Sunday, March 15, 2015

There's No Place Like Home - Homily for Laetare Sunday (4th Sunday in Lent)

The Dwelling Place

Do you remember the Wizard of Oz? What is Dorothy’s famous line? Besides “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore”…?

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

There was a longing in her voice, a longing that came from being away from home for so long. During her time in Oz, there was just one thing Dorothy wanted: she just wanted to be home again.

We all experience this. After days on a business trip or after a few days of living out of a suitcase on vacation, everybody just wants to go home and to sleep in their own beds.

A priest friend of mine, after returning from the Pro-Life march and the long twenty-or-so-hour haul from DC, took a picture of his bed and posted it on Twitter with the hashtag “Thank you Jesus.” (#ThankYouJesus)

Yes, home is where things are comfortable and safe; where there are smells of cookies in the kitchen or the laughter of children in the backyard; where you can walk around the neighborhood and see the gentle rise of the hills and the familiar trees and familiar homes and bend of the street.

Yes, there is something about home. And about returning there.

The Exile

I remember when I was about 10 or 11 and the moment when my family had to leave my childhood home. I remember how my family couldn’t afford our house anymore and we had to sell it. I remember the day we moved and being in the back seat of the car as we pulled away. And yeah, I’ll admit: I cried about it. Home was the place of so many memories. And of the big pool in the backyard.

It was a traumatic event. And for many years I longed to return home. When I was 17 and I finally had my driver’s license, I remember driving past the old house and being brought back to my childhood. And also to the reality that home had changed.

So, when I hear in the first reading how Israel had been taken from their homes and exiled in a foreign land, I totally get that. I get how they couldn’t even sing in that foreign land, because we sing with the heart. And their heart was back at home—because home is where the heart is.

The whole story of salvation history pivots around this simple reality. Our hearts long to be home. This desire has been playing out in century after century, from Israel being enslaved to Pharoah and longing for the Promised Land, to the Exile that we hear about in today’s first reading. Even to the present day, all of us long for a place where there is peace and eternal rest: rest from the craziness of our endless work-weeks; peace from the violence in our world; a true place that we can call home after this earthly exile.

The Homecoming

Have you ever seen YouTube videos of soldiers returning home to their families after having been gone for so long? That moment where there is the embrace of their families—there are tears of tremendous joy. They are home at last!

Where is that place of joy and of peace for us? Where is that place of rest?

God wants to bring us home. That’s the other side of the story. As much as we long for some sense of home, God is even more intent on making a home for us and bringing us to it. Right now, you are sitting in God’s house. This is where our homecoming begins.

There are so many people in our world who are looking for a place to land, a place where they can find rest and peace, a place where they can call home. They have been strangers in a strange place. If you are one of those people, I tell you: welcome home. You are exiles no longer.

There are also so many people who have lost their faith through confusion or doubt or because of a life of sin. They too are looking for home, looking for peace and for rest and for the joy that comes with a life full of hope and meaning. If you are one of those people, come! come to the Father’s house and receive His forgiveness! You are exiles no longer!

For six days of the week, we have been exiles walking in a strange land. On this day, the Sabbath day of rest, we return home. Every Sunday is a homecoming. Every Sunday, the exile ends.

This is why Jesus came, right? God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that we might have eternal life. God so loves the world that He sent His only Son, the light of the world, to go in search for us, who were lost and dwelling in darkness, and to bring us home.

Because there’s no place like home. There’s no place like home!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Making Space for the New Life - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!

We just said those words. But why? I mean, it is so easy to say them without thinking about them, in a “that-was-a-nice-reading-and-I’m-sitting-down-now-Jesus-Christ” kind of way. But we say, PRAISE to you Lord Jesus Christ. Praise.

If I really think about the context in which I just said those words, I may have thought twice about having just said them. I mean, we just praised Jesus for flipping over tables. And, just a few moments ago, after the first reading, we thanked God for the Ten Commandments.

Does this jive with what I really think about these readings?

Misconceptions of Flipping Tables

Over my years since college, my understanding of these readings has changed profoundly. In college, I used to see this gospel as Jesus simply getting angry, doing his whole socio-politico-religious revolution kind of thing. In grad school, I saw it as a snarky response to the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. Lately, I’ve liked the internet meme that says, “WWJD? Flipping over tables is always an option.”

But a couple years ago, I discovered something in Pope Benedict’s writings. He mentioned that this whole flipping-over-tables scene happens in the Court of the Gentiles. This was a big deal for me. Why? Well, the Court of the Gentiles was the outermost area of the temple and therefore considered the “least holy”—it was the area from where the Gentiles could walk and worship. On the surface, it doesn't really explain why Jesus had a problem with the marketplace there and why, at seeing it cluttered with commerce, he was consumed with "zeal for my house."


Unless He loves the Gentiles. You see, He wants them too. And all of this clutter is getting in the way. Jesus is making space for them—which, really, equates to Jesus making space for you and me. Jesus is saying, “I want to clear out the clutter here so that you can worship too!”

So, while there is the zealousness that says “even this area is holy, so stop profaning it!” which then translates to us being zealous about everything that we call holy: from the outermost part of our parish church to the outermost part of the human person (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit)-- the zeal really comes in that Jesus wants the Gentiles to worship in His Father's house. He wants us and He's willing to flip over tables for it.

(And it is for this episode that He will be crucified, by the way).

