Sunday, June 30, 2019

"All In" - Homily Notes for the 13th Sunday in OT (C)

Have you ever heard the phrase “All in”? 

Related imageI first heard the phrase long ago and in connection with a game of cards. The card game was Poker—specifically, Texas Hold Em. And the phrase, “All in,” was used when one of the players bet everything he had. Typically, among buddies, “All in” doesn’t amount to much. But in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas—well, I have seen a card player bet over $100,000 “All in.” What that means is that he is risking $100,000 on one set of cards. If he loses, he loses everything. If he wins-- what an exciting win. Either way, there’s no going back. “All in.”

That’s the theme of today’s readings.

* * *

In the first reading, Elijah the prophet approaches Elisha and calls him to be his successor. This was an amazing moment. (Elijah is one of the biggest “names” in the prophet world—we even see him at Jesus’ Transfiguration). When Elisha realizes that this “big name” is calling him, Elisha embraces the invitation and follows him.

But, before Elisha follows him, Elisha kills all of the oxen that he has, burns the yokes and farming equipment, and says goodbye to his parents. Why does Elisha do this?

Because there is a temptation in the past: that is, once you choose a certain “way” in life, it is so easy to turn back around and ask “what if?" Nostalgia, the-grass-is-greener moments—temptations like that happen when times inevitably become difficult. Today, it's Facebook to reignite past flames. The past can haunt us. So, Elisha kills the oxen and burns the yokes. He goes “All in,” risking it all, no turning back.

(And please note: Elisha is not poor. When it says he has “twelve yoke of oxen,” the ancients would have heard “rich man.” Elisha is not a poor man who borrows an ox. No, Elisha has twelve yoke of oxen! In other words, Elisha’s bet on Elijah is huge).

In a way, by giving up his inheritance, Elisha is turning to God and echoing the Psalm: “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

* * *

Fast-forward to the Gospel.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus calling people to follow him. One man responds, saying: “Lord, let me first bury my father.”

This is not a flippant request by the man. The man’s father just died. In fact, what the man is asking to do is a good thing. Burying one’s father is one of the corporal works of mercy (ie, “bury the dead”) and it fulfills the Mosaic law (“Honor your father and your mother”).

But Jesus says to him: “Let the dead bury their dead.” 

What does this mean? And why does Jesus say this? I mean, it almost sounds cold-hearted. So, what’s going on here?

Jesus is showing the man the importance of the moment—and not just of the moment, but of the One who is inviting him to “follow me.” Here’s what Jesus is saying:

I know that your father has died. But I am the One who made him and who can raise him from the dead. In fact, I am the One who gave you the Law that you know, that Law that says to honor him. I want you to know, therefore, that I am God. The most important One right now is the One who is speaking to you. Follow me and trust that your father will be taken care of. So follow me.

Go "all in."

* * *

But how is this any different than the first reading? Isn’t this just a repetition?

Actually, there is something new going on here. To get to that, we must take a brief detour into history….

When a person would die in Jesus’ day, the faithful Jewish person would wrap the deceased’s body in linen and place the body in a cave—much like what we saw when Jesus died. The body would be left there for a year to decompose and, after a year, the family would return to the cave and collect the bones to be buried in a niche nearby—so, in a year, there would be a “second burial.”

Therefore, when the man says, “Let me bury my father,” the man is saying, “Jesus, look, I have some important family things going on right now. I get your invitation, but it’s going to have to wait a year. How about I follow you … then.”

This is why Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” He’s saying to the man:

Look, you honored him in the first burial. But you need to follow me now. This is urgent and we can’t wait for a year. If you believe that I am the Messiah, you need to go all in and you need to do so now.

* * *

I don’t know about you, but this is challenging.

What comforts me is the next thing that Jesus says. He says:

Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.

In other words:

I already have bet everything. I risked it all—even my home, my bed—I have nothing left because I have gone all in for love of you and my Father.

We see the crucifix all the time, but see it anew: the crucifix is the ultimate “risk.” On the Cross, Jesus is saying, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” He is giving it all—pushing in even His life.

And here’s the thing: Jesus’ bet is riskier than ours. When we bet on Jesus, we are betting on a God who is going to take care of us. Ours is a certain and therefore easy bet when we think about it. But Jesus—Jesus is betting on humans that are changeable and moody and faithless and emotional and greedy…

His bet is riskier than ours. And yet He loves us so much that he makes the bet anyway.

