Sunday, November 29, 2015

Let Ev'ry Heart Prepare Him Room - Homily for the 1st Sunday in Advent

Can you believe we are in Advent already?

During these four weeks of holy preparation, I want to walk through a few lines of a few Christmas carols such that, by Christmas, we will truly be ready for Jesus’ Coming. So, today I want to begin by singing a few lines from the quintessential Christmas carol:

            Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
            Let earth receive her King!
            Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.
            (And that’s where I will end this song…)

“Joy to the world!” we sing. But notice the next line: Let earth receive her King. We just celebrated Christ the King last week, celebrating Jesus our Messiah who reigns.

And then the next line: “Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.”

Prepare Him room. Prepare the King room!

*          *          *

This is The Theme of Advent. As we hear in the first reading, Jeremiah tells us that God shall raise up a “just shoot” (Jer 33:14) from the “stump of Jesse” (Is 11:1). All of the prophets, including the last and the greatest, St. John the Baptist, will therefore cry out: “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Is 40:3; Mal 3:1; Mk 1:3), “make straight his paths!” (Jn 1:23), and “repent…!” (Mk 1:15). This was the preparation necessary for Jesus’ First Coming.

Yet, in the Gospel, we hear our Messiah telling us that He will come again—for a Second Coming. Just like His first coming, where there was a star over Bethlehem, for Jesus’ Second Coming there will be signs in the sky and a need to “be vigilant at all times and pray” (Lk 21:36) else that “day catch you by surprise like a trap” (Lk 21:34-35). Preparation, therefore, is demanded of us so we are ready when the earth receives her King.

And yet, there is a Third Coming of our Lord, a coming that is similar to His first where He came humble and hidden as a little babe in the feeding trough of the manger in Bethlehem (“house of bread”); and that Third Coming is here at Holy Mass. For this coming, St. Paul calls his flock to examine itself and prepare well to receive holy communion, else our Lord come to the soul and find no room to dwell (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-32).

*          *          *

This Advent, this Coming, of Christ can be summed up in the ancient story of Christmas Eve. On that silent night, that holy night, Jesus the King approached the little town of Bethlehem. Jesus was hidden in the womb of Mary—Mary who was riding a donkey (a procession that would be fulfilled at Jesus’ Messianic entry into Jerusalem when He would be embraced as a King, and yet riding on a donkey). Mary and Joseph would enter into Bethlehem on that Christmas Eve, looking for room for Jesus. They would knock on the doors of the inns and on the doors of the hearts of those that dwelled therein. But there was no room.

Bethlehem! Of all places! This was The Place where there should have been room! The small, unassuming town was the center of the most specific of Messianic prophecies! The Messiah was to be born there! Of all towns, they should have been the last to let their hearts “become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” They, of all people, should have been the last to have “that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” But it did.

*          *          *

            Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.

Where did Jesus go? He went to the place where there was room: the simple and empty manger, occupied only by cows, oxen, sheep, and then by angels. It was there that

            heav’n and nature sing.

Heaven (the holy angels) and nature (the animals) received the King, but in the hearts of men, there was no room. Room would be made in the hearts of the simple shepherds who left their flocks that night—they would receive Him. But not Bethlehem.

Here is the challenge for us this Advent: we must become less like the inns and more like the manger. Less like the world and its drowsiness from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of this season—less like that and more like the humble, simple, receptive manger.

This doesn’t mean that we cannot sing songs or put up Christmas trees and the like. Indeed, I think we should! Even more, I must say: I don’t care about “Christmas Creep.” Why should I let my heart be filled with criticism about Christmas songs? What is Christmas but the coming of Christ—and don’t we believe that Christ is here every day in the Eucharist? So, I don’t care about Christmas Creep.

What I do care about is when we have become so full of celebration before Christmas that on December 26th we should be tired of Christmas. Radio stations turn off Christmas songs—we are too full! December 26th is when I’m just starting to cry out “Joy to the World!” (and I’m not talking “Jeremiah was a bullfrog”!)

