Sunday, April 15, 2018

Homily – Third Sunday of Easter – Rescue Mission

Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
1 John 2:1-5a
Luke 24:35-48


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In this weekend’s Gospel reading we are witnessing a full scale rescue mission. Jesus is here to save humanity.
Moments after two disciples return with hearts burning from their Road to Emmaus experience, Jesus appears before the Apostles.

At first, they think he’s a ghost, but Jesus shows them his flesh and bones.
Then, in an almost comical way, he asks, “Hey, you got something to eat?”
All hope was gone with the disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion. There were reports from the women disciples about meeting angels at the tomb who said “Jesus is alive!” The men were amazed by this news, but still had doubts.
Then the men on the Road to Emmaus say they encountered Christ in the breaking of the bread. Still more doubts.
Now Jesus appears -- alive and in the flesh! And he’s even asking for something to eat.

Then, taking a piece of baked fish, he sits down and interprets for them the Law of Moses and all the words of the prophets and Psalms to show that He is the fulfillment of Jewish scripture. And then tells them to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His name.
They’re about to write a new story – the very story we hear about today in Acts of the Apostles. And in this story everyone can be saved by Jesus. Today, Jesus tells the Apostles about their role in this divine rescue mission. 
Their encounter with the Risen Christ changes everything. No more doubts. No more fears. No more hiding out. 
We are now His witnesses, bearing our own wounds from sin, wounds healed by Jesus. 
Each of us has been scarred by sin. Our wounds may not be visible, but we all bear wounds healed by Christ – wounds not unlike those of Jesus, the nail marks in His hands and feet shown to the disciples today.
Jesus was dead from the wounds of our human sinfulness, but now he lives again. And his power is strong enough to not only heal our wounds, but save us.
This past week, Pope Francis put out an apostolic exhortation called “Gaudete et Exsultate” or “Rejoice and Be Glad.” (Link to Gaudete Et Exultate)
In many ways, this, too, is a divine rescue mission.

In his third exhortation, the Holy Father puts “exhort” back in exhortation by creating a lovingly urgent call to live lives of holiness. And the ways he suggests may surprise you.
Francis has created a beautiful reflection on becoming a holy, living saint. It all starts with being kind and continues with bearing witness to God in the things we say and do every day -- all of it in love.
“Gaudete et Exsultate” is considered the most important magisterial text of the Roman Catholic Church on the “universal call to holiness” since Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium.
It’s a must-read for every Catholic and all Christians.
If we don’t see ourselves in its reflection then we’re not looking hard enough.
The truth is we all sin, and we all are saved by Christ alone.
And when Jesus saves us, we can help Him to save others by our witness of holy lives -- what Pope Francis calls “the most attractive face of the Church.”
Pope Francis is reminding us that “God saves humanity via the incarnation – in fleshy, concrete human reality – not via precepts and laws and complex ideas.”
The Holy Father packs this important document with easy to understand ways of turning away from sin and embracing our holiness. It’s “a meditation on ordinary, next-door holiness.”

No, we’re not expected to lead perfect lives.
Here’s a brief snippet of “Gaudete et Exsultate" that proves my point:
“Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person.” (P. 22)
Francis is building on Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”) released in 2005. Here’s what Benedict said then, “being a Christian is not the result of choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  That person is Jesus Christ. That event is the resurrection.
   Pope Francis also warns us to avoid certain kinds of Catholic mindsets that are obstacles to salvation. In fact, they are called enemies of holiness.
            One is a modern form of a very old heresy: Gnosticism. Gnostics believe what matters most is what you know. No need to be charitable or do good works. All you need is the correct intellectual approach. These are the modern day know-it-alls of faith.  
The second is another old heresy: Pelagianism. Pelagians believe they control their own salvation through their own efforts. They don’t believe they need God’s grace and can act superior to others because they observe certain rules.
Our Holy Father is putting up a mirror to us all and asking us to take a good hard look.  
Pope Francis also is calling on all Catholics to have an equal passion in our defense of every stage of human life, and in every condition, from conception to natural death. Some have called this a consistent life ethic or “seamless garment.” Single issue Catholics are called to reexamine their approach to faith.
            Got you intrigued enough to read it?  Good!
            The entire exhortation is an easy read.  We’ve posted links to it on our parish Facebook page and my homily blog at deacondennis.com, and linked through the parish website. (Link to Gaudete Et Exsultate)
I’ll preach more on it in the coming weeks.
Jesus tells the disciples today to preach repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, in His name to all nations -- repentance, and not condemnation. Repentance always requires humility, mercy and love.
            Jesus wants to rescue us all from sin and death. Pope Francis is calling the faithful to lives of everyday holiness, to become real saints in the world today.

