Sunday, April 25, 2010
Acts 13.14, 43-52 Psalm 100 Revelation 7.9, 14b-17 John 10.27-30
At all Masses this weekend at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick was offered to those who have a serious illness or who are suffering the effects of old age. The following brief homily was preached prior to the Anointing.
Jesus is very clear today. There are no conditions … no exceptions. Anyone who hears his voice and follows him will never perish. Ever. No one can take his sheep out of his hand. No restrictions … no stipulations. When we follow the Good Shepherd, he will never leave us. No sickness or injury, not even death itself can separate us from his love. Of course, we must follow him; we must listen for his voice. But if we do that, he will always stay with us, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, through all of eternity. In a visible way, the Sacraments of the Church remind us of that. Today, as we offer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, we remember that Jesus is with us in our suffering and pain, he longs to give us strength and peace. To be anointed with oil is to unite ourselves to Christ, who was anointed in his burial, conquered sin and death with his resurrection, and sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always. To be anointed with oil in the sign of the cross is to mark us as children of God, blessed and broken, followers of the Good Shepherd who will never forget us. It is as clear as can be: follow Christ, and he will be with you always. And really, that’s all we need to know.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Acts 5.27-32, 40b-41 Psalm 30 Revelation 5.11-14 John 21.1-19
Like the massive cloud of volcanic ash blowing over Europe, the lingering effects of the clergy sex abuse crisis have been hovering over the Church once again in recent weeks. News of the sins – the crimes – the failings – of priests and Church leaders has spread around the globe, and we faithful followers of Christ are faced with a difficult reality and an even more difficult path ahead. Surrounded by reports that are mixed with truth and distortions, it can be hard for us to see where we are going. Consumed by shame and disgrace, we can easily lose heart. And when our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, endures personal attacks and even calls for his removal, many Catholics find themselves disoriented and stuck in the middle of the clouds. Nothing can excuse any form of abuse by anyone; nothing can excuse a cover-up or avoidance of allegations that could cause more children or adults to be put in harm’s way. But, at the same time, nothing can excuse a twisting of the facts or placing blame in the wrong place. In the midst of so much sorrow and confusion, to whom can we go? Where can we turn to find truth, love, strength, and perseverance? Where else, but to Christ himself.
At the very end of John’s gospel, Jesus once more invites Peter and the other disciples to follow him. He’s said this many times before. But this time, they have a better idea where they are going. To follow Christ means to go with him to the poor, the neglected, and the outsiders, as well as the rich, the powerful, and the influential, and to preach the same message of love and grace to them all. To follow Christ means to love as He loves, to be willing to lay down your own life for a friend. To follow Christ means to go with him to Calvary, to be willing to suffer the taunts and jeers and accusations of people who do not understand what you are doing. To follow Christ means being willing to forgive, just as he forgave the denials of Peter and the abandonment of the other disciples. And to follow Christ means to trust in his promise that the road to death is followed by a promised eternal life for those who are true to his name. Everything we do on this life is directed toward that single goal – the joy of heaven. When we fail to preach the gospel, we turn away from heaven. When we fail to love in an authentic way, we turn away from heaven. When we fail to respect the dignity of each person we meet, we turn away from heaven. But when we love, when we forgive, when we sincerely repent for our past failings, when we transform our hearts, then we walk together with Christ into eternity.
Our first task on that journey is to repent. Pope Benedict himself acknowledged that in a homily preached this past Thursday. The sins of a few have damaged all of us who follow Christ; together, we must recognize what is wrong in our lives, open ourselves to forgiveness, prepare to do penance, and allow ourselves to be transformed. We must forsake the past. Then, we must learn the truth – and not be afraid of what the truth is. We must not be overwhelmed by what the media tells us, but look for the complete truth as best we can. One piece of truth that has almost been hidden in recent days is the humble leadership that our Holy Father has used to guide the Church; the record shows that he has led the campaign to acknowledge the failings of priests and bishops and to purify the Church. More than anyone else, he is suffering greatly these days, and we pray that his courageous witness of truth will continue to guide us to Christ. Finally, we must learn day by day how to love. We must learn a type of love that is not about me, but about Christ. When we love God above all else, when we recognize the presence of Christ in every person on earth and love them the same way that we love God himself, when we love our enemies and those who hate us just as we love our friends – then we will be steadily on the path of following Christ and getting away from the cloud of doubt, of despair, and of death. Repent – learn the truth – and love. That is the path of Christ, that is the path to eternity. It is a road that we must walk together as a Church; it is a road that requires honesty and humility and strength. Together, then, if we dare, let us follow Christ.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Acts 5.12-16 Psalm 118 Revelation 1.9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 John 20.19-31
It was found on the east side of the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon’s portico formed the gateway from the hustle and bustle of the city into the Temple area itself. It was an area of the Temple where both Jews and gentiles could gather – and they did gather there every day to buy and sell, to catch up on the latest news of the town, to meet friends from other parts of the city. And so it was there, at Solomon’s Portico, that the apostles also gathered, where they would have a captive audience from both the Jewish community and the Roman empire. It was there that they cured the sick, there that they preached the gospel, and it was there that they baptized new followers of Christ. There, at Solomon’s portico on the east side of the Temple.
