Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Homily: "Easter Incentive"

All the kids in my family are all grown up now, so every year my mom and dad still try to find a way for us to take part in the annual Easter Egg Hunt. This is normally the stuff of kids, but we’ve learned that not only has my father gotten better at hiding, but my mother gives us incentives beyond what we expect. Every year the hype of the event gets bigger and bigger. She began by hiding dollar bills in the eggs, then lottery tickets, and last year there was a golden egg. My father once hid an Easter basket under the hood of my brother’s car, has hung them from the outside of our bedroom windows, and one year we had a mishap when he hid one in the oven. My parents will do anything to keep us in the game. Six full grown kids, a son-in-law, and three granddaughters literally tear the house apart, knocking picture frames off the wall, pushing each other, tipping over couches and chairs, laughing, and teasing each other over who has the most. Year after year they keep us coming back.

So maybe it took a little coaxing from your family or friends to get you here today. Sometimes we all need a little incentive. Maybe you reluctantly dragged your feet because you’ve done this before and maybe you didn’t get anything out of it. But here is the incentive - there is something great here, it is hidden, it is mystery.

Mary of Magdala went to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark. The darkness is a symbol of her unbelief. Throughout the Gospel of John – faith is symbolized through light. At first she thought that someone had taken the Lord from the tomb. Notice, there is a pattern of growth from here, a development in the objects that are seen. First Mary Magdala “saw the stone removed from the tomb.” (v.1) Then the Beloved disciple “Saw the burial cloths there.” (v. 5) Finally, Peter sees the same linen cloths as well as the “cloth that had covered his head… rolled up and set in another place.” (v. 7)

Can you imagine what they must have been thinking? Imagine all of the questions, all of the stirrings of their heart, all of their hopes lifting. They experienced a mix of faith, doubt, confusion, hope. Then we hear this line, “For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” (v. 9) Their understanding and belief in the resurrection would come to grow in the weeks to come as Jesus continues to reveal himself. It’s almost like they get it for a moment and then don’t. But they didn’t get it all on the day of his Resurrection, they had to continue to encounter him week after week as their faith and belief grew to where they could see and experience him in His Resurrected form.

The idea is that if we just come to mass on Easter Sunday and never return until Christmas we are not going to get it. So maybe there will be a moment in this liturgy where you will have some sense of the presence of God. And maybe like the disciples you’ve experienced this too, where you get it for a moment and then lose it. Maybe something tragic has happened that has caused you to question your faith. Maybe your faith has just grown tired and you need some incentive to come back. Maybe there is guilt from something you’re struggling with and you don’t feel worthy to be here. Maybe there is serious sin and darkness in your life that needs to be healed and redeemed. Whatever it is, God can work with it. The Sacraments are for this purpose. Go experience Him in confession. Next Sunday we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. Come and experience him in confession this week, call a priest make an appointment, go to your church on Saturday when they offer confession, check out and you can find confession times all over the diocese|page|1 And then come back next Sunday and receive Him at the altar. He’ll do whatever He can to keep you in. It’s a process and God knows what it is going to take for you to believe.

If you come here Sunday after Sunday, there will be developments in your faith. You will begin to see and notice and recognize and understand things that you didn’t before. As the opening prayer stated “Let our celebration today raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us.” Your life can only make sense; suffering can only make sense, right here where we enter into the mystery of our faith.

So here is the incentive. Simon and the Beloved disciple ran to the tomb, because they knew there was something worthwhile to see there. It may not have been what they expected. It was empty except for a few burial clothes, but it stirred something in them.

Maybe you come into church and you feel empty. God will stir something in you. If you come here week after week, year after year, God will continue to release you from the bondage of sin, and here on earth you will begin to experience the new life of the resurrection. (Catechism 654) Sunday after Sunday, as you hear the Word of God, and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, you will catch another glimpse of the Resurrection and your faith will grow.

What will it take to bring you back? What do you need to see or experience to believe in the Resurrection? What do you need God to do so that you can experience Him right here in this Eucharist? Ultimately, it’s faith. And just by coming here you are expressing some notion of desire that you want to hope and believe in the Resurrection of Jesus which we celebrate this Easter Sunday.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homily for Holy Thursday: The Touch of the Master's Hands

You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Have you ever known someone who was a master at something? Have you ever had a teacher that was just so far beyond anything you thought you could ever be? A few years ago I heard the violin played in the most beautiful and powerful way that I ever had. It was here at St. Barnabas during mass that I first heard Andrew Sords play the violin. As he moved the bow across the strings it literally brought tears to my eyes and tugged at my heart. I can remember coming home to my parent’s house after the Christmas and Easter masses saying “You would not believe the violinist that played at at mass.” I was so moved by the beauty and power with which he played. It stirred a sense of wonder and beauty and presence in me at the Eucharist.

