FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 31, 2020:
A priest that I follow on Twitter made an interesting observation about our Gospel today as we return to our first public Masses since going into quarantine. He wrote, “We open our church this weekend with the Gospel basically criticizing the disciples for staying home in fear, and then Jesus breathes on them.” Could there be a message more in violation of our CDC protocols?! Stay home, stay safe, save lives!
We heard from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans today, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves…For in hope we were saved…The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness…the Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
As we gather for this celebration of the Holy Mass – the first time we have done so in person in nearly three months – these words of St. Paul have a strong resonance in our hearts. We are groaning in pain even until now. We groan in the pain of a world that continues to be rocked by a virus that has taken the lives more than 360,000 people and effected nearly 6 million people around our world. And we groan in pain as another sickness – this one not of the body, but of the heart and mind and soul – the sickness of racism once again rears its ugly head in grotesque fashion as we see in the horrible murders of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota. How many victims have racism and prejudice and hatred taken over the centuries? How many more will they take if we watch quietly, helplessly?
Our groaning over COVID19 will pass. Eventually there will be a vaccine. Eventually the scourge of this virus will leave us and this will become a historical note that we have survived. But there will be no vaccine for racism. There is no pill that we can take to rid our hearts of hatred. This is work that we must do ourselves.
Thankfully, as we gather on this beautiful day, we also gather to celebrate the cure. We celebrate Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the promised Advocate. St. Paul tells us that the Spirit also groans at the pains that surround us. But, the Holy Spirit of God wants to do far more than groan. God’s Spirit wants to inhabit us; God’s Spirit wants to dwell within us; God’s Holy Spirit wants to lead us and guide us to rid this ugly sickness of racism and prejudice from our hearts. St. Paul also tells us in his Letter to the Galatians, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus…You have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
My friends, through the grace of our baptism, through the gift and the guidance of the Holy Spirit we know there is not black or white, or Asian or Hispanic, there is not gay or straight, immigrant or refugee – there is only son and daughter; there is only brother and sister.
Jesus breathed and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” My friends on this day, at this Holy Mass, let us take a deep breath. Let us breathe in the very Spirit of the living God who wants to mold us, change us, and make us His own. And let us breathe out all hatred and fear, all anxiety and doubt, all racism and prejudice that still holds space in our hearts – because they space they occupy in our hearts leaves increasingly less and less room for God’s Holy Spirit to dwell there. And let us not only breathe it out of our hearts, but let us stand with one another, for one another – each of our brothers and sisters, no matter who they may be. Let us choose respect, equality, acceptance, dignity, diversity, kindness, forgiveness, and love. Let us choose one another and say to everyone, “You are my sister. You are my brother.”
The story of Pentecost began in fear in the upper room, but with the gift of the Spirit, the disciples were given courage to leave that fearful place and proclaim the Kingdom of love and reconciliation with boldness. We can sometimes be afraid to stand up boldly. We can be afraid to speak up when we see injustice, prejudice, and racism around us. But, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” not only to His disciples then, but you and to me today. And if we trust Him, He will equip us with the strength, the courage, and the words to rid our world of this darkness.
We have to wait for doctors and scientists – people more intelligent in these things than you or me – before we will rid the world of COVID19. But, we do not have to wait another second to rid our hearts and our communities of this sickness of hatred in our hearts. It begins with each one of us and then extends to all those around us. Breathe in God’s Holy Spirit today.
The Holy Spirit reminds us today especially that we have a mission to tell everybody the Good News that God is their Father, that God is the Father of us all –that in spite of all the differences of language and culture and status, we are one family and we can live as brothers and sisters. Our mission is to break down any barrier that divides us and to bring all people to speak the one universal language of love. This is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit. And so, Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
So, on this day of Pentecost, let this be our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful – fill my heart and your heart – and enkindle in us the fire of your love.” This is what the Holy Spirit does. When fear freezes our faith into silent submission, the Holy Spirit warms us up – enkindles the fire - and empowers us to go out and make a difference.
“Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of us, your faithful people, and enkindle in us the fire of your love so that we can spread the Good News of your Kingdom to all the world and at last put this sickness to rest.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 24, 2020:
Going through my desk recently, I came across a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s sister and she passed away a number of years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters, gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. “Please read this at my funeral,” and on the other side, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for everyone she loved.
Now, while I would bet that we all want to get to Heaven, I’d bet most of us don’t think about it every day. Normally, our attention is focused on the things in front of us – the concerns of work, or family; the challenges or joys that we experience in relationships; the crisis happening in the world that we can’t seem to escape right now. There are so many things that keep our eyes focused right here where we are, instead of what lies above.
