FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, July 26, 2020:
Our Gospel today doesn’t pull any punches. It gets right to the heart of what our faith is all about and asks perhaps the most important question any believer could ever ask – What is the Kingdom of Heaven like? There are so many beautiful aspects to our faith – the community that uplifts and supports us, the beautiful devotions that direct and sustain us, the good deeds that allow us to make the world a better place – but all of the many things we do, all ultimately have the same goal – we are all working for Heaven. Eternal life is what Jesus came to inaugurate among us, and a worthiness for Heaven is why we do all of the many things that we do.
Most of us, at one point or another, have wondered, is there a Heaven and what is it like? Jesus explores this today; and gives us a positive answer about Heaven (yes, there is a Heaven!) and some insight about what it’s like.
Today’s passages always reminds me of the first time I had the chance to be at a Papal Audience in Rome. It was almost 20 years ago with Saint Pope John Paul II. At that audience, the Pope reflected on the same passage. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.” I’ve never forgotten that quote. Heaven is not abstract; it isn’t a concept or an idea – it is a reality that we can be certain of; it is a reality we can have some experience of even here now on earth.
Heaven is one of Jesus’ favorite topics, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. In His first sermon in Matthew, Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And, in the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, it should be a favorite phrase of ours too.
When we typically thing about Heaven we think in extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, angels, harps, and all the rest! But, notice that Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very ordinary things. In the last few weeks, Jesus has presented us with a farmer sowing seeds, wheat in a field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly – Heaven is not foreign, but it is familiar. We pray this every time we say, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as it in heaven.”
So, what is this taste of Heaven that we can experience here on earth? The answer is right here in our Church. We experience a taste of heaven on earth in the community of the Church and in the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our union with God in heaven and with humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven to all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the budding forth of that Kingdom” of Heaven. And in the Sacraments, we have a True and Real experience of God right before us – His Body and Blood on our altar, the grace of His forgiveness in Confession. In fact, the Sacraments could be defined as a taste of Heaven right here on earth.
Now we are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy their treasure. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift purchased for you and me through the blood of Christ on the cross. Jesus is the one who has given up everything so that you and I might receive that reward for free.
Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes down and sanctifies our gifts; we proclaim with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.” Heaven and earth are united in these moments. Our treasure, our precious pearl of the Church is something all the money in the world could never buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s intense love and true presence leading us to eternal life.
St. Therese of Lisieux said, "Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to Him – the heaven of our souls." My friends, allow Jesus to find the Heaven of your soul today; experience this taste of Heaven today; and always “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, July 19, 2020:
Growing up Sunday nights always had a ritual about them. As kids we would quickly take a bath so that we could be ready and in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Wild Kingdom was always exciting because inevitably Marlin Perkins would come face-to-face with something ferocious – a lion, a tiger, a bear (oh my?). And it would always be exciting. It reminds me of an encounter I had with something ferocious a few years ago. One night I was grilling some chicken behind the rectory, when I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction. I quickly discovered this was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs nearby. So, I gave Mama her space. About a week later I checked to see if any new pigeon chicks had arrived yet. What I saw was the Mom protecting one cute little chick, but the second egg was cast outside of the nest. It was a sad sight – Mom was fiercely protecting the one that survived, but the other one didn’t make it. I reminded myself that in the wild kingdom some make it, and some don’t.
We heard in our Gospel today the disciples ask, “‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ And Jesus replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.” We know that Jesus loves to use understandable images from nature when explaining the deeper things to us; today He gives us this image of wheat and weeds. Obviously, we know which we want to be – the wheat is gathered into the Kingdom; the weeds are gathered and burned. And, yet, even though it is obvious that it isn’t good to be among the weeds, Jesus still says let them stay. To put this into context, I think Jesus is addressing our own human nature that often wants to be the arbiters of who’s in and who’s out. We create categories like us and them; good and bad; sinner and saint. These categories are designed to exclude and make us into the judge who is better and who is worse.
This can even be a challenge for people of faith. Jesus recognized that even in our holiness we can be tempted to judge others. We look at people and we become a self-appointed judge and jury. The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to be the judge. Pope Francis said it much more directly when he said those five simple words that traveled around the globe, “Who am I to judge?” These were five powerful words coming from the Pope, but the same words should come from each of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the only true judge we will ever face.
But change that statement ever so slightly and ask instead, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to welcome? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are exactly the things we are called to do, and that’s the real problem of judgement – judging keeps us from welcoming, from reaching out, from loving, forgiving, and showing compassion to others. Jesus explicitly asks us to be the ones who love as He loved; to be His kind, welcoming, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world today.
Jesus tells us to “Let [the weeds and wheat] grow together.” Why? Because Jesus knows that when we stop judging and start loving, something amazing can happen. Weeds can become wheat. If Jesus, through His grace and mercy, can transform mere bread and wine into His Body and Blood – as He will do again in front of our very eyes on this altar today; if Jesus can turn even our sins into holiness every time we go to Confession – then surely He can also turn weeds into wheat. Perhaps some of us here – maybe many of us here, maybe all of us here – were once weeds ourselves, but through God’s amazing grace, we have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” Jesus says because He gives us all the time we need to do the same. He wants all the weeds to become the beautiful wheat of His harvest.
It might be nature’s way to cast off the ones who don’t look like they are going to make it; it might be easier to judge and wish that things just weren’t so. But, that is not God’s way and it most certainly should not be our way. Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." Let us make his words our words too so that when others see us, they see mercy and hope; that when they come to us, they too, are welcomed, loved, and forgiven. Love the weeds around you until they are transformed into wheat.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 12, 2020:
There are three things St. Peter will ask you at the Pearly Gates to be admitted into Heaven: What was Sunday’s First Reading? What was Sunday’s Second Reading? And what was Sunday’s Gospel Reading? Could we all answer that today?