Praise from the Gentiles

Typically, when I think of the reaction that the crowd has about this, I focus on those who are angry. But, I’ve started to think about the faithful Gentiles who might have been there: the faithful Roman centurion, perhaps, or the Samaritan woman convert who would have stood at a distance. Perhaps they were waiting for this moment for a long time, waiting for the moment when they could finally worship God here and in spirit and in truth.

When I think about it that way, I realize that this is a scene worthy of praise. As the tables are being flipped over and Jesus is making space for them to worship, I hear from them a great sigh of relief—FINALLY!—finally we get to worship here!

Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ!

It is the beginning of a new life, a life marked by a new worship.

The Space of the Commandments

In the first reading, we hear the Ten Commandments—that great list of rules. Once again, in my past, this would not have been a cause to rejoice. Who rejoices over rules?

But the key to understanding this reading is the very first line: “I am the Lord your God who freed you from slavery.”

This was slavery from Pharaoh who would not allow the space to go and worship. So God intervenes—flips over Pharaoh’s tables, if you will—and clears out the space not only in the Promised Land, but in the hearts of all the people of Israel by way of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments clear out Pharoah’s laws and simultaneously demarcate where Pharaoh’s reign ends and where the kingdom of God begins. The Ten Commandments, therefore, are not simply a list of rules, but they are the means by which we are made free—and the standard by which we know that we are in that “space.” After all, God does not free Israel from slavery simply to re-enslave Israel!

This is reason to say “Thanks be to God!”

Quite a bit different from the modern understanding, right?

Let Christ Be Formed in Me

So, what can we glean from all of this? Well, simply: sometimes Jesus must flip over tables in our life in order to inaugurate our new life with God. He knows our human nature, he knows how we can get into a rut: how we can lukewarmly treat holy things with little care; how we can turn our souls into marketplaces; how we so easily get sucked back into old ways of slavery. He knows that sometimes the only way to see the change that He wants to see in us—yes, He wants us to change—the only way sometimes is for Him to do it himself.

The righteous Gentiles couldn’t flip over the tables no more than the Israelites could free themselves from Pharaoh’s grip. So what makes us think that some of our deep-rooted sins and vices are within our power to simply clear out and make new?

The fact is: we need Jesus to flip over some tables in our souls.

But that’s scary. It involves change. I kind of like business as usual. Maybe this sin that I have isn’t so bad. … Do I really want that zealous Jesus doing zealous things in me?

And how will he flip over the tables if I let Him in? I mean, it is easy for me to say what I want changed and what I think will make the difference…. But to give God the control… to give God the power… I mean, that means that He could do anything to accomplish whatever it is He wants to accomplish in me…. I don’t know if I want Him to be zealous in me…. I don't know if I want to let Christ be formed in me….

Freedom from Slavery, New Life in Christ

You know my story. I said on Ash Wednesday that I was going to do nothing for Lent this year. I was going to slow down and spend more time in prayer. God was calling me to it and I gave Him full control. The very next day, my brother calls and tells me that he has cancer. … Now, when you hear those words, priorities change. Perspectives change. Lives change. In an instant.  … Those words and the days that followed brought about the quickest Lenten change I’ve ever had in my life.

And when I heard this past week that my brother’s surgery went well and that they got all of the cancer out—well, the words “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ” and “Thanks be to God” never rang truer. It might as well have been Easter for where I was at.

Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it? Yes He will! Resurrection after Crucifixion? Definitely! An awesome life after the clearing out? You can bet your life on it!

A life of praise, a new life of worship—this only comes when Jesus clears out the space by flipping over the tables in our souls and re-establishing His reign of freedom through love and the commandments.

I really want this. I am praying for this now. Because it brings so much more change in my life than I can possibly do on my own. I can’t flip over tables. I’m not strong enough.

But Jesus! Jesus, you have the strength! Change us, Lord! Clear out the space in our lives so that we will praise you and worship you always!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Snow! - Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (5pm Mass)

"Lord, it is good that we are here."

Yes, it is good that we are here. And it is also good to make it home safely. So, since it is really coming down out there, I'm going to give you my very short "snow homily."

(Someone says "yessss!" and everyone laughs).

Ok, you all seem much too joyful about this. 

So, this evening we hear about the Transfiguration, when Jesus reveals His glory and His divinity to a few of His apostles. Why does He do this? Well, the better question is "when does he do this?" 

It is shortly before He enters into Jerusalem, the place of the Holy Temple, to become the sacrifice which will bring us life. This sacrifice was pre-figured in today's first reading. Did you notice that Isaac pre-figures Jesus?-- all the way to carrying the wood, like the Cross. And note: Isaac is not a five-year-old here. Isaac is in his late teens. He is consenting-- even to the carrying of the wood. This tells us how much he loves his father.  

So, why does Jesus reveal His glory-- like at the Resurrection-- just before His crucifixion? To strengthen the Apostles as they climb the next mountain: the mountain to Calvary. To inspire them and to give them hope: that this Good Friday will become an Easter Sunday.

Remember that. Your sacrifices-- whatever they are-- will become a glorious Easter Sunday.

So, if you have already fallen off the Lenten discipline, get back up on that horse, cowboy! Carry the wood. It's only the Second Sunday in Lent. Ask God to help you. Ask Him to remind you of heaven. As athletes say: no pain, no gain. No Cross, No Glory.

That's it.

And for those of you who are lazing on a Sunday afternoon, read this very brief, but worthwhile post.