Saturday, November 11, 2017

Using Our Time Wisely, Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

          As the father of two teenage daughters, the way I spend most of my time can be summed up in two words:  I wait.  I wait as they pick out the perfect outfit; I wait while they apply the finishing touches to their make up; I wait when I pick them up from extra-curricular activities; and I especially wait for that narrow window of opportunity when I can ask them a question without getting my head bitten off.  Over the years I’ve learned that it’s best if I find other things to do while I wait:  I apply the finishing touches to my makeup – just kidding, this is natural beauty.  I read a book or newspaper, check my emails, practice the homily I’m about to give.  You get the idea.  As Christians, we wait, too, and our readings this evening advise us to use our time wisely.

          We, as Christians, believe that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead in what we call the eschaton, the end times.  From Saint Paul’s words in our second reading, we learn that the earliest Christians believed that the eschaton was imminent, and they were concerned that Christ had not yet returned.  Some two thousand years later, we still wait.  Although our souls are thirsting for God “like a dry, weary land without water,” Jesus makes clear in our Gospel that we have to wait.  But he also makes clear that we shouldn’t be sitting around doing nothing; we have to use our time wisely.

          Wisdom is generally understood as good judgment based on knowledge and experience.  The Hebrew Scriptures equate wisdom with God, and in “early Christian literature Jesus is said to be the incarnate Wisdom of God.”[1]  That’s why our first reading instructs us to seek out Wisdom, to watch for her at dawn; to keep vigil for her.  “But wisdom [isn’t] passive.  She [doesn’t] simply wait for the sage.  She ‘hastens to make herself known.’”[2]  It’s a two-way street.  God is always offering us his Wisdom – in Scripture, in prayer, and in the quiet of our hearts – but we also have to seek it.  As the wise poet and playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”  In other words, acquiring Wisdom requires an effort on our part, too.

Now that we know a little bit about Wisdom, we need to return to the question at hand.  How do we use our time wisely while we wait for the Second Coming of Christ?  Jesus gives us the answer.  The wise maidens in our parable are the ones who are prepared to meet the bridegroom when he comes.  We need to prepare.  How do we prepare?  We listen to God’s Word and act on it now.  (Luke 11:28) “We must personally appropriate the teachings of Jesus and enact them in our lives.”[3]  As the wise saying goes, “practice makes perfect.”  “Living the Gospel is not like hoarding oil or packing a backpack.  It’s more like riding a bike, learning a new language or being generous.  You practice until it comes naturally.”[4]  If we want to use our time wisely, we have to practice living wisely over and over again, until living according to God’s Wisdom comes naturally.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the ominous warning in our Gospel.  Jesus makes perfectly clear that we know neither the hour nor the day when he will come, so the time to prepare for his return is right now.  Remember, the foolish maids in our Gospel were unprepared, so they were locked out of the wedding feast.  Just as it’s far too late to start studying for a test on exam day, it’ll be too late for us to start living according to God’s Wisdom at the hour of Christ’s return.  Now is the time to prepare.  Now’s the time to live according to God’s Wisdom.

†Now’s the time to forgive past hurts and mend broken relationships;

†Now’s the time to honor the God-given dignity of each person, no matter what our ethnic, political, or religious differences may be;

†Now’s the time to comfort those suffering from depression or addiction and all who are sick, hurting or afraid;

†Now’s the time, before it’s too late, to live like the saints we’re intended to be.

Yes, we wait, but there’s no shortage of opportunities to prepare ourselves for Christ’s Second Coming by living wisely right now, by living as God’s Wisdom teaches us to live.  As a wise scripture scholar warns us: “There is no knell so laden with regret as the sound of the words too late.”[5] 

          You know, when I fill my time waiting for my daughters with other things to do, I find that I don’t get angry at their glacial pace, they don’t get angry at my paternal impatience, they tolerate my questions with minimal eye rolls, and we’re all happy with their makeup and outfits.  When I use my time wisely, we end up living in peace and harmony just as Jesus taught us, even if only for a moment.  I guess that wise ketchup company was right when it said, “good things come to those who wait.” While these are all good outcomes, so much more is promised to us at the end of time when “[t]he Lord himself . . . with the trumpet of God will come down from heaven” to take us to his heavenly kingdom.  We may ask, “When will it happen?  We don’t know, so for now, we wait.  The question we should be asking, though, is whether we’ll be prepared to greet him when he comes.  We will be, if we use our time wisely.

