Radical Claims

Advent 4A 2022 Homily

About two weeks ago the US Congress passed a law that codifies the modern understanding of marriage as being between any two people that want to declare themselves married. In the Congress there are about 140 publicly declared Catholic Congressman. Of those 140, only about 40 voted against this bill. So, something less than one-third of Catholics in that group were willing to defend their faith when it might cause them to be called radicals. The Catholic teaching on marriage is that it is the lifelong partnership between a man and a woman faithful to each other and open to life until death do them part. It is the sad reality these days that the Catholic definition of marriage is considered radical. Apparently it is too radical for two thirds of the Catholic Congressmen to defend.

Our faith is radical. If we are going to be truly Catholic Catholics, then we need to embrace the radical nature of what we claim. Today’s gospel includes one of the most radical claims that we make as Christians: that the eternal creator God humbled himself to come into his own creation and share our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, born in the manger in Bethlehem and then raised in the remote village of Nazareth. No other religion claims that God became fully human and dwelt among us.

We have the period of Advent to prepare us to receive this radical truth that God loves us so much that he became like us, so that we could love him unafraid. Who is afraid of a little baby?

There is another period of preparation on the church calendar, and we call that period Lent. Lent is a time to prepare us for the other radical claim that we make as Christians: that God, who became man for us so that we could love him, allowed himself to be sacrificed on the Cross for our sins so that we could have a chance to return to the state of life for which we were made. We were made for love. We were made by love itself. We were made for communion with love. We were made for heaven. And, through the Cross, we have a chance to go to that place for which we were made. So the joy of Christmas cannot be fully understood apart from the deeper joy of Good Friday and the Easter resurrection.

As Catholic Christians, we claim that God became man out of love for us, and then took on himself all of our sins and died for us because he loves us. As truly Catholic Catholics, we are challenged to embrace these radical claims of our faith. And we are challenged to fight against the constant efforts of the forces of evil to dilute our faith, to soften it and make it more conventional. Our God, because he loved us, came down to dwell among us. But he remains God, completely other. And we remain his creation, made by him and made for him. As radical Christians, we need to embrace that reality. He loves us, but he is not like us. He is greater than us, and we should follow and obey him.

In today’s epistle, St. Paul describes himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. How many of those 140 Catholic Congressmen described themselves as slaves, especially slaves of Jesus Christ? Maybe 40. St. Paul is the great Apostle to the Gentiles, explaining that it is not necessary to become a good Jew in order to become a good Christian. That was a radical claim when he made it in the first decades after the death of Christ. But he persisted in holding on to that truth, and it was confirmed in the first ecumenical Council of the church in Jerusalem just a few years after the death of Jesus.

Our challenge as Advent wraps up and the Christmas season truly begins is to embrace the radicalism of our faith. The English word “radical” has for its root the Latin word for root. We need to strip away what has grown up around the root and return to that pure faith of the apostles. That pure faith starts with faith that God became man in the Incarnation and was born at Christmas. That pure faith continues with the claim that the God-man accepted death on the Cross to save us from sin and eternal death.

If we are willing to own and to defend these two root or radical claims of our faith, then we should have no problem with the secondary, or derivative, claims like the true definition of marriage. And in just a few minutes, we are going to make another radical claim of our faith: the real presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Polling suggests that about the same percentage of Catholics believe in the Real Presence as Congressmen defend the sanctity of Holy Matrimony. We must all commit ourselves to being faithful radicals, willing to endure confrontation and even persecution in defense of the truth of our faith.

Preparation for Justice

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of God. In a couple of weeks, the readings will focus on the coming of God in the flesh to dwell among us in the Nativity of our Lord. But the readings today focus on preparing for when that same person comes in glory and justice at the end of time.

So I would like us today to focus on two key words: one is justice and the other is preparation.

We know that our Lord will come in justice on the day of judgment. And that can be an intimidating thought. We know in our moments of brutal honesty that we do not deserve eternal life in heaven, and that we only get it because of God’s love and his mercy. But do we appreciate how true justice cannot be separated from the same love that is at the heart of mercy? All the other virtues derive from the virtue of love. That means that there cannot be real justice without love. So let us focus on the love that is part of the day of judgment so that we can appreciate the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of the justice that will be dispensed on that day.

