The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Doggone Disciples

Did you hear about the dyslexic, agnostic insomniac? He stayed awake all night wondering if there was a dog.

Okay, it's an old, tired joke, but it popped into my still half-asleep brain a few early mornings ago as I walked through our neighborhood accompanied by our dog, a little Bichon Frise named Maddie. She's an interesting little creature. Generally predictable in her behavior, every so often she surprises me by doing something unexpected.


Ready to Walk!
For example, it's not unusual for us to spend five minutes walking only 100 yards. Like most dogs, Maddie investigates the world largely through her remarkable sense of smell. Our neighborhood is home to many dogs and a few cats, but it's also the habitat of squirrels, rabbits, possums, armadillos, and even the dreaded coyote. And each one of these critters leaves a scent behind as it roams the streets and passes through the yards and common areas. Maddie, of course, must investigate these residual odors, every single one of them, which apparently linger for days. Since it's one of her few pleasures in life, I usually let her sniff. Sometimes we'll walk for an hour, but cover only a mile.

But the other morning, as Maddie completed her examination of a small shrub, she suddenly snapped to attention and focused on a woman approaching us. This isn't unusual behavior since Maddie enjoys meeting people and often sits down on the sidewalk to await their arrival. But this woman was more than 100 yards away, and Maddie wasn't sitting patiently but was shaking, almost dancing, with anticipation. As the woman neared, Maddie's excitement only increased. When the woman arrived, Maddie sat down and looked up at her expectantly. "She remembers me," the woman said with a laugh and reached into her coat pocket to retrieve a treat. That's when I remembered and understood.

Over the years we've encountered this woman perhaps three, maybe four times, and each time she gave Maddie a treat. She bakes little doggie cookies and takes them with her on her morning walks. I, of course, had forgotten her, but not Maddie. She recognized this woman from a distance and knew exactly what awaited her.

Now this was all very interesting, but not particularly surprising. After all, dogs have excellent memories. It was what followed that amazed me.

While Maddie enjoyed her treat, the woman continued her walk at a brisk pace. By the time Maddie realized her benefactor had left us, she was 100 yards away and moving quickly. So Maddie began to follow -- no sniffing, no glancing left or right -- focused entirely on the source of this good. For the next half-mile we moved as we have rarely moved before -- Maddie in the lead, tugging at the leash the entire time. We had almost caught up with her when the woman turned into her driveway and entered her home. Maddie stood still, staring intently at the house as if she were committing it to memory.

Later, as Maddie continued her walk home, once again sniffing and watering the flora, I considered what I had just witnessed. This little dog continues to teach me, and this time she offered a lesson in discipleship.

I thought of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho who sat by the city gate hoping for a miracle. Take a moment to read again this wonderful passage from Mark's Gospel [Mk 10:46-52]:
They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me." Jesus stopped and said, "call him." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage; get up, he is calling you." He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see." Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you." Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Blind Bartimaeus Leaps to His Feet
Like Maddie, as she awaited the arrival of the one who would provide her with nothing but good, Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was about to pass by and could hardly control himself.

He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Yes, filled with the Holy Spirit, he called out repeatedly, loudly, and enthusiastically. Bartimaeus knew that Jesus, and only Jesus, offered what he thought he needed to be whole: his sight.

Maddie recognized the one who approached and knew her desire would be satisfied. Unable to speak, she simply danced for joy.  

Bartimaeus received his sight and is told, "Go your way, your faith has saved you." With that, Jesus continued on His journey to Jerusalem where He suffered the death that would save of all humanity.

But did Bartimaeus go his way? No, he followed Jesus on The Way. More important than his physical sight was his spiritual sight, and this, too, he received from Jesus. Before he met the Lord on that dusty road in Jericho, he was blind, unable to see the way he was called to travel...but afterwards? He dropped everything, including his beggar's cloak, and followed the Lord with the total abandon of the true disciple.


Maddie preaching (or yawning?)
As I hurried along behind Maddie, her little legs moved by a determination to follow the one who had rewarded her, I thought of Bartimaeus and realized that my little dog, like everything that enters my life, is a gift from God. And from her I can get a glimpse of true discipleship in action.

