Deacon Bob’s Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless all!

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

December 21/22, 20219

Micah 5: 1-4a; Heb 10: 5-190; Luke 1: 39-45

 

I hope we all listened carefully to these Scripture readings today, especially the first reading from the prophet Micah in which we hear described our Lord and God who is coming, and the Gospel from Luke where we hear of how Mary responded to God. If we did, then I think we need to ask ourselves some questions.

“Is this the God we want to come into our lives? Is this the God who we will take into our lives and then into the world? Is this the God we will bring to people who ache for him, but do not recognize him in their lives?”

God is beautiful, is he not? He promises so many beautiful things, does he not? It is so easy for us to say, “Yes! Come Lord Jesus into my life and into the world! Maranatha!” But, are we really prepared to say these things? We need to be careful and hones lest we speak these words without preparation and without prayer. As all the saints will attest, to welcome the coming of the Lord into our lives and into the world requires we be purified and ready.

So, the question is, are we willing to be sufficiently purified and emptied of all that would place an obstacle in his path? Are we willing to empty ourselves of sin and things of this world that keep us from God? Or will we fall back into lives of distraction, isolation, and loneliness which are breeding grounds of sin and keep us from God and each other. Too many of us are lonely, isolated, and distracted from God!

We must remain alert, attentive, and receptive to God’s coming among us. We must be purified of our distractions, our sin, and especially our loneliness.  We cannot be who we are meant to be if we remain isolated from God and each other. We must be purified! We must be willing to let go, to shed all that hinders us and keeps us isolated and lonely. We must be purified, emptied, forgiven, and vulnerable to the coming of God.

Advent, then, is not only a time of anticipation of the coming of the Lord as the Child of Bethlehem, but it is also a time to suffer the emptiness that must be ours if we are to be filled with the Lord at his coming. We must prepare a place for him in our hearts and in our world.

Let us strip ourselves of all that would distract us from his coming. Most of all let us get rid of the loneliness which we have allowed to take root in our lives. We need to be with him. We must allow for a relationship with the Lord who comes. We must pray. We must seek forgiveness. We must also allow for relationship with each other and we must take the risk of relationship with those in need of God’s presence.

We cannot lapse into a lonely self-concern that separates us from God and each other. There are too many lonely hurting people out there. What did Mary do after the Lord came to her? She went out to her cousin Elizabeth to announce the coming of the Lord, to enter more deeply into relationship with Elizabeth, to bring God’s Son, in her very womb, to someone else, to, as we are told later in Luke, magnify and praise God.

We are sons and daughters of God! And so we must remain attentive to God who fills us with his presence, who comes to be one with us, who sends us out to so many others who are lonely and isolated, to bring them the joy of the Gospel, as our Holy Father says.

Yes, we must be attentive, alert and in relationship with the Lord, who has come, is coming and will come again into our lives and into our world. We must be filled with the coming of Christ into our lives, filled after first emptying ourselves of sin and loneliness. Filled with the Word of God, and then going out to people to share what we have been given.

I repeat. We are sons and daughters of God! Let us always be attentive and filled with God’s love and grace.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless all!

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time- Cycle C

Nov. 16/17, 2019

Malachi 3: 19-20a; 2Thes 3: 7-12; Luke 21: 5-19

 

About 9 years ago, a young woman ran into her local church to tell the priest who had married her and her husband that she was going to have a baby. She asked the priest to bless her and her unborn child. He did. This perhaps was the last act of his life and hers, for moments later, a gunman stormed into the Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Iraq and murdered the priest, the woman and her unborn child, and in the end, over 50 Iraqis simply because they were Catholics.

Life can be fragile. Its unfolding uncertain. Jesus says no less than two times in the Gospel today that his followers will be persecuted for believing in him, and some will be put to death.

He tells us to persevere. He tells us that all sorts of attention-getting things are going to happen to us: there will be plagues and wars; there will be famines; we will be hauled into courts and made fun of because of our faith. But none of these things, as difficult as they may be, are of any lasting importance, for he will provide us with whatever words and resources we need to deal with them and he will never abandon us.

Jesus says that the uncertainties, the tragedies, the persecutions we may experience in our lives are not to be feared; rather, they are opportunities for us to “give witness” to what?  To testify to our love for God and his love for us. We are not to live in fear, but simply and patiently go about each day with all it uncertainties living God’s law of love and trusting his love for us; that is what is important.

Yes, life’s unfolding is uncertain, but death’s reality is not. The uncertainties of life often overwhelm us with fear and anxiety, but the certainty of death can bring us peace when faced with faith. In both, i.e., the uncertainty of life events and the certainty of death, we have the opportunity to proclaim our faith.

Jesus does not tell us how our lives will play out, nor does he tell us what hour we will die. It is not for us to know, or to decide. It is a mystery God will reveal in his own time, a time he has known for all eternity. Jesus does not tell us when the world as we know it will end. Only the Father knows.

We must live with uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, and we must die in faith, adhering to Jesus Christ, baptized into his death and resurrection, and in a graced relationship with him at the moment of our deaths, so we can rise to the certainty of heaven.

Our faith teaches us that there are “Four Last Things”: death, judgment, heaven and hell.

We all will die a physical death. This is our common experience.

We all will experience a “particular judgment” at the moment of our death when it will be abundantly obvious to us what we have chosen for our ultimate destination based on how we have chosen to live our lives.

We all will experience a “general judgment” at the end of time when Jesus returns in glory and our bodies will be reunited with our souls.

But the real question is where are we headed? What will be our ultimate destination? Are we moving in the right direction? Will we be with God for all eternity in heaven, or will we be separated from him in hell? The choice is ours. We have the freedom to choose.

I must admit I can get rather anxious about when, where, and how death will come to me. Will it be by disease, accident, old age, or will I die as a martyr for the faith?