God made us in his image, and he made us for communion with him. It is his heart’s desire that he be our hearts’ desire. What he desires more than anything is for us to desire him more than anything. And because of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a lot of the time we do not desire God more than anything.

How God responded to that original sin reveals how much he loves us. He let Adam and Eve go. They had made their choice, and he let them go where their choice led. Most of us have made a choice that we soon regretted, and we regretted it deeply. I am sure that Adam and Eve quickly and deeply regretted their decision to follow Satan instead of following their creator.

God our Creator gave us in his image the freedom to choose. Adam and Eve chose poorly, but God respected that choice in his justice. He respects our choices today. That is the measure of his love for us; he loves us so much, he will let us walk away from him.

Most of us are here today in church because we don’t want to walk away from God, in fact, we want to return to God. We hear his voice, and we are responding. Because of our fallen nature, we don’t often respond the way we wish we would respond. Because our thinking is unclear, and because our choosing is somewhat corrupted, we make bad decisions. I know I do. But God loves us through those bad decisions. He loved Adam and Eve through their bad decision.

Now there are always consequences to decisions. And Adam and Eve were no different. The consequences of their decision were that they could no longer remain in the garden of Eden. But as they were leaving, they heard the promise that God would find a way to call them back. God promised to call them back into the relationship that He made them for. And he makes that promise to us. His justice is grounded in his love. He is coming in justice at the end of time, but he is coming in love to call his children home. The day of judgment for all who love Jesus will be a homecoming. Thursday was Thanksgiving, and many of us were in family homes surrounded by our relatives. So imagine the perfect Thanksgiving celebration, with all of the joys of family and none of the fights of family. For those who claim the name of Jesus, that’s what the day of judgment is going to be: a day of love and celebration and blessing.

Let us now consider our second word: preparation. Those of us who claim Christ as our king are in a special situation. We are in the world, but the kingdom of Christ to which we belong is ultimately beyond the world. Father Romano Guardini was a famous German priest in the 20th century, and in one of his meditations before Mass he wrote this:

Essentially a soldier, the Christian is always on the lookout. He has sharper ears, and he hears an undertone that others miss. He is never submerged in life, but keeps his head and shoulders clear of it, and his eyes free to look upward.

Romano Guardini

I think this is a great description of how we are supposed to live in this world without being “of” this world. We must always be preparing for life in the next world. And we have to be willing to behave this way even when we feel so alone. The power of the crowd cannot be overstated. Guys will do things in a crowd they would never do on their own. The Christian life means always doing the right thing even when everybody else is not only doing the wrong thing but trying to get you to do it with them. The Christian life is not for wimps.

And it’s understandable when we run out of strength. We are never alone; God is always inviting us and the devil is always tempting us. So it’s a lot of work to be as Father Guardini describes and to keep our ears sharp and our eyes bright. Father Guardini explains the consequences:

When this awareness and watchfulness disappear, Christian life loses its edge; it becomes dull and ponderous.

Without a posture of preparation, Christian life loses its edge. Without its edge, Christian life loses its heart. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans exhorts them this way: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Whenever you’re doing something that requires concentration and you lose your edge, you frequently fall asleep. As Christians preparing for eternal life, we have to keep our edge.

Jesus in the gospel today reminds his disciples that there was no two-minute warning before the flood in the days of Noah. He says: “They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the son of man.”

We must commit to preparation because God’s love and God’s justice are linked. He loves us enough to keep inviting us to turn back and live his life in the world today. But he wants us to make our choice independently. Everybody rushes to get on the train when they know it’s the last train leaving the station that day. We will not be told things like that. So we must remain committed to a posture of preparation every day so that when the last day comes, he will recognize us as his sons and daughters. He will look on us with love on that day of justice, and we will look on him with love because we were prepared for his coming.

Lay hold of eternal life

Let’s unpack today’s readings by starting with St. Paul’s letter to Timothy.

Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Tm 6:12

Timothy was called to sacred ministry as a bishop following St. Paul, but this short instruction applies to all of us as well.

St. Paul tells Timothy to lay hold of eternal life. What he means by the term “lay hold of” is “get a really good grip on this.” Get a really good grip on this, because this thing which you now hold in your hands is the key to getting to that place you most deeply desire.

