Ready for the Kingdom
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 22, 2020:
A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”
At the beginning of this month, on All Saints Day, I asked everyone if they want to go to Heaven because, of course, a saint is simply someone who lived a life worthy of Heaven. Luckily, everyone raised their hands. After all, Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. Although we all want to get to Heaven, we probably don’t spend enough time thinking about what it takes to get there. What does a life worthy of Heaven look like? Does it simply mean being a baptized Catholic? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation? Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?
Well, as we end our Church year and celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage gives us the answer. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven. The King separates people into two categories – sheep and goats. And of course we want to be counted among the sheep who are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.
Here is Jesus criteria for Heaven: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is through the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.
The question for us today is this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to have hearts led by compassion, to see everyone as a brother or sister, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. These are the qualities that the sheep possess.
Pope Francis said, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. None of this makes us enemies. Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy.”
So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here at this and every Mass. St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood today, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so must be loved by us. As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.
So, today, let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let God fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let Jesus transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.
And you know, little David was right, you be Jesus, and you, and you, and you – and it will bring us all the way to Heaven.
May the Lord give you peace.
Who wants to be rich?
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 15, 2020:
Let me ask by a show of hands, how many of us would like to be rich? Especially heading into the holiday season, or during these challenging times of pandemic, we often think we could use just a little more help, and the lure of things like $100 million Powerball lotteries can set our imagination aflame. Being rich is something that our culture glorifies in song, TV, and movies, and something that most of us have probably thought of more than once. So much of the so-called American Dream is a dream of rising from nothing to have it all.
In our Gospel today, we hear about a few people who, it seems, got rich. The parable of the talents is about three men who had the opportunity to gain tremendous wealth. The master gave our one talent to one person, two to another, and five to a third. Now, this was a lot of money even to begin with. A talent was a monetary figure equal to 6,000 days’ wages. To put it in contemporary standards, given the current average annual salary in America, one talent today would be about $130,000 – a significant amount by any stretch of the imagination. So, they were given the equivalent of $130,000, $260,000, and $650,000 – all off to a great start.
But, of course, this parable is not meant to be a version of the Prosperity Gospel. Jesus isn’t given us investment strategies for our 401K. Jesus is instead asking us to think about the gifts and talents that we have received from God and where are we investing those? As we hear earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Jesus isn’t concerned with our investments on Wall Street; but He is deeply concerned about our investments in ‘the Kingdom of God.’ In other words, our talents and the way we use them are meant to help us become the holy people God has created us to be. This is the greatest measure of our success.
So, to the question we began with, Who wants to be rich? Jesus responds, “You already are.” The reality is that in this life, we all start off rich – no matter what our bank accounts say about it. For example, Psalm 103 reminds us that God is slow to anger, rich in compassion; and in his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks about God being rich in mercy. And, just like the master giving talents to his servants, God has invested these gifts in us from the moment of our baptism. We’ve all received such profound gifts from God – the gift of His merciful love, the gift of His Son Jesus, the very gift of life itself. And we receive these gifts over and over again in all the sacraments – so profoundly in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. We are rich indeed.
But, just like the servants in today’s parable, God expects us to do something with these gifts. He wants us to invest them and multiply them and get a great return on our investment. God is asking us today to consider how we have invested His love in the world. Have we multiplied God’s forgiveness to the people around us? Have we gotten a good return on His compassion? How have we multiplied His joy in our hearts, in our homes, in our community? Have we invested in those who are hungry, or homeless, or refugees, or in need?
In today’s Gospel, the man who received the one talent was paralyzed with fear – a fear that kept him from appreciating what he had received, so much so that he didn’t share it, he didn’t multiply it, instead he dug a big hole and hid it away. And sometimes, we can act in the same way. Especially in our world today where it seems every conversation is fraught with confrontation and anger, we can be afraid to speak a word of love, a word of care, a word of healing. In our relationships, our pride can keep us from being the first one to break the ice and offer forgiveness. St. Theresa of Avila said that we’re often tempted to live in the past or in the future; but, in the end, the only place we can actually love God and others is in the present. It is here in the present moment that God invites us to invest.
In the end, all God is asking of us is that we try. Notice the one who made five talents and the one who made two both received the same reward. The reward was not based on the return; it was based on the attempt. The one given the single talent didn’t even try. So, let us try to invest in the kingdom of God all around us. How much love, joy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness can we share and multiply in our world? This is what God calls us to invest; and as long as we try, He will reward us for our efforts.
Jesus invites us to recognize that we are all rich in the gifts and talents that we’ve received from God – gifts of love, mercy, joy and compassion – and we are called to invest those gifts and talents in the world around us. And, when we have lived a life of helping God to multiply that love and mercy in our world, we too will hear Him say to us, “Come, share your master’s joy!”
