Sunday, December 28, 2008

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

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The Apostles of the Interior Life, our sisters here at St. Lawrence, were featured in a beautiful article this week in the Lawrence Journal-World, and it is important that as often as we are disappointed in the media for casting the Church in a negative light, we should also thank them for the positive exposure they do give the Church. Even the New York Times recently ran some stories about the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who are doing tremendous work with the poor in the south Bronx. The story in the Lawrence Journal-World did a good job of telling the vocation stories, albeit in short form, of Sr. Debbie and Sr. Loredana. Included was a brief mention of how Sr. Debbie and Sr. Loredana discerned between great opportunities to become married and this call that they felt to be married directly to the Lord, and to serve him in religious life.

One of the great treasures of our Catholic tradition and way of life is this beautiful interplay that we experience between the married vocation and the religious vocation and its promise of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom. Both vocations depend deeply on the virtue of chastity - loving purely and unselfishly in the same way that God has first loved us. The vocations are lived differently, of course, but they intersect quite beautifully in our Church in the same way that a husband and wife take different roles but interact to form a whole in a marriage. The religious vocation is of course dependent first upon the vocation of marriage. I do not know a single priest or religious who is not deeply grateful that his or her parents were not a priest or a sister. That goes without saying. As we see in today's great feast given by our Church, Jesus' vocation and mission began within the holy family, with his dependence upon the sacrament of marriage between Joseph and Mary. It was in the family that his vocation was received and nurtured.

The marriage vocation, in turn, is greatly enriched, especially in these times when the definitions of marriage and family are constantly trying to be re-defined within modern society, by the religious vocation. The religious vocation gives witness that although having a family is a great good to be pursued, that God is always the ultimate good to be pursued, and marriage and children are gifts that we receive from God. We see in Abraham and Joseph this obedience to the command of God to go where God commands them to go, and do what God commands them to do. Abraham and Joseph receive their families as a gift from God, and He is the ultimate Father of their families. Abraham is willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only Son, and Joseph presents Jesus in the temple in today's Gospel, showing that these men do not see their wives or their children as their property, but as precious gifts from God. These fathers are men of true obedience, and faith and generosity. They are the foundation of a holy family.

The religious vocation gives witness in today's world that God's grace is enough to fulfill the deepest needs for intimacy within a human person. The religious vocation, while always being dependent upon the married vocation for its existence, gives married couples and families encouragement to continue to make God and His will the center of their marriage, their family and their home. If we see our families as great gifts from God, and are able to celebrate His presence in our lives especially during this great season of Christmas, we may be able to keep our family lives strong, despite all the initiatives to redefine what it means to be married, be a family, and to have children. And as we pray for each other, to help keep our families strong in faith, hope, love and in obedience to God's will, let us do everything we can to be foster-families to those who are in need of a community of love. +m

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homily for Midnight Mass - Christmas

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The God of Christmas is absolutely irresistible. No matter how hard we try, because of Christmas, we will never get rid of Him.

How could God become irresistible to those whom He created in His own image and likeness? How could He become irresistible to those who share in His intelligence and will, those to whom He gave the gift to question Him at every turn? How could God make Himself irresistible without destroying the very freedom that made us His greatest creation?

There are people who believe, of course, that God is necessary. But there are people who believe He is not. There are people, of course, who believe that God is patient and merciful. But there are people who think He is cold and distant. There are people, of course, who assert that God is just. There are others who think He is arbitrary and oppressive.

How could God become irresistible to creatures like us, who have the ability to question Him and criticize Him at every turn? We have resisted Him for thousands of years. We resisted Him yesterday. We resist Him now. We will resist Him tomorrow.

How could God overcome this resistance, this tragedy of being the most irresistible force in the world, and yet being resisted by the creatures He created with the greatest capacity for love? Was God trapped by His own decision to create us?

The answer, because of Christmas, is no. The answer, because of Christmas, is that God came up with a solution. Unwilling to change us as His greatest creation, God chose instead to change Himself. Unwilling to forsake us, He chose instead to forsake Himself. Utterly resistible in his divine form as the Almighty Creator, God chose to become utterly irresistible by being born as a helpless baby.

