Because of the coronavirus, at Blessed Sacrament we’re doing our best to allow people to pray the Mass even if they cannot physically be there. One of the way’s we’re doing that is by streaming as often as possible on our parish Facebook page. I’ve included today’s Mass, which I celebrated, in this post. The Mass begins at time 3:30 in the video.
We are nearing the end of Lent. Next week, we celebrate Palm Sunday, where we read through Jesus’s Passion and Death. In just two weeks, we celebrate Easter Sunday, and we remember the most important event in the history of the universe. But we aren’t there yet. We still have time to prepare ourselves to celebrate these most sacred mysteries. We still have to root out the last traces of sin in our lives, ask God to forgive us, and to turn fully towards God’s loving mercy. There is time to turn away from the past and look toward the future.
God, through his prophet Isaiah tells us today to remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago. He calls us instead to look at his work, saying to us, see, I am doing something new! God tells us that he is bringing streams of living water to the desert, so that his people can live. But the water God gives his people is so much more than refreshment for our bodies. God’s water is refreshment for our souls. When we first encountered this water in Baptism, God built a river through the desert of the world leading directly to our hearts, so that his water of love and grace could flow directly into our souls. God is constantly sending his water into our souls, so that we can drink and live.
Sometimes, though, it is hard for us to perceive this stream of grace and love. The woman in today’s Gospel probably struggled to see these waters. She had been caught in adultery, still punishable by death at that time. The crowd wanted to stone her, or at least the crowd claims to want to stone her. Jesus does not even engage the question. He instead draws in the sand. We don’t know what he wrote. Too much ink has been spilled over 2,000 years trying to guess what Jesus wrote. If it was important, the Gospel writer would have told us. What the writer tells us is that Jesus did not engage the crowd. Instead he said let him who is without sin cast the first stone. This is so much more than calling the angry mob on their bluff. What he is really telling them is that they have no authority to judge this woman, because they too are sinners under the eyes of the law. The crowd eventually disperses, leaving only Jesus and the woman. I imagine that the woman was still quite terrified. Jesus, being totally sinless under the law, would have been justified in casting the first stone. Instead, he does something new. He tells the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her to go forth and sin no more. Jesus has forgiven her. He gives her a drink of his healing water. He builds a stream of living water into her soul so that she may stop sinning. But he also tells her to Go. Jesus tells her to go, and to bring his living water into the rest of the world.
We hear this same word, go, at the end of every Mass: Go in peace. Go in forth, the Mass is ended. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your Life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like the woman in her encounter with Jesus, our sins are forgiven when we encounter Jesus at Mass. The woman received living water, but we receive something even greater: the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, which is truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist.1 The Eucharist feeds and nourishes, and it strengthens our souls to receive God’s grace. Finally, we are sent forth to the world, just like the woman in today’s Gospel. At every Mass, Jesus is doing something new. He is transforming us and sending us out, so that we might transform the world around us.
As we approach the
culmination of Lent, as we approach the deepest mysteries of our faith, as we
approach the holiest and most important days of not just the year, but of all
time, let us remember that Jesus desires to do something new in us. He desires
to forgive our sins, and he desires for us to go and be streams of living water
that bring life back into the world.
April 7th, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Lent
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11
Note: this homily was given July 15, 2018. I apologize for the late posting.
While I was reading through the first reading, it occurred to me that maybe Amos didn’t really want to be a prophet. He certainly didn’t ask to be a prophet. It sounds like he was perfectly happy being a shepherd and sycamore dresser… whatever that is. Anyway, that is all somewhat beside the point, because Amos gave it all up when he received a call from God. God called Amos to travel to north and prophesy to the people of Israel. I would hazard a guess that Amos was not a huge fan of this career change, but he trusted God and went along with it. The people of the north were not, it turns out, big fans of what Amos had to say, judging by their reaction. I’m pretty sure they wanted to kill him. Amos did not let this deter him, and he continued, undeterred, on his God-given mission.
