Sunday, April 21, 2013

Homily - 4th Sunday of Easter - First Responders

Act 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14b-7
John 10:27-30

             Terrorism has once again touched our American shores. 

This terror came in the form of two bombs set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day Monday.  This senseless act strikes a chord of fear and despair in our hearts. 

The suspects are two brothers from Chechnya, Russia.  One is dead following a shootout with police.  The other is a 19-year-old who became a U.S. Citizen on 9-11 last year.  He was captured alive Friday night after a daylong manhunt and tense standoff. 
         In their wake, 4 people are dead.  Over 170 are wounded.  Some 20 are in critical condition.  

One of the dead:  8-year-old Martin Richard whose picture on social media with a now famous hand-drawn sign reading, “No more hurting people.  Peace” became a symbol of grief for a nation.  

            For meditation, I want us to reflect on several passages from today’s Word of God. 

From Revelation, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

            From Acts of the Apostles, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”

From John’s Gospel, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

 What is God trying to tell us this weekend in Sacred Scripture especially in light of the troubling events of the past week?

Let’s start with the Gospel message.  For context, we need to remember who Jesus is speaking to in this passage.  His words are spoken to “the Jews” in the Temple of Jerusalem who do not believe Jesus is the Messiah.  The words are spoken on the Feast of Dedication. You may know it as Hanukkah. 
Jesus knows this feast celebrates the Dedication of the altar and reconsecration of the Temple by the Maccabees after several years of desecration under Syrian rule in second century B.C.

What Jesus is telling “the Jews” in the Temple is He is the Messiah, He is the Good Shepherd, and the sheep of the Good Shepherd hear His voice and respond to it. 

Jesus is telling his Jewish brothers, “there is no longer need to look to the physical building of the Temple Mount to know of God’s presence to God’s people.  Jesus, who stands before (them) points to himself and claims he is the visible presence of God among them.”

Scholars have written, “No Messiah in the Jewish expectation would claim to replace the Temple, but that is exactly what Jesus does.” 

For 1st Century Jews, you can see how this could be construed as blasphemy.  It’s easy to understand why non-believers in Jesus the Messiah would want Him killed for saying such things.

Now on to Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas are stirring up the same tensions in Antioch.  It’s the Sabbath as they enter the synagogue and proceed to tell all assembled, the Jewish torch to be a “light to the Gentiles” (or “light of the Nations”) has now passed to the followers of Jesus Christ. 
Paul and Barnabas are shown the door and quickly shake the dust off their feet as they depart.

Sadly, some misinterpret this passage as meaning God has abandoned His chosen people because of their unbelief. 

I caution us not to jump to this conclusion as it can be the first step down the dangerous path of anti-Semitism.   

The Apostle Luke’s point here is to reflect Paul’s own words in his letters:  “the Gospel is meant for the Jews first, then Gentiles.”

Now let’s tackle the passage from the almost always misinterpreted Book of Revelation.  Here, we see something unique.  We see a countless multitude from every race, every nation, every people, and every language as the new Israel. 

The promise made to Abraham and Moses now encompasses a “multinational, multicultural and multilinguistic multitude.” 

All of this because of Jesus’ presence here on earth and on His reign on His heavenly throne.

There was a logic in Israel’s tradition of holy war in which persons who killed during war were required to wash their robes to remove the blood of their enemies before they were purified.  

Some scholars say today’s passage from Revelation reverses that tradition by showing, “it’s not the enemy’s blood that must be removed in order to achieve purity, but a sharing in the Lamb’s blood itself that generates purity.”  Vengeance and violence are replaced by love, self-sacrifice and forgiveness.

Today’s reading from Revelation also provides us with the reassuring words for the troubles of our times – our times of distress:
They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”

A dear friend from my WSU days and a valued colleague during a decade together at KOMO eloquently put the events of the past week into context for us.

Eric Johnson wrote, “Maybe the idea was to destroy Patriot’s Day – the symbolism of it.  Maybe the idea was to make us afraid.  Ultimately, it was a failure, a loud ugly failure.  It was a failure because it reminded us of who we are and what we stand for…  It was a failure because like 9-11, like Oklahoma City, it only held up a mirror for us to look and wonder at ourselves.  The way so many of us run towards hellfire instead of away.  The way so many of us act with grace in the face of the unthinkable.”

