Saturday, April 25, 2015

This Is Not a Retirement Community - Homily for the Feast of St. Mark

This is not a retirement community.

Let me repeat that. This is not a retirement community.

The last words of our Lord while He was still personally present on this earth is “Go.” Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.

In the Catholic faith, there is no such thing as “retirement.” No matter how old you are, you have a mission. You must go. You have work to do!

“But people don’t listen to me” you say. Do you recall St. Francis? When people didn’t listen to St. Francis of Assisi, he preached to the animals—proclaiming the Gospel to every creature.

Have you gone so far as to proclaim the Gospel to every creature?

So people don’t listen to you. So what? And why don’t they listen? Is it because you are… old? So what if you are old! It says: “[the apostles] went forth and preached everywhere , while the Lord worked with them.” The Lord worked with them! Do not be afraid because you are old! Do not be discouraged when no one listens to you. The Lord is working with you! Trust in this!

Go, the Lord says. This is not simply a command. This is a blessing.

There was a time when “going” was not a blessing, when it was part of a curse. You remember the story of Adam and Eve. After they had separated themselves from God, they must go. And they go without any purpose—into a life with little hope. Their going was a separation.

Into this Bad News, Jesus approaches with Good News. And He invites people to come to Him to hear it. And then, after they have heard it, He sends them out—sending them just as the Father sent Him. What a blessing: to share in the same mission as the Son!

Go forth! You are sent! Go forth, the Mass is ended…. to which we reply “Thanks be to God.” We recognize what a blessing it is to have such a mission—to proclaim Good News in a world full of Bad News! To share the mission of the Son. To be so united to His work.

You are sent. The Greek word is “apostelein” from which we get the word “Apostle” which means “one who is sent.” You are sent to proclaim. “Evangelion” is the Greek word—it means message, Good News, from which we get the word Evangelist.

St. Mark, whose feast day we celebrate today, gave his life to proclaim the Good News. He publicly bore testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ is real and that this reality changes lives. Jesus changes everything.

St. Mark did not keep this in a bottle. After he encountered Jesus, Mark went out. He evangelized.

We need more Catholics willing to take this mission seriously: to go out, to be unafraid, to stand up and to proclaim—even when no one will listen. Even when the audience is.... young.

We need to announce Gospel to the young. And this is not simply my job. This is your job. YOU are to go out into the world—this means going out to both the old and the young. But go out to the young!

And when you go out to the young, you will realize that you need to get to know them if you are going to evangelize to them. They want to be known! And when you get to know them, you will find that one of the biggest obstacles for them to overcome is the belief that “what you see is what you get.” They live in a visible world that has no depth; they do not believe in an invisible world beneath the surface. And so they are concerned with the new and the beautiful and the surface appearance.

And while that may help them with some things—like being attracted to some of the beautiful things that the Catholic Church can provide—it also hinders them from seeing other things: like the wisdom that invisibly dwells within The Old. They will reject you because you are old…. unless you show them that there is a beautiful depth to you. That you have heeded Jesus’ command to “Come” and that you have encountered Him and that He has changed you and given a depth to you that you can now bring forth and announce.

If you show them that there is a beautiful depth, a wellspring of wisdom beneath your surface, then they will start to see other invisible things: like the fact that they have a soul; like the fact that Jesus really is present in the Eucharist; and that the kingdom of heaven is really “at hand.”

This is part of what the recent Successors of St. Peter have begged us to begin: namely, to take up the New Evangelization.

You are part of this. This isn’t simply a mission for the priest to take up. Nor is this something for the energetic and the youthful. No, this is your mission. Because the Church is not a retirement community! You must go out! You have a mission still. We must not rest in this. Go!

This is not a retirement community!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Face of Mercy - Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday (2015)

Have you seen the face of mercy?

Ten years ago this week, I was in Rome. Pope St. John Paul II had died and I had the chance to be in St. Peter’s Square and attend his funeral—yes, I can say that I have definitely attended the funeral of a saint! As I attended his funeral, I couldn’t help but recall that this same Pope had died on the vigil of the very solemnity he had extended to the entire Church: this solemnity of Divine Mercy Sunday. At his funeral, I recalled how, in that same St. Peter’s Square, in the very year of my birth, the future saint was shot. I remembered how, at the first chance he had, he forgave that man who had shot him.

