Sunday, January 14, 2018

How St. Remy changed his world; and how you and I can change ours (Sunday homily)

Today we celebrate our patron, Saint Remy. 
His feast day actually falls on January 13, 
but we are able to move it to Sunday. 
Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Saint Remy – 
or, Remigius, as he would have called himself. 
I suspect many of us don’t know much about him.

As his name suggests, Remigius was a Roman; 
he lived in northern part of the province of Gaul,
in an area near the border between France and Belgium. 
As a boy, Remy was very bright and well read; 
he was renowned for his learning and his holiness. 
When he was 22, he was nominated to be bishop – 
and he wasn’t even a priest!

Remy was born in AD 437. 
He lived at a time when Roman society was falling apart. 
Imagine that: your country is dissolving; 
people with different language and customs and religion 
are taking over.
These new people were the Franks, who came from Germany.
Their king was Clovis. 

How easy it would have been for Bishop Remy to fear
and even hate Clovis. And maybe he would have, 
had St. Remy been mainly about being Roman. 
But instead, Remy was first and foremost a Christian.

You and I are proud to be Americans. 
But our first loyalty is to Christ. 
We would hate ever to have to choose, but it can happen.

Under President Obama, we were put in that position. 
Our government was saying that good Americans 
are in favor of contraception, 
and will help the government distribute them. 
Our government was saying that good Americans 
are in favor of same-sex “marriage” and in the misdirected, 
immoral sexual behavior which that is really about.

And yes, we’ve gotten something of a breather under this President; 
but less has changed than you may think. 
The prevailing values and beliefs of our society, and our government, 
are growing less Christian, and more pagan, every day.

St. Remigius had a choice; he remembered his mission.
He fostered good relations with the Franks. 
He may well have been influenced 
by Saint Paul’s words in the second reading: 
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 

Because Remy made himself available to the Lord, 
not only was King Clovis baptized; 
3,000 other of his cohort were baptized that same day. 
That set the whole kingdom on the path to becoming Catholic; 
and thus the future nation of France.

And that, in turn, played a huge role in all history since.

When you and I think about the changing nature of our society, 
all kinds of reactions can follow:
Discouragement, resignation, fear and anger.

I don’t know if Bishop Remy was ever discouraged. 
He probably was, at times, as are we all.
What we do know is he did not resign himself; he did not retreat.

Again, we don’t know what special challenges 
he and his fellow Christians faced at that time. 
Yet we do know that his main response – his daily plan – 
was really no different from ours.

Whenever we talk about evangelization – 
about sharing our Faith – a lot of people will be intimidated, and say,
“I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to do!”
It’s not about saying or doing any special thing.
It’s simply about being who you are, 
and sharing yourself with others.

How did Remy win Clovis and his fellow invaders?
It was pretty simple, really. 
He sought them out; he offered friendship.

One of the things that impressed King Clovis 
was the way of life the Christians lived. 
He saw their dedication to prayer and the generous way 
they responded to people’s needs.

Every year around this time, 
we talk about the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 
Remember, this is the way our Archdiocese does the very things 
that so impressed the unbelievers in St. Remy’s time.

This fund helps many who are poor and without resources.
It provides food and utility help for people who need it, as well as
counseling and family assistance through Catholic Social Services. 

Part of it goes to provide for our retired priests. 
Part of it helps with outreach to colleges, prisons and hospitals. 
And a portion of it supports our seminary and our vocation programs.
And all of it – every dollar – stays in our Archdiocese.

I will be traveling next weekend. 
Some parishes will play a recorded message from the Archbishop. 
Here, we’ll put the text of his remarks in the bulletin instead, 
and we’ll talk more about it when I get back.

The Catholic Ministries Appeal is just one of many ways 
you and I can do in a practical way 
what we prayed in today’s psalm: 
“Here we are, Lord. We come to do your will.”

Sunday, January 07, 2018

'See the light--be the light' (Epiphany homily)

This is going to sound hokey, but: 
the title of my homily is: “See the light – be the light.”

We start with the Magi, these Wise Men, these seekers, in the Gospel. 
They saw the light. A star caught their attention, and they followed it.

God has a lot of ways to get our attention. 
It may not have happened to you, but it has happened to a lot of us. 
A lot of folks here can remember a time when God set them straight, 
turned them around, answered a prayer. You may not want to tell too many people, 
but you would even say, “yes, I heard words. I really did.”

I can say that; I will say that. 
When I was 19, I was in my first year of college, 
and I was at a point in my life 
when I was starting really to ask questions about God, 
about being a Christian. And I was going to a Bible study. 
And out of the blue, I heard Christ speak in my heart. 
I can’t really put it into words, but it was clear: 
he was calling me to follow him, 
just like he did with Peter and Andrew, James and John and others.

That’s what happened to me. Other people have different experiences. 
Maybe not dramatic; but one way or the other, God gets your attention.
For these Seekers in the Gospel, it was a star. 
They saw the light, and they followed it.

If you’re thinking, I’m not sure I’ve ever had that experience, 
that may be true. It hasn’t happened for you yet. 
But consider this: is it possible God’s been speaking, and you missed it?
Because a lot of times, we know what God’s saying. 
We aren’t ready to listen. 
To put it into the terms of this Gospel, who knows 
if many other people saw that star; 
but they didn’t do anything about it?
These Seekers did. 

So they followed the light, and it led them to the Light: the True Light.
They brought treasure; but indeed, they were led to Treasure.
Nothing they brought Jesus could equal 
what Jesus himself offered them.

So: here we are. We were led here today. 
Maybe your parents didn’t give you a choice.
Maybe it’s just habit.
But there are people here I know were determined to come. 
It fills me with admiration, because I know some of you 
have aches and pains and it’s cold; and if it were sleeting and snowing and blowing, 
you’d still be here! 

In 15 years as a priest, I’ve learned that 
no matter how bad the weather is – it could be “Snowapocalypse” – 
and there will be two or three intrepid souls in the pews on Sunday.
You know who you are. You are like the Magi, following the star. 
Remember, Jesus said: “Ask, and you shall receive!”

Seek the Light; receive the Light.

But now let’s notice what the other readings talked about. 
Isaiah told us that the Light would shine first on his people, Israel. 
But then, the light would shine to the world. 
“Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.
[L]ook about; they all gather and come to you…from afar.”

How does the Light reach the whole world? That’s your part, and mine.
The Wise Men in the Gospel did their part. 
We have no record of it, but tradition tells us 
they went from Bethlehem and spread the light.
They finished their time on earth and were called to eternity.

Likewise the Apostles, and those who knew them 
and heard their witness.
Generation by generation, the light has been passed to you.

Children, do you know what happened when you were baptized? 
The priest handed a light – a lit candle – to your godparent. 
And that godparent’s job, with your parents and family, 
is to get that light of faith into your hands, so it’s not theirs, 
but yours.

When I was a kid, I found my baptismal candle, 
and I didn’t really appreciate its meaning; I burned it up. 
I’m sorry I did that; I wish I had it today. 
It stands for the light you and I receive in baptism, 
and no matter what anyone says or does, 
nothing can put it out, Only you and I can do that.

And, thankfully, if we do, God gives us back that light 
when we go to confession. God wants us filled with light.
Each one of us is then that light someone else needs to see!
OK, so how does that work, exactly?

It isn’t something we “do,” like going to work, 
or completing our assignments for school, 
or even like coming to Mass each week.

Sometimes people will say, “OK I want to share Christ with others! 
So what do I say? I don’t know how to handle this or that situation! What do I do then?”

It’s not mainly what you say or do; 
it’s a matter of who you are.
To put it in theological terms, it starts not with our efforts, 
but God’s grace. 
Christ brings the light – it lives in us. 

This candle? This is me. This is my life, your life.
But the light? (Light candle.) The candle can’t do that for itself.
That comes from Christ. Let him change you. 

To our eyes it may seem small, maybe almost invisible.
Don’t worry about it. That’s God’s work. 
Be the light. Let it happen in you.
You and I will not know, until eternity, 
how even the smallest words or actions of ours 
can set great things in motion. 

When you are out and about, eating a meal, don’t be afraid 
to make the sign of the cross and say grace. 
It’s a small thing, but powerful.
We’re giving out blessed chalk today with a prayer, 
so you can mark your house as belonging to Christ. 
It’s a nice old tradition, and if you have kids, they’ll love it. 

It’s a reminder that each year belongs to Jesus:
This is the year of the Lord, 2018.

Small acts of kindness; everyday faithfulness, 
when witnessed by others, over time 
become a blazing sign of God’s grace.