But the certainty of death, or even the end of the world, does not much concern me because I believe in the presence of God, and in the resurrection to new life. I believe in life after death. I believe that Jesus Christ has conquered death; that he has made death a portal through which we must pass into eternal happiness. I believe it with all my heart and soul, and I believe it because Jesus has taught it, and I find Jesus to be credible and convincing.

May God bless all of you!

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for All Souls Day

Here is my homily for All Souls Day. May God grant them eternal rest.

Commemoration of All Souls       

November 2, 2019

We struggle with the mystery of life and death at times like today, when we remember those who are deeply loved by us who have suffered and died and now await in purgatory their entrance into eternal glory. We struggle to understand; we ask “Why? Why does a good man or woman die? Why purgatory for so many? Does not God care? Why the pain of such loss?”

Without our faith, we can easily conclude that it is all just terribly unfair, that death has had the last word after all and is the final destination for everyone. Yet, that is not the Christian message. What is?

Perhaps we can recall that:

God is Love. The apostle John tells us this.

God’s mercy is infinite. The apostle Paul teaches us this.

God wants all men and women to be perfect like him in eternal glory. Jesus himself told us this.

We cannot change who God is, or what he wills for us. He is faithful. He remains true to himself and to his promise of eternal life for all who accept him. Life is given by God, and will remain with us forever.

The gift of life, once given by God, is not taken back. God is not the author of death. He transforms death into life. Indeed, though life may seem snatched from our very midst, taken from us and taken from those we love, we believe that the mortality of human flesh is only a veil, a portal, through which we must pass. Death, with all its imperfections, is only the onset and promise of renewed life in heaven for those whose hearts remain faithful to the Lord’s call, accepting of his grace, and attentive to his presence in the world.

We all long see God face to face. We long to see his beauty, his glory and to be fully embraced by him in heaven. God made us this way. It is our destiny to be with him and perfect like him.  God’s desire to fully embrace us in love is so great that he understands that few of us are spiritually perfect at the moment of death, even if we cling to him as best we can. You see, for us to be admitted to heaven, we must depart this world in a state of grace, a state where God’s Spirit in living within us. Without that grace, we will be separated from God in hell. But God’s mercy is such that he provides us the opportunity to reach spiritual perfection after death and before we enter heaven in what we call purgatory where his love and mercy will burn away anything that would keep us from fully seeing him and from the perfect happiness which he promises. Purgatory is an expression of God’s mercy, his love, and his desire that we be with him.

God never takes back his gifts or his call. He does not take our lives for once given, God makes permanent that life which he wills and gives. God’s call and his gifts are irrevocable. Not only irrevocable, but he sustains those gifts, especially the gift of life. He always, without ceasing, holds our lives in his hands, conceiving us over and over again by his will, over and over again saying, “I give you my Spirit. Live in my love. I desire you, I will you to live. I will you into life” over and over again, without ceasing. This is God’s original plan, his ultimate desire for us, i.e., for us to live with him, be in relationship with him, see him. God wills it.

Yes, the imperfections of sin and the deception of Satan undoubtedly have brought sickness and death into our lives and into all of creation. It is a stain on God’s original plan, and this stain’s effects are experienced by each of us, all of humanity, indeed the whole of creation, but God has broken the back of Satan, shattered the chains of death, and destroyed the grip of evil. God says to Satan, “You will never have the last word, for I have given all men and women the freedom to choose, to speak, and to live. They have the last say. I offer them life and happiness and peace. I offer them joy. You, O Satan, offer only darkness, despair, loneliness, selfishness, and separation.”

We struggle with the mystery of life and death at times like today, yet

we know that we live! We know that from nothing we became living breathing human beings. We witness the death of others but we live life and experience it directly. We cannot deny our life, that it exists, that it is ours and we cannot deny others their lives. This is a great temptation in our world today, i.e., to deny someone their life, to take life from them rather than giving and sustaining life in them.

The choice is ours when faced with the mystery. God gives us life and he will not take it from us even when we experience the mortality of hour human flesh in this world.

The people we honor today, I truly hope and believe, chose well, and may God in his mercy bless them abundantly and grant them quick admittance into heaven.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily to Deacons on Retreat

Here is a homily I will give to deacons on retreat. Blessings in abundance on my brothers!

Homily to Diaconate Community

October 26, 2019

Saturday of the 29th week in Ordinary Time

Remain rooted in Christ! Belong to the Father! Dwell in the Holy Spirit! Immerse yourselves in the People of God so that through your presence, in their midst, they might see Him for whom they long!

For the past 13 years, I have been reflecting on the diaconal vocation. What is its foundation? What is its heart? What are its fruits?

I have come to believe that the foundation of the diaconate is gazing on the face of the Father, a Father who utters His Word, His Son Jesus, into our lives. It is an adhering to and loving that Word; it is being purified by that Word, so that our presence might purify others and, free them from all that enslaves them. The foundation of the diaconate is essentially contemplation, i.e., an undisturbed, purified, pre-occupation with the Word of God, who is Jesus, and the words of Jesus, which are the Gospel of which we are heralds.

I have come to believe that the heart of the diaconate is the Eucharist. It is our diakonia at the altar of sacrifice. Yes, the life of a deacon is a life of suffering: suffering the effect the Word has in our lives and the way it burns away all that is unholy, and suffering with the People of God who are in need. The heart of the diaconate is our witness to and service of what Jesus did that day on Golgotha. We are always to be present at the foot of the Cross, like Mary and John, and never absent ourselves from that position. Never run from it. Never avoid it. The heart of the diaconate, therefore, is the Cross, the Mass, the Eucharistic sacrifice. No, we are not the sacrificial victim, nor are we the ones who offer that sacrifice, but we are the ones who herald it, who bear witness to the Paschal Lamb sacrificed for the salvation of the world. We are heralds who say, “Look there! There is the Lamb of God.” We are the ones who are to tell others, “Look for Him at the Eucharist!” We must not avoid the Mass, the Eucharist. We must minister there and we must do so faithfully and with humility. It is our heart, hearts that are wounded beneath the Cross, the Altar of Sacrifice, just like Mary’s heart was pierced. Our hearts are at the Mass, the Eucharist. We are Simon of Cyrenes who bear the cross with Jesus to the place of the sacrifice; Cheek to cheek, step by step to the altar. We accompany the priest to the altar, and we remain there. We too are to accompany others in their cross bearing and bring them to the Eucharist from the peripheries to the center of all that we are about, the source and summit of our lives.