Our readings today invite us to reflect on the place of God’s Holy Word in our lives? In our first reading we heard, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” And Jesus gives us the parable of the seed and the sower meant to encourage our love of God’s Word. “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
As Catholics, we are infamous for our lack of knowledge of Scripture in comparison to our Protestant brothers and sisters who seriously learn Scripture and even memorize it. I have been so thrilled with our Tuesday Night Bible Study class. We’ve had a consistent 40-45 people every week learning more about Scripture and allowing God’s sacred and holy Word to find a place in our hearts.
Pope Francis said, “Maybe we've made the Word of God a little difficult with explanations that no one understands, but the Christian life is as simple and easy as this: listen to the word of God and put it into practice.”
I think part of the problem is sometimes we treat Scripture like homework – something someone is requiring us to know, and to learn. Nobody likes homework. Instead, we’re meant to see that Sacred Scripture helps us know who we are; it helps us to know how we are to live, where we are to go, how we are to act in the world. God’s Word can comfort us, heal us, make us whole. We are meant to need Sacred Scripture as much as the air we breath or the water we drink.
I think of a powerful experience in my own life when I was actively discerning my vocation to the priesthood. God had been calling me through the Eucharist, drawing me into the mystery and grace of the Holy Mass. At one particular Mass in my early 20s, I had the most powerful experience of the Eucharist up to that point in my young life. At that Mass, for the first time in my life, I truly and completely felt the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I knew He was really there. And, as I was kneeling back in my pew, overwhelmed with this experience of God’s presence, wondering what God wanted me to do with my life, the choir began to sing a hymn based on Psalm 139, “Lord, you search me and you know me…You formed my inmost being; You knit me in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw me before I was formed, my days were shaped before one came to be.” God spoke to me in those moments through Word and Sacrament in a way that has directed every day since.
Jesus is calling us once again today to become people love the Word of God because it has the power to shape our lives. Just listen to some of the other things God says to us. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall have eternal life.” Or “God is love and all who love dwell in God and God in them.” Or, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Or, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.” Or, “All of the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
In fact, that theme alone, “Do not be afraid,” is one of the most common and powerful messages spread all throughout the Bible. If there were ever a moment when we need those comforting words from God it is now. In the midst of all the challenge and chaos that surrounds us right now, hear God speak those words into your hearts every day, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.” This is why God gives us this gift of His Words to us – so that it might take root, it might grow, it might mold us, shape us, nourish us, comfort us, heal us, and make us whole.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “The Word of God is living and active.” When we read God’s Word, we’re not engaged in a history lesson. These aren’t mere words from a long time ago like Shakespeare or Cicero. It is present and alive right now today. Our task is to surrender to God’s Word; to believe in our hearts that there is nothing more important than God’s Word; to pledge to be people who live as St. James says as “doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Pope Francis said, “Listen to the word of God with your ears and hear it with your heart. God speaks to each of us. The Gospel was written for each of us.”
My friends, spend some time, even 5 minutes, every day with God’s Word. Let it linger, let it touch you, let it speak to your heart. The Word of God is alive and active. It has the power to set us free, comfort our sorrows, heal our wounds, and feed our souls. “Your Word, O God, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” Let us love God’s Word!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINAY TIME, July 5, 2020:
If you’re like me, over the course of the last few years, I find myself watching less and less news, and trying to spend less and less time on social media. News media on every side today seems to be engaged in simply planting the seeds of division, giving a voice to polarization, and reinforcing a system that tries to convince us that there is more that divides us than unites us. That dynamic then moves on to social media which just becomes an echo chamber that amplifies the same division and polarization that leaves us angry, anxious, tense, and fearful.
In our world today, gentleness is not as highly regarded as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. The word “gentleman” testifies to this. Today, however, our culture values divisiveness more than gentleness. It means to maintain a constant state of anxiety and fear. Thankfully, though, our Scriptures today offer us another option. Zechariah told us, “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek… he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” And we heard Jesus say today, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.”
We are being reminded that our call is not to mortal combat, but the call of the believer is to meekness, humbleness, peacefulness, and gentleness. Jesus is the perfect model of this gentleness. Just think of the way He handled the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with her, but also with her self-righteous accusers. He didn’t shout or rave. He didn’t yell or scream. He didn’t condemn and decry. He simply wrote in the sand gently with His finger. His gentle and loving compassion towards the woman stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night in comparison to the violent accusations of the crowd who sought not healing, change, and reconciliation – but only hot-blooded vengeance.
Jesus repeatedly gives us gentle examples to imitate. He held up for us the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep who didn’t react angrily to the sheep that ran away, but instead placed the sheep gently and lovingly on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son who didn’t shout at or reject his wayward son. Instead, he hugged him, he loved him and welcomed him home.
Gentleness heals. Gentleness reconciles. Gentleness opens up the possibility for something new; something transformative; something holy. A favorite book of mine is by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly congregational 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. So you must think, what is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faith, 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 at the same time 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.”
My friends, we have been freed by Christ to act differently than the rest of the world; differently than our circumstances might ordinarily dictate. We have been called to be the artists of our behavior and to paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges of our world in ways that don’t merely magnify division, but instead transform them into something new and holy. This is the invitation of today’s Gospel, “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
And so, let us respond to the people we encounter with gentleness and warmth. Let us engage those who have wronged us with compassion and understanding. Let us build up the people we encounter carrying heavy burdens with tenderness and sensitivity.
Pope Francis said, “The language of Christians is the language of gentleness and respect. It’s terrible to see people who say they are Christians, but who are full of bitterness. The Holy Spirit is gentle and calls us to likewise be always gentle, and to always respect others.”
“Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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