Monday, December 23, 2019

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her." When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Christmas – the birth of Jesus – that we celebrate this week is one of the biggest events in human history. Just think, through the birth of Jesus, the powerful God of the universe became present among us as one of us.  Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable. Amazing.

Mary and Joseph were two very simple people.  A country girl and a lowly carpenter engaged to be married who lived in a very insignificant town in the Middle East.  No one would ever expect these two to bring God to the world.

Why did God do it this way? 
What’s the message in that for us?
Why was Jesus born to humble people and live such a simple life?

The answer has to be for our sake. So that we can be confident God understands our challenges; so that we can trust him.

The above Gospel story is all about trusting God.

Mary had to trust that even though she was a  virgin, she would give birth to a child by the Holy Spirit.  Mary did trust, and it was done to her, as the angel said. Joseph had to trust that Mary's pregnancy was indeed by the Holy Spirit. Even though Joseph could not understand how this could be possible, he put total faith and trust in the angel’s message to him. The point of the story of Mary and Joseph, the reason God entered the world the way he did, is because God wants us to try to be like them. They are our role models. He wants us to do what Joseph & Mary did.

Things will happen in our lives we never anticipated, as it did for them.  We can despair when the challenges come. We can question God.  We can worry about everything, or we can trust.  Trust that our God in heaven cares and has a plan. Mary and Joseph trusted God with their whole heart, and because they said YES to God, Jesus was able to come into the world, and everything changed.

Our mission in this world is just the same as theirs!  The message of our Gospel today for us is that we, too, must make that same act of trust as Joseph & Mary. We also must choose to welcome Jesus into our lives. And like Mary and Joseph, God has a plan for each of us. God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver with a special act of love to bestow. No one else can speak our special message to the people in our lives. No one else can bestow our special act of love. Like Mary and Joseph, we are being invited to bring Christ into the world. If we don’t speak our message or perform our act of love, a part of God's plan goes unfulfilled; a part of God’s glory goes unseen.

None of us are too young or too old or too weak to take up the plan God has for us. That’s the message of Jesus’ humble birth. Regardless of who we are, what we have, or don't have, we have a mission in this world. It was given to us by God himself.

This call from God, besides requiring that we trust God, requires us to trust in ourselves just as Mary and Joseph did that day. We must trust in our own goodness. We must trust in our own value. We must trust that God made us for some special purpose.

Listen to where He leads you – you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Called to Love Homily 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I canĂ¢€™t make you love me, but you canĂ¢€™t keep me from loving you

During the time of Jesus, the culture lived by the concept of reciprocal justice: "An eye for an eye."  But Jesus turned that idea upside down. He challenged his followers - he challenged us - during the Sermon on the Mount saying: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven."  Our Father in heaven is loving, and as his children, our call is to be like him.

These past few weeks, there has been an overwhelming amount of tragic violence and a seemingly ever-growing amount of hatred expressed towards those who are blamed for causing these acts of violence. Hatred eats away at us. These days you can almost feel the hate tearing us apart.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus said: “more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12:48)  We Christians we are the ones who have been entrusted with more, and therefore more is demanded from us. Jesus is talking about spiritual wealth. What we are entrusted with is FAITH. In the book of Hebrews, we hear the only explicit definition of faith in the Bible: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  What we have been entrusted with is a hopeful faith. And this faith calls us to love always, even those we see as enemies.  Therefore, we need to ask ourselves:

Is that what people around us see and hear from us a hopeful faith, a faith that loves?

God demands that we rise above the hatred and the rancor and respond to our society with love. Love for all. Even those we disagree with even those we can't stand. Luke writes in the 12th chapter of his Gospel (Luke 12:32-48)  a collection of short parables Jesus spoke in which the main characters are a master and his servants.

The master in the story is the risen Jesus, the risen Christ who we believe will come again. That is our hope, that is our faith. The servants are his followers. We are his servants. According to these master-servant parables, the future coming of Jesus is certain, but its precise time is not known. The parables tell us the proper attitude for the servants is to be ready for the master’s return, to be continually watching. The hope of the faithful servants is on the master's return, they will enjoy the fullness of God's kingdom.

In the parable, Jesus gives us the most radical image of what that will look like! Jesus said:

“Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table and proceed to wait on them.”