The apostles had several of their very own “Amos moments.” They had all been called by Jesus to follow him. That was probably “Amos moment” number one. So, they start following Jesus around, learn from him, and watch him perform miracles. They probably are thinking that they’ve got a pretty sweet gig going on with this Jesus dude. Then Jesus told them that now it’s their turn. Talk about an “Amos moment.” He gives them authority to cast out unclean spirits, and he tells them that they are going to go preach repentance to the towns of Israel. Not only were they to go on this crazy mission journey, but they couldn’t bring any money or supplies with them. They were sent with the clothes on their back, a walking stick, and shoes. (Fun fact: When Jesus sent them out in Matthew and Luke, they didn’t have shoes!) Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the mission either. He told them that some towns would be unreceptive. Jesus challenged the apostles to get out of their comfort zones, and he demanded that they rely fully upon God. The apostles went out, and they did their mission. If we read ahead in Mark a little bit, (spoiler alert!) we see that when the apostles came back, they were excited! They could not wait to tell Jesus about their journeys.
I would venture to say that every one of us here has had our own “Amos moment.” We are living our lives, going about our business dressing sycamores or whatever, and then God calls us to something radically different. My biggest “Amos moment” was when I realized I was being called to go to seminary and “do the whole priest thing.” I was happy working at Learjet; I was on track to move up in the company; I was physically in better shape than I am now; and, I thought my life was going pretty well. But, one day, while I was at daily Mass before work, God sent me a little message: “you should be on the other side of that altar.” I initially resisted, but I can now confidently say that I am happier than I have ever been, even though this was not my plan. When I run into roadblocks or struggles with this vocation, I plan to follow Amos’s lead: to continue, undeterred, with following God’s plan.
God has a special and unique plan for each one of us, but that doesn’t mean that God has a different goal for each of us. He wants every single person here to be holy. He wants us to be holy because when we’re holy, not only are we allowed to enter into Heaven when we die, but also because when we are holy we change the world. How we live out holiness will vary from person to person, but that call to holiness never changes. I am called to be holy by being ordained a priest (in a little less than a year) and serving God’s people. Most of us are called to be holy by marrying and raising a holy family. Some are called to be holy by withdrawing from the world and entering into religious life. The variations of God’s plan don’t end there. Our individual jobs and volunteer activities, too, are ways in which we can be holy. Every one of us can affect the world in a different way, and if we do our best to make the world a more holy place, then we are fulfilling God’s plan.
What’s even better about this mission of holiness is that God never sends us alone. He didn’t send the apostles alone, he sent them two-by-two, and he similarly does not send us alone. We have our parishes, our families, and our friends to accompany us on our mission. Admittedly, some families and friends are not always particularly helpful—even the apostles had to deal with a Judas amongst them. That’s not the point, though. The point is that we aren’t ever alone in our mission. Even when every worldly institution fails us, God will always be with us.
On top of that, God will always give us the tools that we need to do his work. The apostles had already been learning from Jesus’s preaching, had watched him perform many healings, and had observed as he cast out many demons. Jesus gave the apostles authority over unclean spirits, and then he sent them out to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. We, too, have been given gifts for our mission to make the world holy. Jesus teaches us through the readings, the Gospel, and the Mass itself every time we attend. (Hopefully, us preachers have helped a little with our homilies too!) I doubt any of us here has been given the specific authority to cast out demons, but we have received even greater gifts than that. God has given us the Sacraments, which are more powerful than any exorcism. Baptism and Confirmation mark us as children of God, under his protection. Marriage and Holy Orders give special graces which are necessary to follow those two vocations. The Anointing of the Sick uses oil, just as the apostles did in today’s Gospel, and heals our soul—and sometimes even heals our bodies!
I will single out the two remaining sacraments as extremely special and valuable in our mission to bring holiness to the world. The sacrament of Confession, Reconciliation, Penance, Getting in the Box with Father, whatever you want to call it, is vital for our personal holiness. In that sacrament, God takes away our sins. He forgives them. It is, possibly, the most intimate and personal encounter with God’s mercy that is possible on this side of Heaven. In Confession, God tells us that what we’ve done in the past is in the past. No matter how big or small our sin, He will forgive us. Sure, maybe we will have to say a couple extra “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers,” but God will forgive us. What really matters is how we go forward: we must go forward and do our best to love God. Every time we go to Confession, we get the grace we need to pick ourselves up and try again to follow God. When God says, through the priest, “I absolve you of your sins,” we can be confident not only of God’s mercy, but also that our sins truly are forgiven.
