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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Transfiguration of our Lord

Deacon Pat - A Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration August 6, 2017 

Today we celebrate the great Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor. The Transfiguration is and was a glimpse of the Glory of God. Yet, in addition to seeing Moses and Elijah, and the Glory of God shining through the face of Jesus, something else of great importance occurred on Mt. Tabor that day. The three Apostles heard the voice of God the Father say, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Let me say that again: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” It seems like such an easy, straight-forward command, yet it seems so very difficult for so many of us much of the time. Listening seems like one of the easiest things for us to do. After all, God gave most of us two good ears, and as my father used to point out, we should listen twice as much as we speak since we only have one mouth. However, truth be told, many of us are not very good listeners; and not because we are hard of hearing or deaf. 

Before becoming a deacon I studied for years to become a psychiatric nurse, and much of that training was so that I could become an “effective listener,” and any therapist will tell you that listening effectively can be a lot of hard work. So why are many of us not good listeners? One reason might be because we are too busy doing all the talking. We just talk and talk and many do the same to God, or maybe at God, without letting God get a word in. God is not the ultimate “customer service department” whom we call whenever we are in need. God is the Creator of all, and our loving Father. He wants a relationship with us. He knows what is for our best, even when it looks not so good to us. We need to listen to Him, for doing so will lead to both psychological and spiritual growth, which will allow us to become more aware of reality and to deal with it more effectively. “Listening makes us open to Christ, the Word of God, spoken in all things: in the material world, the Scriptures, the Church and sacraments and, sometimes most threateningly, in our fellow human beings” (Benedict Groeschel, Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984, p. 3). Listening, however, is more than just the perception of sound with our ears. There are so many sounds in our world that while we may perceive them, we do not listen to all of them. Most we simply ignore. True listening requires a response. This does not mean we need to say something. Rather it means attending to what was said, recognizing its meaning, and making it part of our inner, conscious experience. The same applies to the listening that does not come to us via our ears. God speaks to us in so many ways. One person may barely notice a patch of blue sky, whereas the person of prayer, who listens to God, sees in it the dome of heaven. Or how often do we come to Mass and are more aware of the person coughing, the kid banging their toy on the pew in front of us, and just wishing it would be over soon. The person of prayer, however, is aware of all these same things, and is not only attending to what is happening in the liturgy, but is also aware of something much more important. They are aware of participating in the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Kingdom of Heaven with all the saints. For one, they are surrounded by distractions, while for the other they are surrounded by saints and angels. 

St. John of the Cross once pointed out that many of the people who think they are listening to God are actually only listening to themselves. 

There is so much that could be said about listening, especially in prayer, but let’s keep it simple for today. I am going to share with you a few ideas borrowed from a wonderful little book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, called Listening at Prayer. First of all, we need to learn to listen to what life is saying in the present moment before trying to shape our prayer. Too often we make the world just a projection of our own desires and fears. We can get so wrapped up in deciding what advice to give God about how to run the world, especially to meet our “needs,” that we are unable to listen to any of life’s real messages. To grow in the Christian life we must have an openness to the true and living God. We need to divest ourselves of preconceived expectations of life, and take life as it comes. Secondly, when life gives us its message, we should make the understanding of that message the first object of our prayer. At the foundation of the prayer of life is the virtue of hope, and “hope is the grace to believe that whatever events occur, they will contain the necessary ingredients of our salvation” (Benedict Groeschel, Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984, p. 18). This is often the really difficult part in listening at prayer, because often the most important lessons in life come from listening to God speaking to us in the tragic circumstances of our lives. God does not want evil in the world; it is the result of sin, of our refusing to let God’s love into certain parts of our lives. It is because of the disobedience of our first parents that a strain of disorder has infected, like a virus, all of creation. Yet God offers us the grace to see His order of love even in the disorder. 