Isn’t it a shame that the last thing that most people experience during these days of preparation and on December 26th is “joy”? Hustle and bustle, anxieties of life, arguments in families, and bickering about the red Starbucks cups? Yes, perhaps we are too full!

            Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.

*          *          *

How shall we do this? I think the first thing is to let our Lord clean out our hearts. Let him clean out the resentment and the criticism and the worldliness—and all the gunk and dirtiness of sin that clutters up our hearts. I think we need to go to confession during this Advent season. Let our Lord prepare your heart; Let Him make room for you by freeing you of the darkness in your heart. “The people that have walked in darkness have seen a great light” says the Lord! (Is 9:2; Mt 4:16).

Second, I think we need to concentrate on what really matters: slowing down for quiet prayer, reflection, and time for family.

A couple of years ago, I had the honor to offer the funeral Mass of a holy man. This man was the father of a lovely family—wife, kids, grandkids…  As we prepared for his funeral, the family told me how their dad would write each one of his kids a letter for Christmas, telling each one of them how much he loved them and how he was proud of them. Of all the things they could have remembered as they prepared for his funeral, this was their favorite memory: dad’s letters at Christmas.

Such gifts require time, slowing down, praying, reflecting, and being with family.

I dare say, a good confession and a good letter—if we prepare and do well here, we will experience joy. A joy that will help us to see Jesus—not only in the crib, but in the Eucharist; a joy that will help us to see Jesus not only in the babe, but in our families that so need His presence!; a joy that will truly prepare our hearts and make us eager and ready when He comes again. We will receive our King. He will come to the doors of our soul and of our lips and He will find room.

And there will be joy!

            Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
            Let earth receive her King!
            Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room.
            And heaven and nature sing!
            And heaven and nature sing!
            And heaven and heaven and nature sing!

May it be so for you and yours this Advent.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ Is King, So Be Brave! - Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King

In every age, there are moments whereupon men and women are called to be brave. We are living in one of those moments.

In our world where there is the lived nihilism of barbarians and the grey of secularism, bravery is once more in demand. At Christmas, we meet Jesus, the light of the world and the king of all of the universe, who was born in the dark of night and in a world plagued by the savagery of sin. Yet, even in His littleness, this Jesus would announce that the “kingdom of God is at hand!” He would drive out demons, He would conquer sin and death, and He would establish a peace, the fullness of which will be enjoyed by His Saints when He comes again at the end of time, a day on which He will render justice upon all the world. The Kingdom of God is at hand!

We must remember these words, especially as we consider the events of our present day. This past week, one of my friends emailed me and said, “Father, I feel so little [in these days]… I feel so small… It crushes me [to see what is going on].”

These words come from a good soul, a soul that longs that love should conquer the injustices of the world. Yet the soul thinks the task too great, the powers of the world too strong for us little souls. This is precisely where fortitude, that bravery of the Spirit, is so needed; for we have so great a King—a King who entered into our littleness, literally becoming a little child. Our King, Jesus Christ, has lead and continues to lead the way in the battle between good and evil. And by His Resurrection He shows that evil is definitely conquered, that Love does prevail.

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

So “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Lk 12:32). If our enemy should destroy, then build! If our enemy should hate, then love! If our enemy should be cowardly by bringing in a Nothingness that unleashes the gates of hell, then be brave, knowing that the gates of hell shall never prevail!

Commit yourself. Commit yourself to long moments of prayer every day; the enemy would prefer you to be busy. Commit yourself to adoring the Lord often; the enemy would prefer you follow Instagram. Commit yourself to kissing your spouse like you mean it; your enemy would prefer your love to become lukewarm. If you are young, commit yourself to a vocation that will demand the utmost of your bravery and, when you have nothing left, to trust all the more in the power of Jesus, our God and King.