Do you hear that?  God will put on his work clothes and serve us!  That’s heaven!

No wonder we pray each week hopefully: “Thy Kingdom Come.” Jesus is telling us: “Do not be afraid any longer for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” A kingdom where we are the object of his service, his love. That’s genuinely good news. The servants - we - are entrusted with the management of the household, which of course is the world until Jesus returns. And our job is to make sure all know this good news. The “Good News” that we serve a God who is so full of love he’s ready to serve us.

The master could return any moment - at the end of our lives or at the end of the world - and he is expecting to find everything in order when he comes. That’s our calling, through our hopeful faith, we are called to prepare the world for his return.

Hatred is not what Jesus expects to find.                                             

He wants us to share the Good News that our God is a God of love not hate. And he put us his servants in charge to make sure the world is a loving place. We have been called to cling to this hope of a future where there is no hatred, only God loving on us. And us sharing that love with others.                                 
How are we doing? When the Lord comes will he find a loving world? Will we pass the test?

It starts with each one of us!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J. - soon to be a saint - once said:

"I pray that I continue to look for and find God
and that I am amazed with joy and gratitude."

He gave us words to live by:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Martha and Mary ... Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 10:38-42)

Any of us who have been coming to Mass for a few years know the Martha and Mary story. When we hear their names, many of us think, oh yeah, Martha is the grouchy sister that needs an attitude adjustment, and Mary is the good sister. Martha is so often seen as "the lesser" example for us when compared to her sister Mary.  But maybe that's not fair. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m kind of a Martha fan.

Martha clearly seems to be the leader of the family. Luke tells us that she is the one who welcomed Jesus to the village. She took charge of the hospitality, just like Abraham did when the LORD came to his town. That said, you must admire Mary too.  She seemed to figure out that having Jesus in the house was something amazing, and sitting at his feet and listening was an incredible opportunity. She saw it as a better way to spend her time.  And can you blame her? If Jesus showed up at your house, would you rather sit listening to him or fix dinner?

For me, both sisters are admirable.  You have the servant leader of the family Martha doing what needs to be done.  And the scholarly one Mary who recognizes the rare opportunity to learn from and pray with Jesus. Both are serving Jesus but choosing different ways to serve. I think Luke set up this story when he wrote his Gospel. Look at where Luke positions this story. I don’t think it’s an accident.

Right before this story comes the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is the ultimate story of discipleship as service. And right after the Martha and Mary story, Luke tells how the disciples come to Jesus and say: “Lord, teach us to pray. Which is where we learn the Our Father the most important prayer Christians have. So, you see, the sister of service and the sister of prayer and contemplation are sandwiched right in between the two passages which emphasize the importance of both. There isn't just one way to follow Jesus. In my mind, both sisters demonstrate equally valid and essential examples of leadership. One shows us the importance of study and prayer. The other sister is a person of action who takes charge and cares for the needs of others. She shows us faith in action. Both Mary and Martha teach all men and women to have faith in Jesus as they seek their mission, their form of service.

But there is something more to this story than their examples.  It’s important not to miss how radical Jesus was. Jesus consistently challenged the prevailing culture exposing its flaws. What Jesus was doing was a radical change in that culture. He was elevating women in the discipleship community.

The mistake Martha made that day was to get so caught up in her servants’ heart, so full of worry about her hostess duties that she completely misses the more important point.  Jesus says to her, "there is need of only one thing."   Not many things. The greater need is to accept my invitation to be fully accepted as a disciple.

Luke tells us that day, Mary "sat beside the Lord at his feet, listening to him speak."  In that time, this is the normal position of the male disciple. To sit at the feet of a rabbi meant that a person was one of his disciples. Martha was so busy that day she missed the plan Jesus had for her. He was challenging the cultures traditional belief of a woman’s place. Jesus’ praise for Mary was that she “got it.” And she dared to act in a way that was against the expectations for women at that time.

In the story of The Good Samaritan Jesus makes the hero someone that no one in that society would ever have seen as a hero - a Samaritan.  In the story of Martha and Mary Jesus again does something just as shocking.  He invites Mary to the same level as - a male disciple. Once again, Jesus does something no one in that society would expect. To call women to be equal to the men in discipleship was radical. So radical Marta missed it. That was her mistake. She missed the opportunity Jesus was calling her to because she was too busy with busy work.

