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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Are You an Innie or an Outie?

                No, I’m not interested in your belly button – with summer fashion being what it is, that’s hardly a secret anymore.  I’m wondering whether you consider yourself to be within God’s love or outside of it.  Each of the four readings from the Lectionary this Sunday speaks of the breadth of God’s love – how it extends to all who choose his ways.  So as we contemplate these readings at Mass this weekend, we should ask ourselves:  Am I an innie or an outie?

                If we accept that God is love, that God is perfect, and that God is infinite, then we must accept that God loves us perfectly and infinitely.  He has no choice.  It’s who God is.  That means that God never stops loving us, and God doesn’t play favorites.  He loves us all equally, and if you don’t believe me, check out this week’s readings.  Isaiah, Saint Paul and Jesus himself testify to the humbling and comforting fact that God’s love isn’t restricted to a select few.  “Foreigners,” “Gentiles,” and “Canaanites” – all of us are welcomed into God’s loving embrace.  Why does our Psalm call all the nations to praise God?  Because he “rules the peoples in equity.”  Put another way, from God’s perspective, we’re all innies.   

                Nothing can separate us from God’s love – except ourselves.  God’s life-giving love is, well, umbilical, but we choose whether or not we receive it.  Think of it this way, God’s love is like the electric current coursing through the wires in our walls.  It’s always there; we just have to plug into it.  Unfortunately, we don’t always stay plugged in.  Consciously or subconsciously, in our thoughts and in our words, in what we do and what we fail to do, we disconnect ourselves from God’s love – we unplug.  Now don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t stop loving us when we unplug; we stop receiving God’s love, and then, we become outies.
     
                How do we stay plugged in?  We love.  God calls us to receive his love so that we can share it with others.  Love is active, not static.  It has to move.  We can’t receive God’s love and hang onto it.  We have to share it.  Remember, Adam’s sin was grasping at what was not his to hang onto.  And what’s the first thing he did?  He ratted out Eve  - he failed to love God and Eve - and as a result of their sin, Adam and Eve became outies.  If we want to remain in God’s infinite love, if we want to be innies, we need to take a good look at ourselves, consider everything we say, think and do and make a choice.

-          If we choose to think that someone is inferior to us, we fail to honor that person’s God-given dignity and choose to be an outie.

-          If we choose to fight hatred with hatred and violence with violence, we fail to heed God’s Commandments and choose to be an outie. 

-          If we choose to tolerate differences without compromising the truth, we live in God’s peace and choose to be an innie.

-          If we choose to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and shelter the homeless without regard to race, creed color, beliefs, past acts or omissions, we share God’s infinite love and choose to be an innie.

          It’s our choice.  Do we live in God’s love, or unplug ourselves from it?  It’s time to do a little navel gazing.  Are we an innie or an outie?

Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67; Romans:11: 13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Get Out of the Boat! - Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

When I was a senior in high school, it was all the rage to include a quote or saying under our yearbook picture.  But when the time came for me to choose my quote, I was speechless.  Imagine that.  I considered lines from favorite songs, epic movies and thought-provoking books, but nothing resonated with me.  I wanted something aspirational, something that would inspire me to do great things in the future.  But I was stumped, so I did what any smart kid would do – I asked my mother – and without missing a beat, my mother said, “You can’t walk on water if you don’t get out of the boat.”   That was it.  That was my quote; and little did I know that some thirty-plus years later, that quote would be the message of today’s Gospel.

In our Gospel, we find the disciples adrift at sea, tossed about by the wind and waves.  When they think they see a ghost approaching on the water, Jesus identifies himself, but Peter wants proof.  He tells Jesus to command him to come to Jesus on the water.  The rest is history.  Jesus says, “Come.”  Peter gets out of the boat and walks on water, that is, until his belief in Jesus was overcome by his belief in gravity. 
     
