19th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
For the third part of our series on the Eucharist, let us look for see how Eucharist fills our need for justice and is at the goal of our never ending search for joy. But first let’s define these terms.
We all feel the need for justice in our lives. When we are wronged, we want it made right; when we are left out, we want to be included. And knowing we are one body, that sense of justice develops into social justice and is extended to all who are not treated fairly, whose dignity is impugned. Joy of course is that sense that is beyond and greater than happiness which we all know is fleeting. It is a sense of well-being and love that persists despite the circumstances that affect us. In Eucharist, we can have our fill of both.
To delve deeper into John 6 and the Bread of Life discourse, it helps to know we are witnessing that which is a common occurrence throughout John’s Gospel. It is what scholars call the Christological implosion. In other words, when the talk turns to light, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” If you were to say to Jesus, “You speak the truth,” he would correct you and say, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” So it is no surprise that when he is having a conversation about bread, he informs all those listening, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” It is literally all about him, which is o.k. if you are Jesus. But now, he goes even further. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” He will always be with us. He is promising more than to feed us, he is asking us to feed on him. And by that we shall live to eternal life.
That is why we flock to communion when we are broken, or maybe just a little chipped. Here we will know that we are not abandoned or forsaken. Here we are made whole in the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ. Here we are showered with a dignity far greater than we could imagine. Here our sins are forgiven. Here, we have our reconciliation.
That is why at any given hour, in places around the world where Christians are hated, they risk their lives to come to church and receive the bread and wine that heals, that tells them they matter. How much do those who suffer from the oppressions of war, poverty and violence need this medicine in a world that too often turns a blind eye to their needs? How much, a year after Charlottesville, when hatred and bigotry filled the streets of an American city, do we need to be reminded of each person’s inherent and awesome dignity? How much do we need the Eucharist when once again our church is rocked by scandal and a lack of transparency? We need the Eucharist to rise above and rescue our scarred and stumbling church. This is the bread of justice and the wine of equality which tilts our head to a new horizon where all live in peace with God and one another.
To make that new world ours, we must change Eucharist from a noun to a verb. We have to be Eucharist – a bread of life for others to feed on. To be bread for the life of the world. In my life, no one does that as well than my best friends Diana and Fred. They are the Albany Catholic Worker and they have chosen to live in voluntary poverty and in the same neighborhood as those whom God has called them to help. First off, they do a great job of caring for me and I am a handful. But they also take care of their neighbors and those who come to them for help. When they are hungry, they bring food. When they are sick, they bring them to the doctor’s and translate for them. When their neighborhood is imperiled by violence, they stand up. When immigrants need a voice, they speak up. They do it for people who are grateful and ungrateful. But what they really offer is friendship. All this is done in the midst of relationship, not a cold entity providing service, but a friend who sees Christ in the person they aid. After all, a sense of aloneness, that nobody cares, that is the greatest poverty. Fred and Diana put Eucharist into action. They are the bread of justice in the lives of so many.
And that is what we do when we are at our best. My greatest joy in the life is to be Eucharist for others, to be present as Christ is present and to feed whatever hunger I find as Christ would feed them. Isn’t that your greatest joy as well? And I could not do it without the nourishment of communion. Some happiness might come from living for yourself. Joy comes from living for others.
It seems to me that we live on a knife’s edge of selflessness and greed, friendship and alienation, despair and hope just as the world teeters between war and peace, justice and oppression, hate and love. It is the Eucharist that shifts the balance to the truth that ultimately satisfies. It is like a shaft of sunlight piercing clouds and in that light everything takes on a different hue, everything is directed toward beauty. When you approach the altar and receive communion, think of what you are receiving. Come and taste the goodness, the peace, the compassion, the forgiveness, the hope and the love of God. Come and receive Christ Jesus. Come to the sacrament of joy.