To my surprise, a couple of Christmases ago, I opened up a package to discover a violin. I have to admit my first feeling was dread… I mean, I love when Andrew plays the violin, but I could never play like that. How would I ever find the time? But with a little practice every day it has brought me great joy… I’m not sure about the other priests in the rectory (Fr. Ralph was hoping I would donate it to the missions in El Salvador), but I have so enjoyed producing that perfect sound that comes when all is right.

So what I’d like to do now is give you a little example of the difference between the student and the teacher, the novice and the master, myself after only three lessons and Andrew Sords who has devoted his life to the violin.
[I will play a piece on my violin (won’t sound so good) followed by Andrew playing a piece on my violin (will sound awesome).]

With that difference in mind I’d like to share this poem with you:

The Touch of the Masters Hand
Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin,
but held it up with a smile; "What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
"Who'll start the bidding for me?" "A dollar, a dollar"; then two!" "Only
two? Two dollars, and who'll make it three? Three dollars, once; three
dollars twice; going for three.." But no, from the room, far back, a
gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust
from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody
pure and sweet as caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low,
said; "What am I bid for the old violin?" And he held it up with the bow.
A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two? Two thousand! And who'll make
it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and
gone," said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, "We do not
quite understand what changed its worth." Swift came the reply: "The touch
of a master's hand."

And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin, A
"mess of pottage," a glass of wine; a game - and he travels on. "He is
going" once, and "going twice, He's going and almost gone." But the Master
comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul
and the change that's wrought by the touch of the Master's hand.
-Myra 'Brooks' Welch

“The change that is wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand…” As we celebrate today The Mass of the Lord’s Supper we will experience the touch of the Master’s hand. God who is the creator of all the universe, the heavens and the earth, comes to us in human flesh to touch our feet, to wash us in the water of life, and to feed us with His own Body and Blood. The touch of the Master’s Hand… Many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin… we are like that old, dusty out of tune violin. When we are the one’s playing our lives and not God, it’s like me the student attempting to play as only the master could play. There’s not much value. Ah but when we allow the master to use us… When we allow the master to take us into His hands and touch our souls we will radiate His Beauty and Glory. The only way that we can share this gift with others is if we first allow him to touch us, to play through us, to wash our feet so that we too like the master can begin to wash others.

Just as the violin doesn’t sound like anything special when I play it, it takes on a new life when played by the master violinist. In a few moments you will be invited to have your feet washed and shortly after you will be invited to come to the table of the Lord and be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ. In this Eucharist we allow ourselves to be touched by the master… and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that's wrought by the touch of the Master's hand.

[Andrew to play a short meditative piece at the end]

see the video from the mass:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Homily for Palm Sunday, The Passion of the Lord

“At the Procession with Palms”
Consider this from the Ass’ perspective! Really this is a great analogy for what we are. We are tied up and bound. (Matt 21:2) (Unless you can pull it off without grinning yourself you may want to refer to it as a donkey for the more immature). Encourage the assembly to allow themselves to be tied up and bound for the rest of the mass, let them know ahead of time “this is the long one, just sit back, relax, and take it all in. There’s nowhere else you have to be right now so just let yourself be here. Right now the “Master has need of you.” (21:3) It’s not about you. Maybe you are esteemed from time to time, and maybe you have people who extol you and give you their attention, but it’s always been about Jesus, you’re just the ass.

At the Mass
“Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!’” (27:40)
Fulton Sheen, in his autobiography Treasure in Clay, reflects on the issue of the Church and the world at the time of the Second Vatican Council. The world seemed to be challenging the church. “’Come down and we will believe.’ ‘Come down from your belief in the sanctity of marriage.’ ‘Come down from your believe in the sacredness of life.’ ‘Come down from your belief; the truth is merely what is pleasing.’ ‘Come down from the Cross of sacrifice and we will believe.’” (Treasure in Clay, 309)
As we enter into Holy Week, where better to start than at the cross, at the heart of the greatest act of love the world could ever know. Just as the crowd tempted Jesus to come down from His Cross, we too can be tempted to come down from our crosses. Maybe there is a cross in your life right now and you are tempted to come down from it. Maybe you are tempted to let go of your vocation or of a resolution that you have previously made. What is the cross that you are nailed to right now? How are you being tempted to take an “easy way out?” The only way to life is by embracing the cross, embracing our vocation, embracing our call to holiness and allowing our absolute death to selfishness to bring about new life.
Don’t be tempted to come down from your cross. Let God save you through the cross.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Homily: Let Others Untie You

Purpose: After raising Lazarus, Jesus commands his disciples to “Untie him and let him go.” Jesus sends people into our lives to untie us.

