Sunday, December 11, 2016

Homily–3rd Sunday of Advent – Great Expectations

Isaiah 35:1-6a,10
2 James 5:7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

For years, my wife and I would return to her family home in Spokane during the holidays and we’d always have a great expectation for a big snow storm. The kind Mary experienced as a child growing up in eastern Washington. The kind I experienced a few times as a young boy growing up here in the Puget Sound area and several times while in college in Pullman.
Our great expectation was to go home, spend time with family at the holidays, and experience a giant snow storm. 
But, alas, it never happened. In all years we would go to Spokane at Christmas to visit with Mary’s dad, mom, sister and brother, big snow would be in the forecast. But it would never fall.
What great expectation do you have in our life?
A peace-filled Christmas season? Reconciliation with an estranged loved one? A cure for a disease your spouse is battling? 
John the Baptist had a great expectation, too.   As the herald of the Messiah, his great expectation was that Jesus would be the chosen one to unite and lead Israel and bring about the reign of God.
John declared to the people, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” 
John knew his whole life that Jesus was the Messiah. He even knew in the womb.
Yet, this week, we see an imprisoned John, depressed and disillusioned and wondering if, in fact, Jesus is the chosen one.  Many Jews in John’s time were expecting a great political or military leader. Jesus is anything but. 
Jesus echoes today’s first reading from Isaiah to remind John (and all of us) what the reign of God looks like:

“the blind regain sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Good News proclaimed to them”

Merciful healings, wholeness and re-creation of all things; Jesus reminds us to look for all these signs to see what the reign of God looks like in our own lives. 
Scholars say, “Jesus defines his role as not of sovereignty or judgment, as expected, but as one of blessing on the needy.”
Blessing on the needy is how Jesus – how God – shows His love for us.  
We are all needy or poor in spirit at times… in desperate need of God’s love.  Many times God comforts us in beautiful ways.
When the Kingdom breaks into our human existence – God’s intervention is seen in wondrous things. This is a saving God who brings new life. The one referred to by the Prophet Isaiah today.
Just as “the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom,” God’s love for us dawns in our lives in radiant beauty.
Not that we will be cured of our physical ailments. But we will find comfort. And we will see wondrous things!
The Letter of Saint James reminds us we must both be patient and prepared for the coming of the Lord.  
John’s Father Zechariah understood the joy of so great a salvation as he penned his powerful Canticle foretelling his son’s and Jesus’s role in our salvation history.  This is the son he thought he’d never have. Zechariah and wife Elizabeth are rewarded for their patience.
This is what he said in his Canticle, a prayer prayed by all Catholic clergy, religious and some laity every day in our morning prayer:

“You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
At first glance, you might think this passage is about great expectations parents have for their child. But if you look closer you will see it’s really about the great expectations people have for God.
The coming birth of Jesus is the dawn of God's reign.
Dawn is coming.  And darkness will be driven away soon by a holy light.
 In November of 2002, Mary’s dad Jack was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. He was given just a few months to live.
But those few months miraculously turned into an entire year allowing Jack’s family to show their great love for him and say goodbye.
A year after his diagnosis, we gathered in Spokane on Jack’s final Christmas and celebrated as a complete family one last time together. It was a beautiful, joy-filled gathering.  One we all will remember forever.
As we said our final goodbye and left Spokane a few days after Christmas, Jack went to bed and never woke up again. He died on December 29th, 2003.
We got the news the day after we drove home and immediately piled our two sons back into the car to return home to Spokane.
We arrived to a house filled with great darkness, sadness and pain. 
As we started planning the funeral, the weather forecast suddenly changed. Snow was coming our way. Meteorologists were predicting a major snow storm. We tried not to get our hopes up.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve day, the snow began to fall, and fall, and fall.  By noon, it was a near whiteout blizzard; dumping like we’d never seen before.  Over the course of 18 hours, nearly three feet of snow piled up in Spokane.
We took our boys to a favorite sledding spot behind nearby Whitworth College for the first time. As Mary, sons Sean and Connor, sister Beth and brother Danny cascaded down the steep hill, we all rejoiced in this long awaited great expectation of big snow.
  It’s one of our most cherished family memories. And it was a light that came during a time of great darkness, a time we were comforted by our loving God in a breathtaking way.
The big snow lifted our spirits allowing us the grace to experience faith, hope and love as we commended Jack’s soul to our heavenly father at his funeral a few days later.
 On this Gaudete Sunday, as we rejoice in the expected coming of baby Jesus, may your great expectations be fulfilled.  May you find what you are seeking in the coming of our Lord and savior.  May you experience the loving comfort of God in your time of need.
And may the coming birth of the Messiah be a reminder that love is the greatest expectation of them all. And Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s great love for us.



