Monday, November 13, 2017

Homily – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – The End

                                                                                                                                    Wisdom 6:12-16
Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

If you knew today was your final day on earth, how would you spend the time you had left? 
          Would you do anything differently? 
Who would you want to talk to?  What would you want to say?
Would go to confession to unburden yourself of any baggage you might be carrying?
Are you ready today to meet Jesus face to face?
Saint Benedict’s Rule for Monks encourages they think about their death every day: “Keep death daily before your eyes. This is part of a wisdom tradition. If we realize that this might be our last day, we generally will try to make good decisions about how we are living.”
          Father Mychal Judge lived his life this way. The Franciscan friar was as a Catholic priest for 40 years, serving his final nine years as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department.
During his long ministry, Fr. Mychal battled alcoholism and found his sobriety thanks to AA.
He was very well known in New York City for ministering to the homeless, the hungry, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, the sick, injured and grieving, immigrants, and those who felt alienated by the Church and society.
A dear friend remembers giving him a jacket as winter was approaching.  Fr. Mychal didn’t have a jacket at the time.  But on the way home after receiving the gift, Fr. Mychal saw a homeless person lying in the cold and gave it to him. He sheepishly told his friend, “He needed it more than me.”
When anointing a man dying with AIDS -- a man who asked friends “Do you think God hates me?” -- Fr. Mychal just picked up the frail man, kissed him and silently rocked him in his arms.
Fr. Judge was considered by many to be a living saint for his extraordinary works of charity and his deep spirituality.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Fr. Mychal heard the news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. He quickly changed out of his Franciscan brown habit, put on his Fire Department chaplain’s uniform, and rushed to the scene. 
He was met by Mayor Rudy Giuliani who asked him to pray for the city and the victims.
Fr. Mychal was spotted by many in the early moments of the tragedy consoling the injured and traumatized, and praying his rosary. 
When the South Tower collapsed at 10:59am local time, Fr. Mychal was among those killed by the debris that went flying through the North Tower lobby.
Shortly after his death, an N.Y.P.D. lieutenant found the priest’s body.  He and two firemen, an emergency med tech and one civilian bystander carried Judge’s body out of the North Tower, a moment captured in a breathtaking photograph by a Reuters photographer.
The Philadelphia Weekly called the photograph “an American Pieta.”  Judge’s body was laid before the altar of St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
Fr. Mychal Judge was designated the first official victim of 9/11. 3000 people attended his funeral. His fire helmet was presented to Pope John Paul The Second.
Fr. Mychal Judge’s spiritual lamp was found burning brightly as he met Jesus in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
We Christians are called to live in such a way as to always be ready for Jesus’ arrival.
This weekend’s readings speak of this readiness by highlighting the importance of wisdom.  The wise prepare. The foolish do not. And when the door to the wedding banquet is locked, the foolish won’t be allowed to enter. 
We are called to always be ready to meet Jesus and live our lives like we could our Savior at any moment.
After all, we know neither the day nor the hour when He will return just as we know neither the day nor hour when our journey in this life will end.
As we come to the close of the liturgical year, our Church turns to Matthew 25. Matthew is using themes drawn from Jewish Apocalyptic literature.
These readings are designed to get us thinking about end times.  For our evangelical sisters and brothers, this is a conversation about Rapture and the end of the world.  For Catholics, this conversation is more personal. It’s all about becoming our best selves before meeting Jesus face-to-face.
When the Lord comes, all that will matter is the kind of person we are, not what we have achieved or what we have amassed in this life.  But who we are and what we’ve done to build up the Kingdom by serving others -- especially the poor and marginalized.
What if we should be caught unprepared, with little or no oil in our spiritual lamps?
This is an important question for reflection.

         We are called to keep our lamps burning brightly.
There are 5 easy ways to do this:
1. Pray.
Pray daily and grow in your relationship with Jesus. This is the most important relationship and we should want Christ to be our best and closest companion on this road we call life.
2. Give to the needy.
By serving the marginalized and outcast, you will be building up the Kingdom and preparing for the Lord’s return by being Jesus to others.
3. Examine your conscience.
Is there someone I’ve harmed?  Is there someone I need to ask for their forgiveness?  Is there someone God is calling me to forgive?  Is there something I need to change about myself in order to be better prepared to meet Jesus?
4. Confess.
Use the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a powerful way to unburden oneself from any sinful baggage we might be carrying.  Confession times are in the bulletin. 
5. Be joy-filled.
We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a Holy nation.”  We have been called out of darkness into his wonderful light.  So, rejoice.
True wisdom means living a life centered on the divine, on following God’s will in our lives, on loving God by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Then and only then will we be prepared for the coming of the Lord. Then and only then will our spiritual lamps be burning brightly for Jesus to find us. Then and only then will St. Paul’s words today be fulfilled, and, “we shall always be with the Lord.”
Fr. Mychal Judge wrote a special prayer. I think it’s fitting as we reflect on how best to live our lives as if it were our last day:
“Lord, take me where You want me to go; Let me meet who You want me to meet; Tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of Your way.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Perfectly Imperfect

