Sunday, December 13, 2015

Homily – Third Sunday of Advent – Finding that Christmas Feeling

ZEP 3:14-18A
PHIL 4:4-7
LUKE 3:10-18

It’s Gaudete Sunday.
Gaudete is a wonderful Latin word that means rejoice. 
So it’s Rejoice Sunday!
This weekend is a time to rejoice as the birth of Christ is almost upon us.
We wear the rose vestments as a sign of Jesus Christ who is about to dawn on the world in radiant beauty. The color rose hints of the hues of a sunrise.
That line, “dawn in radiant beauty” is often heard for those who do the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office during Advent.
It’s the responsory we hear each and every morning during Lauds or Morning Prayer. It reads:
“Your light will come, Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.”
It’s the expectation of the dawn of Christ’s beauty in our lives that we celebrate this third weekend of Advent.
But for some, the power of Christ in our lives is blunted by a tragic event or painful memory or a major health challenge.
I’m sure there are some of us here this weekend who are finding it hard to rejoice; finding it hard to have the Christmas feeling. I understand.
The Christmas feeling enlivens hearts each and every year around the holidays when Christ’s love pours through us, and we do what John the Baptist says we must do: help our sister and brothers in need.
John is calling us back to a sense of justice. John is asking us to show mercy the way God shows mercy. John is preparing us for Jesus’ the law of love, planted in our hearts and felt most strongly during the holiday season.  
But for some, that Christmas feeling is non-existent.
I don’t remember how I lost the Christmas feeling, lost the ability to rejoice, but I did early in my life. Sometime during my teenage years the annual Christmas feeling disappeared from my heart.
Perhaps it happened after my father’s tragic death when I was 14.  Or maybe it was an angry teenager shedding all things heartfelt from a painful childhood.
I don’t remember Christmases ever having the same joyful and peaceful atmosphere as I trudged into adulthood.
My heart had shrunk to the size of the Grinch’s at his worst.  And faith, faith to me was dead.
Christmas was nothing more than an obligation to get over and done with. My cold heart had little or no compassion for people in need.
I know I’m not the only person who’s had a personal tragedy silence the Christmas feeling from their heart. 
Christ was born to turn our despair into hope. Christ was born to fill our hearts with love and joy. Christ was born to bring “Peace on Earth, Good Will to all.”
It’s just sometimes in our lives when we experience too much pain we become numb to the Christmas feeling. 
But God can grace us with a moment when we realize the many blessings we do have and count them all. 
In other words, there are times when we are graced with a moment where Christ dawns on our lives in radiant beauty and we can rejoice! 
For me, the Christmas feeling returned Christmas Eve 1986.  It was a foggy, still night.  My new wife (the one true Catholic in the family at the time) wanted to go to Midnight Mass.
I begrudgingly went along not sensing what was about to happen.
As we drove to the nearby parish, Mary popped in the new cassette of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music (she has a near obsession with Christmas music).
As we rode along the song Silent Night came out of the speakers.  I remembered this song being a favorite for my baby sister back when we were little kids.
Every Christmas, my sister Erin, my brothers Dan and Jim, cousin Annie and I would reenact the manger scene at family gatherings.  
My sister Erin loved Christmas.  She was born with a congenital heart defect and found joy in only a few things thanks to hundreds of doctor’s visits and numerous heart surgeries.
            But love Christmas she did -- especially “Mee-Mohs” (which were chocolate, marshmallow Santa candies).  And she loved her beloved toy piano she got in the final months of life.
That Christmas in 1967, a few months before she died, Erin unwrapped the toy piano after we had regaled the family in the true story of Christmas.  I can still hear her playing it in my head.
As I daydreamed while driving, the closing strains of Silent Night snuck up and knocked my cold, stony heart for a loop.
At the end of the song, after the rushing of what sounds like some celestial wind, the song concludes with a child’s toy piano playing the opening stanza of Silent Night.