*Caesar Augustus, as we see in tonight's Gospel, was supposedly the most irresistible person on earth. He ordered a census to count His people so He could tax them better, use them better to become even more powerful. This is the man who could go wherever He wanted, have whatever He wanted, eat whatever He wanted, and had an army that no earthly power could exist. Caesar Augustus was the closest thing to having the almighty power of God! Yet Luke, in tonight's glorious Gospel, shows that a little baby born in Bethlehem, is more irresistible than this great king. That's right. A little baby, unable to go anywhere on His own, but bound tightly by swaddling clothes, has a kingdom more vast than the kingdom of Caesar. This little baby, who did not even have a place to be born on earth, possesses more than Caesar could ever possess. Even Caesar's most magnificent feast cannot compare to the food that this baby Himself will become, who being born in a trough foreshadows the destiny of His flesh to become the richest of foods, for whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will live forever! Finally, the angels of the heavenly hosts present at this baby's birth show that this baby has vast armies who will guard His kingdom long after the armies of Caesar have been defeated.

This my friends, is why Christmas makes God irresistible. We see in ourselves, and in Caesar Augustus, that power is always resisted by power. God, showing His almighty power by creating creatures that shared in His power, will always be resisted by those of us who want to be more like Caesar Augustus. Rather than taking back our power, however, God has chosen to make Himself vulnerable. Power will always be resisted by power. Love, however, is irresistible. Because God has revealed Himself as love, He has made Himself irresistible.

The mystery of Christmas is the mystery of God placing Himself into our hands. Love shows itself making itself vulnerable before the other. How many of us could walk away from a newborn baby born in the cold, with nothing to wear, and nothing to eat? How many of us could walk away from a baby like that? See! Through Christmas, God has made Himself irresistible. He has confounded the proud who use the greatest gift of their freedom to resist His almighty power! God does not take back the freedom He gave to us! He does not force us to love Him! He makes Himself irresistible by coming not to threaten us, but to humble Himself before us! Because of Christmas, we can't help but want to love Him back and to serve His needs.

Because of Christmas, we know that God will never abandon us. He is Emmanuel - God with us! Because of Christmas, we know that the world will never be abandoned - the darkness will never overcome the light. Because of Christmas, we can say in every situation, no matter the dangers that surround us, that the world is headed to a new and more glorious future, because God has chosen to make His home here, with us! Let us not be discouraged by the circumstances of 2008 - they are no worse than the precarious circumstances into which Jesus Himself was born. May our great celebration of Christmas convince us again that instead of resisting God to preserve ourselves, we must abandon ourselves to serving God who has abandoned Himself to be born among us as a man. With the Virgin Mary, let us give birth to the Lord Jesus today and make Him present again through our acts of love and self-sacrifice. Most of all, let us not let our world continue to believe the illusion that it can resist God and live, but let us proclaim that in the babe born in Bethlehem, God has made Himself irresistible! +m

(I am indebted to Fr. Robert Barron's Christmas reflection from some years ago for much of the content of this homily!)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent

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Advent is hopelessly schizophrenic. Two years ago, the 4th Sunday of Advent fell on Christmas Eve. We celebrated Advent and Christmas on the same day. This year we have 5 days left of Advent until Christmas, but what does that matter? The two seasons are completely mixed already. Christmas programs and parties, not just at work but yes even at Church, have already taken place. Anyone who has not celebrated Christmas at least in part has had to play the part of the scrooge. Adding to the craziness of this year is the fine line we are walking between spending so as to not feel guilty for stifling the economy, and saving so as not to seem out of touch with the plight of many who are suffering and who will suffer economically. Finally, Advent itself is not a season that resists schizophrenia. It is a season that caves in to Christmas, for Advent gives us nothing to do. Christmas brings a flurry of activity. Advent is about being passive. Watching. Waiting. Preparing room in our hearts. Advent is a season that always falls apart, no matter how hard we try. This, as we know, is tragic, for without Advent expectation, our Christmas celebration will be half-hearted at best.

The subtlety of Advent makes it hard to begin, and even harder to end. Our final Advent prophet is not someone who tells us what to do either. At least John the Baptist told us to repent lest we miss entirely the coming of the Lord. Mary does nothing. She is nobody. She is not a great religious figure. She is young in a society that values age. A woman in a world ruled by men. Poor because she has not child and no husband to validate her existence. There is no reason to pay attention to her. Except that God sees her. Mary fits right in to the subtlety and ambiguity of Advent. She has no big message to announce to us. She doesn't tell us to do anything. She simply allows God to do something with her.