I have come to believe that the fruit of the diaconate is charity. It is unity with humanity in all its needs. The fruit of a well-founded diaconal heart is solidarity with the poor, with those who experience injustice and oppression. The fruit of the diaconate is a re-ordering of human relationships; it is essentially, a healing. Yes, we are to heal as Jesus healed. Deacons are ones who heal. This is why we deacons are so needed and necessary in our diocese for we are in need of healing. Think of Mary. She held the broken body of her Son. The Pieta’. She held the wounds of Jesus; she was that close and that united to her son. Are we that close to the wounds Jesus now bears in the lives of his people in our diocese?  Mary could not have done what she did had she not first contemplated, accepted and nurtured the Word that had come to her, nor can we.

Remain rooted in Christ! Belong to the Father! Be not distracted from the Cross. Be present and be witnesses to the Paschal Lamb. Immerse yourselves in the lives of God’s people. Dwell in the Spirit.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless all!

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

October 19/20, 2019

Ex 17: 8-13; 2 Tim 3: 14-4: 2; Lk 18: 1-8

One thing I found out after my ordination to the diaconate was I became a very public person. I lost a lot of my privacy. It seemed to not matter whether a person was aware or not that I had been ordained; more and more people were approaching me about faith matters, and asking me to pray for one of their intentions. Ordination makes you a public servant and an advocate for others before God and men. Now, there is a certain suffering in all this; you have to give away your time and energy. A deacon is ordained to be permanently available to the needs of others, to support them, and advocate for them.

Those of us who are parents also have lost a lot of our privacy within our own homes. We are always available to our children, who so often come to us pleading their cases, needing and wanting our support. Over and over again they come, like the widow in the Gospel, wanting a response.

Every deacon and every good parent does not want to become like the “unjust judge” we hear about in the Gospel, who only grudgingly listens to the widow and her needs.

We can only imagine what life was like for that widow, who day after day made a pest of herself with the unjust judge. She just kept, you might say, praying that her cause would be heard and that a just judgment would be rendered in her favor. She must have been very frustrated at times, but she continued to plead her case. I can well imagine that each night she returned to her home and told her friends and her family about her plight, and they no doubt encouraged her to continue, to keep pleading, to not give up. They probably said they would go with her and give the judge their testimony. They supported her when she grew weary of it all until finally she was heard and an answer given her.

What, then, do we learn from our readings today? First, we must persevere in prayer and never cease praying. Jesus himself said as much in the Gospel, and in the parable of the widow says the same. Second, we are a communion of saints, who support the prayers and legitimate needs of each other. Certainly, God hears every prayer, but as Christians we are a family of believers, a family of prayer, we are, as the catechism says, a communion of saints who can intercede for each other. We can pray with and for each other. We can sustain each other so that, as Jesus says we must, we can “pray without ceasing.” Only with the support of each other can we pray constantly, pray without growing weary. We can ask both the living on earth and the saints in heaven to support our prayers and advocate for us.

Like Moses in our first reading, we need others to support our arms when weary. Like the friends of the widow who strengthened her resolve to persevere, indeed to be a pest, to the unjust judge.

Often, our praying arms can get heavy and tired. We feel alone as we pour ourselves out in prayer to God.

Some say we get tired because we are praying for what we want but not what God wants for us. Perhaps that is often true. I would suggest another reason that may be also true. We may weary praying, maybe even give up praying altogether, because we have tried to go it alone; we have not asked for support from each other; we have not prayed with others. Too often, I fear, we become “Lone Rangers” in our praying.

Just as no one can live totally alone all the time (for we are made for each other and for God and without each other and God we become weak and sick), so too no one can pray in isolation all the time. That is why those who say they have no need to come to Mass on Sunday, who say they find God alone as they walk in the woods or look at the sunset and thus do not need Church, that is why they eventually lose heart, get tired, and quit praying. That is why those who come to Church only for themselves and not to support the prayers and faith of others eventually become empty, disillusioned, and quit coming.

Yes, perhaps if our prayers seem not to be heard, or if we have wearied in our prayers, maybe even stopped praying altogether, it is because we have tried to go it alone, to muscle our prayers to God by our own effort, rather than relying on the support and prayer of others to assist us.

So, when someone asks you to pray with or for them, do it immediately. Do it with them on the spot. When you come to Mass, don’t say to yourself, “What will I get today?” but rather say, “How can I support the prayers and faith of those around me, by singing the hymns, by responding to the prayers with a loud “Amen!” and by asking God to hear the prayers of the person next to me and how can I ask someone this morning to pray for my needs?

“Help my pray! Pray with me. Pray for me. Pray that I not grow weary and stop praying.” We should be saying these to each other frequently.

Yes, lift up the arms of each other in prayer. Ask a fellow parishioner to pray with you and for you. And remember, not only can we ask the living, but we need and can ask the saints in heaven to support us and pray for us, especially our Blessed Mother Mary.

 

 

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Here is my homily for last weekend. God bless all!

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

September 14/15, 2019

Ex 32: 77-11, 13-14; 1 Tim 1: 12-17; Lk 15: 1-32

 

These are powerful readings today, stories about conversion. Makes me step back and think about life. There are three great conversion stories upon which I would like to reflect with you today.

