Sunday, October 25, 2009

As Christ was Anointed ...

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Jeremiah 31.7-9 Psalm 126 Hebrews 5.1-6 Mark 10.46-52

When you look at the new baptismal font in our church, there are two symbols that stand out right away – the water that fills the font and flows between the upper and lower fonts; and the cross, the shape of the font itself. But there is another symbol that is an important part of design of the font: oil. Oil is an ancient symbol of strength and has been used for thousands of years to anoint people who are set apart for a special purpose or task. Our new font includes a permanent place to keep the three Holy Oils that are used in the sacraments – the Sacred Chrism, the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Infirm. This case for the oils is called an Ambry and stands here the church as a reminder of what these oils are used for and what they symbolize. And the most important of these three oils is the Sacred Chrism.

The Chrism oil is a special mixture of olive oil and perfumes blessed each year during Holy Week by the bishop of each diocese. When a baby or child is baptized, the priest or deacon takes oil – the Sacred Chrism – and puts that oil on the crown of the child’s head. As the oil is placed on the child’s head in baptism, a prayer is said asking that the person just baptized grow to become more like Christ, to share in the ministry of Christ who is priest, prophet and king. Even though the oil goes away, there is a seal – a sacramental, spiritual mark – that is left on a person’s soul at baptism. Once you are baptized, you are always baptized, and you always have the potential to share in the priesthood, prophecy, and kingship of Christ. Several years later in life, when people baptized as infants or children receive the sacrament of Confirmation, or when an adult is baptized or received into the Church, the same Chrism oil is used once again. This time, the oil is placed on the forehead as the bishop or priest says: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Once again, even when the oil goes away, the seal stays – a person who has been confirmed always has the Holy Spirit living in them, forever. This same Sacred Chrism is also used in the sacrament of Holy Orders. When a priest is ordained, his hands are anointed with the Chrism. And when a bishop is ordained, the Chrism is poured over his head. In about six weeks, our own former pastor Fr. Paul Etienne will have his head anointed with Chrism as he is ordained a bishop and begins his ministry in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In each of these sacraments – baptism, confirmation, and holy orders – each time the Sacred Chrism is used, something monumental happens – the person receiving the sacrament is never the same again. The oil itself is just a symbol – something you can see and touch and smell – but it is a symbol of a greater reality. In baptism, you become a child of God – always and forever. In confirmation, you receive the Holy Spirit – always and forever. And when he is ordained a priest or a bishop, a man becomes a priest forever, like Melchizedek, one of the great priest-kings of the Old Testament. We’re all still human – we sin, we make mistakes, we can even choose to turn completely away from God and ignore his presence in our lives – but the seal remains, our very nature as human beings has been marked and claimed by God, whether we are baptized Christians, confirmed Catholics, or ordained priests or bishops. The oil is a symbol of a seal that we receive from God that can never be taken away from us. And now, in a visible way, whenever we look at our new baptismal font and see the water running and the oils illuminated behind the water, it should remind us of who we are – baptized Christians, anointed to be like Jesus Christ and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. And there is nothing that can take that sacramental seal away from us.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2009 Litany of Ministries

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Isaiah 53.10-11 Psalm 33 Hebrews 4.14-16 Mark 10.42-45

A Christian is first of all a person who wants to be like Christ. And one of the main ways we can be like Christ is to serve, to go through our lives making our decisions and spending our time not just for ourselves, but for others. It’s counter-cultural, to be sure; it requires us to step away from the selfishness and individualism that dominate our society. To serve others is to recognize Christ in them and also to recognize Christ in yourself; to live for others while allowing others to live for you. As a parish community, we strive to be a place where that service can happen. On the one side, our staff and our parish leadership work to provide opportunities for those who are in need – in need of education, prayer, comfort in times of grief, food in times of hunger, gospel inspiration in times of despair, social connections in times of loneliness. On the other hand, these same ministries are opportunities for our members to become like Christ in serving others, in being the voice, the hands, the arms, the feet, the heart of Christ to those around them. And there are many ways we help to facilitate this service.

Continuing a parish tradition, today I will read out a litany of the ministries and organization of our parish. As I do so, I invite anyone involved in that ministry either as a leader or as a participant to stand and to remain standing until I ask you to be seated.

We begin with the leadership groups of our parish:
Parish Staff
Pastoral Council
Finance Council

Christian Service Commission
Soup Kitchen
Ministry to the Sick
Health Ministry
Pro-Life Ministry
Catholics in Action
St. Vincent de Paul
Bereavement Team
Funeral Lunches
Resurrection Choir

Faith Formation Commission
Parish Mission
Parish Retreat
Adult Faith Formation
Faith First/Faith Formation for Children
Vacation Bible School
Children’s Liturgy of the Word
RCIA for Children
Baptism Preparation

Family and Parish Life Commission
Family Connections
Welcome Committee
Parish Feast Day/Summer Picnic
Divorce Recovery
Marriage Preparation Sponsor Couples
Prime Timers
Young Adult Ministry
Child Care
Prayer Line
Catholics Returning Home

School Commission
Commission for Education
School Faculty and Staff
Technology Committee
Marketing and Development Committee