May the Lord give you peace.
Our only hope
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 8, 2020:
“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters…so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” This passage from St. Paul is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and my absolute favorite when it comes to understanding grief through the lens of faith. In this one sentence, Saint Paul reminds us that we are not “like the rest, who have no hope.” When it comes to death, when it comes to grief, the defining characteristic of the believer is that we don’t look at those difficult moments with despair or confusion – we see them with a profound hope that reminds us that not even death can separate us from Christ; can separate us from one another. In Jesus, even death is transformed into eternal life. Hope is what defines the Christian approach to living. And, it is profoundly different than the way the rest of the world looks at things. You are not like the rest.
I was thinking of this passage while watching all the election coverage this week. Yesterday was an historic moment for our nation as it saw only the second Catholic ever to be elected president of the United States, and the first women of color to reach the vice-presidency. But, for half of our nation, yesterday was a long-awaited and hard-fought victory; while simultaneously a devastating loss that still requires further judication before a trustworthy conclusion can be reached for the other half.
As our readings invite us to reflect not on the kingdoms of this world, but of the eternal kingdom where Christ reigns in perfect glory for all time, they reminds us to embrace St. Paul’s words, “you are not like the rest.” You and me, we are not meant to be just like the world. And yet, when we look at the election results this week, Catholics were exactly like the rest. We are as equally divided as the rest of the nation. The Catholic vote was split 50-50 between both candidates.
But, today, I don’t want to talk about all the things that brought us to this moment, instead, where do we go from here? What can the follower of Christ do to help us break out of this cycle of vitriol, division, even hatred. And, I think the most important thing we can do is to remember St. Paul’s charge that we are not like the rest of the world. That we can stop subjecting ourselves to the world – simply picking a side and accepting what they offer – and instead become the transforming presence that we are called to be.
Just look at the images that Jesus gives us to explain and shape our presence in the world. He tells us we are called to be leaven, that makes the world rise. He tells us we are salt, flavoring the world around us with the Gospel. He tells that we are light; shining brightly in the darkness that envelops us. And if this task seems too big for us to handle, He tells us that if our faith is even the size of a mustard seed we could say to the mountain “Move from here to there” and it would move.
You see, we are not like the rest, who have no hope. So, what is this hope? We normally conceptualize hope in ordinary ways. We think of hope as a kind of optimism (“I hope things will go well”); or a form of positive thinking (“I’m very hopeful about the future”). Or even a kind of wish or blind faith (“I hope I’ll get through this”). These are good things, but this isn’t what St. Paul is talking about. Our Christian hope is something far more powerful. Our hope expresses something so profoundly deep that it is life changing. Something so amazing that this kind of hope leaves us different than the way it found us. Because our hope is not a wish or a dream, it is a person. Jesus is our hope. And this hope is yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus is the hope that came into a weary world. When Jesus came, the world was weary of Roman occupation that crushed the Jewish people under the weight of empire. The world was weary of religious oppression that made it difficult and even illegal for people to worship God. It was weary of waiting for the promises that God had been speaking for centuries to be fulfilled. The world was weary of many things.
And, we can relate to this. We live in a weary world. We are weary of this election, weary of the divisions, negativity, and hatred around us; weary of war and terror and violence; weary of racism and prejudice; and so very weary of this virus that has changed our lives and changed our world, and taken far too many from us. We are weary indeed.
And into our weariness, Jesus is our hope. And His hope transforms us and changes us. Just think of what He does in the Eucharist – He transforms the bread and wine so that they go from being just like the rest into the miraculous presence of God in our midst. And if He can do that to bread and wine, imagine what He wants to do to you and me. He wants to change us so that we are not like the rest, who do not possess this hope. The Eucharist changes everything – each time we receive we become more like Jesus; we become more loving, joyful, compassionate and forgiving. In short, we are no longer like the rest. The presence of Jesus in our lives signifies an end to our weariness. We don’t have to keep doing things the same way. We don’t have to keep asking the same questions. We don’t have to keep fighting the same fights. Jesus is here. Hope is here. Our hope can transform the world.
Our hope is expansive enough to embrace all sides. We are capable of embracing the dignity of the unborn child in the womb; and the dignity of the prisoner on death row. We have the ability to care for the hungry and the homeless; and want immigrants and refugees to be treated with compassion. Our hope can change our divisions into unity. Our hope can make enemies, friends.
My friends, as we come to this moment of change in our nation; let us become leaven, the salt, and the light that Jesus has called us to be. Let us help the world rise in its respect for the dignity of one another; let us flavor our communities with the kindness and compassion of the Gospel; let us shine the light of Jesus to cast out the darkness of hatred, racism, and prejudice.
You are not like the rest, who have no hope. Let us transform the world around us through our hope in Jesus Christ.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.