Yet within the 'yes' of this girl we are to find the perfect way to finish Advent. It is Mary's humble simplicity that turns out to be the perfect antidote to the proud schizophrenia that the Advent/Christmas culture thrusts upon us. In the uncertainty of where we really are, Mary comes to save our Advent preparations even if we have just an hour, or just a moment, before loading the van or running to the airport or if you're a guy, hitting the store on the 23rd or 24th hoping beyond hope that Jesus will save you from your procrastination once again. Mary by her pure readiness can make us instantly ready for a joyful and fruitful celebration of Christmas, no matter how our Advent has gone. If nothing else has gone right this Advent, we have recourse to her. She is the savior of Advent who can give us the same expectation for Christmas that She had in the moments before giving birth to the Savior of the world.

In Mary we see the Advent hope that what God will choose to do with our lives is more important than what we choose to do with them. In Mary we see the Advent hope that God's decision to look upon us trumps our decision to look for Him. In Mary we see the hope that we might be humble enough to keep first things first. She teaches us how to believe that we can really be the dwelling places of God, and how this faith precedes and perfects any effort we make to love God in return or to be His presence to others. In Mary we see the hope that it is not our experience that determines what is possible. Rather, it is God's presence that can turn us back into children who count every second before Christmas with anticipation. In the same way, Mary shows us the way to the Christmas mystery that helps us to hope all things, believe all things, and endure all things in anticipation of seeing God's plan for us revealed in time. In Mary we see the hope that we are not too sophisticated and important to believe that God sees us, that He knows us, and that He is coming to live among us!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Homily for 3rd Sunday of Advent - Gaudete

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Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.

This is the advice chosen by the Church for us on Gaudete Sunday, or Rejoice Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. It is the advice given by St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.

What is proposed for us today, however, is not the joy defined by psychology. It is not the power of positive thinking. It is not pretending there is nothing wrong in the world. It is not looking at life through rose-colored glasses, not even on this joyful Sunday of Advent when we light the pink candle in our wreath.

St. Paul proposes to us a deep joy that belongs to the one who knows that the Lord is near. This is our entrance antiphon for this Sunday every year. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. The Lord is near. A Christian should be one marked by a joy that enables him to pray unceasingly and to give thanks in every circumstance, even in difficult ones.

We all know the circumstances that keep us from being joyful, prayerful and thankful. An unexpected conflict or misunderstanding with a friend can rob us of our joy. A busy schedule with lots of expectations can distract us from prayer. An injustice suffered can make us more resentful than thankful. In all these difficult circumstances, and in countless others, however, our knowledge that the Lord is near is supposed to make a difference. Yes, we are even supposed to be joyful. prayerful and thankful during Finals Week at KU.

John the Baptist was sent from God because it is so easy for us to forget that the Lord is near. John was not the light. He was not the Word. He was not the Messiah. He was only the wake-up call. He is the reminder that we all need that the Lord is much closer than we think. He tells the Pharisees bluntly that they are too full of themselves to recognize that the Messiah is in their midst.

We can easily make the same mistake of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are not joyful, prayerful or thankful because they pridefully see themselves as the most necessary thing, and thus God's closeness to them depends on their ability to find Him. Mary, on the other hand, as we hear in this evening's canticle, is always joyful, prayerful and thankful - her soul magnifies the Lord - her spirit rejoices in God Her Savior - because she humbly considers herself to be the most lowly and unnecessary thing, and thus God's closeness to Her depends on His decision to look upon Her.

This too is the true source of joy, prayer, and thankfulness for each one of us. Not that we have chosen God, but that He has chosen us. Not that we have made more time to search for Him, but that He will never take a break from searching for us. This is the attitude that we are to foster as we grow closer to Christmas. Only the one who sees himself as lowly and unnecessary, someone who is ready to be only the voice like John the Baptist - only this person can be ready for the coming of the Word, like the Virgin Mary was.

In these final days of Advent we are to remember simply how unnecessary we are. Our joy, prayerfulness and thankfulness stem from our humble confidence that even though we are not necessary, and neither is the gift of a Savior, still the One who is necessary sees us, searches for us, knows us, desires what is best for us, and will find us. The Lord's decision to look upon us is the source of our salvation. The Lord's decision to love us and to remain close to us His people, is more important than any decision we can make to look for Him or try to find Him or try to add Him to our lives. John the Baptist tells us that the Lord is near. If this is really true, then there should be no circumstance that can rob us of our joy, our prayerfulness and our thankfulness!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Homily for Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Advent

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Most of us, if not all, are tired. We are tired of striving to be holy. We are tired of the discipline of prayer. We are tired of being busy. We are tired of the pressure. We are tired of trying to become lovable and significant. We can even get tired of being tired.

