Saturday, August 27, 2022

HOMILY – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Humility


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           Well, here we are.

At the end of our journey together, the closing chapter of the 105-year story of St. Pat’s.

Soon we will step over the threshold into a great unknown.

But Jesus is with us today and forever. And Jesus promises us all new life. Now we need to hold on tight to that promise.

We are collectively in a place of vulnerability.

Thankfully, mercifully, this weekend’s readings are perfectly crafted for us, with a divine message from our creator about how we are to approach our next journeys.

In our first reading from Sirach, we hear we are to,

conduct (our) affairs with humility,
 and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble (oneself) the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.

           It is as if the message is coming to us “from Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and countless angels in festal gathering” are watching over our final day together.

           Then Jesus speaks to us through the Gospel to reminds us,

“For every one who exalts himself (or herself) will be humbled, but the one who humbles (herself or) himself will be exalted."

           In his book Humility: The Beauty of Holiness, author Andrew Murray said to remember Jesus when thinking of a model for humility.

Here’s what he said,

“Christ humbled Himself, therefore God exalted Him. Christ will humble us, and keep us humble; let us heartily consent, let us trustfully and joyfully accept all that humbles; the power of Christ will (then) rest upon us. We shall find that the deepest humility is the secret to truest happiness, of a joy that nothing can destroy.”

In our Gospel story today, Jesus is helping us to understand what humility looks like in our human world.

           He’s about to break bread with a hostile audience of Pharisees and lawyers.

As Luke’s Gospel puts it, the guests had Jesus under close scrutiny. These are people who held grudges against Jesus and were lying in wait for him to slip up and say something they could persecute him with.

To add insult to injury, this is the Sabbath and a few moments before today’s Gospel passage, Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath, a no-no in Jesus’ world.

But Jesus seizes the moment to feed our souls with an important lesson in humility.

           Jesus is teaching us how to approach him, how to approach God, how to approach heaven, how to approach each other without airs of superiority or entitlement.

Not as people believing ourselves worthy of something, but as people who are totally dependent on the mercy of God for our very being, for every gift in our life, and for our potential future entrance into heaven.

Webster’s Dictionary defines humility as:

“The quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people”

In God’s eyes, we are humble when we are free of pride, arrogance, and self-reliance. 

God desires us to not think of ourselves as better than others.

That thinking only generates bitterness and division. And can lead to embarrassment when overstepping our place with God and with our brothers and sisters.

In other words, if we walk around with our noses up in the air, we may fall flat on our faces.

One bible scholar said the Mediterranean world in Jesus’ time was an honor/shame-based culture and “the social gaffe of overstepping one’s station, such as Jesus describes, would have been a mortifying experience.”  

But he says this “points to the proper disposition toward God and how we define our need for God’s salvation in our lives. Social self-inflation is equated with spiritual self-inflation.”

This is the lesson Jesus wants us to learn this weekend. 

           Drop our airs of self-importance. Get real.

And Jesus wants us to pay close attention to the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast.

Jesus reminds his fellow guests (and us) that a true act of generosity is one given to someone who can give us nothing in return, who cannot repay us, whose very social standing carries with it no prestige, no honor.

This is the exact way Jesus went about doing good, by emptying himself for others (especially the poor, marginalized and outcast) without counting the costs.

Are we prepared to do the same?

Once again, Jesus is sharing what’s expected of us as we build up the Kingdom here on earth.

All we need to do is listen and follow his lead. 

I am humbled by the many friendships built these past three-plus years with you all. We’ve walked together on a most difficult path.

I love you all. And you will be forever in my heart and in my prayers.

As we move forward, sisters and brothers, please never forget that Jesus is with us every step of the way. Even when we feel abandoned by our institutional Church.

One of my St. Pat’s friends shared a beautiful quote that speaks to this moment.

           Thank you, Lisa Dennison, for sharing this.

It comes from Irish priest and poet John O’Donohue.  I leave you with his words (and will let an Irishman have the last word in this final homily):

“At any time, you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres.

At this threshold, a great complexity of emotions comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward.

The time has come to cross.

Friday, August 19, 2022

HOMILY – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fire of the Gospel


           There is a fire and brimstone dimension to Jesus.

We may be skeptical of the Jesus portrayed by firebrand Evangelical preachers like Billy Graham and others throughout the years.

Sure, Jesus is the gentle, loving figure depicted in many Gospel stories. But he also has a fiery side. And it has come out in full force this weekend.

Jesus is here to push our buttons and show us the true-North of his Gospel message.

But are we listening?

           I fondly remember meeting a Maryknoll priest for the first time who knew how to push buttons like Jesus. He’s the reason I became associated with Maryknoll.