I’m reminded of a story of a first responder on 9-11.  David Karnes was a senior accountant working at Deloitte Touche in Connecticut in September 2001. 

When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Karnes looked at his boss and said, “We’re at war.” 

David had spent over 20 years in the Marine Corps and felt it was his duty to help out that day.  As about to leave the office, David told his boss he may not be back anytime soon.

David next went to a barbershop to get a Marine Corps regulation haircut.  He then grabbed one of his old uniforms he kept hanging neatly pressed in a home closet, gathered all his infantry gear (including ropes and repelling implements) from a storage unit and before heading to New York City, stopped by his church and met with his pastor.

David is a devout Christian.  He told his pastor he felt called by God to go to Ground Zero.  They prayed together that he would be led to survivors.

Once he got to New York City he tried to talk others at the command center into venturing to the center of the destruction to search for survivors.  Most said it was too late.  There was only one taker.

For hours, former Staff Sergeant David Karnes and another former Marine Sergeant Jason Thomas searched through the ragged, unstable and dangerous wreckage of the collapsed 100-story Twin Towers, through fire and smoke and shifting debris.

Karnes kept screaming, “United States Marines.  If you can hear us yell or tap.”  This went on for hours.

Eventually, they heard something.  As they stood quietly, a  weak voice emerged from the wreckage, “We’re over here.”

After seeing the men were trapped under tons of concrete and steel, 20 feet below from where their rescuers stood, Karnes pulled out his cell phone to call his wife in Connecticut and sister in Pennsylvania to ask them to contact authorities.  Have them send rescue workers immediately to the center of the South Tower wreckage.

Help would finally arrive and hours would pass before both men were pulled from the ruble.

Out of only twelve people rescued from the debris of the World Trade Center, New York Port Authority policemen Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin, were two of the last three people to be extracted from the carnage.

Jimeno and McLoughlin were among hundreds of first responders who rushed into harm’s way to help save lives.  Most lost their lives that fateful day.

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

David Karnes followed God’s voice and a miracle emerged from the terror, the jagged steel, the flames, the disaster of 9-11.

I’m sure we will read stories in the coming days about many in Boston who followed God’s voice last Monday and jumped into harm’s way.

Jesus Christ reminds us today that God does not exist in a building or a nation or a race of people, but in the hearts of those who hear His voice and follow Him.

There were so many victims that horrible day of 9-11 nearly 12 years ago – victims from every nation, every race, every tongue.  To see the names of the 2-thousand-six-hundred-and-six who died in the rubble that day (over 400 of whom where first responders) is to see a multinational who’s who list.
I find it so poetically perfect that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are now replaced with a shining beacon of light.

As I see the light I think of all those first responders who rush in when others run away.  As I see the light I think of all of the self-sacrificing helpers in times of chaos and catastrophe.  As I see the light I think of God’s promise to all of us His followers, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” 

This should give us all consolation and hope in times of our great distress. 

And push us all harder to be like Jesus – beacons of peace, beacons of love, beacons of forgiveness, beacons of service to others, and beacons of justice.  That’s what the voice of the Good Shepherd is calling all His lambs to become in a violent, troubled world.  I pray we always hear and follow His voice.

Sources:  Sacra Pagina - The Gospel of John - Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.
                 Unveiling Empire:  Reading Revelation Then and Now - Howard-Brook/Gwyther
                 New Collegeville Bible Commentary - Acts of the Apostles - Dennis Hamm
                 The Gospel and Epistles of John - A Concise Commentary - Raymond E. Brown

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Homily - Divine Mercy Sunday - Carly's Voice

Act 5:12-16
Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
John 20:19-31

This past Tuesday was Autism Awareness Day.  In fact, the entire month of April is Autism Awareness Month.

Last month at St. James Cathedral, Archbishop Peter Sartain held a Mass for all those with Special Needs throughout the Archdiocese in Western Washington, including those with autism.

What does all this have to do with today’s Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday?  Well, allow me to show you. 

There are many Doubting Thomases in our world today.  To them, the resurrected Christ is nothing, but a myth.  You may have a few of these people in your family.  I know I do.

But what if I were to show a modern day example of God’s abundance of divine mercy? 

What if I were to share the story of a young lady with autism and show how God revealed His divine mercy in her suffering and her pain and her transcendence? 
This is the Good News about Carly Fleischmann.  She’s a twin who was born in Toronto, Canada.  Doctors told her parents Carly would always be developmentally delayed.  In fact, doctors said Carly always would have the mind of a six year old.  In short, she would always be lost in her own world.

