Sunday, December 14, 2014

Homily – Third Sunday of Advent - Christmas Truce

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

            John the Baptist is a light shining in the darkness of a bleak world.  His words and actions bring hope in a time of heartbreaking despair.
The Jews have endured a thousand years of enslavement and domination by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and now the Roman Empire.
The average Jew in Jesus’ world probably wondered, what have we done to deserve this?  What sins are bringing about such awful abuse?
In the bleakest of days, in walks John, a vagrant, a bum, offering his people the forgiveness of their sins through repentance and the cleansing waters of baptism.
            He was preparing a way for the Lord.
John was a light shining in the darkness. But, in John’s humility, he reminds the people, “He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”
            This is Gaudete Sunday.  The rose colored candle of the Third Sunday of Advent is here to remind us all to REJOICE!  That’s what Gaudete means: REJOICE.
Jesus is almost here. 
            In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah (written 500 years before Christ) we hear the comforting words to the Israelite people returning from exile in Babylon.
            For most of us, we recognize these words from Luke’s Gospel and a scene in which Jesus comes to a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth and is asked to open a scroll and read from it.   He shares these words from Isaiah and then proclaims the prophecy is fulfilled in his reading.
            Jesus was telling the people his public ministry was the fulfillment of Israel’s prophetic tradition. 
            This fulfillment of all Jewish hope is about to be born in a humble manger. The light of Christ is about to shine on a cold, dark world filled with heartbreak. 
This same light of Christ shined on a cold, dark world filled with heartbreak exactly 100 years ago this Christmas, producing one of the most powerful moments in world history.
On the battlefields at the start of the First World War, in what was supposed to be “the war to end all wars,” something miraculous happened.
A light shone in the darkness reminding all to REJOICE!  Jesus was coming.
            Dubbed “The Christmas Truce,” it was a moment our world would remember forever.
            The incident made popular worldwide the song Silent Night, for it was the song sung in English and German in frozen foxholes that Christmas.  Allied troops and German troops singing together in earshot of each other.
            A cold snap had plunged temperatures to below freezing. Snow was falling. The battlefield looked like a picture postcard of a white Christmas.
            One press report said, “Their trenches were a blaze of Christmas trees, and sentries were regaled for hours with traditional Christmas songs.”
            One British soldier’s letter home captured the details of the miracle:

"As I told you before our trenches are only 30 or 40 yards away from the Germans. This led to an exciting incident the other day. Our fellows have been in the habit of shouting across to the enemy and we used to get answers from them. We were told to get into conversation with them and this is what happened:
From our trenches:
"Good morning Fritz." (No answer).
"Good morning Fritz." (Still no answer).
From German trenches: "Good morning."
From our trench: "How are you?"
"All right."
"Come over here, Fritz."
"No. If I come I get shot."
"No you won't. Come on. Come and get some (cigarettes), Fritz."
"No. You come half way and I meet you."
"All right."
One of our fellows thereupon stuffed his pocket with (cigarettes) and got over the trench. The German got over his trench, and right enough they met halfway and shook hands, Fitz taking the (cigarettes) and giving cheese in exchange."
            On Christmas Eve 1914, German and Allied soldiers laid down their guns and crossed trenches to exchange Christmas greetings, share food and souvenirs, play soccer, hold joint burial ceremonies and swap prisoners. Roughly 100-thousand troops took part in the Christmas Truce.
            It was considered by some historians as “one of the most remarkable Christmas stories in 2000 years.”
            The light of Christ broke through the heartbreaking darkness and every man on that battlefield would forever REJOICE! for their moment of peace in the midst of a bloody war.
            Like John the Baptist, these troops heralded the coming of the Savior on Christmas Day by an act of love toward one another that Christmas Eve.
            It was nothing short of a Christmas miracle, a beautiful silent night, when the guns of war were quieted, but for a brief moment.
            This same light shines on those living in darkness today. 
Think of the actions of ALL of the doctors, nurses, religious and other volunteers from around the globe who are working on the front lines of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.
            These brave souls risk their own lives to save the lives of the poorest of the poor in countries with primitive medical care.
            Many have died serving “the least of these” sisters and brothers.  
For their bravery, these men and women were honored this past week as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
And then there this...  an Alabama grandmother was caught by a police officer shoplifting three eggs so she could feed her two grandchildren.  They hadn’t eaten in two days.  They were hungry. She was desperate.
Instead of arresting her, the police officer bought her a dozen eggs. And now the officer and community are coming to her rescue and making sure the family has plenty to eat.
She says, “this is not food, this is manna from Heaven.  This is the best thing that has ever happened to us!” She says her home pantry has never been so full.
Not that it matters. But the grandmother is black. The officer is white.
The woman says in a time of riots and allegations against police officers, she hopes this officer’s loving kindness will have an impact. 
              All of these acts of love, yesterday and today, are illumined by the light of Christ. They are voices crying out in a desert of our humanity, sending glad tidings to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to captives and release to prisoners, announcing a day of vindication by our God.
            Through their actions we find joy in a world of heartbreaking sadness.
The great Catholic writer Henri Nouwen said JOY is something much deeper than sadness.
He writes, “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” 
       Jesus is coming in 10 short days. He’s coming to show the world He loves each and every one of us.
For this, we should REJOICE ALWAYS!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Homily - Archbishop Murphy High School Thanksgiving Mass