* * *

So, we come to the challenge: are you all in?

* * *

Gut check: you’re already all in.

You are already betting your life on something. The question is: on what are you all in?

For many, we are all in for our job. Or our family. Or our schedules. Or for comfort. We are spending—betting—our entire lives on something. But is it worth it?

Jesus is coming to us today and says, “I want you to bet your life on me.”

And we might say, “Well, Lord, I am betting on you already.”

But, if we are honest, we often hedge our bets. We’re say: “Lord, let me take care of my family first, then I’ll pray to you.” Or, “Lord, let me finish this project, and then we will spend some time.” We give those parts of our life our first and best energies—and we find ourselves giving God our leftovers.

Jesus is saying: “Give me your first. Take the risk. Bet on me.”

When we do that, He assures us like He does the man who just lost his father. Jesus says to us: “I’m going to take care of him. Bet on me here and I will take care of the other stuff you are worried about. Your family, your job—come to me first and you will find that all of the other things will go a lot better than when you were doing it all yourself.”

* * *

If you are intimidated by this or wonder what the next step is, I have two helps for you.

First: our Lord Jesus is coming to you in the Eucharist today. He will help you. Ask Him to help you!

Second: if you don’t know how to go “all in,” let’s take the first step of “upping the ante.” In other words, if you are not an every-single-Sunday-Mass goer, let’s up the ante. Take the next step and make the time for another Mass per month. If you are going every single Sunday, consider adding a daily Mass. (We will be starting a Wednesday evening Mass here at Saint Theodore in the school year). Consider daily prayer if you don’t do so already. If you haven’t been to confession since Lent, let’s get right with God this summer. Maybe the next step is being open to the next step....

These are small steps, “upping the ante,” but as we keep doing them, we will find ourselves all in.

Let us as God for that grace. That we may love Him as He loves us: with a love that risky and total and worth it—a love that is “all in.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Cup and The Creed - Homily on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (C)

This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. But, if you don’t mind, I would like to just take a moment for the Saint Louis Blues and savor their recent Stanley Cup victory….

I remember watching games at the Old Barn, the Arena, when I was little and, each year, this team would just rip out our hearts—early playoff exits to Ed Belfour and the Blackhawks, Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings. Each year, we were faced with defeat. And, this year, the team was in turmoil through early January—so much turmoil!—that they were even fighting each other at practice. They lacked an identity. And, honesty, the last thing on our minds was this victory. Many were calling for the scrapping of the entire team and starting over.

But I'm not just speaking about the Saint Louis Blues. In some respect, this season is about the Church. For several years now, our Catholic Church has been in turmoil; lacking identity; and, well, some are calling for the scrapping of the entire thing. We wonder: where is the victory?


Yet, if we were to take a brief glimpse in history, we would find that this is not new to the Catholic Church. For example, in the 300s, the Church was just emerging from an era of persecution. Yet, as She emerged, there was still turmoil. There was a priest named Arius from Alexandria, Egypt, a town known for its history as a center of learning. This priest, Arius, while well-learned, made many errors and would spread error throughout the Church. Arius' biggest error was that he claimed that Jesus wasn’t God—that Jesus was simply a half-god, a creature. Arius was articulate, studied, and clever—and his errors took root. He even put his errors to music.

Many (and some argue “most”) Catholics and bishops fell into his error. It was like the modern-day Father James Martin teaching error and only a few bishops, like Cardinal Burke, defending the actual faith. There was arguing and fighting and, eventually, the emperor Constantine called a council in a little town so as to resolve the matter. That little town, just outside Constantinople, was called Nicea.

There at Nicea, saints like Nicholas (yes, jolly old Saint Nick) and Athanasius would argue against Arius. They would say, “If Jesus is just a creature, even the best of creatures, then who would save Him?” The Holy Spirit was clearly with them, the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised would teach us the Truth. In the end, the faith was preserved from the errors of Arius and there was victory.


What most people don’t realize about the story was that some of the bishops who attended this council had also been persecuted in the early 300s. When Christianity was illegal and long before Nicea, some had been thrown into the salt mines by the Romans. There in the salt mines, the Romans would oftentimes sever the Achilles tendon of the prisoner bishops so they would not escape. And, additionally, some bishops’ eyes were gouged and their limbs mutilated.

