Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Am Not God

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Sirach 3.17-18, 20, 28-29 Psalm 68 Hebrews 12.18-19, 22-24a Luke 14.1, 7-14

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

If you’ve heard me say this before, I apologize; but there are some things that are worth repeating, so they sink in. And if you’re here expecting a long and elaborate homily, I apologize; but sometimes, the more concise the message, the better we can try to live it out. Today, it’s all about humility. The greatest human fault is trying to do everything ourselves, or trying to control our lives and the lives of others to the extent that we try to become God. But you are not God; I am not God. We are never going to be perfect; we are never going to accomplish everything we set out to do; we are never going to please everyone. We always try our best, we use the gifts God has given us to the best of our ability. But at the end of the day, we are not in charge. We do not control our own destiny. I am convinced that if everyone in the world would get up each morning, look themselves in the mirror and tell themselves: “I am not God,” then the world would be a much better place. Try it and see what happens.

This Sunday's shortened homily was accompanied by two announcements at the end of all Masses: 1) I have been appointed an adjunct Spiritual Director at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, beginning in September; and 2) I have been accepted into the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program, beginning in January 2011. Both new endeavors involve limited time away from the parish and will complement my ministry as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. For more detailed information on exactly what is involved, check out next Sunday's OLPH bulletin, which will be found on the parish website by the middle of this week.
- Fr. Eric

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A New Formation Year: One Church, One Faith

Along with the beginning of school each fall, we in parish life also start a new formation year. At the parish where I serve as pastor, we call our comprehensive faith formation program One Church, One Faith. Last night, we began the formal gathering of this year's RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), a new adult Bible Study group met for the second time (they're using The Great Adventure Bible Timeline), and the catechists for our parish faith formation program for prechool through eighth grade met to prepare for the year. This coming Wednesday, September 1, we officially launch our total parish faith formation program with Week One, a full-community gathering with a free, simple supper, catechesis for all ages, and night prayer. It's good to be getting back into the regular routine!

Even though it seems like people's lives are busier than ever before, it's refreshing to see so many people committed to ongoing formation in their faith. To me, offering these faith formation opportunities is one of the most important things we do as a parish. And especially important is the fact that we do it together - for people of all ages and all backgrounds - not in isolated groups. The Week One gatherings bring together people who are inquiring about the Catholic faith, as well as people who have been members of this particular parish for almost sixty years; young children who are just learning their prayers are there together with their parents and grandparents; people with no formal classroom education in the faith and those with degrees in theology learn from one another. And it's not just about what we learn - it's about building a Christian community, praying with one another, and sharing a meal with our sisters and brothers in Christ.

So if you're in the New Albany area, I invite you to join us at OLPH for any of our faith formation programs, but especially for Week One, held from 6:00-8:00 pm on the first Wednesday of every month, starting Sept. 1. This month, we will be exploring "What Do Catholics Believe: The Creed." And if you're not in our area, find a faith formation program at a church near you. There are great opportunities out there, and we can all find ways to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God as we journey together toward God's Kingdom.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life in the Kingdom of God

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 66.18-21 Psalm 117 Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13 Luke 13.22-30

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) recording of this homily.

How the world has changed since the days of the prophet Isaiah! 2500 years ago, the prophet envisioned caravans of horses and chariots, mules and camels, bringing people to Jerusalem to pray in the house of the Lord. Today, we’d be hard pressed to find even a single, working chariot, outside of historical reenactments, and as for camels – well, in this part of the world, not many people know how to ride them around the block, let alone all the way to Jerusalem. Even the last five years have seen monumental changes in how we travel, how we communicate, and how we are connected to the world around us. Today, if we wanted to go to Jerusalem, we might buy an electronic ticket through the internet connection on our cell phone, drive a car that gets 50 miles per gallon to the airport, where we would board an airplane to take us to the Holy Land, with a lay-over in Paris; and once we got there, our guide would be waiting to take us by comfortable coach to the site of the ancient Temple, the house of God. And hopefully a stubborn mule wouldn’t block the road as we drove through the Holy City.