Readings:  Wisdom 6: 12-16; Psalm 63; 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

[1] Justo L. González, Essential Theological Terms (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2005) at 182.
[2] Michael Kolarcik, “The Book of Wisdom,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. V (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1997) at 491.
[3] John Shea, Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers:  On Earth As It Is in Heaven, Matthew, Year A (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2004) at 316.
[4] Mary M. McGlone, “Practice Makes You Ready,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 54, no.2 (November 3-16, 2017) at 23.
[5] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) at 375.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Perfect Harmony

Blessings to Katie and David on the marriage today.  Here's the homily I gave at their ceremony.   

         I’ve been known, from time to time, to kick off a homily with a few lines from a song that speaks to the message I want to convey, so singing a little ditty for the wedding of two professional musicians seemed like a no-brainer. I struggled, though, to find a song that captured both Katie’s energetic, soulful style and David’s virtual silence. I needed a jazzy R&B song loaded with whole rests - with fermata over them – accompanied by an accordion. I didn’t find one. Then I remembered that this congregation would be filled with talented musicians - and Larry. Now, I can carry a tune, but I wouldn’t say that my voice is sought after, so I got cold feet and ditched the opening number. But I know I made the right choice because a wedding isn’t about the officiant, it’s about the bride and groom; and it isn’t about singing a solo, it’s about singing in perfect harmony. The readings that Katie and David have chosen for their wedding today explain why.

          Our first reading from Genesis teaches us that from the opening act of creation, man and woman were meant to live together in perfect harmony. Christ himself blesses this union with his presence at the Wedding at Cana in our Gospel. It’s no accident that Jesus’ first miracle takes place at a wedding because he who himself is the marriage of humanity and divinity graces marriage with the superabundant gift of God’s love. And as Saint Paul tells us in our second reading, nothing can separate us from the love of God. God’s love is the key to a successful marriage because God’s love perfects marital harmony.

          In the context of music, harmony is a combination of notes that has a pleasing effect. In the broader context, harmony can be understood as agreement, unity, friendship and peacefulness. I got that from Membean. I think all of us can agree with the words of Scripture that count among our most cherished blessings “a wife and husband who live in harmony.” (Sirach 25:1) So what brings harmony to a marriage? Love. As the Bard put it so eloquently, “[W]hen love speaks, the Voice of [God] makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.”[1] That was for you, Mary. Love is willing the good of another,[2] and it’s only when human love between a man and a woman is transformed by the love of God in Christ that it can become the kind of love that endures forever.[3] “What happened at Cana two thousand years ago happens in reality at every wedding feast.”[4] The loving presence of the Lord at your marriage today transforms your love for each other and gives you all you need to live together in perfect harmony. Let’s face it, that man and woman can live together in harmony is a miracle in and of itself. That miracle is only possible when you welcome God’s love into your marriage.

          Think of marriage as a symphony written by husband and wife note by note over the course of their life together. Your symphony will have its allegro and andante movements, and no doubt, a lot of whole rests. You may also encounter the occasional strepitus. All music students who can define strepitus in class on Monday will receive 10 extra-credit points. To stay in tune with each other, to keep harmony in your relationship no matter what tempo, key signature or accidental you face, you have to keep your eye on the divine conductor. Think of God like . . . Mr. Angeline - offering you a steady, constant, deliberate beat. When things get a little too crazy, God will be like . . . Mr. Andrews providing a cool, casual, bluesy rhythm to soothe your minds and calm your hearts. And when life is overwhelming, like the Prism Concert, God will stand tall above the crowd like Mr. Hopta, giving you big, bold, clear direction. If you keep your eye on the divine conductor and follow him throughout your marriage, you will live in God’s love, and you will make beautiful music together.

          You know, we’ve been meeting for more than two years preparing for this day; and I can honestly say that I count our time together among the strangest two years of my life. In our early meetings, Katie did all of the talking; she even answered the questions I asked David. I thought they were a ventriloquist act for a while. Katie asked hundreds of questions - some that I’ve never been asked before, and hope never to be asked again. David asked one. As we progressed into marriage preparation, I started to learn a little more about you – I heard about David’s computer obsession and Katie’s compulsion with candles and lotion. I stopped counting at 37 candles on your wedding registry. I learned that Katie worries about everything, that David does speak and that he has a wry sense of humor. When I asked Katie and David what they’d like in their wedding homily, David requested a limerick. Ask and you shall receive.
On Katie and David’s big day,
The sermon was great, so they say.
Deacon Mike preached his heart out
To make sure they’d start out
Their marriage in sweet harmon-ay.

But most of all, during these last two years I learned that you are two very different people who make beautiful music together. I learned that you love each other very much, that your love is firmly rooted in God’s love and that you have all you need to live in perfect harmony.