The last thing tired people need is another yoke, and yet Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us. Is this the yoke of 40 days in the desert, followed by torturous temptation by the devil? Is this the yoke of the via crucis, and the taking on the sins of the world by placing our lives in the hands of our enemies? If the yoke He is talking about is anything like Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ then excuse me for thinking this yoke may not actually be the remedy for my tiredness.

For I am meek and humble of heart. Jesus seems to say that His yoke is easy and His burden light not because He is inviting us to a week in Cancun being pampered, but because He does not consider Himself to be important. At a minimum, He sees His life as far less important than the lives of those He came to save. As we see also in the Virgin Mary, it seems like the biggest responsibilities are laid upon those with the greatest self-forgetfulness. In the face of real humility, every impossible burden become impossibly light. The Virgin says - How can this be? Yet let it be done to me according to your word. The Lord says - If it is possible let this cup pass me by, but not as I will, but as you will. He even says of his persecutors - Father, they are your gift to me.

If our significance is received as a gift from God and not pursued relentlessly as our greatest accomplishment, it is possible for even the heaviest burdens that come our way, even conforming our lives to the cross of Christ, to become lighter over time. May we be humble enough to let ourselves be yoked to the one who emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, while never counting the cost. +m

Monday, December 8, 2008

Homily for Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

What are we doing here on a Monday anyway? Haven't we gotten used to Holy Days of Obligation being moved for our convenience? What about the 'new rule' that we think now exists, that if a Holy Day is on a Saturday or a Monday it is either moved or dispensed with? What are we doing here today anyway?

Well, the fact that the Immaculate Conception of our Lady is a holy day that is not moved for any reason, tells us how important it is. By the simple fact that the Immaculate Conception is a Holy Day that is never abrogated, we know it is the most important of all the Holy Days of obligation outside of Sundays that we celebrate. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is never abrogated because She is the patronness of the Americas, and in particular the patronness of the United States. Her patronage of our country represents the early piety of our colonies, and the great devotion Americans have always had for the Virgin Mary, from the time the first missionaries arrived on our shores. Bishops from our country attended the pronouncement of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. Her patronage of our country was declared shortly thereafter. You can see from all of this that today is a singularly important solemnity for us particularly in the United States, and a day that we never abrograte because of its importance for us to gather and pray for the protection of our country. We pray as well for growth in wisdom and virtue, among our citizens and especially within our leaders. We pray that our country, under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may retain its status as a great light shining in the darkness.

When a priest is ordained, Holy Chrism is poured, usually quite liberally, upon his hands, to sanctify those hands and to denote that he is now a man set apart especially to celebrate the Eucharist and to forgive sins. The same oil used for baptism and confirmation is used on the hands of a priest, but it is poured so liberally at the time of ordination that there is usually quite a residue that is traditionally wiped away by a linen cloth, called a maniturgium. This maniturgium is presented to the mother of the priest, and tradition calls for this maniturgium to be kept by the mother of the priest until the day of her funeral. On that day, the maniturgium is placed within the coffin of the priest's mother, and represents her free ticket to heaven, for having given birth to a priest.

Now of course this is pious tradition, and there is no guarantee that a mother of a priest has a 'free ticket to heaven. She may. She may not. Yet the tradition gives light to the Solemnity we are celebrating today. We say that the merits of Christ's victory over sin and death, were given to His mother, Mary, from the first moment of her conception, and thus Mary was conceived without sin. Just as placing the priest's maniturgium within the coffin of his mother represents the priest's desire to offer all the fruits of his priesthood first to his mother who gave him birth, so that she may go to heaven, so also we say naturally that Christ Himself gave the fruits of his priesthood first to His mother Mary. Just as we can and do today offer prayers and sufferings for our deceased relatives and friends, counting on the author of time to carry our offerings and to place them within the lives of our loved ones making up for anything that was lacking in their life, so too the dogma of the Immaculate Conception relies of God's 'time machine,' which works much better than any flex capacitor, by the way, to carry the merits of Christ's passion backwards in time and to apply them to His mother Mary from the first moment of Her conception. Thus, Mary, as we hear in the Gospel, is the one who is full of grace, because of this gift Her son made to Her.