I remember Pope St. John Paul II and remember a man of mercy.

Lost in the Church of Mercy

Before I attended Pope John Paul’s funeral, there was a time that I had never been to St. Peter’s. I was a graduate student studying abroad with seven others from Franciscan University. On one of our first afternoons in Rome, we decided to go to St. Peter’s and attend the 5pm Mass.

While we were walking to the Basilica, I became distracted by something beautiful—because, you know, Rome—and I didn’t tell the group and they too were looking at everything beautiful… And, well, in the blink of an eye, I had lost my friends. Lost in the crowd. Lost down a random—beautiful, but random—street in Rome.

And I didn't have a map.

So I’m lost. And so are my friends. And I don’t know if they are looking for me. And if they are looking for me—oh, I am so sorry if they are looking for me! Because I’m the one who got lost. And if they are looking for me, then they aren’t going to make it to Holy Mass on time. And …

So you see how my thoughts went. I felt pretty bad about this.

I eventually found my way to St. Peter’s. And when I arrived, there was one thing on my mind: find my friends. I wasn’t looking at the beautiful, 17th Century, Bernini colonnade—those two motherly arms reaching out to receive her lost sons and daughters. No. Nor did I notice the well-known fa├žade of St. Peter’s. When I entered into the basilica, I didn’t notice the Pieta—that this-is-the-quintessential-Roman-sculpture of Michelangelo depicting the Mother of Mercy, Mary, holding her Son after His Crucifixion. No, I totally blew past that.

I didn’t notice the beautiful ceiling or the beautiful baldacchino. I didn’t pay attention to the Chair of St. Peter or the stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit above it. No, all that I was looking for was what I had lost.

I sat down in a pew at the back chapel of the basilica and went to Holy Mass. I hope they made it, I prayed. I hope they forgive me. I hope we find each other soon…

And then,… they found me. It was the end of Mass. They found me at Holy Communion as I went up to receive. And they came over to me. They were happy to see me. “Isn’t this wonderful,” they were saying, “we’re in Rome!”

The only thing on my mind was to say that I was sorry.

And they looked at me with mercy. “It’s ok,” one of them said, “we’re all here.”

At that point, I looked. I finally looked around me. And I saw the beauty of the basilica. It was like I had been blindfolded and placed by the high altar—only now the blindfold was lifted and I saw the glory around me for the first time. I saw the gold and the light and the angels and ...  Within me, there was something that said "This is what Mercy looks like." I wasn't just seeing the basilica as though mercy looked like this; I was seeing the inner reality of mercy in all its light and beauty.

Mercy is beautiful.

And, wonderfully, the mercy of others opened me up to see not only the beauty of mercy, but also the beauty of life around me too. Once forgiven, I could appreciate the beauty around me-- the beauty of the basilica and the beauty of the God that dwells therein. The beautiful, merciful God.

Mercy is amazing like that.

From the Mercy of God to Belief

How many times I have received the mercy of God through others! Countless times from my mom. Or my college professor who was more than generous with letting me turn in a paper well past its due date. Or the priest—that priest who heard everything horrible and dark in my life and who nevertheless comforted me, telling me it was going to be ok and that I wasn’t lost anymore, but that I was found! I go back to that first-in-a-long-time confession and remember those words: “I absolve you.” I look back on that moment in gratitude, knowing that it’s all forgiven.

Yes, I have seen the face of mercy!

This was the dilemma of Thomas: he hadn't see the face of mercy. Thomas was lost in doubt. Thomas had not yet had an encounter with mercy. “Unless I [touch Him],” he says, “I will not believe.”

These are the words of our culture. Our culture longs to touch and to see God. And until it does, it will never believe.

Jesus comes and allows Thomas to touch—to touch the very side where the lance had pierced the Sacred Heart. Thomas touches the very font of mercy. We see the image of Divine Mercy—Thomas placed his hand there.

As a result, Thomas was no longer lost in doubt, but washed in mercy. It was by the mercy of God that Thomas came to believe!