          It’s been my honor to spend these last two years with you – as strange as they were – and to contribute a few notes to what I’m sure will be a beautiful symphony. Though I shied away from serenading you this afternoon, I hope you know that I join the choirs of angels in singing your praises before the throne of God, praying that you live a long, happy life together in perfect harmony.

Readings: Genesis 2: 18-24; Psalm 128; Romans 8: 31b-35, 37-39; John 2: 1-11



[1] William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, scene iii, ln 342.
[2] See Catechism of the Catholic Church 1766, quoting Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I - II, 26 4.
[3] See Reginald H. Fuller, Daniel Westberg, Preaching the Lectionary:  The Word of God for the Church Today, ed. 3 (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2006) at 563.
[4] Pope Francis, General Audience, February 14, 2014. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Rules of Engagement - A Wedding Homily

Congratulations to Anna and Chris, who celebrated their marriage today!

          A few months ago during one of our marriage preparation sessions, Anna and Chris explained to me some of the challenges that Chris’s work travel introduces into their relationship. Just when they get used to being together, Chris has to travel, and they’re apart for an extended period of time. As soon as they get used to being apart, Chris is back, and they start all over again. We joked that their relationship was kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray lives the same day over and over again. I left that conversation very impressed with Anna and Chris, because it was clear to me that they’ve figured out how to make their relationship work – they’ve established, to use a military term, rules of engagement for the times they’re together and the times they’re apart. The readings that Anna and Chris have chosen for their ceremony this morning give us some insight into what those rules of engagement are.

          In our first reading from Genesis, we learn that in his infinite wisdom, God determined that “[i]t is not good for man to be alone.” So God created woman, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh, to be man’s lifelong companion and partner. From the very beginning of time, men and women were created to come together as husband and wife so they wouldn’t be alone. We’re meant to be together, but sometimes the responsibilities and challenges of life keep us apart. The success of a marriage, then, depends upon shared rules of engagement – ways to preserve, protect and strengthen a marriage in your times together and your times apart.

          What are the rules of engagement for a successful marriage? Well, our Gospel introduces us to the Beatitudes – the eight blessings shared by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes can be understood as spiritual qualities that lead to a happy life. You might even say that the Beatitudes are Jesus’ rules of engagement for a blessed life. We learn from among the Beatitudes that the humble, the righteous, the merciful, the pure of heart and the peacemakers are truly blessed. I think that we can all agree that these are wonderful qualities – great rules of engagement – to bring to a marriage.

          Saint Paul, in our second reading, brings these rules of engagement into crisper focus when he summarizes the Beatitudes with one word – love. Love is the most excellent way. God created us in love; God sustains us in love; God brings us together in love; and God commands us to love. There’s no rule of engagement greater than love, and no rule of engagement more important for a successful marriage than love.

          And that brings me back to that marriage preparation session when I realized that you’d figured out how to make your relationship work. I realized that your rules of engagement are based on love. During our time together, I’ve seen meekness in Anna in the way she accepts Chris’s difficult travel schedule, and righteousness when Chris’s sense of humor gets a little too close to the line. I’ve seen great mercy in Chris when he cleans up Anna’s mess, and a peacemaker when he agrees to fried chicken when he really wants shrimp for dinner. In all of this, I see great love. I see that your relationship works in your times together and your times apart because you’ve figured out how to love each other in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. You’ve figured out that love is the ultimate rule of engagement that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

          At the end of Groundhog Day, Bill Murray realizes that he can make each repeated day a little better by changing the way he responds to the people and events he encounters over and over again. Anna and Chris, you’ll have the same opportunity to change every day of your marriage for the better by responding to each other over and over again with humility, righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, and peace. If you continue to live by those rules of engagement, you will live together in love, and as Saint Paul tells us, love never fails.


Readings: Genesis 2: 18-24; Psalm 148; 1 Corinthians 12: 31-13: 8a; Matthew 5: 1-12a

Monday, September 11, 2017

A September 11, 2017 Prayer

Good and gracious God,

We remember and commend to your loving care all who died on September 11, 2001.  May the same Spirit that inspired so many to selfless acts of charity on that fateful day, turn our hearts and minds to all in need, particularly those affected by natural disasters and acts of terrorism, so that we may live always in communion with your divine justice, mercy and peace.

Amen   


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Finding Our Way - A Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

          Last Monday, the Meyer family adopted a three-month old shelter puppy named Homer after the ancient Greek poet-author of The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Like Homer the poet, Homer, the puppy, is blind.  It’s been a fascinating week watching Homer adapt to his new life and surroundings.  To find his way, Homer relies on his acute senses of hearing and smell, and he feels his way around obstacles with his paws.  As amazingly independent as he is, Homer can quickly become disoriented and frightened when the cacophony of new sounds and smells overwhelms him.  That’s when he needs us to help him find his way.  Like Homer, the puppy, all of us need help finding our way every once in a while.  Today’s readings teach us how.  

