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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Dying to Self (Homily 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Year B)

Dying to Self – Homily 25th Sunday Year B 
A Homily adapted from Christ the King Catholic Church

How loud our world has become…In the car…at home…your desk at the office...even sitting here in Church…just about wherever we are at any given time we’re confronted by sound. And it’s not just sound that confronts us either…it’s everything that takes hold of our thoughts and senses…anything that demands the attention of our eyes…our appetites…our desires. Billboards on the interstate…Pop ups on our computers…and maybe most destructive of all…the thoughts that push us into the confusing mazes of our minds. Hopes…dreams…anxieties all mixed up in a never-ending deluge of thoughts. Our time is marked with the inability to break free of the noise and arrive at any kind of silence. In the end this particularly modern reality proves to be one of the greatest obstacles in our relationship with God. 

 Meister Eckhart…the great German Dominican from the 1300s said… “Nothing resembles the language of God so much as does silence.” If this is correct…and I think it is…then we are living in a time where the language of God is almost inaudible. This grappling with sound and silence is what I kept thinking about as I read and re-read this passage from Mark throughout week. Just listen to the passage…What were you arguing about on the way…he asked…they were silent…then he spoke…if anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all. So here’s the message…we need to stop talking so much…to stop trying so hard to tell God and everybody else what should be going on in our lives…we need to stop discussing among each other…or more commonly in the privacy of our own thoughts… we need to stop trying to figure out who’s the greatest among us… and work on silence… silence of voice…but even more importantly…the silence of our thoughts. 

This calls to mind a story I once heard from a wise man. It’s the story of one of my favorite spiritual writers Fr. Henry Nouwen. Fr. Nouwen was definitely an intellectual. He had three doctorates from major universities…Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame. He was a sought after Spiritual Director and Retreat Master. He could’ve held any post he wanted in really any university in the world. Instead he chose to go to work as the Spiritual Director at L’arche…a home for mentally handicapped people in Toronto. He recalls one evening at dinner with his new housemates…at L’arche they all ate dinner together…staff with residents…one evening at table Fr. Nouwen tried to pass the meatloaf to the person next to him to which a very confident young man from across the table interjected…no, no, no Father…don’t pass him the meat loaf…he doesn’t eat meat…he’s a Presbyterian. It was at this point that Fr. Henry realized he had truly arrived at a place where his PhD’s didn’t matter…the fact that people from all over the world called him to lead retreats didn’t matter…the fact that he could speak multiple languages didn’t matter to any of his new housemates. He had finally arrived at a place where there was no need to assert his own agenda…to talk about his own accomplishments…to market his resume…it wouldn’t matter to them anyway. He explains that this was when he finally became free. Fr. Nouwen had experienced the need to Die to self…remember Jesus said…whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever is willing to lose his life will save it. 

 Dying to self is what we heard in last week’s Gospel and this week is the second course of the same meal. If anyone wishes to be first…he shall be the last and the servant of all. The fact remains that we have this innate…almost unquenchable…need to assert ourselves…to interject our thoughts…feelings…opinions.. onto the world so that we have some proof that we are in the game…that we are important…that we are essential to whatever is going on around us at a given time. We are afraid that somehow if we’re quiet…if we die to self…if we humble ourselves to be last rather than first we might not be happy…we’re secretly afraid that we might not get what we so desperately want in life. And so we are driven to make something of our lives. We grasp for any sort of way to leave our mark on the world so that we will be known and valued. Yet, we are missing Christ’s teaching and his way of life by doing so, especially when it comes to faith. Faith is the antidote to the dysfunction of needing to assert oneself upon the world…upon our community…and upon our closest family and friends. Faith invites us to believe that our real significance is not to have our name put up on billboards but rather to have our name written in heaven for eternity. And that’s the beginning of sainthood. 