Not too far away in Jerusalem was the room where the disciples had gathered on the evening of the first day of the week, after the death of their master, when they had discovered that his tomb was empty. In that locked room, a room of fear and questions, the Risen Lord had appeared and breathed the Holy Spirit onto them. In that room in Jerusalem, the Church had its beginning, and the disciples left fear behind as they began to spread the good news of the Resurrection.
Many years later, one of those disciples, a man named John, was sent to a small, rocky island at the far eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, an island called Patmos. It was a beautiful place, but a quiet place. At the time, the only people who lived on Patmos were there because they had been exiled for crimes against the Roman Empire. John had been sent there by the Emperor hoping that he would stop preaching about the man named Jesus. But in a small cave on a rocky hill on Patmos, John received a revelation. And he wrote down everything he heard.
From a locked room where peace cast out fear … to the gate of the Temple where Jews and gentiles gathered … to a cave on an island of exiles … the presence of the Risen Christ extended to every place in need of healing, in need of hope, in need of salvation. No place was too remote or too hidden, no place was too crowded or too noisy. Wherever was found a child of God, there too could be found the presence of the Savior, offering the gifts of peace, love, and guidance. So it was in those days, and so it is today. From the waiting room of an intensive care unit at a hospital in Louisville … to the lonely prison cell on death row. From a coal mine in West Virginia … to the site of a plane crash in western Russia. From the tables at a neighborhood coffee shop … to the pews of this church. From the dining room table set for one or twelve … to the car or bus ride to work, to school, to a job interview, to the unemployment office. The location doesn’t matter. When we need him most, the Risen Christ will be with us wherever we are. That is the promise of Easter; that is the promise of the Resurrection. So take comfort and rejoice – he is not among the dead, he is alive; he is not at rest in a tomb, he is here among us. Do not be afraid – look around and know the peace that God is ready to give you, wherever you are.
The Island of Patmos
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Acts 10.34a,37-43 Psalm 118 Colossians 3.1-4 Luke 24.1-12
This past week, I was at a local restaurant and noticed a sign hanging on the front window. The sign had a picture of a crucifix on it, with the announcement: “We will be closed this Sunday, Easter, so that our employees can spend time with their families.” I was really a bit surprised – pleasantly surprised. Because this doesn’t happen very much any more. Now there are a few businesses that have a corporate-wide policy that they are closed on Sundays – every Sunday. But they are fewer and fewer, and even closing on one Sunday out of the year – Easter Sunday – is becoming a rare occurrence. So what’s the deal? Why has Sunday become more a day for shopping and housework than for prayer, rest, and time with family? And why is Sunday important anyway? I won’t speculate today on why or how what we do on Sunday has changed over time, but on this Easter Day it is good for us to remember why Sunday is significant to begin with. And it all starts and ends with one thing – the Resurrection.
That Sunday morning so long ago, when the women came to the tomb and found it empty, was the turning point of all creation. From that Sunday morning, everything changed. No longer are we caught in the trap of sin, no longer does death control us. From that Sunday morning when Christ rose from the dead, the gates of heaven have been opened for us, death has been conquered, and sin has been destroyed. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives meaning to our lives – it tells us that we are not alone, Christ is always with us, and he longs to make us holy in this life and to bring us to himself in the life to come. When we remember that, when we remember the Resurrection that happened on a Sunday morning so long ago, we will want to celebrate our redemption each time the calendar turns to the first day of the week, the day of light, the day of joy, the day of Resurrection.
And how do we mark that day? The sign on the restaurant window this week said it well – we spend time with our families. We first of all spend time with our family of faith, with the family of God, when we make Mass a priority in our routines each and every Sunday. But we might also spend time with our earthly family, strengthening the bonds that tie us to our blood relatives and those who are like family to us. Or we might spend time on Sunday creating new families, visiting the sick or shut-ins, studying Scripture with a small group of people, or writing notes to loved ones who are distant from us. Somehow – in some way – Sunday should be different for us as Christians. A day for family, a day with God, a day celebrating the risen life that we have received. Really, it’s pretty simple. But it takes priorities and it takes intentional effort. And remember – no matter what else is closed on Sundays, you will always find the church open.
