Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent ... why it matters.

Thanksgiving is behind us, and now we prepare for another great holiday – Christmas.  Decorations go up; presents are bought; it’s a hectic time.  Advent is a time set aside by the Church, to help us prepare for Christmas. Advent reminds us to add the dimension of faith, a spiritual dimension, to our Christmas preparations. So how do we do that?

Some friends of mine, long time victims of the stress of everyday activities, recommend sneaking spiritual moments into the world of work. A nurse friend says a prayer every time she washes her hands between patients to remind her that the person she is about to treat is more than their disease. That’s how she tries to stay awake to the spiritual dimension of the people she helps each day. One friend pauses in front of the Christmas tree in the lobby of his work and stops for a moment to say a little prayer. He notices he is more patient and respectful when he remembers to do this.

Why does it matter that we keep Christ in Christmas?  Because we have a hope in our hearts brought by the true meaning of Christmas that people desperately need us to share. So many people in the world have lost hope and we can bring a beacon of light into the darkness. 

A few year back a devastating earthquake killed 30,000 people in Armenia.  Minutes after the tragedy, a father ran to his son’s school building and found it completely collapsed. Remembering that his son’s classroom was in the rear corner of the building, he ran over to it and began digging, pulling away the rubble with his hands.

Other parents, weeping nearby, tried to stop him, saying, “It’s too late! They’re all dead! It’s too late!” Even the police tried to dissuade him. But he kept on digging. He dug for 36 hours without stopping. In the 38th hour he heard a voice, the father screamed, “Armand!” The boy shouted back, “Dad!” Then began an incredible conversation; the boy shouted up from the rubble: “Dad! There are 14 of us down here. I told them not to worry. I told them that you’d come.”

That story describes perfectly what Advent is all about. It’s a call to all of us who believe in Christ to be like Armand, to have a hopeful faith and help those around us not to worry. It’s about letting everyone around know it’s going to be alright. Jesus is coming to save us.

The world is full of people like the ones in this story.  Like the people and the police. When they saw the flattened building, they lost all hope immediately. We live in a time where so many people are hopeless. They have lost their faith if they ever had faith.  There are people like the grief-stricken parents standing around the collapsed school after the earthquake. They see our world in a state of moral and spiritual collapse. They see nothing but a mountain of crime, war, drugs, immorality, corruption, and disrespect for all forms of life.  So many people have given up and only stand around, lamenting the situation.

There are also people like the children trapped inside a world that feels like moral and spiritual rubble.  They feel like theirs is a helpless situation.  They see no light. The only thing that can give them hope is people like little Armand and his father – people of faith.  Hopefully, people like us. We are called to be people who like Armand’s father who see the same mountain of moral and spiritual collapse but refuse to give up. We are called to be like little Armand and have faith that Jesus is coming to save us. We are called to people who keep working at their faith until we bring light into the darkness.

Hopefully, this story is an invitation to us to do this, to become like Armand and his father, to be voices of hope in our world. It starts by keeping hope alive in our hearts by being like my nurse friend who says a prayer every time she washes her hands between patients keeping Christ in her heart; to put on Christ as she does her job.  Or like my friend who takes a moment to say a prayer before the workplace Christmas tree as he enters the building where he works, so he can keep the light of the Lord – the spirit of Christmas – in his heart all day long.  Advent is all about keeping hope alive and sharing our Christmas hope with others.  It’s about trusting that no matter how dark and hopeless things seem, we know Jesus comes to rescue us.

That is really what Advent and Christmas are all about!   

                               

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Homily on Forgiveness - Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel reading from Matthew 18:21-35
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. ...

Today’s reading is one where I think just about anyone can identify with the story. Peter comes up to Jesus and says: How many times must I forgive that brother of mine?

Ever thought that yourself?

Ever thought how many times must I overlook – and forgive – my sister ... my brother ... my husband ... my father ... my kids ...?  How many times must I forgive my boss for being a total jerk; or my parent for not saying they love me?