In the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by our Church in 1854, we see the Church defining something as true that had been believed by people for centuries, ordinary believers who spend thousands of hours on their knees contemplating the mystery of how God redeemed the world through His Son. In meditating on the Scriptures, and the meaning of the words 'full of grace' as applied to Mary, believers, not theologians, were through their piety the first to define that Mary shared in the grace of Christ in a way that far surpassed all the angels and saints combined. She alone is the only creature who was full of grace. It was up to the theologians, then, over the course of many centuries, to find a way to reasonably explain this faith of the people, the sensus fidei, as we say, which pointed toward the truth of Mary's being conceived without original sin. Only when the Church was ready and able to explain why and how we believed that Mary's fullness of grace implied Her Immaculate Conception, did the Church define the dogma, almost 1900 years after the death of Christ and hundreds of years after the faithful had begun celebrating this great truth. This, my friends, is for all aspiring theologians among us, a definition of theology, faith seeking understanding, at its very best. Theology is not making up abstract theories about who God is, it is trying to use all human learning to show how the beautiful faith of people is consonant with human reason.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception shows forth the beautiful way that the order of our salvation builds upon the order of nature. The theological principle is that grace builds upon nature. The supernatural is not separate from the natural, but always goes on top of nature. In other words, even when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God chose not to abandon His creation, but to redeem it. God chose not to scrap everything, but to re-create the world beginning with His chosen instrument, Mary. And so, just as in the order of nature all of us began our lives being completely dependent upon our mother, so in the order of grace each one of us begins our lives being completely dependent upon Mary, just as Jesus Himself was. We who are the adopted sons and daughters of Jesus Christ, we who make up His body today, are as dependent on Her for life as Jesus Himself was, who was born of the Virgin. We are as dependent upon Mary for our supernatural life as we are on our birth mothers for our natural lives. No matter what our current relationship with our moms is, the fact is that we would not be here if they had not given us birth. God in choosing Mary from the first moment of Her conception to be the mother of Jesus, desired us to be given life eternal in the same way that we are given life on earth. And so the Lord during his last moment on earth, told John at the foot of the cross - Behold, your mother! +m

Friday, December 5, 2008

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

This is probably just my insecurity speaking, but sometimes I feel like I get more stares wearing clerics than do people with tattoos, unusual piercings and outrageous hair. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I love wearing my clerics almost anywhere except to sporting events, when I really really just want to watch the game and enjoy it for a few hours before going back to work. I love the unpredictable interactions that come my way because people can see by what I'm wearing that I'm a priest. I love the witness that wearing the Roman collar gives toward what I believe, without my even having to speak. I have to confess, however, that it was hard to predict before I started wearing clerics how counter-cultural being a priest really is. Although there are a few people who really don't care, generally speaking almost everyone takes a second look when they see a priest. As colorful and diverse and weird as the KU campus is, I wonder sometimes who would garner more interest walking down Jayhawk boulevard - me or John the Baptist, with his camel hair tunic and leather belt. I'm sure he would draw more attention than me at lunch, however, for I would probably opt for a chicken sandwich over an entree of locusts and wild honey!

Although we as priests do not wear a uniform anything like that worn by John the Baptist, we do wear something unusual, something that denotes that we have been called by God to give a prophetic witness that God is real and that He is closer than people usually think. St. Peter says in his letter for today that just because Jesus has been in his ascended 'semi-retirement' for some time now is no reason to think that He will be delayed in returning. St. Peter puts it this way - with the Lord, who is the maker of time, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. To paraphrase, just because 2000 years have passed since the Lord's ascension, does not mean that you and I will have all the time we need to get ready for the Lord's coming. We should prepare with the anticipation that He is coming back in a day or two. This is the joyful expectation that Advent rekindles in us, the anticipation that John the Baptist the wild man went out to proclaim. It is the expectation that a revolution is near, a revolution far beyond what President-elect Obama might be able to usher in. It is a revolution proclaiming that the coming of the Lord will be the source of everlasting prosperity and peace.

