14th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Occasionally, there is an idea that I find very bad and I often find it is supported by a short, supposedly pithy statement that infuriates me. And when that happens I feel the need to rant for about eight minutes and that is why I am so happy I have a homily to release that energy. Thank you!
The very bad idea is euthanasia or physician assisted suicide that ends a life before natural death. My opposition to euthanasia, which of course the Church strictly opposes, is based on theological, moral, philosophical and practical grounds. The phrase that upsets me and is used to defend euthanasia is “Death with dignity” and its acceptance is disturbing and underlines a far wider issue.
It has been my responsibility and my honor to stand by many dying people. I have seen people die suddenly and peacefully. I have seen death linger and I have seen it be painful. But never in my life have I seen it not be dignified. Instead I have witnessed courage, endurance and peace.
So what is meant by “death with dignity?” The coiners of the phrase can only mean a death that is free of pain and suffering. And we should alleviate the suffering of the dying as best we can as we should alleviate suffering everywhere in the world. But the idea that suffering is undignified is absurd and offensive to me. Cancer withered my mother and took her life, but I swear to you, it never touched her dignity.
This idea of “death with dignity” gains currency because as a society we hate suffering and find no value in it. Every commercial convinces you that you need to be relieved of anything like a burden. I thought it did not matter whether my underwear had tags until they told me otherwise. But there is value in suffering. Suffering is not good, but good comes from suffering- important goods like courage, character and even peace.
We have a lot invested in the idea of suffering. After all, we worship a God who was crucified. Crucifixion was designed not just to kill the person, but to heap indignity upon them, to heap humiliation upon them. It is why it was done on a hill for all to see, why Jesus was stripped and why he was nailed. Yet, when you look at the cross, do you see indignity or the perfect fulfillment of dignity? It is the ultimate proof that what someone endures is not the definition of the person but who they are as they endure that is the true measure.
St. Paul understands this. Three times he has asked for “a thorn in the flesh” to be removed (probably a physical ailment). While it is always good to ask God for relief from pain, we must also listen to what God is saying. To Paul, God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And then we begin to see it. For after everything else is stripped away, our power, our health, our wealth and our status, nothing is left but out true selves; nothing is left but grace, nothing is left but Christ. Our weakness is how the power of God is made is known.
Suffering is not the opposite of dignity; it is its cornerstone. All the people we admire have known suffering. What is Superman without the threat of kryptonite? Even the Kardashian sisters were forged in suffering. We do not admire people who have everything going for them (I am looking at you Tom Brady). We resent them. And I have never met anyone whose life has been without suffering.
A world without suffering is a world without grace, a world without heroes. My heroes are that dying person who holds to life, we know not why, until they see that last faith or hear that last prayer. My heroes are those who struggle with mental illness which they can never escape, yet they do not let that stop their wide open heart from giving all they have. My heroes are those with intellectual disabilities with whom I worked for years who constantly redefined true and radical love for me. My heroes are those with chronic illness like my friend who is almost always in pain, but few would recognize it because he gives everything for his family, his friends, his church and his community. My hero is Jesus Christ who endured suffering to let us know that we are loved.
It is at the cross that we are invited to share in the suffering of Jesus. It is through that door that Christ greets us and joins us to all others who have known the dignity of suffering. There we have witnessed the graces of faith, hope and love. Faith that makes us stronger and endure more than we could ever imagine, like the dying patient whose stilled lips suddenly start forming the words of the Our Father as I have seen dozens of times. It is hope that allows those burdened by darkness to move forward and to shine a light for others. It is love that proves itself unconquered and unconquerable.
Suffering is inherent to dignity for as St. Paul reminds us, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