For the first eleven years of her life, Carly’s parents only knew her by her shrieks, her constant rocking, her flailing arms, her pounding of her head on the floor, her temper tantrums, her agony.

Carly was never able to speak a word or connect to the world around her.  It was painful for her parents to watch. 

Friends told her parents Arthur and Tammy to put Carly in an institution.  Lock her and her painful daily struggles away, out of sight, out of mind.

But her parents refused.  Her father saying, “How can you give up your kid?”

Instead, they put her in daily therapy sessions with specialists in a desperate attempt to rewire Carly’s brain.  To make a connection. 

Her parents said they could look into Carly’s eyes and see innate intelligence.

So, for 40-60 hours a week, Carly had intensive, one-on-one therapy with three or four therapists.  The costs would soar into the tens upon tens of thousands of dollars.

Her doctors told her parents they would do their best to help Carly to function better in the world around her.  But even they had little hope of a normal life.

Years went by and little or no progress.  Just the same temper tantrums, pounding of her head on the floor, rocking back and forth, flailing arms, shrieks and shouts of anguish.

It was almost too painful to bear. 

But her parents never gave up.

Then one day during a therapy session at home, Carly walked up to the family computer and struggled to spell out two words.  The first word:  h-u-r-t (hurt).  The second word: h-e-l-p (help).

Then she ran away from the computer, hid behind the couch and threw up.

The shadow of Peter fell on Carly that day and a miraculous breakthrough happened.  Carly had a voice.
          Therapists started to work with Carly on using her words, employing tough-love tactics.  After agonizing months of consistent prodding, Carly began to communicate.  Slowly at first, but eventually, Carly was communicating in full sentences, one letter at a time, “with fluency no one could believe.”

And what she said was remarkable.  

Here’s just a sample:

“I am autistic.  But that is not who I am.  Take time to know me before you judge me.”

What this told doctors and her parents was there was a lot more going on inside of Carly than they ever knew.  “She started to realize that by communicating, she had power over her environment, ” one doctor said.

And Carly could be quite profound.  She wrote:

“I think a lot of people get their information from so-called experts, but if a horse is sick, you don’t ask a fish what’s wrong with the horse.  You go right to the horse’s mouth.”

Through her words, Carly would explain her wild behavior like banging her head and flailing her arms.  She wrote:

“It’s a way for us to drown out all sensory input that overloads us all at once.  We create output to block out the input.  Because if I don’t… it feels like my body is going to explode.  If I could I would stop it, but it’s not like turning a switch off… it’s like I have a fight with my brain over it.”

And Carly expressed her inner most hopes and dreams for herself:

“I want to be able to go to school with normal kids, but not have them getting upset, or scared if I hit a table or scream.  I want to be like every other kid, but I can’t because I am Carly.”

For years, her parents had spoken in front of Carly like she wasn’t there.  Clearly she was there all the time.  That innate intelligence they perceived was soaking in all of it.

This opened new doors of communication between daughter and parents with astounding results.

Now, she loves to have online conversations with her mom and dad during their days at work.  And like any teenage girl, Carly, now 17, asks for the usual things.

Finally, a father gets to truly meet the daughter he never knew and his life is changed forever.  A mother gets to bond over conversations about boys and dating and her life is changed forever.  And a twin sister gets to witness who her sister really is.

Carly’s dad Arthur said, “I stopped looking at her as a disabled person, and started to look at her as a sassy, mischievous teenage girl.”

Her dad says Carly would like the world to see her as a normal child locked in a body that does things she has no control over.

She wrote her dad something recently that will likely bring a tear to your eye. 

“Dear Dad:  I like when you read to me.  And I love that you believe  in me.  I know I’m not the easiest kid in the world.  However, you are always there for me, holding my hand and picking me up.  I love you.”

Arthur said, “I’ll go through many sleepless nights to hear that.  I’ll spend every penny we have to hear that.”

As we heard in today’s first reading from Acts of the Apostles, “many signs and wonders were done among the people” so they would believe in the Risen Christ.

Carly is now happier.  Calmer.  More independent.  She still cannot speak, but has found a voice, typing with one finger one letter at a time. 