There’s a new iphone app called Confession a Roman Catholic App. It’s a great application that allows users to not only prepare for

confession, but walk them through it. I know that some people are afraid to go to confession because they are not sure what to do. This app can help. Although I assure you, if you walk into a confessional and say “Father, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to confession and I don’t even know how to do this” the priest will be glad to help you out. We, like the good shepherd and the prodigal father rejoice when someone comes home.

One of the most difficult things in life seems to be letting others help us. Whether it be helping us with something simple like putting on our coat, carrying some boxes, bandaging a wound. It may be something much more difficult like helping us to overcome an addiction, grieve the loss of a loved one, or rely on the care of others as we age.

A great blessing that we have in our society is the availability of support groups. There are support groups for addictions, alcoholism, abuse, cancer, divorce, mental illness, grief, sexual addictions, and just about any other problem that we may struggle with. The idea behind them is that we are not alone in our suffering.

Another is counseling. This is something that people dread. A common response is, “I’m not going to go to someone I don’t know and tell them all of my personal problems. What do they know about what’s good for me?” Or the big denial statements, “I don’t have a problem” or “I don’t need any help.” Perhaps, but if what you are doing isn’t getting you unbound maybe there is someone that could help you do what you can’t do on your own.

And finally, what’s most often feared? Confession. “Why do I need to go to a priest to confess my sins? I talk to God all the time.”

The truth is God sends people into our lives to “untie” us when we can’t do it ourselves. The readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent deal with some very heavy material:

“I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” Ezekiel 37:12

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice!” Psalm 130

“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:8

“The one you love is ill.” John 11:3

Jesus after telling his disciples that “Lazarus has died,” says “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” Jesus loved him so much that he wept at his death and after Jesus commanded them to take away the stone, and commanding Lazarus to come out he said to them “Untie him and let him go.” Notice he did not tell Lazarus to remove his own stone or untie his own hands. He commanded others to do for him what he could not do himself.

Notice that Jesus desired that they take part in this. He asked them to “untie” Lazarus and “Let him go.” This is where we see the importance of community and church. Jesus knows that it is not enough just to heal us, but he also desires that we find this healing through community that we may be loved, supported, and connected to others. This is what church is all about. You have this entire community of people to embrace you, love you, and support you.

Far too often when we face difficulties we try to handle them by ourselves. Sometimes this is necessary, but most times our struggles and our sufferings are to be shared with others. It is then that we discover that we can trust other people, we can depend on others in healthy ways, and we are not alone.

As John Vanier explains in his book Community and Growth, “Many People need desperately to be able to communicate some of their inner pains and joys to someone who can hold them without making judgments, but with understanding, compassion, and certain wisdom… someone to whom they can reveal all the pain… Then they can gradually be liberated from these deep powers that have been governing them, or at least come to a better understanding and acceptance of them. They start then on a journey towards inner healing and wholeness.” P. 250-251

The pain and darkness that we hold onto is like an inner tomb, a part of us that is dead or in denial of life. And we need Jesus to heal us, raise us to new life, and send people into our lives that can “untie” us and set us free. The Catechism states that “Sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.” Catechism §1440

Is there anything in your life that you are bound by right now? Have you tried to overcome it alone and failed? Is there an inner tomb in you that feels dead and powerless? Are you tied up and at the end of your rope? Have you tried to free yourself and failed over and over again?

Let someone else untie you. We all need a spiritual friend, family, friendship, church community, spiritual director, counselor, or companion to share the journey. Let Jesus raise you to new life in this church community. (Alternate Opening Prayer – “Help us to embrace the world that you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter”). Reach out to a friend, the person in the pew behind you, your priest, or a counselor, your husband or wife or parents or a wisdom figure in your life. Experience the freedom that comes when you encounter Jesus in the sacrament of confession as he unbinds you through the hands and voice of the priest. God does place people into our lives to do what we cannot do for ourselves. Let someone else untie you, and you too can share in the power of Christ’s Resurrection.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Homily: Bring it to the Light

One of the great things about this time of year is that there is more light. After the time change, it’s lighter later, and since I don’t like to get up early, it’s light by the time I get up. Have you noticed that even after dinner you can still see things outside? Friday evening I was driving through the metroparks after 7 and I could see a number of deer in the field. Just a month or so ago at that time and it would have been dark and I would have been lucky to see the glow of their eyes. It’s a wonderful thing to be in the light again.