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Nativity of John the Baptist 2018
“What is in a name?” Shakespeare wistfully wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Of course the irony is that these are the words of Juliet and it turns out that if the names are Montague and Capulet, a name means everything. So it is in the story of John the Baptist.
Think of all the startling events that make up the birth of Jon the Baptist. The archangel Gabriel visits Elizabeth and tells the barren older woman that she will give birth to a son. Her husband Zechariah is struck mute for not believing this word. The Virgin Mary comes for a visit and John leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth at the presence of Jesus in Mary. Yet, what really knocks their socks off is that John’s parents agreed on a name?
Names meant more then than today especially in the near Eastern culture of Jesus. In Judaism to this day, there is a naming ceremony that occurs on the eighth day of the child’s life when they are circumcised. A name was a big deal. We tend to look at names differently. We think of a name as a way to distinguish one’s self as a very thin slice of the other 7.5 billion people on the planet. As in look out Jane, I am throwing something at you.
But for the people of Jesus’ time and culture, a name was more of an identity than identifier. It expressed not just what you were called but who you were. When I said my name is Bob I would not just be saying this is what I answer to, but I would be sharing my Bobness with you. We have a sense of that from growing up. I would never call a friend of my parents by their first name. That would belie impossible equality in status. I still have a hard time calling my old teachers by their first name.
Indeed there is something holy and sacred in each name. Think how merely saying the names of Jesus and Mary are a powerful prayer. John the Baptist name held great weight. It was the name given to him by the angel. It was then just not his name but it also carried his mission and his destiny as the one “who would go before the Lord to prepare his way; to give the world knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” The name announced by the angel was to be his life.
It is a wonderful thing to have a name. At baptism, before you can even say if you want your child baptized, you are asked, “What name do you give your child?” For God is entering into a relationship with this person and it would be meaningless without a name. Think of the awesome responsibility of choosing a name. One minute it may be just sounds and syllables roaming in the air, and then your child has that name and it is at the center of our hearts – the culmination of pride, fear, love and blessing.
There is a destiny and a mission in your name just as there was for John the Baptist. Take a week and think about your name. Not just its meaning but how it reflects your purpose, your destiny, your mission. You name contains all that God knows of you: your holiness, your blessing and your beauty. Know your name and you will know yourself as God knows you.

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
I have been walking a lot lately, mostly on Route 7 and Union Street and I have noticed that I walk with my head down and I am not sure why. It could be that I am looking for potholes on our sidewalks. It might be that I am reacting to the Mets season and I am doing a sad Charlie Brown walk. But what I really think is that I am having a hard time just carrying this big noggin. You know how some people carry weights when they walk? My equivalent is just keeping my head up. The result however is that I have bumped into three runners and a sign post. I am learning the need to walk by sight and not by faith.
And so it seems to be with the walk of life. We like to see where we are going. We are looking for places where we might stumble, potential pitfalls in our lives. We carefully stake out our path, measuring where we can safely tread and avoiding the rest. Let us trust not too quickly or care with such abandon. We are growing our garden with extreme caution. I am not claiming to be an expert in gardening. Those lovely flowers in front of my house are not my doing but our garden ministry. Recently, in a lovely gesture, a mother gave me a plant to commemorate her child’s baptism, saying I could watch it grow as her daughter grows. Every day I pray her daughter is doing better than my plant.
But I get the basics. Every flower or plant needs water and sunlight. We can prepare the soil and feed our plants to get the result we want. And Jesus often points to that. But today’s Gospel emphasizes something different. He notes that for all the work the farmer does, the greatest miracle occurs during sleep for it is growth that matters. Plants grow because that is what they are meant to do. For all our planning and cultivating, think about wildflowers. The wind blows them, the seed spreads, they plant themselves and nothing could be more beautiful.
So it is with the kingdom, so it is through our life. Within us is planted a seed meant for growth. It is meant for holiness, peace, grace and love. We have been designed to flourish. And that is why we are called to walk by faith more than sight. We must know the powerful mercy of God and entrust ourselves to it. We should not be cowed by the fearful scenarios we envision, but instead be open to the experiences of grace and growth God has prepared for us. We can dare to risk for love for that is God’s intention. We can place ourselves in the hands of each other for we were meant to be together. We can sacrifice in the name of justice for that is what the Lord has called us to.
To see If you indeed walk by faith and not by sight, let me suggest a short test for you. Which word best describes your life. Careful or joyful? Worry or peace? Judgment or mercy? Fear of love?
There is a fitting time for all these words in our life. Prudence is a virtue after all. It is a matter of biography. Which words are predominant in your life? Are we faith walkers or only sight walkers? Dare we trust in our beauty or our personal calculus? Let us walk with our heads held high, not looking for cracks in the sidewalk and missing out on the beauty, joy and mystery of the journey.