When you fall out of a boat and they throw you a rope, you lay a hold of that rope because that’s the way you’re going to be pulled back into the boat. St. Paul is encouraging all of us to lay a hold of eternal life with the same grip that we would use to hang on to a safety rope.

St. Timothy was called to sacred orders. That was his noble confession made in the presence of many witnesses. Each of us at our baptism was called to eternal life, and our godparents – or we ourselves if we were baptized as adults – professed our faith in the presence of many witnesses. Our call as baptized people is no less important than Timothy’s call as a presbyter and a bishop. Baptism is that safety rope that pulls us toward eternal life. So we should lay a hold of that eternal life to which we were called at our baptism.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we see how much effort is required to lay a hold of eternal life while we are so busy living this mortal life. Poor Lazarus has nothing, and so in many ways he is less distracted than the rich man by the delights of this world. The rich man had fine clothes and clean sheets, and he ate well. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with good clothes, clean sheets, and a full tummy. There’s nothing wrong with these things. Our Lord desires us to have good things.

At the end of our lives, however, our Lord desires us to have the truly good thing, which is eternal life with him in Heaven. And the story of the rich man is that, while we are living out our earthly days, we can get distracted in the pursuit of and the possession of good clothes, and clean sheets, and delicious food. There is nothing wrong with good clothes, clean sheets, and a full tummy, but there can be something wrong if they are what we pursue rather than pursuing God. We cannot lay a hold of eternal life if what is always in our hands and on our minds during our lifetime are the goods of this world. This is the warning that Jesus is offering in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

One of the most powerful emotions in our lives is regret. Regret and shame are emotions the Devil uses to get us to give up. But God can use them, too. God uses regret and shame to get us to try again. We see in this parable the rich man regrets his choices. And the conversation between the rich man and Abraham is a stern reminder that sometimes by the time we regret something it’s too late to change it. Abraham realizes that it’s too late for him, but he asks God to send a messenger to his brothers in hopes that it is not too late for them.

Laying a hold of the eternal life is hard work. It’s the discipline in the life of a disciple. Living and working in the world of Mammon, which is the world of the pursuit and glorification of money and glamour and power; living and working in that world while laying a hold of the eternal life is very hard to do. All of us can do little things to protect ourselves from some of the worst temptations of this world, but it is the world in which we live, and so we have to deal with it.

The good news for us as Catholic Christians that was not available to the rich man in the parable today is the sacramental life. When we make those choices that bring us deep regret, there is something we can do. We can go to confession. Confession uses that deep regret to stir up our resolve to stand in line and then sit or kneel with the priest and say to God before that priest whatever it is that caused the deep regret.

If we are truly sorry — if our regret is deep and sincere — then we will receive absolution. The sin that caused the deep regret will be erased by God and not counted against us. Unlike the rich man in the parable, the great chasm of spiritual death is bridgeable. We can cross over it in the sacrament of reconciliation. On one side of the chasm we are like the rich man in the parable: we are spiritually dead and separated from God. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we have crossed over from death and are back laying a hold of eternal life, reunited with God.

All of us are sinners. None of us will earn heaven by our own merits. It is only by the grace of God that any of us will be saved. Reborn in baptism, we are called to lay a hold of eternal life. Through the consequences of our own choices, it is highly likely that each of us will do something we deeply regret. Because he loves us so much as his adopted children, God has given us the sacrament of reconciliation to bring us back from that place of regret to the place of his love and his life.

So, let us not be afraid. Let us lay hold of eternal life. And if we slip, let us run to the confessional and lay hold of it again.

26th Sunday Year C

Fancy Dinners

Last Sunday, we read how Jesus was asked if only a few people would be saved, and Fr. Neil used that Scripture to remind us that hell is real, and it is a real possibility for everyone. This week we move forward a chapter in the gospel of Luke, and we get a parable on what you might call “dining room etiquette.” Last week, we got reminded that there is a Heaven and a Hell. This week, we get a little bit of instruction from our Lord on how to get to heaven and enjoy eternal life.