The first is the conversion of St. Peter. The second is the conversion of St. Paul. The third is the conversion of St. Augustine.

St. Peter was a chosen man. Chosen to lead the Church. Chosen to strengthen the followers of Jesus after Jesus would ascend to the Father. Peter was a fisherman. A big man for his day. Stocky and strong. A man of great passion, even impulsive at times. He no doubt had big thick rough hands from all the fishing he had done. You see, fishing back then was not the fly fishing of today. Instead, he had to row a boat, cast a net, and haul that net aboard with his bare hands. I bet Peter had one of those crushing grips when he shook someone’s hand. Peter was capable of hanging on to something or someone despite the weight. Once he grabbed a hold onto something, he hung on. But Peter let go of Jesus at a time of great need. Peter let go of Jesus when Jesus was being led away to be crucified. He denied the Lord. When Jesus was sinking, Peter let go. This is in contrast to the time when Peter was sinking in the sea and Jesus grabbed him and pulled him up to save him. Peter understood, by experience, the importance of grabbing on and holding on to someone in need. He understood the great sin of letting go of his relationship with Jesus. And he repented of his sin.

St. Paul was a man blinded by his self-righteousness before his conversion. Paul was self-assured. “I am on the right heritage. I follow the laws. I can kill Christians because I am right and they are wrong.” Paul was blind, angry, self-righteous, and a murderer. But Jesus blinded him in a different way. Jesus blinded him by the light of the truth on the way to Damascus. The Bible tells us Paul was literally blinded by his experience of Jesus on the road. Scales formed on his eyes that kept him from seeing. He experienced physically what was truly spiritually. With his baptism, the scales were gone, and he began to see again. Paul began to see that true faith was a gift of a graced relationship with Jesus Christ. He began to see that the laws were meant to keep us in that grace, in that relationship with Jesus. Paul had to repent from worshipping the law to worshipping Jesus. He had to go from blindness to sight. And he did.

St. Augustine was a man of great passion. He was a slave to those passions and his attempts to justify his behavior with what we now would call “New Age Philosophies” but then was called rhetoric and Greek philosophy. Augustine was a man who thought pleasing the body and the senses – things like physical health, vigor, mental learnedness – were the greatest goods of life. He rejected the truths of faith for the so-called truths of the world, and the corruption of the body, just like people do today with the rejection of Christianity and the embrace of spiritualism and philosophy. He had to repent of his slavery to his addictions and vices and embrace freedom in Christ and the pursuit of virtue. And he did.

Peter abandoned his relationship with the Lord.

Paul was blind by his lack of faith.

Augustine was a slave to the world.

In the story of the Prodigal Son which we heard today, we see all three of these sins described. The prodigal son abandoned his father; he was blind to the truth and lacking in faith; and he was a slave to his passions. Like Peter, Paul, and Augustine, he too was converted and repented.

Where is our need for conversion in our own lives? How have we abandoned relationship to which we should be faithful, relationships such as marriage, parenthood, and friendships? How have we been blind to the truths of our faith? In other words, who or what is our God? In what ways are we enslaved by things of this world; what are our vices, and where do we need to grow in virtue?

Where is our struggle?

Wherever it is, God is a forgiving Father who runs to us as soon as we turn back. He runs to embrace us.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless all!

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Cycle C

August 17/18, 2019

Jer 38: 4-6, 8-10; Heb 12: 1-4; Lk 12: 49-53

How do we make sense of life? Of all that happens to us? For those of us my age and beyond – we Senior Citizens – how do we make sense of all the things that have happened over the last 60, 70, 80 or more years? For those who we might call middle age adults, how do you make sense of all that is happening in your life? For those among us who are in high school or college, how will you make sense of all that will happen to you? And finally for those who are children, how will you make sense of all that you can imagine life to be, all that you dream about?

Are we going to just sit down and try to think it through, like a philosopher when we are old?

Are we going to turn to those who attract our attention for answers, people like our favorite politician or sports hero, or maybe Oprah or Dr. Phil, when we are in adulthood?

Are we going to just try to fit in with our peer group and do what they do and think like they think when we are in school?

How will we understand all that we heard today in our readings?

Running the race; Setting the earth on fire; Enduring opposition; Struggling against sin; Enduring the cross; Shedding blood; Creating division.

All these are very descriptive phrases, action words, words that are frightening perhaps, certainly challenging. All of them are things that have been or will be our experiences if we go the distance and follow Jesus, embrace Jesus, love Jesus and do what he asks us to do. But, how do we make sense of the struggles, the uncertainties, the divisions, oppositions and crosses we face when we follow him? This brings us to the whole point today, the central part of it all: We must, as St. Paul said in the Letter to the Hebrews, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the answer.

Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!

When we are old we must look back on our lives and see Jesus present even in the times of difficulty.

When we are adults and active in the world we must see Jesus in every event, every accomplishment, and every defeat.

When we are young, in school, and preparing for life, we must see our future through the eyes of faith with Jesus in mind.

As children we must know Jesus is our best friend, our greatest hero, someone very close to us always.

Sometimes, the totality of life, from beginning to end, only makes sense if we keep our gaze upon Jesus; all these things we heard about make sense only if we keep our eyes on him.

How do we gaze upon him? How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? Look to the Eucharist.  It is the Eucharist where we can most specially see him. I have often said to people that often life does not seem to make a lot of sense until I am at Mass, the Eucharist. Sometimes only the Eucharist makes sense, as much of a mystery it may be, because the Eucharist is Jesus with his Church. Sometimes a mystery is more understandable than the facts of life, and this is true when it comes to the Eucharist, a great mystery of our faith. But it is here at Mass where we can focus on Jesus, both in the Sacred Scriptures we hear, and in his Body and Blood, his true and real presence among us. It is at Eucharist, where we must come every week, where we both seek understanding and receive it.

