Funeral Homily

(The following text is the notes for the homily I delivered at the funeral Mass for my father. May all the blessed dead know the solace of the beatific vision and help us as we make our own pilgrim way to a world that is yet to come).

The Church’s first scripture proclamation was an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth centuries before the revelation of Christ, and in his spiritual vision, foresaw Christ’s revelation.

In this scripture, the prophet Isaiah envisions a holy mountain, upon which God will act to destroy the power of death and deliver his people from power of their sins. Is this holy mountain an actual place or merely a dream? When will God act to accomplish such wonders?

The holy mountain the prophet foresees is the place of Christ’s cross, for it is in this place, and at that moment, that God acted in an extraordinary way to impart an undeserved forgiveness and to transform death forever. Remember, the revelation of Christ is not merely that of a kind teacher of timeless spiritual truths, but of the one, true God, who surprises us all, because he does something God should not do- he accepts for himself a human nature and lives a real, human life.

God in Christ does this, not for himself, but for us, so that he might create for us a possibility beyond death and so that we might know that his power is manifested in his willingness to love us and forgive us, even when that love and forgiveness is not deserved or appreciated.

Christians believe that God in Christ enters into death on the cross so that when we die, as all mortal creatures do, what we encounter in that experience is not merely an end, but a new and mysterious beginning. Death has become in Christ a route of access to God because God in Christ has permitted himself to die.

In that moment of his experience of death (on the cross), God in Christ does something remarkable, and again, surprising, he demonstrates his willingness to forgive us and this act of generosity, for his forgiveness is undeserved, gives us hope that what we encounter after death is not a cold rebuke, but a merciful Savior, the one who will, as the Gospel testifies, “save us from our sins”- from what we have done and what we have failed to do.

The prophet Isaiah foresaw all this in shadows and suggestions. God would reveal centuries later in Christ the Lord what the prophet Isaiah foresaw, what we know and believe in Christ.

The second scripture is another excerpt from the scriptures- this time from the New Testament, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies to the power of the Sacrament of Baptism to change us, to transform us. St. Paul illuminates God’s purpose for Baptism.

Baptism is not, as many have made it, merely a quaint cultural custom. Instead it is an act of God, a revelation and through this act of God, this revelation, a Christian is changed, not by human choice or merely an act of our will, but by God’s choice and God’s will. God chooses us and through Baptism he changes us, making us his members of his family, giving us the identity that the Lord Jesus himself has- the identity of a child of God. In other words, through our baptism we belong to God in a way that a child belongs to his parent or a person belongs to her family. What Christ has in his own relationship with his Heavenly Father, the baptized are also given.

The significance of this is profound. Throughout our lives we grasp at (or are grasped by) identities that we might be tempted to treat as being of ultimate importance- family, nationality, political affiliation, race, ethnicity, class etc. And while these identities have worldly importance, they are not all that important to God. And God signals the relative importance of these worldly identities by making these things temporary, passing away, we take none of these identities from this world to the next. These things are inevitably left behind.

Worldly identities, or things of worldly importance, like beauty, youth, athletic prowess, academic degrees, bank accounts, real estate, (all the things the world believes matter most) pass away and do so by their very nature. We can enjoy these things for a time, but all these things have an expiration date and they will not pass with us from this life to the next.

What does last is that relationship given to us in Baptism, our identity as a child of God and a member of God’s own family. When we meet Christ face to face, this is what he sees, this is what we bring to him.

This is the meaning of St. Paul’s testimony to us today.

Finally, in his Gospel, Christ testifies that he will give his divine life to us as food and drink. He does not come to us merely to teach us ideas about God, but he comes to be for us a living source of holy communion with God. What we receive in Christ is not merely an insight or an opinion, but God himself- and how will God in Christ give himself to us?