It is true. We are easily tempted to think that the Lord is not as involved as He could be or should be. We wonder why He is keeping his distance given the state of the world. As St. Peter assures us, however, the Lord patience, which is directed toward our salvation is a gift that should not be confused with His being distant. Because the Lord is patient, we should not be crushed if Jesus doesn't make it back in the next hour or so. Yet Advent is the time when we as Christians stop asking for more time. Asking for an extension from God is not a good spiritual strategy. In fact, it is a recipe for disasater, for we all know that the longer we put things off, the greater the possibility that we will never achieve them. All of us can think of hundreds of things we have always meant to do but never did because there seemed to be plenty of time. In reality there is never enough time. So actually Advent is the season when we ask the Lord to come back sooner rather than later. During Advent, we heed the advice of prophets like John the Baptist, who appear begging us not to ask the Lord for an extension, but that the deadline be moved up. Prepare the way of the Lord. Get ready. Make straight His paths. The Lord is coming soon. The expectation of Advent is meant to save us from going through life lackadaisically and in fear that He might come back before we're ready.

The Lord, whenever He comes, will bring good and not evil, and so there is no need for us to fear. Advent tells us however, not to be the kind of simplistic people who save trying to become holy as the last project of our lives, right before we die. Not only may we not have enough time. More importantly, we will miss the fun and the excitement, not to mention the fulfillment and happiness that belongs to one who waits in great anticipation for the coming of the Lord. Don't give in to the narrative that says it is more fun to disobey God now - you can always ask for forgiveness later. No, sin while bringing a brief moment of excitement can never compare with the excitement of living a life in preparation for seeing God, the one who made us and the one whom we were made to love above all things, face to face. God is coming to show His face to us. He is coming to be born among us in Bethlehem. This is the mystery of the Incarnation that we prepare to celebrate with unparalleled joy, if only we do not put our preparations off until tomorrow.

Priests and those consecrated to God are those who are called to live this Advent expectation. They are those chosen by Jesus to anticipate His coming in a special way, and to show the world the joy that comes from one whose heart and life has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. It is because of this anticipation of seeing Christ, and wanting to be the first in line to see Him face to face, that compels priests and religious to put their lives on fast-forward so to speak. Priests and religious by their vows make a sacrifice, and take one additional step out of this world that is passing away, not because they hate the world, but because they look forward to its being redeemed by the coming of Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist, priests and religious are called to give an especially strong prophetic witness, to those who wonder why they would choose not to be married, for example, that the Lord is close. Priests and religious are wholeheartedly dedicated to preparing the world for the definitive coming of its Savior.

Let us pray for all those who inspired by the example of John the Baptist, are considering a radical gift of self in reponse to a call to be a priest or to be a consecrated religious. Let us pray that those who have chosen to follow the Lord more precisely in the priesthood and religious life will be able to do so all the more courageously. Mary, Queen of Vocations, pray for us! +m

Homily for Saturday of the 1st Week of Advent - Memorial of St. Nicholas

For daily readings, see

St. Nicholas was a bishop in Asia Minor during the 4th Century. He is one of the most popular saints of all time. He is legendary for fighting Arianism at the Council of Nicea, but it is very possible that he was not even there, since his greatest biographer, St. Methodius, does not even mention this. He is famous in Russia, in Italy, in England, where over 400 Churches are dedicated to him, and of course in America too, where he was first popularized not by Catholics, but by Dutch Protestants who advanced his legendary generosity to children and dubbed him Santa Claus. The legend of his generosity to children begins with his anonymous donation of three sacks of gold to a penniless family who had three daughters unable to be married for lack of dowries. St. Nicholas is the patron of prisoners as well, because of the story of his appearing to the Emperor Constantine in a vision on behalf of three prisoners who were unjustly accused.

The legends of St. Nicholas make us curious for more information that may never be forthcoming about his bishopric in Myra. His election as bishop was most likely by popular acclaim. A crowd may have gathered around Nicholas, like the crowd that pushed up against Jesus wherever he went. The Lord's heart was moved because they were like sheep without a shepherd. St. Nicholas, like every bishop, is pictured with his crosier, which reflects Jesus' command to his apostles to go out and to feed his sheep.

The apostles received a three-fold ministry from the Lord, a ministry that has been handed down to the bishops of the Church today who are helped most closely by their priests. Every bishop has the responsibilities outlined in today's Gospel - to announce the Kingdom, to sanctify the world, and to build the Kingdom especially by gathering up those who have been lost. A bishop, helped by his priests, must give wholehearted attention to these three indispensable parts of his one mission, for the Lord reminds his apostles that without cost they have received, without cost they are to give.