As I drove, tears streamed down my face.  And I felt it!  The Christmas feeling came flooding back to me once again. My Grinch heart grew bigger. God’s loving mercy penetrated my heart. And I have never lost that Christmas feeling since.
Pope Francis declared a Jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, this past Tuesday on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He opened the Holy Door of Mercy to St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Holy Father said upon its opening, To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them… We have to put mercy before judgment …  In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love.”
When we feel God’s loving mercy and not God’s judgment in our lives, we rejoice. When we show God’s loving mercy and not God’s judgment to others, they rejoice. That’s the Christmas feeling in a nutshell.
I pray you experience the Christmas feeling this year.  I pray your heart grows even bigger and rings out with the joy and hope and love of Christ and you show mercy. I pray Jesus dawns on your life in radiant beauty.  And you rejoice! 
The Lord is coming soon.  Let our hearts be ready.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Widow's Mite

Today’s Gospel reading should make us all squirm a little.
Is our charitable giving only from our surplus wealth?  Or is our giving breathtaking? 
This is what Jesus is asking us today.
His question should make us uncomfortable. There are no easy answers to this challenge by Christ. And it should make us think --   to reflect deeply -- especially in this time of Stewardship renewal.
If we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our might, and love our sisters and brothers as ourselves as Jesus commands, we have to ask ourselves do we give enough?

Today our Church offers us two models of faith-filled giving. Both are women, both are poor and both are widows – perhaps the most marginalized of peoples of Elijah’s Day, Jesus’ Day, and today. These are people who have no visible means of support, no future, no hope.  To their despair, God appears and asks them to give.  Trusting in God’s presence in their lives, these women represent for us how to live and how to give in God’s Kingdom. They gave their all.
I don’t know about you. But this sort of talk makes me uneasy. But I know that this uneasy feeling comes from being blessed to live at the top of the world’s financial pecking order, blessed to be born in the United States, in wealth, and not in poverty.
Bishop Robert Barron had a great insight on today’s readings. He says, “Here’s the great spiritual truth. When you are linked to God who is nothing but (gift and) giving … you (too) can give and give and never run out.”
But here he says is the flipside to this truth, “When we cling to pathetic substitutes for God (money and sex and power and honor) then we can hoard and hoard and hoard all we want, but we will never have enough. He says, “To get this is to get the bible.” Wow!
Pope Francis had some challenging words for Americans to ponder on his recent visit to U.S.
The Holy Father spoke to Congress and United Nations. His words while in the U.S. were an antidote to the consumerism, materialism and the ME-ism present in society today.
How some modern scribes had a field day criticizing the Pontiff.  Scribes are the very people Christ is holding up for scorn in today’s Gospel reading.
The words of pundit and scribe George Will:
     "Pope Francis embodies sanctity but comes trailing clouds of sanctimony. With a convert's indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary." 
Will says: “Americans cannot simultaneously honor (Pope Francis) and celebrate their nation’s premises.”
Are we Catholics more passionate about the Kingdom of God or our own Kingdom here in the United States?
Therein lies the problem for many Americans and why it’s so tough for some of us here in the U.S. to accept Pope Francis’ message to Americans or Jesus’ message today.
The Lord brings justice to the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets captives free, cares for widows and orphans and thwarts the path of the wicked.
We, too, are responsible for the poor and oppressed in our society. Each of us needs to do our part to help – with our time, our talents and our treasure.   
Many of the faithful poor in the Third World are as generous as the widows in today’s readings.
Take for example the experiences of Jesuit Father Gary Smith documented in his book “They Come Back Singing.” The journal tells of his six years living among the Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda.
Father Gary experienced giving in the Catholic communities of the refugee camps that took his breath away. Such love for God, such love for their sisters and brothers barely surviving in a region torn by years of Civil War, and generously giving to others with what little they had.
So when we are asked to give, is our giving breathtaking?  Do we give from our very livelihood, trusting in God to the point where it hurts?  Or do we only give from our surplus wealth?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Snohomish County Catholics Prepare For Pope Francis Visit to US

IC-OLPH parishioner Julie Muhlstein wrote an informational article today about what Snohomish County Catholics are doing to prepare for Pope Francis' visit to the United States this coming week.
Some parishioners of St. Mary's in Marysville will join their priest Fr. Dwight Lewis in a pilgrimage to New York City and Philadephia. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain will be among the US Bishops meeting with Pope Francis during the visit. And we're doing some special things at Archbishop Murphy High School to share the Good News with students.
I will share updates daily ( on the Pope's visit using multi-media sources. Please check back in the coming week to keep track of what Pope Francis is saying and doing in the US.