There is so much that happens in this liturgy tonight – so many symbols, so much beauty – that it can be difficult to grasp onto any one thing that dominates our Easter Vigil celebration. Is it the story of salvation history that we just heard through eight Scripture readings – from the creation of the world to the resurrection of Christ? Or is it the water and oil that will be used in a few minutes for baptism and confirmation? Or is it the bread and wine that later this evening will be sanctified by the Holy Spirit to become the Body and Blood of Christ? Or is it the light of a single candle shining to dispel the darkness of this night? There is so much here to draw our attention and to cause our spirits to soar. And when this night is over, and the candles are put out and the lights turned off and the books of Scripture put away and the Alleluia’s fade – what is left? From this day forward, the five people who are baptized tonight will always be baptized children of God. The adults who are confirmed will always have the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And the Eucharist will continue to nourish us every time we gather around this altar. No matter where we go, the words that we hear and the Sacraments we celebrate will continue to lead us to Christ, risen from the tomb, the Son of God who has conquered death and opened for us the gates of paradise. The wisdom of God will give us strength and understanding, life and peace (Baruch 3.14). And when our lives come to their earthly end, we have the sure hope that “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Romans 6.8). The true greatness of this night is that it does not end when we go home. Christ is risen today – and every day. The Sacraments give us life – today and every day. The light of Christ scatters the darkness of this world – today and every day. There is much for us to celebrate here – not just tonight, but every night. For Christ risen from the dead lives in us each day and every night, leading us to the joy of heaven.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Exodus 12.1-8, 11-14 Psalm 116 1 Corinthians 11.23-26 John 13.1-15
Why is tonight different from all other nights? How is this Holy Thursday Mass different from all other Masses? In many ways, tonight’s Mass is no different than any other Mass celebrated here or in any other Catholic church any day of the year. A portion of God’s people gather together for prayer. We read from the Scriptures and reflect on their meaning for us. We bring forward simple gifts – bread and wine and water – and the priest or bishop presiding asks, on behalf of the whole assembly, that the Holy Spirit sanctify these gifts so that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ. We sing, we pray, we sit in silence, we share God’s peace, we receive Christ into our very bodies, and we leave here strengthened for our task of mission in the world. All that happens not just tonight, not just on Holy Thursday, but at every celebration of the Eucharist. And yet, tonight is different.
Tonight, we remember. We remember the first time this great gift of the Eucharist was celebrated, on the night Jesus was betrayed, the night before he died. Tonight, we wash feet to remember our Lord’s command to serve one another and to allow us to be served by others. Tonight, we process with the Eucharist to a special chapel where we wait and watch and pray, with Jesus and his disciples. All that we do every year on Holy Thursday. But still, this year is different. This is the Year for Priests, a time when we especially remember the great gift of the priesthood, we priests who are at the service of Christ and his Church, whose lives are not our own. Unworthy though we are, sinners though we be, we have pledged our lives to bring Christ to the world, especially through the Sacraments; to help the people entrusted to our care to themselves become the hands, the feet, the voice of Jesus Christ in a world very much in need of compassion and love; to lead our people to heaven. This Year for Priests makes tonight’s Holy Thursday Mass a momentous anniversary both of the Eucharist and of the priesthood. But even with that, this year is different. Because in the eyes of many people in our world, the priesthood is no longer a trusted vocation. On this Holy Thursday, in this Year for Priests, we are a church under attack, a priesthood under attack. Some of it, rightly so; but much of it, misdirected and unwarranted.
Over the past few weeks, we as a church are confronted once again by the sins and crimes of a few who have broken the sacred trust that we have with our people. Tonight is not the time to dwell on specifics, but suffice it to say, one instance of sexual abuse is too many. We as a Church are saddened and angered by what has taken place all over the world, and we renew our concern for those affected and our resolve to take seriously our responsibilities to safeguard and protect all people, especially children, and to make sure that such abuse never happens again. As one bishop said this week, “People instinctively expect holiness in a Catholic priest, and are especially appalled when he does evil” (Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto at his Archdiocese’s Chrism Mass). When one child is harmed, we all feel the pain. When one priest fails, we all feel the pain. Tonight, as priests around the world celebrate this Holy Thursday Mass, we share some of jeers and taunts that Jesus met on his walk to Calvary. And yet we know that Christ is still with His Church. We know that the Holy Spirit still moves among us. We know that the grace of the Sacraments will still lead us heavenward. And so, with heavy hearts, we move forward, we strive for holiness day by day, we celebrate the Eucharist with faith and love, we wash one another’s feet, and we pray for the grace to show the true Christ to the world, the Christ of love and compassion, the Christ of forgiveness and mercy, the Christ of hope and joy. We will not stand back on this pilgrim journey, we will not turn away – we will walk with Christ to the end, by the grace of God.
And so on this night, I ask you to pray for me; pray that I may have the grace and wisdom to shepherd the people of this parish. Pray for all priests, that they may preach the gospel in truth and love. Pray for those who have suffered at the hands of clergy seeming to represent the Church, that they find healing and peace. Pray for our Archbishop, Daniel, that he may be guided by the Holy Spirit as he leads the people of our archdiocese. And pray especially for our Holy Father. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that Pope Benedict has done more than just about anyone else on this earth to purify the Church of those who have taken advantage of their position and committed crimes and sins against people who should have been able to trust them. His leadership as our shepherd has been questioned by many in recent days, in ways that have distorted the truth left all standards of objective journalism by the wayside, and he too is walking the painful road to Calvary this Holy Week. On this night, this Holy Thursday we stand together as one Church, one Body of Christ, wounded and broken on the cross, and yet confident in the power of the resurrection to make all things new. On this night, this Holy Thursday, we beg God to take away all pride and selfishness and to make us all holy, one heart at a time. May this night be different than all other nights because it is the beginning of our salvation.