 I think about two particular saints for whom this kind of faith was totally evident. St. Joseph and St. John the Baptist…both undeniably vital in salvation history. St. Joseph…had he not said yes…had he not taken in the Virgin Mary…had he not died to self…you and I might not be sitting here today. He said yes…he protected Mary and Jesus…he provided for them…it is because of him that Jesus was able to do his work. And yet…after the flight into Egypt and the brief mention of Joseph when Jesus was teaching in the temple we hear nothing more of him. He completely melts into the background. And John the Baptist…his whole purpose was to announce the arrival of Jesus onto the scene…he prepares the way then points him out…after the baptism of our Lord John exits stage left. He even says so… “I must decrease and He must increase.” There’s no doubt about it…John the Baptist was not some weakling without a healthy ego. It was in his strength that he was able to be last and a servant to all. 

 And finally, in closing, and possibly to sum this all up, I refer to Fr. Thomas Merton who says life is a battle between our real and false selves. Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; and our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God. The world cultivates the false self and ignores the real one and therein lies the great irony of our human condition: the more we try to make of our selves the less we actually exist. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever is willing to lose his life will save it. And If anyone wishes to be first he shall be the last of all and servant of all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Have I walked away? (Homily 21st Sunday, Year B, Ordinary Time)

Have I walked away? (21st Sunday Year B)

My name is Deacon Pat and I am visiting your parish from Idaho.

Some of you might know that we had a Men’s Retreat today where a large group of men spent the day learning and reflecting on their spirituality and their relationship with God.

In the retreat we discussed:

  • how to develop and maintain a masculine prayer life,
  • how to navigate our spiritual journeys, and
  • how to hear God’s voice and know how and when to act upon it.
Many in the group shared that they struggle with the distractions of the world, with temptations, and at times find themselves drawn away from God and spiritual things.

I believe that today’s gospel speaks to some of what the men shared at the retreat, and I believe it has a strong message for many of us here today.
But to understand the depth of the message we must first recall what Jesus said last week.

Jesus stated to a large group of his followers and disciples the following:

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

And then he said:

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day. 
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink."

And in today’s gospel when Jesus finishes speaking about himself as the “living bread that came down from heaven,” many people reacted with disbelief and disapproval.

They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
While we might have expected those who were critical of Jesus to respond in that way, we would have never assumed that his followers, those who had just seen Jesus feed thousands with a few loaves and fish, wouldn’t have accepted his teaching.

Instead we are told that many of the disciples of Jesus reacted negatively as well.

Instead of applauding their teacher, they were murmuring about his message.

“Who can accept it?”

As a result of the words that Jesus spoke “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Jesus was abandoned by a good number of his disciples on that day.
That may have been a surprise to his apostles, yet apparently not to Jesus.

He knew that his message would be rejected by many.
As John tells us in his Gospel, “Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe.”

Is it any different for us today?

I don’t think so, even today many of his disciples, those that have called themselves Christian walk away from him.

They no longer gather with their fellow Christians to hear his word proclaimed and preached.

They consider his voice just one voice among many vying for attention.
They see the Eucharist as something far less than his very Body and Blood and not worth their attendance at Mass.

They allow their moral standards to be set by a changing society with fluid definitions of right and wrong.

They forget that the Cross of Jesus calls us to sacrifice for others and to put the will of God before our own.

Many Christians are walking away from Jesus since they find his teachings increasingly hard to accept and to live out in a society that keeps sinking deeper into sin, self-centeredness, consumerism, and immorality.

A society that Pope Francis describes as having a “throwaway culture” where all things are considered disposable even the unborn, the poor, the powerless, the elderly, and the sick.

The more our society becomes post-Christian, the more it becomes secular, materialistic, narcissistic, and addicted to sensual pleasure, and the more the teachings of Jesus and of his Church seem out of step and suited for another age.

As this happens, more and more people who claim to be Christians do the unexpected.

Like many of the disciples of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel, they will walk away.

They no longer accompany Jesus.

They decide to embrace the values of the society around them and reject those of Jesus Christ.

You and I might say “Well, I am not one of them, I am in church aren’t I.”
Well, I can remember some time ago a wise man sharing some advice with me.

He said, “Sitting in my garage an hour a week doesn’t make me a car, and so is it with sitting in a church one hour a week, it doesn’t magically make me Christian.”