In a special way the bishop must depend on the laity to do their part to announce the Kingdom of God and to heal the world, especially in the marketplace where they have special expertise and are regularly present. Pope Benedict in his missionary intention for the month of December asks us to pray that all Christians may show by their charity the hope they have received through the Christmas mystery. Inspired by the generosity of St. Nicholas, and in anticipation of the Lord's coming at Christmas, let us together ask how the Lord may be asking us to stop counting the cost, and be more generous in building up the Kingdom, and making the world more ready for His final coming in glory! +m

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Homily for Thursday of the 1st Week of Advent

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Katrina. Ike. Fill in the name of your least favorite hurricane. Or tsunami if you prefer. Or tornado, like the one that hit Greensburg, Kansas. The floods came. The winds blew. And there is always lots of video footage of the damage that can help deliver visually the metaphor of today's Gospel.

Jesus says that those who are 'pretty good guys' and those who have a modicum of piety may not enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Our willingness to give up our own will to do the will of the Father is much more important than our simply finding something worthwhile to do with our lives. Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the One who came not to do His own will, but to do only the will of His Father. Jesus' trust in the Father's love for Him allowed Him to wait patiently for 30 years before being driven by the Spirit into the desert to be purified in advance of His three years of public ministry.

Let it not be said of us that we say 'Lord, Lord' easily but instead of being driven by the Spirit, we are instead driven by our wants, desires and ambition. There is no room in heaven, according to the words of our Lord, for one who tries to 'match' His will with the will of God. There is only room for the one who abandons His own will so that he may follow the will of God with more perfect trust and obedience. The only true disciple is the one who daily sacrifices His own will so that He may receive with joy and expectation the will of God the Father, even if God the Father points him toward something difficult, unexpected, and something that requires a great leap of faith. We must be able to pray daily with Jesus our brother - Lord, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering pass me by, but not as I will, but as you will.

The only way to be sure that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone on which our spiritual lives are built is to let God the Father lay every stone in our house. This takes patience. This takes perseverence. It takes a resolution on our part to never try anything in our lives without first seeking the Lord's permission and blessing. Yes, that's right, in building our home, it is harder to ask for permission than to ask for forgiveness, but we should ask for permission anyway. If we look back on our lives to those times when we have been discouraged and disillusioned by a storm that passed our way, we can usually see how our own will contributed to the disaster. The prophet Isaiah tells us that we must instead trust in the will of God forever, so that He may set up walls and ramparts to protect us. +m

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Homily for Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent

Some of us are more lame than others (I mean in the physically challenged way, not those of you who lack a healthy sense of humor), while some of you are tremendously gifted athletically. Some of us are more blind than others (I was 20/180 before my Lasik surgery, and still do not see very well) while some of you see 20/20 or better. Some of us are more deformed than others, although there are a few of you with the unblemished good looks of models. Some of us are more mute than others, although there are some of you who could give a homily and say Mass much more eloquently than I ever could.

Some of us get hungrier than others, although there is not a person out there today who never needs food. Jesus in revealing his compassion begins by healing those with rare bodily deformities, then moves in pity to address a need that everyone in the crowd has - a need for food. Then, as we know from the latter pages of the Gospel story, Jesus will direct his compassion to the most debilitating disease affecting human nature, a disease that damages the human soul in ways that blindness, muteness or hunger never can, the disease of sin.

Jesus reveals Himself through the miracle of the loaves and fish to be the Savior of everyone, for presumably everyone in the crowd was hungry, for they had been with Him three days with nothing to eat. How many of us have begun Advent with three days of fasting, so that we limped into Mass tonight almost ready to collapse? That's right - I didn't think so! The miracle of the loaves and fish shows how everyone in the crowd was dependent upon Jesus for healing, not just the lame, the blind, the deformed and the mute who were the first to be healed by Jesus.

I don't get mad at myself for needing contacts to correct my vision. I don't get mad at myself for needing chapstick to soothe my lips during the winter. I don't get mad at myself for needing a slice of one of Sr. Loredana's pies in order to satisfy my sweet tooth. I do get mad at myself, however, when I have to depend on Jesus for forgiveness. Why do I get so angry and disappointed at myself? Because I am often too proud to embrace my identity as a sinner, as one completely dependent upon a Savior to defeat an enemy that has already defeated me. I would oftentimes rather be independent, and all-powerful and the equal of Christ rather than having to beg for the food of forgiveness because my soul is empty and my spirit is ready to collapse.

