Sunday, December 8, 2013

Homily - 2nd Sunday of Advent - I Found A Modern Day John The Baptist

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3:1-12

If John the Baptist roamed the earth today, would we recognize him?   Would we even see him?  Or would we be blind to his presence?

A man who wandered the world in tattered rags. 

A man who ate stuff no one else would eat. 

A man with no home. 

Don’t we see people like this every day on the streets of Everett? 

Our cynical minds, shaped by an uncaring culture, sometimes lead us to turn a blind eye to their daily struggle.  But they are there!

            And we ignore them at our own peril.

            John the Baptist was calling on Israel to turn away from their personal and social sinfulness, cleanse themselves and prepare for the Messiah. 

If John the Baptist were here today, we might know him as James Watkins.  Who is James Watkins you ask?

John the Baptist was a prophet.  James Watkins is a modern day prophet.

He’s an advocate for the homeless in downtown Seattle and recently took on a local TV station for its portrayal of the homeless.  The report called them a violent “underbelly,” “dangerous criminals and drug addled garbage.”

I’d like to read you some of what he‘s heralding us all to hear:

“Could it be a surprise to you that our residents already perceive themselves as worthless and see our situation as hopeless? Can you perceive how your approach to our story reinforces trauma and further damages self-perception? Can you understand that it drives the wedge of division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ even deeper, making it even harder for my friends to believe that they deserve help, hope, and redemption to the community?”

James Watkins goes on to say:

“there ARE predators who come to the neighborhood to find easy prey amongst our clients. They exploit them financially, physically, emotionally, and sexually, targeting them for their chemical dependency, their hunger, their emotional need, and their despair. The average citizen walking the streets has little to fear from (homeless people).”
Watkin’s attack on my colleagues in the broadcasting industry is sharp.  And we should all take heed of his point here:

“(The TV report) The “Most Dangerous Block in Seattle” is the result of a culture-wide practice of socially isolating economically disadvantaged people who struggle with various combinations of mental illness, physical and developmental disabilities, terminal disease, and chemical dependency; then ghettoizing them through incarceration or institutionalization into an environment of desperation, and subsequently failing to provide adequate resources for treatment, education, health care and emotional counseling. And finally with reports like this, stigmatizing them through sensationalist reporting and misrepresentation making reintegration into the larger society even more difficult if not impossible.”

As I said before, I’ve found John the Baptist right here in the Pacific Northwest.  And he’s pointing us all to the same people the Messiah Jesus is pointing us to.

Sometimes we become indifferent, complacent and too immersed in our daily routine.  During advent, John the Baptist helps to shake us out of our indifference and complacency and see a deeper reality -- the world the way God wants us to see it.

With this beautiful line, James Watkins does the same: 

“They are not monsters, nor leeches. They are desperate people, suffering from real diseases, biological, social, and spiritual. Offer them your hope, not your contempt. They have already had plenty of that.”


          Why does Jesus ring so true in the hearts of all?  Why are so many people right now fascinated with Pope Francis?
          Even non-believers marvel at Pope Francis so beautifully living out Christ to the world.  His actions are drawing people closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Pope Francis is standing with the homeless just as Jesus stood with the homeless in His day.  In fact, news reports say the Pope is leaving the Vatican every night to give alms to the poor in the streets of Rome. 

Recently, he blessed a statue of a homeless Jesus.  The statue, created by a Canadian sculptor, was itself homeless after the Catholic Church it was created for rejected it, turning it away.

           The devout Catholic sculptor wanted to make a Jesus that the poor and outcast could relate to.  In this sculpture, Jesus lies on a park bench.  His feet and hands are hidden under a wool blanket.  The only evidence it’s Jesus are in his pierced feet.

The sculpture has found a home at the Vatican.

I think the reason Jesus and Pope Francis ring so true in our world today is because the Law of Love is written in the hearts of all humanity, no matter the faith tradition or lack thereof. 

The commands of the Law of Love are that we pay attention to the people Jesus paid attention to during his ministry:  the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the stranger.

When we do, people take notice.  People are inspired to do the same thing.  People rejoice.   After all, Jesus was homeless during his three-year ministry.
Our parish is preparing for a special event.

For the second year, we are holding Operation Stocking Stuffer for the homeless men and women of Everett.