That is a question we all can identify with ... right?

It just seems like some people know how to get under our skin. They just know how to really inflict pain on us. Maybe someone has done something we feel is just simply unforgivable; or someone is so neglectful and selfish our feelings are hurt all the time.

The answer Jesus gave Peter that day is most unsatisfactory. He basically says, you must forgive them every time. We have to forgive them – every time!

Then He tells Peter a story about forgiveness.  A servant who owes his Master a fortune – begs for forgiveness and gets it. Then turns around and is totally heartless to someone who owes him a lot less.

This story is important. Because it tells us what Jesus becoming a man is all about. You see Jesus came to give his life for us to gain God’s forgiveness for ... all our mistakes ... all our sins ... all our offenses.  Jesus’ life is one gigantic – “I forgive you for everything” – to each of us from God. So if we go out like the servant in the parable whose debt was forgiven, and not forgive those who offend us, we are just like that wicked servant. Jesus is saying to each one of us today – unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart, you aren’t worthy of my Father’s forgiveness.

Over and over, Jesus says the same thing in the bible. He once said, “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”  He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Which has been called the Golden Rule. In the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, The Our Father, he said, “Forgive us our trespasses – as – we forgive others.”  Forgiveness is the fundamental principle of being a Christian.  

How are you doing with that?                                                                                                    
Does anyone come to mind that you need to forgive?

I recently heard the story of a young man that relates to our Gospel today. He was speaking about a life altering moment in his life. He said: One day a seven-year-old boy was riding in the back seat of the family car. He was sitting between his two brothers. Their mother was driving. On this day their mother was feeling especially distraught over having been recently abandoned by their father. Suddenly, in a fit of anger, she spun around and struck the seven-year-old a blow across the face. Then she yelled at him:

And you! I never wanted you. 
The only reason I had you
was to keep your father.
But then he left anyway.

I hate you.

That scene branded itself on the boy’s memory. Over the years his mother reinforced her feelings toward him by constantly finding fault with him. Years later the young man said: I can’t tell you how many times in the last twenty-three years I relived that experience. Probably thousands.

Then he added: But recently I put myself in my mother’s shoes. Here she was, a high school graduate with no money, no job, and a family to support. I realized how lonely and depressed she must have felt. I thought of the anger and the pain that must have been there. And I thought of how much I reminded her of the failure of her young hopes. And so one day I decided to visit her and talk to her. I told her that I understood her feelings and that I loved her just the same. She broke down and we wept in each other’s arms for what seemed to be hours. It was the beginning of a new life for me, for her—for us. This story is a beautiful illustration of the healing power of forgiveness.

To use the words of Shakespeare, forgiveness is “twice blest.” 
It blesses the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.

Let’s see how it does this. First, forgiveness blesses the one who forgives. Take the young man in the story. He says that when he forgave his mother, it was the beginning of a new life for him. Time after time, we hear other people say the same thing after they have forgiven someone. For example, a young woman who forgave her father, after they had not spoken for seven years, said of the experience: It was like being released from prison. I was free and happy for the first time in seven years. 

The young man said his forgiveness of his mother blessed her in an amazing way: It literally healed her. She was transformed from someone who was so bitter that she told her son, “I hate you and never wanted you” to someone who told him “I love you and want you with all my heart.”
Time after time we hear of people who have been transformed when someone has forgiven them.
So what do we do when we find that we can’t forgive someone?  What do we do to get rid of the emotional block that keeps us from forgiving?

The answer lies again in the story of the young man. His perception of her changed.  He no longer saw her as a terrible person who said a terrible thing to a little boy. He saw her as a women in pain.
Today’s gospel invites us to take inventory of our relationships with others, especially members of our own family. It invites us to ask ourselves if any of these relationships need to be improved upon. 

We all have someone we need to forgive ... let’s all do that this week.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Would Jesus be a Catholic?