This is how we change the world. This is how we bring others closer to Christ. This is how we invite others onto the divine life boat piloted by our Lord and savior Jesus Christ who has power alone to rescue and save us.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Homily – Holy Thursday – Sowing the Seeds of Love

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15


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Tonight we are sowing the seeds of love.
Esta noche estamos sembrando las semillas del amor.
Jesus said just prior to this Gospel, Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

Jesus loved agricultural references since these were easily understood by the listeners of his time.
The interesting thing about seeds is they can remain dormant for many years and need certain conditions to start the germination process to bring about new life.
Lo interesante de las semillas es que permanecen inactivas durante muchos años y necesitan ciertas condiciones para comenzar el proceso de germinación y traer una nueva vida.
On this Holy night, by washing the Apostle’s feet, Jesus is germinating the seeds of love, the seeds of service, in the hearts of his closest followers.

En esta noche santa, al lavar los pies de los apóstoles, Jesús está germinando las semillas del amor, las semillas del servicio, en los corazones de sus seguidores más cercanos.
Old beliefs must die in order to make way for the new teaching of Jesus.
Las viejas creencias deben morir para abrir el paso a la nueva enseñanza de Jesús.
But when these old beliefs die, new beliefs demonstrated by Jesus can bring much new life in our hearts.
Pero cuando estas viejas creencias mueren, las nuevas creencias demostradas por Jesús pueden tener una nueva vida en nuestros corazones.
Pedro inicialmente se reusa a que Jesus le lave los pies.

Peter initially refuses to let Jesus wash his feet.  Only the lowest of slaves would wash the master’s feet.  That’s Jesus’ point:
How willing are we to lower our status to serve someone in need?
¿Qué tan dispuestos estamos a despojarnos de puestos o categorias para servir a alguien necesitado?
Our pride needs to die in order to inherit His Kingdom. 
This is the message of this night.
As we approach Easter, with hearts anew, may God grant us the grace to let old beliefs die to bring about new life.  May these dormant seeds of love in our own hearts germinate and blossom to produce much fruit.
This is the divine model Jesus is asking us to follow on this Holy Thursday.
Al acercarnos a la Pascua, con corazones renovados, que Dios nos otorgue la gracia de dejar morir viejas creencias para traer una nueva vida. Que las semillas dormidas del amor en nuestros propios corazones germinen y florezcan para producir mucho fruto.
Este es el modelo divino que Jesús nos pide que sigamos en este Jueves Santo.
Jesus is the grain of wheat. He’s about to die for us, for our sinfulness.
When we open our hearts to His model of love and service, we, too, can join Jesus in bringing His new life to the world.
Cuando abrimos nuestros corazones a Sú modelo de amor y servicio, también podemos unirnos a Jesús para traer Sú nueva vida al mundo.