I came to appreciate that the disciple must ignore the world's distractions, all those enticing things that sprout up on either side of the path we are called to follow. When Jesus issues the call and says, "Follow me," the true disciple responds with singular focus. This isn't easy in today's world, a world in which we compartmentalize our lives, a world that encourages us to keep our faith private. But the disciple is called to "Go, make disciples of all nations...", something that can't be done in private.

As a dog, Maddie lacks all those human inhibitions that conspire to keep us from displaying and proclaiming our faith to the world. She simply decides that the good she seeks is greater than anything else the world can provide, and she just goes for it! Would that you and I could be so focused, so determined to follow Jesus on the Way.

Friday, December 8, 2017

California's "Thomas" Fire

If you've been following the news out of California, you have no doubt heard of the "Thomas" fire, which had its point of origin just a mile or so from Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, California. So far it has burned well over 100,000 acres, all the way to the coast near Ventura.
The "Thomas" fire -- from downtown Santa Paula
To ensure the safety of the college's faculty and students, the college was evacuated several days ago. But remarkably, even though the fire began at the edge of TAC's property, and almost surrounded the school, TAC has been spared. I am convinced this is the result of the prayers of thousands who have stormed heaven on behalf of the college, its faculty and its student body.
The fire: from TAC campus, before evacuation
TAC is an exceptional school, a solidly orthodox, Catholic college where the students study the works of the world's greatest thinkers and writers, from Aristotle to Aquinas to Descartes, from Euclid to Newton to Einstein, from Shakespeare to Austen to Joyce. The TAC classroom is not a lecture hall; rather it offers a venue in which the students learn from and share each other's thoughts and ideas as they study the works of the great minds of the past. Our elder daughter, Erin, graduated from TAC in 1993, and I can think of no better college for a young person who wants a solid education that will prepare him for life and further education.
Thomas Aquinas College Campus
As I recall, the school was once threatened by a fire during my daughter's time there. I remember her telling me that, as the fire approached, faculty and students took part in a Eucharistic procession around the college's property, praying that God would protect the college from the ravages of the fire. He did.
The fire: in the hills above TAC
Please pray that TAC remains unscathed; and pray for all those now threatened by the many fires raging through Southern California. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Homily: Monday, 1st Week of Advent

Readings Is 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Mt 8:5-11

I'm often amazed...people, things, situations, encounters - a lot of these amaze me.

A few weeks ago, during my stint as hospital chaplain, I visited a patient who told me he was dying and wanted to go to hospice. I expressed my sorrow at his situation, but he just smiled and said, "Oh, no, this is a good thing. I'm 83. God gave me a good life, and it's time to go home." I'll admit I was amazed. It's not often you encounter someone who faces death with such deep faith.

I'm amazed when I look up at the night sky and try to contemplate the unimaginable vastness of the universe and the complexity of God's creation. And then I look at myself and realize that I, along with every other person God created, represent the very pinnacle of creation: created in God's own image and likeness, and created out of love. That too is amazing.
I'm amazed when I encounter someone who professes to be a Christian, but lives as if God doesn't exist.

Yes, I am easily and frequently amazed.

But it must have taken a lot to amaze Jesus. Indeed, in the Gospels, only twice is Jesus described as amazed.

Once, while Jesus was visiting His hometown of Nazareth, Mark tells us: "He was amazed at their lack of faith" [Mk 6:6]

The second instance is in today's passage from Matthew when Jesus encountered exactly the opposite: the Roman centurion's remarkable faith.

It was especially remarkable because the centurion was a Gentile, not a Jew. And not just any Gentile: He was an officer in the occupying army of Rome. Most Jews would have despised him.
Although Jesus had numerous encounters with Gentiles, He instructed the disciples to avoid them. As Jews, still being formed as disciples, they were not yet ready to take the Good News to the world. It's only later, after Jesus' death and resurrection, when, in anticipation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, He commanded them:
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." [Mt 28:19]
But throughout His public ministry, in anticipation of this great commission, Jesus began to show them what discipleship is all about. All their biases and hatreds - whether religious, ethnic, cultural, political, personal - they all had to go. You can't make disciples of those you despise.