If our enemy should be so committed to evil, should we not be all the more committed to holiness? And so, for all of us, let us be united in the bravery that prayer requires of us; for yes, in every age, there are moments whereupon men and women are called to be brave. This is that moment. The Kingdom of God is at hand!

And one more:

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Offering the Coins of Control - Homily for the 32nd Sunday in OT

From now until Christmas, we will encounter readings that touch on heaven, hell, death, and judgment. They prepare us for Christ’s coming, not only at Christmas, but most especially for the end of time whereupon we will all be judged—rich and poor alike—according to what each one has done in this life.

This morning, we see Jesus sitting opposite the Temple Treasury. In those days, sitting was the common posture for a teacher. But, in this moment, Jesus is not only sitting as a teacher, He is sitting as a judge (a great foil to the scribes who take “seats of honor in synagogues”), judging those who place their money into the Temple Treasury.

A quick detour about the Temple Treasury. The Temple Treasury would have been a sizable box at one end of the Women’s Court in the Temple. The money that was placed in this box would be used to build up the Temple. We remember that during Jesus’ day, the Temple was still being re-built. In fact, it was over the issue of the Temple that the people would crucify Jesus (cf. Mk 14:58), for He said, “destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it” (Jn 2:19). We know that He was talking about the Temple of His body—and, besides, Jesus loved the Temple; for the Temple was His Father’s House where, when Jesus was twelve, He would be found teaching—much to the amazement of the scholars there at the time (cf Lk 2:41-52).

So Jesus is in the Temple, sitting in His usual place of teaching, but now sitting as judge as both rich and poor alike are placing their money in the box to build His Father’s house. He sees the rich and then He sees a poor widow… and after seeing her, He gathers his disciples around Him and gives them His judgment:

Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.

But how could this be? She only put in two small coins. The rest were putting in large sums. Jesus responds:

she … has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.

*          *          *

What does this mean, “her whole livelihood”? It means that these were her last two coins—her only two coins. Once she places them into the treasury, they are gone, surrendered forever—such that, tomorrow, she has no more money for food, no more money for drink…. Indeed, one may rightly say that as the woman gives her whole “livelihood,” that she is really giving her entire life—a sacrificial offering even unto death.

She has become totally vulnerable. In fact, after this giving, she is even more vulnerable; for, now she has become totally dependent on God (or, at least, now she can feel it quite literally in her empty belly). She is going to need God in a way that no one else is going to need God tomorrow. She gave from her necessities; others gave from their surplus. They will have plenty; she will not.

*          *          *

Now, no one would have faulted the poor widow for holding on to her coins. Indeed, we probably would have encouraged her to hold on to them. “You don’t have to be so giving,” we would say. “You need to have money for food tomorrow.”

Quietly, we may even judge that her giving her last and her only is… foolish.

But let us remember why she is doing this. She is giving this money because it goes to build the Father’s House. She loves the Father so much that she wishes to give her very livelihood to build up His Temple. It is a love as foolish as Jesus’ love!

And notice: the widow gives, knowing that she will not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her sacrifice. That’s how total and selfless her loving faith is.

*          *          *

How does Jesus respond? Typically, when someone exhibits such great faith, Jesus praises that person publicly: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith!” (Lk 7:9).

But here, Jesus says nothing. He doesn’t even say a word to her.

May I humbly suggest a reason why? He doesn’t have to. He doesn’t have to say anything because there is a conversation between Him and the woman that is already going on—and has been going on—and it’s taking place in her heart.

Just like the woman, Jesus loves His Father’s House too. Jesus’ love is foolish too. Jesus’ faith in the Father is total too. And Jesus’ sacrifice is an offering of His whole livelihood too. Jesus and the woman, therefore, share the same love, the same faith, the same Father—and so their hearts are already conversing, already one. Jesus doesn’t have to say a thing—all He does He look with a look of love. She has His heart and her heart is His.