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
The readings this weekend point clearly to sin so it is time for me to give the Fire and Brimstone homily I have been waiting eleven and a half years to give. (Someone clapped when I said that at the 4:30 mass which I thought was weird.) Yet, I probably should talk about sin more and it is not a current a conversation in our lives, but it seems that our lack of discussion has not led to less sinning so let’s get into it with the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Today we hear the less well known second part of the story. We all know what happened in the first half – through mastery of language and psychological manipulation, the serpent finally seduces Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Then Adam sees Eve eating the fruit and thinks: hungry, good, eat. Men… But this reading is more about the reaction to the first sin than the action. We quickly realize the story of sin cannot be complete without understanding how we react to sin. And immediately we see the repercussions of sin are fear, shame and blame.
As soon as Adam senses God’s presence after the sin, he is afraid because he is naked and he hides from God. This is a remarkable turnaround. Think of what had constituted their relationship to this point. God spoke and humanity was created; God caressed the mud to form Adam and breathed life into him. They shared so much intimacy that God would walk around the garden he had created for them. Having sinned, now he feels the need to hide from God, he wants to be estranged from God so much does he fear the wrath of God and so little does he understand the mercy of God. Sin leads to the first fissure in our relationship with God for fear cannot occupy the same space as love and God is nothing but love.
Shame also enters into the world. It is embodied in the fact that Adam and Eve suddenly realize they are naked. Now they were always naked. Clothes had not yet been invited (a nearby fig tree would take care of that.) What had changed are shame and the self-loathing that comes from it. Now shame is different than guilt. I am a Catholic priest. I am not about to preach against guilt. Guilt is the recognition of our offenses, which can never be corrected or forgiven unless we acknowledge them. We live in a less guilty age, but I feel that has also led to a lack of personal responsibility. Shame on the other hand is the collapse of our confidence, a turning against our self. Look how Adam and Eve instantly turns against the beauty of a body personally crafted by God. God did not make us to hate ourselves for God is proud of this beautiful creation. Shame puts a lie to all that God has made us and makes us resistant to God’s mercy. We make ourselves small, isolated and unlovable like Adam and Eve hiding from love.
Shame in turn leads to blame. Unable to bear the burden of shame by ourselves we bring others down to our diminished state. And Adam blames everyone. “The woman whom you put here with me— she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” He blames Eve for his failure. Fifteen minutes ago when Eve was created, he was all, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” and now it is all, “She made me do it.” But it is not only Eve who bears the brunt of the blame. Adam blames God for it. “The woman whom you put here with me,” that has caused this problem. I was fine until your brilliant plan put her beside me. Yet blaming others for our own faults is a rejection of freedom for it does not embrace the truth. True freedom is knowing who you are and owning it. Like shame, blame is a retreat from ourselves as God made us.
But let us change the scenario. Eve and Adam have eaten the forbidden fruit, but they do not hide. God comes upon Adam and God sees the juice dripping all over his face and knows what has happened. Adam does not equivocate. He owns his sin. “I know it is wrong. My actions were dumb and selfish. I am sorry.” Notice the words “I am sorry” never appear in the narrative. Wouldn’t everything be different? Would we even recognize the fullness of sin?
Let us change our scenarios. It appears we cannot keep from sinning. But we can change our reaction. We do not need to hide from God out of fear by compartmentalizing as when we figure this is not in God’s domain or we have a life separate from God. A good friend recalls the time I called him out when he said, “The Christian side of me thinks…” And I said, “The Christian side of you?” We can only be wholly ourselves. For what ails us cannot be healed without treatment, the shadow can only be displaced by sunlight and there is not absolution without confession.
Let us change the scenario and have guilt without shame. Let us own our wrongs but not cut ourselves down. Let us be fully open to and encounter with the mercy of God and get used to the idea that we can be imperfect and perfectly loved.
Let us change the scenario and not blame others for our sins and failures. Occasionally at our school, children are brought to the office for being naughty. And I always ask what happened and they always respond with “This kid did this to me.” And then I always reply, “Who is the king of not caring what happened first?” because no one can make you push or use a bad word. Isn’t that true freedom? God has made us so that no one can force us not to love. Without blame, the work of reconciliation can begin.
We might not always prevent ourselves of choosing the wrong action, but we can change our reaction. Let us change the scenario and embrace the redemptive mercy of our God.

