Sunday, May 30, 2010

Oil and Water

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year C
Proverbs 8.22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5.1-5 John 16.12-15

The tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has dominated news reports over the past month. We still don’t know the full extent of the environmental and economic impact of this disaster, but we do know that it is one of the worst disasters in the history of our country. People are angry and frustrated at the slow speed of the clean-up efforts, and rightly so. The long-term effect on seafood, coastlines, marshes, and the ocean itself is not yet known. But one of the few things we do know is that the reason oil spills like this have such devastating effects is because of a very basic scientific fact – oil and water don’t mix.

The relationship between the three persons of the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – is an organic relationship; it is a relationship based on love. There is no division among these three persons – they are all one God. But when human beings enter the picture of the universe, things are different. It’s something like the combination of oil and water. Even though each of us human beings is created in God’s image and likeness, we go through most of our lives separated from God’s love. We let our emotions drive us – we become ruled by fear or anger or lust or greed. Our pride turns our gaze inward, so that we are always trying to make our own lives more comfortable or more fulfilling. We make decisions based on what makes us feel good. The more we succumb to selfishness or the need for emotional satisfaction, the more our relationship with God becomes like oil and water – we just don’t mix. If we’re so focused on ourselves, then it is impossible for us to welcome the love of God into our lives. God’s love – the love of the Trinity – is always there, but unless we break down the barriers that separate us, then we’re living on the surface, without much depth or substance. And a life separated from God has consequences that far eclipse even the most massive oil spill you can imagine.

But there is one major difference in this analogy. Oil and water will never mix – that’s a scientific fact. But we human beings can change our habits, our actions, and our attitudes so that God does become a major part of our lives. If the Trinity is based on love, then the way to open our hearts and souls to God is to learn how to love; to learn how to think first of others before we think of ourselves; to learn how to use wisely the gifts we have been given. And the good news is that God takes the first step in this learning process. He has already poured his love into our hearts – starting when we were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God continues to pour his love into our hearts when we celebrate the sacraments, when we spend time in prayer, when we grow in our faith, and when we serve one another. Because in our very nature, we’re really not like oil and water – there is a connection between us and God – there is a part of God that always lives within us. Any separation that exists is man-made. And just like the unity of the three persons of the Trinity, God wants us to be one with him – in the water of rebirth, in the oil of anointing, in the Body and Blood of Christ, broken and poured out. So which will it be – oil and water, or united in the love of the Trinity?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Unity and Diversity in the Spirit

Homily for Pentecost, Year C
Vigil: Genesis 11.1-9 Psalm 104 Romans 8.22-27 John 7.37-39
Day: Acts 2.1-11 Psalm 104 1 Corinthians 12.3b-7, 12-13 John 20.9-23