This is what vulnerability to God does. It opens our hearts to receive Him, to be able to converse with Him even as with let go of our lives into the treasury of His heart, surrendering all that we are and all that we hold dear into the Fatherly care of Him who gave all to us in the first place.

*          *          *

What will tomorrow look like for the people in the Temple? For the widow, if she should make it to tomorrow, she will live in total abandonment to God. And if she should have food and drink, imagine her joy at having received that food:

            Praise the Lord, my soul!

For she will know, first hand, that all she has comes from the hand of the Lord. Everything will have become total gift. She will have discovered that there is a “dearest freshness deep down things” (Hopkins, God’s Grandeur) that comes from God. A sandwich will no longer just be a sandwich; a cup of water will no longer be just a cup of water. It will be all gift from God. She will know the Father’s love.

The others—they will go on tomorrow just like every day previously: thinking that everything is up to them. The food they eat will not be supernaturally provided, but simply the work of their hands. Life will be about control, about toil—and about the cost of maintaining that control. They will count the cost of love. Everything will have a price.

They will become godless, because the god they once believed in—a god they believed had no power to affect their daily lives—will prove powerless. And who will go on believing in a god like that? Being outwardly comfortable, they will continue on their way with no need of God, no space for Him—no room for Jesus at the inn.

And when they die, as we all do, they will see then that they were dependent upon Him for life—and especially now after death—for all the comfort and wealth in the world cannot build a bridge for us over the waters of death.

The poor widow will be in heaven—indeed, as her coins drop into the treasury, disappearing as do the treasures of this world, she is already there.

*          *          *

Jesus loves His disciples and so He gathers them to hear this, to reveal to them what He treasures. And perhaps as He gives His judgment, they start to consider:

Who will help this woman? Will God? Do I trust the Father? And isn’t He worthy of trust since He gave His heart’s treasure to us—that is, His Son?

And maybe those disciples who gave all and followed Jesus—maybe they are being called to purify their intention; for maybe they gave up everything to curry favor with the Messiah. Maybe they had mixed intentions which are being purified by the question: Do I sacrifice for love of God who selflessly sacrifices for me?

And maybe, as they see person after person dropping their coins into the treasury, maybe they may start to consider: what do I need to trust Jesus with? What do I need to place in the treasury of His heart? Where in my life do I need to let Jesus be Jesus?

Maybe it’s more than just the checkbook. Maybe it’s the calendar. Maybe it’s the job. Maybe there is a person that you need to place into the heart of Jesus… What worries you? What do you fear? What makes you vulnerable? Place that in the treasury!

It’s so easy to want control and to think that we have to control—and even that we’re in control. And maybe that’s the first thing that we have to drop into the treasury, to let it fall in total surrender… to be free of it… forever….

To turn and to see Jesus with His apostles—and to see Him looking at us…. and to converse with Him in our hearts, in total dependence, in total worship—amen, with our whole livelihood…

There’s freedom there. And joy.

And heaven. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Who Is On Your Side? -- Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Kateri Tekewitha, St. Maria Goretti, St. Joseph…

Our band director: St. Kyle of Cottleville…

St. Danny… patron of youth ministers…

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? We’re called to be saints, right?

St. Anthony Gerber… I like the sound of that….

*          *          *

For the past week, I didn’t know what to tell you about all the saints. I mean, how does a priest preach about all the graces of all the saints? Or even, how can I tell you about all the ways that God helps us to become saints? So many stories, so many graces!

Well, on Friday night, God helped me out.

I was standing at the center line of the soccer field at Tony Glavin’s soccer complex (… St. Tony Glavin…)  I was with a bunch of my brother priests (… and perhaps future saints!). We were practicing for the upcoming Souls and Goals soccer game between priests and seminarians.