Jesus was a radical who challenged the religious establishment of his culture. Would he be different now?  Would he acquiesce to the pressure to comply with the traditional teachings of the Church? Or, would Jesus call her to task for not acting like Him?

Christianity has been so successful that now it’s passé. People reject it because it is now the establishment rather than the radical.  Is it any wonder why so many of us are asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?”  We feel as if our founder has been kidnapped.

Western culture is rapidly become more secular, with the “nones” — the religiously non-affiliated, including atheists as well as those who feel spiritual but don’t identify with a particular religion — accounting for almost one-fourth of Americans today. And, they are rapidly rising: among millennials, more than one-third are nones.

Maybe it’s time to let go of the over regulated practice of our beliefs and rediscover Jesus’ radically generous way of life.  A life rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion!  Maybe it’s time to re-establish Christianity as a compassionate, loving way of life rather than a legalistic religion. Is it time to focus on the moral vision of Jesus for the world rather than rules and rubrics?

Many who are falling away from Christianity do so because they struggle with science verse the miraculous.  To attract them to the message of Jesus maybe we need to worry less about whether biblical miracles are literal and begin to teach more about their meaning.  When it is said that Jesus healed a leper, let’s put aside the question of whether this happened for now and focus on his outreach to the most stigmatized of outcasts. How would Jesus treat the LGBTQ community were he here today?

It's time to begin tackling the human needs around us and make this a better world; surely Jesus would applaud us if we did. Those who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters should be our leaders, not the ones in fancy clothes in big diocesan offices. We should be looking to the Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims for leadership. Then we would have leaders like Christ.  




Sunday, August 27, 2017

Today Jesus looks at his closest disciples – after being together a couple of years – and says, “Who do people say I am?” – and then – “Who do you say I am?” 

This question is of course intended for us too. He looks at all of us who call ourselves His followers – Christians – and repeats the same question ... 

Do you know me?

What makes this gospel so important for us is that it points out what our faith is really all about.  It’s about a relationship.  It’s about knowing Jesus.  Christianity is not an institution; it’s a relationship with a person. To be a Christian is to stand before Jesus and answer his question – Do you know me?  Who do you say I am?

Do you know him?                  

When Jesus asked Peter and the other apostles those questions, they had been traveling from town to town, for many months. Peter and the others had left behind their regular lives. They made a huge commitment and effort to get to know Jesus because they recognized something remarkable in Him.
Think for a minute about the things they saw – over those months.
  • They saw him heal people of leprosy, blindness and being paralyzed.
  • They saw him raise a widow’s son from the dead and bring Jairus' daughter back to life.
  • They saw him calmed a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee with a command
  • They helped as he fed thousands of people in the middle of nowhere from a couple of loaves of bread.
They witnessed so many amazing moments.                                                              

My guess is they had more than a few late night discussions around the camp fire talking about this question of who Jesus was. But Jesus didn’t want to know what they thought about his miracles. He wanted to know if they knew Him.

When Peter answered him and said, "You the Son of the living God;" Jesus said something we all need to think about. 

What He didn’t say was: “Good for you Peter, you figured this out on you own.  No, he said, "Blessed are you, Simon. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” It wasn’t Simon Peter’s powers of observation or Simon Peter’s brilliant mind that allowed him to know who Jesus was; it was a gift from God the Father.

Faith is a gift. 

The spiritual insight God gave Simon Peter was a gift. St. Paul once said, "no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit."  We must have the help of the Holy Spirit, who opens the eyes of the mind and heart, who makes it possible for us to accept and believe the truth. That doesn’t mean Peter’s faith that Jesus was the Son of God was a blind faith.  It was grounded in reason, rooted in his experiences of that year. God put an understanding of who Jesus was on Peter's heart through what he witnessed.

We don’t have the advantage the apostles had of being first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ life.  But we do have their witness – the story of salvation history – the Bible.  Do we make an effort to get to know him in the Bible? Do we travel with him in the Bible?             

