Saturday, December 24, 2016

Heaven - Homily for Midnight Mass (2016)

O Night Divine, O Heaven Descending!

It’s a heavenly night, isn’t it? A mystical, magical, and yet so very ancient night.

Even though midnight Mass is inconvenient and late and (let’s be honest) rather illogical, there is something so heavenly about tonight: about the music, the candles, the peace of a world at rest, and here we are joined by family and friends in one love.

Heaven, I think we would all expect, would have some of these qualities: of angels and saints in beautiful song; of brilliant light that leaves us kneeling, blinking as we behold the glad tidings of great joy; of peace in a world that is no longer at war but finally at rest. Heaven would be the place where we would be joined by family and friends, young and old, joined by saints whom we have loved but had not yet had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face. It would be the place of love so deep that it shows itself stronger than death.

And what is at the center of it all?

The equally inconvenient, seemingly-late, and illogical reality that from heaven, God himself chose to make His dwelling on earth and become one of us—and not any one of us, but a baby. An innocent, humble, adorable, and peaceful baby.

A Babe to Behold Beyond Comprehending

I say this is an inconvenient, seemingly-late, and illogical reality because whoever would have thunk it? It’s illogical because it defies all logic that the almighty God would become so tiny, so helpless. It’s seemingly-late because the night is half-spent—what can a baby do to overcome the power of the dark? And it’s inconvenient because if this is God, then not only does He destroy all preconceived notions, but He challenges me. He challenges me by the very fact that He has become so little.

And what is the challenge? To hold him.

And I don’t know if you remember the first time you held a baby—or if you have experienced that—but when I first held my godson, it made me uncomfortable. Was I doing it right? Was I going to break him? If you know this, then you will know that as the little one nestles its nose into your chest, you start to breathe differently—you notice your breathing because it moves the baby. And after a moment of being tense, you begin to relax.

And then, if you have the nerve for it, you begin to wonder. Who will this little one become? How will it see the world when it becomes old? Will it know what it is to love and to be loved? Will it know heaven? And maybe you begin to pray for it, knowing that so much of its journey is going to be spent in the dark—the darkness of being often frightened, alone, and uncertain.

But then it happens. The matter becomes spiritual: I’m no longer holding my godson-- "whatever you did to these little ones," says the Lord, "you did to me"-- I’m holding the baby Jesus. He knows what it is like to be held.

And because He knows that, He knows its comfort. He knows its peace. And in the darkness of your life, when you are frightened and alone and uncertain, He is going to hold you.

This became my prayer for all of my godchildren: May you always remember that you are a child held in the Father’s arms. It's my prayer for all of us: May you always remember that you are child held in the Father's arms!

.... How did I come to prayer? By holding the baby.

In other words: in order to know that in the night of your life God holds you, you must hold Him at some point. And He makes it easy for you: He comes to you as a child, as a little one. And Mary, his Mother, is going to help you.

This is all He asks from you tonight: to just hold Him. Even though it may be uncomfortable and unfamiliar ...

But if you do, then in that moment, I promise you: you are nearer to heaven than you know! And you'll start to know peace.

The Doors at Bethlehem, the Gates of Heaven Opening

A final thought:

In the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem in the present day, there is a main door. The door, in much earlier times, stood over fifteen feet tall. Now, however, after many reinforcements after many battles, the door is much smaller: four feet and some inches. It’s almost child-sized. In order to enter, a person must literally bow and become small.

Image result for how tall is the door church nativity bethlehem?
There is a spiritual reality here. And it’s not simply about humility. It’s about heaven: the gate to heaven, like the door in Bethlehem, is small. Child-sized.

“Unless you become like little children,” says the Lord, “you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” This is from the God who became a little child. But what does this mean?

To become like little children, we must put aside the constant delusions and doubts of the world and live as children do: in faith, totally trusting and totally dependent upon the heavenly Father.

For the child, there are not many races of human beings, but only one race: fellow children, all who may become friends in the end.

For the child, there are not aspirations for the bigger, better deal, but a child-like satisfaction in the simple, moved by the creativity of the spirit and wonder and the joy of everything being gift.

For the child, the night can be frightening and uncertain and it cannot stand to be alone another moment. And so it calls out, “Mom! Dad!”

And what happens then? The Father enters with love and takes him in His arms and holds him and says “My child, it’s going to be alright. I’m with you. I will always be with you.”

That, my friends, will be heaven and there will be rest there and peace. And it’s not far away: but near. Indeed, it's right now.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Is Jesus God? - Homily for the 4th Sunday in Advent (A)

In Our Youth

Several years ago, I helped out at a parish’s 8th grade Confirmation program. Near the end of the 8th grade Confirmation program, the priests, deacons, and a couple of the catechists would interview the 8th graders to see how much of the faith they had retained over their years of Catholic education. I was one of those—I shall not say whether I was yet ordained or just a seminarian—but I was one of those that was asked to interview the 8th graders.

We had a standard list of questions: name the persons of the Trinity; name the seven sacraments; and so on. But as I asked one young man these questions, I realized that something was amiss. I felt called by the Holy Spirit to ask him a very basic question: “Is Jesus God?”

The young man responded by saying, “Well… He’s the Son of God…”

Ok, but is Jesus God? … This isn’t a trick question.

“Well, I’m not sure… I don’t think so….”

I was taken aback. Nine years of Catholic education and this young man didn’t know from head-to-toes that Jesus is God? I started asking all of the children: Is Jesus God? And about 70-80% of them did not know.

The Proofs

I tell you that story not that we may lament—although there is a place for that. But to point out that for many of our youth—even for some of us—we were never explicitly taught that Jesus is God. Jesus is God!

And that’s very important. Because if Jesus is God, then what He says is very important. His life is very important.

And we would need to know how to defend that.

So, for example, the world may ask us to prove it. Prove that Jesus is God. How would we do this?

We could point to the miracles—so many miracles—that were performed: walking on water, turning water into wine, healing the sick, knowing others’ thoughts, raising the dead, Himself dying—dead as a doornail—and returning on the third day.

And these miracles weren’t done in a vacuum. They had witnesses. And not just “believing” witnesses; some of these miracles were done in front of unbelievers who became believers: Thomas, for example, or some of the Pharisees, or a roman soldier or two, for starters.

Another proof that we have is that Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies; He’s the only one that I know of—of all the major religions’ founders—who was pre-announced and by many and multiple times and not just proximately to His birth but some prophecies were seven centuries prior to His coming!

In Our College Years

So, for example, in today’s first reading we hear about how a “virgin shall conceive.”

I once went to a secular university and there I took a class: Introduction to Christianity. During that class, I learned that the Hebrew word for virgin is “almah” which means “young woman.” The professor went on to say that this prophecy isn’t about a virgin and so on. And, I must admit, that college professor shook my faith. (And how could I refute that? I didn’t know Hebrew!)