Gaze upon Jesus in your private prayer. We must take time every day to look at him in prayer, gaze upon him, accept him, listen to him, and ask him to help us understand.

Fix your eyes upon Jesus by developing periods of silence and quiet in our noisy world, removing the distractions that keep us from seeing him and hearing him; it is in silence that Jesus speaks most clearly.

I have learned one thing and I share it with you: Without the Eucharist, without some form of daily prayer, without looking for quiet times in my day, I get confused and lost. Only Jesus in his Church can make sense of all of life. Only Jesus in the Church clarifies the uncertainties. Jesus is the explanation. Jesus is the reason for all of life. Jesus is the answer to all our questions and concerns. We must keep our eyes fixed on him. We must look and listen.

I would like to conclude my homily by reading to you a part of a homily that Pope St. Paul VI gave in 1970.

The more difficult the assignment, the more my love of God spurs me on. I am bound to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of him we come to know the God we cannot see. He is the firstborn of all creation; in him all things find their being. Man’s teacher and redeemer, he was born for us, died for us, and for us he rose from the dead.

All things, all history converges in Christ…. He will be the complete fulfillment of our lives and our great happiness for all eternity.

I can never cease to speak of Christ, for he is our truth and our light; he is the way, the truth and the life. He is our bread our source of living water who allays our hunger and satisfies our thirst. He is our shepherd, our leader, our ideal, our comforter and our brother.

He is like us….. he spoke on our behalf; he worked miracles; and he founded a new kingdom: in it the poor are happy; peace is the foundation of a life in common; where the pure in heart and those who mourn are uplifted and comforted; the hungry find justice; sinners are forgiven; and all discover that they are brothers.

….. So once again I repeat his name to you Christians and I proclaim to all men: Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, Lord of a new universe, the great hidden key to human history and the part we play in it. He is the mediator — the bridge if you will — between heaven and earth. Above all, he is the Son of man, more perfect than any man, being also the Son of God, eternal and infinite. He is the son of Mary his mother on earth, more blessed than any woman. She is also our mother in the spiritual communion of the mystical body.

Remember: it is Jesus Christ I preach day in and day out. HIs name I would see echo and reecho for all time even to the ends of the earth.

AMEN!!

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the Assumption

Here is my homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. God bless all!

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

August 15, 2019

Rev 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab; 1Cor 15:20-27; Lk 1: 39-56

Today is a day of great hope for all of us. Yes, hope of future glory. Today is a day that demonstrates for us the road on which we too will walk one day in the future, when, like Jesus who first walked it, and our Blessed Mother who followed him, we will go.

We celebrate Mary being assumed body and soul into heaven where she now shares in God’s glory.

Indeed, where Mary has gone, we will follow, for where Mary has gone, her son Jesus went before her, and she beckons us to follow her son into his glory.

Mary went body and soul into heaven at the end of her life here on earth. This is what the Assumption means and this was the belief of all Christians from the earliest times, and taught by the Church definitively in more recent centuries. Because of her intimate bond with her son, her fidelity to the Word of God spoken to her at the Annunciation (which we heard proclaimed today in the Gospel) a Word she nurtured with a perfect faith throughout her life, and she never abandoned, a Word that became flesh in her womb, because of her faith and maternal bond with her son, she was assumed into heaven at the end of her earthly life.

This a great hope for all of us! Where Jesus went, Jesus summoned his mother to come after him, and Jesus will summon us also someday, body and soul, into his glory. We will be reunited with him on the last day when Jesus comes again in glory and raises our mortal bodies, reuniting them with our souls for all eternity.

Where Jesus has gone, and Mary has followed, we too will go, but we remain faithful to Him. Mary will show us the way, if we ask her to help us with her prayers.

This is our hope, a hope realized already in Mary’s Assumption. A hope that will be realized in us if we remain faithful as Mary was faithful; if we say “Yes!” as Mary said “Yes” to the Word the archangel Gabriel that day brought to her. Just as Mary was one with her son, so too we will become one with Jesus some day if we accept God’s Word and stay close to him always.

Mary had such great faith in the Word, such great love for the Word made flesh, her Son Jesus Christ, and such great hope that she was, one might say, perfectly united to him in his death, resurrection, and ascension. In other words, she never left her son; she never abandoned him; she stayed with him through it all. She followed him on the road to Golgotha the day he died, stood by him as he hung upon the Cross, embraced him when he died and was placed in her arms, she laid him in the tomb, shared the joy of his resurrection, and followed him into heaven by her own Assumption. Mary accompanied Jesus all the way into eternity. What she has done, where she has gone, we must follow, for it is the way of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.

Today is a day of great hope for all of us; hope of future glory. A day that shows us the road on which we must walk; the reunion we will experience, a reunion of our bodies and souls someday, and our reunion with God the Father at the end of time.

Do you love Jesus enough to go where he has gone? Mary followed him with all her heart.

Do you love Jesus enough to believe in him? Mary believed in the Word spoken to her.

Do you see in Mary’s Assumption a reflection of God’s love for you and his desire that you become whole, body and soul, and perfectly united to him for all eternity?

Ultimately, it is all about following the Lord, sharing in his life, believing in him, and seeing in Mary a model for us to imitate, and an intercessor for us before God’s throne.

 

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C

Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless all!