You and I are here: we have followed the light, 
whether we knew it or not, here we are. 
Christ brought you here to change you.
To be light through you.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

What the Holy Family and your family have in common (Sunday homily)

If you have been keeping track, 
we heard about eight people in these readings: 
Abraham and Sarah and Isaac; Simeon and Anna; 
Mary and Joseph, and the Lord Jesus.

Each one, in a different way, had faced hard blows. 
Think of Sarah’s heartbreak in not being able to have a child. 
Anna who lost her husband after only seven years of marriage. 
Mary and Joseph having their lives turned upside down by God’s Plan.

So, a simple lesson. You are not alone. If you think your life is a mess; 
or if you are discouraged, or even ashamed, 
by the problems your family has, you are in good company.

And I will make a further point. 
When God asked these folks to take a step of faith,
Each of them could have said, “Not me!” for good reasons.
Too old! Abraham and Sarah could have said.
I’ve suffered enough, Anna could have said.
I have no experience, Mary could have said.

On this feast of the Holy Family, it is really important to remember that no family, 
including the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, 
fits the “ideal” – that is, the ideal that is portrayed in happy stories, 
or which we concoct in our own imaginations.

No family is like that, because it does not exist!

So realize that holiness is not something we will eventually get to, 
after the holidays, after the bills are paid, 
once things settle down at work, once the children are a little older, 
when we have a little more financial security…
You get the idea? Later, later…

No. The Holy Family is holy not in idyllic serenity 
but in hectic, even frantic circumstances. 
They are poor. They are looking for housing. Joseph is looking for work. 
They are scorned and insulted. Their taxes are too high. 
The Romans push them around. They are in danger of death – 
they have to flee to another country. 
They are separated from friends and family. 

In the midst of all this, somehow they find time to worship; 
Joseph, after a long day’s work, finds time to pray and listen to God.
Mary ponders all these things in her heart.
They find holiness not apart from, 
but precisely in these circumstances.

That’s how it was for the Holy Family, 
and that’s how it is for you and me.

Monday, December 25, 2017

What difference does Christ make? (Christmas homily)

This year, at last, we have something of a white Christmas. 
That doesn’t happen here very often, 
and that always seems to make a difference.

Christmas seems to be a “come inside” sort of time; it is cold outside, 
and dark or cloudy most of the time. 
We want to be where it’s warm and bright.

It is also a “come together” time. Looking out at your faces, 
I see many of our college students and other family members 
who now live elsewhere, now home. 
At the same time, there are many 
who are on the road to family elsewhere. 

So now that we’re all inside, and all together, let me ask a question:
What difference does Christmas really make? 
That is to say, what difference does Christ make?

If we are honest, there are multiple reasons we are here.

Yes, it’s one of the really important holy days, so there’s that.
The church and the music are beautiful, 
and it brings such good memories.

Or we might say, well, it just wouldn’t feel right not to go to Mass, 
at least on this day of all days.
And, some would probably admit they are here, to some degree,
to make someone else happy.

Will you entertain the possibility that there is grace at work here? 
That the hand of providence played a role?

I predict, right now, that there will be folks who came to Mass today, 
who will leave having awakened to a reason you needed to be here; 
But you only saw it after you were here.

We can fool ourselves into thinking Christmas is about lots of things.
Yet the truth is that underneath it all, 
Christmas is finally about just one thing: and that is a child. 
The child who is Jesus Christ.

So back to my question: what difference does he make?

Many people seem to have decided that the answer is, not much. 
Or, at least, not that much that affects me.
So we have a growing number of people today 
who are called “nones”: meaning they have no religious affiliation.
And many of these are folks who grew up as Christians; and others, 
who never had any particular religious practice growing up.

This includes several members of my own family.

On this day when we hear the word “light” 
repeated in the prayers and the readings –
our churches and our homes are likewise adorned with light – 
I’d like to point out some of the light we would not have, 
if there were no Christmas. Three ways Christ makes a difference.

First, Christ makes the difference of bringing forgiveness.
It seems to me that our society is less forgiving.
And let me point out that there is a difference 
between a society that forgives, 
and a society that decides that what used to be wrong, no longer is. 

So, to use an example: we have many people 
who have come to our country in violation of the laws. 
Most people agree this is a problem; 
Where we disagree is over the right solution.