What the professor didn’t tell me, however, was that the Jewish people themselves would translate that word, almah, into the Greek. And the word that they chose from the Greek is “parthenos” which means “virgin.” There are, of course, other words that they could have chosen for young woman, but the Jewish people showed us how they understood their own prophecy when they chose the Greek word for virgin.

Why is this important? Because who cares if it’s just a young woman that conceives a child? So what—that happens all the time! But if a virgin conceives—well, now that’s a whole new ballgame!

Matthew, the inspired author of the gospel from which we read today, himself understands this and notes Gabriel, the archangel’s prophecy to Joseph: “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her”—not by a man, but by God. And if God conceives Jesus, Jesus certainly shares in the nature of the One who conceived Him.

So, despite the doubts that I had in college, I would still discover that Jesus is God.

In Our Adulthood

Thus far, then, I have noted that in our youth, sometimes we are not explicitly taught that Jesus is God. Then, sometimes in our high school or college years, a so-called expert shakes our faith and leads us to doubt that Jesus is God.

Sometimes, however, the difficulty comes in adulthood and we again face the question: “Is Jesus God?”

Take, for example, the two men outlined in our readings today. On the one hand you have King Ahaz. On the other hand, you have St. Joseph. Let’s briefly talk about these adult men.

The year is 735 BC and people of Israel are split into two kingdoms, North and South, with King Ahaz the king of the South. The North is plotting with another country to take back the South. King Ahaz, well aware that war looms on the horizon, cries out for help. God answers and says that He will help him. Ahaz, however, feigns modesty and says he doesn’t want to trouble the Lord.

I say Ahaz feigns modesty because Ahaz already sought out a savior—that is, a pagan country next door—and has formed an alliance with them. In other words, Ahaz doesn’t want a sign from God because Ahaz doesn’t want to change his plan.

Joseph, by the same token, is also worried. He had a plan, too, and this—that Mary has come home from visiting Elizabeth and comes home pregnant—this isn’t Joseph’s plan. We can imagine Joseph laying awake at night, searching the stars, praying “Lord….”

In this, Joseph is different than Ahaz. While both experience disappointment, Joseph still believes. He still holds on to the fact that “nothing is impossible for God!” After all, hasn’t God done miracles in the past? Has He not shown His mighty arm again and again—the flood, the plagues, the Red Sea, the manna, the walls of Jericho, the chariot in the sky, the prophets from of old?

“Do not be afraid” Gabriel says to Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.”

(I like to use that line on our Protestant brothers and sisters: “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home!”—there it is, right there in Scripture!)

And we need to hear those lines as adults because, really, as adults we too face difficulties: a little like Joseph, perhaps our lives didn’t pan out exactly as we had expected or wanted; perhaps we have experienced disappointment or even the crushing of our hopes and dreams; perhaps we are confused by what God wants and why would He give me such a Cross in life?

But this is where we must be like Joseph and less like Ahaz. Be not afraid! And ask for a sign: pray: ask! Let your prayer be as deep as the netherworld or as high as the sky!

Is Jesus God?

All of us, therefore, at one time or another in the course of our life must answer this very basic question: Is Jesus God?

Is Jesus God in your life? Not just on Sundays, but when you’re at work or struggling at home. Do you pray to Him as God, letting your prayer be deep as the netheworld or as high as the sky? Don’t be like Ahaz; don’t be afraid of what God will do to your plans. God is with us—Emmanuel—God is for us, God is with us!

Do not be afraid, He says to us. You have so many proofs. Let Him prove it to you again. As the Psalmist says, “Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory.” Let Jesus into your heart. Bring Him your prayers. “For nothing will be impossible for God!”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Origin of Species - Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

A blessed Solemnity to you all. One of the reasons why I get really excited about the Immaculate Conception is that it sheds light on so many of the RBQs. RBQs: that is, Really Big Questions. We all have them: Where have I come from? What happens after I die? And what is the meaning of my life? Why is there suffering? And so on. The Immaculate Conception helps us to see the answers to these questions. 

In 1859, Charles Darwin published his famous “On the Origin of Species.” It was his attempt to explain where we have come from and, to some extent, where we are going and the meaning of things in the here and now. If there is one word that gets to the heart of his publication, it is the word “Evolution.” Now, I’m not going to address here the pros and cons of his argument. But at the heart of his evolution argument is that things progress by biological processes and things such as the survival of the fittest.

Five years prior to this, in 1854, the Catholic Church provided a different explanation for the beginning of things. Instead of saying that everything is the product of chance and mere biology and material processes, the Church infallibly declared that God can radically enter and alter human history and cause a new kind of evolution: that is, at the moment of the conception of the woman, Mary, when God infused her with a soul, He did so in such a way that she would not experience the devolving effects of sin.

In other words, there is a supernatural reality to the existence of things; evolution may not be just simply the product of biology. There may just be a supernatural side to things. And, looking at the other side of the coin, things may not just simply evolve; things can also de-volve—that is, things don’t necessarily go from a lower species to a higher, but they may go from a higher to a lower.

Take, for example, Lucifer. He was one of the most beautiful of the angelic creatures. But he chose not-God; he chose things lower. As a result, Lucifer de-volved: we see him in the Garden like a serpent.

The same can be said for humanity: sin de-volves us. Have you ever seen the movie “Wall-E”? It’s a wonderful movie about humanity and our consumerist tendencies and neglectful ways. Situated many centuries in the future, humanity has trashed planet Earth and rendered it uninhabitable. So, humanity boards a large space-ship and zooms into Outer Space to let Earth clean itself up and become inhabitable again. While on this ship, generations come and go. The people become mired in their electronics and forget how to walk and talk to each other. There’s a wonderful moment where we see the pictures of the past six captains and how they have de-volved:

Humanity clearly has a problem. And it isn't just a biological problem. It's a sin-problem. And it needs a Savior.

This gets at the heart of such questions as “why is there evil?” and “why is there suffering?” and so on. The reality is, when God made humanity, He made Adam and Eve immaculate; they were not made to die, but to live forever; they would never get sick nor would they have arguments; creation was in peace and harmony, too. But when they chose not-God, devolution began: Adam and Eve could now become sick and die; arguments would rise between them; creation too would become disordered (because Adam and Eve were once its guardians). The situation was so dire—de-volution would lead to humanity’s utter destruction. This is why there is suffering and evil; this first sin—called the Original—explains why we struggle to do good and avoid evil, and so on.

Enter the Immaculate Conception.

At the moment of Mary’s conception, God preserved her from the devolving effects of Original Sin. He kept her Immaculate—from the Latin “im”+“macula” meaning “without stain, without sin.” This is the moment of Mary’s redemption. This is the moment when de-volution is reversed and we see a new, supernatural revolution: that is, that grace elevates us and raises our nature and helps us to progress in real and substantial ways.

It was fitting that God would do this.

First, if His Son, the Word, was to become flesh, He wouldn’t take on any ordinary or corrupted flesh. He would take on immaculate flesh. Mary, made immaculate, would be able to provide that.