We do that, don't we?  We get so caught up in the day-to-day work, the chores and things of life, that we forget to spend quality time with Jesus.  And because of that, we can miss how he is calling us. Our call as his followers, his disciples, is a call to be like Him, to shake up a world that needs change. Jesus is saying to us like he did Martha that day, "you are anxious and worried about many things," but you really only need one thing. And that’s to follow me, to be my disciple in the world.” What’s causing you anxiety and holding you back from seeing what Jesus is calling you to do?

We need to learn from Mary and spend more time with Jesus sitting at his feet carving out time each day to listen and pray.  Can you hear him saying today …?                                                                                   
I’m calling you to be my disciple regardless of who you are!                 

How are you going to respond?… …  Radically, I hope! 

Friday, May 31, 2019

What is a Christian?

Like Jesus we are: children of God, brothers, and sisters for the sake of others.

There is nothing selfish in our call as a Christian, it is a call to live generously and sacrificially for others. 

How are you doing?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

God loves us unconditionally!

A homily based on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 - The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Saint Paul said to the Corinthians:

"All of this is a gift from God, 
who brought us back to himself through Christ.
And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, 
no longer counting people's sins against them. 
And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation."

St. Paul is saying something we all need to embrace. He expresses what we as Christians believe about God. Paul is saying that Christ died for our sins - your sins and my sins – our debt is paid in full; our sins are no longer counted against us.

Do we believe it?

In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus confirms what Paul is saying. I want to give this story a bit of a modern twist and see how we react.

Suppose for a minute you had a friend who had a nice estate held mostly in safe investments like tax-free municipal bonds, and that he had two children a son and a daughter. On the request of his daughter, your friend converts half of his assets to cash and gives it to her and adjusts his will accordingly leaving the rest of his assets upon his death to his son.  She takes off for San Francisco gets a fantastic apartment in the city. She lives big, lots of nights on the town. Her cool new Silicon Valley friends convince her to invest her inheritance in a series of risky new tech stocks.  A slide in the stock market leaves her broke, and the cool new friends are nowhere to be found.  Then you hear that just the other day she comes back home to her Dad penniless. Your friend is overjoyed at her return, and he is touched by her sorrow at having blown her inheritance. He comes to you for advice.  He thinks he should revise his will to divide his remaining assets between his two children.

What would you advise?

How do you think the brother would react who loyally worked with his Dad to maintain and grow the family estate? Most of us would tell our friend to embrace the loyal son and say to the daughter: “Sorry you got yours and blew it. Right?

But Jesus tells us that's not how our God thinks.

The idea that God’s love comes to us with no strings attached seems to go against every instinct we have. It’s just too good to believe. Can God’s love really be unconditional?  Many of us have a vision of a God that demands we never mess up, we believe we must earn God’s love. The God that Jesus describes in the parable about the prodigal father – the loving Father – who demands nothing and is unbelievably generous in his forgiveness, love, and mercy just seems too good to be true.

Isn’t it just and fair to give more to the good people and punish the people who mess up? Shouldn’t there be some merit to our salvation?

The shocking truth Jesus introduces us to in this parable is that grace does not depend on what we have done for God … but … what God has done for us. The great theologian Karl Barth once said the definition of God comes down to this one idea – God is the one who loves.

This parable might be better named “the parable of the loving father.” or “the parable of the lavishly generous father.” The Father that Jesus came to tell us about offers us grace that is lavish, extravagant, irrational. A grace that does not count our trespasses against us!

How do we experience this grace in our lives and how do we show this grace to others?

There are three characters in the parable of the prodigal son two sons and a father. My guess is most of us identify with one of the two sons when we hear this parable. But the truth is the call of this story is to identify with the Father. Our goal as Christians is to be like the Father loving, forgiving, and generous.

In his book “Capital of the World” Ernest Hemingway wrote about a father in Spain who had a son named Paco. Because of his son's rebellion, Paco and his father were estranged. The father was bitter and angry with his son and kicked him out of the home. After years of bitterness, the father's anger ended and he realized his mistake. He began to look for Paco, with no results. Finally, in desperation, the father placed an ad in the Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “PACO, ALL IS FORGIVEN, MEET ME AT THE NEWSPAPER OFFICE AT 9 A.M. TOMORROW. LOVE, YOUR FATHER.”