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

July 20/21, 2019

Gen 18: 1-10a; Col 1: 24-28; Lk 10: 38-42

In our first reading today we hear of how three strangers approached Abraham in the desert, and how Abraham did what was expected of men in that culture; he provided for the strangers’ comfort. He fed them, gave them rest, and welcomed them into his home. For his hospitality, he was rewarded with the promise of a son. Then we jump ahead almost 2000 years and hear of another unanticipated guest arriving at the home of Martha and Mary: Jesus. It was the obligation of women in that culture me welcome guests, feed them, provide for their bathing, and other aspects of hospitality. Both Martha and Mary no doubt understood this well, and Martha set about doing just that. Mary, though, chose something unexpected. She broke custom, and listened and looked at Jesus with attention. Martha couldn’t understand why Mary would do this, and she was anxious and complained to Jesus. What did Jesus say? Mary had chosen the “better part” and it would not be taken from her.

The question is, “How do we know the ‘better part’ in our lives?

We always want what is good, yet how do we know what is truly good, the better part, when so many good things seem possible?

Every day we are faced with that question. Sometimes it is with the big decisions of life like which job should I take, which woman should I marry, which religion should I practice, or which house should I buy? Most of the time it is with little decisions of daily life: How should I spend my time today; what movie should I watch; what food should I prepare? How do we discern “the better part” in all of this?

There are many good things, good people, good activities, good jobs, and good careers from which to choose. There are many good ideas and opinions about a lot of things. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we want them all good things, every last one of them, but we cannot have all of them because some of them are kept from us. This can distract and upset us, frustrate and worry us, and leave us anxious.

Martha in the Gospel chose to do a lot of very good things. She welcomed Jesus into her home. She made him comfortable. She provided for his physical needs. She fed him. These are indeed very good things. She did for Jesus what we heard Abraham did for those three men who came to him. Abraham was quick to offer hospitality to the stranger, as should we to the strangers in our midst today. Martha and Abraham were very much alike. Yet we are told Martha was anxious and worried, and she became critical of Mary who chose something else. Jesus told her: “There is need for only one thing. Mary has chosen it.” What was this one thing?

It was gazing on God with faith.

St. Augustine wrote in his famous Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. God is the “better part”. He ultimately, is the Good of life. Remember in the Gospel when Jesus said to a man, “Why do you call me good? Only God, my Father, is good.” In the end, God alone is what we will need and desire. Everyone who has faith understands this. Nothing else will satisfy us very long. Our hearts are indeed restless until they rest in God, until what we choose things in our lives that are in accord with God’s design, with his vision for us, until we choose that which will make us as God would have us be.

But we need faith, don’t we, to know the “better part.” Faith means we must be in relationship with God and stay focused on Him, to gaze upon him in prayer every day. The gift of faith will enable our souls to gaze upon the presence of God, like Mary gazed upon Jesus. Faith will sharpen our focus, discipline our choices, and clarify our knowledge so we will in fact come to know God and the better course of action to take in all of life’s decisions. Choices made from the eyes of faith are always choices for the “better part” because they are choices made for God and as God would have us choose, as God sees things and as he would want us to take.

Without the eyes of faith, without gazing upon God presence, we will be anxious and worried, restless for something or someone better, for something only God can provide us, someone only God can be for us.

Look and see with the eyes of faith! God is all around you! Gaze upon him. He wants the best for you. He wants you to choose him and his plan for your life. You have only to look and listen with the eyes and ears of faith, like Mary did. Once you have come to know God, you cannot help but love him and choose him, for he is the greatest of all goods, the true desire of your souls.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Here is my homily for the upcoming weekend.  God bless all!

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Proverbs 8: 22-31; Romans 5: 1-5; John 16 12-15

June 15/16, 2019

 

We all experience God in some way and we desperately want to understand Him. God has given us the ability to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, remember, and imagine through which we perceive God’s presence. God has given us our minds to ponder Him, to try to understand Him, and He has given us our wills to choose and want Him who is the greatest good in life, and our passions to love Him. Throughout the many centuries of human history, God revealed Himself more and more to humankind and we have gradually grown in our understanding of who God is. Yet, God remains mysterious. Today’s feast of the Holy Trinity is a celebration of the mystery who is God.

With the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the world, God has shown us that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that He is a mystery too deep for us to understand, but a mystery we can know in ways words cannot express. We know God as our Father; we know Him as our brother and Lord Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, and we know Him as the Holy Spirit the fire of love. He is one God, and three Persons. We know Him even if our words are too weak to fully explain Him. God is a perfect and eternal flow of Divine Love, of Divine Charity: Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father so perfectly that the Holy Spirit, the bond of their Love, is God. The Father loves the Son and the Son goes forth to do the Father’s will in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we, his people, may enter into God’s love and life.

Yes, God also reveals himself to us in the Church. He shares Himself with each human being He creates, and He calls each of us into the Church. God says, “I want you to know Me. I am here. Listen and look and you will find Me. Look for me within yourselves! Look for me in my Body the Church.” I’ve met God in the depths of my heart, and in the Church. I have met him when alone, and I have met Him in this community of faith, and so have you; we all have met God whether we realize it or not, whether we recognized Him or not. He has been here for us in good times and bad. At every moment we are sustained us by His love. If He were not love, we would cease to exist.

Even though we cannot fully explain Him, we know Him, and have known Him throughout our lives and He wants us to enter more deeply into the mystery and live in love just as He lives as Love.

That is the astounding thing to me. God is a cycle of perfect love. We, mere human beings, are drawn into the love of God Himself. We are drawn up into this flow of Divine Charity which is the Holy Trinity. We are caught up in it, and must remain in it forever. God wants to pull us in to Himself. He is like a strong current in the ocean that we don’t see, but we feel. The ocean current pulls us away from the shore and into the depths of the sea, just as God pulls us from the smallness of this life into the infinite and unknown depths of His life. Yes, we can resist His pull with our sins, exhausting ourselves, but in the end we have to let go of this world and live in the next world for all eternity where we will either experience the rest and peace we all need and want in heaven, or we will painfully feel separation from God’s life. God’s pull on us is strong, stronger that the pull of evil and He made us to want Him. He made us to be vulnerable to Him. He made us to love Him and to be with Him, but He won’t force us into heaven. We must choose.