Sunday, November 13, 2016

Homily–33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Living Ordinary vs. Extraordinary Lives

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

This is the last ordinary weekend of the liturgical year.
Next weekend we commemorate something extraordinary, the solemnity of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,” the official end of our liturgical year.
In many ways, we’re already celebrating “Christ the King” with today’s readings.
This is no ordinary message. It’s an extraordinary one, a prophetic one.  It’s one preparing us for what is to come.  
The first reading from the Prophet Malachi is meant to shake us from our complacency.  Movies and books depicting an apocalyptic end of the world have Malachi’s words to thank for that.
But when we read literature from the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, like Malachi and Luke’s Gospel message, we must be careful not to speculate about the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in our modern world.  This sort of thing has been going on for two thousand years.
Some of our born-again Christian sisters and brothers do this every time they talk of the Rapture and End Times. 
This is really not what Jesus is talking about here.
No. Jesus is reminding us His Kingdom is not of this earth.   Jesus is warning us of charlatans who will profit from the fears and uncertainty in our troubled world.  Jesus is cautioning us not to follow these con men, but follow Him and His life-giving ways. 
But Jesus is also reminding us when we live the life of Christ we will face rejection and persecution. Yes, even in our own faith tradition, our own families, and our own circle of friends.
Perhaps you’ve experienced rejection and persecution as a disciple of Christ?
Desmond Doss faced that rejection and persecution.  The Lynchburg, Virginia native was motivated to serve his country after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Problem was, as a devout Seventh Day Adventist, he refused to touch a gun. Instead, he wanted to serve his country as a medic.
From the day he reported for duty, his life was a living hell.
“While Doss viewed himself not as a conscientious objector, but a conscientious cooperator, his fellow infantrymen and superiors did not see it that way. When he arrived for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., he quickly became an outcast from the rest of the recruits. His slight stature and shyness did not improve the situation, and many soldiers believed he would be a major liability in battle.”   
He was nicknamed “the coward” and faced regular beatings from his fellow enlisted men and verbal taunting from his commanding officers and drill sergeant.  The goal was to wash him out of boot camp.  And everyone was joining in.
You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
As Christians, we are called not to live ordinary lives, but extraordinary lives of service and sacrifice to our King and Savior.
As Private Doss said during his lifetime, “I wanted to be like Christ in saving life instead of taking life.” That was the reason he wanted to join the Army Medical Corp.
Private Doss endured a torturous bootcamp experience and eventually made it to the field of battle as a medic on Okinawa. It was the site of what was considered the second bloodiest conflict in World War Two.  The first being D-Day.
It was April 1945, and war with Japan was at a critical turning point.  Okinawa would be the final test to determine who would win the war.
The object of Private Doss and his 307th Infantry, 77th Division was the hellish Maeda Escarpment, a battlefield located on top of a sheer 400-foot cliff. The site became known as Hacksaw Ridge.  
A treacherous rope ladder was the only way up the sheer cliff.
The Americans stormed the ridge and took the escarpment for less than a day. The next morning the Japanese emerged from the catacomb tunnels and drove the U.S. soldiers off the escarpment and back down the rope ladder.
Hundreds of wounded were left behind.  Private Doss was faced with a brutal decision, abandon the ridge or risk lose his life saving his fellow servicemen. He chose the latter and reentered the field of battle searching for the lost and wounded.
When he would find a soldier alive, he would take him back to edge of the cliff and hoist him down with using ropes.
Each time he would save a man’s life, he would pray out loud, “Lord, please help me get one more.  Help me get one more.”  This went on all day and all night.
In the end, Private Doss saved 75 men before saving himself.
The men who persecuted Private Doss were now in awe of him. Many had his heroics to thank for their very lives.
His commanding officer said he had misjudged Doss and wondered if the private could ever forgive him.  For years after the war, the captain would blink back tears in telling Doss’ story.
Eventually, the Americans tried to take the Ridge again.  As they waited to climb the wall on the Sabbath Day, a radio call broke the silence before the assault with a General asking, “Why haven’t you started climbing the ridge?”  The Captain’s answer was curt, “We’re waiting for Private Doss” who was finishing his prayers.
 Hacksaw Ridge was eventually taken, and as we know, the Japanese were defeated a few months later.
Doss was injured during the battle for Hacksaw Ridge and returned home a corporal and became the first conscientious objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.   
President Truman was so excited to meet Corporal Doss he walked right up to him to shake his hand instead of waiting for the soldier to come to him during the awarding ceremony.
Catholic director Mel Gibson has made a new movie on the story. It’s hard to watch due to the realistic scenes of war, but the movie received a rare, 10-minute standing ovation by a thousand movie goers at the Venice Film Festival two months ago.  This story of deep faith is receiving numerous accolades and Oscar buzz.