Fr. Groeschel, in his books, tells of meeting a man terribly afflicted with leprosy which had destroyed his hands and most of his face, yet the man was grateful to have contracted the disease because prior to his illness he lived a wild, godless life. His disease allowed him to see the real emptiness of his life without God, so now he was at peace because he was seeking God and was in relationship with Him. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that it is better to enter the Kingdom of God maimed or lame than to have all our limbs and be cast into the fires of Hell. Thirdly, once we have received the message of life we must attempt to integrate it with our efforts to live by the Gospel. The Gospel must be the focal point of our lives, and not just something relegated to an hour a week at Mass. It is often rather shocking for people as they become more effective listeners at prayer to discover that many of our values and desires are quite pagan in light of the Gospel. “The prayer of listening will help us confront precisely those areas needing conversion if we do not allow discouragement and worldly values to take over.” As our prayer life improves so will how we live life. 

And Finally we need to pray that we may pray. God has no need of our prayer, in fact the very desire to pray is a gift from God. St. Paul noted in one of his epistles that often we do not know how to pray as we should, thus it is important to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace of prayer. All of this requires effort on our part. We need to make time and space for prayer. Fr. Groeschel suggests that we start by first offering to the Lord some prayer that we know by heart – say the Our Father or Hail Mary – and include a petition, either for ourselves or a loved one. But then we should just relax and ponder what we have just done. We, a finite being, have just spoken to the infinite and living God. (Repeat) Wow! What an incredible thing it is to pray. Did you know that our church and the chapel that we have in our parish, is open daily for our use, and is a valuable gift that we have. It is a quiet place where we can go and just listen to God speaking in our lives. It is a place where we can pray without words. Where we, finite creatures that we are, can marvel at the infinite love that God has for us, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). And Jesus loves us so much that He not only suffered and died for us, but He further humbled Himself to remain with us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the appearance of bread and wine. How awesome is that! We can sit in the presence of the Lord housed in the tabernacles pretty much whenever we want. And better yet, in just minutes many of us with receive him in the most intimate way, through the Eucharist. He that is everything will be united to us and us to him. Take a moment and ponder the power of that act. It is overwhelming and unexplainable. (Pause) 

Yet, The real message of today’s gospel is to LISTEN TO HIM! Really listen to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – speaking to us in the Scriptures and the sacraments, and in the ordinary moments of our lives. Listen to Him, and God will help us “surrender our preconceived notions and fantasies, to go beyond our defenses and shallow expectations, to be lifted on the eagle wings of grace” (Benedict Groeschel, Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984, p. 24). Jesus promises that “the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matt. 7:8), and for the disciple who makes the effort to listen, the Kingdom of God will be revealed. The three Apostles heard the voice of God the Father say, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Become Authentic


In today’s gospel, Jesus sends the Twelve out on mission. It is the same mission that the Father gave to his Son – the mission to preach repentance and healing. It is the same mission that we have, to continue the work of the disciples. Jesus makes it clear however, that this work will only be successful if concerns about material and physical things are given less importance than the preaching of the kingdom of God. We cannot hope to be real heralds of the Good News unless we are authentic – unless we are truly sincere about our faith and show this in our lives. Just as Jesus told his Twelve to take a risk and to travel light, so he tells us in our day to also take a risk in preaching repentance and healing. The “risk” is that we are to begin with ourselves and to have the courage to change our sinful hearts. Yes, we all have sinful hearts. It is important for us to live for Jesus alone and this means that we should repent of a materialistic way of life. 