          Jesus calls every one of us to get out of the boat and come to him.  While he’s always willing to meet us wherever we are, even in our God-forsaken places, Jesus calls us to come where he is so we can reach our full potential, do great things and become all that we’re meant to be.  Think of it this way, all parents are delighted when our children begin to crawl, but we’re not satisfied; we encourage our children to walk and then to run.  It’s the same with Jesus – he’s always calling us to greater things.  Now, Jesus doesn’t call us to abandon who we are; he calls us to perfect who we are, “to allow his grace to transform our hearts in his love”[1] so we can become God-like, just as we were created to be.  Jesus didn’t call Peter to dazzle the disciples either; he called Peter “to teach them that trusting in God would carry them where they never dreamed they would go.”[2]

          Jesus calls.  So, what are we waiting for?  Well, the short answer is we’re afraid.  We’re afraid of failure, of criticism, of not fitting in.  We may even be afraid for our physical safety.  In the end, we’re afraid to live our faith openly and honestly; we’re afraid to take risks and try new things – we’re afraid to get out of the boat.  But if we call ourselves Christians, we have no excuse.  “Jesus was completely honest with people; he always urged them to see how difficult it was to follow him before they set out upon the Christian way.”[3]  Christianity isn’t a safe religion.  Jesus made that perfectly clear, and if you don’t believe me, consider the 90,000 Christians martyred last year.  But from an eternal perspective, Christianity is our safe place; it’s our hope; it’s our salvation.  So, we have to remember that “[t]he one who says, “Come!” does not abandon those who respond.”[4]  When Peter began to sink, Jesus was right there to catch him.  He’s there for us, too.  If our Gospel teaches us anything, it teaches us that Christians are called “to venture out into the full fury of life’s storm and leave our fantasies of security behind,”[5] but at the same time, to trust the words of our Psalm: “Near indeed is his salvation.”

That brings us back to our challenge.  We have no excuse.  Jesus is calling; it’s time to get out of the boat.  “Our world is in desperate need of witnesses to the possibility of living Gospel values.”[6]  

-         If you fear that our children and young adults are losing faith in the face of moral relativism, get out of the boat.  Jesus is calling you to become a catechist or a leader in our youth and young adult programs;

-         If you see growing poverty and isolation in our community, get out of the boat. Jesus is calling you to join the good works of our Knights of Columbus, our home-bound, social concerns, nursing home or prison ministries.

-         If you mourn a broken relationship, get out of the boat. Jesus is calling you to make the first move and reconcile with your lost brother or sister.

-         If you’re sick and tired of hatred and violence like I am, let’s get out of the boat together!   Jesus is calling us to model love and peace in all that we say and do, and post online.

Whether it be in the tiny whispering sound that Elijah heard on Mount Horeb, in the anguish Saint Paul felt in his conscience, in a powerful homily delivered by a handsome deacon, or in any other way that God chooses to communicate with us, Jesus is calling each one of us to break out of our comfort zones and bear witness to him to the world.

          As I look back on my life since high school, that little quote has served me well.  I’ve been to places I never imagined I would go; I’ve done things I never thought I would do; and I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life I never presumed I would meet.   I hope that, along the way, I’ve answered Jesus’ call every once in a while, too, though you may be wishing that I had just stayed in the boat.  Jesus is calling every one of us to bear witness to him to the world in our own unique ways.  He may not be calling us to walk on water, but he’s definitely calling us to get out of the boat.

Readings:  1 Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85; Romans 9: 1-5; Matthew 14: 22-33


[1] Jude Winkler, New St. Joseph Handbook for Proclaimers of the Word, Liturgical Year A, 2017 (New Jersey, Catholic Book Publishing, 2016) at 285.
[2]  Mary McGlone, “Walk Like the Master,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 53, no. 21 (July 28-August 10, 2017) at 19.
[3] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) at 125.
[4] John Shea, The 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 250.
[5] Michael Simone, “Tune Out the Noise,” America, vol. 217, no. 3 (August 7, 2017) at 50.
[6] McGlone.