In today's passage, Jesus shocks His disciples. When speaking of the centurion, He says:

"...in no one in Israel have I found such faith" [Mt 8:10].
Yes, Jesus tells the crowd, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are with God, not because they were Jews, but because they were men of faith, just like this centurion standing here before Me.

What Jesus sees, what amazes Him, is the centurion's tender concern for his servant, his humility in the face of spiritual power, and his faith, the kind that can move mountains. He is a man of discipline, a man familiar with the application of worldly power, but he also recognizes that such power has its limits. His trusted servant is dying; neither he, nor Caesar, nor any other human can do a thing about it.

So he comes to Jesus. But he comes not to a mere man, but to One he calls "Kyrie" - Lord.  Yes, in his humility this man of earthly power recognizes the divine power of his Lord.
Jesus need not humble Himself by visiting the house of a Gentile. He need only say the word. Indeed, the centurion knows that the house of man cannot contain God - only the Word can contain God.

This understanding causes the centurion to look upon the very Word of God and say those words we repeat as we adore the Eucharistic Presence at every Mass:

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed" [Mt 8:8].
He left his home searching for the Word, for the Divine Presence, searching for the God Who was actually in search of him, calling him.

The centurion was a man of compassion and common sense, but it was his deep faith that amazed the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, this is what Jesus seeks. His gaze rests on each one of us, begging us to grasp the gift of faith He offers. He calls us to a deep fiery faith, the kind that burns away all the layers of worldly bias and hatred and materialism, that shatters all the obstacles with which we surround ourselves.
Let's begin Advent trusting that the Lord wants to respond to our need, knowing that the Word of God can heal and renew us, recreate and refashion us. Out of our spiritual poverty, but filled with confidence, let us pray "Come Lord Jesus" [Rev 22:19]


Monday, November 20, 2017

What's With All These Zombies?

Zombies on the Move
Are you as puzzled as I am about all the movies, TV shows, and books about zombies that in recent years have captured the interest of so many people? Zombies seem to be everywhere and in many of these stories the living dead far outnumber us regular living folks. They're very nasty looking creatures, these zombies, but they lack the more complex personalities of the classic horror monsters. Frankenstein's monster and Count Dracula might have had questionable motives, but at least they had motives. But all those robotic zombies, wobbling and shuffling about, just aren't that interesting.

And then there's the incursion of zombies into areas where they simply don't belong. Because I'm a long-time Jane Austen fan, I consider the novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a desecration. Miss Austen had an active and sometimes quirky sense of humor, but I'm pretty sure zombies among the Bennets would not have pleased her. She was, after all, a believing and practicing Christian.
The Bennet Sisters Take On the Zombies
And who can feel good about the film, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies? It's all very strange indeed.
Abraham Lincoln vs, Zombies
And yet, people seem captivated by these boring, stumbling, flesh-eating things. One recent poll revealed that 14% of the US population believe there's a chance of a "zombie apocalypse." You might think 14% a rather small number, but 14% of our current population of about 325 million would mean 45 million Americans are waiting for the living dead to rise up against us. And how many more actually believe these creatures exist? I can't say, but I suspect it's higher than 14%.

I'm pretty sure I first encountered zombies back in the late '50s and early '60s when I used to watch a late-night TV horror show hosted by a rather odd fellow who went by the name of Zacherley. My high school buddies and I would stay up late to watch "Zacherley at Large", a truly bizarre offering that aired weekly on New York's WABC. The guy was a hoot and his show included several interesting extras: his "wife" who spent her time in an open coffin with a stake through her heart; his "son", named Gasport, who moaned from a bag that hung from the ceiling; and Thelma, a strange blob-like creature. As you might imagine, for us 16-year-old boys Zacherly was extremely  entertaining.
Zacherley and Friend
His real name was John Zacherle. He was an Ivy League alumnus (an English major at Penn) and served as an Army officer in both Africa and Europe during World War Two -- all before his rise to ghoulish superstar. Zacherle died last year at the age of 98. I was sorry to hear of his passing but he certainly had a long and full, if somewhat odd, life.