Second, it is fitting that God would make Mary immaculate because it restores the woman to where Eve once was prior to her decision: When God made Eve, Eve was immaculate. Mary, just as immaculate as Eve, would have all the gifts and knowledge to make a decision just like Eve did. And in such a way, Mary’s definitive Yes would be able to undo Eve’s definitive No. In other words, God was willing that woman, once integral to the condemnation of humanity, would be vitally integral to humanity’s redemption. To put a very fine point on it: without Mary, there would be no Christmas.

Finally, it is fitting because mothers deserve the best. And God fashions for us a mother. He could have preserved us all immaculate, but that would not be fitting because we would not receive a mother that way.

That last point seems unsatisfying. We are not preserved immaculate. But it brings us to the last of the RBQs: where are we going? We pray for heaven. And in heaven, there is no sin, right? Which means, that everything is immaculate. After all, there is no suffering, there is no death nor tears nor injustice nor any of that. Which means that there must have been some kind of supernatural evolution between humanity in the here-and-now and the humanity that exists in heaven.

If we are to be in heaven, there must be some supernatural change in us! We must become immaculate. And that begins right now: in the confessional, when your sins are washed away by the grace of God, you become as clean and innocent as on your baptismal day; you become immaculate. In the Holy Eucharist, you receive the immaculate body of Christ and also His divinity—both of which help your body and soul “evolve” and become elevated to partake in the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). Whereas Mary is redeemed and rendered immaculate at the moment of her conception, our redemption is given to us here and now and the grace is given here to render us immaculate.

These are the gifts of Christmas. We celebrate Christmas not only because it’s about Jesus, but also because it is about Jesus who comes to save us from the devolving effects of sin and to raise us up to the higher nature and realms of heaven.

And the Father could not wait to give us these gifts! That is why, even before the coming of Christ at Christmas, He gives to His mother this redemption and elevation. The Immaculate Conception is the first Christmas gift.

We pray, therefore, that with Mary accompanying us to Christmas, we may be purified of our sins and welcoming of our savior. May we receive all of the graces God wants for us and be raised to the highest of our species of which Mary is the most beautiful and immaculate.

Mary, Our Mother and the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Of Sprouts and Stumps - Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (A)

When I was coming back to the faith, one of the first papers I was ever assigned at Franciscan was to give a line-by-line explanation of the first reading. I had heard it before at Mass—or in Ghostbusters, Bill Murray, when describing events of “biblical proportions” talks about “dogs and cats… living together!”

But what did it mean?

It means this is the extent of the total re-creation that our Messiah, Jesus Christ, brings with him.

We heard about all kinds of animals: the lion, calf, leopard, ox, wolf, bear, child, and snake. What is this all about? It’s about the Garden of Eden. All of those animals once lived together in peace. Humanity used to live together with God in peace. But when sin entered in by man’s free choice, the order of creation was spoiled by chaos. Harmony was replaced with fighting and discord.

With the Messiah, creation will receive restoration. There will be a renewed order. There will be peace—even among the animals. For, the Messiah who comes to bring such renewal comes anointed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who was there at the beginning, “hovering over the waters” when the earth was a “formless wasteland.” The Messiah comes with the fire of the Holy Spirit to make all things new.

*          *          *

For Isaiah’s audience (in c. 740 BC), this was great news. In Israel, king after corrupt king had operated not by the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, but by the spirit of the world. There was envy, the pursuit of worldly treasures, and a lack of faith. Israel longed for a king that would rule by the spirit of God. But at the moment it had none. This is why the tree of Jesse—the father of David the great king—is described as a stump. The tree of the kings was corrupt, rotten from the inside out, and it was to be cut down.

This actually came to pass in 732 BC when the northern kingdom of Israel is taken into exile. The line of kings was broken. A stump.

For 700 years thereafter, the people of Israel held on to this prophecy. That there would be a new springtime, a shoot that would come forth, a new king even from the stump.

But as the years passed, the prophecy seemed to be mere wishful thinking, foolishness. Cynics would scoff: the “calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them”—ha. When would that ever happen? Peace… there will never be peace…

*          *          *

This weekend, many of our teens attended a retreat entitled “Behold, I make all things new.” I like the very next line: “Behold, I make all things new… do you not perceive it?

The new beginning that comes from the dead stump is a small—a very small—sprout. The new beginning is a humble beginning. Almost unable to be perceived. But the new beginning is there. Small like the baby in the crib at Bethlehem. Humble like the small host we receive at Mass. But the beginning, the Messiah, is indeed there.

This gives me pause. Because the re-creation of the world, the bringing together of all peoples and even creation itself, is taking place right here. “Do you not perceive it?”

Even this past week: our second graders were re-created by the Messiah and His Holy Spirit as they received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. All that was dead in them was cleared away. Space was made for the new sprout of life.

Throughout St. Charles county, people have been going to confession and having the old, rotten tree of sin cleared away and a new beginning of goodness re-created in them.

There is so much newness going on around us. Winter should blush—as the Messiah approaches and is indeed here, there is a new springtime. There is truly reason to hope!

*          *          *

“Behold, I make all things new… do you not perceive it?”

What gives you hope in your day-to-day life?

Our Messiah, Jesus Christ, comes with the fire of His Love and the re-creation of the Holy Spirit. The peace and the restoration of new life that we are looking for is not some distant dream. This same Jesus is here, coming to you right now. Ask Him to re-create you; to clear away the old, rotten roots of sin; to give you that new beginning; and to give you the faith and hope to see its small, humble beginnings—but beginnings nevertheless!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Of Trees and Piñatas - Homily for the 1st Sunday in Advent (A)

I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday. And I know that a few of you still have a final family gathering. Blessings to you. And a special welcome to our college students who are home for the Thanksgiving holidays. Know that we are praying for you, especially on your travels home later today and, also, for your final exams.

*          *          *

This morning we begin the season of Advent. (And where does the time go?!) After the food-coma of Thanksgiving, we hear the words of our Lord: “stay awake,” don’t fall asleep. What does He mean by this? He means, don’t lose your faith; don’t lose your hope; don’t lose your charity. Stay awake in faith, hope, and love!

This message is very timely as we begin Advent because we all know how busy-ness and the craziness of the marketplace can consume us—whereby we forget the true meaning of things. Indeed, losing the meaning of one’s life (starting with such things as losing the meaning of Advent and Christmas) is a very quick way to lose one’s faith and hope and charity. Losing meaning is a lot like falling asleep; it’s a kind of death.

So, for example, putting up a Christmas tree can become a great chore and just another “thing to do” if we have lost (or indeed never learned) the meaning of the Christmas tree. What does the Christmas tree mean? I could give you the history, but the meaning is found elsewhere: that is, in the answer to the question, “On what was Jesus crucified?” On a tree. And what did the crucifixion win for us? Grace. (Hence the Christmas presents—graces—under the Christmas tree). And why was Jesus’ crucifixion on a tree necessary and fitting? Because in the beginning Adam and Eve sinned by taking fruit (the ornaments, if you will) from the tree.