Christ will give himself to us through the mysterious reality that we know as the Eucharist, the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. The Eucharist is mysteriously God in Christ, not merely a symbol of Christ, but God in Christ himself. God’s life is not far from us and his presence is not off somewhere at a distance. God reveals himself, not merely in ideas or opinions, or as a vague cosmic force, but he places himself in our midst in the Eucharist and then through that Eucharist, asks us to receive him, in the manner one receives food and drink. This is the Eucharist- God in Christ gives us a share in his divine life and presence as food and as drink. Thus, in the Eucharist, we do not simply remember Christ as a historical reality from the past, but we encounter Christ in the present. The Eucharist is Christ’s revelation in this world, in our lives, in the here and in the now.

Receiving God as food and drink we have an opportunity to become ever more like him. Receiving God in the Eucharist we have an opportunity to become more that what believe that we are- we can become ever more like Christ.

This is the great mystery, and the great meaning of the testimony we heard from the Gospel of John today.

Over eighty years ago, **** ****** was baptized. (Whether the motive for this Baptism was custom or something else is not as important as the gift that he received). This gift, this Baptism, indicated that God in Christ had chosen **** as his own and given him a mission, a meaning and purpose for his life.

Over time, the mystery of **** Baptism would unfold, leading him through the other Sacraments, of Eucharist and Confirmation, and what was given to him through these Sacraments was the startling revelation that God reveals himself in Jesus Christ to be Love.

The revelation that in Christ God is Love is given to us in a way of life called the Church. In the Church, we do our best to become for others an experience of the love that God in Christ has given to us. The Church is meant to be a way of life, a way of love.

Love is not for the Christian merely a sentiment or a feeling, but a way of life. Love is what we do for others by doing what God in Christ asks of us- willing for others what is good, testifying to what is true, appreciating what is beautiful, and giving to others what merciful.

The way of love, the Christian way of life, takes the form of a unique mission or vocation and **** accepted this in the Sacrament of Marriage and through his relationship with his wife, *****, and in communion with his children and grandchildren, family and friends, he sought to give to others the gift he had received in his own Baptism- the way of love.

We would know, through him, through sacrifices great and small, through a low-key death to self (that would set the needs of others as more important than his own needs), how God in Christ loves all of us.

Love in any of our lives is never perfect in its expression or motive, but **** sought, as best he could, to impart to others what God imparts to us- what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful- the gift he has received from the Lord he gave to others.

St. John of the Cross, one of the Church’s greatest mystics, remarked that in the evening of our lives, we are examined by love. This means, as years pass, and worldly concerns and pre-occupations become ever less important, it is our love, for God and for others, that remains, and it is this love that we take with us as we make our way from this life to the next.

Concluding Remarks

(These remarks were offered at the conclusion of the Funeral Mass)

On behalf of my mother and my brothers, I would like to express our deep appreciation for all the gestures of consolation and kindness that we have received. These past two weeks have been the occasion for both grief and grace and the support that we have experienced from family and friends has been gracious indeed.

I cannot do a better job testifying to the life and interests of my father than my brother did in the text of the obituary that he wrote. My father was a thoughtful and kind man, who was faithful to his wife of nearly sixty years and whose quiet influence is manifest in the lives of his children and grandchildren. We will miss him, but his faith, faith that believed that life is not ended but changed, enlivens us with a hope greater than mere memory, a hope that believes that he is still with us in ways that are unseen, and that he awaits us in a heavenly life that is yet to come.

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (January 29th, 2017)

 

The first of the Church’s scriptures for today is an excerpt from the book of the

Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah. Zephaniah spoke the Lord’s word of truth in

the years preceding a horrific catastrophe- the destruction of the Kingdom

established by David by the armies of Babylon. This catastrophe is foreseen by

Zephaniah, but he discerns more than destruction- God will act, the prophet

testifies, God will act to effect the restoration of his people. But this restoration

will not produce an Israel like before, worldly, pre-occupied with wealth, pleasure,

power and honors, but an Israel that will manifest to the world their relationship

with God through humility and lowliness. The mighty kingdom of David will pass

away, but the remnant, what appears to the world to be nothing and nobodies,

will be precisely the means through which God reveals himself to the world.