In Revelation we heard a heavenly voice tell John, “Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.”t judge a person by appearance: her IQ has been confirmed to exceed 120 and her "inner voice" is funny, insightful and passionate. Rather than being placed in supported living, Carly now attends a mainstream high school where she takes advanced and gifted classes.t judge a person by appearance: her IQ has been confirmed to exceed 120 and her "inner voice" is funny, insightful and passionate. Rather than being placed in supported living, Carly now attends a mainstream high school where she takes advanced and gifted classes.

Carly just finished a book called, “Carly’s Voice:  Breaking Through Autism,” co-authored by her father.  Carly did most of the writing. 

Her dad says, “I think Carly knows she now has a voice that can help other kids.  Now she looks at herself as someone who can make a mark on the world.”

Carly has her own blog and is on Twitter, answering people’s questions from all over North America. 

To one autistic person she wrote: “I think the only thing I can say is don’t give up. Your inner voice will find its way out. Mine did.”

Carly now attends mainstream high school where she takes advanced and gifted classes.   Her IQ has been confirmed to exceed 120.  She now dreams of going to college.

As we heard in John’s Gospel today, Jesus tell His disciples, “Peace be with you.” Carly is experiencing that peace now.

The divine mercy of God can silence even the doubting Thomases of our world.  And turn unbelief into belief in our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who makes all things new again.   

Alleluia, indeed.

Carly's Homepage
Carly on Twitter
Recent story on CTV in Canada:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bella Jean's Homily - Memorial Mass

The vision of heaven is just beyond our human capacity to see.

Thanks to Prophets like Isaiah, the veil blocking our view of heaven is lifted ever so briefly so we can gaze on heaven’s glory.

“You are precious in my eyes and glorious.”

As Isaiah reminds us about our relationship with God:I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

God’s love for us is beyond our bounds of reason.  We are precious in His eyes and therefore are glorious.  The glory of this relationship with our creator is the glory your daughter Bella Jean is now basking in, her face shining brightly in the light of Christ.  What a glorious picture.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus shares the magnificence of His Father’s Kingdom and His place in it as the key that unlocks the door. 

But admits, “You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned… you have revealed them to the childlike.”

In other words, what Jesus is trying to tell us can be best understood by the vulnerable, the marginalized and the powerless.  These are the ones who instantly understand the only begotten Son’s place in His Father’s Kingdom.

The actual Greek word used is “hepioi,” or “infants.”  By using this word, Christ wants us to understand only the most needy, the most dependent, the most inexperienced in life are the ones who best get His teachings and understand his saving deeds.

Our grown-up human minds sometimes struggle with this.

As we heard in St. John’s Epistle in our second reading,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

But it has been revealed to Bella Jean.

The goal of all disciples of Christ is to one day enter the heavenly kingdom – for what we shall be to be revealed to us – and for us to live for eternity with Jesus and our loved ones who have gone before us. 

Stay connected to Bella Jean in prayer and through the grace of Holy Communion.

And know she awaits her heavenly reunion with you, Kylie, and you, Sean.  What a glorious reunion it will be, too. 

In the meantime, we must continue on in this “Valley of Tears.”  As we do let us be consoled by Christ’s divine message from today’s Gospel. 

While you are now burdened with the pain of missing Bella Jean, remember the words of Jesus,Come to me, all you who… are burdened, and I will give you rest. 
Grief, pain and distress – these are the burdens Christ is referring to when he promises us relief – especially from this great sadness.

Remember, there is no burden so great that Christ can’t help you to bear it.  None.  

I saw a beautiful poem this week.  I pray it helps you find comfort as you now remember your little angel and await a time when your family can embrace her in the light of heaven.   The poem is entitled: 

             Your Angel Baby

In a baby castle, just beyond your eye,
Your baby plays with angel toys that money cannot buy.
Who are (we) to wish (her) back into this world of strife,
No, play on… baby, (she’ll) have eternal life.
At night when all is silent and sleep forsakes your eyes,
You’ll hear (her) tiny footsteps come running to your side
(Her) little hands caress you so tenderly and sweet,
You’ll breathe a prayer and close your eyes and embrace (her) in your sleep.
Now you have a treasure that you rate above all others
You have known true glory,
You are still (her father and) (her) mother.

Kylie and Sean:  Be assured of our continued prayers, be assured of our love for you as you heal from your loss, and be assured that your baby girl is in good hands now.    

Bella Jean will always be precious in your eyes.  And now she is glorious forever in God’s loving embrace.