Putting up the Christmas tree is to be a great reminder of our Savior (who comes to born to us on Christmas) and our need for Him (to undo the effects of the first tree).

Lose these basic meanings and Christmas becomes a chore. We fall asleep. It is, as Lucy exclaims in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia: “What? The cold of winter and never Christmas?” That would shake anybody’s faith, hope, and love!

*          *          *

Just like in Lent, Advent requires a fight from us. And it is a terrible fight. It is the fight against sleep. Ask any college student who is trying to pull an all-night for exams (not recommended), and they will tell you of the struggle—and the need for Mountain Dew. Or watch any young niece or nephew who wants to stay up with the older kids and fights the heavy eyelids. It is a great fight. And it is doubly hard when it feels like we are fighting alone.

To reclaim the meaning of the “things” of our faith and the meaning of our lives—which especially include these beautiful seasons such as Advent—requires a great fight from us. This is why I love the image of the piñata as a sign for Advent.

Yes, the piñata is a sign for Advent.

Let me explain….

Typically, we think of the piñata as part of a child’s birthday celebration. If you don’t know what a piñata is, it is a medium-sized papier-mâché figurine—sometimes a donkey or a pony—that is fairly flimsy, is covered in tinsel and other decoration, and is hollow in the middle but filled with candies and goodies. At the party, the kids line up and one by one they are blind-folded. The blind-folded kid receives a stick (this may not be such a good idea!) and is told to strike the piñata. It is tough to do but, eventually, the piñata is hit a few times and it breaks open and the treasures are spilled for the kids to enjoy.

Most think this is a Mexican tradition, but it actually comes from medieval Italy (and was brought to Spain by missionaries). The Italians would use the piñata not at birthday parties, but on the first Sunday of Lent (the Spanish would use it for Advent). The reason for this is that there was deeper meaning to the piñata than just a birthday party and hitting a papier-mâché figurine. Here’s what they saw:

Ø  the figurine with all its flimsy paper and tinsel represented the pomp of the world and the show of the devil.
Ø  the blind-folded child represented faith
Ø  the stick represented the battle of virtue with the pomp of the world and the devil
Ø  the breaking apart of the piñata and the reception of the treasures in it represented the prize of eternal redemption for those who fought the good fight of faith

Who knew, right?

*          *          *

In many Hispanic cultures, the piñata would be used during the final days of Advent, to remind everyone to not get caught up in the pomp and show of the world; to fight the good fight of faith, to stay awake and pray and remember who is really coming at Christmas.

(And we thought the piñata was just for birthdays! Little did we realize it was for The Birthday par excellance: that is, Jesus'!)

The virtues were also very important, just as we heard in the second reading: so that we may avoid drunkenness and lust and rivalry and jealousy. I mean, goodness! Am I wrong in saying that so many are tempted by these things at Christmas parties? Isn’t there also so much rivalry and jealousy among our children at Christmas, too? Shouldn’t we be fighting harder with weapons of virtue, therefore?

Stay awake, therefore! Do not be lulled into the sleepy trances of this world and its loss of meaning. That’s what happened at the Inns at Bethlehem on Christmas eve, right? The people there had lost the meaning of life and their faith; they had lost their hope of a Savior and so were not looking for Him; they had lost charity and so when Mary and Joseph came with the Savior, no one opened the door to them.

The Spanish have another great tradition here called the posadas (the inns). And I think it is a tradition will should all make our own:

On the final eight or nine days of Advent, the family gathers by the nativity scene in their home. (Sometimes friends and neighbors gather for this too—which would be great for our Christmas parties!). Typically, all pray the Rosary (or as much as the little children can handle). After that, the parents in the home or the little children pick up the statues of Mary and Joseph from the nativity and begin a candle-procession throughout the home or the neighborhood. Mary and Joseph go to each door of the house (which are closed) or to the Catholic neighbors and knock on the door. No one answers. Or, if they do, they say that they have no room.

Mary and Joseph continue on their way, knocking, and being turned away. Eventually, the procession returns to the nativity in the home. This is where Mary and Joseph will find room. While the rest of the world turns them away, we fight for them and embrace them.

Then the piñata comes out and there is a little celebration. (And probably a burning off of the kids’ holiday sugar high).

*          *          *

I hope all of us, therefore, will see through the pomp and show of this world. I pray we all walk in faith and prayer and make room for Jesus and Mary and Joseph. I have faith we will fight with virtue and rediscover the meaning of the season. I pray that when the Lord comes at Christmas and even here at this altar, that He will find us alert, awake, ready, and eager to receive Him.

This is Advent. The Lord is coming!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Age of Mercy - Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King (C)

This morning we celebrate the great solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. On this day, the liturgical year draws to a close and, in that, we are given a chance to reflect on the End of All Things. Today also happens to be the close of the great jubilee Year of Mercy; a year when we have been given special graces and opportunities for confession and indulgence, most especially in the pilgrimage Doors of Mercy. I do hope you were able to take advantage of our Lord’s consolation.

Already, however, we know that some of us did not. We missed out. At which point, we may ask: “Is it too late?” This is the Great Question which all of us face—not only at the end of this Year of Mercy, but at the end of our life. At the end, we will be tempted to think that it is too late; indeed, some of us may already think so: “It’s too late for me. I can’t make it into heaven. I’ve messed up too much. I’m too old. It’s too late.”

But it’s not too late! Notice the two thieves on their crosses. They are on their death bed. This is their last moment. And who is with them in their last moment? Jesus is. Jesus, the King who can save them in an instant, who can pardon a lifetime of sins with one word of mercy. Both thieves have spent their lives doing bad. Neither deserve heaven. It would seem to be too late. But the one, in his last moment and with his last, gasping breaths, asks our Lord for mercy. “Remember me, Lord…”

Jesus, suffering on the Cross, could have said “No, it’s too late.” Or “I’m suffering here, leave me alone.” But this Cross is Jesus’ throne; this is the place where He rules; and on this Cross, He is bestowing Mercy. And so, even though the thief has had a lifetime of sin, Jesus answers his last request and the King responds: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” And so the good thief enters heaven and becomes a saint: St. Dismas.

So take a breath right now.

That’s proof that it’s not too late. So long as you have breath in your lungs, it is never too late. We live not simply in a Year of Mercy, but an Age of Mercy. And Jesus is giving that Mercy to you right now from the Cross. If only we use our breath to ask for it: “For the sake of His sorrow Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!”

