Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent Homily 2013

Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-1/8

Philippians 3: 17-4.1

Luke: 28b-36

I am sure there are many here among us who could tell a story of an event that occurred to them that changed their lives forever.  We see two instances of this in today’s readings.  We first hear of Abram, a man who hears a voice calling to him to leave his homeland, a place were he felt safe and secure, with everything he owned, with everyone he held dear; and journey to some unknown land.  Once he arrives in the land, the Lord again speaks to him, promises that from Abram, a great nation will spring forth, that the land Abram is standing on will be his.  Now Abram is a practical man, he wonders how he will be able to hold such a vast land; how he, who is past his prime, will father a nation?  God confirms this promise by performing a miracle!  This is the first miracle Abram witnesses in his relationship with the Lord!  Can any of us even guess at the emotions that he experienced from this event?  The promise is confirmed, and Abram’s life is forever changed, he is no longer just a nomad, wandering the plains and hills of Palestine, he is now the father of a people.

In today’s Gospel, we see the disciples of Jesus, Peter, John and James, following him up a mountain to pray.  They have been following Jesus for sometime now.  They have heard him preach and were inspired by his words.  They have witnessed him performing many miracles; and they are in awe of him.  Earlier in this Gospel, we would have read how Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ!  Now, they may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but do they really understand what that means?  On the top of that mountain, Peter, John and James witness the transfiguration of Jesus.  They see him in all his glory, and they hear the voice of the Father confirm that Jesus is the Son of God.  The words the Evangelist Luke uses, I think, fail to adequately describe what those three disciples saw and experienced.  The three persons who came down from that mountain were men whose lives had been changed forever.

I think the common factor that Abram and the three disciples shared, was that they were already persons with open hearts.  They may not have realized it at the moment, but they were ready for God to come in and do something wonderful, that would change them forever.  During this season of Lent, the Church is encouraging us to open our hearts; hearts that may have grown hard over time.  Through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, we break our attachment to those things that may have become a barrier between us, God and other persons.  We have an opportunity to break ourselves open, and become totally receptive to the love and power of God.  We can hear, with open ears, the Word of God; we can see, with eyes of faith, the miracle of the Eucharist happening before us.  And when we receive Christ in Holy Communion, we open ourselves up to the power of His love.  And with each of these encounters, Jesus will, as St. Paul wrote, “change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”  We have the opportunity to enter into a new way of life.  Now this can be somewhat frightening, scary.  We may be comfortable with the way our life may be, right now.  We may be tempted to stay in the place we are, to remain at the base of the mountain.  However, God is offering us so much more.  Now it comes with challenges, but it also comes with so much joy.  We only need to have the courage to set out on the journey, to have the courage to climb.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent 2013

Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Romans 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13

Note:  The Catholic parishes of Beverly, MA, are part of the first phase of reorganizing the parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston into 2 to 3 parish collaboratives, under one pastor and pastoral team.

Today’s Gospel reading continues the story after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.  Jesus has experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon Him, has heard the Father confirming that he is the Son of God.  He must have been on a spiritual high; he is “the man.”  Now we see the Spirit leading him into the desolation that is the desert.  We are told that Jesus fasted for forty days, and was “hungry.”  Now, those of us who are dieters, or failed dieters, we may think we know what it means to be hungry, but that is nothing compared to the hunger Jesus must have experienced, and what the effects it must have been to his body.  This combination of hunger and surviving the desert, must have definitely taken him out of his comfort zone.  It is then that the devil challenges Jesus, tempts Jesus.  He first tempts Jesus to change a stone into bread.  Then he tries to have Jesus doubt his own power as the Messiah, by accepting power from the devil, at the price of worshiping him, rather than the Father.  Finally, the devil tries to have Jesus get the Father to confirm that He is the Son, by saving him from a fall.  All these actions, changing stone into bread, accepting power from another, seeking the Father’s reaffirmation; these are all self-centered actions.  And Jesus came not for himself but for others.

So Jesus drew on the divine power that was in him all the time, which was and is at the center of his being.  The Evangelist Luke expresses this power by having Jesus quote the Hebrew Scriptures.  It is the power of the Word of God that will drive the devil away.

Now, all of us experience temptation at different times, and in different ways.  We are tempted to reach for that cookie on the plate, even when our mother says not to.  We are tempted to reach for the game boy, rather than doing our homework.  We are tempted to join in the gossip about a coworker, rather than defend him or her.  And sometimes we are tempted to give in to despair, because life has gotten so hard, so dark.  In moments of temptation, great or small, we all need to turn to Him who has experienced it himself, who knows what we are going through.  If we open ours hearts to Him, if we let His word take hold of us, have faith in Him, we will ignore the temptation, have hope and not be put to shame.