Here's a snippet of the article on what we are doing at AMHS:

"At Archbishop Murphy High School in south Everett, Deacon Dennis Kelly said students have been captivated by the messages of Pope Francis. ' He’s talking in their language,' said Kelly, director of campus ministry.
The school’s theology teachers will talk about the pope’s visit. And Kelly will offer daily multimedia recaps of the pope’s visit.
Pope Francis embodies the values of compassion, love and faith taught at Murphy, Kelly said. 'He resonates deeply with the Catholic students, and even some non-Catholic students. He speaks a language that feels like Jesus,' Kelly said.
The school has a big cutout figure of Pope Francis, he said, “and kids take selfies with him all the time.”


The visit of Pope Francis
Pope Francis will arrive at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday for his visit to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Schedule highlights are:
Wednesday: Meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, papal parade at National Mall, Junipero Serra canonization Mass.
Thursday: Speech to joint session of Congress, evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
Friday: Address to United Nations General Assembly in New York, a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, a motorcade through Central Park, Mass at Madison Square Garden.
Saturday Sept. 26: Mass at Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, visit to Independence Mall, visit to Festival of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway, prayer vigil with World Meeting of Families.
Sunday Sept. 27: Meeting with bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, visit to Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Mass for World Meeting of Families.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Interrupted

Isaiah 5:5-9a
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

I had an experience with Christ the other night.
While walking the streets of downtown Seattle, ministering to our sisters and brothers living on the streets with a group of clergy and lay people involved with Operation NightWatch, we came upon Gary.
Gary was lying down in some bushes near Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill and was having trouble getting up. We walked up to him to assist and Gary declared, “I’m drunk.”
We asked him if we could help him up and take him to a nearby bench. He said he’d rather be helped to a doorway of a building across the street so he could get his sleeping bag and go to sleep.

A deacon brother of mine and I helped him up and steadied him for a challenging walk across the street.
As we slowly approached the doorway, he told another person in our group that his sleeping bag was under some nearby bushes. He retrieved it and carefully laid it out for Gary.
As we were about to help him to get onto his open sleeping, Gary started to cry and told us how much he appreciated our assistance.  He asked for a hug from each of us and said “thank you,” with tears streaming down his face.

We got him on his sleeping bag, left him a fresh pair of socks, a few bottles of water and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, lovingly made by Archbishop Murphy’s volleyball team hours earlier.
We told him to have a good night.  He continued to cry and tell us, “Thank you so much,” as we walked away.
In THAT moment, we ALL felt we had met Christ in one of the “least” of our brothers. 
I read a good book recently that captured perfectly what we experience nightly on the street. It’s the same thing our mission team experienced in Guatemala. 
The book is entitled “Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity.”  The author is Jen Hatmaker.
            Jen and her husband live in Austin, Texas. Jen’s husband Brandon is a pastor at the local church. Jen is a pastor’s wife and noted Christian author.
She had a life-changing experience with God that turned the family’s life upside down and called them toward an authentic Christianity found in the early Christian Church.
It all started when she had a disturbing thought in prayer:  We are doing NOTHING but blessing the blessed.
And she realized, “Blessing blessed people eventually leaves us empty.”
            God calls us to do more than just bless the blessed. God calls us to take care of the “least of these brothers and sisters” the exact same way Christ did during His ministry.
Here’s how her conversation with God went.

