Category Archives: Homilies

Stop. Listen. Change Your World.

At the Renew My Church summit earlier this month here in Chicago, a presenter told a story that I’d like to share with you this morning.

On the evening of April 14th, 1912, the Titanic’s wireless operator Jack Phillips received several ice warnings from ships in the area. The first one said this…

Ice report in lat 42.n Long 49w saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs also field ice. Weather good clear.

The Titanic, speeding along at 22.5 knots, was heading straight for the ice field. But Phillips was trying to send hundreds of backlogged passenger messages through the Cape Race relay station, about 400 miles away. There was a nearby ship (the Californian) who was also sending messages. Now, in 1912, they didn’t have an iCloud, so the California’s signals were interfering with Phillips’ ability to send his messages. Annoyed, the Titanic operator told the other ship to stop transmitting… even as the Californian was sending the Titanic ice warnings.

Here’s his actual response.  “Shut up. Shut up. I am busy. I am working Cape Race.

The Californian, stopped for the night due to ice, was less than an hour away from Titanic. Philips never read the messages. Or if he did, it was too late.

We’ve all felt like the operator on the Californian.  Not as tragic, of course. We tried to say something we thought was helpful, and we were ignored. Maybe a suggestion at work that gets shot down. Maybe you try to give advice to your kids, or advice to your parents, and it goes nowhere. You get the feeling that people are telling you to go away.

“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” A blind man calls out to Jesus, but he’s rebuked. Really? Who does that?

I do that. For me, if I listen, it usually because it means more work. If I listen, I’d have to change my plans. If I listen, maybe I’d have to admit I was wrong.

That’s why I needed to hear this Gospel story this morning. Yes, the blind man asks for what he wants, and is rewarded. Yes, Jesus is busy, but he always hears the cry of those in need. Yes, our faith has the ability to heal us.

But those people in the crowd, the ones who don’t have time… that’s me.

And maybe, sometimes, that’s you, too.

So this week – with school chugging along, with work getting busy, with the doctor’s appointment, with our weekly volunteering – let’s all keep in mind that there are people in our lives who are calling out to us, trying to help us. Will we stop what we’re doing and really listen?

Let’s all keep in mind that there are people in our lives who are calling out to us to ask for our help. Will we stop what we’re doing and do what we can to heal?

Can we all remember – because it’s happened to all of us — what it feels like to be the blind man. To be rebuked. To be silenced. To be told to shut up, even when we are trying to do good.

I’m sure there’s a part of all of us that is angry at Jack Philips, all those lives lost because he didn’t want to someone to bother him. But he didn’t know. Just like there’s a part of me that feels anger that some people would want to stop Jesus from healing the blind man. But, in a way, they didn’t know.

Imagine, then, if we all could remind each other – though prayer, in song, in word and deed – how much we do know, following the example of Jesus, stopping and listening. Being served. Serving others.

Building the kingdom of God.

Seek first to understand.

When was the last time you really listened?  It’s hard. There are many things that can distract us from what’s important – school, work, family, money. But within each of these moments, God is at work in our lives. And maybe God has a message for us, a thought to lift us up when things aren’t going well. To hold us high when others are trying to bring us down. If we listen carefully, God’s deep message of forgiveness, of grace, of insight, will bring us comfort in the tough times. We just need to listen carefully.

The problem is, sometimes, we are not really listening. Like the disciples in our Gospel today, we get so busy thinking about ourselves, our problems, our sins, our addictions, that we become deaf to the truth walking right beside them.

I was reminded of Steven Covey’s advice, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.” If you’re like me, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, we basically ignore the other person, pretend we’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation but miss the meaning entirely.

Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. We listen to ourselves as we prepare in our mind what you are going to say next. We decide ahead of time what the other person means before they even finish talking sometime. Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival–to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated. That’s really at the core of Catholic Social Teaching: the value and dignity of the human person. We want someone to listen to us. That’s why prayer is so important. We know God is listening attentively.

So, imagine then if we all affirmed, validated, appreciated everyone we come across? Trying not to respond defensively, angrily, or out of fear? Imagine if we all really listened first, tried to figure out what was being said, before we spoke or acted?