                                                                                                                          Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20
         You might notice the alb I’m wearing is a little big on me.
Clearly, it’s an imperfect fit.
The alb belonged to a favorite uncle, my Uncle Frank, known to the people of Great Falls, Glendive and Billings, Montana, as Father Frank Kelly.
He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings.
I had the honor to serve both as an altar server at his ordination 40 years ago and as deacon at his funeral Mass four years ago with Bishop Michael Warfel.
This alb is a gift from my Montana Kelly family members. They felt Father Frank’s alb would be put to good use by his nephew the deacon.
Uncle Frank was bigger than me. In fact, he was a lot bigger than me. That’s why this alb doesn’t fit perfectly.
Its imperfect fit reminds me every time I put it on of not only my dear Uncle Frank, but also of the imperfect person I am; an imperfect person who can only find perfection in the love of Christ.
In our Catholic world, an alb has very specific symbolism.
          According to the Vatican website, the alb recalls the immaculate clothing we all receive at baptism and is a symbol of the sanctifying grace received in this sacrament. It’s also considered a symbol of the purity of heart needed to enter heaven.
When we put on the alb, we are encouraged by our Church to recite the following Vesting Prayer:
          “Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse my heart; that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may deserve an eternal reward.”
A powerful prayer, again showing that perfection only comes from the Lord.
I bring this up for a reason.
We heard today the powerful and prophetic words of priest, prophet and mystic Ezekiel to his fellow Israelites in exile in Babylon.
The prophet was made a watchman by God, a sentinel to warn the people of pending danger. In this passage, God calls Ezekiel to confront wickedness and warn the wicked of their sinful ways.
We live in a wicked world. We live in a world full of sin. We live in a world that strives to create human perfection, strives to play God. This is the height of human wickedness today.
Perhaps you read the news about Iceland’s efforts to eradicate Down syndrome through the use of abortion.
Doctors there counsel women who have a Down syndrome pregnancy to abort the child. 

One doctor tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: "This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like."
This same doctor says this about the practice, "We don't look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication... preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder."

Chilling, isn’t it?
            Sadly, it should come as no surprise from the Culture of Death.
But we Catholics are called to build up a Culture of Life, valuing all life from conception to natural death.
This means our Church stands against abortion, against euthanasia, against the death penalty.
Tragically, in our fallen world, some embrace these evils.
The head of Heartbeat International says “parents whose children have Down syndrome … need love and support – not abortion.”
This Pro-Life leader says, “As anyone who knows a person with Down syndrome can tell you, these beautiful people are an absolute joy to their families and communities. The world grows exponentially poorer (if we end life) for the ‘crime’ of failing to match up to our self-aggrandizing expectations,” our attempts to create human perfection, our attempts to play God.
If this wicked mindset catches on around the world, we might not have the lifesaving heroics of Italian teenager Valerio Catoia.

The 17-year-old took up swimming at age three to develop muscle strength. He has Down syndrome. Valerio went on to become a Special Olympics swimmer and is now an overnight hero in Italy.
He’s credited with noticing two young girls struggling in the surf and crying out for help at a local beach. Jumping in, he saved them from death. Valerio knew just what to do thanks to training from a first aid course.

The event made headlines all over Italy. The Italian Sports Minister congratulated him. The former Italian Prime Minister praised the boy’s bravery, saying, Italy should feel proud to have citizens like Valerio.
The event didn’t change the boy one bit; he’s still the same humble kid. But it did change attitudes toward people with Down syndrome in Italy and around the world.
Our response to what Iceland is doing might be to get angry and vent – especially on social media.
But I encourage us to resist this temptation and remember what St. Paul told us today.
Instead, do something in the name of love, by becoming a part of 40-Days for Life, or volunteering or supporting such wonderful organizations as Pregnancy Aid or Prepares.
We Catholics must speak out against this wickedness.  But we must do so in love. When we respond with hateful language, anger and condemnation we fail to bring Christ to the world.
A more loving response will not only be more effective with those weighing such a difficult decision, but also bring more people to Christ.
What we must never do is condemn those who chose abortion. Judgment is best left to God.
After all, women who chose abortion did not sin against us personally.
And that’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel message. He’s proposing a beautiful process of reconciliation for members of the Church, reconciliation that promotes healing.
We are listening to His words just before he shares the parable of the unforgiving servant. Remember, Peter is about to ask, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?”  And Jesus tells him, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
In other words, our forgiveness should know no limits.  We should always lead with forgiveness no matter what someone says or does to us.    
Jesus says if reconciliation fails, treat them as “a Gentile or tax collector.”  What is not clear here is whether Jesus means to “exclude the person or emulate (his) practice of befriending such people.”
My guess is Jesus is advocating that we be willing to sit down and break bread together, even while working out our differences.  And to do so privately and never in public.
What a refreshing way to handle conflict resolution. What a divine way to handle reconciliation.  What a beautiful way to bring Jesus to our broken humanity.
In other words, as Christians, we are called to love and forgive first as we call sinners to repentance.
St. Paul reminds us, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” 
Or as Catholic writer and mystic Thomas Merton puts it: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy."
Love is perfection. We mortal humans are all imperfect (just like the fit of this alb).  Perfection comes from God alone. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Homily – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – PREPARES