The serious questions we need to ask ourselves are:
Am I a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • Am I fervent in my prayer life? Do I even know who Christ is?
  • Do I serve those around me or do I only serve myself?
  • Am I here today cleansed of sin by the use of regular confession?
  • Can others see the love of Christ in my actions and behaviors?
  • Do I turn to the Church for guidance in my life, or do I let the world guide me?
  • Do I believe in all that the Church teaches, or just some of it?

For many of us the answers will be less than a resounding “Yes.”

Maybe some of us are at best Luke-warm in our faith and we are now just beginning to realize it.

So, what do we do about it?

The first thing is to realize that God is working in you right now with his grace.

Recognizing our faults, our limitations, our “Luke-warmness” is purely a gift from God.

It is with this gift that he is asking for us to respond.

Recognizing that our life is less than full provides an opportunity to turn toward the one, the only one, who can fill us and make us complete.

Maybe Jesus is asking us right now to make a choice just as he asked Peter when Christ asked if he would also leave.

And what did Peter share when asked such a question, “Master, to whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

God has given us a free will and he will allow us to make our own decisions in life, just as he allowed all those disciples to say:

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
“Who can accept this?”

He also allows us to question our faith and our Church as some do?

“But why can’t I have premarital sex?”
“What is so wrong with living an active homosexual life?”
“Why can’t women be ordained?”
“Why can’t I use birth control?
“Why can’t I pick and choose what I want to believe?”

The Church is very clear on her teachings, and anyone who desires an answer can pick up the catechism to see why the Church believes what she believes.

Yet, many will struggle and reject the teachings of Christ’s church, often without any effort to see why the church teaches what she does, and many will walk away, some physically, and some mentally.

They might be present in Church, but their hearts are not.

So what is the point that I am trying to share?

Being Christian is more that claiming to be a Christian.

It isn’t as much a title as it is a way of life, fully committed, and fully engaged.

It has a lot to do with self-reflection and being humble and honest enough to see yourself in the truth and light of God, to see yourself as God might see you.

Let us begin today to sincerely reflect upon our relationship with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.

Let us each reflect upon just how engaged we are with being a Christian and better yet, with living a Catholic way of life.

Let’s God’s voice speak to you in the quiet of your heart and be ready for what he will say.

Spend time in holy adoration in the presence of God.

Speak to him daily and throughout the day, and most importantly listen.

Listen to him in the quiet of your soul.
Listen to him in the people and events he places in your life.
Listen to him in your celebrations and also in your sufferings.
Listen to him as you receive him today in the holy Eucharist.
Listen to him as he asks “Have you left me too?”

I hope and pray your response will be:

“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
You are the Holy One of God.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Man Who Turned Away From God - Homily (5th Sunday of Lent – Year B)

Homily (5th Sunday of Lent – Year B) – Deacon Pat Kearns
There once was a man who had achieved much in his life. He lived in a comfortable home and was surrounded by all the things he had accumulated over the years. He had little want in his life, he had everything he needed and more. Yet, there was something missing, and he had begun to realize it. He had heard about this God-man named Jesus and felt drawn to meet him. After inquiring about him, he finally met some people who knew of him, and he had asked for an introduction. It wasn’t long and the man finally had his encounter with Jesus. Jesus welcomed him with a loving embrace and sensed that the man was desiring more in his life. The man asked, “Jesus, I long to feel peace and love in my life. What am I to do to feel complete and fulfilled?” Without hesitation, Jesus replied, “You are to purge your life of the all the things of this world, seek out and pick up your cross, and come and follow me.” The man listened intently to the commanding words. However, the words were not the words he was expecting to hear. The message was clear and simple, yet he felt somewhat confused and worried. He knew that Jesus would not give false or misleading advice, but he needed to understand what he was being told much more deeply. He was being asked to do something so radical, and so courageous, that it was frightening. He needed time to think. He didn’t want to act impulsively. This was too big of a decision to not think it through carefully. So, he separated from Jesus and returned home, and settled back into his comfortable life and familiar surroundings. He listened to the words of Jesus in his mind and pondered them over and over again. It didn’t take long and he knew that Jesus was right in saying that in order to find true meaning in his life, to feel fulfilled, and to find peace, love, and happiness, he would need to separate himself from the things of this world, and grow ever closer to God, but he hesitated to act. He began to think about how hard he had worked to acquire all the possessions he had. He thought about how important those things were to him, and what life would be like without them. He thought about how comfortable his life was, and how he had settled in his ways. He thought about the things in life that brought him pleasure, even if it was temporary and superficial pleasure. It didn’t take long and his inspiration to grow closer to Christ began to soften and fade. The more he thought about the comforts of his life, the more absurd giving it all up sounded. That initial inspiration towards holiness soon evaporated and he was once again immersed in his world of self-pleasure, self-centeredness, and self-delight. The opportunity to respond to God’s grace and to a life with Christ began to disappear from his thoughts. He had come so close to embarking on a journey with Christ, a journey that would have ensured everlasting life, a life filled with such purpose, such love, such peacefulness, yet, using his free will, and the powers of rationalization, he abandoned such a radical move. He had purposefully separated himself from Christ, and the chance to live a profoundly Christian life. He chose to return to his secular life. He had the opportunity to die to himself and become reborn, experiencing the fruitfulness of such a life, sharing the fruit, the growth of such love, forgiveness, purity, and honesty with others, yet, he threw it all away and now is heading toward a life without Christ. A life void of deep meaning, void of sincere and everlasting relationships, a life that doesn’t perpetuate life, and a life that adds no flavor to the lives of others. He had his opportunity but chose to throw it away. He will one day be judged for that act, and the repercussions might just be something unthinkable. He had chosen to separate himself from Christ, even when personally called to join Him, and now may live all of eternity in the absence of God.