But, Jesus came to earth for one amazing reason – to show us the way to Heaven, or as we’ll pray in our Eucharistic Prayer today, “He ascended, that we might be confident in following where He has gone.” Easter and the Ascension are all about reminding us of this eternal reality; this focus and purpose for our lives. Heaven is our goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives. So, how important it is for us to pick our heads up from daily cares and be focused on our heavenly home; perhaps especially now when our daily cares can seem so dire; when the end to this crisis seems elusive; and the answers to our questions seem so hard to find.
We heard Jesus in today’s Gospel say, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” Eternity is an invitation into nothing less than knowing God personally, intimately, eternally. The great joys in life come from the loving relationships we enjoy. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be without others to share them with – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art? Loving relationships make life enjoyable and meaningful. Jesus is telling us that Heaven is the ultimate, perfect relationship of love and union with God – to know God and to know Jesus. And it will last for all time because God and His love are infinite.
You are probably familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis was a strong Christian, and in Narnia has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of our Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back home at the end of each adventure.
At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever. Lewis describes what their lives were like from that moment on. He writes, “For the children, the end was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Lewis explains that compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, both in this world and in Narnia, were nothing more than a hint; barely a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Aslan’s Country was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last. What a hopeful reminder for us in the midst of this moment of crisis. This too will pass, and what God has in store for each of us is so much more amazing that we can even imagine.
My friends, Jesus promises us an everlasting adventure that only gets better. One of the worse things we can do is to not think about Heaven enough. After all, the less focused we are on our destination, the more likely we’ll be to make a wrong turn along the way. A Christian who never thinks about Heaven is absurd.
Let us keep our eyes on the prize because where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow. Where Mary has gone, where countless saints have gone, where my Aunt Pat has gone – we all hope to follow. As St. Bernadette Soubirous put it: “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”
My friends, let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 17, 2020:
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Hindsight is 2020.” It means that sometimes we don’t understand things so clearly as they are happening, but when we have the chance to reflect back on moments and see how they played out, we see things we didn’t see before, make connections we weren’t aware of before; things come into a focus that only comes by being on the other side of an experience. I have great hopes that our hindsight once we are beyond this coronavirus crisis will also be 2020. Right now we are knee-deep in the challenges all around us – when will we go back to work? How will we pay the rent, the bills? Do I still have a job? When will things get back to normal? But, I also have great hopes that when we do return to normal living, our hindsight will make clear some of the things we’ve experienced in these months – how good it is to slow down and be attentive to one another, our families; how over-programmed our lives have become; and so crucially – how precious is the gift of faith, the gift of Church, community, the gift of the sacraments – especially reconciliation and the Eucharist. These things that in our craziness we have taken for granted, or even left behind, perhaps now will receive a renewed zeal, enthusiasm, and deep desire. Let’s pray for that holy clarity on the other side of this.
In our Gospel passages this week and last, we’ve also been engaged in a little bit of hindsight clarity as St. John has been returning us to the Last Supper, giving us a chance to dig deeper into its meaning. We can understand why. After all, at the Last Supper, Jesus and the Twelve are in the Upper Room, gathered for the Passover. Jesus begins to tell them about his coming suffering. He tells them that he will be leaving them to go back to the Father. We can picture the Apostles confusion, and growing sadness. They have staked their lives on Jesus! They have given up everything to follow Him. And now He says that He must go away from them. Their hopes seemed dashed, and so perhaps they weren’t fully hearing what He was saying.
But, Jesus knows their hearts. He knows their fears. Twice during the meal He tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He repeats it because He knows that their hearts are truly troubled. And then He makes them a promise we heard today, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” He promises never to abandon His chosen followers. The crucifixion will come, the darkness, the suffering, the persecution, the apparent failure and defeat. But through it all, the Apostles can cling with firm faith to this promise: I will not leave you orphans; I will never abandon you.
What comforting words for us to hear today in the midst of our global crisis. Jesus knows that our hearts too are troubled. He knows that we are filled with fear and confusion, with regret and sorrow in the midst of our own Good Fridays. And He makes the same promise to us: I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. I will be with you. His Resurrection is the first and definitive step in his fulfillment of this promise. Jesus is faithful. We can count on it.
He proves His faithfulness over and over again. The miracles he performed during his earthly ministry were all signs of this faithfulness. The greatest sign of all was the Resurrection - His definitive victory over sin and suffering, the bedrock of our hope. And, these signs have continued throughout the history of the Church. In the First Reading we heard about the deacon Philip healing crippled people and casting out demons. His miracles brought joy to the whole city, because they showed that the Good News of the Gospel, which Philip was preaching, was more than just wishful thinking. And the miracles have never stopped flowing. Skeptics always try to explain them away, and they aren't the main pillar of our faith, but they still keep happening.
