Tuesday, May 30, 2017

WIND, FIRE, TONGUES


WIND, FIRE, TONGUES
Pentecost, Year A.  Acts 2:1-11.
AIM - To help the hearers understand the Spirit=s work: in the Church and in us.
 
There are events so wonderful, and so full of mystery, that ordinary language cannot describe them. Such was the Pentecost event which we celebrate today. In our first reading Luke, the writer, uses symbols to describe something beyond the power of words to portray. The coming of God=s Spirit, he writes, was Alike a strong driving wind.@ ATongues as of fire@ rested on these first Christians, who suddenly received power Ato speak in different tongues.@ These three symbols B wind, fire, tongues B are not arbitrary.  Each tells us something about God and his mysterious work in the world.
1.  Wind.  The word used by Luke is used elsewhere in Scripture to designate a person=s Abreath@ or Aspirit.@ (Cf. Gen. 2:7; Acts 17:25) At birth breathing begins.  At death it ceases. The coming of God=s Spirit is said to have been Alike wind@ because the Spirit is the Church=s breath. Before the coming of this Spirit-breath, the Church=s life was something like that of an unborn child in the womb. Only with the coming of this Astrong driving wind@ did the Church receive the fullness of divine life.
This divine breath gives the Church an astonishing power of self-renewal.  Again and again in history the Church has become so corrupt through the sins of its members that people have predicted its imminent demise. Yet time and again the Church has risen, through the power of this divine Spirit-breath, renewed and purified. For this recurring phenomenon there is but one possible explanation the fact that the Church lives not from its own strength, and certainly not from the strength of its members, but from the continual in-breathing of God=s Spirit, who is the Church=s life-breath. 
2.  Fire warms. When breathing stops, so does body heat. Deep within the collective soul of this great family of God which we call the Catholic Church is the fire of the world=s greatest love: the unbounded love of God for all he has made. That is the secret of the Church=s magnetism. People in the Church who are cold, hard-hearted, always ready to criticize, to complain, block the warmth of that love. They act not as heat conveyers, but as heat shields. Which are you with regard to the Spirit=s fire? Are you a heat conveyer, or a heat shield? 
Fire warms because it burns. If combustible material is nearby, fire spreads rapidly. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught. Are you burning with that fire? Are you handing it on to others?
Fire also gives light. God sent his Son into a dark world to be the world=s light. This light shines today through God=s continual gift of his Spirit to his Church and to each of its members. He wants us to serve as lenses or prisms of that light. AYour light must shine before others,@ Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, Athat they may see your good deeds, and glorify your heavenly Father@ (Mt. 5:16). And in John=s gospel Jesus warns: ABad people all hate the light and avoid it, for fear that their practices should be shown up. The honest person comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that God is in all he does@ (John 3:20f).
When we fear God=s light, we need to ask God burn away whatever causes us to shun the light, whatever stands in the way of our spreading the light, fire, and warmth of his Holy Spirit.
3.  The foreign tongues in which these first Christians spoke symbolize the Church=s work through history: proclaiming to all peoples, in all languages, the wonderful truth of God:
$                   that God is, that he is real;
$                   that he is a God of love, who demands a response of love B for himself, and for our sisters and brothers;

$                   that God has made us for himself: to serve, love, and praise him here on earth, to be happy with him forever in heaven;

$                   that he is the God of the impossible, who can do for us what we can never do for ourselves: fit us for life with him, here and in eternity.

That is the message which we have to proclaim. Does any of that message come through in your life? If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? And if mere presence at Sunday Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?

That we are Christians in a land undreamed of by anyone in Jerusalem on that Pentecost day is proof that the Spirit=s Astrong driving wind@ did not blow in vain. Those first touched by that wind were blown into places, and situations, they never dreamed of. Even those who never left Jerusalem found their lives utterly changed.

This same wind of the Spirit is blowing in the Church today. Is it blowing in your life? Or are you afraid of that wind B of what it might do to you, and where it might blow you? Cast aide fear. The wind of God=s Spirit, like the winds of the sky, blows from different directions. But in the end this wind blows all who are driven by it to the same place. The wind of God Spirit blows us home B home to God.   

 

"THE BABY LEAPED FOR JOY."


Homily for May 31st, 2017. The Visitation, Luke 1: 39-56.