Today, Jesus is reminding us how to listen.

If someone who is lonely, who is depressed, wants to talk to you, please listen.

If you see someone who is poor, who is abandoned, who is an immigrant, please listen.

If you are a Democrat or a Republican, maybe try this week to really listen to the other side. What do they get right? What do they really care about? It doesn’t mean we have to agree. But demonizing the other will get us nowhere.

We all need to listen to our bodies. Our over-worked and over-stressed lives. What is all that stress trying to tell us?

And finally, if you know someone who has left the Church, especially recently, we need to listen to them. We need to understand, before those of us who remain can be understood.

Jesus reminds us today how we should listen. Not getting caught up in our own opinion like the disciples. If anyone one of us wishes to be first, let us be so blessed to be the last. If any of us want to be heard, let’s begin by being the servant of all who are trying to say something.

Are you at the front of the line?

All of us have had to deal with long lines and crowds. It might be waiting in line for an amusement park to open, or registering for classes, or those crazy early morning Black Friday sales, or maybe general admission to a concert. Sometimes in these moments, we have to be a little ‘aggressive,’ a little ‘pushy.’ Not rude, not entitled. But we’ve waited long enough. It’s our turn at the front of the line.

Especially if it’s for our family. Anything to do with gifts, medical bills, safety, child care – over the years I’ve learned that no one else will speak up for my family unless I do.

In the same way, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be first in line for spiritual things. Both Jarius, the synagogue official, and the woman with the hemorrhage in today’s Gospel, are a little pushy. They need to get to the front of the line.

For them, it’s literally life or death. They don’t care about the crowds, the risks, the possibility of being rejected publically. They just want to be first in line, in that moment, to be healed.

When my daughter hurt her knee a while back, she came to us and told us that something wasn’t right. We took her to a doctor, set up an appointment for the MRI, did everything we could to take care of her needs. But if my daughter had never said anything – if she just kept to herself, content to let things be the way they were – no healing would have taken place. We couldn’t have helped her.

It’s the same with our relationship with God. We need to move to the front of the line in order to be healed. It might be physical healing, or accepting our physical limitations. Maybe it’s a money situation, a bad loan, and all the stress that goes along with that.

We can ask God to heal someone we know, someone we volunteered with, someone homeless, or an immigrant who feels very confused right now. That’s how healing begins. In prayer. Before Christ.

Ancient medicine didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have, but they knew about healing. One of the common words for illness in the first-century world was the Greek term astheneia, which meant a “lack of vital force.”

Healing was a transfer of vitality, of spiritual energy, from the healer to the one who needed healing. Christ promises each one of us that vitality. That’s the promise of the Eucharist.

Shouldn’t we all be a little eager to be reach out then, to be first in line, for that blessing? Do we believe the first line of our 1st reading from the Book of Wisdom, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”

Ours is God of life, of healing. Don’t be afraid to tell God what you need. He will answer you. “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”

What would you say, right now, if you could speak to Jesus at the front of the line? Knowing that God often works through not only healing, but also through what is not healed?

The woman in today’s Gospel got herself to the front of the line, and boldly reached out to God. Likewise, we need to reach out in faith with what we desire. Despite her shame, her fear, her doubt, she got the Lord’s attention. We need to do the same. We need to be first in line spiritually for not only ourselves, but everyone in our lives.

What will you ask Jesus, today, when you get to the front of the line?

 

Fences

During the Second World War, a group of American soldiers were fighting in the rural countryside of France. A soldier was killed, and his comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield. They remembered a church a few miles behind the front lines, next to a small cemetery, surrounded by a small fence. With their captain’s permission, they set out for the church. When they arrived, an elderly priest answered the door, and they asked if they could have one of the plots in the cemetery.

The priest paused and said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow that here. You can bury him outside the fence, if you wish.” And so the soldiers dug a grave… and buried their friend… just outside the fence.

The next morning, these same troops were suddenly issued new orders, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodbye. But when they arrived, they couldn’t find the gravesite. Tired and confused, they finally knocked on the door of the church, and they asked the priest if he remembered where their friend was. “It was dark last night and we were exhausted,” they said. “We must have been disoriented.”