Sunday, March 11, 2018

Homily – 4th Sunday in Lent – Shadows or Light

                                                                                                  2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 3:14-21


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I had the blessing to spend last weekend at our deacon Lenten retreat led by our new Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg.
What an energetic, affable guy, and gifted storyteller.
Hopefully, we can have him in our parish community soon.
Bishop Daniel shared an interesting story about his time in Italy serving as Vice Rector of the North American College. This is where many of the priests from our archdiocese are formed in Rome.
His story was about the seedy side of our human nature when met with the light of Christ.
The Vice Rector’s role is similar to a Chief Operating Officer at a corporation. The CEO is the Rector, his boss.
One day around Christmastime, Bishop Daniel was invited to lunch by one of the contractors doing construction work on campus. It was a thank you lunch for the opportunity to do business with the college. The two went to a fancy restaurant and had a nice meal and conversation.
As they were saying their goodbyes, the man told the now Bishop how he looked forward to working with him more in the future, then handed the Vice Rector what he thought was a Christmas card as they parted.
When Bishop Daniel later opened the envelope, he found 15-thousand dollars in cash inside.
Bishop Daniel didn’t hesitate. He immediately reported what had happened to his boss, the Rector, who pulled out stationary to write a thank you note to the man for his very generous public donation.
What was meant to be something done in the shadows (a bribe) was brought into the light of Christ. 
According to stewardship experts there are three kinds of Catholic donors:
“The first, and the largest, group consist(s) of those Catholics who love the Church and simply want to assist in its mission. The second group is more or less interested in the Church’s mission, but they really value the acclaim…, the picture with the Bishop, their name on some building. They, too, are not really problematic. The third group does not give, it seeks to buy. They want control. They will make a bishop’s life hell.”
I have no doubt we’re all in the first category of givers. Right?
Not sure where the Italian businessman’s bribe fits on that scale. But thankfully, due to the integrity of our new Bishop, the man's secret action was brought into the light of Christ.
And shouldn’t all our actions come into the light of Christ, never ever remaining solely in the shadows of our own human hearts? 
How many of us feel convicted when all of our actions are held up to the light of Christ?  
The time we got angry in traffic and raged against the motorist who cut us off? The time we scolded a teenage waitress for getting our order wrong? The time we said or did something hurtful or rude to someone we love, or a colleague, or even a total stranger? 
The evil side of our human nature is getting the better of us these days. In fact, unethical behavior, nastiness and rudeness seem to be in vogue.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves, Why? Why do we feel free to be this way?
Last week we heard about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers outside the Temple in Jerusalem. Maybe some of us justify our actions by saying, “Look, even Jesus got angry.”
Yes, but Jesus got angry only once in the Gospels. His anger was measured and appropriate, and directed at those polluting the Holy Temple experience. 
Every time we take Holy Communion we become a Holy Temple of the Lord. Do we not pollute this Temple when we do such sinful things?
This is what the second Book of Chronicles is addressing -- infidelities leading to exile into slavery and destruction of the Temple. We pollute the Lord’s Temple with such abominations. 
And this is what Jesus is talking about, too, when he said, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”
But God gives us an abundance of second chances. In God’s eyes, we’re all works in progress.      
In the dark of night, Nicodemus comes to Jesus, the light of the world.
Nicodemus is a member of the Pharisees and many of his brothers are not fans of this man called Jesus. Hypocrites rarely like the person who points out their hypocrisy.
Nicodemus is also part of the Sanhedrin (the court of Jewish law). They’re not happy because Jesus is calling them out for their sinful behavior, deeds done many times in the shadows, in darkness.
But Nicodemus sees in Jesus’ teachings a bright light of wisdom, and in His healings an amazing connection to God. He’s curious about the man and comes in the dark of night when no one can see him for a personal chat.
Nicodemus refers to Jesus as rabbi, or teacher, but is still missing a key fact about who He is.
In this conversation, Jesus is talking about second chances, about being “born again.” Nicodemus appears to be missing the point.  Jesus is talking about a spiritual rebirth, not a physical one, but Nicodemus is still confused. So, Jesus reveals his true identity.
It comes in one the most-quoted passages of the bible: John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

This passage sums up God’s loving plan for the world. 
God calls us to follow the example of Jesus; to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and love our neighbors as ourselves -- as we follow the Holy Spirit and live in the light, not in the shadows.
The words “faith” and “belief” never appear as nouns in John’s Gospel. These words always appear as verbs. Our faith and our belief in the Son of God must always be put into action.
So as we take Holy Communion and turn our bodies into Holy Temples for the Lord, let us ask ourselves. Are we modeling Christ?
I read something recently that hits on this point.
Here’s what it said,
“Being rude is easy. It does not take any effort and is a sign of weakness and insecurity. Kindness shows great self-discipline and strong self-esteem. Being kind is not always easy when dealing with rude people. Kindness is a sign of a person who has done a lot of personal work and has come to a great self-understanding and wisdom.”
So, who do we choose to be? 
Followers of Christ who let their lights shine before others?
Or Christian who prefer the shadows and darkness, afraid to expose everything they say and do to the light of Christ?
Are we, as St. Paul said, “dead in our transgressions”?  No, we are not. 
On this Laetare Sunday, let us rejoice and thank God for His abundant Mercy.
Lent means spring, and spring is a time of new life and the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What a blessing to be focused on our repentance in this Lenten season.  What a blessing to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation and rediscover God’s forgiveness. What a blessing to practice prayer, fasting and almsgiving to keep us connected to our salvation.
May the light of Christ permeate our every action, our every thought, and our every word. May this light transform us, and conform us better to Christ.