*          *          *

Naturally, there are some who become afraid when we consider the End of All Things. To some degree, this is expected—we know that we will be judged and we are afraid of God’s justice. (What would be worrisome would be those who pass through this life without any fear of judgment. To humanity St. Dismas, the good thief, asks: “Have you no fear of God?...  we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes…”)

But there is some sense that God does not want us to be afraid of our death. St. Augustine writes (in a Discourse on the Psalms): “[W]hat sort of love of Christ is it to fear his coming? ... We love him, yet we fear his coming.” What does he mean? He means that if we love Jesus, why would we fear the approach of the one that we love? The only reason why we would fear his arrival is if we have loved sin more and have refused mercy.

Think of Jesus’ coming (again) like a sunrise. Those who have become accustomed to the light of Jesus’ Truth and the warmth of His Love and have basked in that and themselves given it—they will be eager and will indeed rejoice when that eternal son rises! Those, however, who have not embraced this Light—however much or little was given to them in this life—those who have not grown accustomed to it will be startled by it at the end of their life. Like a man hungover, they will shield their eyes and revile its arrival.

Eternal life, therefore, begins now: in whether we love Jesus and live in the light of that love, or push Him to the side and dwell in darkness.

*          *          *

When humanity realizes that this light is piercing and non-negotiable and eternal, there comes not only the divide of those who love versus those who fear and revile; but there also comes the frantic cries for help. “Save us! Save yourselves! Every last man for himself!” The bad thief on the Cross says, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself. And us!”

None of them realize that this is exactly what the Christ the King is doing. The bad thief is so self-centered, so self-concerned on saving his own life that He overlooks the Messiah’s saving and suffering love. We may recall the words: “Anyone who wishes to save his life will lose it. But anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Why is it that anyone who tries to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for Jesus's sake will save it? Because of love. When Jesus is on the cross, He cries out: “I thirst.” For what? For our love. For someone to love him, to be with him, to remember him (“do this in memory of me”) and to say “I am with you.” When St. Dismas is on the cross and defends Jesus ("this man has done nothing criminal") and declares his faith in "the kingdom," St. Dismas is giving Jesus that little cup of water which is love. That’s all that Jesus wants. “At last, there is someone with me,” Jesus is saying, “I am not dying alone.” And so He saves St. Dismas' life.

We who console Jesus in this life will receive consolation at the hour of our death. Console His Mother, too, and you will receive her as well. And that’s a good thing, that: to die in the arms of Jesus and Mary…. It is the definition of a happy death. And we pray for that grace.

*          *          *

Certainly there are many applications from our reflection today. But let us consider one in particular.

We are about to embark upon the season of Advent. What does the word “Advent” mean? It means “Coming.” Whose coming? Jesus.

But when does He come? We want to say “Christmas” and that is true. But we’re not talking about a past coming; we are also talking about a current and future coming. There will come a day, soon, when we will see the Advent of Our King—not as a humble, little babe, but as the glorious Son of God. This is an Advent that we must prepare for: the Advent of Christ at the hour of our death or at the hour of His Second Coming.

The liturgical season of Advent, therefore, is not just simply four weeks before Christmas. It is actually a microcosm of life itself: it reminds us how we are or are not preparing ourselves for The End of All Things.

For the bad thief, Advent was the carrying of his cross and Christmas was dying next to Jesus—but the bad thief had no room in his heart to receive the Christmas gift of mercy. For the inns at Bethlehem, Advent was the call of the census and everyone going to their towns and Christmas was Mary and Joseph knocking on their doors to bring them the Savior. But their hearts were not prepared; there was no room for them to receive the Christmas gift of the Holy Family.

For us, Advent is both the liturgical season and our life's preparation; Christmas is both the liturgical day and the End of All Things. The question is: will we be prepared? And that is answered by what reigns in our hearts.

Will we have received mercy in confession or will it be too late? Will we be in love with Jesus who comes or be anxious of The Day? Will it be every man for himself or every man for Jesus?

These next few weeks will give us a good indication of where we are in our preparation for The End.

Practically, then: while the world speeds up, we will slow down. While the world forgets Jesus, we will remember. While people pile up sins of drunkenness and licentiousness at so-called Christmas parties, we will be confessing our sins and getting ready. While people grow selfish in their own gifts and have no room in their hearts, we will become selfless and simple and poor like the manger that receives Jesus. 

And by Christmas we will either be closer to the reality that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Peace—or farther away. Indeed, even Thanksgiving on Thursday will help us to see how much we need to prepare: when family comes to our homes or we to theirs, we will see: when differences of faith and politics ruffle feathers, will we remember Jesus and His mercy? Will love and peace reign in our hearts? Will we be quick to speak and judge-- or quick to pray?

The Year of Mercy is over. But the Age of Mercy is here... until He comes again.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Moment of Sonrise - Homily for the 33rd Sunday in OT (C)

“His judgment cometh and that right soon.” 

These words were cross-stitched in a picture on the wall of Warden Norton’s office in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. The movie, based on Stephen King’s novel, takes place in a prison where an evil warden hypocritically passes himself off as a religious man. The words on the warden’s wall act as a reminder to all who see it that God will come to judge the living and the dead. For some, this will provide hope. For others, this prophecy will inspire dread. Ironically, for the Warden, the one who placed that picture on his wall, the words carry no weight. Behind the picture and the words, he hides a safe with all of his evil secrets and plots. The Second Coming isn’t really real is how he lives. And he is surprised and shocked at the end when it does.

*          *          *

The month of November is a kind of mini-season in the liturgical year wherein we reflect upon the end of our lives and also those who have gone before us. We started the month with the celebration of All Saints and the commemoration of All Souls; at the end of this month, we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe and then begin Advent—the season of preparation for the King’s unexpected coming as a babe.

In between all of that, we have these Sundays that sound like an overture to a symphony, announcing that the time of preparation for the King’s Coming is now. And this may seem like a Protestant thing to do, to say “The End is Near!” But, really, this has been a Catholic thing too, for Jesus Himself said: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” And we announce as Jesus did because the reality is: we forget about the eternal dimension of our lives. We forget that the world is passing away and that no two stones will remain atop each other. And that the weight we gave to some things should really have been given to others.

That was the point of Jesus’ words of warning: don’t get too attached to the stuff in the here and now. Even the Temple will pass. The Temple meant not only the Temple in Jerusalem, but also Jesus’ body (and, by extension, our own). And not just that, but the Temple also meant the entirety of the world. There will come a time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth—which means the old world is passing away. So, we cannot place too much weight on things. The weight we need to place is on the things of eternity.

*          *          *

Taking from today’s first readings, the Catholic Theologian Peter Kreeft notes that the moment of our death and of our rising to new life—whether to heaven or to hell—will be like a sunrise (Malachi wrote to us today: “There will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays”).

At the end of all things, the Son will rise on the landscape of our life and there we will stand in His piercing rays—rays that are Truth and Goodness; rays that are beautifully terrible and universal and unwavering and non-negotiable. Everyone will stand in the Son. The crucial point, says Kreeft, is whether we will be able to stand it. That is: all of us will fall into one of two kinds of people: those who bask in it and soak in its rays and so find eternity heaven; or those who curse the Son’s rising light and cannot stand it and so find eternity hell.