So, on this Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, may we once again rest in God’s love for us. May we rejoice in the mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

May we not resist Him with our sins, but be swept away by His love.

 

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless all!

 

5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

Acts 14: 21-27; Rev 21: 1-5a; John 13: 31-33a; 34-35

May 18/19, 2019

 

 

Behold, I make all things new… I give you a new commandment: Love one another.

It is difficult for us in the 21st Century to appreciate how different and new life was for people who became Christian in the early Church. How they thought about life, death, love, family and each other, their work, and the future, all changed after they were baptized, confirmed and received the  Eucharist. Most of them kept their same jobs although some may have changed occupations, especially those in the military, but they dressed the same, spoke the same language, and lived in the same houses, but they thought, understood, and approached each other and the world in a very new and different way. Things had changed. They were very different because they knew that God had changed them, that they were new men and women.

St. Paul wrote during those years about taking off the “old” and putting on the “new.” Even Jesus said that if you put your hand to the plow, there was no turning back. The change would be forever.

The reality is that all of us here today who have been baptized, confirmed and brought into communion with the Church have been made completely new on a spiritual level. Who we once were no longer spiritually exists. We have been made new through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. The old is gone forever. We are marked by God as one of his children, a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. We have been reborn to a new life, and this new life is given to us because of Divine Love. God’s love renews us and restores us, and because God’s love has done this for us, he gives us a new commandment to love one another, as he has loved us, so his love, through us, will transform the world.

When I baptize a child, I always tell the parents and godparents that if they could only see with their physical eyes what is happening spiritually to the child in baptism, they would be stunned, and blinded by the beauty of the change. They would be in awe by what God’s love does for the child. Someday, we will see the change in heaven, but now the best we can do is see by faith.

If only we would embrace how new we have become! If only we could see it! The world in which we live and especially our sinful choices in life blind us to the change. Our sinful choices and influence of the world leave us thinking we are no different now than before, that we are not beautiful, that we have little value, that we are not holy, that our membership in the Church means little. Do you ever find   yourself thinking these things: I am not beautiful; I have no value; I am not holy; It makes no difference if I am a member of the Church or not. Do you ever find yourselves thinking those things of others?

If only we could see and accept the newness of life and love that is ours because we have been baptized, confirmed, and made full members of the Body of Christ, the Church, through the love of God! If only we truly believed it! How different we would treat ourselves and each other. Indeed, we would truly love one another and live out the new commandment. The old order would pass away. Tears would be dried and fears eased, as we heard in the second reading.

There is nothing more precious in God’ eyes than you. There is nothing more precious in God’ eyes than the man or woman next to you. There is nothing more precious in God’s eyes than the unborn child in the womb. There is nothing more precious in God’s eyes than the elderly person alone in a care center, or the immigrant, or the man in prison.

Oh…. The dignity that is ours because of our baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and our communion with Christ in the Church. Oh… the dignity that could be for others if we only believe and obey the new commandment to love one another.

Behold, God has made all things new within you. Love one another now, as he has loved us.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday 2019

Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless all!

Divine Mercy Sunday 2019

Acts 5: 12-16; Rev 1: 9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20: 19-31

 

I have been asking myself in recent weeks the question, “What is the heart of a parish?” I not only have asked myself, but I have asked parishioners of all ages, and have received various responses. So I ask all of you, “What is the heart of this parish?”

I believe it is the merciful heart of Jesus beating in the Eucharist. It is the Mass at which we witness all that Jesus has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection. The heart of any parish is the resurrected Jesus given to us in the Eucharist. The merciful heart of Jesus beats and gives us life. Jesus is alive! He has risen. Jesus lives!  He has a merciful heart, a living heart, a forgiving heart, and he pours out his mercy into our hearts at each Mass.

The merciful Eucharistic heart of Jesus beats in our midst, among us, within us, and especially at Mass.  We must be connected to this mercy. We must not stay away. We must come to the mercy of God. That is one reason why God has commanded us to keep holy the Sabbath and why we are obliged to come to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. We need his mercy, and we need to praise and thank him for it.

You too are the heart of this parish if you have a merciful heart. I can say that to the extent that you soak in God’s mercy at the Eucharist and then extend it to each other, you too are the heart of this parish. Your heart must also be open to God’s mercy, and then beat with mercy for others.

Yes, we are called to be merciful. We are called to be like Jesus. We must be merciful to others. We must accept God’s mercy into our own lives in order to show it to others.

Do we accept God’s mercy? Do we allow the merciful heart of Jesus to permeate our lives? Will your heart beat like the heart of Jesus for our husbands, our wives, our children, our parents, our neighbors, our parishioners, yes even to our enemies? Will you be merciful even to those who do not deserve it? If we are to be able to do this, we must be connected to Divine Mercy. Mercy and forgiveness are at the center of what it means to follow Christ. The heart of the moral life is mercy. Mercy trumps justice, for in God’s eyes, they are the same.

Jesus had mercy on the repentant thief. Will we? Jesus told the adulteress, “I do not condemn you, but go and sin no more.”Do we have the same attitude with those who have betrayed our trust? When Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus didn’t asked, “Why did you do that?” but he asked, “Do you love me?” How are we when someone denies our friendship?

Will we have mercy on the man on death row, or will we exact vengeance? Will we wage war or pursue peace? Will we love those who hate us, or hate in return?

To be merciful to those most difficult to forgive, those most difficult to love, we must have a deep faith and trust in Jesus’ mercy for us.  When we find it difficult to show mercy, we must say, “Jesus, I trust in you! Help me to show mercy to this person.”

Jesus, we trust in you! You are the way. Make ours heart like unto yours.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle C

Here is my homily for the weekend. God bless all!