From the parable and from the other readings today, we are presented with two approaches to life with others and to following God’s commandments. In the parable from today’s gospel, Jesus gives a lot of practical advice on what to do when you’re invited to a fancy dinner. It’s all very prudent. Rather than going and sitting in the best seat, go sit in the lowest seat and thereby increase your odds of being promoted. It sounds like a very good and humble approach to human status.

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Lord Teach Us to Pray

In the gospel that we read today from Luke, we are given the scene where the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, and he gives them the Our Father. This is one of the first prayers we learn as Christians. And we recite it daily and even many times in the course of the day.

The Lord’s Prayer is directed to the Father: Our Father. Praying to the Father should be familiar to all of us who participate in the Mass, for every opening prayer we hear at Mass, indeed most of the prayers in the Missal, is directed to the father, it is prayed through the son, and it is offered in the Holy Spirit. The model of prayer given to us by Jesus is the model the Church uses in its liturgies, and it is a model for us in our private prayer: we should be willing to direct our prayers to our Heavenly Father.

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A Bride adorned for her Bridegroom

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Rev 21:1-5a

This morning we read from John’s Revelation how he sees, “the holy city, a New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” John then hears a loud voice coming from the throne that says, “the old order has passed away. Behold, I make all things new.”

Here we are in the middle of May and also right in the thick of wedding season. Brides love to be married during the beautiful days of late spring, and so many of you might have recently been to a wedding or are planning to go to one soon. And we see a fair amount of wedding imagery in this reading from the Book of Revelation. This New Jerusalem is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

For those of you who have not been at a wedding recently in the age of Pinterest and Instagram, let me share with you how prophetic John’s writing really was. The bride frequently does spend the day getting ready. We were recently at a wedding when the ceremony was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. But the bridal party needed to report somewhere at 9:30 in the morning for a sequence of hair and makeup and dress and various other little episodes, all of which were captured for social media. But what if all of that being prepared as a bride adorned for her husband was not for Instagram and Pinterest, but it really was for her husband?

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Divine Mercy

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, and it is the end of the Octave of Easter. For the past eight days (last Sunday through today), we have been celebrating Easter Day every day. There are more than forty days of Easter left on the calendar, but the Octave is completed today. Today is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday, thanks to St. John Paul, who suggested we use the Second Sunday of Easter to explore the Divine Mercy.

The message of the Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And, He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. You’ll notice that the message of Divine Mercy starts with love and then mercy and then trust and then joy. Easter is a time of joy precisely because of the Divine Mercy.

When we talk about mercy, we are also talking about justice. Mercy is justice overwhelmed by love, or overridden by love. Remember that Justice is getting what’s due to you. The job of the justice department in the government is to make sure that the bad guys get punished. We want them to get their due. And mercy is getting a pass on what’s due to you. Mercy is when the judge hears from the state trooper that you were going 85 miles an hour and he lets you off with a warning instead of making you pay a big fine. So you can see that mercy is when you do not get what you’re due, and in that way it triumphs over justice.

So what is the Divine Mercy? It is the triumph of God’s love over the consequences of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve turned their back on God, they could no longer stay in the Garden. And everyone born after them is separated from God and therefore headed ultimately towards the place of eternal separation from God. After the Fall, what we are due is Gehenna.

But God’s love for us is so great that he would not abandon us. Instead of sending everyone directly to Gehenna when they died, he sent them to Sheol. This is the realm of the dead but not the realm of everlasting punishment. This is the realm that Jesus goes to on Holy Saturday to preach the good news. In his love for us, God sent the Old Testament heroes to Sheol instead of Gehenna because Jesus – whose name means God Saves – was coming to save us on the cross at Calvary. That is the Divine Mercy.

God’s love for us is so great that he would not abandon us when we committed the ultimate betrayal at the Fall in the Garden. Humanity spurned its creator for a sneaky, slippery liar. We were made by Love itself, and we were made for love, but we chose the deceiver. The Divine Mercy is that our heavenly father kept wooing us back to union with him. He never gave up on us no matter how many times we gave up on him. And finally he sent his son to save us. 

God’s love for us is so great that he will not abandon us. When it became clear that we could not obey him by our own strength, he sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. That is the ultimate Divine Mercy. That divine mercy is why we have our Easter Joy.