So, practice on Friday…  We had been scrimmaging for a full hour and a half and there I was at mid-field, dribbling the ball. One of the guys came in with a good tackle and stole it away. Typically, I’d go run it down, but I had nothing left, not even for one more run. It was all in the hands of my defense now. At which point Father Schroeder (…St. Father Schroeder!...) swooped in and saved the day.

In this moment, something struck me as I stood huffing and puffing at mid-field. I realized that I couldn’t do it all by myself. Scoring goals and defending goals requires that I rely on others, on their talents and on the graces that God has given them. In other words, I was on a team and I needed to trust the team.

St. Theresa Avila put it this way (and I paraphrase): At the early stage of our spiritual life, when we are still absorbed in worldly affairs and engulfed in pleasures and honors and ambitions, we must take every opportunity to call upon our blessed Mother and the saints, so that they may do battle for us, since we often have little strength for defending ourselves. (Interior Castle, trans. Peers, p. 16).

*          *          *

It’s so easy to think that we are alone, that the darkness is winning, and that becoming a saint is impossible. So often, it seems we’re standing at the mid-field of life, weak and with little strength to fight temptation, much less to sacrifice for others. It’s in that moment that we are called to realize that we are not alone! We are on a team!

And it’s not just some future team out there some where. We hear of the great crowd surrounding the throne of the lamb… That’s here! Right here at this Holy Mass. The saints—Peter and Justin and Bridget and Lucy, to name just a few—the saints are gathered around here, the throne which is the altar and the Lamb which is Jesus. We heard the four creatures calling out—that’s the four Gospels right here. And the elders—that’s the priests. The saints are really with us and especially right now!

Here in the pews with us is St. Monica. She wept for her husband and her son’s conversion for years. She will help you who are grieving family and friends who have fallen away.

St. Thomas More: he knew very well the governmental problems of his day. And yet he kept the faith and stayed hopeful, even unto martyrdom! He will help us as we see the battles within our nation.

Do you sometimes struggle with doubt? Did you know that St. Therese of Lisieux did too? Or that Mother Theresa did not have one consolation for over thirty years? Go to them if you feel dry or lost in your faith.

Students: I forget who, but I heard a saint say that studying is crucifixion at a desk. Pope St. John Paul II knew this well when he had to do his studies literally underground as the Nazi’s and then the Communists occupied his country. He can help you with your pre-Calc homework, I promise!

St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Damian Molokai, St. Rita, St. Bernadette….

Brothers and sisters, our team is stacked!

So do not be afraid! The saints will help us as lights do on a runway, guiding us as we try to land this plane in the darkness. The saints help to light our way when times are dark. They will help us!

*          *          *

And why? Because they love us.

They see in you someone who is exactly where they once were: someone who faces the struggles of life, the burdens of sin, the darkness of the world, the disappointments and the fears…. And they came here, just like you now are, at Holy Mass, asking God, pleading with Him—and maybe even hearing about the saints who came before them and who preserved and did great things with God’s grace.

Perhaps they heard what I now tell you: that in heaven one of the joys will be for us to meet our holy friends the saints who have helped us along the way.

That thought gives me pause.

You see, we’re on the same field—those saints and us. We’re on the same field! Heaven and earth here, one.

We are all of us playing the same game, fighting the same opponent, working towards the same goal!

So I don’t have to wait until heaven to work side-by-side with them. We’re actually doing this together right now! St. Thomas More… he’s right there behind me. St. Ignatius is up there, leading the way. St. Maria to my left, and St. Therese on my right…

I am never alone. I’m on a team!

Let us remember the saints and call on them. Ask them to help you!

Because you see, you too are being called to be a saint. St. Kyle, St. Danny, St. Anthony… all on the same team, themselves lead by amazing saints who have come before. And when we respond, know that there will be saints who follow you just as we have been inspired by those holy men and women who have come before us. A great litany of saints following behind you!

Saints—sitting at your left and at your right, behind you and before you….

All you holy saints of God, pray for us!