It’s so much easier today to connect with people on the other side of the world – it’s one of the many blessings of technology. We know people from east and west, from north and south, because we’ve been there – we’ve traveled the roads and met people along the way. And if we haven’t been there in person, every day we see people and places and events from all corners of the world just by watching the news or even catching the latest movie. But as easy as it is to think globally, to know what’s going on all over the world, the same technology that connects us can also isolate us. In a caravan of camels, people from different families and different towns talked to one another as they traveled together. But in a caravan of cars, we’re each in our own private space, either as individuals or as small groups. The cell phones that make it so easy to talk to the person across town or across the country or across the globe, these same cell phones can turn people in toward themselves when they spend all their time texting their five closest friends, who might even be sitting right next to them. And the news we watch or read telling us about the flooding in Pakistan, or the conflict in the Middle East, or the earthquake recovery in Haiti – well, most of the time, we just follow that news in the privacy of our own home, with no personal connection or stake in what is going on over there.

In the Kingdom of God, things are different. In the Kingdom of God, there is a personal connection between people from east and west, north and south – a connection that’s made possible not by technology, but by the God who brings us together. In the Kingdom of God, community is much more important than privacy. In the Kingdom of God, there is no separation, no isolation, no favoritism – everyone there has traveled the same path – through the cross of Christ – and everyone has gotten there not because of the plans they made, but at God’s invitation. And, believe it or not, the Kingdom of God isn’t found only in heaven. It’s right here. Or at least it should be.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Place for Musicians in a Church

We have been spending a lot of time at my parish preparing for a renovation of the music area in our church. This project is being funded by a Capital Campaign, and is the final of several construction projects to come as a result of this campaign. Yesterday, our Director of Liturgical Music Ministries, a parishioner who is also the head of the architectural firm we are working with, and I presented the proposed design to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis Church Art and Architecture Commission. This group gave us some good, positive feedback and gave us the approval to move foward with the project.

In the meantime, I have thought it might be good to look back at the guidelines we have from the Church for such a project, and really these are very few. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, "The choir should be positioned with respect to the design of each church so as to make clearly evident its character as a part of the gathered community of the faithful fulfilling a specific function. The location should also assist the choir to exercise its function more easily and conveniently allow each choir member full, sacramental participation in the Mass" (GIRM 312).

A document specifically for the Catholic Church in the United States, Built of Living Stones: Guidelines on Art and Architecture, has a little more to say:

"Because the roles of the choirs and cantors are exercised within the liturgical community, the space chosen for the musicians should clearly express that they are part of the assembly of worshipers. In addition, cantors and song leaders need visual contact with the music director while they themselves are visible to the rest of the congregation. Apart from the singing of the Responsorial Psalm, which normally occurs at the ambo, the stand for the cantor or song leader is distinct from the ambo, which is reserved for the proclamation of the word of God. ... The placement and prayerful decorum of the choir members can help the rest of the community to focus on the liturgical action taking place at the ambo, the altar, and the chair. The ministers of music are most appropriately located in a place where they can be part of the assembly and have the ability to be heard." (BLS 89-90)

Especially in renovating an existing church, the challenge of designing a separate space for the choir or cantor as a leader of sung prayer, while also recognizing their participation as members of the assembly, can be challenging. I think we have come up with a good solution, with the guidance of our architects and parish musicians, and in the next week or so we will be able to share the designs with our entire parish. This Thursday evening we present the project to our Pastoral Council for their review and approval. We hope to have the project completed by Christmas.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Source of Our Faith

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Wisdom 18.6-9 Psalm 33 Hebrews 11.1-2, 8-19 Luke 12.35-40

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) recording of this homily.

It seems like it’s almost fashionable these days to give up on faith – or at least to give up on religion. Popular novelist Anne Rice, who made a well-known return to the Catholic faith of her childhood, has publicly announced that she has given up being a Christian. A new billboard on a Louisville interstate tries to get you to join a group made up of people who don’t believe in God. Atheists in Europe have lobbied churches, asking that their names be erased from baptismal registers, because they want to be de-baptized, to completely disassociate themselves from a faith of any kind. Scandals, disappointments, and disillusionment have led people away from an organized practice of their faith. It would be so easy, it seems, to stop all this business of faith.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1), we hear today from the Letter to the Hebrews. Most people spend their lives looking for this “evidence of things not seen” – trying to find faith, seeking a reason to believe, searching for evidence for God’s existence and action in our lives. And many of us find this evidence – reasons to have faith. But if that is the only way we think about faith, then we’re missing an important part of what it is. Because faith, first of all, is a gift. In the heart of every human being, there is a natural longing for God – we didn’t put it there, God himself put it there. At baptism and through the other sacraments, God strengthens the faith that is already inside us, giving us the grace – the tools – to be able to find what we are longing for – to be able to develop a relationship with God. Faith doesn’t start with us – it begins as a gift from God. And then we must work to develop it.