 

In other words, Zephaniah understood the catastrophe that the Israelites would

face, the loss of everything the world considered to be important, to be not just a

loss, but an opportunity. Stripped of worldliness, Israel might become what God

had intended his people to be- true representatives to the world of the one, living

and true God. Bereft of the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honor,

the Israelites might better appreciate and understand what it truly mean to be

God’s chosen people.

 

The lesson in all this for us is properly understood by correlating or connecting

what the prophet Zephaniah says to the Israelites and to the Church. The

prophet’s words are for us- for the Church (and by Church I do not mean just the

hierarchy, but all the baptized). How are we enamored by worldliness? How

much of our time and efforts is spent in pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and

honors? And what does our attainment of worldly things contribute to our

mission as representatives of God in the world? The prophet insists that the

chosen people of God will make him known in humility and lowliness- what would

the prophet make of us? What does God make of us?

 

The Church’s second scripture is from the New Testament letter of St. Paul to the

Corinthians. In this text, the Apostle Paul speaks of a reality that appears to the

worldly to be foolish and weak, a nothing and a nobody, contemptible and

despised. What is this reality of held in such contempt by the worldly?

 

It is Christ and those who belong to him- Christ and his Church.

 

However, what appears to so worthy of the world’s contempt, is in actual fact,

God and his chosen people. In other words, the worldly have got everything

wrong- what the worldly think is power is actually their own weakness, and what

the world thinks is glory, is actually their own foolish pride. What the worldly

think matters most, doesn’t actually matter all that much at all.

 

In Christ, God reveals himself to the world in a way that confounds and confuses

all the expectations of who God is and what he is supposed to do. In Christ, God

makes himself small, in fact, he makes himself seem like a nothing or a nobody,

going so far to allow himself to be maligned, tortured and executed, all so that he

can reveal his power over death, and in doing so, show the worldly just how

empty their own claims to power really and truly are.

 

As it is with Christ, so it is with his Church. Real power, divine power in the

Church is not revealed by those who manage her wealth, preside over her

bureaucracies, or who receive the most in terms of public attention. Real power,

divine power, in the Church is foremost revealed in her Sacraments and in her

Saints- for in her Sacraments and Saints, the Church is most like Christ. The world,

indeed many in the Church, think little of either the Sacraments or the Saints,

preferring the Church’s wealth and power as their preoccupation, but true power

resides in the Sacraments and the Saints. The worldly cannot see and appreciate

this, but to those who are faithful to Christ- they see things rightly and they

appreciate and they understand.

 

Finally, the Church presents to us a select passage from the Gospel of Matthew-

and it is one of the most cherished and renowned passages in the Gospel!

 

The Gospel for today are the Lord Jesus’ own words concerning beatitude or

blessedness. In other words, how does one discern God’s favor?

 

Whom does God single out for his particular attention? Who are the ones that

God chooses to be the means through which he reveals his will and his purposes?

 

The answer to this is revealed to us by God in Christ in today’s Gospel.

 

The worldly insist that divine favor is manifested in worldly attainments- in

wealth, in pleasure, in power and in honors. The worldly prize success in terms of

worldly attainments- who is the richest, who is the most powerful, who is it that is

recognized and rewarded, who is it that lives in comfort and security? The

worldly consider such success as blessedness, as beatitude. These things

represent God’s favor and having these things is the measure, the evidence of

blessedness or beatitude.

 

But God in Christ reveals something else entirely. God in Christ identifies himself

with those who often have little of what the worldly deem to be valuable and

important. In his beatitudes, in his revelation of who is truly blessed by God and

why, Christ overturns our expectations of who has divine favor and what it really

means to be in an authentic and true relationship with God.

Sermon on the Mount
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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 3rd, 2016)

This morning’s scripture from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah presents the city of Jerusalem personified as mother, feeding and nurturing her children. Remember, Jerusalem was not just a city, but instead it is a representation of the spiritual heart of the Israelites. It was in the temple of Jerusalem that the one, true and living God made his home and shared his life and presence with Israel, and through Israel, with the world. Isaiah imagines Jerusalem as the mother of all the Israelites.