The crux, therefore, is whether we have in this earthly life cultivated a taste for that eternal sunrise. Cultivating that taste for the eternal sunrise is the summation of all that the Church and her saints teach about prayer, the moral life, the reception of the sacraments, and the embrace of the Truth. God Himself, in giving the Sabbath Rest for example, was giving man that “space” if you will to slow down and to attend to the eternity in which God and man dwell—and not only later but in the here and now; there is a “thickness” of life in which man is called.

Man, however, too often pursues what is shallow and “thin”—the temporal, the passing, the fleeting, and the rotten. Such a man will be shocked and annoyed by the brightness of the eternal light. (In the here and now, such men are often shocked and annoyed when the Church proclaims such things).

To summarize, then, our life here on earth is the place where we are to develop a taste for, an ability to bask in, the brightness of that eternal life.

*          *          *

Already based on this, many of us can form resolutions on how we are to change our lives and slow down and focus on what is important.

But let’s translate this into an immediately practical application. In the coming weeks, we are going to become busy with Thanksgiving and Christmas. And in this, the world will speed up as it frantically prepares. Let's be very clear: how we live this season is how we will live our eternity. This season is truly a microcosm of how we approach our ever-after.

What I mean by that is: how we prepare for Christmas is indeed the way we will prepare for the coming of Christ at the end of our lives and the end of time. Some people become hurried and frantic and stressed and anxious and care about the things of this world such that when Christmas comes, they miss Christ and are focused on gifts and whether family is happy and, really, are just simply glad when Christmas is finally over.

Some people just thumb the whole season and don’t prepare at all and just live their same. boring. lives. Or they say they love Christmas, but don't do much about it.

There is a third way—the Catholic way. And that is to slow down and to ask for whom we are really preparing. It’s not for our children. It’s not for our guests. It’s not for our neighbors who will see our houses and our lights. It is for Jesus Christ. And this is the moment where we have the chance to cultivate the taste for the eternal—and it happens precisely when the world will be focusing on the temporal.

Preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas and at the end of our lives will therefore involve a good confession. It will involve a prioritization of what is important in our lives and not a scurrying or flitting about trying to get so many presents, but to be simple and intentional and loving in our family. It will involve prayer and reflection and time to make lists of gratitude. It will be a time to bask in the rays of the rising sun. It will be heaven.

Or it will be hell.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Honor Your Father and Your Mother - Homily for the 32 Sunday in OT (C)

There are two reactions to Daylight Savings Time. The first says, “Ah, an extra hour of sleep!” The other says, “What sleep?—I have children.”

*          *          *

Imagine for a moment that you are coming home from work. And you pull up the driveway and you walk to the door of your house. And as you open the door, you are overcome by an overwhelming smell: there’s a gas leak. And it’s not a small leak—it’s a going-to-blow-your-house-up kind of gas leak.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that, but when it happens, you only think of one thing: fix the leak. If your daughter tugs your clothes and says, “But mom, can’t I go and get Apples.” (Apples is the hamster). You would say, “Honey, I love Apples too, but we have to wait and get this leak fixed first.” “But mom,” says your teenage son, “the upstairs toilet is clogged.” “That stinks, son, but we have to fix this first.”

Any home-owner knows that when it comes to a gas leak, everything else is less important: the hamster, the leaking toilet, even cracks in the basement. Everything takes a backseat to the leak.

If you understand this, you can understand the Church’s social teaching on the hierarchy of goods—that some issues are more important than others and can even outweigh them all.

*          *          *

But before we talk about that, I know that every one of us has within us a sense of right and wrong as well as a kind of moral calculus that weighs what is important and what is not.

This sense/calculus is the result of years of formation… from the lap of our parents to the desks and halls of our schools and universities. Even the light of our television sets, computer screens, and smart phones have been forming us—for good or for bad.

The people of this parish are incredibly well-educated and I love and respect that about you. As good as our education has been, however, all of us—all of humanity, myself included—still suffers from the wounds of sin and the effects of concupiscence. In other words, on our own, our moral calculus is never as solid as we would lead ourselves to believe, nor is our intellect as piercing as we would like.

*          *          *

Take, for example, the King in our first reading. He’s a smart guy. But he is absolutely befuddled by these seven brothers and their mother. He doesn’t understand their moral calculus—how they would prefer to die than eat meat. “It’s just pork, after all,” the king could say. I mean, we’re talking bacon! It’s not like we’re talking the Fifth Commandment. So why, brothers, would you give your life for something so small, something so… disproportionate? Why is this issue so important to you that it outweighs everything else, even your own life?

What the king did not know—because he was not formed by the mother (she who prefigures the Church)—What the king didn’t know is that the issue wasn’t about pork. It was about their identity. And integrity. Fidelity. And love.

Love will not permit itself to be unfaithful even to the slightest degree. Love knows that it loses its integrity and therefore its identity when it is unfaithful. (Unfaithful love, after all, ceases to be love).

The brothers calculated that loving the king more than God was tantamount not only to unfaithfulness but to a loss of their very identity as God’s children. The Ten Commandments, after all, were not only God’s way of teaching us morality; it was also His way of carving us out from the rest of the world: “the rest of the world kills its own, etc, but it will not be so with you.” To lose our sense of the Commandments meant to lose our very identity.

*          *          *

The brothers further calculated that only God could raise the dead. So to spurn God was to spurn any chance one had for eternal life. Therefore, since eternity was at stake, this issue of pork was no small issue at all. This was a very big issue.

The king, without this light of faith, did not see the weight of the eternal dimension and so he miscalculated.

He was like a homeowner that does not understand the danger of the gas leak. Or a person who does not get why the defense of life in its most vulnerable stages is the greatest weight in the social calculus. Such things hold such great weight not simply because of their eternal dimension, but because God has made them so.

And we, who are God’s children, if we are to hold on to our integrity and our identity as such, must always remember that and act according to it.

*          *          *

The world may say that we are disproportionate and they could talk economic theory and poverty and so on. But none of that changes the fact that we are children whose mother is the Church and whose Father is God and that children are called to honor their father and mother. To honor does not mean to say “I am personally opposed, but…you know” for such words lack not only honor and integrity, but they also lack good sense, for who would say, “I am personally opposed to gas leaks, but…you know.”

Further, no good parent would let their daughter get the hamster or send their son to fix the toilet before fixing the gas leak. Indeed, if we choose to fix the toilet or get the hamster before we fix the gas leak, we are responsible for the destruction of the house and the people that were in it. So too, if we choose social issue a or b before fixing our culture’s fixation on killing its elderly and the unborn, we are responsible for their deaths and will have to give an account to not only Jesus at our death, but to the array of all the killed who stand at the gates of heaven for our judgment.