Paco is a rather common name in Spain, and Hemingway wrote when the father arrived the next morning, there were 600 young men all named Paco waiting and hoping to receive the forgiveness of their fathers.

There are so many longing for the love of the Father; our call as ambassadors for Christ is to show those in our lives that kind of forgiving, generous love. Our call is to be like the Father.  Ready to forgive. Eager to restore a relationship because God has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation.

Are we ready to show this forgiveness to those in our life? No matter the injury?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Love Your Enemy

Love your enemy …
Three of the most challenging words Jesus ever said. Love your enemy.   How is that possible?
There’s a story about Jesus that gives us a hint, it isn’t in any of the gospels. It is a story actually attributed to a Muslim, a great Sufi teacher.  It goes ….

As Jesus and his disciples entered a village …
some of the villagers began to harass Jesus …
shouting unkind words and harsh accusations. 
But Jesus answered them by bowing down 
and offering words of blessing. 
A disciple said to him, “Aren’t you angry with them? 
How can you bless them?” Jesus answered, 
“I can only give what I have in my purse.”

The purse in this story is, of course, a metaphor for our heart.
The word Jesus used for love in this passage was Agape. The love Jesus is talking about is not the love of lovers – Eros – or even the love of close friends - Philia. The love Jesus is talking about - Agape - is instead an attitude of thinking positive thoughts, wishing the best for other people even enemies.

We saw this love displayed even at the worst moment of Jesus’ life, as he hung on the cross he prayed for his executioners. Why? Because that was all he had in his heart.  That’s who he was. Jesus is asking us today to take a good honest look at ourselves because we too can only give what we carry in our hearts – our purse. And the truth is this advice, to love our enemy, is much more practical than it sounds at first.

Nelson Mandela, the leader of the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, who became the first black president of South Africa, spent 27 years in prison. If anyone had a right to hate his enemies he did. Mandela once said something we all should think about. He said … 
“Holding on to bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies from it.”         

To fill ourselves with love for our enemy as Jesus tells us to rather than the poison of hate is in truth a prescription for our happiness. Martin Luther King Jr. – our great civil rights leader – once said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that.”

On March 30, an1981 President Ronald Reagan had just finished a luncheon talk at the Washington Hilton Hotel. As he and his entourage left the hotel, a gunman fired six shots. The president and three of his aides were hit. He was rushed to the hospital where they saved his life. Later, Reagan described in his biography what went on in his mind as doctors began working on him. The president said: “I focused on the tile ceiling and prayed. But I realized, he said, I could not ask for God’s help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed-up young man who shot me.  We are all God’s children and therefore equally loved by God. So I began to pray for the young man.” Having prayed for him, Reagan could then calmly ask God to help him, which God did. That inspiring story from Reagan’s biography brings us to today’s Gospel. “Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you.”      

It is remarkable that in such a critical condition President Reagan should recall that hard teaching of Jesus. It is even more remarkable that he not only recalled it but put it into practice instantly. How do you do that? How do you become the kind of person who lives with love so ingrained in us that it’s the way you respond, it’s what you are carrying in your purse?

What’s in your purse?  

When we are hurt, attacked, insulted how do we react?  We have a choice with hatred or with love. In that choice lies our growth and our happiness.  We can drink the poison of hate, or we can return hate with love. If we have filled our purse – our hearts – with love we will choose love as a response.

What’s in your purse?

One of the most dramatic examples of loving one’s enemy, of returning love for hate, came for me from the story of a prayer that was found at Ravensbruck WWII concentration camp where 92,000 women and children died. It was scrawled on wrapping paper near a dead child. The note was a prayer for his captors, his executioners.

The prayer says …
O Lord remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of ill will. Do not remember the suffering they inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we have bought thanks to our suffering: 
  • our comradeship with one another
  • our loyalty to one another
  • our courage
  • our generosity
  • and our greatness of heart … that has grown out of all this.

And when they come before you for judgment, let all the fruits that we have reaped through our suffering, be their forgiveness.

You have to wonder how this boy could writing this message of love he could because it was what was in his heart his purse.