Lent is a time when the Church challenges us; through fasting, increased prayer, and almsgiving, giving of ourselves for others; to leave our comfort zone, to set sail on uncharted spiritual waters.  And now this year, as a parish community, as a community of Catholic believers here in Beverly, we are being asked to go on into even more uncharted waters.  Some of us may be tempted to withdraw within ourselves and not participate in the process.  As the process moves on, for whatever reasons, some of us may be tempted to jump ship.  And on top of all that, we hear that Pope Benedict is resigning, and now the way forward looks even more uncertain, the horizon more shrouded in fog, in uncertainty.  What I ask of all us to do is to trust in Him, who built the Bark, the Ship of St. Peter, trust in him who gave St. Peter the keys of the kingdom, and asked him to care for the Lord’s sheep; believe in Him who at a word, calm the winds and the waves.  He will bring us to safe harbor.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Homily For 2nd Sunday In Ordinary Time

Isaiah 62: 1-5
1 Corinthians 12: 4-11
John 2: 1-11

Recently, I have learned the meaning of a new phrase, and that phrase is “back story.”  One definition is that it is a literary device used by some writers, to create a history or biography for a character, or events that lead up to the current incident the author is writing about.  The back story may be just for the author’s benefit, to help in writing about a present moment in the story. 

After going through today’s Gospel reading, I find myself wondering as to what was the back story for the wedding feast of Cana.  The passage hints that the wedding party had a good number of waiters or servants in attendance, with a head waiter in charge.  The size of the water jugs seems to indicate that there were a lot of guests invited, who would be using them for the ceremonial washings.  So I am speculating that somebody in the wedding party had, as saying goes, “a lot of brass!”  So how does it come about that Mary, the mother of Jesus, a simple woman from Nazareth, gets invited to this wedding?  It could be that she was a relative from the poorer side of the family.  She must have been loved and respected to be invited, and of course, they would have to invite her son, Jesus, who was developing a reputation as an itinerant preacher

Mary is observant, she notices the distress among the servants responsible for pouring the wine; she sees the wine is running low, and she knows what dishonor it could bring to the married couple.  She turns to her son, who tells her that this is not the moment.  But Mary knows; deep down in her heart, where she has reflected on everything that has happened up to this moment, that now is the hour.  And the rest is, as they say, history.

However, I think we should notice something, the groom and the head waiter are clueless as to what has happened.  It is not to the people who live “Upstairs” that this miracle is revealed; but to the ones who are “Downstairs.”  And we can imagine these servants, the ones who prepared the water jugs, going to their families and telling them of what they had witnessed.  And soon the word gets out throughout their neighborhood.  And soon, all of Cana is abuzz, as is the rest of Galilee.  And everyone is talking about this country rabbi, by the name of Jesus.  And his disciples are now aware that there is something more to this Jesus of Nazareth.

We all know what the something is; we know that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, who died and is risen, who has freed us from the power of sin and death.  If we know this, then we cannot keep this a secret; “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.” (Isaiah: 62: 1)  We are entering a process to reorganize the Catholic communities of Beverly into a collaborative. The aim of this process is more than just preserving the status quo; their ultimate goals is to give us the resources to go out and be evangelizers, to got out and proclaim the Good News.  We are all called, by virtue of our baptism into Body of Christ, to participate in the prophetic role of Jesus.  Does this mean that we all become street corner preachers?  Maybe!  However, what I would ask all us to do is to reflect on the words of St. Paul from the second reading.  We all receive different gifts from the Holy Spirit, which are meant to be used in building up the Body of Christ.  This means taking the time for prayer and reflection, to become aware of the gifts we have received and what opportunities present themselves to us to use these gifts. Sometimes, the best evangelizers are those who strive to live those two great commandments of Christ, to love God with all of our heart and soul; and to love others as ourselves.  One act of charity can be like a stone dropped into a pond; the ripples will go out and spread through our families, our neighborhoods, our city, the world. 

“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.”  Let us not be timid, let us not be quiet, but boldly go out, in whatever way the Spirit calls us, and proclaim the Good News, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Homily 2012

Isaiah: 62: 11-12
Titus 3: 4-7
Luke 2: 15-20

“See, the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth: say to daughter Zion, you savior comes!”

Christmas morning!  In America it has become a time when presents are unwrapped; family and friends gather for a dinner; and Christmas shows and movies are watched.  For many of us, Christmas is a time of colors, lights, joy and good times.  Yet, we know that there are people and places where the coming of Christmas morning is bittersweet.  I am thinking of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, still struggling to put their lives together again.  I am thinking of the families, trying to get through the tragic loss of loved ones in Oregon, Colorado, other cities and countries, and especially our brothers and sisters in Newtown Ct.  I am thinking of those in our community, struggling with the challenges, the curve balls that life sometimes tosses at us.