The old priest paused for a bit, then said. “I have a confession. After you left, I could not sleep. I went out early this morning… and I moved the fence. He’s in the cemetery now.”

Sometimes, in order to the right thing, we all need to move a few fences. Maybe it has to do with our stuff at work, or our health, or confronting someone we’ve excluded from our lives… but we all have moments where we know “what I have done, and what I have failed to do.” But just like that elderly priest, God has big plans for us. We just need to trust Him in our difficult and awkward situations.

And maybe that’s what’s behind today’s Gospel. Once again we see the Jewish authorities — as well as Jesus’ family — not willing to move a fence. How can He drive out demons? What do you mean He’s ‘healing people’? He’s out of His mind! That’s not how things are done around here. Jesus knows them, of course. He knows the obstacles. So perhaps we can say that Jesus is not permanently excluding his family… maybe He’s just waiting for them to move a fence. To see the Kingdom of Heaven in their midst. Just like us.

See, we know that committing to a relationship with Christ is hard work. And He never puts a fence in our lives that we can not move. Maybe we’re not welcoming at first either, but that doesn’t mean we need to stay there.

So, where are your fences? Someone needs you to be a listening ear because they are in a difficult relationship…. Maybe you’ll have to drive an extra 10 miles to give someone a ride home who you don’t really like… maybe it’s about going to Mass on vacation… a son or daughter needs to move back home because they got laid off.

We never know the graces and blessings God has in store for us when we decide to do the right thing. It may be hard at first, but just like that old priest, it’s never too late. To ask for forgiveness. To forgive. To visit the sick. Feed the hungry. To console the brokenhearted.

As a community of faith, we’ve had to move some fences before… like when we heard that God became one of us in the sinless person of Jesus. That He rose from the dead and is now seated at God’s right hand. That He lives within each of us through the Holy Spirit. That He gives himself to us (through his body and blood) in Holy Communion. That He destroyed death — not just for himself, but for us too. If you think about it, every one of those ideas were probably resisted at first.

A fence needed to be moved.

So… who is knocking at your door? What fences will need to be moved in your life? What is God asking of you today?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Wind beneath your wings.

Once there was a bird who loved to fly. But one day, while she was high up in the air, it began to rain, and her feathers became so heavy that when she tried to land, she crashed and broke her wing. Eventually, she healed, but there was a problem. Every time she wanted to fly, something inside stopped her from leaving the ground. Day after day, her fear and anxiety held her down. She forgot who she was.

But one day, a strong wind came, caught her, and lifted her high into the sky. Terrified, the bird had no other choice but to open her wings.

And that’s when she remembered how to fly.

We all have moments like this in our lives. When we are frozen. When we forget who we are. Like when a bill arrives and you have no idea how you are going to pay for it.  Or, when someone at home has an addiction. Or we have to deal with controlling boss. Or when we forget to complete a school project.  Or a medical situation just drops into our lives, one that we never would have imaged we’d have to deal with. What are we supposed to do? We forget how to be happy. We’re overwhelmed. We have no idea what it means to ‘go in peace’.

But God remembers. And God gets to work.

Not by taking away our problems, our fears and anxieties. But by reminding us of who we really are. By being that strong wind that will life us up… just like that little bird.

That’s exactly what happened to Abraham in our first reading from Genesis.  We know the theological meaning here – a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus; a testimony to Abraham’s faith – but let’s be real: what was dinner like that night at Abraham’s home? Imagine his stress, his anxiety, his confusion when he looked into the eyes of his son. He must have questioned why that whole episode had to happen in the first place.

We’ve all been there. Struggling with God’s plans. Maybe it’s your Lenten journey this year.  The prayer, the fasting, the almsgiving. We might think: “Ugh. Here I am trying to make through today, and I’m also supposed to not eat meat, to be diligent in prayers, to give my money away to a charity.” Like that little bird, we’re frozen.  We know what we’re supposed to do, but we just can’t.

Abraham reminds us that God always has our best interests in mind. We need to remember and trust God through not only the blessing of what we can do, but maybe even more so in our greatest losses, our greatest disappointments, our broken dreams.

