Sunday, March 17, 2019

Homily, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - Be quiet and listen to Him

Prayer is one of the disciplines we practice during Lent to help bring about a transformation to make us more Christ like. Being quiet of the is one thoughts that Fr. Steve gave us for this season to focus on God in prayer. 
       This week our Scripture readings gives us some examples of mystical encounters with God.    It’s something that we don’t really think about in our busy and noisy world.   We have too many distractions to realize the encounters we may have where heaven meets earth.   In addition to the noise, our Western culture is skeptical that these can really happen at all. But if we spend some quiet time in prayer, we can become aware of God entering our world and the power of transforming it into the Kingdom of Heaven.
            Does God enter our world, like we hear about in today’s Scriptures? A few years ago I had a unique experience with a homeless person that may have been one of these.   I was walking back from my lunch downtown and running late for a meeting.   I usually encountered homeless people on the way and would keep same change in my pocket to help them out.  I would try engage in conversation when offering them money in order to show them some dignity.   But on this one particular day I didn’t have time.  I left late for lunch and had to hurry back for a meeting. I was across the street from my office just in time for the meeting, when a man riding a bike came straight over to me and said, “I’m hungry, and haven’t eaten for 3 days, can you spare a few dollars to help me out?”  My thought was no way, I’m late for a meeting and have no change today, but something nagged at me to help.   There was a convenience store on the corner, so I offered to buy him some lunch.  He didn’t want much, just a hot dog and soft drink and, was very grateful.  In leaving I offered short quick prayer for things to get better, as I really had to go.  He responded looking me straight in the eyes, offering a prayer for my wife, two daughters, and son, along with a blessing. This really caught me off guard as I never mentioned anything about my family to him.  In thinking about it later in the day I wondered, was this homeless man a mystical encounter with Christ?
            In the Scripture today, we have two experiences of God directly entering our world.   In the first reading God establishes a covenant with Abram due to his faith.  God tells him his descendants would be more numerous than the stars and also gave him land to live in.  This covenant is made by God in the darkness on the mountain through the mysterious action of the smoking fire pot and flaming torch passing through Abram’s offering.  God chose to enter into world through the faith of Abram.
            In the Gospel, Peter, James, and John went up with Jesus to the mountain to pray.   Going up on the mountain is a sign of being close to God. Here Jesus’ face changes
appearance and his clothing became dazzlingly white.   He speaks with Moses and Elijah about his passion, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem.     Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets that foretold of the new covenant Jesus would establish: everlasting life through faith in him as the Son of God. Up to this encounter, Peter and the disciples had witnessed Jesus’ healings and miracles, but they were not exactly sure who he was. On the mountain, Jesus appears in his glorified body. The cloud that appears is the presence of the Holy Spirit. The voice of the Father proclaims who Jesus is, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
The Transfiguration, the revelation of Jesus in his glorified body, is accounted for in the Gospels of Luke, Matthew, and Mark.   God chooses to enter the world at various times.  This Trinitarian encounter for the disciples was for them to believe who Jesus is, the Son of God.  It’s also provided for us to believe today as well. God the Father reveals who Jesus is, and also gives us direction of what to do: Listen to him.   
How can we listen to Jesus?  Through the quiet of prayer.   Spending time with Scripture is an excellent way of encountering Jesus in prayer in this busy world.  It’s one of the primary ways God speaks to us.  Scripture tells us the story of the God’s covenants he’s established with his people throughout time, with the final everlasting covenant established in Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.  The glorified body of Jesus revealed in the Transfiguration is what we hope for in our own bodies if we believe in him.    St. Paul tells us that “he will change our lowly body to conform with his body.”   We may have many struggles with our earthly bodies that fail due to age and disease, but we have the hope of being restored to a glorified body in heaven through our faith in Jesus.
We can encounter Jesus by quietly listening to him praying with Scripture. This us opens us up to the presence of God in our world.  When we listen to Jesus we can be transformed to make the Kingdom of heaven present here.   It also opens us up to encounters with the presence of him through the body of Christ, maybe even like I the one I had a few year ago.   May this Lent be a good time for you to be with the Lord by listening quietly to Jesus in prayer.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Blessed are they who trust in the Lord, Sixth week Ordinary Time, 2/17/19

Blessed are those who are weeping, for you will laugh.  This line from the Gospel really impacted me in light of the disturbing news we all heard today or earlier this week.   Today, it’s hard to imagine being able to laugh.  Many of us are in a state of mourning.    We may be experiencing a range of emotions: sadness, anger, disappointment, confusion.    Some of us may just be numb, and find it hard to process.   How could we laugh in such a challenging situation?