The readings from today remind me of a popular novel that was eventually made into a movie. The name of it is [Quo Vadis - which means in Latin “Where are you going?”] This is a story of the early church and especially of St. Peter’s struggle to find the courage to lead the first believers in Rome. One of my favorite passages is about a young Roman man who falls in love with a Christian girl. Since he is not a disciple of Jesus, she will have nothing to do with him. One night he follows her to a prayer meeting and there he hears St. Peter (no less) preach with great conviction. After hearing this and seeing the sincerity of the Christians present, including the one he loves, he realizes that if he wants to follow this teaching, he would have to place on a burning pile all of his thoughts and habits, his whole character and indeed his whole nature up until that moment. Only when this fire had burned his entire past into ashes would he be able to fill himself with a life altogether different – to become an entirely new person. This is repentance! It is serious and not half‐hearted. This is what Jesus preached. This is what the Twelve preached. This is what we are called to preach. But we cannot do it unless our own repentance is authentic and complete. The temptation is to point to the other guy and say, you need to repent. But we cannot convince the other guy to repent until we repent, and until our repentance brings healing. Then our example of wholeheartedly living out the Gospel will attract others to the good news of the Gospel, the Gospel of Life, the Gospel of Justice, and the Gospel of Peace. 

As many or you know my wife Liz and I are about to begin our missionary journey in a little less than 2 weeks. We will initially receive training with the Salesian in New York, followed by attending an Immersion Spanish School in Guatemala, and then final placement in Bolivia. Yet, this journey actually began many months ago when we started to purge the possessions from our lives. Week by week the possessions from many years began to disappear as we had yard sales, gave items to friends and family, and gave donations. It didn’t take long and the whole house and garage were empty. Yet, the climatic event was when our house sold and we were without a home, only retaining a few sentimental possessions, items that could fit into our vehicle. I didn’t know what it would feel like being void of everything that I had accumulated until that moment when we drove away from our former home. I pondered that feeling for many hours and maybe I am still processing some of those feeling yet today…. But to sum it up, what I carry is a feeling of total freedom. The burden of possessions is gone; the responsibility of owning and paying for things has been lifted. I feel unattached and able to give in a way I have never experienced before. When Jesus instructed the disciples to take nothing for their journey he knew that worldly things would get in the way of spreading the message of God. Our lives have to be authentic and what we teach and preach are to be lived out by us. It is necessary for us to “travel light” as we preach the Good News. Only then will our Catholic lives be attractive to others. Only then will we begin to fill the hunger of those around us. Only then will the healing begin. In today’s gospel, Jesus left it up to the Twelve. Today he leaves it up to us. Let’s Become Authentic in our Faith! Start today to purge from your lives all that which has become an obstacle in your life of faith! Begin today to preach repentance by your actions and your life! Be not afraid, Take a risk, and become… authentically and joyfully Catholic!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Finding God in our Weakness

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ex 2:2-5, 2 Cor 12:7-10, MK 6:1-6
A Homily adapted from a version from Fr. Murchadh

A couple of years ago I was talking to a man who was telling me about his life.  He said that most things in his life were great, except for one thing.  He shared that had a terrible temper, which was so frustrating.  He said, ‘If only I didn’t have this temper, everything would be perfect.’ 

I couldn’t help but think that this weakness that was so frustrating to him, was probably also one of the things that helped him to stay close to God.  Because if he thought he was perfect he would probably also think that he had no need for God.  I heard it once said that if we are not aware of our weaknesses we can become terribly arrogant, and in the face of arrogance, God is hidden.

The readings today remind me of a priest known simply as Brother Andrew, who co-founded the Brothers part of the Missionaries of Charity with Mother Teresa.  In one of his books about his experiences, he writes: ‘Few people would believe the weakness on which the Missionaries of Charity are built.’ 

It is a strange statement for most people to hear when we think of people like Mother Teresa and the extraordinary work that she and the many other sisters and brothers do.  Brother Andrew speaks a lot about his own weakness, although he doesn’t say exactly what it was, except that he suffered from some kind of addiction.  This weakness, which frustrated him so much, was also one of the things that made him holy.   He doesn’t say that, but you can see it from his writings.  The reason why God did such great work through him, through Mother Teresa and through so many others, was not because they were talented enough, but because they were aware of how weak they were and so they relied totally on God for everything.