Anyway, Zacherley didn't simply show a weekly horror movie; he added his own weird commentary and crazy skits, some cleverly integrated into scenes in the film, thus turning each film into a comedy we adolescents could enjoy. I can't recall the title of the first zombie movie I saw, but I'm fairly certain it starred Bela Lugosi. Since those early days I can honestly say that zombies have rarely crossed my mind...at least until their recent resurgence.

Why this current fascination with the so-called living dead? Perhaps it's the symptom of a return to a more primitive view of the world. For ancient man, death was a horrendous mystery, something to fear, and a clear sign of human weakness. Many of the ancients bound their dead before burying or entombing them, apparently in an effort to keep them from returning to the world of the living. They placed "magic" objects in the grave to cast spells on the dead, and tossed in some food and other necessities to keep the dead happy. Yes, they believed in and were afraid of ghosts, those who returned from the dead.

It's all rather mystifying because there's really little to fear from a dead human body. But I suppose many fear the dead because they call to mind our own bodily mortality. We know we shall be like them soon enough, but really don't understand why. Perhaps something within us believes the dead should not be dead and should, therefore, return to life. And yet death seems to be one of the few certainties we face and, like life itself, is a definite part of the human experience as we know it.

Death and life seem to engage in a constant struggle within us, but to the faithless death is always the victor. Death just stares us in the face and makes sport of all of our humanistic philosophies. Say what you will, death tells us, but your agnostic and atheistic humanism will leave you with absolutely nothing. Once death sweeps away all their humanistic fluff, these deniers of life are left with only one thing: when you're dead, you're dead. As the munchkin coroner said of the witch, "....she's not only merely dead, she's really, most sincerely dead."
Chesterton on Atheism
These philosophies offer no hope. They give us no reason to face a future with anything but despair. The world of the living dead, of zombie wars and apocalypse, seems to be a blend of the primitive and the agnostic, a contradictory sign, an impossible mix of hope and despair. It's really a sign of the spiritual confusion that has entered the hearts of so many today.

And so how do we explain death, and do so in a way that offers hope? Atheism certainly doesn't succeed, for death laughs at its weak attempts that end only in the grave.  Materialism can do nothing but dance around death, while pretending not to notice its looming presence. And the reincarnationists only pile death upon death. The real answer, the truth about life and death, is right there in the Bible, in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis.

When God created man and woman there was no sin and no death. In other words, God's intention for humanity was life; death did not exist. As we read Genesis 2:7-15 we realize that God created man as a "living being", not a being that would eventually die. And so life, not death, is the natural state that God desires for man. We were created for life, for immortality, for eternal life.

Sin and Death Enter the World
It's not until chapter three of Genesis that we encounter death for the first time. It arrives on the scene unnaturally, entering into creation as a result of sin. Although God had warned of the consequences of disobedience -- "you shall die" -- something that Eve readily admits to the tempting serpent, our first parents decided to disobey God, taste evil, and learn what it was all about. But the moral order can come only from God, the Creator of all. Man cannot decide for himself what is good and what it evil simply because we cannot know evil as God knows evil. In the same way, only God can truly know goodness. As Jesus said to the man seeking eternal life: "No one is good but God alone" [Mk 10:18].

As it turns out, the effects of this original sin are many, but death is perhaps the most obvious, and the most unnatural. That's right, death was not God's natural intent for us, but through sin nature is altered.

The Church teaches that the human soul is immortal, and with the resurrection so too is the body. But in the beginning both body and soul were immortal, joined together in perfect harmony. Sin introduced the unnatural and, as one theologian suggested, "the horror of an immortal soul bound in a mortal and corruptible body." Sin, then, is the true horror story. 

Yes, indeed, through sin the harmony between man and nature described in Genesis 2 is broken and the consequences are disastrous. As St. Paul reminds us:
"Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and this death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned" [Rom 5:12].
But it is through the Creative Word of God, through the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that death is overcome and life is returned to humanity:
"For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ [Rom 5:17]. 
Yes, Jesus Christ, through His act of redemption gives us life once again -- eternal life that restores God's natural plan for humanity. How did Jesus put it to Martha just before He brought her brother, Lazarus, back to life?
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" [Jn 11:25-26]. 
Perhaps, then, the ancients and primitives had the right idea in their view of death as something unnatural. The  materialists claim death is the natural and final consequence of life, because they can accept nothing else. Could today's fascination with zombies be a reaction against the materialists, against the humanists who really think so very little of humanity? Could this zombie-fever stem from the same ancient roots, from a deep internal awareness that death is just not right, that we are destined for something greater? Perhaps so, even though zombies offer a grossly distorted and freakish view of immortality. It is the view of the faithless, a hellish grasping after eternal life by those who do not know Jesus Christ and the Good News He brings to the world.