“I told Him, ‘I thought I was feeding Your sheep, but I’ll try harder.’  And from the heights of heaven, this is what I heard: ‘You do feed souls, but twenty-four thousand of My sheep will die today because no one fed their bellies; eighteen thousand of them are My youngest lambs, starving today in a world with plenty of food to go around. If you truly love Me, you will feed My sheep. My people are crumbling and dying and starving, and you’re blessing blessed people and serving the saved.’
As Jen wrestled with God she started to get it.  It’s something my Operation NightWatch members understand. And I think this is what our mission team discovered while we were down in Guatemala among the poorest of the poor.
Hatmaker says,
“So Americans living in excess beyond imagination while the world cries out for intervention is an unbearable tension and utterly misrepresents God’s kingdom. While the richest people in the world pray to get richer, the rest of the world endures unimaginable suffering with their faces pressed to the window of our prosperity ... and we carry on, oblivious. As Gandhi once FAMOUSLY said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
She and her husband started encouraging social justice and forming missionary disciples, calling people to take care of the poorest in their midst in South Austin.
Needless to say, it didn’t go over well -- with some.
            She shared the following story,
“A couple recently left our new church, citing our vision to be missional and socially active: (This is what the couple said,) ‘We believe what you’re doing is right, but we’re just not motivated by it. I need my pastor to deal with me.’”
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (co-written by Pope Benedict) called on all Catholics to embrace Missionary Discipleship. He reminded us early on in his Pontificate that the Catholic Church is a “poor Church for the poor.”  He encourages all Catholics to live a modest lifestyle leaving room financially to help take care of the poor in our world.
Taking care of the “least of these” is our mission whether it’s in Guatemala or the streets of downtown Seattle or right here in Everett.
I am reminded of a moment on the first day we arrived in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, and spent time in the parish Church.
As we sat in the pews of this poor Church built for the poor, we experienced cries of pain and anguish in the people praying in front of the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament.  
Moans and groans and tears came loudly from the dozen or so poor souls oblivious to the Americans sitting right behind them.
They were pouring out their hearts to God, sharing their challenges to Jesus who hears their cries and brings missionaries far from home to serve their needs.
When I was in the exact same location in January 2013, I saw priests and deacons in our Maryknoll group with tears rolling down their faces as they listened to this quiet anguish.
Last month, as I sat in nearly the same spot in the front pews, I turned to one of our young people.
The look in her eyes said it all, “I had no idea.”
As Jen Hatmaker writes:
“Is this not why the gospel is such good news for the broken? Jesus redefined the nature of greatness, which has always rung hollow for the least and last. He took its connotation away from power and possessions and bestowed it on the humility of a servant.”
Namely, the suffering servant who we hear about in today’s first reading from Isaiah and in today’s Gospel.
In our second reading from James we hear the convicting words: 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? …

Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”
James is telling us it’s not enough to just TALK about taking care of others or praying for the poor, we have to actually do it.  We have to serve their needs.  As Disciples of Christ we must act in imitation of Jesus.
Just believing in Christ and going to Mass every week won’t cut it. We have to draw strength from the Eucharist to do Christ’s mission in the world and here at home.  As a parish, we know this by our support of “good works” in Guatemala.  As well as what we do with St. Vincent de Paul, our food banks, and social action efforts.
Jen Hatmaker said this about taking care of the “least of these” as a missionary disciple:
“So as I was beginning to identify with the least—and Jesus already said He was the least—I was perhaps starting to commune with Christ in earnest for the first time in my life. It was a party at the bottom. Sorry I was so late. I got lost.”
The party at the bottom reinforces today’s Gospel message:
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
On behalf of all 21 members of our Guatemala Mission Team, we say thank you for your generous support of our missionary disciples. We have a “thank you” card we’ll hand out later at Mass. We did many “good works” during our time in Guatemala.  15-thousand dollars were spent building houses, building stoves, taking care of the poorest of the poor in the beautiful Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala. 
We have become a mission parish. I hope to see some of you in two years when we do this again.
This Wednesday night at 7pm at Hensen Hall, we will bring our mission experience home to our parish. All are invited to hear the Good News. In the coming weeks, I’ll talk more about what we can do as a parish to build on our call to be missionary disciples.
But first we must ask ourselves: Are we just blessing the blessed?  Or are we doing what Christ’s calls each and every one of us to do -- taking care of the poor and marginalized at home and around the world.  When we focus on helping those who can do nothing for us, we are living in harmony with Christ our Savior, doing His “good works” and glorifying His name. And in doing so, we are blessed to see the face of Jesus in the faces of those we serve.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Here's the homily I would have shared this weekend

Sometimes a single picture can open our blind eyes to a problem. 

Powerful images taken by photojournalists over the decades have helped us to see man's inhumanity against man or captured a moment of something so senseless that we scream "something has to be done!" 

There is probably one picture of such inhumanity or senselessness seared into your brain. 

And this week, the world added another. NPR's Scott Simon eloquently gave voice to our heartbreak at seeing this image.

"This week the little boy on the beach came to signify thousands who have died trying to escape the everyday of bombs, shooting, and starvation of life in Syria, and other conflicts.

The frail body of a boy shouldn't have to do that. There has been so much fine, vivid reporting about the thousands of lives that have been lost, the millions uprooted, and the many who now camp in foreign train stations or tramp over highways.

But we can grow numb to numbers. One little boy can be a human story.

