Sunday, April 25, 2021

HOMILY – 4th Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd


Today, we are reading what is called the Good Shepherd discourse found in John’s Gospel.

We hear the powerful words from Jesus, “My sheep recognize my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Jesus is the Good Shepherd as witnessed by his ministry.

But there is another Good Shepherd roaming the earth today: Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’ pectoral cross is this symbol of Christ the Good Shepherd. And the Holy Father has been tending his flock since March 2013 by his words and his actions.

We see the Good Shepherd and hear his voice in everything Pope Francis does.

On the day of his ascension to the Chair of St. Peter, he humbly appeared before a crowd in St. Peter’s Square and asked for the crowd’s blessing.

Then he rode in a bus with his fellow Cardinals back to the hotel to gather his things after his election instead of riding in a limo. He rejected living in the palatial suites at the Vatican, and instead chose a residence at a retreat house with a bedroom and simple living room. His limousine is NOW a tiny, modest Fiat.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio even chose a humble name as Pope, becoming the first Francis, a name prompted by a comment from a friend immediately upon his election as Pope.

As he was receiving more and more votes in the conclave, the cardinal sitting next to him, Brazil’s Claudio Hummes, tried to comfort his nervous friend.

After the voting reached the two-thirds majority that elected him, applause broke out. Cardinal Hummes then hugged and kissed him and told him these prophetic words: “Don’t forget the poor.”

That moment, that gesture is what inspired Bergolio to choose the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, the saint known for rejecting opulence and comfort, and embracing poverty; the saint who proclaimed the Gospel to all creatures; the saint who was never a priest, only a humble deacon.

In one of his first addresses, Pope Francis was asked by a reporter, “What kind of Church do you want?” 

He said, I want a “poor church, for the poor.”

One of Pope Francis’ most powerful directives to the Church came in December 2015 when he launched the jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy.

Mercy is shocking. Mercy is beautiful. Mercy takes your breath away. And mercy is the trademark characteristic of the Good Shepherd.

CNN news anchor Carol Costello had her faith reawakened by the Good Shepherd Pope Francis and his call of mercy. She shared her story several years ago about how the doors closed on her faith.

“I remember the day I stopped praying. It was the day after my little brother, Jimmy, died of cancer. He was 25. I was so angry at God. 

I was 27 at the time, and, like most young people I had stopped going to church. But, on that day -- that terrible day -- I desperately needed to understand why God took my brother. I called the nearest Catholic church, looking for a priest. A lady picked up the phone. ‘Can I talk with Father?’ I asked.

I wish I could say her answer was ‘yes.’

Instead, she asked me if I was a member of that particular parish. ‘Does it matter?’ I asked (At the time I lived far from my home parish). I don't remember how she responded, but the answer about my being able to see Father was clearly no.

I cried for a bit, then decided I would never ask God for anything. Clearly, his conduits on Earth did not have time for me -- a lifelong Catholic -- and sinner -- so why would he?”

But it was a conversation with a Catholic Cardinal about people who may feel outside of the church, and the actions of Pope Francis, that changed everything for Costello.

“’There is room for everyone,’ Canadian Cardinal Gerald Lacroix insisted. (The Cardinal says there are hard truths in the Gospel and in Church teaching) But that doesn't mean we reject.’”

Costello said, “That last sentiment – ‘that doesn't mean we reject.’ -- did it for me.

I finally understood why Pope Francis reawakened my faith. I always felt my church would reject me for committing the smallest of sins. Like calling a priest at a church that was not my home parish. Like NOT covering my head with a traditional veil at Easter. Like accidentally eating meat on Holy Friday…

(Cardinal) Lacroix likened … Pope (Francis)'s approach to Jesus. ‘Jesus didn't judge. Jesus did not come as a judge. He came as someone who preached and talked about the love of God… Jesus walked with sinners until the very end. He did not banish them to fires of hell, for He refused to give up on anyone.’

As the journalist said, “I can't wait to go church next Sunday. And, yes, I will bow my head and pray for forgiveness, and if I'm worthy, Christ's love.”  

The words of a CNN news anchor Carol Costello.

So, how is our Church showing the Mercy?

Each of us can make our parish a more welcoming place to newcomers.

If you see a parent struggling with a child’s behavior, offer a friendly smile, a sympathetic nod, or a helping hand. 