Luke’s gospel tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that God wanted her to be the mother of God’s son, Gabriel also told her that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though far beyond child-bearing age, was also, as our British cousins say, “in a family way” – six months pregnant, in fact. With characteristic generosity, Mary decides to go and visit Elizabeth. She couldn’t start right away. It was a man’s world. A woman, especially a young teenager like Mary, could not travel alone. She must have at least one chaperone.  

When Mary arrives at her cousin’s house and greets her, Elizabeth, as we have just heard, “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. … At moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” Doctors tell us that a new mother (and Elizabeth, though old, was pregnant for the first time) usually begins to feel her baby moving in her womb during the fifth month of pregnancy. Thereafter the movements become increasingly frequent and intense. Considering the time it would have taken Mary to reach her, Elizabeth is now in her seventh month at least. Her baby is now very active. Moreover, medical science has discovered, fairly recently, something called the “startle response,” when the baby moves on hearing a sound outside the mother. The child in Elizabeth’s womb, who would become John the Baptist, was reacting to the sound of Mary’s loud cry, greeting with joy, as his mother said, the approach of his younger unborn kinsman, Jesus. How marvelous are God’s works!

With the words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” Elizabeth acknowledges her failure to believe that a woman as old as she was could conceive. And Mary responds with words that proclaim the reversal of normal worldly expectations. She praises God for scattering the proud, casting down the mighty, raising up the lowly, feeding the hungry, while sending the rich away hungry.  

Three decades later her Son, in his Sermon on the Mount, would speak remarkably similar words, calling blest (which means happy) the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst for holiness, the merciful, the single-hearted, the peacemakers, those persecuted for holiness’ sake, and all those insulted, persecuted, and slandered because of Him who spoke these words. (Matthew 5:3-12)

Truly marvelous are God’s works, wonderful indeed!

Monday, May 29, 2017

"I PRAY FOR THESE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME."


Homily for May 30th, 2017: John 17:1-11a.

          In today’s gospel we come to one of the most majestic passages in John’s gospel, Jesus’ so-called High Priestly prayer. Knowing that his earthly life is drawing to its close, Jesus stands before us not to offer sacrifice – that will come the next day, on Calvary. Rather he stands before God’s throne offering intercession for his friends – ourselves included.

          The passage begins by telling us that Jesus “raised his eyes to heaven.” He is speaking not to us, but to his heavenly Father. He did the same at the Last Supper, as we hear in the first Eucharistic Prayer: “On the day before he was to suffer, he took break in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven … he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples … ”

          Reading the words of his prayer, we get the impression that Jesus has already crossed the threshold between time and eternity and is now on the way to his Father. The twice repeated word “Father” gives Jesus’ prayer a note of special intimacy. He asks nothing for himself, so that his words are more a prayer of union than of petition.  

Jesus does ask for “glory.” But his glory is not distinct from the glory of the Father. During his earthly life Jesus’ glory was visible through what John’s gospel calls “signs” – miracles such as the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ healings, the stilling of the storm on the lake, his feeding of a vast crown in the wilderness. At Cana Jesus said: “My hour has not yet come.” (2:4) Now Jesus’ “hour” has come. We pass from signs to reality. “The hour” is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus’ earthly life ends with his return to his Father.  

In a real sense, however, his real work is only beginning. We know this from Jesus’ words about “the ones you have given me”: “Now they realize that you all gave me comes from you …. They have known that in truth I came from you, they have believed it was you who sent me.

Understanding Jesus’ true identity and his sending by the Father includes obeying God’s Commandments. Knowing that we cannot do this without God’s help, Jesus says: “I pray for them.” Jesus’ prayer for us, his friends, continues today, and until the Jesus returns in glory, at the world’s end.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD."


Homily for May 29th, 2017: John 16:29-33.

          “Take courage,” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world.” To understand these words we must know that in John’s gospel the word “world” is used in two senses: good and bad. When Jesus says, earlier in the gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” [3:16] he is using the word in a good sense. He is speaking of the world as it comes from the hand of God, the world of God’s making. God must love that world, for he does not make anything that is not lovable.

          When he tells his friends to take courage because he has “overcome the world,” he is speaking not about the world of God’s making, but the world of human marring: the world deformed by human sin, centered not on God but on our own selfish desires, the world not of giving, but of getting.   

          “In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. Other translations say not trouble but “suffering” or “tribulation.” Can we Catholic Christians in the comfortable and rich country of the United States honestly claim to have trouble, suffering, and tribulation? If we refuse to abbreviate the gospel, yes we do. When we call the killing of unborn babies a grave crime, equivalent to murder, we are accused of “waging a war on women.” When we insist that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman; and that, once established, it can be terminated only by death, we are accused of “hate speech,” and vilified as homophobes and opponents of human equality.