The words from the prophet Jeremiah were striking in regards to how some of us may feel: He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.  This sounds like a lifeless, depressing place to be in.   The Israelites that Jeremiah was prophesying to were in a place where there seemed to be little hope.  They were in captivity of a nation that was far from their God.  They may have felt like their God had turned away from them.   We may feel much like they did.

But the second half of Jeremiah offers some words of hope:  Blessed are they who trust in the Lord:    He is like a tree planted besides waters that stretches out its roots to the stream.   IT FEARS NOT THE HEAT WHEN IT COMES: IT LEAVES STAY GREEN; IN THE YEAR OF DROUGHT IT SHOWS NO DISTRESS, BUT STILL BEARS FRUIT.

There is some encouragement in the words of the prophet.   If we trust in the Lord, we’ll be blessed.   God will show us his favor.  Being blessed doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any trouble.  That won’t happen until meet God in his Eternal Kingdom.     As Christians, we will still encounter troubled times, because we are living in an imperfect world.   But if we trust in the Lord he will help us to endure the trails.

We will experience fleeting glimpses of Gods of Heavenly Kingdom in this life.  Through Christ’s Church, his Word and sacraments will remain with us to sustain us till he returns.  Our faith tells us there is much more to hope for, by trusting in the Lord, where we hope for eternal peace in His Kingdom.
Returning to today’s Gospel, Jesus preached the Sermon on the Plain of blessing and
woes.   In the blessings, we hear of people who are in distress, the poor, hungry, sad, and those hated due to their faith in Jesus.   Why would he say they are blessed?   Not because of the condition they are in, but to let them know that God shows them favor. He tells them their present condition will be reversed, which gives hope: they will laugh, be satisfied, and receive their reward in God’s Kingdom.

Those who are suffering cry out to God for help.    God does not want his people to suffer.   Eventually their suffering will pass.  When it will pass, we don’t know.  That’s a great mystery, but by trusting in God it will help us in enduring our trials.
Jesus directs the woes to those who have no distress. They are the rich, the full, those who laugh, and are spoken well of.  They have little need for God, as they find all their happiness in the world. They’re satisfied for now, but are missing eternal satisfaction by ignoring a relationship with God.
For most of us, in times of distress, we will turn to God for help.  Some of us may thinking with the troubles in our Church, where can we turn? It’s important to remember that Jesus left us his Church to spread the Good News of his salvation and sustain until he returns.    The ministers of His Church, clergy, religious, and lay people, are human, and may humans make mistakes.

Unfortunately a very small few may cause harm.    This is very sad and we pray to God this won’t happen.  We especially pray for healing to those who’ve been hurt.  But, please keep in mind, that the Church is much more than the very few individuals who have committed offenses.  The overwhelming majority of clergy, religious, and lay ministers are doing much good to faithfully lead the Body of Christ through prayer, sacraments, spiritual support, teaching, and acts of charity to show love for our neighbor.

So what can we do when we are weeping?   Head the words of the prophet Jeremiah, and put our trust in God relying on our faith to sustain us. Jesus’ presence through his sacraments, especially the Eucharist, provide graces to nourish us.   By remaining committed to receiving the sacraments it will give us strength to sustain through this challenging time.  Prayer is also very helpful, especially when situations are out of our control.  Some situations must be entrusted to God.  If your struggling with what to pray, turn to the Psalms, the prayers Jesus prayed.  We can pray on our own, and also in community as the Body of Christ.  We’ll have a prayer service Monday night from 6-7 pm for this purpose.   There are also opportunities throughout the week to attend Mass, pray in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesdays, and pray the Rosary on Saturday mornings.  So please pray to the Holy Spirit for all parties involved in this difficult situation that the truth prevails.