So, the next time someone talks to you of zombies, tell him about Jesus and the joyful, immortal life God has planned for him. Tell him of the natural, body-and-soul, eternal life with the One Who created him out of a love beyond our understanding.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Homily Video: Mass and Healing Service - November 11, 2017

I've already posted the text of this homily -- you can read it here -- which I preached at Mass last Saturday morning before our parish's most recent healing service. We had a wonderful turnout of several hundred people, all in need of healing for themselves or for others in their lives. It seems our parish's wonderful IT people recorded the homily on video and gave me a copy yesterday evening. I post it here for those who would rather listen than read.




Monday, November 13, 2017

Are You Nuts? It's either Bach or Bieber.

This morning I came across a news item that gave me a small slice of hope -- hope that I would not turn into a psychopath. The article, published in the Washington Post, describes a study that examined both the musical preferences of people and their tendency toward psychopathic behavior.

As someone who makes a real effort to listen daily to something composed by members of the Bach family (Handel and Vivaldi too), I was thrilled to discover that I was a most unlikely psychopath. It seems that those who prefer classical music enjoy a low correlation with such aberrant behavior.

Yes, despite all the classical music that seems to motivate  Hollywood serial killers, the truth is that psychopaths apparently prefer more popular tunes, specifically songs by Eminem, Backstreet, Justin Bieber, and Dire Straits, to name a few. Interestingly, I would be unable to identify anything performed by any of these contemporary musicians, something I trust separates me even further from insanity.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy rock n' roll, but I just believe it died about the same time Buddy Holly perished in that Iowa corn field. Will I ever come to like today's pop music? Perhaps Buddy offered the best answer: "That'll be the Day."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Homily: Mass and Healing Service - Saturday, 31st Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 16:3-9, 16, 22-27; PS 145; Lk 16:9-15
--------------------------
Good morning, everyone...and praise God - praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's wonderful to see so many here today; all open to God's healing presence. Praise God too for this.

We're gathered here in Jesus' name, so we know He's with us. And where Jesus is, so too is the Father, for they are One, One with the Holy Spirit. We want the Holy Spirit among us in all His power, in all His glory, so we can come to know our loving Father better, all through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Among the many things Jesus told us about the Spirit is that He does the work of the Trinity.  That's right...the Spirit does all the heavy lifting.

When we turn to Scripture we find the Holy Spirit inspiring, revealing, anointing, and counseling. He does it all. He's the giver of life, the fount of Truth and Wisdom, the sanctifier, the source of sacramental grace, the manifestation of God's power in the world. When Jesus rejoiced, He rejoiced in the Spirit. When He prayed, He prayed filled with the Spirit. The Spirit teaches us, intercedes for us, guides us, and, as promised, will be with us always. Yes, the Holy Spirit, God's gift to us, does God's work in the world. And thank God for that because we certainly need Him in our world today.

Do you know something else? He's also the Divine Healer, for healing is the Spirit's greatest work. God knows how much we all need healing - healing of body, mind and spirit - and He sends His Spirit into the world to heal all who come to Him.

What kind of healing do you need? What do I need? We're so sure we know, aren't we?

We always seem to turn to the obvious -- our bodies. They just don't hold up do they? Illness, injury, and age all take their toll. And so we turn to the Lord in our suffering and in  our fear, in our aches and pains, our illnesses, in the trials of our children, in the sometimes shattered lives of those we love...and we pray for healing. We don't understand why this suffering has fallen upon us, or why God doesn't just take it away. But St. Paul tells us:
"We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings" [Rom 8:26].
Now that's amazing, isn't it? Because you and I don't know how to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us, intercedes for us, within the Trinity itself. And He does so in ways we can never understand.