The trouble and suffering of Christians worldwide is far greater. In his richly documented  book, The Global War on Christians, journalist John Allen writes: “We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States fought over issues like whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps. We’re talking about a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims. Christians today form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”

Jesus speaks to us today the same words he spoke to the apostles at the Last Supper two thousand years ago: “In the world you will have suffering, but take courage. I have overcome the world.”

Friday, May 26, 2017

"ASK, AND YOU WILL RECEIVE."


Homily for May 27th, 2017: John 16: 23-28.

AAsk and you will receive,” Jesus says. “Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.@ Continuing to pray when God seems to answer only with silence increases our desire and strengthens our faith, as physical exercise strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. St. Gregory the Great, who was bishop of Rome from 590 to 604, wrote: AAll holy desires grow by delays; and if they fade because of these delays, they were never holy desires.@

To illustrate his teaching about prayer, Jesus reminds us that God is our loving heavenly Father, and we are his children. God is more loving, however, than the even best human father or mother B and wiser. Hence he will not always answer our prayers in the way, or at the time, that we think he should. When God refuses something we pray for, it is always in order to give us something better.  

 The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen told a story about a little girl who prayed, before Christmas, for a hundred dolls. She didn=t get even one. Her unbelieving father, who had taunted both her and her mother for praying at all, couldn=t resist saying on Christmas day: AWell God didn=t answer your prayers, did he?@ To which the child gave the beautiful answer: AOh yes, He did. He said No!@ In my own ninetieth year, I am grateful to have lived long enough to be able to thank God for answering some of my prayers, Not yet; and others, No.

Even when we have done our best to explain and understand prayer, however, it remains a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about prayer, but that what we can understand is partial only. We can no more explain Ahow prayer works@ than we can explain how the human mind works, or the human heart.

Above all, therefore, we need to ask for the gift of God=s Holy Spirit: the fire of God’s love, to burn away everything in us that is contrary to God, and to light up our way; his wisdom to see what it right and true, and to embrace it when seen. That prayer will always be answered, Jesus promises us. AIf you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children," Jesus says in Luke's gospel, "how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?@ [11:13]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"THE FATHER HIMSELF LOVES YOU."


Homily for May 26th, 2017: John 16: 23b-28.

          “The Father himself loves you,” Jesus tells his apostles at the Last Supper, “because you have loved me and have come to believe that I come from God.” St. Augustine says, “His object in loving us was to enable us to love one another.” Love is something that must be given to us from without. And the first one to bestow his love on us was our heavenly Father and Creator. It is important to know that the love Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel reading is not primarily a matter of feelings. It is an attitude of concern. Feelings come and go, influenced by the weather, the state of our mental and physical health, our changing moods.

          None of those things matter for God. God does not change. He is always the same. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, God wanted the very best for us. God loves us, Augustine writes, “so that we may be brothers of his only Son. . . . His object in loving us was to enable us to love each other. By loving us himself, our mighty head has linked us all together as members of his own body, bound to one another by the tender bond of love.” [Office of Readings, Thursday of the Fifth week of Easter]

          The love that God has for us, his creatures, enables us to approach him with confidence. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you . . . ask and you will receive, so that your joy will be complete.” The French Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, who died in New York City on Easter Sunday 1955, at the age of 73, used to call joy “the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

          How sad that so many of Jesus’ friends show little evidence of joy. To have it, you must cultivate thanksgiving. Let no day pass without thanking your heavenly Father for all the blessings he showers upon you. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: I couldn’t tell you how many times I say, every day: “Lord, you’re so good to me; and I’m so grateful.” And if a long life has taught me anything, it is this. Thankful people are happy people, and joyful people – no exceptions. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

ASCENSION


GO MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS.
May 28th, 2017, Ascension Day, Year A.  Acts 1:1-11; Matthew 28:16-20.

AIM:  To show the universality of Christ’s missionary call, and its implications for daily life.

 

“When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted." Those doubts show that the first followers of Jesus Christ were not credulous peasants, ready to believe anything. Like many of us, they were often skeptical, and often doubted. The gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances all mention those doubts. The most persistent doubter, as you will remember, was the apostle Thomas who responded to reports that the Lord was risen: "I will never believe it without probing the nail prints in his hands, without putting my finger in the nail marks and my hand into his side" (John 20:25).