But if faith is a gift, then we can’t really get rid of it. No matter what we do, no matter how far we stray away from God, even if we try to leave faith behind, that gift never leaves us. There will always be a longing deep in every human heart that can only be satisfied by God. It’s how we’re made. And really, there’s a great comfort in that, there’s a great comfort knowing that faith is a gift and not just something that we have to find on our own. It takes a lot of pressure off of us, and it transfers the focus to God, who can do far more than we could ever hope or imagine. People give up on faith today because the individualism of our society tells us that we have to figure it out ourselves. And when we lose patience trying to put together a perfect life for ourselves, based on what we think is our relationship with God – then it’s easier just to give up. People give up on faith today because we have forgotten how to trust; we don’t know how to turn our lives over completely to someone else.

But true faith can never die. True faith will never disappear. Because true faith does not come from us – it comes from God. What we need to do is get out of the way, and let God bring our dormant faith to life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Getting Ready for Heaven

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Ecclesiastes 1.2, 2.21-23 Psalm 90 Colossians 3.1-5, 9-11 Luke 12.13-21

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) version of this homily.

Well, it’s happened again. In case you haven’t heard, there is a new prediction of exactly when the world is going to end, and according to this particular interpretation of biblical prophecy, we don’t have much time. News media started picking up this story this past week, when bus benches in Colorado Springs and other cities starting having an advertisement on them. “Save the date!” it says. “Return of Christ: May 21, 2011.” As it turns out, there is a group of biblical scholars who believe that they have interpreted messages formerly hidden in the Bible that guarantee to give us the exact dates for all of the events associated with the end of all things. According to their calculations, Christ will return on May 21 of next year, the dead will be raised, and the final period of judgment will begin, with the complete end of the world coming five months later, on October 21, 2011.

As Catholics, we join with the overwhelming majority of Christians in saying that it is foolish to engage in this kind of speculation – Jesus himself is very clear that we will not know the day or the hour when the Son of Man returns. And, besides: the people who propose October 21, 2011 for the end of the world are at complete odds with another group that has said that the world will end on December 12, 2012. It’s enough to confuse any Christian. But, regardless of what we think of these dates, we must be prepared, all the time – whether for our own death or for the coming of Christ. If either event were to happen today, would you be ready? And probably the better question to ask: how do we prepare ourselves for what comes beyond this life?

Jesus and St. Paul give us two ways of looking at this. The point of the parable of the rich man is that we should become rich in what matters to God, not in what matters to ourselves. Or, as St. Paul writes to the Colossians, we are to seek what is above, not of what is on earth. So what does that mean? With God, love is the most important virtue and the greatest gift. And the same should be true for us. When we love – a true, genuine, selfless love – when we love God or our family, friends and strangers, then we get closer to heaven here on earth. But when we do the opposite of love – when we are ruled by hate or anger, or even by indifference – then we start to separate ourselves from God, and we become less prepared for an eternity in His presence. Another example: in heaven, there’s no such thing as private property or personal possessions. Of course, things are different here on earth. Whenever our personal possessions – our things – identify who we are, we become more and more earthly. But to be rich in what matters to God, we can certainly still have our own possessions, but these things cannot identify us. Instead, we are called to possess generosity, hospitality, compassion – when people identify us based on our virtues, then we are rich in the things of God.

So I don’t really know whether May 21, 2011, will be judgment day – and, frankly, I don’t really care. The key question is not when will Christ come, but how ready will we be. Because the Christian way is to live constantly prepared for Christ’s coming, to seek what is above day by day, to become rich in what matters to God. I imagine most of us aren’t ready – we have some work to do. But with God’s grace, we will be ready to be with Christ in glory, whenever that day comes.