Our readings this evening remind us that as disciples, we’re called to be watchmen – to guard the truth, proclaim it and correct those who stray from it.  Being a watchman, we learn, involves speaking the truth in love.  But to speak the truth in love, we have to know what the truth is in the first place.  “The ability to see the truth and give witness to it is a gift from God and not something we have earned.”[1]  It’s up to us, then, to receive that gift, open it up and ground ourselves in God’s truth.  How do we do that?  Our readings offer three suggestions.

First, our Psalm calls us to “listen to the voice of the Lord.”  Disciples have to be able to listen and live by God’s word.  Where do we find it?  Let’s start with Scripture.  The Bible, as we know, is the world’s best-selling and most widely-distributed book, but how many of us have a Bible and never crack it open?  To understand the truth, we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture.  We need to dust off our Bible, read it, study it, contemplate how God’s Word applies to our daily lives and listen to it. 

We also find God’s Word in our conscience.  Our conscience is our most secret core and sanctuary where we’re alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths.[2]  To hear God’s voice in our conscience, we have to slow down, be present to ourselves and pay attention.  We need a sense of interiority – all the more so today as our busy lives often deny us opportunities for reflection, self-examination or introspection.  As Saint Augustine reminds us, “Return to your conscience, question it . . .. Turn inward . . ., and in everything you do, see God as your witness.”[3]  Harden not your hearts.  Listen to God’s Word, and you’ll find the truth.

Another way to ground ourselves in the truth is to turn to trusted advisers.  Our Gospel offers a road map for resolving disputes peaceably, telling us to turn to friends and to the Church when disputes escalate and can’t be resolved.  “Among their fellow people of God, aggrieved parties had their best chance of sympathy; among people they trusted, they could be vulnerable and open to correction.”[4]  We all need trusted advisers, wise people we can turn to when we can’t find our way.  We often seek out trusted advisers among our family, friends and mentors, but we can’t forget the Church.  The Church, as the guardian of God’s Word, offers us millennia of consistent reflection upon and interpretation of the truth.  The Church is also our community of friends, our companions on the journey to the truth, and as Homer, the poet, said, “A companion’s words of persuasion are effective.”[5]

Lastly, we ground ourselves in the truth by grounding ourselves in love.  Saint Paul teaches us in our second reading that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”  When we love, we act the way God wants us to act; we act in truth.  “If love is the motivation within the heart, if a person’s whole life is dominated by love for God and love for other people, that person needs no other law.”[6]  If you’re looking for a simple way to find the truth, to find your way in the Odyssey of life, follow St. Paul’s advice:  when in doubt, love. 

          When Homer, the puppy, becomes overwhelmed and frightened, he spins around frantically in circles.  Unfortunately, I see this reaction in a lot of people these days, particularly in our youth and young adults.  In a world where truth is viewed as relative and human interactions are relegated to Snapchats and 148-character Tweets, we’re losing touch with each other, with the truth, and with God.  The result is a dramatic increase in anxiety and depression among people under twenty-five[7] because they’re spinning in circles.  They can’t find their way.  When Homer, the puppy, can’t find his way, we hold him, speak soft words to him and love him.  Through words, community and love, Homer finds his way in this confusing and scary world.  We can, too.




[1] Jude Winkler, New St. Joseph’s Handbook for Proclaimers of the Word, Liturgical Year A 2017 (New Jersey, Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2016) at 303.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church at 1776.
[3] Saint Augustine, In Evangelium Johannis Tractatus, 8, 9.
[4] Michael Simone, “The Power of the Church at Work,” America, vol. 217, no. 5 (September 4, 2017) at 52.
[5] Homer, The Iliad, XI, I.793.
[6] William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2002) at 208.
[7] Dr. David Volpi, “Heavy Technology Use Linked to Fatigue, Stress and Depression in Young Adults,” Huff Post, October 2, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-volpi-md-pc-facs/technology-depression_b_1723625.html

Monday, September 4, 2017

Now What?


I recently came across a Facebook post from a Texas man affected by Hurricane Harvey.  He was understandably upset and frustrated.  His post can be summarized as follows: “Please stop praying for us and do something.  Prayers don’t help; actions do.”  With all due respect and empathy for his situation, I beg to differ.  In fact, I think our most important prayer at times like this is, “Now what?”   