This imagery is understood by Christians as now an image of the Church, which is not merely an institution, but is properly likened to be our mother, for it is from the Church that we are reborn in Christ through Baptism, fed and nurtured with Christ’s Word and Sacraments, and when mature in our faith, sent out as witnesses into the world.

Many Christians have sadly come to have an impersonal, institutional understanding of the Church- she is no longer a nurturing mother, but an “it”- a non profit corporation whose resources are meant to be leveraged on behalf of our causes. The “it” Church produces little in terms of life, if any life at all and cannot nurture us as no one is ever nurtured by balance sheets, actuarial tables and procedural manuals. Some prefer the “it” Church because, unlike a mother, there is no moral demand placed on us to love her in return and no reason to care for her as one would care for one’s own mother.

Instead, the Church as an “it” or as a corporation is a thing to be used, and if no longer useful, cast aside. This would not be as easy if one considered the Church to be one’s mother.

But the Church is our mother. And we are diminished when we try to make the Church into in “it” rather than accept her for who she really and truly is.

Our second scripture for today is an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies that he boasts (celebrates) in the cross of Jesus Christ. To us, Christians, perhaps over familiar with the cross of Jesus Christ, and so often accustomed to the cross as merely a vague religious symbol or as a religious trinket, it might seem that the Apostle Paul’s boast is unintelligible. What does he mean? Why does he boast in the cross?

Remember, for St. Paul, the cross was not a universally recognized symbol of Christianity, it was an instrument of torture upon which human beings were killed in the most shaming and brutal way possible. Nothing was worse than the cross and no one in their right mind would boast in the cross- the cross provoked only derision and fear.

Not for St. Paul. And not for us. Why?

For St. Paul, the cross represents the unimaginable- God in Christ descends into shame, into suffering, into death. The cross is not simply the occasion in which Christ dies heroically, merely as a martyr for a cause, but it is a startling revelation that illuminates God’s willingness to identify himself with humanity, not just in some things, but in the midst of all the events and circumstances of life- even shame, even suffering, even death.

The entry of God into our shame, our suffering, our death, transforms the reality of these experiences forever. However these things might feel or seem, God is with us in the midst of them, and he is there with all his power to save, to transform and redeem. We may not be exempt from the experience of the hard facts of being human, but we are not alone as we make our way through them- God is with us. How do we know?

The cross. Christ’s cross.

If God can transform his cross into an occasion for hope and resurrection, we can trust in his promise, that he will not allow our shame to be without vindication, our suffering to be devoid of meaning and our death to be our final end. The Christian does not believe in a God who remains aloof and distant from the world or who engages with us as some vague cosmic force.

The Christian believes in God in our flesh, God in Christ, the one, true God who accepts a human nature and lives a real human life. The God who unites his divine nature to our own nature, and through the power of that divine nature, penetrates to the depths of all that it means to be human- even the experiences of shame, suffering and death. And because of the God in whom we believe, do we Christians, along with St. Paul, boast in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Christ presents Christ the Lord appointing seventy two disciples to go out on mission, sharing with others what they have received from Christ.

This Gospel passage mirrors Moses appointing elders for the Israelites in the Old Testament Books of Exodus and Numbers (Numbers 11:16 and Exodus 18:25). In other words, we are to understand Christ as acting as a new Moses, having founded a new kind of Israel, he calls forth from this new Israel, servants for the mission of the new Israel.

The new Israel is the Church.

Pope Francis aptly refers to Christians who are mature in their faith as being missionary disciples. We are as disciples the servants of the Lord Jesus and our service to the Lord Jesus takes the shape or form as a very specific mission.

This mission is to introduce others to the Lord Jesus and invite people to share a relationship with Christ in the Church. In other words, our mission is to increase the numbers of the new Israelites, going out, as these first 72 disciples, as missionaries.