The reason why God was able to do such extraordinary things through the saints is not because they were perfect, but because they were weak people who continually turned to him and so God was able to use them in an extraordinary way.  It is very easy to get a false impression of what holiness is since books can often give us the impression that saints were people who did no wrong.  The truth is saints were and are weak people, with just as many weaknesses as any of us, but they continually turned to God for help and as a result God was able to work through them in an amazing way.  To understand this is key to growing in the spiritual life.  If the saints were perfect people who never did any wrong, then very few of us could relate to them.  But if they were weak people just like any of us—which they were and are—then not only can we relate to them, but it should help us to see that the same path is open to us, because it doesn’t depend on us being good enough, rather it depends on us continually turning to God.  That is the key.

There is no one here who doesn’t struggle with weaknesses of one kind or another.  It could be some kind of addiction, it could be a need to control, an emotional dependency, whatever.  We all have something and as you well know it can be extremely frustrating.

However, I find it consoling that two thousand years ago St. Paul writes about the exact same thing (See this Sunday’s second reading 2 Cor 12:7-10).  Paul was a very intelligent man, well educated and obviously very talented.  And even though he had visions of Jesus which converted him and then he went and preached everywhere, he too suffered from some kind of weakness, although he doesn’t say what it was. In today’s second reading you can really sense his frustration as he says that three times he asked God to take this thing away from him, and three times God said ‘No, my strength is at its best in weakness.’  This weakness, whatever it was, obviously helped him more than he realised.  It kept him humble and it meant that he continually needed to turn to the Lord and ask for his help and that is why he and so many other men and women were such powerful instruments in God’s hands, because they relied totally on God and not on themselves as they were well aware of how weak they were.

I have no doubt that all of us probably feel that we would be much better off if we could overcome our weaknesses.  But perhaps these readings will help us to see that the Lord knows what He is doing when He allows us to struggle with them.  Yes, they are frustrating, but they can also be a gift in the sense that they make us rely on the power of God more than on ourselves.  It also reminds us that it is not a question of being ‘good enough’ for God.  We will never be good enough, but that doesn’t matter.  As long as we know that we are weak then we will see that we have someone to turn to who really can and will help us.

In closing, let’s take a moment and prayerfully reflect on our own personal…. You know , that thing tha we struggle with week after week.

 Let’s just how powerless we are when we rely only on ourselves….. We need God’s help.

Now take that weakness and allow it to humble you….. allow it to make you a little less judgmental…… maybe a little more forgiving, understanding, and compassionate.

Take that weakness and give it to God…… and then, let’s humbly pray that we may become a reflection of God to others in the world

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Kingdom of God

Click on the above video to hear the homily

The Kingdom of God
Mark 4:26-34
Homily adapted from a sermon by Jonathan Davis

Jesus begins his teaching: “The kingdom of God is…”. Now, what do you think Jesus means when he says “kingdom of God”?  What is he talking about? Well, back in the days of Jesus, there was this long held belief that the history of the world would contain five great kingdoms. At that time our great kingdoms had already come and passed and now the ruler of the world was Rome. Rome had an overwhelming military, and a unbelievable economic and political control over the world. So everyone was a bit anxious. Is this it?, they feared.  Is the kingdom of Rome going to be the fifth and final climactic kingdom of the earth? Will Rome have the last word? Is our world coming to the end? But in the midst of this Kingdom of Rome Jesus came preaching about the Kingdom of God. It seems like he’s trying to tell the people something. 

Maybe the message that whether the end is near or not, the final kingdom of the world will not be the kingdom of Rome, that it will be the kingdom of God.  That Rome will not have the final say; but God will. That it is about the power and activity of God in the world, not some power and control of an emperor. Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God to try and help the people see it and understand.

But, Jesus isn’t the first person to try this, to try and give an image to what the kingdom of God looks like. In the first reading we heard the prophet Ezekiel describe the kingdom of God as being something like a big noble Cedar tree.  He uses the image of a large and strong tree, so big that every kind of bird could nest in it. A description that makes sense, especially since most of us like to think of God and the kingdom of God as large and powerful and protective over the whole earth.