These bishops, after the persecutions ended, would find their way to Nicea and would be present during the arguments. They would face Arius and would help strengthen Athansius and Nicholas. Picture it for a moment: faithful bishops, hobbling to the Council, some with an eye missing or a hand mutilated. It would have been a powerful sight.

These were the ones—not Constantine, not the Romans—these were the ones who would write the words: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty… I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God.” He is not a creature, but “God from God, light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made…”

You know those words because you say them every Sunday at Holy Mass. It’s the Nicene Creed—named after that little town, the Council at Nicea.

Did you know this?


So here's the thing: when we recite the Creed, it is so easy to fall into the trap of “this is just another prayer,” or “this is just a list of doctrines,” or even to just mumble through whatever is that these words mean.

But these words are more than just a list of teachings from a Council long ago. These words are our identity. These are the words that will see us through the turmoil.

And, more, these words are the words of victory—that the Holy Spirit was victorious over error! That those persecuted bishops overcame the pride of the folly of Arius.

Not to be trite or to over-extend the analogy, but the Nicene Creed is our Stanley Cup.

Related imageWhat I love about the Stanley Cup, what makes it so beautiful, is that it has all of those layers—ring after ring, each layer after layer declaring a victory. "1973, the Montreal Canadians"; "1987, the Edmonton Oilers"...

So too does our Creed. "I believe in one God”: the first layer. “The Father almighty”—another layer. "Jesus Christ... God from God..." another layer declaring a victory...

And, just like the Stanley Cup where the names of each player is engraved on the layers—so too each doctrine, each layer of the Creed, is in a sense eternally "engraved" with the names of those saints and bishops who gave their lives and who were victorious in the fight for the faith. See the names “Saint Athanasius” and “Saint Nicholas”—they are engraved on the words “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”

The Creed—this is our victory. This is our identity. And it will see us through the turmoil and defeats of this life. It will remind us that hope does not disappoint and that the Holy Spirit is with us. We already have The Cup. Now we just have to hold on to it until the parade in heaven—when “The Saints Go Marching In”* 


Now, I could end the homily there, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our fathers on this Father’s Day. Dear fathers, we offer you our gratitude and, also, our admiration for sacrifices you make for us: for family, for community, and for the faith. It is not easy to be a father out there—indeed, you are in a battle with a culture that ironically hates it when men fight but also wonders where all the strong, heroic men are. To be a man in this world—a man that stands up for the faith and his family—is to have a target on your back. Know that my prayers are with you this day and always.

May you never forget that the greatest mission you have been given is to bring to heaven those entrusted to your care. To that end, the faith is the greatest treasure you can give to your biological and spiritual children.

Image result for john paul ii hockey stick st. louisFor me, I am thankful to my dad for raising me in a family that loved the Blues. While that wasn’t bestowing the faith itself, it did provide joy and, also, when spiritual fathers taught me the faith, I would have a greater appreciation for what it meant to fight the good fight and, when victories came in this life, they were just a glimpse of The Victory yet to come. I mean, imagine: the parade yesterday was amazing-- how amazing will heaven be?!

Indeed, the best of fathers do both. I think of Pope John Paul II. When he visited Saint Louis, he went to the Kiel Center where the Blues played. He prayed with the youth there and, at the end, he picked up his cane and used it like a hockey stick and prayed that the Blues would one day win. That was 20 years ago—January 26, 1999.** (Someone would actually give him a hockey stick that night. And I still remember that).

So, as the Blues celebrate their victory, there's a part of me that can’t help but think there was a victory for the faith and for the Pope there, too.... 

*    "When the Saints Go Marching In" is the song played when the Blues score a goal.

** Interesting aside: on January 26, 2019, which was the 20th anniversary of JPIIs visit to Saint Louis, the NHL’s season came to a halt for the All-Star Game. Ryan O’Reilly, the eventual Stanley Cup MVP, was the only player to represent the Blues. The All-Star Game was hosted by the San Jose Sharks (whom the Blues defeated in the Conference Finals). And, after the All-Star Game, the Blues would go on to win ten games in a row. At this point, it was clear the season had turned around. A saint’s intervention? ….