To be a missionary seems to many Christians to indicate oversees social work in third world countries, but this is really the wrong way to think about what it means to be a missionary. Christ calls people into relationship with him in the Church so that they can be his missionaries. Which means, missionary is not the work of a privileged few in the Church, but all the baptized. Missionary is to happen, not just as social work in countries far away, but in our own neighborhoods.

The public (and private) spaces right outside the doors of this church, indeed, right outside the doors of your own home, (including the family that dwells within your home) are the people that every baptized Christian has a responsibility to introduce to Jesus Christ. This missionary task is not a job for someone else- it is your responsibility and it is Jesus Christ himself who has asked you to do it.

Are you ready for this mission?

For many years, parishes, have been considered by many Christians, as branch offices of a corporation church from which a person can receive faith based services if the requisite fees are paid and the correct procedures are followed. This understanding of the parish has dominated people’s perceptions and the spiritual poverty it has inflicted on people has left the Church in a state of precipitous decline.

The work of the Church was limited to paid professionals and the mission of the Church reduced to matriculating through institutions and programs.

All this has been contrary to the nature of the Church as presented in the great Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) and the modern popes from Pius XII to Pope Francis (and most importantly, but the Lord Jesus himself). The Church is not merely an institution, but a mission, and a parish is not merely a branch office of a faith based corporation, but it is mission territory- it is the area that a community of missionary disciples has been assigned in which they work to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite them to share a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church.

Is this how you understand what a parish is and does? Is this how you understand who you are and what Christ wants you to do?

To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple- and unless this is who you are and what you aspire to be, the Church will falter and fail.

But if you will to become the missionary disciples Christ desires you to be, that like the 72 chosen to be missionaries in today’s Gospel, you will witness a Church that flourishes and grows!

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Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time (June 30th, 2016)

The prophet Amos spoke the Lord’s word of truth during the reign of King Jeroboam II, one of the most effective of the Israelite monarchs. Jeroboam’s long reign brought great prosperity to the Israelites, he brokered lucrative deals with foreign powers and filled the royal treasury with gold and silver. The wealth and power of the Israelites left the prophet Amos troubled and unsettled. Whilst he saw the positive benefits afforded to the elites of the Israelites, the needs of the poor were ignored and they languished, crushed under the burden of their poverty.

Amos warned the Israelite elites that wealth could not buy God’s favor and their power could not deter God’s wrath- the Lord hears the cry of the poor, and in response to their cries acts to cast the mighty down from their thrones.

If wealth and power had been granted to the Israelites, then these gifts were meant to serve a divine purpose, not self-interest. Amos testified that the Israelites had chosen the latter, not the former, and the consequences would be severe. Even their worship of God had been corrupted, tainted by grandiosity and self reference- it would not save. It was not leading the people to works of mercy, it was leading the people to celebrate themselves as the recipients of prosperity and power.

Of course, the testimony of the prophet Amos was not popular and it was resisted. He spoke the truth, but the truth was not something that the people wanted to hear.

As it was then, so it is now.

The words of the prophet Amos, indeed all the biblical prophets, addresses, not a people from long ago, but the Church right now. The Church is the new Israel, and the Old Testament is proclaimed to illuminate God’s truth in our current circumstances.

The desire for the prophets to tell us what we want to hear, to reduce their mission to that of affirmation and consolation is a perennial temptation. But prophets are not sent to affirm us as we are, but to speak God’s word of truth, so that we might repent and be saved.

Repentance means that we are willing to change, to order our lives in accord with the commandments of God that we have either chosen to ignore or have rejected. God is the great giver of another chance, but we must be willing to take the chance he offers to us.

The opportunity that God offers to us is the forgiveness of our sins, mercy for what we have done and what we have failed to do.

This opportunity is revealed to us in all its holy radiance in Jesus Christ, who comes, so that we can be forgiven, reconciled to God, and once reconciled to him, reconciled to one another. Those who accept the forgiveness of God in Christ are filled with a joy that manifests itself in a willingness to offer to others what they have received- forgiveness. We who have been forgiven much will be willing to forgive much.

