and divine love, sometimes I can’t tell the difference.  Thank you for making it so easy to love you!

Well, that’s it folks. It’s been real. You have a great priest coming and while I’m so thankful for these years, I’m so excited for the future of this place….and for Shelbyville.  We will be in touch, especially in prayer!  God bless you always.

God takes care of us: A homily for the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

IMG_8509Our first reading today tells us that God knows the number of hairs on our heads. I personally do not find that as reassuring as many others do. But, I think many find it very comforting. I do too. Because it insists that God knows a lot about us, more than we know of ourselves. And he loves us enough to keep count of our hairs.  That is a lot of love.

And it is because God loves us that he cares for us. He loves us in our afflictions and our inadequacies, as with Jeremiah in our first reading. He loves us in our sin, as with St. Paul in our second reading. He loves us in our distres and difficulties and trials.

God loves us and because of that he cares for us. And because he cares for us we don’t have to worry. I keep a bit of a spiritual journal. It’s funny. The things that worries me a year ago, the things that kept me awake at night, I turn the pages a bit and see that it all worked out.

God loves us. And he cares for us. So we don’t have to worry. In our gospel Jesus says three times not to worry, not to have fear.

But most of us do have a fear or two. How to get rid of our fears? Sanctify them. Let them motivate us. For example, the fear of losing a game should inspire a young man to work all the harder, to practice and prepare. Similarly, the fear of hell can be a good thing because it ought to motivate us, propel us to become better. We get rid of that fear by becoming saints!! To live in the Catholic Church with her sacraments. The fear of not being a good parent–we get rid of that by praying with our kids, loving them, leading them to heaven. The fear of not being enough, we get rid of that by seeking out others who can help us out and supply for our lack.

God loves us. Because of that he cares for us. Because of that we need not worry. We take our fears and get rid of them by acting on them. Amen.

Psalm 63 and the Eucharist: A homily for Corpus Christi (A)

Today I preached on Ps 63 and its Eucharistic nature and themes, as they related to our readings beautifully.  The psalm goes like this, and I’ve put some thoguhts in brackets:

O God, you are my God, for you I long; [We are born with a longing for God. Which means we are born with a natural desire for the Eucharist]
for you my soul is thirsting. [We thirst for love, communion, peace…the Eucharist is all of that]
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water. [without the Eucharist, we thirst to death…we pine–that is, we languish, we suffer, our spirits and souls wither up and die by what Msgr Pope calls “spiritual starvation.” Jesus says in today’s gospel: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”]
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory. [adoration!]

For your love is better than life, [Jesus is better than everything! A piece of the host is worth more than all the gold int he world, all that we have]
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands. [Faced with the Eucharist, how would we do anything but praise God, bless him, lift up our hands to him???  And yet some, leave, or take Eucharist for granted, or show no reverence.]
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, [Yes! He gives us a banquet. Every day!]
my mouth shall praise you with joy. [The Eucharist brings us joy!]

On my bed I remember you. [REMEMBER…the mandate of the first reading]
On you I muse through the night [We should think of God at night. Most turn to the snares of the devil at that time. Thinking of God is a good antidote]
for you have been my help; [the Eucharist, our help]
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice. [the Eucharist, our protection]
My soul clings to you; [the Eucharist, our union with God]
your right hand holds me fast. [the Eucharist, our deliverer]

The Trinity in Our Lives: A homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (A)

IMG_8361There’s a story of a high school kid who came from school an announced in great excitement that he had been chosen to be in the annual school play.  “Great!” said the father, “What’s the role?”  The kid said, “I’m playing the part of an old man who’s been married for 50 years.”  The father said, “Well that’s great son, but I do wish they would have given you a speaking part.”  HAHAHAH.  I’ve been thinking about marriage of late.  Lots of weddings lately and I have six before I leave in less than a month!  Praise God.

But I was thinking about marriage in connection with the Trinity, which we celebrate today.  Marriage is a kind of icon of the trinity.  And not just marriage–families in general, circles of friends, the church, teams, classes, schools….all of these are icons of the trinity…they reflect the essence of what the Trinity is all about and what it simply is:  (1) connection, (2) fruitfulness, and (3) self-gift.  Point of it is we need each other, we are bound to each other, we are meant to live interrelated lives, we are built to create new life, we are made to depend upon one another and give of ourselves for others.
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