FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 13th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 30, 2019:
“Brothers and sister, for freedom Christ has set us free…You were called for freedom.” As our nation prepares to celebrate its Independence in just a few days, we could not have asked for better readings from Scripture. Our nation’s independence of course focusses our attention on the great gift of freedom that we enjoy in the United States. The freedom so bravely declared in that Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the freedom that we try to continue to preserve today. At this time of year, I always take a few moments to read the Declaration of Independence slowly, word for word. How can you not be moved by words like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How perfect then that today we have a powerful reflection on freedom from St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians. But, St. Paul offers an understanding of freedom more comprehensive, profound and challenging than any Fourth of July orator is likely to provide. As we heard St. Paul say, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” And this is where things get interesting.
According to St. Paul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been freed from something and for something – we have been freed from the dominion of sin, death and the flesh, and freed for life in the Spirit. This is the type of freedom that is worth something; this is the type of freedom that makes life worth living.
Too often, we define freedom very narrowly. Freedom means I can do what I want; or anything goes. Freedom in this way is a freedom from. We are free from things like oppression, or want, or hunger, or poverty, or even violence or other terrible things. And while this is certainly a good thing, it really doesn’t help us discover who we are, what we are called to, what we can be. Through Christ, we have all been made free. St. Paul asks us today, “What are we doing with that freedom?” He reminds us that through our Baptism, in Christ, the freedom that He won for us on the cross is not merely a freedom from some sort of oppression, but more powerfully it is a freedom for the world. It is a freedom that calls us to be something great.
It reminds me of when I took my vows as a religious – vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We had an older friar who used to like to describe them this way: He would says, the vows are No Money, No Honey, No Say. He was, of course, joking, but this is a view that sees religious vows only as restrictions, when in reality, in these vows – much like marriage vows – we see exactly the kind of freedom for Christ that St. Paul envisions. In the vow of poverty, we see the freedom to not be concerned with high paying jobs, acquiring material goods, power, or status and instead be completely free to be where Jesus and the Church needs us. In the vow of chastity, we see the freedom that instead of being a loving presence to one spouse, we embrace the freedom to be God’s loving presence to all of His people. And in the vow of obedience, we become free to not be preoccupied with our own will and our own desires, but to move with the freedom of the wind in the ways that God calls us through the Church.
While the way we live out these vows is particular to someone who is a religious or a priest, the idea and the freedom behind them is for everyone. St. Paul said, “Stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” We see how heavy and pervasive this yoke of slavery is in our world today. How many people are yoked so strongly to their desire to make money and acquire material that they ignore their fundamental relationship with God and even with their own families? How many people are yoked so strongly to the damaging culture of today that they worship that and deny the beauty and sanctity of every created person? How many people today are yoked so strongly to their own will, their own way that they trample right over those in front of them through lies, deceit, gossip and control? God has given us freedom. Nothing can take that away. But, now that we are free from things, what will we be free for? Let us be free to love radically, forgive completely, show compassion constantly, reach out to our neighbor faithfully, welcome the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger joyfully. These are the things that will change not only our lives, but will make our world the kind of place worthy of the freedom we have been gifted.
As we mark our nation’s freedom this week, let us be reminded that God is calling us to something greater – the most radical freedom ever seen in this world. “For freedom Christ set us free…you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters…serve one another through love.”
You were called for freedom. Do you want to be free?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, June 9, 2019:
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; there was a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.”
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word of God go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America, right here to Fall River.
What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.
Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples huddled and afraid in that upper room – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; this time as the Church. We, too, are part of that miracle. We too are called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.
It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a mission, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” Just as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and joy to us, we are to continue that Revelation, we are commissioned to spread that same Good News to everyone we encounter.
Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us once again – all in he hopes that we will give birth to that Presence of God outside of the walls of this church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit today is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us, God dwells through us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”
And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; upon the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle, forgiving and compassionate presence of God in our world.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, June 2, 2019:
Going through my desk earlier this week, I came across a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s oldest sister and she passed away a number of years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters, my cousins, 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. One said simply, “Please read this at my funeral.” But on the other side she wrote, “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 we 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 things happening in the world like the endless negativity on cable news; or the challenges of homelessness, or poverty, or violence. 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, which we celebrated on Thursday, 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 the daily cares and be focused on our heavenly home.
I think there’s also another reason we don’t give much thought to Heaven: because picturing eternal life is difficult. This is where Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are helpful. He said, “As you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…I wish that where I am they also may be with me.”
We all know that the great joy in life is so clear in the loving relationships we enjoy. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art, even nice homes and cool cars – what would all of these be without others to share them with? Loving relationships make life enjoyable and meaningful. Jesus is telling us that Heaven is the ultimate, perfect relationship of love and union with God. 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.
My friends, this is the eternal life that Jesus promises us – an everlasting adventure that only gets better and 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. Imagine a baseball player who never thought about the game; an actor who never thought about the performance; a writer who never thought about the story. A Christian who never thinks about Heaven is equally 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, St. Bernadette and my Aunt Pat had it right: 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.