Tragedies, like Hurricane Harvey, raise a lot of questions, not the least of which is: “Why does God allow suffering?”  To be clear, God does not will or cause suffering, that would be contrary to God’s nature, but God does allow suffering to occur and continue.  “How,” we ask, “can an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God permit evil and suffering?"  The short answer is, we don’t really know.  While there have been many attempts to answer that question, my favorite comes from Saint Augustine: “For Almighty God . . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.”  God in his infinite wisdom and power can make a greater good come out of any evil.  Think of it this way, when a small child has his tonsils removed, he doesn’t understand why he has to endure the pain of surgery.  However, his doctors and parents know that the short-term suffering caused by a tonsillectomy will lead to the greater good of better overall health. 

That brings us back to prayer.  We are God’s hands and feet; we are the instruments through which God can make good arise from any evil.  Prayer helps us understand God’s wisdom and fills us with God’s power.  Through prayer, we unite ourselves, our concerns and our needs with God and with each other.  In prayer, we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with God's eternal love so we can share it with others.  Prayer inspires us to do something.  So in times of tragedy, the very first thing we should do, the best thing we can do, is pray, because prayer leads us to an answer when all we can bear to ask is, “Now what?”

For those who may be looking for an answer to your “now what?” prayer, I contribute to Catholic Charities USA.  It’s a great boots-on-the-ground organization that cares for all people, regardless of religion or any other “category” you can think of, and 100% of contributions are going to those in need.  If you’re inspired to help animals, I contribute to Saint Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center.  This wonderful group took in Texas shelter dogs that were available for adoption prior to the hurricane so the Texas shelters could accommodate the animals that became homeless or displaced as a result of the hurricane, thus making it easier for owners and pets to be reunited.  The Meyers were so impressed with Saint Hubert’s, that part of the answer to our “now what?” prayer was adopting a three-month old, blind puppy re-named Homer (after the blind, Greek poet, not the bumbling cartoon character). 


That simple, two-word prayer opens our hearts to participation in God’s providential plan that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  I think Homer would agree that our most important prayer this weekend was, “Now what?”, and I hope that the people who receive assistance from the countless volunteers and donations inspired by prayer feel the same.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dog Days

                I spent the past few days in the Catskills with our two dogs, Otis and Tilly.  Otis is a chocolate lab in the golden years of his life.  Tilly is a mouthy, young mixed-breed.  Otis is a strong, quiet dog who gives kisses to anyone and anything in reach of his unfurled tongue.  Tilly thinks she’s a princess, and she protests when she isn’t treated like one.  Otis and Tilly spent their days in the Catskills going on long walks, eating and sleeping.  I spent my days taking Otis and Tilly on long walks, feeding them and painting our cabin.  It seems like my days would have been better spent as dog days.

                Dogs are amazing animals.  They’ve adapted themselves over millennia to be uniquely attuned to human behavior, rightfully taking their place in the human heart as man’s best friend.  Dogs can be found side-by-side with their human partners as herders, hunters, protectors, therapists, guides and, of course, companions.  In my opinion, no domestic animal (and I’ve had them all) is as smart, loyal, loving and forgiving as canis familiaris.

                What amazes me most about dogs is their ability to live in the moment.  Dogs aren’t affected by time; they don’t fret about yesterday or worry about tomorrow.  Dogs don’t pass their days pining away for us to come home, but they’re thrilled as soon as we cross the threshold.  Dogs don’t worry about where and when their next meal will come from, but they’ll nearly knock us the floor in unbridled enthusiasm as we prepare their supper bowl.  Dogs live in the now. 

                There’s a lot to be learned from a dog’s “live in the now” kind of attitude – it’s very eternal.  Eternity is the ever-present “now” – there’s no past to fret about or future to worry about.  There’s just now.  We say that only God is eternal because only God is not bound by time; he always has been and always will be.  Now just imagine an ever-present, everlasting life of pure love, peace and happiness.  Sounds, pretty good, doesn’t it?  Well, that’s what it’s like to be God.  And out of his boundless love, God offers every one of us a share of his eternal life right now; he invites each us to live in his love, peace and happiness now and forever. 

It isn’t easy to live always in the now.  There are bills to pay, mouths to feed and futures to plan.  But God isn’t calling us to abandon these responsibilities; he’s inviting us into his eternal life of love, peace and happiness so we won’t worry about them, so we’ll let the past go and deal with the future as it comes.  “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are not you more important than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
 
          God calls us to trust his promise that “all shall be well,” forget about yesterday, don’t sweat tomorrow and live in the now, just like dogs do.  I guess you could say that God invites us to be more dog-like, so we can become more God-like.  It seems like our days would be better spent as dog days.