 Desmond Doss said during his lifetime, “I know who I owe my life to, as well as (that of) my men. That’s why I like to tell this story for the Glory of God because I know from a human standpoint I should not be here.”  For the remainder of his life until his death in 2006, Desmond Doss kept telling and retelling his story and giving Glory to God always.
Corporal Doss walked into one of the bloodiest battles of World War II with nothing to protect himself but his Bible and his faith in God.  This ordinary man did extraordinary things, all in the name of Christ the King. 
We are ALL called by God to live extraordinary lives of faith.
The events of the past week show we are a deeply divided nation. We Christians should not be gloating, nor blaming, nor persecuting others who do not think like we do, but loving other. We Christians must be shining lights in the darkness of this troubled world and present ourselves as a model to the world as St. Paul calls us to do in today’s reading to the Thessalonians.  We Christians must always put our trust and faith in Christ Jesus, not in men or women.
May we ALL resist the temptation to choose the easy road of living ordinary lives and live extraordinary lives for Jesus, our savior and our King.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Homily–31st Sunday in Ordinary Time–Salvation Is For All

Wisdom 11:22-12:2
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19: 1-10


As children, we probably all remember hearing the bible story about the Walls of Jericho falling down.
The story is found in the Book of Joshua.
Jericho was the first Canaan village to fall to the Israelites as they took possession of the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert with Moses.
The story tells of how the Israelites encircled Jericho and seven priests, leading the Ark of the Covenant around the city’s walls, blew rams’ horns. That noise and the sound of a screaming crowd brought down the walls of Jericho.

Today, Jesus’ challenging words and shocking actions are like the blaring ram's horn in our hearts designed to bring down the walls that allow us to condemn “others” as “sinners.”
This scene is like a closing act of a play. We are about to transition from Jesus’ ministry on the road to Jerusalem and enter with Jesus into Jerusalem. The story of Zacchaeus is one of the final stories as we close this chapter.
The name Zacchaeus is an abbreviation of Zechariah, meaning “the righteous one.”  Zacchaeus’ name mocks him in the eyes of his people.

Tax collectors were hated in Jesus’ time because they were notorious for cheating poor people to fatten their own pockets. These were Jews in bed with Israel’s Roman oppressors and corrupt Jewish leadership.
Chief tax collectors were even more hated because they oversaw large groups of men who used extortion tactics to strong arm the locals into paying stiff taxes to keep Rome happy.
Jesus didn’t intend to stay in Jericho, he was only passing through. But in seeing into Zacchaeus’ heart Jesus decided to stay the night.  He had a point to make to the crowd about mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus even was so bold as to invite himself over for dinner with Zacchaeus. “We might think of this as presumptuous and rude. But Zacchaeus is overjoyed. Here he was, a social outcast being offered the opportunity to host one of the most famous men in the country. Of course, he is happy. He scrambles down the tree and welcomes Jesus.”
Salvation is for all. Yes, even people we consider to be great sinners. This is the wisdom of Jesus.
So what lessons does Jesus want us to learn from this tale?
I see five we can take away and apply to our daily lives:

1.      Love is the most powerful force in the world because it changes people’s lives. And Jesus always led with love and calls us to do the same.

2.      No one is beyond God’s redemption and repentance, even those we believe to be great sinners.

3.      Repentance is the way every sinner gets right with God. But that repentance is between God and that person. Not between us and that person. It’s none of our business.

4.      We disciples can’t be overly concerned about ruining our reputations when interacting with so-called “sinners.” 

5.      As a Disciples of Jesus we must never be so enamored with money that we become blinded to the poor and marginalized in this world. Instead, we must be enamored with Jesus and His righteousness.

“The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
I pray we all hear the blaring ram’s horn of Jesus’ message this weekend and the noise knocks down the walls we have around our hearts. I pray we join Jesus in seeking and saving the lost. I pray we lead always with the power of His love.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Homily–26th Sunday in Ordinary Time–Rich Man, Poor Man

