God has planted the trees and caused them to grow. It’s not all on us.
Homily for June 13, 2021.
God has planted the trees and caused them to grow. It’s not all on us.
Homily for June 13, 2021.
God tells us today, through his prophet Ezekiel, that he will take a tender shoot from the highest branches of a cedar tree and plant it in the mountains of Israel, making a home for birds of every kind and every sort of winged thing. Christ also mentions a tree to us today, a tree which grows large enough so that all the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade. When we read such things, it is tempting to think we are somehow related to the seeds or the trees. For example, we can understand the mustard seed as a seed of faith planted in our hearts so that virtue, represented by the birds, may find shelter in our souls. This is, certainly, a good way to understand the parable. When we put the parable into a greater Biblical context, I think a somewhat different reality emerges: We are the birds.
We human beings love to do things. We like to build stuff. (Unless we are 3 year old boys, in which case we like to destroy stuff.) We like to be able to say, “I did that!” and maybe slap our name on the thing. It is no different in our spiritual lives. We like to claim that we are in control. That our hard efforts at prayer and asceticism led to us being good Christians. While this is, to an extent, true, we must recognize one very important thing: We are the birds. We aren’t in control. And that’s OK. God has provided a place for us to find refreshment and rest from our labors. He invites us to stay and make our home with him in the shady branches he has provided for us. The tree is the Kingdom of God, and we are invited to live there.
When we look at what God spoke through Ezekiel, we learn that the topmost branch of the cedar refers to the King of Israel. When God says he will take from the crest of the cedar and plant it on the highest mountain in Israel, (New Jerusalem Bible) he is undoubtedly giving us a glimpse of Calvary, where Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, was planted on Calvary. God tells us that this cedar he has planted shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. From Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, the Church gushed forth from his wounded side, and she spread through all the world, giving refuge to all the poor ones suffering from the tyranny of evil and sin. God finishes his speech through Ezekiel by saying I, the LORD, bring low the high tree, lift high the lowly tree, wither up the green tree, and make the withered tree bloom. God wants us to remember that he is in control, no matter what the political powers of this world might want us to think. Our trust belongs in God.
While we are still on this earth, though, we do not see God clearly, and it can be hard to trust him. Many things block our sight of God; so, we must walk by faith. St. Paul exhorts us to be courageous, and we certainly must be courageous. The Christian life is not easy. We stumble and fall constantly. Sometimes we fall flat on our face and lose the way entirely. We must pray always, asking God to show us the way and to have the strength to continue following him. No matter what sin we fight every day, we must bring it to prayer, surrender it to God, and ask for his help in finding our way back to him. For mortal sins, we bring them to confession so that the gaping wound in our soul can be sewn up and healed.
As we work to find our shelter in the Kingdom of God, let us also remember one more thing about birds. Birds help to scatter the seeds as well. As Christians, we are called to take the Good News and bring it to those around us, so that the Kingdom of God might grow. Most of us do this within our marriages. The love of spouses should be an image of the love of God: fruitful and beautiful. There are many, though, called to spread the Good News in a different way. Those of us called to religious life or to the priesthood are called to love just as fruitfully and beautifully. No matter what your vocation, do no be afraid to follow God. Do not let society deter you. If we follow society, we’ll find ourselves in a dead tree with no shade and recognize that we’re just a whole bunch of angry crows.
Instead, let God be in control. Fly into the branches of his kingdom. Let God lead you to his lush garden, full of beauty and peace.
June 13, 2021
Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:25-34
Without the prophetic witness of Catholics, we don’t stand a chance.
Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. If there were any doubt, this shows us that from the very beginning, God puts himself into solidarity with us.
Also, here the homily from Pope Francis that I mention: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200327_omelia-epidemia.html
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
“And Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
Death is not something in God’s original plan for mankind. Death is a consequence of sin, that original sin we hear about in Genesis. We don’t have time to get into all of that, but it is critical that we always remember that suffering and death are consequences of humanity’s turn away from God and towards itself. Even at the beginning, though, God had a plan to redeem us. In Genesis 3:15, we encounter what is called the Proto-Evangelium—the first good news—God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” If there were any doubt that God has put himself into solidarity with us, He sent his Son to become one of us, and this divine Son—God Incarnate—wept at the earthly death of his friend. Death makes God weep. Even though Jesus knew he would soon raise Lazarus, even though Jesus knew that death on this earth was not an end, but a beginning, even though he knew all of this: Jesus wept. He became “perturbed,” the Gospel says, that is, he became stern-faced and resolute, and he commanded Lazarus to come out. He showed his absolute lordship over life and death. Jesus shows today that while we may perish on this earth, death is no match for Him.