You’ll find a flyer in today’s bulletin listing all the items we need.  Large baskets are in the vestibule to collect these items. 

Then on Christmas Eve morning, we will gather at Henson Hall to put these items in “Stockings” and give them to the men and women living on the streets or in shelters here in our own community.

I encourage you and your family to join us.  We had nearly 60 people join us last year and many families still talk about the experience especially those who helped deliver the stockings to the homeless directly.

In today’s second reading to the Romans, St. Paul is encouraging us “to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus.”

We may not always see eye-to-eye on everything in our faith, but this is one thing our Catholic Social Teaching helps us to understand as important:  taking care of the poor. 
In his recent exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said the Catholic Church is “a Church that is poor and for the poor,” reminding us the poor have much to teach us.

Pope Francis wants us all to better understand what it means to be God’s people and be disciples of the way, the truth, the life    Jesus is revealing to us in His person and what he continues to call us to be every day as we build up the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

One Catholic observer said the Pope is “trying to ‘revitalize’ the Church’s option for the poor … and is (reawakening) people’s consciences.”  That’s exactly what John the Baptist is doing in the Gospel today.

As we heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah, Jesus the Messiah defends the “poor” and “afflicted” and will deal justly with the “wicked.”  

Jesus will not rule with an iron first, bringing God’s judgment upon us all.  He will rule in such a way as to bring hope to the whole world, something sorely lacking in His day and today. 

John the Baptist is waking us up to this reality as we continue our Advent journey.  So is James Watkins.  

I pray we hear “a voice of one crying out” in our despairing world, “prepare the way of the Lord” and heed His call.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Homily - 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Our Legacy

Malachi 3:19-20a
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

When your life is over, what will be your legacy? 

What proof will you leave behind to show you helped built up Christ’s Kingdom?

After Mother Teresa died in 1997, they found a beautiful saying on her wall that motivated her every day to keep building the Kingdom in beautiful new ways.  It read:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway. 

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway. 

The good you do today will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.”

When we leave a worthy legacy, we do it because God calls us to do it.  When we build up the Kingdom we may face scorn and persecution.  Our legacy may not be appreciated by all.

As Jesus says today, “You will be hated by all because of my name.”  He’s preparing his disciples for the final judgment.  But even in time of darkness there will be a great light:  The “sun of justice with its healing rays” as we heard in today’s first reading.

The context for today’s Gospel message is 50 years after the death of Christ.  Luke wrote his Gospel after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.  The Jewish dream had died and it was a time when Christians were being persecuted all over the Mediterranean for their radical message of love taught by Jesus.  

This Christians were building up the kingdom in the most challenging of conditions… and they didn’t even blink.

Today’s Gospel message could just as easily be for anyone committed to building up the Kingdom today – anyone committed to building a legacy of love. 

Christians were despised for their actions in the Roman world.  They were despised for loving the way Christ loved. 

When plagues ravaged cities in ancient Rome, who helped care for sick and dying?  It wasn’t the Romans.  They ran the other way.   It was the Christians who ran into harm’s way, many giving up their lives helping others. 

On the streets, Christians were known for being willing to die for their beliefs. 

If you ask most historians why Christian persecutions came to an abrupt end in the early 4th Century, most would say society no longer tolerated Christians being put to death in the public arena because Christians were respected for their actions.  These people were respected for living the life of Christ.

If we fully live a life for Christ today, what does that look like?

Imagine a parish community so committed to good works and loving people so fully that no one is left behind, everyone is spiritually fed, and all come back for more… week in and week out.

Imagine a parish community that lives out its faith so beautifully that non-Christians despise us and persecute us and our other Christian sisters and brothers envy us. 

In so many ways today, our neighboring “mega” Churches are doing a better job of sharing Christ with others.    

But let us not forget the Catholic Churches rich history of sharing Christ with the world.

The Catholic Church is responsible for the first hospitals and hospices.  The Catholic Church is responsible for the first colleges and universities.  The Catholic Church is responsible for the first homeless shelters and orphanages. 

But you say, we live here in Everett, Washington, this is as good as it gets when it comes to Catholic Churches. 

While what we have here is good, I believe we can do better.     I believe we can become great.

There’s a parish in a town not so dissimilar to Everett, Washington, that’s doing it right. 

The town is Centennial, Colorado, with a population a little over a hundred-thousand people.  It’s a suburb of Denver.  Denver and Seattle are actually ranked right next to each other on the listing of America’s largest cities.

And Everett has almost the exact same population as Centennial at 100-thousand residents.

But wait until you hear what this parish in Centennial is doing. 

St. Thomas More Parish is really doing it right. 

They have FIVE priests!  A pastor and four parochial vicars.

They have SEVEN deacons.  You heard me right, seven deacons!

The Church serves 45-hundred households.  We serve just over 2-thousand households in both parishes.   

The Church has produced 15 priests, 10 deacons, three sisters, one brother, and currently is forming 11 seminarians from the community.

In the past year, they’ve done 97 infant baptisms, 344 first communions, 353 Confirmations, 22 marriages and 246 Catholics have received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.

They have seven “packed” Masses each week, Perpetual Adoration, a weekly Holy Hour for Vocations and an incredible website and bulletin chocked full of helpful information and resources.

So, how can we become that parish?  We can only do it together as a community.  We can only do it if we all step up and give… and give… and give. 

But, if we do it, if we create this community and live out Christ’s mission for all to see, not only will we become the envy of our Christian sisters and brothers and the scorn of non-Christians, but we also will be pointed to by the Archdiocese as a model for doing it right.

I believe we can become that Church here in Everett and commit myself to rolling up sleeves and making this dream a reality. 

(Introduce Stewardship of Treasure Cards)

            There are many ways you can help us get there.  You can increase your giving.

You can commit some of your estate to the parish’s future. 

Our two churches are probably a decade away from needing major renovations.  As we build this new future, I’d like to ask our sisters and brothers who are blessed abundantly to consider building up this Kingdom as you prepare for the next.

Perhaps our goals are too lofty.  Perhaps you think why should  I give more?  I already give enough. 

But if we do not dream big, if we do not work with all of our heart and soul to make a vibrant Kingdom here in Everett a reality, aren’t we letting Jesus down? 

            I see a future faith community so vibrant, so thriving that we will be “hated by all because of (His) name. 

We may die trying to build this beautiful Kingdom of God, we may be persecuted as we live out Christ more fully here in Everett, but that’s OK because, “By (our) perserverance (we) will secure (our) lives” in the world to come.  

What is God calling you to give?   What will your legacy be in this community?  

On behalf of Father Hersey, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you for your generosity.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Homily - 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Holy Trinity of Popes

2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

            Are we there yet?  How many parents have heard these words on a long car trip?  How many kids have uttered those words?

            Well, guess what?  We’re there.  Jesus has finally arrived in Jerusalem.   And the messages he speaks here in Jerusalem are some of the most important of his ministry.  Because he’s speaking them to Pharisees, and Sadducees, and others who are angered by his preaching, teaching and living the Word of God.

            Kind of reminds me of someone else right now.  In eight short months, Pope Francis is stirring up some of the same controversy.

            I heard an interesting joke recently.

            A dad is sitting in his living room when he hears a ruckus upstairs.  He goes up and is startled to see his kids sitting in a circle on folding chairs, screaming their lungs out at each other:  “You’re an idiot.”  “You’re completely wrong and I can prove it!”   “No.  You’re a dope. You’re wrong and I can prove it.” And so on. 

            The father steps in and demands to know, “What in the world is going on here?”

            “Ah, don’t worry, dad,” one of the kids says, “We’re just playing Church.”

            How true is this in our Catholic Church today? 

            There‘s rancor and division in the Catholic Church especially in United States.  We U.S. Catholics are among the most polarized in the world.  Ask our brother and sister Catholics in other parts of the world.  “I’m right, you’re wrong” is the theme of the day in America in our journey of faith.   Sounds a little like partisan politics in our nation’s capitol.

            Sadly, some of these divisions even exist in and between our own two parishes right here in Everett, Washington. 

            Jesus is talking to all of these warring parties in today’s Gospel message and asking us all to take a collective breath and focus on Him.  He loves us all because, after all, he realizes there’s a sinner and a saint in each and every one of us. 

            Pope Francis has become a lightning rod the way Jesus was to the Sadducees and Pharisees of his day.

            How sad.  Do we realize how blessed we all are to live in these exciting times in the Catholic Church?  Our last three Popes have been remarkable, each in his own unique way.