Deuteronomy 8:7-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

What in your life are you thankful for?  Do you live always with gratitude?  Or are you just walking through this life oblivious to all that’s been given you?
I’m grateful for a video I saw in 2007.  It was the same year I was discerning whether to apply for a difficult and demanding five year program to become a deacon.
God spoke to me through this video and helped change my view of the world and my role in it. But most especially, God gave me perspective of what’s expected of his disciples when it comes to building up the Kingdom.  He kicked me in the backside and changed the trajectory of my life forever.
At the time, I had a cushy job, making good money. I was quite comfortable. But it wasn’t enough. There were times when I still wanted more. I was falling into a dangerous trap. I was on a fast-moving treadmill and felt trapped with no way to jump off.
But in February 2008, I put in an application for the diaconate, did a series of interviews, and out of 350 people, was selected as one of 35 called into deacon formation by Archbishop Brunett.
In 2012, I was blessed with ordination along with 21 of my fellow deacons who survived our nearly five year, grueling ordeal.
            Now about that video I mentioned – the one that changed my life’s course, the one delivered by God, the one I’m so thankful for. It's by a guy named Rob Bell. He's a Christian pastor. And it's called "Rich." 


            This perspective of how richly blessed we Americans are changed everything for me. 
            Halfway through formation, I shocked everyone (except my wife and family); by quitting the best job I ever had.
I’m here today to tell you that you are all richly blessed.  
You live in the most blessed nation on the planet. 
It doesn’t matter how much money you and your family have, you have so much more than most people on this planet. You are rich.
            But God has high expectations for us all.  He commands us to be thankful for these blessings and to use them to bless others.
            God also commands us who are rich to put our hope not in wealth, but put our hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
            That smartphone you have: It’s a gift.  That house you and your parents live in: gift.  That car you drive or drive in: gift.  The clothes you wear: gift. This school you go to: gift. 
            That breath you just took:  It’s a gift from God. 
            As we heard in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “when you … are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for (what) he has given you.”       
            So, thank the Lord for all these gifts in your life. 
 But thanking God isn’t enough. Now what can you do to bless others?
            Jesus commands us to give, and give, and give. And when we give, when we offer our lives for others, something amazing happens.  We are transformed by God. “We take hold of life that is truly life.”
             We become content with what we have. We begin to realize “that the kinds of people we are becoming matters to God. It’s has eternal implications. It’s about our future. It’s about our forever.”
            This is the perspective that rocked my world and changed my life forever. (PAUSE)
            Our two sons Sean and Connor graduated from Murphy. When I ask them what they are most grateful for in their lives, almost always they name people:  Mr. Wright, Mrs. Alkire, Mr. Clapp.
            In fact, as our son Connor was about to head back for his junior year this year at Gonzaga, we asked him what he wanted to do on his last night home. 
He said, “I want to have Mr. Clapp over for cigars and a steak dinner.”  No joke.  And we did.  Here’s the proof.
            When our family traveled to Italy and France during Christmas break in 2011, our boys were our walking, talking Church travel encyclopedias… thanks to Mr. Clapp.
As I scaled the Scala Sancta, the sacred staircase Jesus walked up and down to be condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, our son Connor was recalling to my wife Mary all Mr. Clapp had shared with him about this sacred relic taken by Constantine’s mother St. Helena from Jerusalem to Rome in the 4th Century. 
When we were in Assisi, they regaled us with little known facts about St. Francis and St. Clare. 
            While we were in Lourdes, our sons remembered what they learned in Mr. Clapp’s class about Bernadette and her encounter with the lady who called herself the “Immaculate Conception.”
            Our son Sean credits Mr. Wright with steering him along his career path, giving him a passion for scholarship and showing him how a quiet person can command respect by giving respect to others. 
Our son Connor says Mrs. Alkire helped open his eyes to the wonders of math, science and physics. This Thanksgiving break, he’ll be reading a biography on nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer – for fun, not for school.  All because of a special teacher.
On the final night of our trip, as we sat overlooking Sacra Coeur Basilica, our boys told my wife and I how grateful they were for the sacrifices we made to send them to Catholic schools and give them the life they live.

They get it. They understood everything about their lives, about their experience at Murphy was a gift. And they are thankful.
Do you look at your time at Murphy that way? I know someday you will even if you don’t now. 
And I want you to remember this day, remember this homily and remember something I shared with you today.
I want you to go to that teacher who made an incredible difference in your life here at Murphy and say, “Thank You.” 
Be like the lone cured leper who returned in today’s Gospel, “fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”  

No need to fall at the feet of your teacher.  Just say, “Thank You.”  That’s all. 
Don’t be like the other nine who are given these amazing gifts and walked away without saying a word of “thanks."
Then I want you to go into the world and bless others the way these teachers have blessed you.



Monday, October 20, 2014

Homily – Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Guatemala Mission Announce

Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
1st Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Matthew 22:15-21

          Jesus is in a tight spot in today’s Gospel.  The Pharisees think they’ve trapped Him with a clever question about paying taxes to Caesar.  
But Jesus is no fool.  He outwits His opponents and proves once again He’s filled with divine grace. 
Paying of taxes was a prerequisite for peaceful living in the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. 
The same could be said today.  If we don’t pay our taxes we get in trouble and wind up paying much more than the original debt.  And we can even face jail time.
Now, let’s look at how this works in the Kingdom of God.  Because Jesus says, “Then repay… to God what belongs to God.”
What debt do we owe our Lord?  What form of payment is a prerequisite for peaceful living in God’s Kingdom? 

Today is World Mission Sunday.  It’s no coincidence that World Mission Sunday falls on the weekend of this Gospel reading.  Mission is one of the best ways to repay God what is God’s.  And for selflessly serving others, especially those on the margins, we are given a brief glimpse of the Kingdom in all its glory.
I heard a talk earlier this week by one of our parish school graduates and current senior at Archbishop Murphy High School about how a mission trip to Haiti this past summer changed her view of God. 
I’ve asked Katie Kelleher to share her story with us.  Katie...

I’ve always considered myself to be very independent.  So independent that I used to think I could do it all on my own.  I didn’t pay much attention to God and as I got busier and busier I started to forget about him.  It was just hard to see his influence in my life.  Usually the only time we take a moment to talk to God or look for him is when we need something or when things aren’t going our way.  Being the self-determined person I thought I was, I felt like I really didn’t need God. I still loved Him, I still went to Church and went through all the motions, but when it came down to it, I really didn’t need Him and I really didn’t see Him.
But sometimes when you forget about Him, he’ll find a special way to reappear.  You might
not realize it at first.  To be honest, you probably won’t realize it for a while.  Just like when Jesus appeared to his apostles on the road to Emmaus.  They had no idea it was Jesus who they had seen.  However, when you finally realize it, like the apostles, it hits you like a brick and knocks the wind out of you.
 It all fell into place a little too smoothly.  One day a friend happened to mention how her church was organizing a mission trip to Haiti and before I knew it, there I was at the meetings, signed up and ready to travel with her, her family and a group of complete strangers to Haiti for two whole weeks.

It’s really hard to put into words what we experienced down there.  I encountered what many would consider some of the poorest people in the world.  And I fell in love with each one of them.  Each morning I would crawl off the box spring that served as my mattress and start the sunscreen-Deet application that would protect me from the sun and dengue fever and the chikungunya virus.  After breakfast that was prepared for us by the older girls at the orphanage, we would trek the mile to the girls’ orphanage hand-in-hand with twenty five or so little boys.  When we arrived the first time, when I wasn’t smart enough to wear my hair up in a ponytail, my hair was attacked by the hands of little girls wanting to braid my hair.  They were so sweet.  And I will never forget the day they started to sing for us.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything so sweet or so beautiful.  It’s a moment that doesn’t exist on video or audio like so many of our favorite memories are, though I wish it did.  It exists only in my memory and I’ll never forget about it.

While there, we ran Vacation Bible School for the orphans and the neighborhood kids.  And that was when I first saw what one could call a miracle of God.  Eve, an aspiring pastor and teacher, had children from the neighboring village packed into his truck, its trailer and on the roof.  I remember watching them spill out of his truck.  They just kept coming.  It was like Mary Poppins’s bag or a clown car.  Eve could take 30-40 kids in one trip.  Sadly, he could only make three trips so there were always children left behind who couldn’t come.  Because we could only afford to feed so many kids at VBS, we eventually had to close the doors after a while.  I felt so helpless when kids came late, knowing I couldn’t let them in.  The bang, bang, bang on the orphanage doors broke my heart knowing that not only would some kids not get to participate in VBS but also that they might go hungry that day.  Every now and then I would see Pastor who ran the orphanage sneak away to let kids inside because he too could not stand to deny any child the chance of attending Vacation Bible School.
And that was where God revealed himself to me.  Through the orphans, through my team members, through Pastor, I was able to see God working through them.
The funny thing about Haitians is that they don’t know they’re poor.  They see God’s touch in every aspect of their lives and constantly thank him for his blessings.  They pray harder than any group of people I’ve ever encountered.  And that just blew my mind how someone so poor and less fortunate than me could praise God and sing his name a million times louder than I ever could.  I felt ashamed.  Here I had been given so much yet seemed thankful for so little.
So, when my life gets tough, I think about Haiti.  I think about the story my friend’s mom told me.  The first time she visited Haiti, she was passing out lunch when she saw a little boy take half of his rice and wrap it up in his coloring page of Jesus that he had made that day at camp.  When she asked him what he was doing, he answered her saying he was taking it home to his family.
It is truly in the poorest and smallest of God’s people that he genuinely shines through.  I hope that one day, all of you can experience the love that they have for him.  I hope that one day the world can love and give like they do.  I hope one day I’ll be able to worship him the way they do.