As the Body of Christ, our prayers and works of mercy can be offered to bring about healing.   Blessed is the one who trusts in Lord.

Be thankful for the greatest gift: Jesus; Feast of the Epiphany, 1/17/19

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.  This is a sign that our Christmas season will soon be coming to an end. Many of us have given and received gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Think about what’s the best gift that you received this Christmas.  Was it a toy, video game, clothing or jewelry?  All of these gifts are well and good, but I think the greatest gift we’ve received is God humbling himself to become one of us, being born as a little baby to Mary and his step-father Joseph.  He came to give us the greatest gift of all, Eternal life, to those who come to faith in him. The Magi we hear about today give us an example of this faith and giving Jesus their best gifts.

The Magi were a priestly people who were thought to have supernatural knowledge by interpreting the stars.   They were in search of something greater.  The Magi, who were Gentiles, people outside of the Jewish faith, were led by the star to Jerusalem to find a newborn king of the Jews.  Jews, to find Jesus. When King Herod, the King of the Jews, heard this, it was a threat to his power.  In defense, he turned to the scribes and priests to determine where the Messiah would be born.  He told the magi to go to Bethlehem, so they could lead Herod to the new king so he could pay homage.  But in reality wanted to harm him.  It’s interesting that the people far from God were the ones to seek out Jesus, but those close to God wanted to do him harm.  The star directing the Magi to find the newborn king was a sign that Jesus came for all people.  

The Magi traveled to Bethlehem and were led by the star directly to the place where Jesus was.   The was the divine action of God seeking out the Magi.  When the Magi encountered Jesus they prostrated in homage before him.  Prostrating is an action of humility, by lying face down on the ground in reverence. There must have been something very powerful in the presence of Jesus that overcame the Magi to evoke such an action.  These Magi saw an ordinary little baby with his parents in very humble surroundings, but by faith they were compelled to worship him as a divine king.   This gift of faith led them to give Jesus their best gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  After this encounter they were warned not to return to Herod. Their faith in Jesus opened the eyes of their heart, and they were lead to go another way to proclaim the newborn Messiah to the Gentiles.  

Our response to Jesus, can be like the Magi, through our faith in him as our Lord and Savior.   We encounter Jesus each time we come to Mass.  We see ordinary bread and wine.   But, in faith we believe that Jesus’ Real Presence is contained in the Eucharist.   Like the Magi, Jesus seeks us out, to be with us.  He comes in the Eucharist so we can receive him as food to nourish us spiritually.  Like the Magi, we show our reverence bowing to receive him.   In faith we give Jesus our gifts of praise and thanksgiving after receiving him.

Our Catholic faith professes that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  He truly came in time to become one of us, and offered his life in sacrifice to give us eternal life.   He continues to be with us through his Real Presence in the Eucharist.   Like the star that guided the Magi, we have a light in every Catholic Church that guides us to Jesus. The tabernacle light perpetually burns as a sign of Christ’s presence.   We can come and be present with the Lord at almost any time by seeking out that light and kneeling in humble adoration.

There are some people, even many Catholics, who may struggle with faith in Jesus as our Savior and his Real Presence in the Eucharist.   Many of us have family or friends that may have celebrated Christmas, but really don’t understand greatest gift: Jesus becoming one of us and redeeming us for Eternal Life.  They may come to Mass only once or twice a year, but have not developed their faith in Jesus and the gift he has given us in the Church and Sacraments. If you know of anyone like this, please consider inviting them grow in their faith by attending the upcoming Bishop Barron’s series on Mass or the Men’s and Women’s Welcome retreats.   Both of these are great opportunities to develop and strengthen their faith in Jesus.

So as the Christmas season comes to a conclusion let’s remember to be thankful for greatest gift we’ve received, the gift of Jesus, and to share that gift with others to bring them the Light of faith.