Corpus Christi B
How would God let us know we are loved? He chose the best possible way in sending his son, an incarnation of the Word now taking flesh. It is in this way that Jesus becomes the translator of divine love, bringing into our daily lives and promising a future far beyond it. But as the threat grows to his own brief life, Jesus needs another way to speak perfectly of God’s grace, a way that will outlive his time on earth, a way to sustain this moment of love and self-donation forever.
How would Jesus let us know that we are loved? He would do it with his friends, those who followed him and witnessed tremendous deeds of power, who heard stunning and beautiful words; those who had journeyed, laughed and cried with him and now grow fearful as the specter of death casts its shadow upon him. He would share one last gift with those with whom he had shared everything.
How would Jesus show his love? He would do it in the context of a meal for they were always eating. Table fellowship meant more then. They say Jesus was killed for eating with the wrong people, for eating with sinners beneath his station. It was understood that eating together was a sign of acceptance, an unbreakable bond, a true intimacy. It would be done at a meal where that friendship would be imbued with forever.
And he would do it on the holiest night of the year, the night when Israel was freed from the clutches of cruel slavery in Egypt. It was a night of liberation. It was the night of a covenant, the night when God’s promises would be fulfilled. And it was also a night of prayer for the entire Seder is a long prayer of thanksgiving and remembrance. Just as Jesus’ life was but a prayer, always in communion with his Father, always seeking greater communion with those around him. He prayed that night for all of them and for all of us.
He would do it with bread for bread had always been a part of Israel’s story. There was holy bread in the Temple and the manna that fell from heaven and sustained Israel for forty years in the desert. But it was more than that. It is bread that the hungry yearn for that is the difference between life and death. It is the staple and symbol of humanity. He would also do it with wine, the great gift of celebration and consolation which lifts our spirits and is a taste of divine. Jesus would bring together the bread and the wine, he who was both fully human and divine.
To let us know we are loved, he would invest himself into that bread and pour himself into that wine. This is a second incarnation for here the bread takes on his flesh. He is truly and really present, soul and divinity. He had to be for they were falling apart. Rumors of betrayal and predictions of denial swirl around the room. He needs to bring them together. “This is my body. This is my blood.” Only the real Jesus could keep them together.
For it was a meal of sacrifice, the shadow of the cross hung over the Lord and his disciples. He was showing them what love looked like at a meal before he would show them perfectly on the cross. The next day he would give his body, the next day his blood would be poured again. He asked them to remember. “Do this in memory of me.” A memory that would sear. A memory that would recall all that Jesus was and all that Jesus did. A living memory of perfect love.
Ultimately, it became a meal of glory for the resurrected body was to recall that last supper with his friends, especially on the road to Emmaus when they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. It is not just the sacrifice we taste, but the triumph of the glorified Christ who conquered death and promised to be with us always.
How would God show us that we are loved? In just a few minutes he will do it again. Once again, Jesus has gathered his friends, those who have followed him and witnessed his impact on their lives. Of course it is at a meal where intimacy is created and in this time when it is so hard to gather our families around the table, here our family is gathered around Jesus. He chooses a holy day for each Sunday is a little Easter where we celebrate his triumph over death. It is the day of our liberation and promises fulfilled in a new covenant. And we come in together in prayer, not just mine, but the prayer of every one of us that this remarkable transformation of bread and wine will occur.
And he will come to be present in this bread and wine. He will give us his body and blood, giving all that he has again and again because that is what lovers do. And he will have to be really present because we have a tendency to fall apart and need healing and reconciliation that is only possible because of the perfect sacrifice on Calvary. We do this memory of him. It is not a distant wisp of a memory but something real, something re-presented so that Jesus Christ is alive and present to us in this moment. And this moment is one of glory that creates a communion of saints so that we are brought nearer to our deceased loved ones more than any moment as we both bask in the love of God. It is a communion that draws us together forming bonds so complete that we become the body of Christ, ready to transform the world in his name, in his justice and in his peace. And it is a communion with God, where mere humanity is given a part in divinity.
That is how God lets us know we are loved.