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

When we take our eyes off Jesus, we sink, we fail, we fall.
But when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we rise, we sail, we soar.  
This is the main point Jesus is making in this week’s Gospel message.  And it applies to everything in our lives if we just heed His words of encouragement: “take courage… do not be afraid.”
How many times have we passed up opportunities to serve because we don't think we can do it?
Perhaps these are opportunities to serve at work on some big project. Or serve in our family with caring for an ailing loved one. Or serve the Church by walking with and mentoring a family who has chosen life. 
If we focus on Jesus, “take courage… do not be afraid,” we might say “yes” more often, better hear God’s voice “whispering” in our lives, serve others more fully, and be the People of God he’s calling us to become.

           But are we brave enough to walk on these waters? 
There’s a new ministry in our Archdiocese and in our parish community in need of a few brave souls to hear Jesus’ call to "come," walk on rough waters, “take courage” and “do not be afraid.” 
The new ministry is called PREPARES and it was launched with last year’s Pastoral Letter “Who is my Neighbor?” This letter from the bishops calls on all people of faith not to take our eyes off the poor, not to take our eyes off Jesus. 
PREPARES offers pregnancy and parenting support to families who have chosen life.
I’m sure you’ve seen the baby crib in the sacristy of both Churches recently looking for needed supplies.
But even more than that, PREPARES needs a few courageous women, men and families to “’walk the journey’ with pregnant and parenting… families… who find themselves lacking a healthy support network.”1   
By stepping onto these stormy waters, you will walk with families, and be a mentor, helping to provide wrap-around services from the time of awareness of pregnancy to the child’s fifth birthday.
Of course, you will not do this alone.  You will be trained by PREPARES professionals on how to provide meaningful, professional and sustainable support to these vulnerable moms, dads and families who choose life, and help them nurture their children through pregnancy and early childhood. 
     Sound like a daunting task?  Sound like stormy waters too difficult to walk on?  Sound like something Jesus is calling you to do?
Sure, it’s easy to get too focused on the wind and the waves of such an endeavor, but I encourage you to “take courage… do not be afraid,” and do not take your eyes off Jesus.  His love is enough to help you serve others in this special way.
And remember, sometimes the Lord speaks in that “tiny whispering sound” in your heart.
The bishops of our state came up with this idea for PREPARES and it’s growing by leaps and bounds all over the state.
It’s starting to grow in our own parish community, but right now we need a few courageous volunteers to step forward and commit to be mentors for families and make a long-term commitment.
As one PREPARES organizer puts it beautifully, “We bring hope to life especially for those most in need. And part of what Christ gives to us is that hope we can then extend to others.”2
I met a woman recently experiencing homelessness living in a car with her one year old baby girl.
The woman is not on drugs, not abusing alcohol. She’s just living below the poverty line and unfortunately has no home for her and her baby right now.  She’s not the only one. There are many like her on the streets of Snohomish County. 
Would you be surprised if I told you she was Catholic and was confirmed in our parish?
This young woman is just trying to raise her baby girl as best she can under incredibly difficult circumstances.  
MercyWatch and Catholic Community Services are helping her find permanent shelter.
Perhaps you could help mentor this new mom?  And she’s a great mother, too.
St. Paul gives voice today to the sadness this mom feels about her situation. In today’s Letter to the Romans, Paul is talking about his despair about Jews who refuse to see Jesus as the Messiah.
His words remind us of “the sort of thing people say when they are in the depths of … suffering…. When you’re in that state, everything that happens, every word you hear, every sight you see is (colored) by the fact that something has gone desperately wrong.  You cannot forget it for a moment.”3
And so it is with this mother who needs our love and support.
PREPARES organizers have a goal we can all be a part of. They say: “We want the 300 Catholic parishes across the state to be open for families to walk in and say ‘I need help.’  And that they feel welcomed, and loved and not judged.  That’s the vision of this beautiful program.”4
There’s an ad for PREPARES in today’s bulletin with a contact number for coordinator Sheila Davis if you're hearing that “tiny whispering sound.” 
Maybe you know the popular song on Christian radio called Oceans by Hillsong United? I think it gets to the central message of today’s Gospel and the call of Jesus to build up the Body of Christ with life-giving programs such as PREPARES. 
Here’s a lyric from that song:

You called me out upon the water
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand

And I will call upon your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise my soul will rest in your embrace
For I am yours and you are mine


      1 PREPARES video online:

      2 PREPARES video online: 

      3 Paul for Everyone – Romans: Part Two – N.T. Wright – page 3 and 4 

      4 PREPARES video online: