Sunday, April 27, 2014

Homily - Sunday of Divine Mercy - Heaven Is For Real

Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

Is the Resurrection for real?
If you ask “doubting Thomas,” you know he needed physical proof to believe. 
Jesus tells Thomas,
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” 
Aren’t we all at times “doubting Thomasas” -- disbelieving things we don’t understand or can’t touch or experience for ourselves?
With this passage, we are at the conclusion of John’s Gospel.  This story is meant to help us all to see that our faith must be grounded in the presence of the Lord through the Spirit. 
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we learn “The Word was God” and “the Word was made Flesh.” Now, John repeats it at the end of his Gospel, but blesses those who accept it on faith, needing no other proof in the Divinity of Jesus than the Word.
As Jesus' own words sum it up today, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
But still there are those here today who might need more proof.  It’s OK.  Hang with me. 
Is heaven for real?
If you ask Todd Burpo’s little boy, Colton, the answer is an enthusiastic “Yes.”  In his call-it-like-he-sees-it innocence,” Colton claims to have been there, experiencing a trip to Heaven and back after nearly losing his life from a burst appendix when he was almost four years old.
He spent 17-days in the hospital and emerged a changed boy.  Now he was talking about singing angels, meeting Jesus and seeing the bright, vivid colors of Heaven.
At first, his parents were doubtful of the boy’s story.  So, too, were many in the congregation where Todd Burpo is a pastor in a small Nebraska town. 
But Colton kept talking and revealed some remarkable details. 
Colton says he remembers at first floating out of his body in the operating room, floating over his father in the hospital chapel and hearing him “yelling at God,” and floating over his mother who was calling friends on her cellphone and asking for their prayers because her boy was “real bad off.”
Colton said he then was taken to Heaven by angels and walked with Jesus and even sat on his lap.  He saw and heard angels singing and laughing at his questions.
Colton says, “In heaven, nobody is old and nobody wears glasses.” 
He later said he met his great grandfather there, much to his dad’s disbelief.  That is until his father showed Colton a long, lost photograph of his grandfather when he was a young man, without the trademark glasses of old age.  And the boy said, “That’s pop!”
He later told his mom he met his sister in heaven, a really nice girl who kept hugging him.  Colton’s mom Sonja said, “Your sister Cassie’s not in heaven.  She’s right here.”  
Colton said, “I have two sisters.  You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”  Sonja said, “Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?”  Colton said, “She did, mommy.”  Then he said, “She’s OK mommy.  God adopted her.”
When asked by his dad if Colton knew why Jesus died on the cross, without blinking an eye, the boy exclaimed, “Well, Jesus told me he died on the cross so we could all go see his Dad.”
Catholic friends have asked if Colton saw Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Heaven.  Todd Burpo says, ”the answer to that is … Yes.  He saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times, standing beside Jesus.”  Colton says, “She still loves him like a mom.” 
Colton described Jesus as having green eyes and a kind face. 
In the months after hearing his stories, they would show him hundreds of pictures of Jesus, and the young boy would shake his head and say, “No, that’s not him,” “No, the hair’s not right,”  “The clothes aren’t right,”  “Nope, that’s not him either.”
 One day, father Todd received an email from a friend with a link to a CNN story about a Lithuanian-American girl who lives in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, who had a similar experience to Colton’s and began painting pictures of her colorful visions of Heaven, angels and of Jesus.  These visions started when she was almost four years old. 
  Akiane (Ah-Kee- ANNA) Kramarik is now considered a prodigy. Self-taught, she painted this picture of Jesus when she was just 8-years-old.
  The intriguing thing is her family were Atheists at the time, and God and Jesus were never talked about in their home.  
  The family has since converted to Christianity mostly due to Akiane’s amazing journey of faith. 
Not only has she become a world renowned artist, but she’s also a self-taught classical piano performer, composer and poet. 
Akiane has completed over 200 published art works, 800 literary pieces and published two best-selling books.  She’s now 19 years old.
 Akiane says her talents come from a higher power and “she now belongs to God.”
 Akiane and Colton share two things in common, they both say they experienced Heaven and both described Christ’s eyes as being, in their words, “just beautiful.”
When this picture was shown to Colton, there was a long moment of silence.  Then he exclaimed, “Dad, that one’s right.  That’s Jesus.”  It was the only picture that “stopped Colton in his tracks.”
This picture is called “The Prince of Peace.  The Resurrection.”
Perhaps you doubt this story.  That’s OK.  Colton’s parents doubted it, too, for a while. 
Thomas doubted Jesus’s Resurrection until he experienced the risen Christ in the flesh.   
In our world, “seeing is believing” for many.
But the second reading from St. Peter describes what true Christian faith is in a beautiful way:
“Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet
believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of
your faith the salvation of your souls.”
Pastor Todd now understands everything and has put it all in perspective, “As a nurse wheeled my son away screaming, ‘Daddy, don’t let them take me!’…  when I was angry at God because I couldn’t go to my son, to hold him, and comfort him, God’s son was holding my son in his lap.”
At the end of the movie and the book “Heaven is for Real,” pastor Todd gets up to share the family’s story for the first time as part of a sermon.  During the service, he preached about that day's Gospel reading about “doubting Thomas,” “someone who refuses to believe something without physical evidence or direct personal experience.  In other words, a person without faith.”
Pastor Todd preached “about his own moments of anger and lack of faith in that little room in the hospital, raging against God, and about how God came back to (him), through (his) son, saying,   ‘Here I am.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Homily - Faculty Curriculum Day at AMHS (March 21st)

Genesis 37:3-4,12-13a,17b-28a
Matthew 21:33-43,45-46
Come on, admit it.  You fear rejection?
Rejection is such a painful human emotion. 
When we are rejected, we tend to turn our focus on ourselves instead of keeping our focus on others and on Christ.
When we are rejected, we tend to wallow in self-pity and despair.
Catholic writer Henri Nouwen says, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’” Nouwen says, “Being the ‘Beloved’ constitutes the core truth of our existence.” 
Watch what Jesus is teaching here today.  Watch what the amazing Joseph is doing here today.
Through rejection, Christ will change the world forever. 
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  
Through rejection, Joseph will find a special place of honor in this world.
In today’s first reading, we find Joseph rejected by his brothers because he’s so beloved by his father. 
Jealousy usually leads to rejection.
As educators, people are jealous of you, too.
Why are people jealous?  Because I believe all good teachers wear the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that Joseph wore.

You put on that Dreamcoat every day and get busy molding young minds to understand the wisdom you have to depart.
That is an amazing gift and we are blessed to have good educators in our world. 
Yet, despite all of your hard work, aren’t you rejected from time to time?  By kids?  By parents? 
You set the bar high for educational performance and behavior.  But not everyone appreciates this.  So, you face rejection.
But remember, rejection can lead to glory if you keep Christ in your heart.
In the story of Joseph, we see the young boy thrown into cistern before eventually being sold into slavery by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver.
But that’s not the whole story. 
Eventually, Joseph will become a famous prophet to an Egyptian Pharaoh and will predict a huge famine.  For readying Egypt for such a disaster, Joseph will be treated as royalty for the rest of his life, and will save his family from perishing from starvation.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we are in Jesus’ final days. 
He’s teaching in the temple. 
Jesus is wearing the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and his students are the chief priests and the elders.  Of course, they don’t take too kindly to someone “teaching” them about their faith.  They are jealous of Jesus for turning their own words against them.
They along with the Pharisees reject Jesus and his teachings because in their hearts they are convicted by the story Jesus tells. 
Jesus knows he will be rejected.  Jesus knows of his fate.  Jesus knows he’s the heir to the Kingdom and for this truth, jealousy will lead to rejection.  Rejection will lead to crucifixion.
But we know the rest of this amazing story. 
Because rejection and crucifixion will lead to resurrection and the doors of the Kingdom will be open to those who follow Christ.
He will take the Kingdom of God away from evil and cunning men and hand it to a dozen simple fishermen, sinners and a reviled tax collector who will ”produce its fruit;” fruit that’s nourished our faith for nearly two thousand years.
When we the followers of Christ are rejected, we too step into the resurrection story.  When we the followers of Christ are rejected, we too can persevere and transcend difficult situations.
With Christ in our hearts and acting in love always, we too, have the capacity to come into the glory of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
So, let me ask again.  Do you fear rejection? 
Or does rejection motivate you to love more, forgive more, be Christ more to the people around you?
For all those who wear the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, thank you for your incredible ministry in our community.  May God’s abundant blessings be on your ministries.  Now and forever.  Amen.


Homily - Holy Thursday

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

For centuries before Christ, service was something people were forced to do.  Slavery produced servants who tended to the master’s every need.
But even the lowliest of slaves would never be asked to humiliate himself by washing the dust-covered feet of his Master.  In Jesus’ time, it would be too insulting and too demeaning to make such a request of a slave.
That’s what made Jesus’ action so shocking to his disciples, and especially poor, na├»ve Peter.  Peter is so proud and so fiercely loyal to Christ.  Little does he know that he’s about to betray his Master in a self-protecting act of human cowardice. In Jesus’ hour of needed, Peter will run and hide.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is lowering himself to a station lower than a slave to teach his followers a powerful lesson of His expectations for discipleship.

            Service out of love is not slavery.  Service out of love is stepping into a new reality demanded of the followers of the Son of God. 
Jesus makes it crystal clear when he gets out ties the towel around his waist and pours water into the basin.
            “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
After washing His disciples’ feet in preparation for their Last Supper together, Jesus delivers His most powerful message to us all. 
“I’ve given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
Jesus is calls us to become a loving gift of self for others.  This is what he is symbolizing in the washing of the feet.
            Seems easy enough, but it’s really not.  It’s quite hard and demanding to be Christ to others.
            When we serve others in communion with Christ and communion with our creator, the Holy Spirit, The Helper is unleashed and this communion with the Holy Trinity transforms our lives forever.
            Catholics live a sacramental life.  From birth to death, Catholics are given by Christ life-giving sacraments:  Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and Anointing for the Sick.
            But in receiving these sacraments, we are asked to become what we are given.  We are commanded to be a Sacrament of Service to others.
            Pope Francis shocked the world one year ago today when he washed the feet of criminals, Muslims and women, the same way Jesus shocked his followers with his humiliating acts of service in love today.

            And, like Peter, sometimes we can fail to understand the lesson Jesus is teaching and Pope Francis is imitating here.
The Sacrament of Service is so important that our failure to be Christ to others bars us from our eternal inheritance.
We’ve listened powerful stories from to our fellow students as they talked about their acts of service in love to others. 
These acts are not always easy.  They require us to give our all as we serve the needs of others. 
But when we step into this new reality offered by Christ, our lives can change forever.
Our lives change forever because we learn the powerful message offered in today’s Gospel:  Only in serving others and denying our own self-interests, can we find the true happiness and peace.
            Jesus’s final hour has come.  His time has run out. 
In His final moments of life, He points to the cross and reminds us that pouring out ourselves as a sacrifice for others is what he expects out of each and every one of us. 
This is how we earn our eternal Kingdom.  This is the key that unlocks the gates of heaven for us all.