Holy Trinity B
The story of God we celebrate today as the Holy Trinity is never far separated from how we were told this story and who told us. It must be because the story of God is always in translation from mystery to revelation. This God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is mystery; a mystery so deep that it defines infinite. But this God is not unknowable altogether because this is also a God of revelation, a God who wanted to be known. And if we only have a thin slice of the entire mystery of God to go on, God has made sure it is enough. That thin slice is still so large and generous that it becomes the center of our life, the reason for our blessing and the way to our peace.
Who told you about the story of God? Was it a parent, grandparent, friend or stranger? How did it move you? We should be very grateful to anyone who told us the story of God for that is the pathway of love. It is the story of mercy overcoming judgment and beauty triumphing over despair. It is the story of creation, the story of redemption and salvation. It is the promise of life over death.
Each of us is called to be a teller of that story for who could possess something so shimmering, so hope filled and not want to share it with those we love. It is the mission for every one of us. It makes us missionaries. For we tell this story in our prayer that connects us to God and brings us closer together. We tell it in our study so that we might grow in knowledge and better share it with others with depth and color. We tell it above all in our actions where we follow Christ and partake and break open his Spirit in ways of love, peace and understanding. We are God’s witnesses in the world.
But there are some among us who place that missionary part of our life at the center of theirs. They have a call within a call to serve in challenging and remote parts of the world. The Church has always been blessed by missionaries. They have gone to bring faith where none existed before; they bring light to darkness and justice to overcome systems of oppression. They are often not wanted by some and needed by all.
My friend Fr. Ferdinand is a missionary. He left the Ivory Coast and became a PIME missionary in Mexico. You might remember him from his visit here where we had a huge snow storm that shocked him. He has infectious enthusiasm and a dazzling smile. He is in his late thirties and he looks like he is twenty-five and that is the only thing I do not like about Fr. Ferdinand. He is a genius with languages and not only took up the local indigenous language of Mixtec, but created a dictionary from Mixtec into Spanish while at Cuana and found the differences in dialect so severe that he wrote another one when he moved to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in La Concordia. He gave his people the gift of hearing the mass in their native tongue for the first time. He is beloved and caring for all his people.
And tomorrow, he is boarding a flight to Italy and leaving the parish because of threats against his life. Already four priests this year alone have been assassinated in Mexico. Did you know that? We don’t seem to hear those stories in the news too often do we? Here is what he shared.
“One month ago I left the parish of La Concordia. Not a day goes by without thinking about these parish communities. The memories of people, places and activities are permanent and alive.
I had to escape to preserve my “physical integrity”. That’s what it was. I had no problem with anyone in these four years of indigenous and pleasant pastoral experience. The Mixtec adopted me as one of them. My future, I put it in God’s hand. In my village it says: “until you cut off your head, keep dreaming”. You will always be present in my memories, my dreams and my prayers.
At the end of the day, what counts is to have loved and served.” What can be a better statement about the life and call of a missionary?
Let me ask a few things of you. First: pray for Fr. Ferdinand. Obviously, pray for his safety, but also for his healing. His great love of ministry to his people has been taken away from him. Let us pray that he will find a new way to exercise his extraordinary skills in service to God.
Let us pray for our sister parish Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They too have lost someone they love through no fault of their own. And pray for the two new courageous PIME missionaries going to La Concordia now. May we always remember missionaries throughout the world.
Let us pray for our Church. There are many people who have reasons to be disappointed in the Church, but those who hate it, hate it for the very best things about it. Those who hate it do so because they thrive in darkness and despise the light. They prosper in the midst of oppression and fear the onset of justice and because they depend on violence, they are cowed by those who preach peace. When the church comes to lift up those who put down, they are threatened. Those who hate the Church hate it for the best things about it.
Finally, let me ask you to do what every missionary asks of us. Be a missionary yourself. Tell the story of our triune God with passion and courage. Bring light to darkness and preach truth to power. Only when everyone is a missionary will there be no need for missionaries.

