Sunday, June 17, 2012

Humble Beginnings - Grand Results

Homily for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

Who’s been to the Grand Canyon?  It’s magnificent isn’t it?  I haven’t actually been to the canyon, I’ve only flown over it a couple of times.  But even from thousands of feet up in the air, it’s a magnificent site.
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and attains a depth of over 1 mile.
It goes without saying, of course, that it didn’t always look that way.  At one time, the Grand Canyon was anything but grand - it had humble beginnings.  You could say that that 277 mile long, 18 mile wide and 1 mile deep scar in the earth began with a single drop of water
when the Colorado River was first formed and began to gently flow over the Colorado Plateau.
And it also goes without saying, of course, that it didn’t get that way overnight.  The steady and constant flow of the Colorado River and the imperceptible, microscopically slow rise of the Colorado Plateau worked against each other for at least 17 million years to bring the canyon to it’s present form.
The Grand Canyon shows us that the tiniest amount of force, the slightest amount of pressure, the littlest amount of effort (if applied steadily over time) can yield amazing results.
Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as such - humble beginnings that grow into grand results: “It is like a mustard see that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds of the earth.  But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk 4:31)
Now you have to understand that when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he’s not just talking about Heaven for when after we die.  He’s also talking about the Kingdom of God here, now, on earth.  Jesus says all the time, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mk 1:15)
He’s talking, of course, about the Kingdom of God breaking into the world through his own presence here on earth.
Jesus is also talking about the building up of the Kingdom of God through the Church.  The Church began humbly - with Mary and the Apostles locked in an upper room and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  sAnd it has grown over the course of 2,000 years to a religion with over a billion members.

Our own parish is much the same way.  We began humbly.  Fr. Benoit came from France and met local farmers who donated the land on which was built our first church - a log cabin.
Since then, we have grown into a parish of over 10,000 the largest in the diocese.
You and I are much the same way.  We begin humbly - coming into existence through the joining together of two cells.  And we grow into the people we are today - not just bodily of course, but spiritually as well.  Coming to know our God, coming to love our God and coming into relationship and intimacy with our God.
It goes without saying, of course, that our Church, our parish and we ourselves, do not get this way overnight.  Not everyone is a St. Paul who God knocks off their horse and converts overnight.  Like the Grand Canyon, we do so with slow, steady growth.
One of my favorite singers is a Catholic named Audrey Assad.  And she’s written a song about growing in intimacy with the Lord - it’s called, appropriately so, “Slow.”  It’s a song, sung to God, in which Audrey sings:
Click here to purchase
 Audrey Assad's album "Heart"
You’ve drawn so close
That it’s hard to see you
And you speak so softly 
That its hard to hear you
Faith is not a fire
As much as it’s a glow
A quiet lovely burning
Underneath the snow
Cause love moves slow
Love moves slow

Spiritual growth is something that requires time.  This is something we lack.  We want answers to our prayers now.  But spiritual growth also requires docility - meaning a willingness to let God do the work and form us, not the other way around.
Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that it’s not us, but God who does the growing.  The Kingdom of God is like a seed that is scattered on the land.  And as the farmer sleeps and rises day and night, “through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.  Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”
If a single drop of water, placed in the right place, at the right time, and given enough time to build and flow can cut a 277 mile long, 18 mile wide and 1 mile deep canyon.  What would become of us if we would allow God to form us steadily every day of our lives?
What would happen to us if we allowed God to speak to us for just a couple minutes of silent prayer everyday?  What if we consistently did that every day of our lives?

What would become of us if we made a 5 minute visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel once or twice a week on our way to or from work?  What if we consistently did that every week of our lives?

What grand results would God yield in us if we went to confession once a month?  What if we consistently did that every month of our lives?
What would we become?  In the hands of God... something grand indeed!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"We're Going to the Wall."