Today I'm going to focus on one verse, actually just four words:
"God knows your hearts..." [Lk 16:15]
About 20 years ago, I was teaching a class of ninth-graders who were preparing for Confirmation. During one of our sessions, while discussing God's divine nature, I went through the list of those attributes we normally assign to God...you know...He is eternal, holy, immutable, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial...

Anyway, as I was reciting these attributes, one young man interrupted and asked, "What does omniscient mean?"

"It means God knows everything," I replied.

"Okay," he said, "you really don't mean everything, like what's going to happen tomorrow."

"Oh, yes, He knows everything that happens, throughout all time - past, present and future - and everywhere, in the universe and in eternity, every single thing, no matter how large or small."

But that didn't satisfy this budding theologian. "Okay, but you mean He just knows things. He can't know thoughts too, can He?"

"Oh, yes, thoughts are God's specialty," I said. "He knows your every thought, your every desire, all your hopes and dreams...and He knows them all even before you have them, the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly."

Well, in the silence that followed...I wish you could have seen that young man's face. "You're really serious, aren't you?" he finally asked.

"Yes, I am. You can't hide from God. He knows you perfectly, far better than you'll ever know yourself. You see, God knows your heart."
God knows your heart...
Yes, brothers and sisters, God knows your hearts.

The psalms praise "God who knows the secrets of the heart" [Ps 44:22]

And Peter, at the Council of Jerusalem, speaking of the Gentiles, tells his brother apostles:
"God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as He did us" [Acts 15:8]
But it's in today's Gospel passage from Luke that we hear these words spoken by Jesus Himself to the Pharisees:
"God knows your hearts"  [Lk 16:15]
Do you think maybe those Pharisees recalled the words of Psalm 139? 
Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar...Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? [Ps 139:1-2,7]
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Yes, "Where can I go from your Spirit?" We can't hide from God.

From our human perspective, His omniscience seems to be a double-edged sword, doesn't it?

We rejoice that God, in humbling Himself to become one of us, also honors us through this same act of love. We rejoice that we are worth so very much to our loving God that even the hairs on our head are numbered. He knows every microbe, every atom of our bodies. He knows our every fear, our worries, our joys, our pains, our sorrows. But He also knows every sin, every dark secret, every hatred, every weakness.

Yes, our awareness of God's omniscience might, as St. Paul says, fill us "with fear and trembling" [Phil 2:12].

Sometimes we respond like Jonah, and try to hide from God; or we turn up the world's volume and try to drown out God's voice. But it doesn't work...because God knows my heart. He knows my entire being.

Too often we simply forget this remarkable truth about God. We think we have to teach Him things.

I remember visiting a woman in a nursing home, giving her the Eucharist, and afterwards chatting with her for a while. I'd visited her several times before, but had never really had the opportunity to talk with her. Anyway, that day she was very upset with God. She'd been seriously ill for a long time, and wasn't getting any better.

"I pray every day," she said, "hoping that God will help me get better. If God only knew how much I suffer..." It took every ounce of control not to burst out laughing. That, of course, would not have been very pastoral.

Instead I assured her that our all-knowing, all-loving God certainly knew how she suffered, and that He too had suffered.

I always carried a few cards with me. They had a picture of Christ crucified on one side and the words to that wonderful old "Prayer Before a Crucifix" on the other. I gave her one and we prayed together. We prayed for healing, that the Holy Spirit would take her heart, the heart that God knows so well, and fill it with His healing peace.

As I left that day, for the first time I saw her smile. She died a week later.

But, you see, brothers and sisters, we're all a little bit like her, aren't we? We all like to complain about our sufferings. As my wife, Diane, will be happy to tell you, I'm not a very good sufferer.

I remember back in my Navy days, a fellow officer, knowing that I was a Catholic, mentioned that he could never be a Catholic: "You people seem to enjoy suffering so much. That can't be healthy."

Well, he wasn't talking about me. And, anyway, he was wrong. Catholics don't enjoy suffering. To enjoy suffering is to be mentally ill. No, we Christians accept suffering, and that's something quite different. We all experience suffering; it's truly democratic.