You can’t help but hope that the student marches in Parkland to protest gun violence are going to make a difference. That out of a horrible event, our nation will be changed for the better. The same with the Dreamers, as our Cardinal Cupich has spoken about quite a bit this week. Both reminders that God provides us the gift of hope in the moments of our greatest despair.

Maybe that’s why we read the Transfiguration in today’s Gospel. Our destiny, our “destination” – a peek into heaven. For just a brief moment, God’s provides a strong wind to get us in the air again. We see the promise of our own resurrection, our life in the presence of Jesus the Lord. He flew first, through death into new life. He showed us the way.

The sacrifice of Isaac happens at the beginning of Abraham’s life. Yet he is promised so much for doing what God asks him to do. Through his effort, the nation of Israel begins.

Imagine all the wonderful things God has in store for your life after you – like Abraham — face your difficult moments. To know that your problem is not the end of the story.

That’s’ the promise of Easter. That’s the reminder of Lent.

The great Billy Graham, who passed away this week, once said, “I’ve read the last page of the bible. It’s all going to turn out alright.”

May that be the wind beneath our wings this morning.

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Ash Wednesday Homily (for students)

Blake Sheldon. Jennifer Hudson. Adam Levine. Miley Cyrus. The Voice. The judges. Last season. Even if you don’t watch the show, you’ve seen the commercials. Blind Auditions. A nervous singer on a dark stage, judges facing the opposite way, towards the audience.

Talk about stress. I bet it takes a lot of courage to be willing to be judged like that on national TV. Imagine how that must feel? If the judges like what they hear, they hit a red button, and the chair spins around in approval. A sign lights up beneath their seat. “I want you.” Wow.

We’ve all had anxious moments like those singers, haven’t we, when we wanted so badly to be chosen? Will the coaches choose me to start on varsity? What if my chemistry project doesn’t get chosen? Will I get accepted to my first choice of colleges? What if none of my friends show up after school?

Sometimes we are chosen. But sometimes we are not. Let’s face it: sometimes we are not at our best. Maybe we let ourselves down, took a few shortcuts, maybe started doubting ourselves. The mystics and psychologists tell us that if we dig deep enough, we’ll always find some stuff we are not proud of. That’s the core of what St. Ignatius refers to as a ‘loved sinner’ in the Spiritual Exercises. It sounds something like this….

How could anyone choose me? Why would any of those judges’ turn around for me?

When I was in high school, I used to think Lent was a sort of blind audition for God’s attention. A dark obstacle course, controlled by a God facing the other way. I used to think… if I pray, if I fast, if I abstain – just like what Jesus’ asks us to do in Matthew’s Gospel today – maybe God will judge me favorably. Love me a little more. Maybe bless me a little more.

But to paraphrase that great philosopher Dustin Henderson from Stranger Things, “Sometimes, my total obliviousness just blows God’s mind.”  No, it took a few years for God to teach me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned. That there is nothing any of us can do during Lent – or any other time — that will get God to love us any more than He does right now. You can’t earn God’s favor. During the next 40 days, we’re all called to look with humility on our sinfulness… but the intent is to change our actions, our hearts, our minds — not God’s.

What am I saying?  It’s simply this: before you were born, before you even knew what an audition was, God had already hit the red button. His chair had already turned around. The creator of the universe is calling out your name, a smile ear to ear, despite your failures, your sins, your flaws. That’s what Jesus did, ransomed our sins through His death and resurrection. An economy of grace. Not an economy of merit.

You know, those Blind Auditions are only the first few episodes. The rest of the season continues with the Battle Rounds, the Knockout Rounds, the Playoffs. The real work begins after they singers have been chosen.  Just like us.

Imagine the bottom of God’s judging chair not saying “I want you”, but “I need you.”  To serve the poor, to go to confession, to defend the marginalized, to honestly repent,  to get involved in your parish, to help out with our school service programs, to go to Mass… these are the most important ‘acts’ you will ever perform.  That’s what the ashes mean. You are marked by God. To do great things.

But unlike The Voice, you’re not up on a stage all alone. As the Prophet Joel instructs the Israelites in our first reading, “call an assembly; gather the people, assemble the elders….”  So, too, with us. Just look around.