Homily from the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) - Year B

Click here to buy Rediscover Catholicism
You may remember, a couple of Christmases ago, Bishop Rhoades gave every household in our diocese, as a Christmas gift, a copy of Matthew Kelly’s book, “Rediscover Catholicism.”  It’s a very, very good book.  It provides a very easy to ready look at everything from the Mass and Sacraments, the Bible, prayer, fasting, the role of the Saints, and so on.  And I have heard more comments from parishoners about this book than any other.  It’s obvious a great number of you are reading it and it is having a positive impact on your lives as Christians, and I encourage all of you to read some or all of it.
I’ve been flipping around the book, reading sections as they interest me and Matthew Kelly tells some wonderful stories about the beauty of our Catholic faith.  One, in particular, really stuck with me and I’d like to share it with you, especially on this day, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, in which we celebrate in a particular way the greatest gift we have in our Catholic faith: the Eucharist.
Matthew Kelly writes:
“Years ago, I received a letter from a priest who had worked as a lay missionary in China before he returned to his homeland of America and became a priest.  He shared many stories about the Church in China, but there is one that made a huge impression on me.  It’s a story I have told hundreds of times and one that always humbles me.
Many years after being ordained a priest, he returned to China, incognito for a brief visit.    Even today, there are priests and bishops in prison in China for nothing other than refusing to let the Communist government control their churches.  For this reason, nobody in China knew that he was a priest.
On the second night of his visit, he was awakened in the middle of the night by the noise of people moving around the house.  A little scared, he got up and went to his door.  Opening it, he asked one of the men living in the house what was going on.  His Chinese host replied, “We’re going to the wall.”  He inquired further, “What is the wall?”  His host replied, “Come with us and we will show you.”
There were more than twenty people living in the small house, and while none of them knew he was a priest, they knew he could be trusted.
Not satisfied with the answers he had received, he went downstairs and found one of the older women whom he had known many, many years earlier and asked her, “What’s going on?  Where are you all going?”  She gently replied, “We’re going to the wall.”  He persisted, “Yes, but what is the wall.”  She replied with the same gentleness, “Come with us and we will show you.”
He got dressed and ventured out into the night with the group.  They walked for miles and miles and along the way other groups joined them.  Now, all together, they numbered almost 120 men, women and children.  Soon they came to a forest and as they began to walk into it, he noticed that some of the men in the group were climbing trees.
Several minutes later they came to a clearing in the forest, and in the middle of the clearing was a small wall about four feet tall, from an old, derelict building.  The old woman turned to him and smiled with all the love in her heart, and though he sensed an incredible excitement in here he did not know what to make of it.  The people seemed excited, but he was scared.
Looking up into the trees, he noticed that there was a circle of men in the trees surrounding the clearing.  And now, as the group came close to the wall, they fell down on their knees before it.
Moments later, one man got up and walked toward the wall, then, reaching out with one hand, he took a single brick out of the wall.  Behind the brick was a tiny monstrance holding the Eucharist.  The group spent one hour in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and then the same man got up, approached the wall, and replaced the single brick.  The men came down from their lookout positions in the trees and the group went quietly home.
The next day he told the people that he was a priest and they told him that they had not had Mass in their village for ten years.  Once or twice a week they would go to the wall in the middle of the night, risking their lives, to spend an hour with Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist.
The following night, the priest said Mass at the wall and replaced the host.  It was one of the highlights of his priesthood.”
Do we truly realize, do we fully appreciate, the gift we’ve been given?  What we receive is Jesus Christ - not a symbol of him, but his real presence.  The host we receive is God in our hands.  The host we consume is the the infinite God, creator of the universe, coming to dwell within our very being; within our hearts.

Last summer, millions of teenagers from all around the world converged in Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day.  And without question, the highlight of the trip was when two million teenagers, dancing, cheering, laughing and speaking in a cacophony of different languages, came to a complete standstill when Pope Benedict XVI brought out Jesus in the monstrance, and all two million knelt in unison and prayed in perfect silence for a half hour before the Blessed Sacrament.  Two million teenagers do not go stone cold silent for a piece of ordinary bread.  They do it for God Himself, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
People living under Communist rule do not risk their lives and go to a wall in the middle of a forest to worship a symbol of God.  They risk their lives to worship God Himself, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Tonight, you and I will go to the wall.  Tonight, you and I will exercise our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ in a simple, yet very significant way, as we celebrate this amazing gift in our Corpus Christi procession.  And in doing so, you and I respond to Jesus’ love for us.
A love, in which Christ says, “I give my life to you; to dwell within you, so you might have eternal life.”  And our response, as we process with our Lord in the monstrance, says to him in reply, “And I will follow you, and you alone, wherever you choose to lead me.  I will fall down on my knees in adoration before you.  I will risk everything for you, even my life.  Because you risked yours for me.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Game of Catch