Every single person here is, in a sense, the same. We are all created in God’s image and likeness, we share a common human nature, we are all given the opportunity to know and love God. And yet every single person here is different. We each have a story that is only our own, a background that no one else shares, a personality and character that is unique and unrepeatable. The group of people gathered here today – in fact any group of human beings gathered together anywhere in the world – this group is both a collection of “I’s” and one big “We.” And what is really striking is that it is the Holy Spirit that brings us both unity and diversity. The Holy Spirit that lives within each person unites us to every other human being – making us one. But that same Holy Spirit blesses each person with different gifts and talents – making us unique. We’re the same, yet we’re different – all because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This unity and diversity affects how we as Christians look at the world; it affects the decisions we make and the way we set priorities. At its most fundamental level, the unity of all people in the Holy Spirit leads us to a basic respect for life – because we are all the same in the eyes of God. And so that affects how we live. Our unity in the Holy Spirit calls us to ensure that all of God’s children, who are chosen and blessed from the moment of conception, are brought to birth and are given the love and care they need to grow and mature throughout life. At the same time, this unity calls us to end the massive inequalities that have been created in our society – inequalities based on race or nationality, wealth or level of success. The most malnourished child in Africa is the on the same level as the wealthiest bank executive in New York – they are both filled with the same Holy Spirit – and we must work make that spiritual unity a visible reality. And our unity in the Holy Spirit challenges us to treat the stranger sitting next to us in church the same way we treat our oldest and dearest friends. That’s simply how we look at the world. It’s not easy to do, it’s not always popular, but it is the Christian perspective, a fundamental unity of all people through the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, we are also called to recognize our diversity, to celebrate the unique gifts and calling that each person is given by the same Holy Spirit. As Christians, we recognize that each person has a unique vocation – that some people are called to married life, while others are called to religious life; some people are called to a sacred single life, while some men are called to priesthood – we’re not all called to the live the exact same life, but we can help people discover their calling. We recognize the diversity in our own parish community when we give each member of our community the opportunity to use their unique gifts and talents for the good of the whole church. Those gifted in hospitality serve as greeters at Mass, while those gifted in writing serve on our newsletter committee; those gifted as teachers serve as catechists in faith formation, while those gifted in website design serve on our technology committee; and on and on and on. We all have gifts and talents, but not the same ones as the person sitting next to us. And yet we do all of those different things as part of one Church, one faith, built on the one baptism of Jesus Christ, and filled with the one Spirit of God.

That’s the way we look at the world as Christians – a world of both unity and diversity, brought about by the Holy Spirit. And our challenge – from the first Pentecost until the end of time – is to make the Holy Spirit visible and active in our world – the Spirit that makes us one, the same Spirit that makes each of us unique. Because we’re all the same in the eyes of God, but at the same time, we’re all different.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Taking the Gospel to the Digital World

Homily for the Ascension of the Lord, Year C
Acts 1.1-11 Psalm 47 Ephesians 1.17-23 Luke 24.46-53

It’s easy to imagine why the apostles are just standing around after Jesus ascends into heaven, blindly looking up at the sky, wondering what they’re supposed to do next. For so long, they have been used to being followers. They have had Jesus with them to tell them exactly what to do and how to do it. And most of the time, they didn’t really have to do much themselves; they simply listened to Jesus preach or watched him do miracles. Now, he’s gone; he has returned to the Heavenly Father. And the apostles are left with a very specific task – but without their leader to show them the way. Their task – to witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and to do that to the ends of the earth. They know what to do, but they don’t know how to do it. And so, for a moment, they just stand around and look up at the sky, trying to figure out what to do next.

In many ways, our task today is the same. We as a Church have an outstanding message – the message of a God who created us and loves us, who came to die for our sins that we might have eternal life, a God who sent the Holy Spirit to live in each and every human being and to give them life, dignity, value, and the ability to love. The Christian message has been transforming hearts for thousands of years. But there is another part of our task that is much more of a challenge. How do we communicate that age-old message in a way that is compelling, in a way that is able to be understood by people in the world of today, in a way that can lead them to Christ? Over the years, the Church has communicated its message in many different ways. Jesus himself used parables, stories that connected to the lives of the farmer, shepherds, fishermen, and travelers he met. St. Paul and many others in our history used writing to spread the gospel – they used letters or autobiographies or essays or newspapers that were circulated on paper. Medieval artists used stained glass windows to tell the story of the life of Christ. Archbishop Fulton Sheen used his famous television show to reach millions of people. These people all had the same message, but they adjusted the method to fit the people and the society and the technology of their time, to meet people where they were. And wherever the people of God gather, there we must take the gospel.

And that brings us to today. As a Church, we are being challenged in 2010 to take the message of gospel to a new place, to the world of social networking. We have had an internet presence for quite a while, and we’re getting pretty good at e-mail. But our latest challenge is to bring the gospel to the world of blogs and Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and texting and wherever else it is that people congregate in the digital world. These social networks can open up new opportunities for evangelization and catechesis, they can be today’s platform for the message that has been entrusted to us, a message of unconditional love and forgiveness, a message of truth and hope. Certainly nothing can replace face-to-face ministry and the personal sharing of our faith. And there is plenty about digital media and social networking that we must be cautious about. But, at the same time, we can only stand around for so long, looking at the digital world and wondering what we should do.