Here’s the problem, though: if Jesus, i.e., God, has absolute sovereignty over life and over death, if he hates sin and suffering and death even more than we do because he understands it more fully, if even a temporary death makes him weep, then why does he permit such things to happen? Jesus brings us the answer today. In John 11:4, we heard Jesus say, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Later—without having been informed by anyone—He informs the apostles in verse 14 that “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” To rephrase it slightly, God allows Lazarus to die so that many may come to faith because of the mighty that would be wrought by the hands of Jesus.
This all makes me think of the reflection Pope Francis gave on Friday during the extraordinary moment of prayer and Urbi et Orbi blessing. If you did not see it or have not read it, it is excellent. I would that you go to the Vatican’s website, read it, and reflect on it. The Holy Father, reflecting on the calming of the storm in Mark’s Gospel said, ‘we see how [the apostles] call on [Jesus]: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.’1
But how does Jesus care for us when we feel more like Lazarus: dead? Whether we want to admit it or not, something inside each of us has been killed—and many people have been killed—by this pestilence, this viral plague. The pope continues later, this plague ‘exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities.’ This plague, then, has been a call from God for us to wake up and remember our glory as human beings: that God emptied himself and became one of us to save us, to save us even from death itself, to save us from not only physical death, but also from a far more deadly and insidious spiritual death. The pope, showing us how God is calling us to glorify him, later continued, ‘[t]he Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.’
This is no easy task on our part. It requires faith and trust in God. We must believe and be confident in the knowledge that God has and will continue to save us from sin, suffering, and death. This challenge of faith is what Ezekiel confronts in our first reading today. To set the scene: the Israelites are exiled from their lands into Babylon. They are cut off from their temple and their temple worship of the Most High God. The entire book of Ezekiel is built around the message that God will NEVER abandon his beloved children. If you look at the first chapter of Ezekiel, it is, admittedly, a little trippy, but Ezekiel is struggling to communicate a vision of God that has at its core one truth: the throne of God moves. God goes anywhere and everywhere that He desires to go. That hasn’t changed in the last 2,618 years, and it never will. As we stay at home, separated from our parishes, unable to fully participate in worship, we face the same tragic question as the captives in Babylon all those years ago: How can I offer fitting worship to God? How can I truly celebrate the Lord’s day? How can I do these things separated from my brothers and sisters in Christ?
Ezekiel today tells the Israelites that God will open their graces and rise them up from them. God will continue to lift us up from our sorrow and breathe new life into us even now, during this time of challenging separation. And God does not stop there. He promises to bring Israel home. God never told Israel that their temple was not the most fitting place to offer him worship. It was the most fitting place to glorify him prior to the fulfillment of the old covenant and the establishment of the new covenant during the Easter Event. The most fitting place to offer God worship now is when we are assembled as a community to participate in the Easter Event which is made present during Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God has never taught us otherwise. But as the Israelites learned all those years ago, and as we are being forced to remember now: God will not allow himself to be sequestered or confined to that hour we spend at Church on Sunday. God lives within our hearts at every moment of every day. He desires to be with us and involved in every aspect of our lives. Through this plague, perhaps God is calling us to glorify him by putting our Easter faith back at the center of our lives. The psalmist today cries, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice!’ and ‘With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.’
Let us ask the Lord to increase our faith, so we glorify him every moment of our lives.
March 29, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45
“[He] will say to them in reply, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me… what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
The Golden Rule gets some teeth in today’s Gospel. A number of weeks ago, we heard that we must love God above all things, and we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Today’s Gospel reading makes it clear that to love our fellow man or woman is to love God. This standard—the standard of charity—is the measure by which we will be judged at the end of our days.
God sent his Son into this world to save us. God became human, and experienced humanity, just like you and I. He knows how hard it is to love our neighbor. Yet, Jesus tells us that this is how humanity will be judged.