We were at our final deacon Lenten retreat during formation at Mt. Angel Seminary in 2012.

Fr. Dave LaBuda was a last-minute replacement for another Maryknoll educator who was supposed to lead our weekend.

 Dave is a very direct person. He loves to tell it like it is. He doesn’t soften his words especially when it comes to opinions about the Gospel or Jesus.

           This turned off some of our deacon couples. His words convicted hearts and led to very intriguing small group conversations.

I sat in awe all weekend long, chuckling at some of his button pushing antics.

Do you know who else is good with pushing buttons with his words and actions? Pope Francis.

His words and actions have ignited divisions not seen in our faith in centuries.

For Christians, it’s easy to get comfortable in our faith and think we have it all figured out.

           St. Augustine who once said, “If you think you understand God, it is not God.”  God is a mystery, and no human mind can fully comprehend God.

 St. Augustine is the saint who encouraged Christians to strive for a faith that seeks understanding. He also advised humility as we strive for that understanding.

When we hear Jesus talk about fire today, we should be reminded of St. Augustine. We should also be reminded of Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Holy Spirit is what leads us to an understanding that is beyond our human capacity. And we should be reminded of St. John the Baptist announcement that one mightier than I would “baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit” in Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus knows of the divisions caused by faith.

When we follow the will of our creator (as we heard in last weekend’s Gospel), when we are all-in with our commitment to Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit, there will be detractors who will criticize us, and some may even persecute us or seek to hurt us.

We may be in harmony with our creator, but we may not be in harmony with our family, friends, acquaintances or even our enemies.

This is part of the reality of following Jesus. It’s not always going to be easy.

There’s another dimension of fire we need to consider. Fire is also an image of purification as in the refinement process for precious metals. Gold and silver are described as being tested by fire both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Such purification allows disciples to learn what it means to follow Christ.

As Bishop Mueggenborg said in his book, “Come Follow Me,” “When Jesus says that He came to cast fire on the earth, He is drawing on all of these images (of fire). He came to destroy the power of evil, to purify us of our weakness and attachment to sin, to sanctify us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to awaken within us the gift of faith through loving obedience to His Word. What a powerful image!” 

My Maryknoll friend Fr. Dave was the one who invited me on my first pilgrimage to Central America to see the sights and hear the stories of the martyrs of the 20th Century nearly 10 years ago.

           It was a life-changing experience that altered the trajectory of my ministry forever.

On that pilgrimage I first heard of Fr. Dave’s own brush with the fire of the Gospel.

As a Maryknoll priest he served the poorest of the poor in Honduras and Guatemala for 20-years.

It was at times dangerous work for him and his fellow disciples of Christ.

While on pilgrimage he shared a terrifying story when the Holy Spirit saved his life.

As a priest who worked in remote areas, he would travel by boat for hours every weekend to serve Mass in small rural communities dotting hundreds of miles of rivers.

          One time in early 1982 when civil unrest was at its peak, Fr. Dave LaBuda was working in the Peten region of Guatemala one weekend. He was joined by another priest Fr. Charlie Texiara.

As Fr. Dave and Fr. Charlie were traveling upriver, Guatemalan military authorities stopped them. The two priests were seen as suspicious and immediately placed into a makeshift prison-cell as the lieutenant radioed headquarters.

           Fr. Dave had just returned from Nicaragua. Both priests had identification papers from two regions where guerillas had strongholds in Guatemala.

Since both spoke fluent Spanish, they understood the lieutenant’s words as he asked for his commander, saying, “I don’t believe these men are priests and I want permission to shoot them.”

Fr. Dave and Fr. Charlie were freaked out. They saw no way out of their predicament.

Hours went by as the men sweated it out in the hot afternoon sun sensing the end of their lives was near. The anticipation was unbearable.

The lieutenant kept radioing headquarters, but his commander could not be found.

Eventually, the lieutenant brought both men out of the prison cell. They thought this was the end. 

But in their moment of terror Fr. Charlie noticed the lieutenant wearing a big class ring from his military academy and started to ask questions about it.

The lieutenant began to regale them of his graduation day when he got the ring 10-years earlier. He told them of finding a priest as they strolled through town after graduation to bless the ring. A gringo priest.

Fr. Charlie told the lieutenant, “I was that priest!”  

The lieutenant immediately recognized him and said, “Padre!”  And gave him big hug.

           After that, he let them go and allowed them to return to their mission. Both men were thankful to the Holy Spirit for saving their lives that day.

The danger of this moment is the fire Jesus is speaking of today.

This is the fire experienced by the martyrs of our faith (the so-called “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in our second reading) for over two-thousand years.