Amos 6:1, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16: 19-31

Back in January I had one of those God moments. You know the kind -- when the Gospel comes to life before your very eyes. 
I am reminded of it with today’s Gospel.
Our parish community was holding a funeral for a longtime homeless guy who died on the streets. (CLICK here for an article on the homeless funeral)
            As I was readying the Church, a big, tall homeless man came to the side door near the piano at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and knocked. I opened it up and welcomed him.  He asked if he could hang out for the hour of so until the funeral began.  I told him, “Of course.”
            As we talked, he shared with me the despair of living on the streets.  It was a cold, raw January day in Everett. The temperature was about 40 and a frigid rain was falling.
          The man told me his name was Ben and he’d been on the streets for years. Many times, he says he feels ignored, forgotten, and alone.
            As we sat in the Church, he confided in me that he was brought up Catholic -- living on the reservation as a kid.  He said he loved our beautiful Church, and actually choked-back tears as he shared how thankful he was just to rest his feet and warm his bones.
As he talked about his reality, I reminded him of God’s reality. This human experience can be
difficult, but this too shall eventually pass and my friend Ben will someday sit at the banquet table with the Lord with Jesus serving his every need.  
He said he liked that thought.
I thought of this Gospel passage as I shared it.
            Former Pope Benedict said something profound about what’s expected of the People of God while we wait for that heavenly banquet.
He said this,
           “In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor. But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.
Where human lives are concerned, time is always short, yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed 'too big to fail.'
Surely the integral human development of the world's peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention, that is truly 'too big to fail.'” 

The story of the rich man and poor Lazarus is only found in Luke’s Gospel, a Gospel that shows an overriding concern for the poor and marginalized, and is lazer-focused on social justice.
The story is an echo of Jesus’ Beatitudes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.” 
The story also echoes Mary’s Magnificat: ”the hungry he has filled with goods things; the rich he has sent away empty.”
Jesus’ story is directed right at the hearts of the wealthy Pharisees of His day, but is also a shot to the hearts of our wealthy society here today. 
Like it or not, we are the rich man in this story.
We live in a land of abundance, with every creature comfort known to humankind.  We are the envy of all the poor of the world. Yet all the while, people in our society live on the streets, mired in addiction, mental health crisis, and abject poverty.
In today’s Gospel story, the rich man’s lack of charity and responsibility to his fellow man condemns him to flames of the netherworld.
As one bible scholar puts it, the rich man’s greatest sin is one of omission (That “what I have failed to do” line we used to say in the Confiteor). This omission has fashioned a great chasm between the rich man and Lazarus. 
The danger of wealth and power in Jesus’ eyes is that they blind us to the kingdom of God both in this life and the next.
Our ambivalence, our apathy are shameful in God’s eyes.
Remember, unless we’re part of the solution, we’re a part of the problem.   We can’t just say, “poverty, homelessness, addiction … not my problem.”
The amazing irony in the story is how much the rich man needed Lazarus in order to be saved. “Had he paid attention to Lazarus begging for table scraps at the door of his house (and responded), the rich man would not be in the predicament he is now.”
God wants us to know “how much of a role we play in our (own) salvation.”
God asks us to humbly be open to His will in our lives, to feel the tugging at our own hearts when we see someone truly in need.  I know it’s sometimes difficult to hear God or have His message break through all the noise in our society.  But we can’t just say, “not my problem,” or, from our privileged perches, condemn the poor for being lazy or people who just need to get their acts together.
The CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Fr. Thomas Rosica put it this way:

The rich, the powerful, and the (so-called) 'just' find it very difficult to be humbly open to God; they are full of confidence in their own treasures and securities. The only real security is the one based on friendship with God…     to be a servant of human beings and of God after the example of Jesus of Nazareth.
Exalting oneself is a form of self-reliance as opposed to reliance on God. This makes clear why being rich, prosperous, satisfied almost naturally imply being arrogant, proud, godless
As human beings, we are radically weak and constantly try to cover up our weakness by finding security in power, wealth and status. This deception will ultimately be unmasked by God's act of judgment.”

Another bible scholar sees this very story in Luke’s Gospel as a key that unlocks the door to “salvation” from Jesus’ perspective.
“On one hand, it holds up a cold mirror to our social realities, challenging us to either ‘live against’ or ‘die with’ the inhumane disparities that divide our social landscape. Then it invites us—like the epilogue of (the Road to) Emmaus (story)—to reread the Bible, reread our (salvation) history, and reread our own social maps, and then dedicate our discipleship to justice and equity. This, for Luke, is the key to ‘salvation.’ And Christians who would rather daydream about the ‘hereafter’ will be in for a rude awakening about how the ‘here’ persists in that ‘after.’” 
            If the words of this Gospel message truly afflict the comfortable here in this Church and comfort the afflicted just outside our door, then it’s done the job Jesus intended.        
So, as we lay our heads down on our pillows tonight and thank the Lord for the many blessings in our lives, let us also ask Him to guide our hearts as His disciples to see and respond to the poor man or poor woman sleeping at our door. 
            As Doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom put it so beautifully 16 centuries years ago: “If you cannot find Jesus in the beggar at the Church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.”