If you see a person exhibiting unusual behavior, understand it might be a sign of a disability or a sign of mental health distress. Embrace the person as a child of God and understand that each of us has different ways of receiving and communicating love.

If you see someone who is disheveled or out of sorts, consider that he or she might be in dire straits. Act with compassion.

And always remember, a warm smile, a nod, or a small kindness can make all the difference.

This is the behavior of the Good Shepherd. This is the behavior our Holy Father. This is the behavior he is calling us to show as we follow the Good Shepherd as a welcoming, non-judging, non-condemning Church.

Pope Francis says the Church’s “very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love” to all the world.

As we say at Christ Our Hope (St. Patrick), all are welcome.


Today we are Anointing of the Sick.

This Sacrament provides healing and the forgiveness of sins.  It is an extraordinary sign of God’s MERCY in our lives. Our Good Shepherd today is Fr. Bryan Hersey, whose healing hands tend the flock at the First Hill Hospital ministry as chaplain.

As the Catechism states: “This sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ our Lord as a true and proper sacrament of the New Testament.”

          I invite you to partake in this merciful sacrament of love today. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

HOMILY – 2nd Sunday of Easter – Go!


Jesus is commissioning his disciples this weekend to Go!

In this Gospel passage, we find the disciples hiding out in the upper room from those who killed Jesus, afraid of their own fates, when Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”  And everything changes.

This is the launching of the Great Commission in John’s Gospel. The Great Commission is as important to our faith now as it was then or is to our future, because without it our faith would wither and die, instead of thriving and blossoming as it has for nearly two thousand years.

Just what is the Great Commission?

It’s OK if you don’t know. A survey in 2019 found a majority of Church going Christians in the U.S. were unfamiliar with the term. Even those who knew the term, only a small percentage could explain it.

The Great Commission is not about proselytizing, but about evangelizing – preaching more with our actions as Christians than with our words.

The Great Commission is found in all four Gospels and even has a place in Acts of the Apostles.

           This version in John’s Gospel doesn’t have the same impact as ones found in Mark’s or Matthew’s Gospels.

In John, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  

That’s not as strong a definition as is found in Mark’s Gospel, “as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.

          But the best version (the Hollywood movie-ending version) is found at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

In essence, Jesus is saying, “You, me, let’s go! We have work to do, and it’s urgent! Join me!”

How many of us live this Great Commission daily?

So, what exactly are we called to do?  I love what New Testament scholar and former Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright said about the mission at the heart of the Great Commission.

 “Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; … every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the Gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world — all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. This is the logic of the mission of God.”

We, my sisters and brothers, are co-missioned in this mission of love from God. That is the Great Commission.

How appropriate this passage comes as we begin baptizing new members of the Church during the Easter season after a short Lenten break.

It all started with our baptism. Through water and the spirit, we were commissioned to join Jesus is this mission of love in the world. We were sealed with Sacred Chrism to become priests, prophets and kings, sharing Jesus with the world.

In many ways, what we do today is different than what the apostles did. Or the early Christian disciples.

After their encounter with the Risen Jesus, the apostles gave up everything and walked to far way lands to share the message of the resurrection of Jesus. Most lost their lives during their Great Commission.

The early Christian disciples pooled their resources together to build up a community of followers of Jesus who daily joined in the Great Commission.

We hear how they lived in today’s first reading from Acts of the Apostles:

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common… There was no needy person among them…”

In our culture today, some would decry, “That’s Socialism!” But that is how the early Christians lived, endured, even thrived during a time of great oppression and persecution.

How many of us could live like that today? How many of us are brave enough and committed enough to follow Jesus in this way? How many of us are that generous? Something to ponder in the coming week.

I have a new ear worm. That’s what the young people call a song that gets stuck in your head. My new favorite song is from singer Bruce Springsteen, called, “There Goes My Miracle.”

In it, he sings,

“Heartache, heartbreak

Love gives, love takes

The book of love holds its rules

Disobeyed by fools

Disobeyed by fools

There goes my miracle

Walking away, walking away”

So, do we let our miracle, Jesus Christ, just walk away?

           Or do we go! And follow him in the Great Commission? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

HOMILY – Holy Thursday – Pilate’s Wife


(Indulge me if you would. Please close your eyes and daydream with me for a moment…) 

Think back to the ancient world. 

Think back to Jesus Christ’s final night on earth. 

Think back to the model He was setting for us all in this simple act of service found on Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet. This simple act still echoes two-thousand years later. 