What I do want to speak about is of a Christmas that was experienced by a group of shepherds outside the town of Bethlehem, the town of King David’s birth.  Now shepherds in the time of Jesus were on the lowest rung of the agricultural workers ladder.  They owned no land; all they had were their sheep; they depended on the sheep’s wool to sell to weavers; on the sheep’s meat to feed themselves and their families.  Their flocks were always threatened by starvation if the pastures suffered drought; by disease, by wolves; and the thievery of other shepherds.  So they were not wealthy, mostly they were poor, very poor. 

And here they were, near Bethlehem, keeping night watch over their flocks, when suddenly, an angel appears to them, telling them that the Messiah had been born.  This proclamation is not made to rulers of nation, but it is to the poor that this great news is given.  And then they have a vision of thousands of angels, filling the sky, proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Pope Benedict, in his recent book on the birth of Christ, expresses the belief that the angels sang this Gloria.  Can you imagine what that must have sounded like? Picture the Mormon Tabernacle choir times a hundred, times a thousand!

So what would you do if you had such a vision, heard such news.  You go check it out!  And that is what the shepherds did, and what they found was this couple in an animal stall, with their infant in a manger, something cattle or sheep would eat out off.  Now other people, more sophisticated people, might say this cannot be the Messiah, and go looking elsewhere.  But when these shepherds saw the child, something in their hearts, told them, “Yes, this is the one who is Christ, Lord, and Savior.”  Their lives were transformed, no longer filled with despair and sadness, but filled now with hope, with peace. 

“See, the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth: say to daughter Zion, your savior comes!”

We have all come here today, like the shepherds, to see a miracle.  When Monsignor raises the Host and the Chalice, we will hear the words “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  And like the shepherds at that first Christmas, we will recognize our Savior.  As the Son of God came into the world as a small infant, he comes to us today in the form of bread and wine.  He comes to save us from darkness and despair; he comes to brings us hope.  He comes save us from fear and sadness; he comes to bring us joy. 

Let us all open our hearts to Him, receive Him, and experience His presence within us.  Let us then leave here glorifying and praising God.  By our lives, let us proclaim to the entire world the good news, “our Savior comes!!”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Advent 2012

Micah 5: 1-4a
Hebrews 10: 5-10
Luke 1:39-45

Now I do not claim to be psychic, but I am willing to bet that every child here is thinking “One more day till Christmas!!”  And there must be many adults here thinking; “Oh my goodness, only one day till Christmas!”  We are thinking of the presents we still have to buy and wrap, the food supplies we have to buy for Christmas dinner, and how much time we need to prepare it.  Then all those personal crises seem to get magnified, during the Christmas season, so much pressure and tension.

Let us just for moment, stop, try to still our minds and our hearts, and listen for the voice of the Lord; feel his Presence, realize that we are about to celebrate something wonderful that has happened in the past, is happening now, and will continue to happen into the future.  St. Elizabeth knew something awesome was about to happen, she had already experienced God’s power in her life, when, in her late age, she was able to become pregnant.  One could say that she was already sensitive to the power of the Holy Spirit, so that when she heard Mary’s voice and felt her child leaped in her womb, not move or kick, but leaped, she knew something more powerful than her miracle was occurring.  She realized instinctively that Mary was carrying the Son of God.

God was intervening again in the lives of His people, the children of Israel, as He did during the time of Moses.  The promised Messiah was coming, not with great sound and fury, but as a little child, born of a simple Jewish, peasant woman.  Yet, He will become a Shepherd of His People, not only the people of Israel, but of all nations, caring for them, healing them, and guiding them. 

It is this that we celebrate in a couple of days, this great miracle, and this great act of love by the Father.  It is an act of love that continues today.  We continue to celebrate Emmanuel, “God is with us.”  Jesus Christ is present as the Word of God, He is present in the Eucharist, and He is present within each of us when we open our hearts to Him.  And He cares for us as a shepherd, comforting us, and guiding us, bringing us back to the Father.

In the time that is left, I encourage all of us to make some quiet space in our day, so that we can hear the voice of our Shepherd, and in hearing that voice we will leap for joy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Third Sunday Of Advent - Newtown CT Tragedy

Zephananiah 3: 14-18a
Philippians 4: 4-7
Luke 3: 10-18

The parish I am assigned to, first built a facility that housed an elementary school, and middle school.  Instead of building a church, they converted the school auditorium into a full time worship space.

When I was in formation to become a deacon, we had a class on how to prepare and deliver homilies.  Our instructor advised us to spend at least a week in advance to prepare a good homily.  However, there are times when current events forces one to toss out the long prepared text, and speak to what is happening right now.