The great school of God’s forgiveness is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where God in Christ offers to us what he offered to the paralytic in today’s Gospel. The paralysis of the poor man in today’s Gospel was physical, and God in Christ relieved him of his distress. Our paralysis might not be physical, but for many, it is moral, a paralysis of the soul burdened by the refusal to love and to serve. God in Christ can alleviate our misery and he offers this chance to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

But is this a chance that we are willing to take?

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings.

The Book of Kings is one of the historical books of the Bible, describing people, events and circumstances that contributed to the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David is important because it was the means that God used to unite the tribes of the Israelites into a single people. Strengthened by their unity, the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to invite the world into a relationship with the one, true God.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from its beginning by pride and idolatry, yet despite human folly, God’s plan would be accomplished. God’s plan was fulfilled when the Christ-child was born into a remnant of the family of King David. Thus God came into the world. The Kingdom of David would fail to bring the world to God and so God would come into the world in Christ.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of David, God would send prophets to the Israelites to remind them of their unique mission. Two of the greatest of these prophets were Elijah and Elisha. Both men were forces to be reckoned with, great wonderworkers and today’s scripture details how the prophet Elisha was summoned by God to mission.

Elisha abandons everything the world considers to be important- his family and wealth- for the sake of his mission. His focus on what the Lord wants him to do will be singular. He risks poverty and loneliness, trusting that God will provide for what he lacks. Heroic efforts always necessitate heroic commitment and true prophets are God’s heroes and no one becomes a hero without risk and sacrifice. Where an act of faith in God is accompanied by risk and sacrifice you have the possibility of a hero and the potential for a saint.

The heroism of Elijah and Elisha, indeed of all the biblical prophets endures in the Church in those men and women who eschew family and wealth for the sake of the Church’s mission. These men and women can be found in what are called religious orders, communities like the Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans. Without the witness of the prophets, the Israelites languished in mediocrity and lost a sense of God’s purpose for their lives. Without the witness of men and women religious, the Church falters and fails in its mission.

The Church is not merely a secular corporation or a nation state, whose goals can be accomplished by only by salaried employees and bureaucrats. God advances the mission of the Church through the efforts of men and women willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices. Inasmuch as the Church’s communities of prophets, men and women who accept a religious life of risk and sacrifice, fade and diminish, so also will the Church. As the Church fades and diminishes, so also does the love of Christ that the Church bears into a loveless world.

The mission of the Church by necessity requires heroes- men and women of risk and sacrifice. The age of God’s heroes did not end with Elijah or Elisha, but even now is the age of heroes. Who are God’s heroes right now? Who will be God’s heroes for his Church? Who is God calling into mission- into risk and sacrifice? Is it you? Remember: It is not just you who choose your mission- it is God who has chosen a mission for you.

In the Church’s second reading for today the Apostle Paul offers a distinction between a way of life which is given direction by the flesh in contrast with a way of life given direction by the spirit.

This might seem confusing. St. Paul is using the categories of “flesh” and “spirit” to indicate the difference between a way of life that is directed by God’s purpose as contrasted with a way of life that is directed by self-interested or self-indulgent purposes.

A self-interested or self-indulgent way of life tends towards conflict, antagonism and violence, whereas a truly spiritual life, one that is intentionally directed towards God’s purpose tends toward love- and by love St. Paul means willing, or desiring, the greatest good for other people.

St. Paul muses that if only we could love one another as Christ has commanded us to love, then most of the laws that become so necessary to reign in our selfish ambitions and desires, laws that can so quickly become stifling and oppressive would fall away. Loving as Christ loves opens up for us the possibility of true freedom, for freedom is not getting to do what we want, but doing what is good.

Love for the Christian is not merely an emotional experience or the fulfillment of a personal desire. Love is an act of the will, and it is willing for another person what is really and truly good. This good is not by necessity what the person wants, or even what you prefer to give, but it is what is good, it is the good that God wants.

Love reduced to emotional need or affectation will inevitably lead to antagonism and conflict. It becomes an exercise in self-interest and self indulgence. Love expressed as willing what it is truly good for other people is the manner in which God in Christ loves us and it is the way in which Christ commands us to love one another.