At the time of Jesus, nobility was to be served. They lived in grand palaces and had minions to take care of their every whim and need.

Then along comes Jesus, a homeless man who spends his entire ministry serving the needs of others instead of being served himself.

It was a model of behavior that afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.

This model was a threat to Jewish nobility. This model was a threat to Rome. This model is still a threat to some people of affluence and power today. (You can now open your eyes.)   

Now at the exact time Jesus was teaching his disciples about the sacredness of servant leadership, the wife of Pontius Pilate was having a troublesome, fitful sleep.  She was being haunted in a dream by Jesus.

Historians say her name was Claudia Procula. Greek scholar and early Christian theologian Origen was the first to mention that Claudia may have converted to Christianity.  In fact, in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Church, she is known as St. Claudia.

In one of the Passion narratives, we hear this passage:

While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream (last night) because of him.” 

Some may have a vivid image of Claudia from the movie The Passion of the Christ.  In it she is seen pleading with her husband Pontius Pilate to leave this innocent, holy man alone. When she realizes her failure to prevent Christ’s crucifixion, we see her, in an act of service, tearfully giving the mother of Jesus fresh, white linen to clean up the blood of her Son's scourging and consoling her and Mary Magdalene. 

I read an interesting perspective on Claudia by Catholic philosopher Dr. Taylor Marshall who runs the New Saint Thomas Institute.

            In an examination of the tradition of Pontius Pilate’s wife, he found something remarkable, something astounding.

           He said “there is a ‘tradition’ that Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula had a dream of billions of people chanting ‘sub Pontio Pilato’ over and over and over.”

            Anyone remember their Latin? 

What’s the meaning of the word “sub?” 

(That’s right.) The word means “under” – thus in her dream she was hearing billions of people chanting “under Pontius Pilate.”

             Now think about that for a moment. 

             How many Catholics exist on the planet today?   Estimates now place the number at almost 1.3 billion.  There are another 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world today.  Add to that all the Catholics and Orthodox Christians who have come before us.  Billions!

            Billions of people chanting “under Pontius Pilate.”

            Starting to see what Dr. Marshall is seeing?  Or better yet hear what Dr. Marshall is hearing?

            In both the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed there is the same line:  “under Pontius Pilate.” 

Dr. Marshall contends “What (Claudia) was hearing (in her dream) was the billions of Christians who recite ‘He was crucified (or suffered) under Pontius Pilate’” in the two Creeds chanted each week by Catholics and Orthodox Christians around the world. 

Dr. Marshall thinks, “Most women would be honored to know that their husband’s name would be on the lips of billions over a period of 20 centuries. But in the case of this Prefect of Judaea, it is the notorious reputation of being the … cause of Christ’s crucifixion” that haunted her sleep and eventually may have converted her to living a Christian life.

As Dr. Marshall reminds us “Pontius Pilate’s name is in the Creeds because it anchors the life of Christ into human history, specifically Roman history.”

So what does all of this have to do with Holy Thursday?

Good question.

As we heard in the first reading from Exodus, the Passover lamb was slaughtered so its blood could be spread over the doorposts of believers so they might be saved and live. 

As we know Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His body and His blood are what save us and bring us new life. The Eucharist is what keeps our faith alive today. 

Our Eucharistic feast was instituted on this very night nearly two-thousand years ago.

St. Paul reminds us,

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

As we know, when we take Christ we are called to become Christ, serving the needs of others instead of serving ourselves, loving others as much as we love ourselves, just as Jesus commanded at the Last Supper.

The dream was a wake-up call for Claudia.  A wake-up call that all human privilege, prestige and honor are false constructs in the eyes of God.

That Jesus’ own example of privilege, prestige and honor turns the ancient world’s thoughts of nobility on their head. 

A true leader serves his people first. A true leader sacrifices for others (even his own life). A true leader washes the feet of others.

Peter had a hard time with this concept of servant leadership. As the kids would say today, he’s not getting what Jesus is putting down.

Jesus understood how hard it is for some of us to wrap our heads around the idea.

“What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later."

Peter said to him, 

"You will never wash my feet."

Jesus answered him, 

"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."

As we read in Sacred Scripture:

“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This powerful act of service and self-sacrifice are at the epicenter of the Gospel message.

They served as a wake-up call for the pampered and privileged Claudia.   

Jesus hopes they serve as a wake-up call for all of us as well.