Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Taking a Break

Dear friends:

It has come time for me to take a sabbatical from posting on this blog. Thank you to everyone who has read these homilies- over 302,000 unique page views to date! I hope they have been, and will continue to be, a blessing to you.

If you are a preacher, the archives include homilies for the vast majority of the observances in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Perhaps you'll find some inspiration or illustrations herein.

If you've never visited, welcome; please read and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ordinary 12 Tuesday

The older I get, the harder I find it to stay asleep through the whole night. Squawking birds, rumbling trucks, flushing toilets, the dog pacing downstairs- something’s always waking me up. So I find it hard to imagine Jesus sleeping on a rocking boat in the midst of a violent storm. Perhaps he was really tired. Or maybe we’re to understand Jesus’ peacefulness in the midst of chaos as a contrast to the panic of his disciples. They had freaked out. But they wouldn’t have done so, according to Jesus, if only they’d had faith.

Are there things in our life that we’re anxious about, but shouldn’t be? Things that lead us to say to the Lord: "How come you aren’t paying attention? Don’t you see how important this is? Aren’t you concerned about my well-being and happiness? Are you asleep?"

At times we’re all tempted to think that God doesn’t care. But God does care. It’s just that he doesn’t always see things we way we do. That’s why we need faith. With faith, we can purify our perspectives, priorities, and expectations. With faith, we remember that while God always gives us what we need, he doesn’t always give us what we want. With faith, we can be grateful for what we have instead of frustrated over what we don’t. With faith, we can be happy in the present instead of thinking that we’ll only be happy in a future that may never come. With faith, we understand that everything happens for a reason. With faith, we’re assured that God is always with us, surrounding us with love, giving us the grace to do what he wants us to do. With faith, we’ll know the peace that only Jesus can give.

Life can indeed be hard. But as he was with his disciples, Jesus is in the same boat with us. He invites us to faith, so he can replace our "violent storms," with "great calm."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ordinary 11 Tuesday

A dear friend of mine wrestles the pain inflicted on her for years by her ex-husband, who might fairly be described as selfish, vindictive, callous, and immature. Because of her deep faith, however, my friend has received the strength to cope and persevere.

Her faith has, at times, made her feel smugly superior to her “ex.” She thought it made her look better than him in the eyes of others. She’s also harbored deep resentments against him, and would secretly rejoice whenever misfortune came his way.

Over time, my friend realized that her attitudes were incompatible with her faith. So she started to fast and pray for her ex-husband, asking that he himself might come to know the Lord and enjoy happiness and peace, even if she weren’t part of the picture.

My friend’s journey was inspired by Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks each one of us to love unconditionally, just as our heavenly Father loves indiscriminately- including those who’ve hurt us, by hoping for their good, and praying for their salvation

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ordinary 11 Monday

"Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea," wrote C.S. Lewis, "until they actually have something to forgive." How true that is! When we’ve been hurt or betrayed, our typical knee-jerk reaction is to seek revenge and retribution. "Don’t get mad," the saying goes, "get even!"

When we act this way, we may excuse our behavior by explaining that all we want is for justice to be done, and who can argue with that? In a similar vein, we might try to convince ourselves that we’ll never find peace or "closure" until the offending party has received his or her due.

Jesus, however, in today’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, rejects this "eye-for-an-eye" sort of ethic. He knows, and invites us to accept the radical truth that victims of injustice will find peace and closure, not through actions motivated by pain and hate, but through sincere forgiveness, motivated by grace and love

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

God reminds me, from time to time, that he has a sense of humor. He did so, as a matter of fact, as I was beginning to prepare this very homily. I was reading today’s gospel and thinking about what to preach, but nothing immediately came to mind. I began to get impatient. And that’s where the joke comes in. Because the gospel I was getting impatient over is about Jesus telling us to be patient! When I suddenly realized this, I felt a little bit ashamed, but I couldn’t help but smile at the same time.

Jesus, you see, had been preaching about the kingdom of God. When people heard this, many of them expected that God would soon send down his angels and destroy evil for ever. But when this didn’t happen, they became impatient. Jesus was aware of this, and that’s why he told the parables he did. The kingdom of heaven starts small, he said, kind of like a mustard seed which grows into a large bush, or that which is planted by a farmer in the spring, but takes an entire season to come to harvest. Such seeds will grow, but only with time. In the meantime, we need to be patient.

And Jesus is right, isn’t he? People were impatient in his day, and we are often impatient in ours. We live in a fast-paced, “drive through” society. We don’t want to wait for the things we want. And when we do have to wait, we get really frustrated. That’s why driving on the Beltway can be so darned scary!

We even get impatient in our spiritual lives too. We want God to “zap us” and make us into an instant saint. We want overnight holiness. We look for an experience or a retreat or a homily that will fix us once and for all, getting rid of every temptation and solving every problem. But that doesn’t happen, does it? Instead, we find ourselves confessing the same sins over and over and over again, and we become impatient. Which, ironically, is probably one of those sins that we have to repeatedly confess. Then we wind up being impatient with our impatience!!

The truth is, however, that Christian maturity doesn’t happen overnight. Real growth in Christian discipleship takes time! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are saints. It takes a whole life time. In fact, it usually takes more than a whole life time. Because even though we may be a friend of God, we usually have a lot of growing still to do when we die. That’s the whole point of our Catholic belief in Purgatory. It’s where God’s imperfect friends continue to grow into perfection.