So too, it will be by the mercy of God that our culture will come to believe! It will be by the mercy of God that our fallen away brothers and sisters will return to the faith! It will be by the mercy of God that all of us will find ourselves standing in the great, heavenly Jerusalem, standing with our friends and family who rejoice with us that we are no longer lost, but found!

"Isn't this wonderful, we're in heaven ...."

The Face of Mercy

Just yesterday, Pope Francis decreed a Jubilee Year—a Year of Mercy. The document that he wrote to declare this Jubilee Year (found here) is entitled “Misericordiae Vultus”—the Face of Mercy.

Isn’t that beautiful? The face of mercy! To think: mercy has a face! Mercy is personal! Mercy… looks upon us and says, “Come, Thomas. Come and touch my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe!” It’s like Jesus is answering Andrew again when Andrew says, “Master, where are you staying?” and Jesus says, “Come and see!” Come and see the face of mercy!

Have you seen the face of mercy? Have you looked upon it?

He may have come to you as my friends did in Rome, or through Pope St. John Paul II, or through my mom, or my college professor, or the priest in the confessional.

I hope all of us have seen the face of mercy—because it is beautiful.

And I believe because of it.

You are My Witnesses

I realize that once Thomas touched mercy, once Thomas knew what mercy was and he believed, Thomas would have to be the first to be merciful. He could not just be a beneficiary of mercy; he would have to be a witness of mercy too.

It is not enough, brothers and sisters, to simply go to confession today and say that we’re ok now. No, if we have seen the face of mercy, we too must take on His very serene and kindly countenance. You must become a witness of mercy. Your face must reveal mercy!

We must be the last ones to gossip and the first to forgive. We must be the last ones to judge and the first to welcome. We must be the last ones to point out where people are going wrong and the first to point out where there is so much more! We must humbly welcome, put on smiles instead of sullen faces-- the joy of mercy!-- and tell anyone who is lost, "It's going to be ok. We're all here!"

If the world doubts the faith, it is likely because it hasn’t seen the face of mercy. Have mercy on us, O Lord, if we have been the ones responsible for that!

The Year of Mercy

The Jubilee Year of Mercy will begin on December 8th and will continue until the feast of Christ the King in November of 2016. A Jubilee Year is not an ordinary thing—the last Jubilee took place at the millennium. It is a time of special grace, of prayer, of reconciliation, of pilgrimage, and of contemplation.

Let us take a few moments during this Easter Season to read the document that the Pope has written.

Let us reflect on how the Lord has been merciful to us and the times that others have extended mercy to us and to others.

Let us then reflect on whether we have been merciful.

Let us seek the Lord’s mercy—especially in confession.

Let us pray that we might be more merciful to others.

And let us pray for those who do not know God’s mercy or the mercy of others—let us pray for those who doubt whether mercy is real... 

May today be the day that we all touch—and look upon the Face of Mercy!

The entry from my blog after the experience of mercy at St. Peter's.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Love: Yesterday, Today, Forever! - Homily for Easter Sunday (2015)

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

Once again, a very happy Easter to you and your families. And a special welcome to any who are visiting us today.

So, here is my homily that I had written. *I show my homily* But before Mass I was talking to my lector and I realize that I need to put this aside and just speak to you from my heart. *At this point, I tucked my notes under the book of the gospels. The rest of what you read here is the best that I can remember of what I said.*

Rediscovering Good Friday

For the past nine months, I have had the pleasure of being assigned here to St. Joe’s. And, when I arrived, Monsignor—in his wisdom—made me the director of the RCIA program. RCIA is for those who are wanting to learn more about the Catholic faith and may possibly join the Church. Now, for any other parish, this might be a small undertaking of walking with five or six people. For us here at the Catholic Deluxe Parish, we had thirty. Yes, last night at the Easter Vigil, we welcomed home thirty people to the Catholic faith. Praise God!

Last night, as we welcomed them home, I realized something about Easter Sunday and that’s what I want to share with you today.