Just think, every year the Pope beatifies and canonizes new saints, events that can only happen when miracles through their intercession confirm the holiness of the saints. Most of us have probably experienced miracles ourselves; sometimes great miracles, more often smaller ones. But, miracles do happen; and continue to serve as reminders of God’s presence and action in our world and in our lives.
In today's Mass, Jesus renews His promise to never abandon us, and we should thank Him for that. Jesus is always with us. He is with us in our hearts, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is with us in the Eucharist. He is with us in private prayer. He is with us in Scripture, the revealed Word of God that will always nourish our souls if we read it with faith. He is with us in the Church– He is with us whenever we need him. Jesus has not left us orphans.
But there is a chance that we have made ourselves into orphans. Maybe we look like Christians on the outside, but still haven't really become Christians on the inside. And maybe that's why we feel gnawing frustration or loneliness, anxiety or frustration deep in our souls.
Today, Jesus is giving us another chance. Today, we are given the gift of hindsight, to look back on all that has happened with a new clarity. Today, Jesus issues a new invitation to each of us to let Him take up residence on the throne of our hearts, or, as St Peter said today, to “sanctify Christ as the Lord of our hearts.” There can only be one King in our hearts. Either ourselves, with our weakness and limitations, or Christ, with his infinite wisdom, power, goodness and holiness.
Today, let us once again make Jesus the Lord of our hearts. Let us hear His words today and allow them to speak into our anxiety, frustration, and pain. He says to you and to me, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” Let us put our trust in His promises, even when it hurts; let us follow His teaching, even when it is inconvenient and unpopular; let us take up our crosses with Christ, remembering with the gift of hindsight, that our story doesn’t end with the Crucifixion; it leads us all the way to the new life of the Resurrection.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 10, 2020:
Have you ever thought about the reality that you have been called by God? Each one of us isn’t a Catholic by accident. We are Catholics today for one singular reason – because God has called us to be. Now, typically when we talk about being called, we are usually talking only about those whose vocation it is to be a priest, a deacon, or a consecrated religious brother or sister, but being called by God, God having a plan for our lives, this is something that belongs to each and every one of us. God calls each of us just personally, He calls each of us tenderly. He calls all of us with a plan in mind.
We heard one of the most beautiful articulations of this call in our second reading from the First Letter of St. Peter. He said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” In the next verse beyond our reading, St. Peter says, “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people.” These words of St. Peter are directed to all of us, not a select few. Peter reminds us that we are chosen, we are God’s own. He has called US out of darkness. We were no people and now we are God’s people. Each and every one of us.
When we embrace God’s call, we gain a clarity about our identity, a clarity about who God wants us to be. I read a wonderful book a few years ago by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly Protestant pastor writing letters to his young son for posterity. In one passage he writes, “When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you - What is the Lord asking of me in this moment? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, well, then you are free to act differently than the circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own light. You are freed of the impulse to hate or resent the person. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it?”
I love the thought that God calls us to be present in the world as artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges that our world presents in ways that transform them into something new and holy. And it is all about our identity in Christ, and identity given to us through our call. An identity that means to give us and bring out from us incredible joy.
If we are artists, the color we are called to paint the world with is the color of Christian joy. Pope Francis speaks about joy constantly. It is his major theme. In one of his earliest Masses, he said, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy.”
This simple message of joy is critical because we know we live in a world that lacks joy – especially in this moment of crisis. So much of our world in quarantine is filled, absolutely overflowing, with negativity. It’s hard to watch the news or tune in to social media without feeling overwhelmed by the negativity there. The world needs us to share our call, our joy, as God’s followers. In the midst of our isolation, we can feel frustrated asking “What can I do?” The answer is to respond to this moment as artists and actively paint the world with joy; joy that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis said, “Joy…always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” by God.
My friends, this is, what it means for us to be called. You are God’s chosen. Now you are God’s people. And He is calling you to radiate joy. We should be joyful as Jesus was joyful, as joyful as Pope Francis is; radiating the joy that is a gift of God.
The Pope said, “I invite all Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her. Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”
My friends, as we continue our Easter journey, as we encounter Jesus who is waiting for us in this Mass today, I want to renew that invitation of Pope Francis in each of our hearts today. Renew your encounter with Jesus who has called you. Renew your encounter with the God who loves you and who has called you to be a people uniquely His own. Let God’s love be planted in you again so that you may beam with joy.
We have been called to show the world how to love. We are here to be the joyful face of God that conquers the darkness of our hearts, the darkness of our times, the darkness of this crisis. Let us be artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the joy that is a gift from God. You were no people, now you are God’s people.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.