*          *          *

I will admit: I’m tired of being a pawn: on the one hand, being told that candidate A will fix the economy and candidate B will overturn things and get good judges. I’ve been around to see that rarely do either happen. We just had 8 years of the promise of hope and change and great unity, but we are worse off and more divided than ever.

But we Catholics have a powerful voice. Politicians don’t take us seriously because so many Catholics don’t take our faith seriously. They get our vote and then do nothing. We must hold them accountable. We may vote you in, but if you do not hold true to your promises, we will vote you out. Because we want people of integrity.

*          *          *

Sure, some may think our Mother the Church to be un-cool—that she is behind the times. But she is ahead—and she is ahead precisely because she possesses an eternal perspective and, as such, she can see and calculate that the state of one’s soul is more important than the State of the Union. Indeed, the State of the Union depends entirely on the state of one’s soul. And that depends entirely whether the soul is united to the laws and will of God—both of which are communicated through the Catholic Church.

This is why She is constantly trying to navigate the narrow way for us: the narrow way between, on the one hand, that idolatry where we make a person or political party a replacement for God; and, on the other hand, that horrible apostasy where we loudly or quietly say to God and to Church “I disagree” and so lose not only our holy communion, but our identity and our eternity.

*          *          *

Every Catholic has an obligation to vote. And that obligation involves not only the Presidential election, but the numerous races and issues facing the State in which we live. In order to vote, we must first study what is on that ballot. Then, we must measure the issues and weigh them in the light of the moral calculus of which not only our dim intellects provide, but firstly and especially in the light of Christ and His Church. Such exercise is an opportunity to express our faith, our hope, and our love-- as well as an opportunity to honor our Father and our Mother.

To quote the last words of the martyr St. Thomas More, that saint who served as a faithful man in politics: “I beg you: pray for the king daily … I die his faithful servant. ... But God’s first.”

* I'd like to thank our holy Deacon John Schneier for several of the ideas found here. The gas leak, the connection to St. Thomas More, and the State of the Union line are all his. :)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Saving Thanks - Homily for the 28th Sunday in OT (C)

As I reflect upon my two years here at St. Joe’s, I find that there is so much for which to be grateful. When I’m with my priestly brothers, I find it’s easy to sing praises about this parish.

For example, I remember the first moment I was here on campus, as I was unloading my belongings into the rectory, a group of American Heritage Girls greeted me with a loving and respectful, “Hi Father,” as though I had been here for years. I remember how a few of you gave me a bit of advice, to take care of myself and don’t let the size of the parish get me down. Ever since then, you have continued to wow me by your generosity and your spiritual zeal: a parish that gives so much to all who ask; parents who are committed to a culture of life; men and women who are doing their best to find their way to heaven and to bring others with them. It’s for these reasons, and a thousand more like them, that I call this place CatholicHappyLand.

And I know what some of you are thinking: Is this a farewell homily?


(You’re stuck with me).

But it's odd, isn' it? That we hear priests praising their parish only when they are leaving it? Well, this parish is too good for me to wait until I’m leaving it to sing its praises.

*          *          *

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the second grade girls’ soccer game. And you know how those games go: the kids are all in a bunch and the coaches try desperately to teach the kids positioning and so on. During this game, there was one little girl who was playing her heart out and was really a stand-out soccer player. She could dribble, she could pass and run, and by the end of the game, she had even scored a goal.

But for all that, I didn’t hear much praise. Maybe 90-10—90% critique to 10% praise.

And I remembered my own days when I was little and playing soccer. I remembered my dad and how, no matter how hard I tried, I never felt I could get a word of praise from him. And maybe he did say a word or two—90-10—but all I remember was that I was a disappointment. Even though I was scoring goals.

As I left the little girls’ game, I felt convicted. I realized that I was making the same mistake with my children: you in the pews.

Up here at this ambo, I spend my time, like those coaches, trying to move us into position, trying to put us into a place where we can win. But, I forget that many of us are already in position. Many of us are already on our way to becoming great saints. And I don’t point that out enough.  And that’s a problem, because I know from my own time on the soccer field that I get burned out from a game full of “move here, go there.”

This past week, I was practicing over at Tony Glavin’s soccer fields, practicing for the annual priests vs. seminarians “Souls and Goals” game (Wednesday, November 9th, 7pm at CBC). During the practice, one of the coaches, a parishioner here, gave me a simple pat on the back and a word of “good work.” It was just a couple of words, but I felt like a million bucks—I had done something right. That spurred me on for the rest of the practice.

I know that that 2nd grader on the soccer field would be a happier girl if she really believed that she was doing something right in the sight of her father. Just a word of praise from him, I am convinced, would lighten her heart and her feet. And light hearts and light feet translate into a better soccer player. Which is what her father wanted in the first place.

And that father would be a happier dad if he just took a moment to realize that he has a daughter. Who runs. Who gets to play soccer. She’s healthy. She not in the hospital on this Saturday morning. Her battle today is with a ball and a goal. Not with cancer. Your daughter is running today. Thanks be to God!

*          *          *

Psychologists and business analysts show time and time again that people and businesses that cultivate an environment of gratitude, appreciation, and praise have happier people and more productive work-places.

In reflecting on this, I found that, more often than not, when I think of things for which to praise God, I, in turn, become a happier person and, even more, I become more apt to see the good in others and to praise them for it. Which, in turn, helps them.

This “feeling” of gratitude, I have found, is more powerful than all of the bad “feelings” that come with focusing on current events.

Truly, I’ve really come to believe that there is more good in this world than bad. There is more good in this world than bad! And not just in the world, but in you: there is more good in you than bad.

And we need to know that. Because there is more to thank God for in this life than to curse about.

And sometimes that takes effort to remember or to believe. Sometimes it is truly hard work to think of what is good when there is so much bad going on. Indeed, when I don’t feel like praising God—that’s exactly the moment that I need to praise Him. To take a breath, to think of the good, and to approach Him who heals my heart. Yes, when I don’t feel like singing—that’s precisely the moment that I should.

*          *          *

Let me put a very fine point on this: what if we were to wake up tomorrow with only those things for which we thanked God today?

Let me repeat that: what if we woke up tomorrow with only those things for which we thanked God today?

*          *          *

And let’s take that a little deeper.

The point of today’s gospel is not simply that the leper comes and thanks Jesus. It’s that all ten are healed, but only one is saved.

Our salvation is tied up with whether or not we give thanks and praise to God. Salvation is tied up with whether or not we throw ourselves at His feet in worship.

And this makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, we are more joyful when we are thankful; we become better people. We start to see the good in others and praise them for it; and they become better. We start to thank God more and see how much He does love us. And that brings us to hope. And “in hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24).

That’s why the Mass reminds us:“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks Lord….”

It’s why Jesus says to the leper who worships: “Your faith has saved you.”

And wouldn’t our world be a better place if the course of human events were not solely predicated upon the direction of political candidates, but upon the direction of hearts full of thanksgiving and praise?