We finally come to the Eucharist. The Eucharist feeds our souls: God enters us, and in doing so, he transforms us. The Eucharist is an incredibly powerful sacrament, and we cannot underestimate how much it can change us. St. John Vianney once said that, “if we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina said that, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” If Confession is the closest encounter with God’s mercy on this side of Heaven, then the Eucharist is the closest encounter with God’s love. God loves us so much that he is willing to enter into us as food, to nourish us in both body and soul. How wonderful is that!
When we run into one of those “Amos moments” in our lives, let us not be afraid to follow God’s will. Even though it may be challenging, God will never let us struggle alone. He will be with us every step of the way. Often, we will have even more help from the Church and those around us. On top of all that, we have the Sacraments, those beautiful moments of God’s grace which not even the Apostles had when they went on their first missionary journeys. May we all strive to become more holy every day of our lives, and by doing that, may we transform the world. The reward—Heaven—is worth it.
July 15, 2018
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)
Christ was crucified for us. He died for us. He was buried for us. He descended into hell for us. He rose from the dead for us. He gave us the promise of eternal life. He also gave us a mission: to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name—starting in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the Earth.
We need repentance because we still must keep the commandments of the Lord and follow his will. Sadly, because of original sin, this is very hard. Repentance is our ability to recognize our failure to follow God and to turn ourselves back toward him. There are many ways which we can define sin, but one of the simplest is, “when we turn away from God.” Repentance, using that terminology, would be, “when we turn back to God.” Repentance is hard work! It is not easy! Paul preaches this to us, when he laments that his spirit is willing, but his flesh is weak.
Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand. As God forgives us our sins, so too must we forgive others. I think that for this teaching to really be understood, that we should try to understand what God is forgiving when he forgives our sins. God is the Infinite Good, who created us from nothing. When we commit an offense against him, we are not simply ignoring some governing official. We are turning away from the God who made us from nothing. We are committing an offense that grieves God.1 Ultimately, all our sins are against God—all of our sins grieve the all-powerful, all-loving, all-giving God. 2
To truly repent of our sins, we must be like God and imitate he does—we are, after all, created in his image and likeness. This process of conversion and forgiveness will cleanse our hearts. It will bring us closer to God.
But we cannot stop with just forgiving those who wrong us! We must preach this message to the ends of the earth! Jesus himself told us that this must happen. The apostles did this, leaving Jerusalem and reaching as far as Spain and India, before they were ultimately martyred. The Churches founded by the apostles continued this work, bringing the faith to every corner of the world—Africa, Asia, Russia, the Americas. We are all called, as members of the Body of Christ, to continue this work.
We must forgive others, but we cannot only speak with our actions. Actions are critical for any sharing of faith, but they are not enough. Paul spoke at any synagogue that would let him. Peter spoke at Pentecost, and with his words influenced thousands We, too, must speak the truth of repentance and forgiveness. We must speak the truth of God’s love and generosity. We establish relationships through our actions. After building a relationship, we can lead people to God with our words, through our preaching.
Only words can explain the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist. Only the words of a priest, “I absolve you of you sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” can take away sins. 3
Let’s lead lives of repentance and forgiveness. Let’s live our lives following God’s commandments—which will ultimately lead us to happiness. Let’s live lives where we preach the Good News of the Gospel with our actions and our words, so that the Joy of Easter can be shared all around the world!
April 15, 2018
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48
We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”
An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.
In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.
This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.
Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.
Today’s Readings: Acts 3:11-26; Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 24:35-48
Isaiah today compares the Word of God to rain. It will not return to until it has made the ground fertile and fruitful. The Word of God—Jesus Christ—did come down to Earth. He watered the ground with the water and blood from his side, and he remained here until the Church could stand on its own. This prophesy from Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
But that is not all, one of the seeds that Jesus planted was a prayer. Specifically, the Lord’s Prayer. Today’s Gospel recounts Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer to the disciples. Afterwards, he reinforces a particularly challenging section of the prayer, saying: “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Forgiveness is not an option. We must forgive. To do that, we must pray to God for assistance. Forgiveness, like salvation, is too difficult for men and women to do on their own—we must ask God for help.
God will always bring us this help. Today’s Psalm ends with amazing words of comfort: “When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” We are all trying to be just in God’s sight. Whenever we ask for help to love God or neighbor, to forgive, God will not hold back. Even if we are broken and crushed, God can give us the strength that we need to carry on and—more importantly—to forgive.
Today’s Readings: Is 55:10-11; Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; Mt 6:7-15