While Fr. Dave and Fr. Charlie literally dodged a bullet that day, they both suffered from PTSD for years from the near-death experience.

How prepared are we to give our all for the Gospel?

This is what Jesus is warning his disciples of today.

Friday, July 22, 2022

HOMILY – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Love in Action


          Jesus is teaching us today how to pray. He’s also sharing a parable about how our creator hears and answers our prayers but reminds us to be persistent in our prayers to God. Don’t give up. On God. Or on ourselves.

“Father, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

This weekend’s story is about answered prayers and the people we meet along the way. It’s also about how we should never judge a book by its cover, and how we can change the world one soul at a time.

My dear friend Dianah and her family first saw the homeless woman sitting on a street corner ranting and raving as traffic drove by while coming home from Sunday church service in their hometown of Spokane.  

           The woman clearly was dealing with some deep-seeded demons and appeared mentally ill. 

Most people would just look the other way and keep driving. 

Dianah and her family had done so several times before, but on one particularly cold day her now husband Mike just couldn’t do it.  He could no longer look the other way and keep driving.

He got out of the car, walked up to the woman, and said, “Is there anything you need?”  

The woman said, “I’d love a cup of coffee.”  

So, they drove to the corner gas station to buy the coffee and Dianah said, “We need to get her a sandwich, too.” So they bought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.   Turned out the woman “loved peanut butter and jelly” sandwiches.  She was so excited about the sandwich and hot coffee and said, “Thank you.”

“Father, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread

Dianah is someone I’ve known for 25 years.  

This would not be the last time Dianah and the homeless woman would see each other. Dianah would drive by every couple of days and ask if there was anything the woman needed.

This went on for months. Dianah found out the woman loved hot cocoa and warm banana bread with butter on it.  So, she brought her some on a regular basis. 

She would asked her, “Why do you keep stopping by?” Saying, other "people stop by, but you keep coming back.”

Dianah said, “I think God put you in my life for a reason.”  

           The woman told Dianah, “People like you don’t come back.”  

In other words, well-dressed, professional people like Dianah don’t come back.  

“Father, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread

and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,”

Dianah would usually sit down on the sidewalk with the woman during their visits together to get on her level. 

One day during a visit, Dianah noticed the woman didn’t have any shoes. It was in the middle of winter. It was cold out. The woman claimed someone had taken her shoes. So, Dianah went and got her a pair. 

Dianah eventually learned the woman’s name was Marcella.

Due to city ordinances, Marcella was forced to move on a regular basis. This made it difficult for Dianah to find her. But Dianah always found a way to find her friend Marcella.
           I first learned of Dianah’s experiences with Marcella through Facebook picture posts from Dianah’s husband Mike, another dear friend and longtime homeless advocate.
           A friendship blossomed and Marcella began to count on Dianah to stop by for a visit. Slowly, her mood started to change. Dianah would see Marcella smile, joke and laugh more and more.

One day Dianah stopped by and could tell Marcella was crying. It was such a bitter, cold winter day that Dianah was afraid to get out of the car. Turned out it was the anniversary of Marcella’s father’s death a decade and a half earlier and Marcella was not in the mood for a visit. 

Dianah asked, “Are you OK? Do you need a hug?” 

Marcella looked at her and said, “I’m strong.”

Dianah told her “You are strong, but we’re still allowed to be hurting inside.” She got out of her car and hugged Marcella as the homeless woman cried in Dianah’s arms for a long while.  

Once Marcella told Dianah, “People keep telling me I’m on Facebook. I don’t even know what Facebook is.  But you’re making me famous.” Dianah said, “No, I think you’re making yourself famous.”

Soon, others would join in helping Marcella on the streets due to her Facebook fame. In fact, Dianah met a Spokane police officer who would check in on Marcella every night just to make sure she was OK.

Dianah realized Marcella had a heart that was not meant to be on the streets and started to look for ways to get her off the street and talking to Marcella about this. 

 Then Dianah lost touch with Marcella.  Dianah became despondent. Where was my friend? She disappeared from the streets. Had something happened? 

Weeks went by and Marcella was nowhere to be found. 

Dianah and her family attend Sunday services at a non-denominational church that does a weekly feed for low income and unhoused in Spokane.  

Actually, many experiencing homelessness attend the church service, too.

           One Sunday, just as the service was ending, Dianah caught sight of Marcella, all cleaned up and looking nice, sitting right across from her. Dianah screamed out in a loud voice, “Marcella!” and ran to her friend for an embrace. 

Marcella told Dianah that day, “You know, we’re kindred spirits.”

“Father, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread

and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,

and do not subject us to the final test."