As you listen to Katie’s words about her experience, you can clearly see how God used mission to draw her closer to Christ and His mission for us all.
Young people today are leaving our Church in droves.  It’s been suggested by many that faith becomes irrelevant in the lives of young people in the face of today’s cultural pressures.  But take them away from our privileged world and the bombardment of consumer messages and glorification of bad behavior, and set them to service to the poorest and most marginalized in the world, and the vision of God’s Kingdom becomes clearer.  It comes alive in their hearts.
Next summer, let’s share a mission experience with the young people of our parish.  Let’s enliven their hearts with a glimpse of God’s Kingdom. 
We are now organizing a mission trip for families to serve a Catholic Church in the Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala in the summer of 2015.  It’s a beautiful place with beautiful Tzutuhill Mayan peoples.  These are faithful, devout Catholics who will welcome us with open arms.

 I invite you, as a family, to join us in this mission.  I’ll have sign-up sheets in the vestibule after Mass for those interested in finding out more.
If you are unable to join us, perhaps you would consider writing a check to help fund our mission journey.  Please make it out to the ICOLPH Guatemala Mission Fund. 
Let this be an annual journey to build up the Kingdom and help our young people better see God in their lives.
            I have many LDS friends and admire how their young people stay connected to the Mormon Church by serving in mission.  We Catholics can learn a lot by their example.
      Let us start a new tradition in our parish.  Let us start our young people on a lifelong mission to repay to God what is God’s and in doing so find purpose and meaning in life.  Let us help them to find the Kingdom by serving others and serving God and keep the mission of Jesus Christ alive in their hearts forever. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Homily - Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Numbers 21:4b-9
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

            What is it about these Christians exalting an instrument of torture? 

That’s exactly what we’re doing this weekend as we commemorate the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. 
            We are rejoicing in something so terrible, yet so beautiful.
             I’m sure this is confusing to non-Christians all over the world.  It even was confusing to Jews in the early Christian Church.
            I had an interesting experience this past week while speaking to our new International students at Archbishop Murphy High School as we prepared them for participation in our Joy and Hope Mass celebrated Wednesday.  
Our namesake Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy had the Episcopal motto:  “In Christ there is Joy and Hope.”  His birthday is coming up in a few weeks and our first all school Mass was a beautiful way to celebrate his belief that Christ is our source of all human joy and hope.
Most of our International students are from China and claim no faith tradition.
            To a young person from Asia, Christianity probably seems odd. 
An explanation of how Catholics believe the living presence of Jesus, the son of God, is truly found in the Eucharist produced astonished looks, laughter and heads shaken in disbelief.
This weekend we all get to wrap our heads around how a device of torture and death is a means of redemption for the whole human race, a living symbol of our salvation.
The cross was used by Rome to keep conquered cultures in line. It stood outside many city walls in the Roman Empire, adorned only with decaying human corpses. It was the terror method of its day.
For Jews, the cross was a stumbling block in the early Christian Church to understanding the divinity of Christ.  How could the Jewish messiah, the expected one, who would lead the people of Israel out of centuries of oppression at the hands of so many evil empires, be killed on the cross?  How could God let this happen?

These thoughts brought much shame, disgrace and misunderstanding to so many in the Jewish world two thousand years ago.
For us today who take the cross and its symbol of our salvation for granted, we must remember that it took a long while for early Christians to understand how a tool of evil and darkness could become a symbol of holiness and light.
The Gospel of John gives us today the key to understanding this transformation:  God so loves every human creature that He gave us His only son to save us from the pits of Hell, to put an end to death forever and bring about eternal life for all who believe. 
Here’s an interesting fact you may or may not know.  When the Catholic Church gets serious it pulls out the Gospel of John. 