Victor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived his years in the Auschwitz death camp, wrote a wonderful book, Mans Search for Meaning. He wrote of our freedom to choose how we respond to suffering. We can choose to be embittered, broken, hateful, resentful, or we can accept our sufferings as a path to something greater.
Gate to Auschwitz Death Camp
As always, Jesus shows us the way. He took His sufferings and turned them into something far greater, into an act of redemption. All of Scripture points to that act, to the Cross, for it's nothing less than the story of God's love, of His willingness to suffer for you, for me, for all of humanity. And we're called to join our sufferings to His. We're called to be like Paul who could say:

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church..." [Col 1:24]
You see, dear friends, what's lacking in Christ's suffering is our acceptance of our own suffering, willingly taken up with Jesus on His walk up Calvary.

As Christians suffering has meaning and worth because through it we share in Christ's sacrifice. When you and I come to understand, if only in the smallest way, His sorrow and His undeserved suffering, ours begins to pale and lighten as we place ourselves at His Side. And through that experience we learn how well God knows our heart. Through that experience we realize how faltering, how inadequate our prayer is; and how much we need the Spirit to intercede for us with those inexpressible groanings of His.

There will be healings here today, sisters and brothers. Some of you have come for physical and emotional healing. And there will be some of those. But every one of us here today needs spiritual healing, healing of the soul, the healing that comes from total surrender to God.

God knows your heart, but what's in your heart today? Are you willing to make an act of surrender, an act of abandonment, and take all that you have, all that you are, and lay it at Jesus' feet.

He wants it all, you know...out of a love so great it's beyond our understanding.

He wants us to mirror His redemptive act of love by sharing in the crosses that we each must bear.

And did you come here today only to pray for your own healing? What of those sitting to your left and right, or behind or in front of you? Will you join with all of us as we pray for each other?

Do we recognize the power of the collective faith and prayers of our community?

Do we trust that Jesus can do the same for us as faithful, prayerful people who lift others up who need to be healed?

After Mass we'll have a laying on of hands. Come forward. Turn your heart and mind to Jesus Christ. Give Him permission to come into your life, to work His will within you.

"Heal me, Lord, and heal those around me." Let that be your prayer. "Heal me, Lord, of all that's keeping me from being one with you."

Trust God, brothers and sisters. He knows your heart.

Praised be Jesus Christ...now and forever.

Homily: Monday, 31st Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 11:29-36; Ps 69; Lk 14:12-14

An old friend of our family, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, used to talk a lot about his father, an orthodox rabbi. I remember him once saying that his father would often criticize his fellow Jews because they tried to turn God into a mensch. Now "mensch" is a German word that in Yiddish evolved into a term for a true human being, a person of honor. "But God," the rabbi would say, "is no mensch. He's God."

St. Paul, a Pharisee, rabbi, and teacher, says much the same thing in today's reading from Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! [Rom 11:33]
No, God is no mensch. He's not like us. He's certainly no superhuman. 

Paul continues, though, with a prayer, a doxology, to ensure we understand that God is...well, beyond our understanding:
For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen [Rom 11:34-36].
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?"
Yes, indeed, as God reminded His prophet, Isaiah:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways" [Is 55:8].
I think sometimes, perhaps more than sometimes, we forget this and try to re-create God in our image, to turn Him into just another good guy, to turn Him into a mensch. But Jesus disabuses us of this error, and in today's Gospel passage from Luke, shows us how very different are God's ways from ours.

Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee, and yet He asked his host to look into himself and examine his motives.

Who do you bring into your home - the rich and famous? And why do you share your bounty with them? Is it only to ingratiate yourself with them, so they will invite you in turn? Indeed, Mr. Pharisee, why did you invite me here today? Is it just because I'm a local celebrity and you hope my fame will rub off on you?

It all hits home, doesn't it?

Thirteen years ago, when Diane and I first began helping out at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, I encountered a few strange attitudes. For example, one of our volunteers, who served our desserts, expected a certain kind of behavior from our guests. If someone said nothing when she handed them a dessert, she'd challenge with, "You didn't say, 'Thank you.'"