St. Paul reminds us that we were once in darkness and now we are to “Live as children of Light.” The Season of Lent is also a time to go through this change of darkness to light. One of the ways that we can do this is through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. A great benefit of the Sacrament is that we bring our sins to Christ who is “the light of the world” (John 9:5) the darkness which holds us captive is shattered. (Notice the Prayer after Communion: “Father, you enlighten all who come into the world. Fill our hearts with the light of your gospel.”) The Season of Lent is a wonderful time for us faithful to receive this great sacrament of healing and come into the light.

We have an opportunity to step into the light. St. Paul encourages us to: “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.” (Ephesians 5:11-13). As it is with any physical illness it is important to expose the wound to the doctor, so it is with the spiritual life. We must expose the wounds of our sin to the Divine Physician by bringing it into His Light. The temptation for us is to hide the wound out of shame or embarrassment or fear. One of Satan’s great tricks is to try to get us to hide things in the darkness.

Is there anything in your life right now that you are trying to hide? Is there anything that you are being tempted to keep in the dark and keep from being seen?

St. Ignatius developed the Rules for Discernment to help us expose the deceptions of the enemy to the light of Christ and “understand to some extent, the different movements produced in the soul and… recognizing those that are good to admit them, and those that are bad, to reject them.” (Harvey Egan’s Introduction to Timothy Gallagher’s book “The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Every Day Living. p. xvii)

In the thirteenth, out of the first fourteen “Rules for Discernment”, St. Ignatius helps us see first of all that we may have something in our life that we are afraid of exposing… this may not even be a sin, but it may be something the enemy is using to keep us living in the shadows. He then shows us in the Rule the importance of exposing “works of darkness” that are “shameful even to mention” and things “done in secret”. (Ephesians 5:12). He helps us to see that we have this tendency to hide things from God, from others, and even from ourselves.

“In this Rule Ignatius describes the enemy’s desire that we maintain silence regarding his troubling deceits; Ignatius will urge us, as we would expect, to do precisely the contrary,” and bring whatever is hidden in darkness to the light. (Gallagher 159)

So here’s the Thirteenth Rule.

The thirteenth: likewise he conducts himself as a false lover in wishing to remain secret and not be revealed. For a dissolute man who, speaking with evil intention, makes dishonorable advances to a daughter of a good father or to a wife of a good husband, wishes his words and persuasions to be secret, and the contrary displeases him very much, when the daughter reveals to her father or the wife to her husband his false words and depraved intention, because he easily perceives that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun. In the same way, when the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to one’s good confessor or to another spiritual person, who knows his deceits and malicious designs, it weighs on him very much, because he perceives that he will not be able to succeed with the malicious undertaking he has begun, since his manifest deceits have been revealed.

St. Ignatius, in rule thirteen, makes two points which clarify the necessity of exposing shameful, hidden, and secret thoughts or actions to the light. The image that Ignatius uses for the enemy is that of a false lover. “The false lover desires that the intended victim remain silent regarding his seductions since that silence alone permits the further progress of his selfish undertaking. If, however, the intended victim speaks to the proper person about these seductions, the false lover ‘easily perceives that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun.’ Once the silence is broken, the false lover is utterly defeated.” (Gallagher 160) So the first part is that the enemy will try to get us to keep it sercret, remaining silent, in the dark.

The second part is to do the contrary. Ignatius reaffirms that the enemy desires that “his wiles and persuasions… be received and kept in secret.” “When faithful persons are troubled by the deceits of the enemy they must not remain silent and isolated but should speak of their interior burden with the appropriate spiritual person. If they do so, they will be set free from the enemies’ deceits.” (Gallagher 161). If the enemy wants us to keep things secret, silent, and in the dark… then we must do the opposite and break the secret, tell someone… a wise confessor, break the silence, and bring it to the light.

Take a moment now and acknowledge any “fruitless works of darkness,” sins which are “shameful even to mention,” and “things done by them in secret,” which you may be struggling with.

Is there anything in your life that you your being tempted to keep in darkness?

The sins that you most want to keep in darkness are probably the ones that most need to be confessed. Don’t let sin have any power over you any more. This Lent… Bring it to the Light.

Every Parish offers the Sacrament of Confession on Saturdays usually before the Vigil mass. Most parishes will offer a Penance Service before Holy Week, and every priest is available by appointment if you call the parish rectory to set up a time for Confession.

To find a church near you go to: (After entering your Zip Code, click on the button “confessions”).