Liturgical Commission
Liturgy Committee
Eucharistic Adoration/First Fridays
Altar Servers
Eucharistic Ministers
Art and Environment
Traditional Choir
Contemporary Choir
Youth Choir
Children’s Choir

Stewardship Commission
Called to Serve Stewardship Committee
Tent Event Committee and Volunteers
Building and Grounds
Parish Newsletter
Capital Campaign

Youth Commission
Youth Ministry Commission
Our Lady’s Activity Team
High School Youth Group
Confirmation Preparation
Youth Ministry Volunteers
Youth Ministry Athletic Committee
Youth Ministry Athletic Volunteers

Now that we have seen and heard the opportunities for service in our parish, only one question remains: how is God calling you to be his servant? And remember, it’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about God, seeing and serving God in other people.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's about God

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Wisdom 7.7-11 Psalm 90 Hebrews 4.12-13 Mark 10.17-30
Note: This weekend, our parish Finance Council Chairperson gave the annual Parish Financial Accountability Report. Because of the addition of this report to each of the weekend Masses, the homily was more brief than usual.

I am convinced that we try to do too much ourselves. Most people’s lives today are the busiest that human beings have ever been. Many of us are consumed with a myriad of different activities and events that fill our days. We have lost the art of rest, we have forgotten the value of slowing down and enjoying life as it comes to us. Instead, we run out to meet it, filling our lives with sports and shopping and festivals and meetings and work and visiting people and music and Facebook and texting and that favorite TV show that we just can’t miss. We do too much. Or, taken from another perspective, we do too much ourselves. We often think that it is our efforts, our commitment, our hard work that will result in happiness, or success, or achievement of some kind – whether for ourselves, our family, or our community. We work ourselves to death in order to provide for our families; we fill our children’s lives with more sports and activities than we can count in order to live through their success; we are always on the lookout for the latest gadget or technology that will show our friends that we are part of the in-crowd. Our lives are defined not only by what we have but by what we do; or what we do. So it was for the rich man who met Jesus on a journey and was so interested in what he could do to inherit eternal life. He kept the commandments, he followed God’s law. But he couldn’t part with his wealth; he couldn’t give up his possessions, those things that defined who he was. For us, it might not be our possessions that keep us from God; but there is always something – our talent, our attachment to friends, our never-ending work ethic, our winning personality. The greatest step that we can take toward eternal life is to acknowledge that nothing we have, nothing we do, nothing we are, will ever get us there. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. Those things that define our earthly lives have no bearing in the life to come. In the end, only one thing matters: God is in control, and for God, all things are possible. The best thing we can do to get closer to God is to seek the wisdom that helps us live detached from our possessions, our goals, our dreams and instead live for God alone. It’s not about me; it’s not about you – it’s about God.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Relieving Aloneness

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Genesis 2.18-24 Psalm 128 Hebrews 2.9-11 Mark 10.2-12

“It is not good for man to be alone.”

The people of Chicago were heartbroken on Friday, while the people of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, celebrated as it was announced that Rio would host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. In explaining their choice of Rio de Janeiro, the International Olympic Committee noted that these games would be the first Olympics to be held in South America. Part of the purpose of the Olympic Games is to bring fellowship, friendship, and sportsmanship together in different parts of the world – to help build a world-wide human community, to foster relationships among people from all parts of the world. It’s all about celebrating our common humanity – what brings us together as one people.

And we seem to do those kinds of things well – the big celebrations, the festivals, the contests that bring people together – from something as grand as the Olympic Games to our own parish Tent Event this weekend. We’re good at providing opportunities for people to come together as community. But not everyone feels part of a community, not everyone feels loved and included. Even with great community events, the world is still filled with loneliness. Loneliness persists when divorce tears a family apart. Loneliness persists when inner turmoil leads to despair. Loneliness persists when an unexpected pregnancy brings more questions than answers. Loneliness persists when a loved one’s life ends in a sudden, unexpected death. Even with so many opportunities to be with other people, the opportunities themselves do not always help. What can we do, where can we turn, when we feel completely and utterly alone?

Some of the time, we turn first to the people who are around us – to family and close friends, to those who are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. These relationships can help to ease our loneliness – they provide companionship, a listening ear, an understanding heart. But a lot of times, this doesn’t work by itself. Our faith tells us that the only sure way to relieve loneliness is through a personal relationship and encounter with Jesus Christ. God emptied himself of everything that makes him God in order to become a man like us in all things but sin. He came to this earth in order to suffer and die, just like us – he became our brother. Jesus knows what it is like to be alone and abandoned – his disciples left him when he was most in need; he cried from the cross that he even felt abandoned by his heavenly father. Jesus can identify with our loneliness. And he promises never to leave us by ourselves. The one relationship that will never fail is our relationship with Christ. He is always here, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for all of eternity. Turn to him, trust in him, and you will never feel alone. And then, if we can model all of our human relationships on our relationship with Christ – that is how we will find fulfillment. We are called to develop a marriage, a friendship, a parish, a community that treats everyone around them like Christ. Because, yes, there is loneliness in our world, in our lives, in this church today, in spite of the great community events that bring us together. And even though we know that Jesus Christ is always with us, it often takes a human face, a human voice, a human love to lead us to Christ.