Homily from the Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity - Year B

The Trinity is like a game of catch.  In every game of catch, there is, by necessity, three parts.  A thrower, a catcher, and that which is thrown between them
Like a game, of catch, the Trinity has, by necessity, three parts.  Why by necessity?  Well, St. John the Evangelist said, “God is love.” (I Jn 4:8)  And St. Augustine of Hippo rightly pointed out that love, by necessity, has three parts: a lover, the beloved, and the love that is exchanged between them.  God the Father is the lover who is the giver of love.  God the Son is the beloved who receives the love of the Father and returns this love back to Him.  And God the Holy Spirit is the love that is exchanged between them.

We’ve seen hints of this communion and exchange of love throughout the year, and each time you and I are drawn more intimately into this love.
At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father said to his Son, his beloved, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:11)  And the Father gave His love to His beloved Son: as Jesus came out of the water, the heavens were “torn open, and the Spirit, like a dove” descended upon him. (Mk 1:10)

At Jesus’ transfiguration, God the Father, once again said of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.” (Mk 9:7)  And the love of the Father came upon not only His Son, but the Holy Spirit also began to descend upon the disciples in the form of a cloud which cast a shadow over all of them. (Mk 9:7)

And last week, as we celebrated Pentecost, God the Father and God the Son invite you and I fully into their exchange of love as the love between them.  For the Holy Spirit wasn’t sent merely as a cloud to overshadow the disciples, but “tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them.” (Acts 2:3)

And this gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.  Not as an abstract, far away love from a distance.  But actual intimate contact with the Divine as Holy Water and Sacred Chrism are poured upon us, leaving and indelible mark on our souls.

You and I are well disposed to enter into a communion of love with the Holy Trinity.  For you and I are like Him.  “God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” (Gen 1:26)  You and I are created in the image and likeness of God.  Which means, you and I are created for a communion of life and love.  We are not meant to be alone.

Indeed, we are destined for communion with the Holy Trinity for eternity.  And God prepares us for communion with Him by having us enter into communion with one another.

We get ready for the game of catch with the Divine by playing the game of catch here on earth.  As we play this game of catch, each relationship has a specific thing which is exchanged.  The love between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters is a specific kind of love.  The love between friends is a specific kind of love.  The love between a priest and the people is a specific kind of love.  The love between a boyfriend and a girlfriend or fiances is a specific kind of love.  And the love between husband and wife is a very specific and exclusive kind of love that belongs only to them.  You could say, that God gives a special “ball” or “frisbee” if you will to those He wishes to join together in this communion of love.  It is the Sacrament of Marriage.
Now, this game of catch, can be played well.  We can be faithful and give and receive this love with our spouses and them alone.  Or, we could play this game of catch not so well.  And give this love which belongs only to our spouse to someone else.  We can receive our spouses completely and give ourselves to them completely holding nothing back.  Or, we can withhold our hearts from them, not tossing them the ball.  Or, rejecting their hearts offered to us, by not catching it.

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have a plan for teaching us how to play this game of catch well.  And this summer, the Holy Trinity wishes to teach our young people how to enter into an authentic communion of persons here on earth so that we may enter into the Communion of Persons which is the Holy Trinity in Heaven.  In today’s bulletin, you’ll find information about our Theology of the Body for Teens series being offered on Thursday nights in the Spiritual Center.  I want to encourage all our high school and college students to attend.  If you know one, tear out the page from the bulletin and give it to them.  Because how well we enter into a communion of persons here on earth will have an impact on how well we enter into the Communion of Persons in Heaven for all eternity.