Christmas, Easter and many other important dates on our liturgical calendar, the Gospel is John is the Gold Standard.
            This weekend, as we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we hear one of John’s most-quoted passages.  In fact, it’s so popular that for decades we’ve seen it on posters at sporting events both here and around the world -- 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.”
In the Gospels, this is what is called a greatest hit -- a passage so often used that many Christians can quote it from memory.
How interesting it appears this Sunday!   How interesting it appears on a weekend we honor something that created so much shame, so much disgrace, so much misunderstanding to early Christians.
It’s an amazing and beautiful paradox; something that is seen one way as evil and terrible, but when looked at in another way appears life-giving and wondrous.
In our first reading from Numbers we hear a paradoxical story of the people of Israel asking for God’s deliverance from bad food, harsh desert conditions and an abundance of serpents.  How interesting that Moses prayed for the people and the Lord told him to “Make a saraph (a type of venomous snake) and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”
A snake that takes away lives is replaced by a snake that is a symbol of life.
I’m sure you’ve read the news about the recent beheadings of Americans at the hands of the terror group ISIS. 
Or read about the slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities by terrorists labeled as “diabolical” by a leading Catholic scholar on Islam.
This is a group hell-bent on imposing its will to dominate the whole world with its methods of terror and vows to kill anyone who does not submit to its narrow interpretation of the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
But remember, in Christ there is Joy and Hope.
American journalist James Foley understood that.  This devout Catholic reportedly regularly prayed the rosary while in captivity.  He was the first American executed by ISIS.

Foley wrote an email to a friend after being released from captivity in 2011 in Libya.  I think it shows how strong his faith grew during his imprisonment.  I’d like to share it with you:
“I’m writing to thank you for your efforts to publicize my captivity.  My family and I are forever grateful.  It meant so much to my family to provide a platform to reach others who helped secure our release.
While I was in captivity, I was unaware of the tremendous efforts that were being made on my behalf.  I prayed to be permitted to call my mother and let her know I was all right.  When I was finally able to call home my mother told me that (my alma mater) Marquette University was holding a prayer vigil for me and that my friends from Marquette were constantly calling her in support. 
These words boosted my spirit tremendously for the final weeks of in captivity.
I hadn’t truly lived the values of seeing God in all people and things until my freedom was taken from me for 44 days.  I prayed every day that my family would know I was alive and for the soul of our colleague (the photographer Anton Hammerl) who was killed.  I was truly humbled and broken.  But the faith of so many kept my spirits alive and the series of miracles that led to my actual release cannot be described as anything but.”
In Christ there is Joy and Hope.
Last month, James Foley was videotaped kneeling in a bright orange prison jumpsuit before a man dressed all in black who said a few words then beheaded this Catholic journalist on a video posted all over the internet.  
When the Gospel of John today talks about the Son of Man being lifted up it refers to both the cross and to heaven.  As Jesus returns to the Father, the cross is “the first step on the ladder of the ascension.” But “take way the Cross and Christianity is nonsense.”

We may see evil and darkness in the Cross James Foley carried on his final day on earth.  But the light of Christ burned brightly in his heart.  The forces of darkness may have taken his life, but we all should find joy and hope in James Foley’s belief in God, and trust in Jesus.
There are some calling Foley the first Christian martyr of this conflict.
What can we do in the face of such evil and cruelty?
Let our prayers be for those living under the oppression of terror the world over and those who are its victims.
Let our actions be of kindness, love and compassion to counter this cruelty, hate and violence. 
Let our voices not be complacently silent, but speaking out loudly against these forces and their diabolical agenda. 
Recently Cardinal Donald Wuerl poignantly spoke from his heart at the end of the Mass of the Holy Spirit marking the start of the school year at Catholic University in Washington DC.  He asked:
“Where are the voices of Parliaments?  Where are the voices of Congresses?  Where are the voices of campuses?  Where are the voices of community leaders?    Why such silence?  
I think each one of us has at least the power to raise our voice and in solidarity for people distant from us, unknown to us… not a part of our nation, but they are a part of our human community. 
It rests on the conscious of all of us.  Atrocities happen because there are those who commit them and those who remain simply silent.”  Thoughts to ponder today from Cardinal Wuerl.
Maybe by lifting up OUR voices something beautiful will emerge from all this ugliness in the world. 
May the light of Christ shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.   And may they find joy and hope amidst an abundance of evil and despair.