This teaching is important simply by what it says, but its place in the Gospel also speaks to its important. Right after this parable, he is anointed on his head with expensive nard by a woman. This is similar to how kings were anointed in the Old Testament. He is betrayed, and condemned to death on false testimony. He experienced the absolute opposite of “love of neighbor” in every way: he was hated by the Jewish leaders and abandoned by his followers. His final teaching, “love your neighbor,” could have been lost forever, but in the midst of all his suffering, Jesus showed us that it is the only way we can live.
He refused to fight with the temple guard, and even healed the ear of one of the men who came to arrest him. He did not curse or argue with his false accusers, but proclaimed the truth when commanded to by the earthly authorities. He comforted the women while he was carrying a cross, after having been savagely beaten. He forgave his executioners. He even comforted and forgave one of the men being crucified with him: at the moment when he was most abandoned, most alone, most hater, he comforted the good thief. This is loving our neighbor.
Life can be hard. We won’t understand it. We won’t understand what others, including God, ask of us. Yet, we still must love our neighbors. Last week, when we read of the story of the talents, we learned this. God has loved each one of us, and he wants us to share this love with others. If we do not share our love with others, then we are burying it in the ground, and we will be judged for it. If we do share God’s love, God will welcome us into heaven and eternal happiness.
Christ destroyed death so that we might live with him forever, and all we must do is to have true charity in our hearts. True charity is not comfortable. It is hard, but the reward is so much sweeter. We will grow in our ability to love, and we will grow in our love for God. What a wonderful thing to gain!
How do we love? We love others when we care for them in their bodily needs: by helping at a soup kitchen; by donating to a clothing drive; by comforting those mourning the dead; by simply stopping to say hello to the beggar. We love others when we care for their spiritual needs: when we tell them the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it; when we love our enemies; when we pray for our enemies; when we stand up to evil in the world and say “ENOUGH.”
Love is not passive. It is very active. Love goes out, like the good shepherd, searching for others. It strives to bring them to God, so that they might be healed. It is hard work, but it is how we will be known as Christians. This is the defining character of the Kingdom of God: love. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, has built a kingdom, and he built it on the firm rock of love.
November 26, 2017
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
Last summer, a friend of mine died. It was unexpected. I was chatting with him on Friday night, and on Saturday morning his kayak overturned and through a tragic—and heroic—series of events, he died. (Story in: Local Paper, National Catholic Register; Obituary) I will admit, I wasn’t as close to Brian as his family or the seminarians who attended school with him, but he was a friend, and it stung me when he died. I was surprised, shocked and confused. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why? Why has God taken this great young man away from us, from his family, from the world? Why didn’t God reach out and grant him a little help getting to shore? Why?
I think that this is maybe a little like how Mary and Martha felt when Lazarus died. They knew that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying. It says so right in the Gospel: “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” But then Martha says something that shows her extreme depth of faith in Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha has not asked Jesus to raise Lazarus, but has simply expressed her trust that Jesus will do what is best. This reminds me of the episode at the Wedding of Cana, where the Mother of God’s last words in Sacred Scripture have the same sentiment: “Do whatever he tells you.” She does not tell Jesus what to do, but simply places her trust in him to do what is best. Like the Mother of God, Martha, and later Mary, both express this deep trust in Jesus.
The crowd does not share this faith. They ask, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” The Gospel said that Jesus became “perturbed” by this—Jesus was upset, unsettled. Some translations go so far as to say he was angered. Jesus then goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. Lazarus, who after four days in the tomb was expected to be rotting, was alive! Jesus had planned this from the beginning to increase the faith of his followers. It was a trial for Martha and Mary, but because of their faith, they also grew in true hope.
Deacon Andrew, Brian’s brother, talked about hope at his brother’s memorial Mass. As I sat there listening, in awe of the fact that he was able to compose himself better than I could compose myself, he said that “[h]ope is not sentiment or wishful thinking, it is the habit by which we long for a good, stretching forth for a future good not yet attained. We would not reach out for a good unless it existed and was truly possible. We have hope in eternal salvation and for the reunion of our loved ones because it is indeed possible. Although not a given, and not easy, the Lord makes it possible, and that is why we have hope.” Doesn’t this sound like the Gospel story today? This trial was not easy for Martha and Mary. They desired for Lazarus to be with them. They knew that with God anything was possible. While those who are close to us who die do not typically rise from the dead, we can hope to be reunited with them in eternity.