In the midst of this we have two notable phenomena:
First, that there is a hardness of some people’s hearts
when it comes to forgiving the transgression of the law; 
and second, a growing insistence by others that
there was nothing actually wrong with breaking the law 
in the first place.

But you see, these go hand-in-hand: if you cannot hope for forgiveness, 
you aren’t going to admit you are wrong. 
Does that sound familiar, married couples?

Many people find it hard to forgive; and it often is very hard.
Let me just point out that there isn’t anyone here, 
over the age of, say, two, who hasn’t been forgiven, 
both generously and continuously through your life.
Much of it you aren’t even aware of, or you’re forgotten.
Don’t believe me? Ask your parents!

The power to forgive comes from Christ. And remember, 
that is why he came. He was born, knowing that he would die. 
The wood of the manger in which he lay 
foreshadowed the wood of the Cross on which he would say, 
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And that is all of us.

Another difference Christ makes? 
He came to give us the power to change.

Now, a lot of us will say, but I don’t change! 
When I go to confession, 
I keep bringing the same sins over and over. 
I never seem to overcome my bad habits.

It is true that change comes hard and slow.
And yet it will come, if we are humble enough to ask God’s help.

Meanwhile there are miracles of change that happen all the time; 
they serve to show just how powerful the Holy Spirit is, 
when we truly yield to him.

I think of a man named Charles Colson. 
In the 60s and 70s, he was a rising political activist. 
He reached a position of great power in the Nixon White House – 
only to be brought low by his own pride; 
he was, by his own admission, “ruthless” in pursuing political power.

One of his boasts was instigating a riot that left 70 people injured; 
and he helped destroy the good names of many people.
When he went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, 
he was a much hated man. 
But the prayers and witness of Christians around him, 
along with humiliation of his fall from power, changed Chuck Colson.
He went on to spend almost 40 years – until his death – 
working for prison reform 
and to be a voice for those society often prefers to forget about. 
When he died in 2012, 
he had been honored around the world for his good work. 

What had changed him? Christ changed him. 

Finally, let me note one more difference Christ makes: 
His coming into the world lets us know that no matter what we face, 
and however alone you or I may feel,
We are never actually alone.

Christmas isn’t just about God communicating to the world; 
he has done that countless times through the ages.

But as the letter to the Hebrews says, 
“in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son” – 
who was born of the Virgin Mary. Human like us. 
Poor and forgotten as so many are. Powerless and ignored.

He felt the same sting of mocking words that every schoolchild knows. 
Jesus’ hands bore the same scars and callouses 
that our parents and grandparents earned, 
building their farms and this community.

Jesus knows what it is to be betrayed by a trusted friend, 
And to stand up for what is right, and be left alone.
Make no mistake, there have always been rich and powerful people, 
And to this day, 
they still tend to have plenty of strings to pull to get what they want.

But the difference Christ makes is that God has cast his lot, 
not with the comfortable, but with the cast out;
not the lordly, but rather the lowly.

God chose a poor and hidden birth, as well as a criminal’s death, 
so that there would be no one – not anyone at all – who could say:
I am too low, I am too poor, I am too awful for Christ to care for me!

There is not one of us who Christ does not want to call brother, 
so that we can be part of his family, 
to know the life of the Blessed Trinity.
This is what Christ invites you to. This is why he came.
There is not one of us here who Christ did not come to forgive, 
to change, and to be our companion for life and eternity!

This is why the hand of providence brought us here;
these are the gifts the Christ Child brings on this Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

No Sunday homily...

Because our deacon will give the homily at all Masses this weekend. We planned that precisely because of Christmas falling on Monday.

So watch this space for my Christmas homily instead!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Advent isn't about what you think it is (Sunday homily)

Maybe you have noticed during the last few weeks,
the readings at Mass have been about the end of time.
On the Feast of Christ the King, we heard about the final judgment;
and the past two weeks have been about Jesus’ Final Coming.
So today, we heard about a “year of favor” and a “day of vindication.”

In fact, this is the overriding theme of Advent.
At some point or another, you have to ask:
what’s this got to do with Christmas?

I’m going to say something that will surprise you, but:
Advent is not about preparing for Christmas!
At least, not primarily. Rather, it is about preparing for Eternity.

The focus is on the far horizon of time
when Christ will put the elect on his right and the damned on his left;
and he will usher in the New Creation,
when you and I will become the redeemed humanity we long to be.