Hating our sins perfectly is one thing. Hating ourselves because we are sinners in need of God's mercy is another thing; in fact, hating ourselves is the surest way to isolate ourselves and to cut off the one relationship that restores life in abundance. Entering into a conversation with Jesus about how we can both hate our sins more perfectly while at the same time depending more deeply on His life-giving mercy will lead us no longer to isolation, but to communion with the One who spreads before us a feast of juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines that is the sure remedy for the deepest spiritual hungers of the human heart. Come, Lord Jesus! +m

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Homily for Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

A child does not know how to read or do calculus. He does not know how to engineer, litigate, teach or write a business plan. Neither does he have a busy schedule, a contingency plan, a to-do list, or self-improvement projects. A child has none of this valuable wisdom. A child barely has the sense to avoid danger. A child has only has one kind of wisdom. He has faith that someone desires what is good for him, and that someone will deliver what is best for him.

Jesus proposes to His disciples that all other wisdom is rubbish compared to this wisdom possessed by a child. Pope Benedict in his personal reflections on the life of Jesus, said that understanding the uniqueness of Christ is to understand that He is the one who always sees the face of His heavenly Father. He is thus the one who always remains a child in relationship to His Father. Jesus never forgets that His Father will take care of Him. Jesus proclaims Himself to be the one who knows the Father. He is the one who can reveal to us how to remain as children before the Father.

Prophets and kings desired to see one who was sent by the Father to be the Messiah. They wanted to see the Son of God, most likely because of the awesome power such a figure would bring with Him. Whether they knew it or not, what they watned to see was one who because He was sent from the Father could live with perfect trust, dependence and obedience to the will of the Father. This promised Messiah however they did not see. The disciples to whom Jesus is talking are seeing the Son of God. In seeing Jesus, they are privileged to see how much greater is the freedom of one who always remains a child before God. Jesus' trust in the goodness of His Father allowed Him to always remain a child, and to be the baby who is always able to play by the cobra's den without fear, from the moment of his birth in Bethlehem to his trial before Pilate, to His willingness today to be crucified for our sins. He does all of this with the faith of a child, knowing only that the Father desires His good, and will not allow evil to have the final say.

Even as we increase our freedom through learning, discerning and praying, Jesus invites us to remember that the greatest freedom comes from the greatest faith, the faith of a child. The greatest wisdom is trusting that God our Father sees us, even when we do not see Him, and that He knows our good and desires our good and delivers our good. We prepare this Advent to welcome the light that scatters the darkness of failed human wisdom. A little child born in Bethlehem will bring with Him the wisdom and the justice of God! +m

Monday, December 1, 2008

Homily for Monday of the First Week of Advent

Jesus is not a pacifist simply because war does not work. He is a pacifist because war has worked, and by His stripes, we have been healed. Jesus does not tell us to love our enemies because He does not know how to fight. If anyone teaches us how to fight, it is the One who came to conquer sin and death. Jesus in learning obedience from what He suffered showed Himself to be the ultimate fighter. From the cross, He revealed Himself as the ultimate victor in the battle to do only the will of His Father, even as He prayed that His cup of suffering would pass Him by. It is because Christ does battle for us on the cross, and there conquers the enemy that has already conquered us, that He has the power to heal us! In Christ, the tiny defenseless babe born in a manger, and in every martyr who follow Him, God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to the almighty power of God, a power mysteriously able to be held by frail humans like you and me.

God chooses the centurion, presumably a foreigner who does not know Abraham, and thus is weak in faith, to demonstrate the supernatural gift of real faith in the victory Christ has over sin and death. Christ's victory in Jerusalem is foreshadowed before He ever arrives there in the healing of the centurion's servant. Like the preservation of Mary from original sin, the merits of Christ's victory go backward in time, and fortunately for us, they also go forward in time so that we too are healed completely by the fruits of His victory. We receive these fruits of victory most completely in the Holy Eucharist. Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.

Gandhi can show us the futility of war. Jesus shows us that the victory over sin and death is already won, and this victory, not tolerance, is the source of everlasting peace. We fight no longer for the victory itself, but that His victory would be born in us anew on Christmas morning. If this victory is born in us again, we will go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, so that the knee of every nation will bend before the everlasting Prince of Peace!