 

Pentecost Sunday B

 

They were all huddled together in an upper room.  The apostles had endured a lot.  They had known the terror of the crucifixion, the exhilaration of the resurrection and now they had witnessed the ascension of Jesus to heaven and were left anxiously waiting what was next and what this experience was to mean to them.  Buoyed by the mother of Jesus, they stick together and they pray.

 

Then everything changes in a moment.  With tongues of fire hanging over their heads and a mighty rush of wind, the promised Holy Spirit settled upon them.  And they burst forth from that room literally unable to contain themselves as the preached boldly the word of God and the good news of Jesus Christ to all around them.

 

What happened?  The miracles of Pentecost tell the story.  Yes, there were tongues of fire, but the real miracle was the fire over their heads became the fire that burned within them.  And those timid men, fearful that the hate that destroyed Jesus would pursue them, suddenly and boldly proclaim Jesus Christ.  Yes, there was a great wind, but the real miracle is that it had switched direction.  The wind had stung their face in the loss of Christ at the cross and his absence since the Ascension, but now it was at their back, pushing out of their room, compelling them to be witnesses of Jesus to everyone.  So strongly it blew that they would never turn back.  And finally, those Jews gathered from different lands as they came to Jerusalem to celebrate their Feast of Pentecost, could hear the apostles speak in their own native language.  But the real miracle was that their hearts were as open to as their ears, and what they truly heard was the fulfillment of the promise that sustained their dreams.  It was as if they heard for the first time the lyrics of a song they had been waiting for their whole life.

 

We have known this experience without the accompanying miracles, for what happened to the apostles at Pentecost happened to us at in the waters of baptism.  The Spirit which descended upon them inundated us.  And now that Spirit is within us.  Pentecost is within us.  And that is a good thing because look around.  We need a new Pentecost.

 

Each of us could use a new Pentecost, a new awakening of the Spirit.  I need a new Pentecost.  I need to better trust where the Spirt is leading me and to let go of my anxiety, especially for the Church which is not mine but God’s anyway.  Where do you need Pentecost in your life?   Where do you want to employ the Spirit to build up or heal or forgive?  We all need a Pentecost.

 

Our families need a new Pentecost.  We need the Spirit of forgiveness so that we can summon the courage to say, “I’m sorry.”  And the courage to forgive.  We need to entrust ourselves more fully to those God has given us to be closest to us and to be honest for the Spirit can only work in an environment of true feeling and openness.  It can be accomplished in little ways.  If you came home from school this week and were able to answer the question “What happened at school today?” with anything other than “Nothing,” that would be a Pentecost. 

 

Our communities need a new Pentecost for this is a Spirt that knows no boundaries whether it is between countries where people cross for a better life or cities.  The Spirit sees no difference between Schenectady and Niskayuna, between rich and power, the powerful and the weak.  If that is not how the Holy Spirit looks at the world, then how can we look differently?  And we need to say no to violence and to lay down our arms for a Spirt if peace inhabits us. 

 

We need a new Pentecost for our country.  At the first Pentecost, people from all different lands could hear the proclamation of the Gospel in their native tongues.  Yet, here it seems that even those who share a common language cannot hear the other.  The Spirit is the one that us communicate heart to heart.  It is a Spirit of reconciliation and hope, not fear and anger.

 

We need a new Pentecost for our planet.  All things were created through the Spirit; therefore it has all been touched by God and contains within it a certain kind of perfection.  The Holy Spirit calls us to communion with nature not exploitation or devastation.

 

And we need a new Pentecost for our Church.  We need a new burst of energy and of hope.  We need to be more the seat of mercy than the seat of judgment.  We need to be known for inclusion and not  exclusion.  We need to have that great rush of wind blow us out of these doors to the periphery so that the poor and sick may know healing, the hungry and thirsting may know fulfillment and the left out will know belonging.  We need to carry the good news as if it truly was good.  Imagine a world filled with joyous, happy, singing and smiling Catholics.  Now that really would be a Pentecost.

 

And the best of the good news is that Pentecost is already here.  Every day is Pentecost because the Spirit is already alive.  Pentecost is here because the Spirit is within you.  If you want a new Pentecost, simply let that Spirit out.