So where does Christmas fit in? Christmas is the down-payment!

Stop and consider the way we celebrate Christmas as a society;
and you’ll see that it actually distorts our focus.
We start seeing ads and TV specials hinting at Christmas
back in October; or September, or August?

Stores put up decorations and displays. The music starts.
We have handicraft sales and sleigh rides.

Right after Hallowe’en we start putting up trees and lights,
The parties start to pile up, we have christmas, a little more Christmas,
and then, HERE IT IS, December 25, CHRISTMAS! Exhaustion!
It’s over! Here come the bills, ouch!

See that? We’ve turned Christmas into the climax, the high point.
But what if that’s all wrong?
Christmas isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.
It is the down payment on the complete redemption of humanity;
on the New Creation, on what lies ahead for each of us.

So again, Advent is mainly about eternity;
because eternity is the real point of our lives as Christians.
If someone asks, why be a Christian, the short answer is,
Because of the eternity Jesus offers us.

Jesus came to fix what went wrong with humanity.
That’s why he was born; that’s why he died and rose.
You and I join our lives to his, living for him, watching for him,
Till he comes again to bring us to that fullness of life.

It occurs to me that we do not talk enough about eternity.
This world crowds in, demanding urgent attention.
The phone rings; bills need to be paid.
The kids need a ride to basketball practice.

Even so, eternity is our focus.
Reminding ourselves of this helps us
make sense of everything God asks,
 and everything we say “no” to for the sake of Christ.
The disciplines and demands of our Faith
are just like what a coach asks of her team;
or what a drill sergeant does in training his squad.
“We’re getting ready,” he says, “for what’s coming next."

If you are preparing for your wedding,
it makes sense that you got your shoes polished, your hair cut,
you rented a fancy tuxedo, and put all that gear on.
But who would go to all that trouble, and then just sit in a room?

This is a good time to recall the ancient Christian practice
of giving up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom,
which lives on in priests and religious, of course.

Why should anyone give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom?
So many people, especially in our time, simply do not understand it.
Nor do they get why anyone would take vows in religious life,
and enter a convent or monastery.

Is it because we think marriage is something bad?
Hardly: we call it a sacrament. Marriage is something very, very good.

And that is precisely the point.
There’s nothing noteworthy about giving up a bad thing.
But when someone gives up something extraordinarily good,
the natural question is, why?

And the answer is, they are looking to something better.
To eternity. That is why when you see religious sisters and brothers,
their faces are lit with an other-worldly light.
They have given up possessions and the world and marriage,
and they are full of joy.

To embrace the religious life is to be a mirror of eternity,
so that people see in your life, not the ordinary things of this world,
but the New Creation that we hope for.
People see that you are dressed and ready for the Kingdom.

How do you know if you are called to the religious life?
Well, if you find yourself longing for more: for more prayer;
for more Mass; for more than this world can offer; for more Christ:
Then this calling may be for you.

All the same, it is not only priests and religious
who are called to be a witness to hope.
Every single Christian – every one of us –
is asked by Christ to be such a mirror of eternity.

And if that sounds demanding, it is.
But then, realize that life makes more sense
when we keep our focus on what we’re working toward and waiting for.

So to come back to my main theme:
Advent is not mainly about Christmas – but Eternity.
After all, Christmas, too, is really about Eternity.
Jesus did not come into the world to be changed into the world;
Rather, he came in order to change the world into himself.

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis,
wrote a wonderful book called the Screwtape Letters,
which centers on a fanciful correspondence between two devils.
In one chapter, the more experienced devil explains to the novice
that while “humans live in time, [God] destines them for eternity.
He therefore…wants them to attend chiefly to two things:
to eternity itself, and to…the present,
the point at which time touches eternity.”

Even so: right now, at this present moment, “time touches eternity.”
Right now, just out of reach, in the jangle of thoughts and emotions,
just past the uncertainty, in between our actions and reactions,
in the frightening silence, there is eternity.

Eternity is right here. Everything about Holy Mass
is meant to make this real to us, and to whet our appetite for it.
The Eucharist is – truly is –
Eternity wrapped up in the thinnest, barest gossamer of time.

If you knew you would enter Eternity a day from now,
or an hour from now, what would be different?
What would you do differently?

Of course, Eternity is here, right here, right now.