For nine months, I had given so much to this program—to put together lectures, to stay on top of deadlines and questions, to pray. I was assisted by so many people too. But there were so many sacrifices. Having to give up free moments here, sacrificing some time with friends there. For nine months, I was laboring for this group.

And something I did not expect started to happen.

I started to fall in love with them. 

The thirty who were strangers when I met them, people who were foreign to me and perhaps even weary of me at first—these thirty people, I realized, were good, beautiful, and genuine people truly seeking to learn more, truly being called to find their home.

I began to really love them. I wanted them to find their home. And it didn’t matter to me what sacrifices I had to make or what sufferings I would have to endure. I loved them!

This helped me to understand Good Friday. (Which I wrote about here)

In the past, I mostly saw Good Friday as a day focusing upon pain and death and suffering—all for our sins. The emphasis of the day being on our sins. What I had missed was the obvious, something that I realized now: Good Friday is a day about Love.

I loved my RCIA people. And because I loved them, I willingly suffered for them. Because Jesus loves us, He willingly suffered for us. This is what love does.

Rediscovering Easter Sunday

Last night, I was standing at the entry to the sanctuary and I began to read the names of those who were about to enter the Catholic Church. And as I began to read their names, I began to think about how far they had come and how we had all suffered together and about how much I truly loved them. And I had to fight back the tears.

Here they were, coming into the Church. The suffering was over. But my love continued. I still loved them! Mothers you know this by way of your experience: for nine months in the womb you carry your child and you love your child. And after you give birth to your child, you still love her, right? You never stop loving your child, right?

Good Friday is the labor of Jesus’ love. But His love still continues, right? So, after Good Friday, how is He going to show us that His love is forever?

How is He going to show that His love is forever?

By destroying the one thing that keeps us thinking that nothing is forever. He had to destroy death. That’s what happens at Easter.

Easter, then, isn’t about the end of the Cross. Easter isn’t about replacing Good Friday. Easter is about Love showing us that this Good Friday Love is forever! It is forever because His Love is stronger than death itself!

Don’t you see?

Jesus’ love wasn’t just a flash in the pan that lasted for only three hours on some random Friday afternoon. Jesus’ love wasn’t just yesterday. He love isn’t just today. Jesus’ love is forever! Yesterday and today and forever!

He loves you forever! – not only until death do us part, but forever!

Rediscovering the Tomb: The End and the Beginning of the World

Look at Mary Magdalene. She is there in the early morning “while it was still dark.” This is about four in the morning. (I googled this). Who goes to a tomb at four in the morning?! Nobody does that. Unless… unless it was love.

I totally get Mary Magdalene now. She went to the tomb because she was convinced that Love was forever. She was in disbelief at what had happened to Love on that Cross. Love, she thought, Love couldn’t be killed—not like this, not by a Cross, not at all. And so she goes to the tomb with a heart with so much sorrow, with a heart like so many of us that pours forth its words: “Love, Love… Please… don’t let this be the end of love!”

Don’t let this be the end of Love!

And when she approaches the tomb, she notices that the door to it has been opened. She is startled by this. Something is amiss. And so she runs to Peter and the apostles and tells them that the stone was rolled back, that the door was open instead of sealed.

And it was supposed to be sealed, right? I mean, as much as I’m sure she wanted to believe that Love is forever, there was some realism in her that believes—just as we all do—that death is the great equalizer, the great destroyer. Nothing survives death. So, Peter and John, come to the tomb because something is not right here! Have we been wrong about death? Is there something… beyond it?

So they run to the tomb. And John goes in once Peter has arrived. And the tomb is empty.

But something happens in that tomb: the Gospel says that John “saw and believed.”

He saw and believed.

I think of Jesus’ first invitation when Andrew asked Him, “Lord, where are you staying?” Jesus responded, saying: “Come and see.”

If you have ever seen or read “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” you know about how Lucy and Peter and the others stumble upon an innocuous wardrobe—like a kind of closet. They open the door and enter into it. But it’s unlike anything they could have possibly ever imagined. The closet opens up to a whole new world of beauty and adventure and everything beyond our most satisfying of dreams.

That’s the tomb.