But for this to be a legitimate hope, we must remember that to meet our loved ones in Heaven, we must actually get to Heaven. In hell, we are cut off from God and we become closed in on ourselves. (See CCC 1033-1037.) Some say that “hell is other people,” but that is not true. Hell consists of eternal separation not only from God, but from other people. The difficulty in getting to Heaven is why we must have hope in order to get there. Hope is necessary when there is something in between us and a good. Martha and Mary had hope that Jesus would bring good out of the situation, even though Lazarus was dead. The Mother of God had hope that Jesus would bring good out of the situation, even though the wine had run out. Deacon Andrew and his family had hope that his brother had fought the good fight, and been filled by the spirit sufficiently that he could reach Heaven. Furthermore, they have hope that they will live sufficiently good lives that they’ll get to see him again in Heaven after their time in this world in complete.
Hope is a gift given to us by the Holy Spirit. (See CCC 1817-1821.) If we do not allow ourselves to be filled by the Spirit, we will not be able to have true hope. The prophet Ezekiel and Paul both talk about the Spirit filling us today. Paul writes that we must follow the Spirit, not the flesh. We must allow the Spirit of Christ to fill us, he writes. This Spirit gives life to us in many ways. It gives us the life of virtues, and it gives us many spiritual gifts every day. God, through His Holy Spirit who lives within each one of us, gives us innumerable gifts each and every day. In this way, He supports us in our spiritual life. Through Confession, the Spirit acts in a special way and raises us from spiritual death—something far greater than a simple bodily raising from the dead. But even this is promised to us in Ezekiel. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, God promises to open the graves of his people and send out his Spirit, so that we may live and know that He is Lord.
So how do we open ourselves to this Spirit?
It is simple, but also extremely difficult. We must develop a personal relationship with God. To do this takes time. We must pray daily: perhaps we could say a daily Rosary, meditate daily on the Scriptures, or spend some time in private mental prayer every day. We must attend Mass frequently. While attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is good, this is one thing where more is better. Consider attending Mass during the week some time. We must us the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly. Reconciliation forgives us our sins and raises us from spiritual death. It restores our relationship with God that becomes lost and clouded by the dirt and grime of sin. We should study our faith, especially in regards to Jesus Christ and the Gospels, Mary the Mother of God and the other saints, as well as the many devotions and practices that have been developed over the years to help us all grow in our faith.
After experiences of death, of personal suffering, and of confusion, I have always found my faith a comfort. My relationship with God grows stronger through each trial, because each trial forces me to recognize that I cannot do this without him. We are all called to be friends with God, to be filled with his Spirit. We are all called to have faith and hope in God. When we have even a little bit of true faith, we can move mountains.
So let us continue to build our relationship with God every day, and allow him to help us, especially by the use of the Sacraments.
Today’s Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45
The reading from Ezekiel today reminds us that we are responsible for our own actions, and that every action matters. The good person who commits a bad action is not “off the hook” because he’s a generally good person. That person still must answer for the bad act. Similarly, the bad person who committed a good act should be commended for having done a good thing. God wants us all to be good and to do good things. What we often forget is that the way to become a good person is to do good things—even small things—over and over again. The way to become a bad person is to repeatedly do bad things—even small ones—over and over again. There is a lot of truth in the saying “fake it until you make it.” If we do good things, even though they feel unnatural or like we are just faking it, eventually we become the type of person who does good things. This goes both ways, so we must always be careful to make sure we aren’t going to wrong direction.
Jesus in the Gospel today reminds us that the small things do matter. The little decisions which make up our day turn us into the person who we are. Maybe we do not kill, but we often can be angry. Jesus is telling us to resolve this anger. We should focus on the little things in our lives before they become big things.
We don’t need to do amazing feats of charity if we aren’t able to. It is in the little things of our day-to-day living where we become the person we desire to be. If we make poor decisions and do bad things, that eventually is reflected in our lives, often as pain, suffering and strife. If we make good decisions and do good things, that too is reflected in our lives, often as joy, peace and happiness.
Today’s Readings: Ez 18:21-28; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8; Mt 5:20-26