Nilufer Demir, who shot that photo for a Turkish news agency, said, 'There was nothing to do except taking his photograph. I thought this is the only way I can express the scream of his silent body.'

I have done those stories in war zones and crime scenes in which you hope that a single human story — with a scream, a cry, an image or phrase — might dart through the static of statistics into people's hearts and minds, and move them beyond just feeling.

But a lot of things grab for our attention. Expert voices warn us of complications. We look, and feel, then look away, to go on with the lives we have right in front of us. Until the sight of a little boy on a beach reminds us that looking away can cost lives, too."

Scott Simon's words give voice to our feelings after seeing this picture. 

Pope Francis is suggesting we put our feelings into action. 

After today's Angelus, Pope Francis called on all "parishes, religious communities, the monasteries and shrines throughout Europe" to take action on the growing refugee problem by hosting one family fleeing brutality and repression in their homeland. 

Pope Francis says we must "give them real hope."

Here's a report on today's comments after the Angelus:

Vatican City - "Every parish, religious community, monastery or sanctuary in Europe 'must host a migrant family. Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing from death by war and hunger, and are on their way to a hope of life, the Gospel calls us to be 'close' to the smallest and abandoned. To give them real hope,'  said Pope Francis today after the midday Angelus.

The pontiff recalled the mercy of Mother Teresa, whose liturgical memory is commemorated this weekend: 'The mercy of God is recognized through our work, as we have witnessed the life of the Blessed.' He immediately added: 'Hope is combative, with the tenacity of those on their way towards a safe destination. Therefore, as we draw close to the Jubilee of Mercy, I appeal to the parishes, religious communities, the monasteries and shrines throughout Europe to express the reality of the Gospel and accommodate a family of refugees. A concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year. Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, should host a family starting with my diocese of Rome. The two parishes in the Vatican are preparing to welcome two families of refugees.'

The Pope then appealed 'to my brother Bishops of Europe, true shepherds, may their dioceses support this appeal of mine, remembering that Mercy is the second name of love: 'All that you have done for even one of my brethren, you did for me. '

Earlier, the Pope spoke of the Sunday Gospel, which is the story of the deaf mute: 'A prodigious event that shows how Jesus will re-establish full communication with God and with other men (and women). The miracle takes place in the area of ​​the Decapolis, that is in pagan territory; Therefore, the deaf-mute who is brought by Jesus becomes a symbol of the non-believer who makes a journey of faith. In fact, his deafness expresses the inability to listen and to understand not only the words of men, but also the Word of God. And St. Paul reminds us that "faith comes from hearing the preaching.'

The first thing that Jesus does, said the Pope, 'is to bring the man away from the crowd: He does not want to publicize what is about to happen, neither does he want that his word covered by the din of voices and the surrounding chatter. The Word of God that Christ gives us needs silence to be accepted as the Word that heals, reconciles and restores communication.'

Two gestures of Jesus are highlighted: his touching ears and tongue of man "blocked" in communication, and the entreaty of a miracle from above, from the Father. The lesson we draw from this episode, says Francis, 'is that God is not closed in on Himself, but opens and connects with humanity. In His great mercy, He exceeds the abyss of the infinite difference between Him and us, and comes to us. To achieve this communication with man, God became man.'

But this Gospel also tells us: 'We are often folded and closed in on ourselves, and we create so many inaccessible and inhospitable islands. Even the most basic human relationships sometimes create the reality incapable of reciprocal opening: the closed couple, the closed family, the closed group, the closed parish, the closed home... and that is not of God. It is ours, it is our sin.'

Yet, concludes the Pope before the Marian prayer, 'the source of our Christian life, in baptism, we are precisely the gesture and the words of Jesus: 'Ephphatha! - Open up! '. And the miracle took place: we are healed from deafness and muteness of the closure of selfishness and sin, and were included in the great family of the Church. We can listen to God who speaks to us and speaking His word to those who have never heard it, or who have forgotten it and buried under the thorny troubles and deceptions of the world. We ask the Holy Virgin, woman of listening and joyful witness, to support us in the commitment to profess our faith and to communicate the wonders of the Lord to those we meet on our way.'"

And we in the United States are not off the hook. Many refugees are flooding into our country from south of the border, fleeing gang violence in their home countries. We heard their stories on Pope Francis' town hall on ABC. 

May our eyes and ears be opened as we hear the Word of God and respond to the refugee crisis. What is God calling you to do?