FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 1, 2019:
One day, a man received a parrot as a gift, but the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude and obnoxious. The man tried to change the bird’s attitude by saying only polite words and prayers. Finally, fed up, he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. He shook the parrot. It only got angrier. In desperation, he grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and screamed, but then suddenly there was total quiet. Fearing that he’d hurt the bird, the man opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out and said “Sir, I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m very sorry and I fully intend to correct my rude behavior.” The man was stunned and as he was about to ask the parrot what had changed his behavior, the bird pointed to the item next to him in the freezer and said, “May I ask what the turkey did wrong?”
A little turkey humor for you on this Thanksgiving weekend. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you’re like me, you’re still full from Thursday. One of the interesting Thanksgiving suggestions I saw on a cooking show was the Turduken. If you don’t know it, it is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken – a sort of mash-up of a few different things. I remember hearing the ultimate mash-up a few years ago with the word, Chrismahanukwanzakah – a combination of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza into one mega-holiday. I saw a new one online this week, a holiday dessert called Cherpumple. Have you heard of this? It’s essentially three different pies – cherry pie, pumpkin pie and apple pie – all stacked one on top of the other all brought together with a sugary frosting. Guaranteed to put you into a diabetic coma! It goes nicely with TurDucKen! I’m not sure why we are so fascinated with these kind of mash-ups. But, I bet it has something to do with the fact that there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. The more we can combine, the better.
But, in the midst of this silliness, this busyness, the Church gives us this beautiful, peaceful, and calming season of Advent. I think it is purposefully given to us right in the middle of the busiest time of the year. In the midst of holidays, parties, and shopping, the Church invites us to stop, to breathe, to reflect, to take our time, to be renewed and refreshed once again in Jesus – to step out of our normal time, and into this precious Advent-time.
We’re invited to spend some time pulling apart all that the world has tried to mash together for us. It isn’t Christmas yet. There aren’t a million things to be done. You haven’t fallen behind. So stop, pause, and let the wonder of the beauty of this season unfold. Embrace the waiting and watching and anticipation that Advent welcomes us into.
And our readings today have a particular message for us. In case you missed it, the message was: wake up! Our second reading told us that now “is the hour for you to awake from sleep.” Jesus was more direct saying simply, “Stay awake!” I hope it isn’t reflective of the quality of the homily today and its ability to lull you to sleep. Instead, we are being reminded to stay awake because something is on the horizon; wake up because something is about to happen; something new is around the corner and we don’t want to miss it. We want to prepare; we want to be ready; to see with new eyes.
What are we waiting for? What are we meant to be awake for? Of course, for Jesus. But, not merely to recall His birth on Christmas Day. But, to be awakened to remember, once again, that He never left; that He is always right here and if we are not awake, we might be in danger of missing the presence of God in our midst.
My friends, here we are, all of us, often living in apprehension and anxiety; trying to make sense of our world, coping with our struggles as best we can – sickness, death, disappointment, loss, loneliness and fear. And in the eternal now that is our God, Jesus comes to join us; to comfort us as only God can comfort us and make us feel loved, as only God can make us feel loved. And, that is the point of Advent – to slow down, to wake up, to see that Jesus is right here. So, let Him wrap you – wrap your struggles, your anxieties, your fears and disappointments; as well as, your joys, your triumphs, your love and your blessings – let God wrap all of that tightly in His loving and cradling arms. He wants to be present to you; to comfort you and share His profound love for you and with you.
The world wants to tempt you with its busyness, with its activity, with its Chrismahanukwanzakah and even with its Cherpumple. But, resist the temptation and instead enter Advent-time where Jesus wants to break through all of that busyness and be made present to us once again; present on this altar as bread and the wine become Body and Blood for us; present in our hearts and in our lives, so that we can become the comfort and love that He wants to extend to everyone we meet.
My friends, let us stay awake so that we may not miss the Visitation of Christ in our midst. Stay awake and let God comfort us, love us, and prepare us to welcome Him with renewed joy at Christmas.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 17, 2019:
One of my favorite comic strip shows a ragged-looking man in tattered robes with a long flowing beard walking down a crowded city street carrying a sign proclaiming doom to everyone who reads it. The sign says simply and ominously, “The end is near.” And, about five steps behind that man is a second man carrying another sign that simply reads, “The end.” The end…is near!
Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you today that the end is indeed near! Actually, there are a lot of endings that are near. As we embrace the Autumn weather, we know that warmth is more-or-less over and cold of winter is beginning to creep in. Thanksgiving in a few weeks reminds us that November is almost over. The Christmas decorations that are out in the stores already, tell us that Christmas will soon be here and that another year is almost over. As I said, the end is near!
And here in church today, we enter into the final two weeks of our Church year. Two Sundays from now, we embrace Advent once again, a new Church year, and so today and during these next two weeks our Scriptures also turn to the same theme that the end is near. The first reading from the prophet Malachi proclaims, “Lo, the day is coming!” In our Gospel, Jesus gives a prediction about the end of the Temple, “All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” And He is asked, “When will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
I think He is asked these questions because we all have a natural anxiety about “the end.” We ask, will we be ready? Will we be among the chosen? Will we make it to Heaven? One of the things I love to do when working with our young people is to give them a chance to ask any faith question they want answered. Not surprisingly, they often ask questions about this very topic – they want to know about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – they want to know about the End. We see this in our culture periodically. Just think about the turn of the new millennium. There were lots of articles about the end of time; or those focused on the so-called Mayan prediction that the world would end in 2012 (we’re still here). It seems every 10 years or so there’s yet another person or group who claims to know when the end will be and how it will happen. If we choose to look at the negative in our world – our negative political discourse, the scourge of guns and drugs, the endless wars – we can probably read any of those as signs of the end.
This is nothing new. Historically, just about every age has thought it would be the last. And to all of this, Jesus said, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”
I don’t know about you, but I find these to be comforting words. I don’t find it problematic that we don’t know when the end will come. I think Jesus wants to convey basically two things to us today. The first is this: Do not interpret the crises of the world or even the crises of your life as if they were the end-of-the-world. We tend to do this far too often, and when we entertain this train of thought, we are not following the will of God. We are instead simply giving in to our fears and anxieties. We are letting fear win the day and rule our lives, instead of letting God rule our lives. We are letting anxieties rule our hearts instead of God’s love and peace. Our God is not a God of fear and anxiety – He is a God of love, peace, kindness, joy, compassion and healing.
The second lesson is that there will be many people who will come claiming to be true prophets, saying that they speak in Jesus’ name. I think of some of the televangelists that you see on TV who – for just three easy payments of $19.99 – will tell you exactly when the end is coming. But, the truth of the matter is that Jesus tells that even He doesn’t know the day or the hour when the end will come. Those who say otherwise are nothing other than false prophets. Jesus says clearly today, “Do not follow them.” The greatest sign of a false prophet is that they attempt to sow fear in the hearts of people. Even the political dialogue currently in our country seeks only to sow fear and anxiety about the future. Our world is too full of fear-mongering, fear-sowing voices. Again, Jesus says, “Do not follow them.”
So, what are we to do? Well, a true prophetic voice is always one that spreads the hope and confidence, the encouragement and peace that comes from the One True God. A true prophetic voice reminds us that we can live through all of the crises of our lives, all the challenges we may ever face with peace in our hearts and with a sense of hope and trust that our God has not – and will not – ever abandon us. And we know this is true because we have lived through challenges with God at our side over and over and over again. To a world that proclaims, “The end is near,” our God counters, “Be not afraid. I go before you always.”
So whether we are worried about the end of the world, or the end of our own lives; or maybe we’re just worried about some of the relationships in our lives that could be better, or the ways we can grow in our own personal holiness, Jesus wants to say this to us today: that in the face of challenge and trial, it is the peace in our hearts, it is our hope and trust in God that become the seeds of new life. Cast out all fear and anxiety and let these seeds of faith help to carry us through all of the difficulties and the joys of life. Jesus tells us that what truly gets us through life is worship and fidelity to our God; working through challenges with forgiveness; changing the things that can and must be changed; and developing a patient endurance that will consecrate and transform all of our suffering into glory. Jesus’ message dares us to trust that, even in difficulty, God still reaches out to us with love and with hope and new and abundant life bursts forth. “Be not afraid, I go before you always.”
My friends, the end is near….or not. But, nothing will ever happen that we cannot handle as long as we have the help of God.
May the Lord give you peace.
R. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 3, 2019:
One day, a young turtle slowly began to climb a tree. After great effort, he reached the top, jumped into the air waving his front legs, and promptly fell crashing to the ground with a hard knock. He brushed himself off, climbed the tree again, reached the top, and again hit the ground with a thud. The little turtle persisted again and again while two birds watched with sorrow. Finally, one bird said to the other, ”Honey, I think it’s time to tell our son he’s adopted.”
I don’t know about you, but as a child, I loved climbing trees. I grew up on the edge of the woods so there were seemingly endless trees to choose from. Trees had a magnetic quality to them. I couldn’t be near one without resisting the urge to climb it. I loved nothing more than climbing up a tree as high as I could. It seemed like you could just keep going, and, if you got high enough, it almost felt like you could fly. Everything – the whole world – looked so different from high atop a tree. It gave a new perspective to everything. I don’t recall feelings from my childhood that felt quite as free as climbing a tree. Somewhere along the line though, we hear an anti-tree message. We hear that it is dangerous, that you might hurt yourself, the tree might break, you really shouldn’t be doing it! But the memories of those eternal moments of freedom high atop the branches swaying in the wind lingers.
We heard in our Gospel today, Zacchaeus “ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” What can this image teach us today? Zacchaeus was the he chief tax collector in Jericho, and so was one of the richest men in Israel. As chief tax collector, he moved in the highest circles, and he had power — and lots of it. He was also a crook, a collaborator with the Roman enemy, and a target of hatred for his countrymen. He’d always thought of himself as successful. But suddenly, at the height of his career, it dawned on him that his life wasn’t working. There was a void at the core. He was regarded as a public sinner, as a traitor and as someone unclean before God. Although he was financially well to do, he lived of life of loneliness, alienated from his own people and from God. There was no joy, and intuitively he understood that there would be no joy as long as he continued on the same path.
Picture this scene if you can. Here is perhaps one of the most feared men of his community, someone who would be likely surrounded by an entourage, and now he is running like a child and climbing a tree to see this poor, relatively unknown preacher who was passing through town. And you know what? This new perspective, found high up in a tree, was liberating for Zacchaeus and it changed everything for him.
Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus in the tree, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” He hurried down the tree with a big smile on his face and the crowd made way for him as he led Jesus to his house. Take note that at dinner Jesus did not preach to Zacchaeus that he must repent or he would go to hell. Jesus did not issue an edict of Zacchaeus’ sins that he must correct before Jesus would speak to him. Instead, Jesus showed him a non-judgmental and unconditional mercy, love and acceptance that spoke more eloquently to his heart than the best sermon ever could. The effect? Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” By giving half of his wealth to the poor and using the other half to repay fourfold all those he had defrauded, Zacchaeus’ wealth would be all but gone. But he had realized one of the great truths of life – all of the money in the world can’t buy you happiness; all the power in the world can’t give you the meaning that comes from a life with Christ.
Zacchaeus learned what many people learn once they take the time to stop, climb a tree and see things differently – the world wants to sell us a way of life that is ultimately empty – only Jesus can bring things that are truly meaningful into our lives. How many of us have our priorities in the wrong order? How many of us spend our days accumulating wealth, working endlessly to have a better job, a bigger position, one that offers more money, more power, more prestige. Only to discover at the end of the day that it is empty, that it does not bring any greater level of happiness or peace at all – in fact, it may be the very thing robbing us of quality relationships with family, friends and ultimately God. The author Jack Higgens, was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. His answer: “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”
Jesus challenges us today to have the courage of Zacchaeus and climb a tree to see things differently, to gain a new perspective, a Christ perspective. And He promises us that if we do that, we too will be liberated and set free from all that ties us down, that binds our lives and relationships, that keep us from the happiness He promises.
There are figurative trees in front of us all the time, just waiting for a climb. There are the chances to gain a new perspective in our faith life with God, but how often we walk past because we fear that we might get hurt, that we might not be strong enough, that it might be dangerous. Every time we seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation; every time we come to the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist – these are tree climbing moments. God offers us here the chance to see things differently; to see them as He sees them; to make a change that will bring true happiness. We only have to embrace it; to climb; to be free.
If we take the time to climb the tree that leads to a deeper faith, we just might find a greater freedom than we have ever known in life. The tree gave Zacchaeus the ability to see Jesus instead of the world that he knew; the world that clouded his sight. If we have the courage to take our lives of faith to this new perspective we too will hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” So, my friends, let us go climb a tree!
May the Lord give you peace!