But that’s not how Jesus describes it.  Remember, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God in a different way, in parables.  And a parable is a lot like a riddle, or a puzzle.  The answer isn’t obvious at first. Its meaning isn’t immediately clear. In fact, it is meant to initially confuse and frustrate the person hearing it before it begins to shed any light on the situation.  It is supposed to make you stop and think. Parables allow us an opportunity to change how we normally think about something. They are meant to give us a different perspective and understanding of things and ideas that we have built for ourselves.

So if everyone thinks the kingdom of God is like a cedar tree, large and in charge, Jesus turns the whole thing upside down when he begins to speak about his version of the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a sleeping gardener. The kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses some seed on the ground and goes back to bed, without the faintest idea of how it begins to grow. It just does.  And in the end, the farmer gets to reap the benefits.

Hmmm…so what’s Jesus trying to say here?  Well, knowing that a parable is like a riddle, whose meaning isn’t quite clear at first, he gives us and the people another chance at it with a second parable. He then states that the kingdom of God is like a tiny seed, a mustard seed in fact. It is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, but when it grows it becomes the greatest of all…shrubs.

I wonder if the people gathered around Jesus at the time he was teaching this message were a lot like you and me. Maybe they came together hungry for a word of hope.  Maybe they had difficulty seeing God at work in the world and in their lives. Maybe they feared another power had more control over the world than God.  Maybe all they could feel was the suffocating weight of an oppressive government. Maybe all they could see was their chronic illness, or a broken relationship, or hatred, or loneliness. Maybe they just wanted to know that God was a part of their lives and that they were not alone.

So Jesus tells them a parable – That the kingdom of God is like a gardener who tosses seed on the ground. The seed begins to grow, even though the gardener can’t see it. He reassures them that the kingdom of God, the presence of God, the activity of God, is not something we have to wait for.  It is happening right now, even though we can’t always see it. In fact, not only is the kingdom of God growing, you can’t stop it from growing. Because the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed. And a mustard seed when it grows into a bush, acts just like…a weed. Those of you who are gardeners and farmers know how weeds work.  You can’t kill them.  They’ll always find their way back.  And that is what the kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. You can’t kill it. You can try, but it will always find its way back into your life.  And then it just grows and grows and grows.

The kingdom of God, the activity of God, looks different than the world’s understanding of a kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is not the same as the kingdom of Rome was.  It doesn’t look like power and strength. And sometimes, we just can’t see it.  It’s like a seed, growing slowly underneath the soil, where the gardener can’t see what’s happening beneath the surface.  But other times, when we do see it, it just seems so small and insignificant, like a mustard seed, that we don’t recognize the kingdom of God that was hidden within it.

I don’t know about you, but in the midst of our work-addicted, status-addicted, award-winning, and medal-wearing society where it’s all about what you can achieve in your life, it is often difficult to see the kingdom of God.

But Jesus wanted the people surrounding him, and us to know, that the kingdom of God is here. Right in front of us, right now, and that we don’t live under the kingdom of Rome, or the kingdom of the United States, that we live in the Kingdom of God.  And even though we might not always see it, whether we see it or not, we cannot keep it from growing – because it’s like the tiniest of mustard seeds.  A weed that when planted and set loose, there is just no stopping it.

This is what gives us hope as Christians, that there is a kingdom of God and that we are a part of it.
In closing, Let us pray…… that in faith, our spiritual eyes will open and we will see and participate in the kingdom of God here on earth, and in time, in heaven.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Love One Another-the Supreme Commandment

John 15; 9-17 Love One Another-the Supreme Commandment

If you were going on a long trip, what would you say to your family and friends before you left?

If your children were moving away from home, what would you say to them?

If you knew that you were going to see someone for the last time, what would you say?