The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is always the same: it’s always the story of the doubting Thomas. Thomas is also a story of Divine Mercy. Thomas is unwilling to accept the testimony of the other disciples. He needs data. In this respect St. Thomas is a thoroughly modern man, the kind of person who asks you what the temperature is, listens to your answer, and then goes and looks at the thermometer himself. Our God loves us so much that he will not abandon those who insist on seeing it for themselves. He gives us the time we need to feel his presence. He let Thomas touch his hands and his side a week after Easter Sunday, but he did add, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Another example of the Divine Mercy. And in a way, the story of the doubting Thomas – and his dramatic reaction when he does believe – reinforces the testimony of those who did not doubt. Our God loves us so much he gave us not just one but many witnesses of the Resurrection, so that we would know that it’s true and that Mercy has triumphed over Justice.

Thomas is not the only Apostle who experienced the Divine Mercy. Peter’s transformation after forty days with the risen Lord is a Divine Mercy – helping the one who denied him three times become the Vicar of Christ. St. Paul, the one who hunted believers, received the Divine Mercy on the road to Damascus, and he became the Apostle to the Gentiles.

These are all Divine, but they are only possible because of the ultimate Divine Mercy – God became Man to live among us and offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins and to rise from the dead to show us that sin and death no longer need to have dominion over us.  We have to believe, which Thomas struggled with. The faith is a struggle sometimes. All who harbor some doubts should ask Thomas to pray for them. He knows what they are going through since he went through it himself.

God loves us so much that he sent his Son to save us. We are redeemed. The debt has been paid off. We have a new chance at real life. Real life is the Life in Christ. An Easter People is a people free from the worries of the world. That is a Divine Mercy – to be unruffled by the things that worry the world.

God loves us so much he sent his Son to answer the question everyone eventually asks, “What is the point of this life I’m living?” The Divine Mercy is that we understand we do not have to go to Gehenna. We have a choice. This life is given to us so we can choose God or Gehenna.

God loves us so much he gives us his grace through the Sacraments. In a few minutes we will begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist. After we recall his sacrifice on the Cross through the priest’s Eucharistic Prayer, by his Divine Mercy we receive him – all of him – at Holy Communion.

God loves us so much he gives us absolution through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He is that traffic judge who does not hold us accountable for our transgressions. His Mercy triumphs over Justice in the confessional. And we are freed once again to live the Life of Christ.

Christian joy comes from the knowledge that God’s mercy is greater than our sins, and that we can trust in Him, for his love is so great he gave us the Divine Mercy of his Son’s sacrifice to save us. Accept the Divine Mercy, and be filled with Easter Joy.

Sixth Word Good Friday 2022

There was a jar filled with common wine. They stuck a sponge soaked in this wine on some hyssop and raised it to his lips. When Jesus took the wine, he said: “It is finished.”

John 19:29-30

When Jesus says it is finished, we might ask ourselves exactly what is finished? He is about to die, so is it that his life is finished? He told the disciples last night when he instituted the Lord’s Supper that this was his body and this was his blood, so is it that the institution of the Lord’s Supper is finished?

I think the answer to both of these questions is yes. But today I’d like to look back in the church year to the Annunciation and the Nativity of Our Lord. This is Good Friday, which is an odd name for this day unless we can connect it to the Annunciation and to the Nativity. For what is finished is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s decision in the Garden of Eden to turn away from the Lord and to put themselves – and us – under the dominion of the Evil One. All of salvation history as recorded in Holy Scripture is a response to that original sin. Time after time, our Heavenly Father sent prophets to call us back to the relationship that we were made for. And from time to time we were able to turn back, but we were unable to remain in that good relationship with our creator. We would return, but we wouldn’t stay.

Our Heavenly Father loves us; he loves us so much, he sent his only begotten son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by his son’s sacrifice. His birth was announced to Our Lady by God’s messenger, the Archangel Gabriel. And Our Lady responded as Adam and Eve did not: “Be it done unto me according to thy will.” Like Eve, whose name means “the mother of all,” Mary was born without an ingrained inclination to sin. Like Eve, she could freely choose to follow God’s will or to reject God’s will. Unlike Adam and Eve, Mary freely chose to follow God’s will. From such a holy body, our Lord was born on Christmas Day. The word became flesh and dwelt among us.

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