The stone of the tomb is the door of the entry to eternal life and the new world. I imagine Peter and John walking in and it’s just a dark tomb, but interiorly—here, in their heart—something is opening up, new life is coming forward. Something powerful. Something extraordinary. Something… definitive.

The Challenge of Easter

This is the challenge of Easter. You see, Good Friday challenges our sensibilities in saying that God Loves us unto death. Easter Sunday comforts us by saying that God’s love is yesterday, today, and forever. That His love is definitive—more definitive than death.

The challenge of Easter, then, is this tomb. This tomb is the doorway. It is the open door, the open invitation, the open challenge to us from God who says, “And you? Is your love for me… definitive? Are you willing to die for it? To enter the tomb of definitive, committed love for me?”

And that scares me. I’m scared of the tomb. It appears dark. And what if I enter in and am disappointed? What if I enter in and the door swings shut and locks and I’m stuck? What if what is definitive… is not in my favor?

I am doubting.

The Lord invites us: Come and see. Enter into a love that is definitive. Give your life for this love.

I can tell you from personal experience that while entry is the ultimate in adventure and the summation of every test of intestinal fortitude, there is a whole new beautiful amazing world in this choice of definitive love. I was not always a priest. I was once a bad Catholic. I had great doubts as I studied at Washington University. And I came to the realization that there was one doubt that I never doubted: my own doubt!

As silly as it sounds, sometimes we have to doubt our doubt. Sometimes we have to choose to have something more definitive than our own doubt. And this meant love. To love with all my mind, heart, and strength. And to love the greatest of all loves: Love Himself.

I entered the tomb. Entry was something as simple and yet terrifyingly difficult as getting on my knees one night and praying to God, admitting that I was not and that He is and that, without Him, I was nothing; I was dead.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be here with you, here at #CatholicHappyLand, the largest parish in the State of Missouri! (And I’m an introvert!) But it is beautiful here—and not just here, but the Catholic faith. And how suffering has meaning. And how so many people enter into my life and I’m getting to go deeper in love again and again. What a beautiful, wonderful, amazing life!

And I thought that being religious meant death!

This is the challenge of Easter and its beautiful promise.

Let Us Go Together!

Notice: John and Peter entered the tomb together. Let us do the same. Let us go together! You are not alone! If you have fallen away from the faith, we are here to help you come back! And I know it can be difficult to return and to find out how to do things or to admit certain things or to struggle with some aspects of being part of a community—but let us enter this together! You are not alone!

If you doubt, come! Come let us see together! If you are grieving, if you are hurting, if you are with Mary Magdalene, weeping about the world and about love—let us go together and see! See, love is yesterday, today, and forever! There is new life won for us on Good Friday and it is open now to us today!

I don’t know about you, but I need this love. I am not a good person without Him. My love is so yesterday and so barely today. I want a love that is forever. I want to love forever. I don’t want my love to be a flash-in-the-pan, here today but gone next Sunday.

What do you want? Do you want eternal life? Do you want Love that is forever?

Then let us go together! To Jesus, our Risen Lord: Love! Yesterday, Today, and Forever!

Friday, April 3, 2015

His Forgiving Love Makes All Things New - Homily for Good Friday

He was arrested, imprisoned, scourged, mocked, beaten, nailed to the cross, and mocked again.

Jesus longed for this. That might sound odd, but yes, He longed for this moment. Many months ago, while He was with his disciples, Jesus took them aside and said to them: “I have a baptism [a cross] with which I must be baptized and how I long for it to be accomplished!” (Lk 12:50). He had been aching for this moment for so long.

And why?

Because He longed for all people to know the love He has for them. To publicly profess that He was head-over-heels in love with us—with a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things—with a love which never fails—even here, even now. To have us know beyond any doubt that He loves us with a love stronger than death!

This day isn’t simply about our sins. It’s about a foolishly-in-love God publicly professing His love to His beloved. That’s why we call this Friday “Good.”

His Love

Many saints have said that if Jesus had to die a thousand times to show us his love, He would have loved us enough to do so. St. Alphonsus Ligouri noted that had it been necessary for Jesus to hang upon the tree until the day of Judgment—and just for you—he would have done it. Because Jesus loves you more than He suffers!