Well, I quickly realized that had to change, so we issued a policy statement that stated: 
Each Soup Kitchen guest honors us by accepting our hospitality, which we interpret as their deepest heart-felt gratitude.
In other words, their being there is thanks enough.
Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, we are so much like the Pharisees. Always looking for a payback, aren't we?

"We had those new neighbors for dinner six months ago, but they've never invited us back. Can you believe it?"

But have we opened our homes and our hearts to those who can't return the favor, to those who can thank us only by their presence?

When did you and I invite the rejected of the world into our homes?

When did "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" sit around our table?

There are a lot of lonely people in our community, in every neighborhood, people who feel abandoned by others, who think themselves abandoned by God. But you and I are called to do God's work, to go to the abandoned and show them God's love. You don't have to look for them. They're all around us; you know who they are.

It's really just a call to humility, isn't it? To realize we are no greater, indeed we are often much farther from God than the poor in spirit who cry out silently in their suffering. Yes, brothers and sisters, humility is a demanding virtue. It takes greatness to become little, strength to become weak, and wisdom to embrace all that Jesus demands of us, to embrace the folly of the Cross.

And it's in the Cross, it's in the crucified Jesus that we encounter the divine paradox: the humility and the greatness and the otherness of God.

Homily: Monday, 30th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 8:12:17; Ps 68; Lk 13:10-17
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While I was teaching a group of teens in a pre-Confirmation class, a young man asked me an interesting question: "How come Jesus doesn't just perform some miracle that everyone can see? That way everyone would believe."

A reasonable question, but I responded by saying that many would still reject Our Lord. And then I had him turn to today's passage in Luke's Gospel.

The leader of the synagogue had just witnessed a remarkable miracle, and yet all he could do was castigate Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. So caught up in law and ritual he lost sight of God's mercy and goodness, and couldn't recognize God working right before his eyes. He didn't deny the healing. Indeed, it was the legality, the timing of the healing that bothered him. But Jesus healed on the Sabbath because God never rests from mercy and forgiveness and love.  No, the official didn't reject the miracle; he rejected Jesus - something we encounter again and again in the Gospels. And we still encounter it today.

But what a healing it was...a healing of hope. The woman had said nothing, asked nothing of Jesus. It was simply her presence that moved Him. Despite her affliction - bent over, unable to stand erect, probably in constant pain - still she makes her way to the synagogue on the Sabbath. This faithful Jewish woman comes to offer her prayer of thanksgiving and to hear God's Word proclaimed. She doesn't blame God for the suffering she's endured for 18 years. She hasn't turned from God; she's turned to God.

Jesus sees her, and in seeing her, He knows her. He peers into the deep recesses of her heart. He knows her faithfulness and He knows her suffering. And it calls to mind those beautiful words from Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord you know it altogether.  You beset me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. [Ps 139:1-5]
And because Jesus knew her better than she knew herself, "He called to her," and uttered those healing words:
Woman, you are set free... [Lk 13:12]
Set free from the chains that bind those who suffer.. Set free from the doubt and despair through which Satan challenges our faith. Yes, she was free. But notice, Jesus didn't exercise His healing power through Word alone. No, He touched her - "He laid His hands on her" [Lk 13:13]

Just think about that. God's Word is certainly enough. It alone can heal. After all, that same divine Word brought the entire universe into being. Jesus reaches out to this woman and touches her with his hands, and immediately she stands straight.

Jesus touches because He is one of us. He took on human form and human flesh, and he knows we need the touch of another. But His touch is holy. Yes, His flesh, His holy flesh, bears within it the presence and the power of God.

And the woman senses this; for how does she respond? She glorifies God. She knows it is God working through the hands, working through the holy flesh of Jesus. And it is this same healing flesh, this Body and Blood of Jesus, we receive in the Eucharistic feast. Is it any wonder that she is healed? Like us, she has experienced a Holy Communion. The love of God, the healing grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit have entered her and set her free and returned her to the wholeness God intended for her.

How often do I struggle bound and bent double, my soul unable to stand upright? And yet the weight of my sin inclines me toward the Merciful One, and in my repentance He heals me.

For You, Lord, alone are our Protector.
You turn your eyes to us, and call us to You,
You speak Your Word, and touch us with Your holy hands.
You touch us with Your Body and Blood.
You set us free.