18th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
This is the second of our series on the Eucharist as we dive deeply into the sixth chapter of John. Last week we talked of our hungers and the bold proposition that in the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus has given us something that can satisfy those hungers and answer all our needs. Today, let’s look at two of the most prominent hungers in our life – our hunger to belong and our need to know we are beautiful.
They go closely together because both hungers are deeply connected to our security or more accurately, our insecurities. Belonging calms our great fear of being alone, of suffering isolation and not connecting with others. We need people we can identify as our own, a safe place. And we are always searching to know that we are beautiful, that we matter and thought of as precious.
So let’s start with a story but before I tell it, you have to imagine that I was not always the cool, suave person you see before you now. Let me take you back to eighth grade at Locust Valley Junior High School and the lunch room. The table my friends and I sat at had become too crowded. Now this was not the cool kid table or the jock table. This is the leftover table and it was crowded because almost everyone feels like a leftover in middle school. Something had to be done and there were some pretty obvious solutions – you could rotate who sat at the table or you could divide the group into two tables. Or you could be eighth grade boys and come up with this genius solution: have a vote of everyone at the table to kick out the least popular person. To be fair, I was all for it thinking another kid was going to lose. We unfolded each paper and counted the vote. And I “won”. I was devastated.
The next morning I took my paper bag lunch my Mom had made with a smiley face ironically shining back at me from the “o” in Bob. For some reason, we had these small tables that only fit two people by the window in the cafeteria so I dropped my bag on the table and prepared to have lunch, by myself, for the rest of my life. Then my friend Larry, one of the most popular boys at the table came over, sat down with me and said he would not return to the big table until they asked us both back. We are still best friends and I am the Godfather of his only son.
Table fellowship always matters. You know how much it matters when we try so hard to have our families gather for meals and we keenly feel its absence. It was even more true in Jesus’ time. No one came to the table by accident. Breaking bread with someone meant that you approved and accepted them. And Jesus invited everybody. Some say he was killed for eating with the wrong people – for eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. His enemies decried a holy man, a rabbi, should never eat with those of such low morals. But as long as they accepted and approved of him, Jesus accepted and approved them. All these meals culminated at the Last Supper when Jesus promised his apostles and all of us to truly be with all those “who do this in memory of me.”
When we say our Amen, we are saying yes to the invitation of table fellowship with Christ. He wants us to be by our side. We are not alone. We belong. We are not gathered around the altar by accident. And if we belong to God, then we belong anywhere. We belong everywhere.
Our need to belong is closely linked for our need to know we are beautiful. You are a very lucky person if you can wake up every morning look in the mirror and think, “I am really beautiful.” Usually, we come to know that we matter and are precious because those we belong to let us know we are beautiful. Knowing we are beautiful is a tremendous release of a kind of perpetual anxiety. It is the unbinding of our chains. And we come to know it in the Eucharist.
Last week we had Journey #70 and it was terrific (just like the first 69.) For me, the most distinctive aspect of this group is that they were really searching – for God or for some truth about themselves. And I always ask what I think of as a challenging question, “Are you beautiful?” For the most part the boys have never thought of that before and the girls have thought about it way too much. I choose to ask that because so many of our hang ups and disappointments touch the question from our physical beauty to our inner goodness. We have been so well trained to respond to ourselves in a negative manner. But something happens when you are confronted by the love of Jesus Christ. When you see yourself through the eyes of the creator you recognize that you must be beautiful for the creator of all beauty certainly did not fail in you. And once we accept that, once we see ourselves through the eyes of the divine, then we can see with God’s eyes and find the beauty in everything and everyone.
At communion, we come to know ourselves as chosen, desired and indeed irrevocably beautiful. Our Amen is a resounding yes to the stunning dignity we all possess. And that is why the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is so central in our belief. We do not need a merely symbolic representation of belonging. We do not need a ceremony that tells us what it would feel like to think we are beautiful. We need to really belong and really know. And Jesus Christ does not leave us wanting in hunger. He truly appears and makes our dreams a reality. He is really present. We really belong. We really are beautiful.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
This is an exciting day. This will be the first of a four part homily series on the Eucharist. It will not be so much a test of my theology, but of your endurance. The truth is though that I cannot imagine devoting so much time to any subject other than the Eucharist. It is at the center of our life and the center of the life of the church. As a matter of fact, it is primary to the Church. The Church does make the Eucharist as much as the Eucharist makes the Church. It has always been central to my life. When I was discerning priesthood, my wise friend Alissa gave me a book from the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke and he wrote, “Think of what you would die for and then live for it.” Eucharist was my immediate answer. For the next month we will be hearing from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, the memorable bread of life discourse. But the true culmination of this time will be September 22nd at the Auriesville Shrine, when for the first time in over fifty years, we will have a Eucharistic Congress. Gathered around the Bishop, we will celebrate and rejoice that our God comes to us again, that Jesus Christ is truly alive in his body and blood. The Word of God, who took on flesh and lived among humanity now becomes flesh and lives within us. What a marvel. What a blessing.
The Gospel this week follows rather seamlessly from last week’s Gospel from Mark. You may recall that the crowd had approached Jesus despite the late hour and their hunger and Jesus took pity on them “for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Similarly, in John 6 Jesus sees a large crowd coming at the time they should be eating. They have understood what Jesus has said earlier, “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. (Mt 4:4).” Their hunger for the truth now outweighs their physical pangs. In a world of confusion, they seek clarity. In a world of hurt, they seek soothing. In a world of violence, they seek peace. Their world is not that much different than ours and their needs mirror ours. Perhaps is it always such in the human condition. Of course this is Jesus, so he does not have to choose one kind of nourishment over another. He will teach them and feed them through a remarkable multiplication of the loaves and fish.
What are you hungering for? How will you be fed in such a way that you will be satisfied as the crowd on the hillside was? I have a theory about sin. There are only a few sins. There are many variations of these sins (believe me, I have heard them) but there are only a few things that truly move us to sin – lust for power, selfishness and greed for example. I think the same thing can be said of our hungers. We can imagine a thousand things we want, but only a few ideas that drive us. Ideas such as beauty and belonging; such as justice and joy. Ultimately, we are all simply hungering for God. The interesting thing about these hungers is that they have a light and a dark side. So great is the need to be fed of these basic needs that we will fill ourselves with whatever is available. So our desire for beauty can lead to exploitation or a true sense of awe of all that God has given. Justice can mean equality for all people, but our desire for revenge is also connected to justice. Our search of joy can lead to trying the next thing endlessly or it can fine true satisfaction in God. As Jesus the bread of life proved, he had answers for those desperate people whom he fed. Through the Eucharist, he is still responding to all our needs and feeding our hunger, but the bread of life always points to the light and the better angels of our nature.
How does Jesus feed us? I had a theology professor whose sister was very ill. Once he asked her, as only a liturgist could do, what do you think about at mass? She said, I take everything I have – my pain and my fear, my blessings and my love, and I plop it on the altar, trusting that the one who took simple gifts of bread and wine and made them into something holy and precious can take my life and transform all my stuff into something holy. What are you hungering for? How can the Eucharist feed it?

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.”

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.