If the #Me Too movement has taught us anything, it’s that one courageous voice, multiplied by thousands – millions — can and does make a difference.

Just like the ocean of neon, our student cheering section, dressed so colorfully behind the basket at the Jesuit Cup. E Pluribus Unum. We all could feel the love. And win or lose, your cheers did not stop. And that’s the type of solidarity and support our world so desperately needs today. Are you up for the challenge?

C.S. Lewis said it best, of course.  He almost always does.

Even though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not. A love not wearied by our sins, or our indifference. A love quite relentless in its determination to heal us… at whatever cost to us… and at whatever cost to Christ.

Christmas Eve Homily 2017

“How can this be?”

I can remember asking that same question when I first heard about on-line shopping. No cash needed. I remember asking that question when somebody explained to me what a GPS system was. And when I was told I could now adjust the thermostat in my house with an app. Or when I could lock my car from 20 feet away.

“How can this be?”

Now if you’re under 25, you’re probably thinking “What’s he talking about?” But for those of us who are a little older, all these things that we couldn’t even imagine a few years ago are now part of our daily lives, thanks to technology.  Like Charles Kettering quote about the Wright Brothers “They flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility.” Think of how different your life would be without MRI’s? They can see inside you now! Laser surgery? Even without e-mail?

So tell me,… why is it that when we think of all the other unquestioned impossibilities in our lives, we give up so easily?

We say, I just can’t forgive that person. I’ll never get rehired in my line of work. I’ll never lose that weight.  I won’t be able to beat my addiction. I’ll never get a good medical report. I’ll never get over the loss of my mother… my father… my son…  my daughter…  my wife…  my husband. That’s impossible.

But today’s Gospel has a different message for us.  One of the most amazing messages we will ever hear!

When the angel Gabriel tells Mary “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” he’s talking to us as well. Nothing is impossible with God. Most people thought that God becoming man – the Incarnation – was impossible. They thought rising from the dead was impossible. Miracles were impossible. Unconditional love was impossible.

And they were wrong. We are wrong.

You know, that word “overshadow” in the original Greek means “to envelop in a haze of brilliancy.” Well, God has enveloped your life “in a haze a brilliancy,” too. Sound impossible? Think for a moment how many people are happy to see you, depend on you, who love you so much. You are a bright light to your friends and family, to all gathered here today. God has made your light possible, your life possible. You are living proof that miracles happen.

Winston Churchill thought many things in his life were impossible. He was held back a grade during elementary school. When he entered high school, he was placed in the lowest division of the lowest class. Later, he failed the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy — twice. He was soundly defeated in his first effort to serve in Parliament. He finally began his political career as Prime Minister at the age of 62.

When asked if he ever doubted he could do the impossible, Churchill replied, “No. My attitude always was to never give up, never give in, never, never, never, never.” Shouldn’t we be even more trusting in God’s providence, knowing all the miracles Christ has woven into our lives?

Scripture tells us that when they lowered a paralyzed man down to Jesus through the roof on a stretcher, Jesus told him to rise because his sins were forgiven. When he did, the doubters were amazed. How could this be? They didn’t believe Jesus could do the impossible.

So why are we still doubting? If Christ can make the lame walk, imagine the miracles he can work in your life? Sometimes I think we are guilty of thinking God is too small. We are not dreaming enough.

Where do you need to start believing? In your ability to forgive someone from years ago? Physical healing? Getting straight “A”’s? Think about it: If technology can do so much, imagine how much more God can do for you when you ask in prayer, when you receive the Eucharist, when you follow Him, when you believe.

Today let’s not ask God “How can this be?” I mean, Mary has already asked that in her youthful insecurity and unknowing.

No, maybe let’s pray a new prayer this Christmas season…

“Lord, I know you can make the impossible possible. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. I know nothing in this life is perfect – starting with me – but you make all things new.  Give me the grace to face the uncomfortable situations, the harsh realities, the impossibilities in my life, knowing You are by my side. Help me to stop doubting, and start believing that You can change all things – because You have changed all things. I’m not asking for a perfect ending to my journeys. I’m asking to begin to learn to trust You as Mary did. And may my trust begin today.”

 

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