            Blessed Pope John Paul the Second (soon to be Pope St. John Paul the Second next April) nearly single-handedly defeated the Evil Empire, the Soviet Union, by reminding us to “Be not afraid.”

            Bishop of Rome Emeritus Pope Benedict helped us to understand our Christian faith better than any other pope in modern history.

            His book “An Introduction to Christianity,” written as Joseph Ratzinger in 1968, is the definitive work on Christian faith belief, and not just read at Catholic seminaries. 

            Pope Benedict’s recent books on Jesus will bring any Christian closer to the face of God.

               And Pope Francis’ simple, plain-speaking ways are being heard by Christians and non-Christians, even atheists, and helping all to better understand why the people of faith believe what we believe.  And he leads by marvelous and poignant example.

            I call these three the Holy Trinity of Popes.  We will likely never see so many great men as the Vicar of Christ ever again.  In so many ways, we are blessed to live in these times.

            But still some Catholics bicker about our faith and who is a true Catholic.   And Jesus weeps every time we do.      

            Today, I want to urge us all to raise our minds to the mind of Christ and resurrect our thinking about our faith.  To do this, we may have to lose some attachments to whatever trips our ecclesiastical triggers and unite behind Christ.

            So, here’s a question for all of us. 

What is it that needs to die in us to produce new life? 

What attachment do we need to let go of so we can grow closer to the mind of Christ?

            Like the story of the father whose kids are “playing Church” we Catholics sometimes are tempted to do the same thing.  After all, religion is all about our deepest passions and sometimes these passions are breeding grounds for division instead of devotion to Christ. 

Scripture scholars have written about this weekend’s letter from St. Paul, saying, “When God’s light shines into places where darkness (has) allowed evil to flourish undetected, it makes people nervous, then angry, then malicious.” 

Does everybody believe the Gospel when it is preached?

Some who hear it but do not really believe it may “well resort to plotting and violence against those who preach it.”

Isn’t that what the Sadducees are doing in their ridiculously absurd query of Christ about marriage? 

In our Gospel message, we are shown that the attachments we have in this world are not important in the next world.  All of our attachments.  Yes, even our spouse (Apologies to my wife).

The only attachment that matters is to Jesus Christ.

Sadducees in Jesus’ world were the conservatives, the traditionalists, who only believed what was in the first five books of the bible (or Pentatuch) and believed that God could only be found in the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection or in angels.  Jesus is having a little fun with them by drawing Moses into the discussion to make his point to men who only followed the Law of Moses.

The Sadducees were unlike their more liberal or progressive Pharisee brothers who followed not just the first five books of the Bible, but other teachings of other prophets.  The Pharisees believed in the resurrection and believed God could be found outside the Temple in Jerusalem, in fact, believing God could be found in the many synagogues around the known world of Jesus’ time.

They loved to bicker about who had the purest faith.    

We Catholics like to “play Church.”  We like to bicker about who has the purest faith beliefs.  We like to bicker in and between our two Churches and focus on our divisions instead of what should unite us.

But instead of focusing internally, shouldn’t we focus EVERYTHING on living the ministry of Jesus Christ for all to see?  Couldn’t we do a better job with the New Evangelization? 

I believe in my heart and soul we can.

How can we do a better job? 

First, it starts with giving up some of our biggest attachments in this world, our wealth.  It starts with tithing at a level that can make a difference in the lives of many more people than we touch presently.

(Introduce Stewardship of Treasure Cards)

All that we have is a gift from God.  Our very life is a gift from God.  Everything we own is a gift from God. 

So, let’s commit to dropping the attachments that divide us.  Let’s share more of what we have with others.  Let’s make the Kingdom of God a deeper reality by asking Christ to help us with our thoughts, our words and our actions in this world.

Because if we don’t allow ourselves to become too focused on what is “ours” in this world, “our” attachments to this world, only then can we truly UNITE and live for the world to come, the resurrected world headed by Jesus Christ.

Are we there yet?  No, we’re not there yet. 

We’re not in heaven, we’re still on the journey to the New Jerusalem, but we can bring the Kingdom of God to life better here in Everett.   

This is Jesus’ message, yesterday, today and tomorrow.  I pray we will hear this message loud and clear and live it out in beautiful new ways, resurrected ways, in the years to come.