           Dianah even found out Marcella used to be a nurse. 

Both had judged a book by its cover.  Both had been wrong about each other.  Both learned to love each other just as Christ loved us and taught us to pray.

Many people like to talk about homelessness, but few actually do anything about it.

I pray all followers of Christ will look deep inside our hearts and question the assumptions and judgments that keep us at arm's length of sharing Christ's love. Learn to forgive others for not being like us. And ask God to write off our debts, make us whole again, and let his Kingdom come.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

HOMILY – Pentecost – Following the Holy Spirit


          I remember my first Dale Carnegie class as a young manager. The first lesson was: “Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic.”

In other words, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

           I was 29 at the time, had just moved with my pregnant wife from Seattle to Little Rock, Arkansas, to manage a newsradio station there, and didn’t have a clue as to how to lead people.

           The station owner was a former Navy Admiral. He knew how to lead people. He was the one to suggest I take a Dale Carnegie course to smooth out my many rough edges. 

           The word enthusiasm comes from a two Greek words: en and theos. These two words put together mean “God within”.

           In the ancient Greek world, enthusiasm was seen as “an arbitrary invasion of God into the psyche that filled the person with an indomitable energy.”

Or put another way, a person filled with “divine inspiration.”

           From a Christian faith perspective, enthusiasm means a person filled with the Spirit of God, filled with the Holy Spirit.

           For Christians, enthusiasm is more than just being energetic. Enthusiasm means being courageous, motivated, and committed.

           When we think of the Christian expression of enthusiasm, we can easily think of the Apostles whose lives we’ve been hearing about these past fifty days in our first reading each week from Acts of the Apostles.

How else would the Apostles have accomplished all they did without having “God within”?

As former Seattle Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg wrote in his book, Come Follow Me, “The gift of the Holy Spirit transformed their fear into faith. It motivated them from being self-preserving to becoming other-serving, and it changed the mission of the Church from merely a human organization into a holy endeavor.”

The power of the Holy Spirit transforms of lives and communities.

          We, too, experience the power of the Holy Spirit with our homeless street medicine nonprofit in Everett called MercyWatch.

Founded in the summer of 2016, this all-volunteer team serves on the margins of society by providing outreach, medical assistance, and serving as advocates to those experiencing homelessness.

          When I shared with the archbishop my plan to retire as pastoral leader of Christ Our Hope and St. Patrick, I knew God wanted me to spend more time with MercyWatch. But I didn’t know why.

A few weeks after notifying the archbishop I got my first answer. My second answer came just this past Friday.

          Days after I got this letter from Archbishop confirming my decision to step down here, we received our first good news.

The Archbishop wrote, “Dennis, I am pleased to hear that you are re-engaging with MercyWatch and believe this sort of ministry exemplifies the ‘Samaritan Church’ to which Pope Francis is calling us… I fully support your discernment (and your decision to retire).”

          Just a week after receiving this letter from the Archbishop, MercyWatch found out it was eligible for a portion of 35 million dollars of new state funding for the uninsured and underinsured.

MercyWatch has over a thousand clients and serves as one of the largest free clinics in the state of Washington. MercyWatch is the only nonprofit doing street medicine in Western Washington.

On Monday, we will find out how much we will be awarded.

          No matter the amount, it will be a blessing for our unhoused clients in Snohomish County and beyond. This funding will allow us to better serve their needs.

In addition, this past Friday MercyWatch was asked to help run a five-day a week day shelter for those experiencing homelessness in Everett. City and County funding will flow into that project to better serve our community.

          What a pair of Holy Spirit moments for our team! What a pair of Holy Spirit moments to add consolation to a decision to leave this beautiful community. God has big plans for our team.

MercyWatch enthusiastically serves the unhoused. Our team is courageous in its encounters with this volatile and vulnerable community.

MercyWatch doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and outreach workers and others are motivated and committed because we have “God within” our mission.

This is where I will be spending my fulltime attention once I leave here at the end of the month.

          I ask for your prayers for our endeavors.

In Assisi, every year on the Feast of Pentecost, St. Francis would gather his many followers and pray to the Holy Spirit to guide them in their endeavors.

“The Holy Spirit is able to transform fear into courageous faith, anxious concern into peace, alienation into reconciliation, and disciples into missionaries.”

As we gather here today, let us pray for Sacred Encounters, St. Vincent de Paul, MercyWatch, Operation Nightwatch, Union Gospel Mission, Mary’s Place, and all the many ministries serving the “least of these” in our world; that the Holy Spirit will enrich their endeavors.

          May we missionaries move forward with enthusiasm, “God within,” and may our efforts be powerful work done through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And to that we say, Amen.