We also have the benefit of seeing living witnesses, other followers of Jesus; those canonized by the Church, and those quietly leading lives of faith, like many of our mothers and fathers. These are our witnesses, who so often lead us to faith in Jesus. Lead us to recognize who Jesus is. Ultimately each of us has the experience of Peter.  If we seek to know him, our heavenly Father reveals to our hearts the truth about Jesus.  Some Christian’s call that moment of recognition a “born again” experience; that moment of insight – that Ah Ha moment – when faith begins. That moment when we come to a place where reason can take us no further and God puts the truth on our hearts.

Jesus tells us today; faith is something we receive.  It’s a gift from our heavenly Father, through the workings of the Holy Spirit.  And like any gift, the gift of faith needs to be accepted to receive it. This faith – this gift – is often passed on to us from our parents like a family heirloom that we treasure, protect, and hopefully pass on ourselves. This gift of faith is a gift we are called to give away.

Our Catholic faith isn’t meant to be a private thing – me and God.  Being a Christian – being “Church” – is supposed to be a relationship. One of the great insights of our Church is that all of us who believe are members of the Body of Christ.  We are the physical representation of Christ in this world.  The Church is the body through which Christ manifests His life to the world today. When Jesus asks us – “Do you know me? He is asking us, do you know each other? Are you one body? Do you live in love, and help each other as I modeled in my life? 

While our relationship with Christ is personal, God never intends it to be private.

This parish – St. Brigid – is trying to become a parish of friends rather than a parish of strangers; to become the Body of Christ.  If Jesus himself disguised as a layperson visited St. Brigid if he sat somewhere in the middle, would he feel welcomed, loved, and necessary?

Jesus in the Gospel asks each of us today, “Do you know me?” And so does Jesus who sits next to you in the Body of Christ ask, “Do you know me?” Let’s become a parish that says – YES Lord.
We begin to know each other when we share our stories. 

In that spirit, I want to start by telling you a bit about me.  

I am a husband to Linda for 42 years this weekend. I am a father to four wonderful children, who have given me six beautiful grandchildren. I spent 25 years of my life building a retail business – until I got cancer – 20 years ago I almost died. Those events changed my life and led to me becoming a deacon.

My passion in life is helping children born into poverty, helping them break the cycle of poverty through education. I have been blessed to be part of helping found two fantastic schools – The Monarch School for homeless kids; and Nativity Prep Academy a free Catholic college access program in the inner-city.  Recently I’ve been asked to help to found a new Catholic high school - Cristo Rey high school. Cristo Rey Schools are Catholic schools that offer a college prep education to impoverish kids.  The unique feature of this school is that the students all work in corporate American one day a week to earn money to pay their tuition. 

I’d love to share more of my story with anyone who cares to know. I’d love to know your story.  We need to know each other’s story so that we can answer the question Jesus asks today ... Do you know me? 

Help us become the kind of parish where we know Jesus because we know his body. Let’s share our lives so that we can say ... YES, Lord ... we know you.



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gratitude


No human being can tame the tongue. We bless the LORD and Father, 
and then we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God.

From James 3:8-9

We need to ask (pray that) the Holy Spirit guide our speech so the words we speak are of mercy and compassion. Our speech can build others up or tear them down. We serve the Kingdom of God when we speak the truth in love; when we speak with mercy and compassion. 

I pray ... 
              Father God ... forgive me for all the times I've damaged others with my speech.
              Jesus ... open my eyes to see the likeness of You in each person I meet.
              Holy Spirit ... guide my words and make them instruments of your mercy and compassion.
Amen




Friday, August 18, 2017



John Calvin once said, "You may not think you owe your neighbor anything, but because of the image of God in your neighbor, you do. Because you see God in your neighbor, because your neighbor's made in the image of God."

"Don't look at your neighbor and say, ‘What does my neighbor deserve from me?' Say, ‘What does God deserve from me?' and then when you see the image of God in him there he is."