Heaven, you see, is only for the perfect. And the only two perfect people were Jesus and Mary. Even the saints weren’t perfect on earth! They had to go to confession like the rest of us sinners. That’s why the Church’s measuring stick for sainthood is not perfection- because no one would qualify! Instead, the standard is what’s called “heroic virtue.” And that’s very different from perfection.

In our quest to become saints, then, we need to learn patience. As St. Alphonsus Liguori once said: “It’s by patience that we gain heaven!” To learn patience, I would suggest three things. First, don’t be a perfectionist. Second, don’t be a pessimist. But third, do be persistent.

Perfectionism is dangerous because perfectionists think that God will love them only if, well, they’re perfect. Which, as we already know, is impossible! Even worse is that for perfectionists, God comes to be seen, not as a loving friend who wants to help us, but as a heavenly scorekeeper who is quick to condemns us. Not surprisingly, perfectionists find very little joy in their faith, if at all.

Perfectionists also have unrealistic expectations and establish impossible standards for themselves. Unfortunately, this only leaves room for failure. A very new Christian once learned this when she tried to follow Saint Paul’s advice to “pray without ceasing.” She tried and tried to pray during every waking moment, but as you might imagine, she quickly tired out. She went to a wise priest with her problem who told her that she had “spiritual indigestion,” because she’d tried to take on too much too soon. Never having really prayed before, the priest explained, she couldn’t all of a sudden start praying eighteen hours a day while doing other things. Because God didn’t expect it of her, he concluded, she shouldn’t expect it of herself.

On the other hand, the priest didn’t tell her to give up and throw in the towel. And that’s important too. We can’t become a pessimist and think that nothing we’ll do will make much of a difference. Pessimists, you see, don’t just think that they’re sinners. They think instead that they’re hopeless sinners. But in God’s eyes there is no such a thing. With God on our side, there’s always hope, which means that we must be persistent in our relationship with him. Even if it seems like we’re making little headway. Even if we think we’re sliding back. We may be slow learners, we may have a lot of baggage and hang-ups, and we may be afraid of change, but God is full of more patience, love, and mercy than we could ever imagine.

God, you see, is love. And love is patient. God is patient with us. So we must be patient with ourselves, and take things little by little, bit by bit. We need to measure our progress by the inch, not by the mile; we need to take things one day at a time. As St. Richard of Chichester said in his famous prayer, “O Lord, may I see thee more clearly, follow thee more nearly, and love thee more dearly, day by day.”

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Immaculate Heart of Mary

When we deeply and truly love someone, we might say, “I love you with all my heart.”The heart, after all, is that place within us from which love flows. That’s why the heart has become the universal symbol of love. Just look at any Valentine’s Day card!

It’s fitting, then, that when we speak of the love of Mary, we speak of her heart. We celebrate her love today, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary’s heart is called “immaculate” because it’s pure- free from selfishness and sin or a misplaced affection for anything, or anyone, that might compromise her perfect love for Jesus her son, and God his Father.

However, just because her heart is pure doesn’t mean her heart wasn’t wounded. Mary suffered greatly, which is why depictions of her heart often feature it as pierced by thorns, or with a sword. Yet in spite of her sorrows, Mary’s heart never became bitter, cynical, or hard. The love which filled it was never displaced by hatred or indifference.

Saint Augustine once said Mary was more blessed for having conceived Christ in her heart, than having conceived him in the flesh. By striving to love Christ above all else, our hearts can be purified like Mary’s, so that we might truly say to our Lord: “I love you with all my heart.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Through my years in pastoral ministry, I have come to appreciate how much deep and profound hurt there exists in our world. I recall a fellow priest once pointing to dozens of flickering votive candles in church and saying: “You know, each one of these flames represents a broken heart.”

He’s right: And that’s why a love for, and a devotion to, the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be such a powerful consolation and spiritual help. Pain can turn our hearts into stone. They’re hardened hearts, given that they’re stone. Yet even then they can still crack, or be shattered into a thousand pieces. But Jesus can take our hearts of stone, and replace them with his own, sacred heart: a heart of flesh, a heart of peace, a heart of mercy, a heart of boundless, inexhaustible love- a love which enables us to forgive, reconcile, reach out to others in compassion, and become beacons of hope in darkened world.

St.Margaret Mary Alacoque, who had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart, knew this well. She wrote: “May the peace of the adorable Heart of Jesus ever fill our hearts, so that nothing may be able to disturb our serenity.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ordinary 10 Tuesday

Why is there so much evil in the world?" is a question we typically ask when reflecting upon the state of human affairs. And it’s certainly an important question. However, might a better question to ask be: "In light of all the world’s evil, why is there still so much good?" We sometimes have a tendency to focus upon the negative, the dark, as opposed to the positive, and the good. This leaves us with a skewed picture of reality.

That’s one reason why Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that we need to let our light shine before others- so that they can see the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world around them.

Let’s commit ourselves today to allow the light of Christ shine before us so that the world may know, that through Christ, light has triumphed over darkness, good has triumphed over evil, and life has triumphed over death.