A great tragedy has happened to our neighbors south of here; to our fellow New Englander’s of Newtown, CT.  There are many households in that town where children’s beds lay empty and the grief is so great that you must feel it when you come into the community.  A sadness magnified because of the season we are in right now, a season that is suppose to be full of lights and joy, especially for children.  And there must be strong feelings being stirred amongst all of us here today, because of what is next door here, on the other side of that wall.  Some of us who have children in the school may be wondering, “Is my child safe?”

Questions are already swirling about, “Why did this happen?”  “What was wrong with that young man?”  “Where was God, how could He let this happen?”  I wish I had an answer: I wish somebody had an answer as to the why, because then maybe we could prevent this tragedy from happening again.  The only thing I can say is that a great evil must have taken possession of that young man’s soul, and he gave into it. 

As to being angry with God, well, humanity has been angry with God off and on for many years, during many crises and tragedies.  Just take a look at the Psalms, especially Psalm 88, if you want to see some real venting of anger.  Again, I have no good answer as to why bad things happen to good people, which by the way is the title of a book I would recommend.  But I will share with you my personal reflection on where was, where is God in all this.  In downtown Boston, at St. Anthony Shrine, the Franciscan friars have a statue of Jesus in their chapel.  He is portrayed having his hand over his face, and there is the suggestion of a tear falling down his face.  The title of the piece is “And Jesus Wept.”  It is taken from the Gospel story of Jesus finding the tomb of his friend Lazarus, and experiencing grief over the loss of his friend.  God knows grief, he knows loss, and because of that he is with everyone there in Newtown, the streets of Boston, in Oregon, Colorado, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where anyone is grieving; sharing in that grief, and offering healing, offering hope.  

We are still in the Advent season, a time of expectation, and especially a longing for some hope out of all this tragedy.  I would call your attention to the Advent wreath, to the rose colored candle that is lit.  It reminds me of a very early morning sky, when the rays of first light is just breaking, and there is a pinkish color to the sky, promising a new day.  Hope is coming.  Hope is already here, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, “God is with us...”  He is present among us, grieving with us, comforting us, and healing us.

Again, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:

“The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

We will soon be gathered around the Eucharistic table to offer those prayers of petition, praise and thanksgiving.  And through receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we will experience a peace the world cannot give.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thirty-Third Sunday In Ordinary Time

Daniel 12: 1-3
Psalm 16: 5, 8, 9-10, 11
Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18
Mark 13: 24-32

One of the favorite themes of science fiction writers and sci fi movies is the end of the world.  It is always shown as a series of disasters that will either wipe out all life on this planet, or totally destroy Earth itself.  On some of the science cable channels, I have seen computer generated images of the sun going supernova and destroying the planets of our solar system.  This is scary stuff, as frightening as the words we have just heard,   “…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  Can you imagine how these words may have affected early Christians, or the people of the Middle Ages, in those times before our modern understanding of how the universe works.  Because now we have scientists telling us that it will be billions of years before our sun will be close to going to supernova; and unknown billions of years before the universe ceases to exist.  So barring some cosmic accident, or some catastrophic natural event, we can all take it easy.  Right?  Well there is that last statement that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Now why make this statement?  I would suggest that Jesus does not want His followers to be too complacent about how we are or are not living the Gospel life.  And this is a constant theme throughout the Scriptures, we must all live in expectation that the Risen Lord will come again into our world; and His coming will forever change our lives.  His coming will be awesome!  We see this theme of constant expectation in the Old Testament, with the early Israelites, on the night of Passover, they were dressed to move, and they are eating the Passover meal in expectation that something awesome was going to happen in the morning.  And it does, the Lord comes and frees His people.  In today’s first reading, we see the prophet Daniel, speaking words of encouragement to the Jewish people, whose lands are occupied, the people scattered and under religious persecution.  And Daniel is telling the nation, to be ready, for as bad as the times are, the Lord, through his angel Michael, is coming.  Something is about to happen, something wonderful, something glorious, something awesome!
So Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, is telling us, be ready, for the risen Christ is going to return to us, and His coming is not to be feared, but to be look forward to, because His coming is going to be awesome! 
And how are we to make ourselves ready for His coming?  I would suggest that we try to live our lives in constant expectation of encountering Christ in our daily lives.  When we wake up in the morning, we awaken with the expectation that throughout the day, we will encounter Christ.  We walk out into the world and see God’s hand in His creation.  In every person we meet during the day, whether rich or poor, we may encounter Christ in that person.  When we engage in daily prayer and reading Scripture, we open our minds and hearts to Christ.  And now, in this place, we are gathered here around this altar, where in a short while, simple bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, We will come forward in expectation of receiving Him, and becoming one with Him, and that will be awesome!