Until its climactic moment, Christ‘s ascension was an appearance of the risen Lord like all the others. It was only to be expected that on this occasion, as on those which had preceded it, his disciples doubted. What is remarkable is not their doubts, but the fact that Jesus ignores them. “Go ... make disciples of all nations," he charges them, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.”

That charge is not just long ago and far away. Jesus gives us the same command today. Now, as then, he issues this command to all his friends, fervent believers and skeptical doubters alike. We may think that before we can become Jesus’ messengers we must first overcome all our doubts and hesitations. We must be strong in faith, able to stand on our own feet. That is not true! Jesus’ first messengers and missionaries were often weak in faith.  That has remained true in every age. It is true today.

Jesus summons us to his missionary service just as we are: weak in faith, encumbered with doubts, hesitations, faults, and sins. He does not send us as his messengers to an unbelieving and spiritually hungry world because we are fit for the task. Rather he calls us to make us fit. It is in sharing with others the faith that is in us, that our own faith is deepened and strengthened.

Few of us are called to preach sermons about Jesus Christ. But every one of us is called, and in baptism and confirmation commissioned, to proclaim and bear witness to him through the testimony of daily living.  Here is what the bishops of the whole world said about this call at the Second Vatican Council. 

[The laity] work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven ... [making] Christ known to others especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity. [Lumen gentium, 31]

The laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. [33]   

There are people here in our parish who are doing those things every day. Are you? One day the Lord will examine us about how we have responded to the call to be his messengers to others. Here, ahead of time, are some of the questions in that examination. They came to me years ago on an e-mail. I no longer know the sender.

God won't ask what kind of car you drove; he'll ask how many people you drove who didn't have transportation. 

God won't ask the square footage of your house; he'll ask how many people you welcomed into your home. 

God won't ask about the clothes you had in your closet; he'll ask how many you helped to clothe.

God won't ask what your highest salary was; he'll ask if you cut corners to obtain it.

God won't ask what your job title was; he'll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.

God won't ask how many friends you had; he'll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

God won't ask in what neighborhood you lived; he'll ask how you treated your neighbors.

God won't ask about the color of your skin; he'll ask about the content of your character.

The testimony of deeds before words is powerful. You probably know the saying: “What you are speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.” Words are cheap and our world is inundated by words. People today are more impressed by deeds than by words.

Bearing witness to Jesus Christ in daily life is difficult. If you doubt that, perhaps that is because you have never seriously tried it for any extended period of time. With our own resources alone, the task is impossible. But we are not alone. We have an unseen companion in the missionary task: the same divine master and Lord who is saying to us right now, as he said to that little band of weak sinners and doubters on a Galilean hilltop two thousand years ago:

“Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 

"YOUR GRIEF WILL BE TURNED INTO JOY."


Homily for May 25th, 2017: John 16:16-20.

          “What does this mean that he is saying to us, ‘A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me’” Jesus’ disciples ask one another. “We do not know what he means.” How often preachers, and readers of the gospels as well, repeat that statement; if not aloud, at least in thought: “We do not know what he means.” Not everything in Scripture is clear, simple, or obvious, by any means.

          If we believe that Jesus spoke these words in connection with the Last Supper, then Jesus’ “little while” would refer to the time between Jesus’ burial and his resurrection on the third day. That is the view of most of the Eastern Church Fathers. There is a difficulty with this interpretation, however. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will grieve, but your grief will become joy,” adding two verses later: “Then your hearts will rejoice, with a joy that no one can take from you;” and thereafter “You will have no more questions to ask me.” (vs. 22f) However, the appearances of the risen Lord to his friends were transitory and brief. Were they not only sufficient to give Jesus’ friends “a joy that no one can take from you,” but also to justify Jesus’ further statement that “you will have no more questions to ask me”?

St. Augustine solves this difficulty by saying that Jesus’ “little while” is the period between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his return at the end of time in glory. This overlooks the joy which his friends experienced as soon as they saw him alive again, in flesh and blood – though also so changed that at first most did not recognize him.

We need not choose between these two interpretations. There is truth in both. Jesus’ resurrection appearances did indeed fill his friends with joy. But only at the end of time will we have no more questions to ask him. Meanwhile we thank God the Father for raising his Son from the dead, but also for the Son’s promise, which we shall hear in Saturday’s gospel: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”