That starts with me.

*          *          *

Please join me, then, in doing a little homework. Let's think of five things for which we are thankful—five things that we would miss if we didn’t have them tomorrow. And let's do that not only right now, but every night before we go to bed. Think of those five things. And praise God.

Then we will sing a new song to the Lord. And we shall be saved.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Great Deal - Homily for the 25th Sunday in OT (C)

Do you know a deal when you see one?

A few weeks ago, I was in the market for a car. And for various reasons—but it was time. Of course, I didn’t want just any car. I wanted a Ferrari.

Actually, I just wanted a deal. And even better: I wanted a great deal.

And what is a great deal? A great deal is where we get a lot of something while only having to pay a little. Something amazing for not much cost.

Now, no one goes into a car dealership and says, “Yeah, uh, give me your worst deal. I want to pay a lot for a clunker.” No. Give me a great deal.

We all want a great deal.

But the question is: Do you know a great deal when you see one?

*          *          *

The parable we heard today is the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. It’s one of the more difficult parables, I think. So, to help me remember its meaning I like to call it the Parable of The Great Deal.

So here we have this salesman, the steward, who has been making bad deals; he has been costing the company millions. The store owner, the master, wants to know what in the world is going on. So he asks the salesman/steward for a report. Now, the steward knows he’s in trouble. So, in order to save himself, he makes several deals and lines his pockets for a “golden parachute” retirement plan.

Now what’s the problem with this? It’s going to cost the company millions.

And who’s going to pay for that? The owner of the company, the master.

So, when the crowd around Jesus hears this—many of them Pharisees—they would have been shocked. Justice dictates that this steward be fired (and far worse things).

But instead of condemning the man, Jesus praises the man—in effect saying, he’s made a great deal!

But wait? what? Is Jesus advocating cheating and swindling?

Well… in a way, yes.

*          *          *

But we’re not talking about money. We’re talking about something else. And to get there, we have to go back a week.

Last week, we heard about the Prodigal Son. You remember that story: the Prodigal Son squanders half of his father’s money and then repents. The father takes him back and gives him mercy.

Today’s reading takes that theme and goes deeper.

Jesus knows that the Pharisees were business-minded, so he re-crafts the Prodigal Son parable in terms of business. Instead of a father and son we have a business with a store owner and a salesperson.

So, Pharisees, He is saying, who got the better deal—the father or the son?

The Pharisees could reply: the son is getting the better deal. He doesn’t have to pay a thing!

And who is getting the better deal: the master or the steward?

It’s the steward, of course.

So, what Jesus is telling the Pharisees is: look, all of us have squandered so much of what was given to us: our life, our blessings—we’ve lost so much and made deals with sin and the devil. If you are men of justice, tell me: who is going to pay for that?

And could you pay for that?

Could you really pay for the cost of the effects from your sins? Could you ever pay back for the graces and the blessings that you have squandered in your life?

And tell me about heaven: if you could put a price tag on heaven, how much would it go for? … Do you really think you could pay for your way into heaven?

If you are men of justice, my dear Pharisees, note well that you will never be able to pay the cost. You don’t have enough to cover the cost of your sins, much less the cost of heaven.

This is where Jesus points to the mercy of God: He is saying, Look at my Father. He's the master. And he's giving you an opportunity for a deal right now. And it’s a Great Deal. All you have to do is be like the Prodigal Son and come back to the Father. Receive mercy and give mercy. And the Father will cover all the costs.

The cost for your sins? My Father will cover that.

The cost for everything that you have squandered? My Father will cover that too.

The cost to get into heaven? My Father will even pay for that.

Just like the dishonest steward's debts, my father is going to cover that.

So do you know a great deal when you see one? ... And will you take the deal?

*          *          *

This past week, I went to the dentist. I’m embarrassed to say that it had been a long, long time since I had been. I stopped going to the dentist in college and, well, after missing for five years, what was another five? And with each passing year, the embarrassment of what my teeth must be looking like—well, I started to pretend that all was ok.

But this week, by the grace of God, I went to the dentist. And I’m sitting there and I’m thinking: "So, this must be how it feels to come back to confession after fifteen years..."

Dentist, forgive me, it’s been fifteen years since my last cleaning….

Why did I wait fifteen years? Pride… embarrassment…

Ultimately, I had built up into my mind that the cost of going far outweighed the reward.

And we do that with a lot of things, right? Exercise. Going to the doctor. Forgiving somebody.

This isn’t a “P.C.” thing to say, but Jesus says we’re dumb:

…the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light. 

In other words: we’re so anxious to jump on a great deal for a car or for a job or for a retirement plan, but when it comes to the greater deals in life, those that really matter—working on our marriages, spending time with family, going to confession—when it comes to the great deals, we don’t jump at the chance.

And Jesus says that’s dumb. Dumbest of all is refusing God's mercy in confession.

I mean, God is there, saying: “I’m going to forgive you and pay for the cost of your sins. I’m going to pay for what it would cost you to get into heaven. I’m going to pay that.”

And we don’t jump at that? What are we thinking?

Do we really believe this is a bad deal for us? Does the cost of going really outweigh the forgiveness?

Who is this a bad deal for?

It's a bad deal for the Father. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the older brother gets angry precisely because of how bad a deal this is for the Father.

But the Father does it anyway. Because it means having his son back. And having his son back is worth more than all the gold in the world. What the older brother doesn't see is that mercy is a Great Deal for everyone.

If this doesn't resonate with the business-minded Pharisees, then what will?

*          *          *

And so I invite you to confession and so many say *in an Eeyore voice* “No thanks, Father, I don’t want that.”

Are we insane?

I mean, the devil is happy to make you pay full price! And he'll make you pay for all eternity!

Don't we know this is a limited time offer?

This is the whole point of the Parable of the Great Deal: Jesus is saying, hey! you have a chance to “swindle” God out of millions!—the very cost of heaven and your sins—more than the steward did his master. And you’re not going to take advantage of that?

I praised the steward—not so as to promote greed for money, but to show you how upside-down you are: you jump for great deals when it comes to money and cars and jobs and retirement, but you are slow to jump at the things that really matter. You are greedy for money, but not for mercy and eternity.

*          *          *

Right now, God is asking of you One Thing. I don't know what it is, but He is putting on your heart That One Thing that you think costs so much. Maybe it's....

Going to the doctor—friends, the reward outweighs the cost. 

Or maybe it's going to the adoration chapel—no cost at all, eternal rewards.

Forgiving someone.

Getting help for your marriage.

Gong to confession.

We all live as though these cost so much more than what they are worth. But, really, aren’t they worth so much more than they cost?

You tell me.

*pointing to the Cross* Do you know a great deal when you see one?

*          *          *

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you are a generous and merciful God. Please help me to see that One Thing that you want me to do, that you want me to trust you with. Please give me the grace to jump for the Great Deal that you offer in your mercy. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.