He didn’t have to do it this way, to suffer and die. But how else was He to show you His total love? Total love is not content with giving flowers or rings or extra moments of fleeting time. Love, when it wants to make itself known, looks for the best way to show itself to the beloved. And the best way is that total gift of self which gives everything … and keeps nothing for Himself.

This is what Passion means. Passion comes from the Latin, “patior,” which means “I suffer.” We get words like patience and compassionate from this. Those who love, love with passion, patience, … suffering.

No greater love does a man have than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.

His Forgiveness

But here’s the scandal: Jesus loves His enemies. Let us consider that for a moment.

How many had spoken falsehood in the presence of the Truth? How many had pulled on the beard of their Savior? How many had profaned His Holy Name and spat in the divine face of Man? How many had consented to the crucifixion of God?

And for all this, our Lord still says, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Father, forgive them.

But, they do know what they are doing! They know that they are killing this man!

No they don't. They have no idea that the One they are killing is Love Himself. The very incarnate, beautiful, embodiment of Love itself.

“Father, forgive them.”

This is a prayer that extends to this very day. A prayer that extends to the Middle East as we see ISIS killing Christians like Paul did so long ago. Jesus turns and prays, “Father, forgive them.” As we saw the events of Ferguson play out this past year, Jesus continued to intercede by praying “Father, forgive them.” As human dignity continues to be undermined by the way people and institutions treat the vulnerable, especially the unborn, Jesus looks to the heavens and cries out—not muttering under His breath—but by crying out prays: “Father, forgive them!”

Jesus, of all people, knows the depth of the harm done: for “whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” Each day, with each new wound to humanity, Jesus Christ Himself is crucified.

And yet He prays, “Father, forgive them.”

Do you see His love?

His Line in the Sand

Consider the man next to Jesus, the “good thief.” The thief was justly condemned for he had done much evil in his life. But in that last hour of his life, he asks Jesus to simply remember him. "Love.... love, remember me."

What does Jesus say? Does Jesus brush him aside? Does Jesus hold resentment in his heart?

No. Jesus tells the man, “Amen, today you will be with me in paradise!”

An entire life of sin and death overthrown by just one moment of God’s forgiveness! Can you imagine?

God’s love is a love that would allow any repentant sinner to enter into Paradise. Consider that. Any. repentant. sinner. Even the one who hammered the nails into Jesus’ feet. Can you imagine Him as numbered among the saints?

Jesus’ forgiveness is more powerful than any of our sins! More powerful than your sins and mine. More powerful than all of our sins here in this church! More powerful than all of the sins of humanity—not only since Jesus’ coming, but since the beginning of time!

Yes, there is hope for all of us! Yes, all of us! Even at the Eleventh Hour! Because, you see, as Jesus embraced His cross, He saw you and He saw me. He saw our sins. Every last one of them. And He embraced the Cross anyway. He saw our lukewarmness. And He embraced the Cross anyway. He saw our meanness and resentment and doubt and indifference—and He embraced the Cross anyway.

Because what does Love want? Us. And because Love wants us, He draws a line in the sand between us and evil. This is what forgiveness does. Forgiveness draws a line in the sand and says to evil: “You shall go no further. You have no power over a heart of love.”

It is a line that we need help drawing so that we might love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Father, help us to forgive as you forgive us!

He Makes All Things New

Let us consider one more person at the crucifixion: Mary.

At the crucifixion, Love would meet Love’s Mother. In the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” this moment is captured as Jesus falls. Mary sees her son fall, just as she had seen Him fall when He was but a small boy. And just like when He was small, Mary in this moment runs to Him and embraces Him and says to Him, “I am here.”

Jesus, in response, says, “See, I make all things new.”

I make all things new…

This is what love does. This is what forgiveness does. It makes all things new. Evil is conquered by love. Sin is conquered by forgiveness. Death is conquered by suffering passion. The old order is passing away. And Jesus is making all things new.

Today is the day of that new beginning. Today is a day of love. Today is the day of hope for any lost sinner. Today is the day of salvation. Today is Good Friday.

It is a truly the day we call Good.