Christ the Lord has some words of advice for his disciples as they go out into a culture on mission. Remember, the purpose of the Church is missionary. The Church is not merely a faith-based clubhouse or an institution that we matriculate through and use to fulfill our personal goals. The Church is a missionary endeavor. The mission of the Church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share his unique way of life. Through the Church people meet the Lord Jesus and from the Church people receive from him the gifts he wants people to enjoy.

Christ’s advice to us as we go out into our neighborhood and introduce people to Christ is this:

Number One: Accept people’s hesitancy, even opposition, with an attitude of kindness. Do not threaten those who refuse our invitation. As Pope Benedict aptly said the Church proposes, it does not impose. We seek freedom to live our unique way of life, but our way of life must be freely chosen, it cannot be imposed on people by force or threats.

Number Two: Mission will always entail sacrifice and risk as well as an attitude of trust in God to provide what we need. You cannot, as a disciple, postpone your mission until you have everything figured out. We might have plans, but Christ’s plan takes precedence. What Christ asks of us is never all that easy, and at times outcomes may be uncertain, but as I said earlier, without risk and sacrifice there cannot be heroes and Christ wants us to be his heroes- he wants us to be his saints.

Number Three: Mission necessitates that we have a broader understanding of family than one that is limited to merely our own relatives. The Gospel expands our sense of family to include people in our lives who are not related to us, different than us, and people who we may not of our own desire want to know or become friends with.

The Church cannot by her essential nature simply be limited to those people with whom we are related, or those people whom we feel comfortable with, or those people that we prefer to associate with. Christ makes the Church his family and chooses those whom he wants to be in his household. The Church is not a sect or a club. The Church is not simply an expression of nationality or ethnicity. The Church is the people Christ has chosen, not only those people that we have chosen.

The Church is not just ours to make into whatever we want, it is a gift that we receive from Christ and this gift is a mission- a mission to introduce people to Jesus Christ and share with people the gifts that Christ wants all people to enjoy!

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Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 25th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Lamentations.

The Book of Lamentations expresses the profound grief experienced by the Israelites as a result of the terrifying events of 587 BC. Remember, it was that year that the Kingdom of David came to a violent end. The armies of Babylon invaded the lands of the Israelites, placed the city of Jerusalem under siege, and once they overcame the defenses of the City of David, they desecrated and destroyed the temple, massacred the royal family (David’s descendants), tore down the walls of the city and exiled and enslaved the city’s inhabitants. It was for the Israelites the end of the world.

In all this, the Israelites turned to God, appealing to him in prayer for deliverance, but there was, it seemed, no answer. The God of the Israelites seemed silent and this apparent silence was interpreted by many Israelites to indicate that he had either abandoned his people or had been defeated by the power of the gods of Babylon. The Israelites had lost everything that they had valued most and in the midst of this catastrophe, God seemed alarmingly absent, indifferent, aloof.

The prophets insisted that despite how the Israelites felt, God had not abandoned his people, but was leading them through a painful period of purification that would result in renewal and new possibilities. This message was hard for the Israelites to take in the immediacy of their circumstances, and the Book of Lamentations expresses the anger, pain and grief that the Israelites experienced as they came to terms with the terrors of 587 BC.

This past Thursday, I spoke about how God’s response to not only the terrors of 587 BC, but also all the raw facts of human experience, is revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ. God may not exempt us from all the difficulties of life, but he redeems us through our experience of suffering and death by entering into that experience himself.

This is what the cross of Christ reveals- God is with us, not just in some things, but in all things and his power is such that it bring life out of death, hope out of despair. Even something as terrifying as the cross can be transformed into a reality that saves and redeems.

Christians have for centuries read and interpreted the Book of Lamentations as not only an expression of the pain and grief of the Israelites, but of the pain and grief of God in Christ as he suffers and dies on the cross. God in Christ experiences on the cross what we experience in our own suffering and death, including that terrifying feeling of being abandoned and alone.