What’s in your purse?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Homily - The Wedding Feast at Cana

This Gospel story today is so good. One of the great gifts John gives us in this Gospel story is to take Jesus out of the clouds and bring him down to earth.  Here he is with his mom and friends at a wedding. How normal is that? Imagine that day Jesus dancing and laughing and enjoying himself as we all do at weddings.  And just in case you don’t think he was enjoying himself that day do the math on the amount of wine he made. Six stone water jars each holding thirty gallons filled to the brim that’s 180 gallons of wine; or about 800 bottles of wine.   For a party that had been so good, they ran out of wine!  Jesus is my kind of party guest!

A few years ago, when Johnny Carson hosted the Tonight Show, he was interviewing an eight-year-old boy one night. The young man was asked to appear on the Tonight Show because he had rescued two friends from a coal mine. As Johnny questioned him, it became apparent that the boy was a Christian.  Johnny asked him if he attended Sunday school.  When the boy said he did, Johnny inquired, "What are you learning in Sunday school?" "Last week.” The boy replied, “our lesson was about how Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine." The audience started laughing and applauding.  Keeping a straight face, Johnny asked, "And what did you learn from that story?" The boy squirmed in his chair.  It was clear he hadn't thought about this. But then he lifted up his face and said, "If you're going to have a wedding make sure you invite Jesus and Mary!"

And that is precisely the message of today’s gospel. It’s not complicated it’s simple. Make sure you invite Jesus wherever you live and wherever you go – he is a great friend to have around.   

There are two take away messages from this Gospel story. The first is if we know Jesus and turn to him in our needs, he will abundantly pour out his love into our lives. And the second message is a bit more subtle. It’s about the power of His mother’s intercession.

Let’s talk about the first point. In every life, there are times when the wine runs out.  It happens to us all. Maybe it’s a health issue, or money troubles, a marriage running on empty, the loss of someone we love.  None of us is immune. And the message of this story is that in those moments Jesus stands ready to help.  Everyone has times when the wine in our life runs low the moral of this story is that in those moments if we turn to Jesus, he can bring life and joy to us, and bring it in abundance. It’s ours for the asking!

Do you have that kind of relationship with Jesus?                                                           
Can you turn to him when you need some help?

The second point of the story is about Jesus’ relationship with his mother. People are often curious about our Catholic devotion to Mary Jesus’ mother. We seek out Mary’s help because it is clear to us how close she is to her son.  In this reading, there is a delightful, and actually quite funny, interaction between Jesus and his mother.  As women so often are Mary is aware and sensitive to the difficulty the host is facing; and with great empathy, she simply turns to Jesus and says – “They have no wine.”  That’s it, no big explanation, no pleading just 4 simple words – “They have no wine.” And he knows exactly what she means and what she expects.  That level of non-verbal communication tells us volumes about their relationship. Jesus then does what many of us do to our Moms, he kind of dismisses her request and says – Mom, how does your concern affect me? Now notice what his mother does when he says this. She totally ignores him! She simply turns to the servers and says “Do whatever he tells you.” What a rich scene …!  She knew what he could do, and she knew he would do it because she asked him. Now doesn’t that make you want to ask her for help when you need something!  We pray to Mary because we know her requests of Jesus are irresistible.

She said to the waiters that day, and she says to us today, "Do whatever He tells you." This is the only command given by Mary recorded in the New Testament. So if you are looking for miracles in your life, if you need a refill of joy and meaning, take Mary’s advice and – “Do whatever He tells you.”
And where do we hear his instructions?  The Bible tells us how to do the will of God and bring abundance and joy into our daily lives. Do you read the bible at home? Our good priests here at St. Brigid when they offer Mass and share a homily help us to hear Jesus.  Are you coming to Mass regularly? Quite prayer time is an excellent time to listen. Are you taking time for quiet prayer each day and listening?

The lack of wine in this story is a symbol for the emptiness of our life without Christ.  This sign – this miracle – teaches us that when the wine runs out just as he transformed that water, he can transform our lives. The point is that with Jesus the impossible becomes possible that’s the miracle.                                                                                                                   
Yes, that day he turned water into wine, and today he can turn frowns into smiles, whimpers of fear into songs of hope, sorrow into joy. He can restore the joy to a marriage and meaning to our lives.  Jesus is all about transforming people’s lives for the better.

And the Church tells us we are the body of Christ. He works through us now. In the 2nd reading St. Paul said we all have a gift to give. Can you recall a time when your life transformed someone else's?

When is the last time YOU turned water into wine?