And so today, I have a challenge for all of us. As a parish, we have begun exploring ways to bring the gospel message to the world of digital media and social networking. Our webpage has great information on it, I have a personal blog where I post the text of my homilies, we have parishioner e-mail distribution lists, and we have a presence on Facebook. But there is so much more that we could do. The challenge is this – how can we, as a parish, expand our digital presence and find compelling avenues to proclaim the gospel message in new and creative ways? Alongside our traditional methods of communication, how can we use the latest technologies to introduce people to Christ and the Church? How can we put digital media at the service of the Word of God and even “give a ‘soul’ to the fabric of communications that makes up the ‘Web?’” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the 44th World Communications Day; January 24, 2010.) That is our task. And to do this, we need to work together. If you have ideas, send me an e-mail or a Facebook message, or even tell me face to face, and then we will put together a plan for digital ministry. We have a message to proclaim, a message that can change the world. And wherever the people of God gather, whether in person or virtually, it is our responsibility to be there to lead them to Christ.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

True and Lasting Peace

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts 15.1-2, 22-29 Psalm 67 Revelation 21.10-14, 22-23 John 14.23-29

It’s graduation time for many colleges this weekend. Time to celebrate academic degrees and pray for jobs in which those degrees can be used. It’s also prom season for high schools, the last great celebration before final exams and summer jobs and musings about what the end of high school will bring. And of course it’s Mother’s Day weekend, when we honor everything that is great and loving about the women who gave us life and love and nurturing care. These weeks are always a busy time of year, a time when we get caught up in reflecting on the past and wondering about the future; a time of transition. And it’s also the time of flowers and cards and gifts – those visual symbols of our love or congratulations or respect. But it’s a different kind of gift we hear about in today’s liturgy.

As he prepares to leave his disciples, Jesus gives them a promise – he promises to give them peace. It is certainly a gift that could be used by anyone graduating from college or high school this year; it is a gift that any mother would long to have – whether in her own family or for the world as a whole. But what is this peace that Jesus promises to give? We often think of peace as the absence of conflict – and that is a kind of peace, a peace that the world tries to give. But true and lasting peace is a lot more than that. It is first of all a presence – the presence of the risen Christ. The peace that comes from Christ helps us know in the depths of our hearts that everything will work out well, that God will always take care of us. The peace that comes from Christ guides us to the calm and comfort that can be found even in the midst of noise and turbulence. The peace that comes from Christ helps us accept whatever direction our lives take, knowing that we are not alone. The peace that comes from Christ keeps our eyes fixed on the kingdom of God – both here on earth and in the life to come.

We’re going to face a lot of trouble and heartache in our lives – that’s a given. As a society, we continue to face war and terrorism and famine and struggle – from Times Square to our own backyards. The mothers among us worry that the broken relationships in their families often outnumber the ones that are structured the way we think – or we hoped – that they would be. This year’s college graduates are in for a long, hard road to find meaningful employment and the life that they have been waiting for. The world will try to get rid of all of those problems – and it will have some success. But most of the time, it won’t last. And so into this world enters Jesus Christ and his gift of peace. The peace that he gives us fills the voids and empty holes of our hearts with his presence. With Christ here among us, the troubles of life are much easier to bear; with Christ here among us, we have hope for the future; with Christ here among us, we know that God will take care of us each moment of every day. That’s what peace is about. That’s really what we need today and every day. There’s the peace that the world gives – a good peace, but a temporary absence of conflict. And there’s the peace that God gives – a loving presence at every moment of our lives – a peace that lasts forever because Christ will always be with us.