God in Christ allows himself this experience, he descends into our darkness, so that when we face the harsh facts of human existence we can cling in faith to the revelation that no matter how things might feel, the truth of what is happening is much more profound than feelings- God in Christ has gone into darkness of suffering and death before us and his divine presence accompanies us still. His presence signals to us that suffering can be redemptive and death is not our ultimate end. Earthly grief gives way to heavenly joy. All this is what constitutes the strange, unique Christian act of faith- an act of faith that does not originate in our ideas or feelings or opinions or causes, but in the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Christ the Lord manifests his divine power in his Gospel, delivering the servant of a centurion (a Roman military commander) from suffering and death. Remember, the Romans were the enemies of the Israelites, a foreign power that occupied their lands and imposed their will with ferocious cruelty. And yet, this enemy of the Israelites proves himself capable of an act of faith in the Lord Jesus.

Christ rejoices in this act of faith, testifying that it represents the fulfillment of God’s will- God desires that all people enter into communion, into friendship with his divine life and presence. Even the enemies of the Israelites are invited to become the friends of God!

The centurion’s act of faith in Jesus Christ opens him up to an experience of reconciliation that blossoms into healing and hope. This can happen for us in a particular way in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is not a negative experience of condemnation, but offers to us what the centurion received from the Lord. Many of us, like the centurion, live in estrangement from God and many of us, like the centurion’s servant, perhaps not physically ill, but so many of us are soul sick, paralyzed in fear and regret, we languish, hoping for God to set things right.

God in Christ can and will set things right, but we must let him. Letting him help us happens when we can make an act of faith in Christ- an act of faith that trusts that he need only say the word and we will be healed.

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Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time (June 23rd, 2016)

Today’s excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings signals the end of the Kingdom of David. In the year 587 BC, the defenses of the city of Jerusalem would fall. The temple would be destroyed. The inhabitants of Jerusalem would be exiled and enslaved. The royal family, King David’s descendants, would be put to the sword. The walls of the city would be demolished and all that would remain would be a desolate ruin.

The end of the Kingdom of David should have meant the end of the Israelites, but the words of the prophets were fulfilled, a remnant of faithful Israelites remained. From this remnant of faithful Israelites, God’s people would re-emerge, purified and redeemed. Suffering would give way to new possibilities. Death to new life.

In the midst of the catastrophe of 587 BC it seems that God had abandoned his people, but the prophets insisted that this was not the case. God remained present, active and working. It didn’t feel like this was the case to the Israelites, but the prophets insisted that despite what it felt like, God remained with his people. Despite their refusal, their infidelity, their idolatry, God would not reject the people that had so many times rejected him.

How was God with his people in the midst of catastrophe? The answer to this question was finally revealed in the cross of Christ, wherein God himself descends into shame, into suffering, into death and in doing so demonstrates to us that none of these harsh facts of human existence can separate us from his divine life and presence. Not even the worst possible outcome is beyond God’s power to transform, to save, and to redeem.

The cross of the Lord Jesus is God’s answer to not only the questions raised by the catastrophic events of 587 BC, but also to the questions raised by the shame and suffering and death that we experience ourselves.   In the cross we see that no matter how the raw facts of life feel, God has not abandoned us and makes himself present to us even when it seems impossible for him to do so.

Faith is an act of trust that God is faithful to his promises. The Bible testifies over and over again that God remains faithful, even when we are unfaithful. The foundation upon which our act of faith in God rests is the cross of Jesus Christ.

Christ insists that our profession of faith in him be sincere. To call Christ our Lord is not to give him a title or an honorarium. To testify Christ is Lord is a statement about who Jesus is and what our relationship to him actually entails. If Christ is our Lord, this means that we belong to him and have placed our lives at his service.

Is this true? Do we belong to Christ or is our commitment to him mitigated by all sorts of other attachments? Do we place our lives at his service? Or do we seek to serve only ourselves and our own interests and needs?

Being a disciple, truly being a disciple is always an unrelenting test of our sincerity. It is within this test, this crucible, that we are forged into saints.

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