In each case you would probably remind them of your love and care as well as give them some instructions or words of advice. Well, not unlike us, knowing that He was soon to leave, Jesus gave us and his disciples His final instructions and words of advice. Today’s Gospel passage is part of the final instructions that Jesus gave to the disciples the night before he was crucified. Jesus knew that the disciples would not find love in the world. He knew that the world would largely hate them and his message. In fact, the world still hates his message today. How often are Christians belittled, ignored, or even attacked? Nevertheless, we, like the disciples, are called to love each other and our fellow man in spite of opposition. When we love each other, we will experience the joy of obeying God. When we love one another, we also allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and grow in us. But how it grows will depend on our connection to each other, to God, and to His church. The stronger our faith the more we will do, and it is the things that we do for God and for others that brings glory to God and strengthens the Holy Spirit within us.

Love for others means being willing to die for others. Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross for our sins. The men and women who serve in our armed forces also show this same type of love. They and countless others who served were willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of others. They were willing to go out of their way for others by dying to save their lives. They came to the aid of those who were in need even at their own personal expense, and they are still willing and ready to do so today.

Mothers show this same type of love for their children. More mothers than not would willingly lay down their lives for their children rather than see them suffer. Their love is freely given and given without compromise or cost. That is why we honor them so much. They reflect in a powerful and mystical way, God’s love.

Jesus also showed how far that type of love can take someone when he died for us. If Jesus could lay down his own life for us, isn’t there a part of our lives that we are willing to lay down as well? Maybe it has to do with a prejudice, an unwillingness to help, envy, something related to material goods, hatred, an unwillingness to forgive, or even something else?

This message that speaks of love is intimately connected to relationships. God wants us to have relationships that are more than superficial. But relationship building takes time and requires compassion, wisdom, empathy, kindness, courtesy and forgiveness. When we love one another we act as God’s hands and feet to those that he puts in our lives. Serving others does take time, effort, and sometimes even a little money but the blessings outweigh the costs.

We must not forget that loving others as God loved us is the heart of Christian discipleship.

Christian life can only exist through these human relationships, especially when they are based on mutual respect and humane values. The apostle Peter showed the same type of love in the first reading. His love for others, combined with the visions he and the Roman centurion Cornelius had led Peter to minister to Cornelius and his family. When Peter proclaimed the Good News, the Holy Spirit moved within his audience, and it marked both a second Pentecost and the spreading of the Good News to all people (not just the Jews). If the Holy Spirit could move in the hearts of Peter’s audience, it can also move in the hearts of the people in our world today. Yet, these people will need to be open to hearing it, and more especially we need to be open and willing to share it.

If we are to be fruitful for Christ, we must seek his will for our lives and let him lead us to what he wants us to do for others and for him, even if it seems a little uncomfortable.

Because when we love one another, we fulfill the second of Jesus’ two Great Commandments, to love thy neighbor as thyself. When we love Jesus, he also becomes our true best friend.

· Friends have our best interests in mind, just like Jesus does.

· Friends will be with us in good times and bad times just like Jesus is.

· They help us to expand our world, expose us to new and creative possibilities, and sustain us when we are in need.

God has chosen all of us for the purpose of bearing much eternal fruit in such personal characteristics as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These characteristics will grow within us and help us when we tell others about Jesus and lead them into a fruitful and personal relationship with him.

Let’s take a moment and reflect upon our lives, our lives as Christians.

· We can say that Jesus is our friend, but can we say that we are his friends?

· Do we listen to him when he speaks to us, or do we only want him to listen to us?

· Do we want to know what’s on his heart and mind, or do we only want to tell him what’s on ours?

Being a true friend of Jesus means listening to what he wants to tell us and then using that information to do his work in our world and in our lives.

So what is the true message for us here today? The message is:

· Christ is love, and we are to love as he has loved, even to the point of willingly laying down our lives for our friends.

· Even if the world shall hate us, we are to love, and in that love, and service of love, we will be eternally united with God.

(This homily was adapted from a homily written by Craig Condon)