All of eternity in the absence of God.

My dear friends, this man that I just spoke of is actually many of us here in this church today. We are all sinners. We have all had an encounter with Christ, and have been repeatedly asked to remove the obstacles that are in our lives and get in the way of our relationship with Him, and have been asked to join Him. Yet, even though temporarily inspired at times, many of us quickly turn away from Him and resume all of the secular activities of our lives, focusing on ourselves and losing sight of Him. We have all been drawn to Christ. We have heard his voice. We have been told what we must do if we truly desire to follow Him.
  • We are to die to ourselves, our own self-interests, our own self-desires, and live the life of Christ. 
  • We are to know and live the commandments. 
  • We are to know and the live the beatitudes.
  • We are to pick up our crosses and see Christ in all those around us and to share the good news of love, life, sacrifice, and salvation, to all those that we meet.
Failing to do so is making a choice. Let us ask ourselves, can we truly live with the choices that we are making?

This time of Lent is a time to open our eyes to the reality of how we have been living our lives. To stop making rationalizations and excuses, and to decide if I am willing to make those radical choices, and to be courageous enough to do what Christ is asking of me. We must never forget that there will be a day when we will see everything as it truly is, and how our decisions have shaped our lives and the lives of others. Are going to be happy with what we see?

Most certainly, we need to humbly ask ourselves these questions:
  • Have I been the man or woman that God created me to be?
  • Have I been the friend that I was called to be?
  • Have I been the brother or sister that God and others needed me to be?
  •  Have I been the husband or wife that God longed for me to be?
  •  Have I been the Father or Mother that the children desired me to be?
For many of us, the answers will be no. We have failed ourselves and others incredibly. We have caused damage that is unbelievable. By not acting, we have allowed evil to flourish in the world around us. Yet, there is still time to act if we begin today. Let us begin today to stop making excuses and to embrace the opportunity to follow Christ. The hour has come to die to ourselves, and to live in Christ. Being Catholic is about being humble, asking for forgiveness with a sorrowful and contrite heart, and using the Sacraments given to us by Christ himself to heal, inspire, and nourish us. We are to be continually improving our prayer life, and our relationship with Christ. We are to be reacting to the prompts of the Holy Spirit and growing in union with our Lord. We are to become holy and to be a radical presence in this world. Christ did not fit into this world, and neither should we.  We are of this world, but we belong to another kingdom, the kingdom of God. Let us begin today, to live as we were created to live, as children of God. Remembering that dying to self, means, living in Christ. Let us authentically, and radically, live in Christ, beginning now.

As Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “You must never be afraid to be a sign of contradiction to the world.”

Jesus has called you. He has shown you the way. Now it’s your turn, the choice is yours.