2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle C

March16/17, 2019

Gen 15: 5-12, 17-18; Phil 3: 17-41; Lk 9: 28b-36

 

Today’s homily will begin with a reflection since the Gospel is about a vision Peter, John, and James had on Mount Tabor when they saw the divinity of Jesus Christ.

What is the first thing you see when you enter this church? It is the crucifix. The question is whether we look at it or not, whether we meditate on it or distract ourselves from it every Sunday when we come to Mass. I would ask you to please look at it now. You can listen to me and look at the Cross. What do you see when you gaze on that Cross? A man to be pitied or someone you love? Someone from whom you, out of fear, want to turn away your attention or someone to whom you turn in faith? Do you see someone like you, or unlike you? Do you see a failure, or a victor?

A Christian sees beyond the Cross, beyond the darkness of Calvary, beyond the ugliness of Golgotha and on to the glory and light that follows. God allows the Cross, but he gives us the resurrection. God allows the Cross and gives us the transfiguration of our lives.

The Cross is the portal, the door, through which we must pass in this life in order to enter into the glory promised us in heaven where we shall see God as his is. Pope Francis said, “The Cross is the door to resurrection.” Whoever struggles alongside Jesus will triumph with him.

So, what is the Cross in your life? Lent is a time to confront whatever it is and change.

Lent is a time to change our lives, real change of our hearts, a time to embrace whatever the Cross may be in our lives, by doing the small necessary things over and over again without losing hope. Maybe your cross is family matters; maybe it is health issues; maybe it is being more charitable with your finances; maybe it is about confronting an addiction from which you suffer and get help to obtain a more sober and clean life. Maybe it is about admitting your doubts and asking for greater faith.

All of us want to change external things but not many of us want to go through the process of internal change, which can be difficult, which is the Cross for us. Letting go of well known attitudes, behaviors, sins, lifestyles, all of that can be hard. Ask anyone who is addicted to whatever, and he will tell you that unless you keep doing the small things over and over again, never losing hope, you will not become who you were created to be. Am I becoming more and more like God, or am I just changing the small things to become who I want to be? Do I want to embrace the Cross in my life, or do I deny and avoid it? Do I only want the glory?

It is about doing all the little things over and over again, more than it is about doing a big thing once. It isn’t really about “doing” more as it is about “becoming” more. Becoming more like Jesus.

We cannot enter into God’s glory – radiant with the light of God – until we pass through the Cross. We cannot be resurrected until we have stood at the foot of the Cross and received God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Peter, James, and John were given a glimpse of God’s glory, and their future glory, in the Transfiguration when Jesus revealed himself as true God and true man. In the Transfiguration, Jesus showed them what lay ahead for them, for all his followers, you and me, if we but pass through the Cross and remain faithful, hopeful, and loving. At the Transfiguration, Jesus reveals himself as God and extends to all of us a tremendous promise: “You too will be transfigured into the glory of God if you follow me.”

“Follow me. All the way to Calvary; all the way to Golgotha; all the way to the Tomb, then all the way to heaven itself. Jesus says, “Remain faithful throughout all of Lent so you will be ready to celebrate Easter.”

Jesus knew that the Cross was going to be difficult for himself and for his followers. That is one reason he let them see his glory in the Transfiguration, so they would not become discouraged, so that we don’t become discouraged.

During this Lent, we can ask ourselves whether we will be faithful until the end. Whether we will remain faithful at the foot of the Cross so as to pass through it to new life. We can ask ourselves whether or not we will let fear of change, fear of the Cross, keep us from inheriting God’s promise of glory with him in heaven.

St. John Paul II said, “Non avete paura. Spalancate le porte a Cristo!” which means, don’t be afraid, open wide your hearts to Christ. May all of us trust Jesus to be with us now as we embrace the crosses of our live, and forever with us in glory in the life to come.

 

 

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless all!

2nd Sunday on Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Isaiah 62: 1-5; 1 Cor. 12: 4-11; John 2: 1-11

January 19/20, 2019

As a bridegroom rejoices in his new bride, so God rejoices in you! Isaiah provides us a beautiful description of God’s  love for his people in our first reading. In our Gospel, we see how Jesus chose to reveal himself as the divine Son of God at a wedding feast in Cana and how God provides what is needed — in this case, lots of good wine which is a symbol of grace— to ensure that the love of marriage may be enjoyed and shared with the whole community who gather to celebrate. Even in our first reading, Isaiah describes God as a young man who is like a bridegroom rejoicing in his new bride and he refers to marriage as an image of God’s love for us.

Thinking about marriage and the world, I am left with the question, “What will ultimately unite our marriages, our parishes, communities, and our world today?”

I believe it will be love. Only God’s love will ultimately unite us. God is love. Nothing and no one else, I think, will long unite us and bring peace to our marriages, families, and world. We often try to use the world’s strategy to bring unity and peace, and it doesn’t work for long. The strategy of the world is utility, or usefulness to each other. We tend to think that as long as we are useful and suitable for someone’s’ needs or desires, we will have peace and unity. We do this in our marriages, with our employers, with our neighbors, and with others. But the unity of utility is very fragile and the cause of many divisions, conflicts and divorces in our world today.

No, only true love will unite us, nothing else in the long run, for love is the mentality of Jesus. Love is the presence of God in our lives. Love is indeed divine. Without love, only usefulness, or the lack thereof, remains. Without love, conflict, darkness, and sin quickly take over.

We must not forget, though, that true love for others — whether in marriage and family or in our communities — requires faith and fidelity: faith in each other, faith in God. Faith and fidelity are the keys that unlock the door of love. Faith that is shared with others enables love to endure even in the most difficult of times. A shared faith, mutual fidelity, sustains our marriages, our families, or communities. That is why married couples need to give each other gift of faith.  They must keep faith in each other. The same is true with our parishes. That is one reason why as a parish community we must gather every week to worship together and to share our faith with each other.

Faith, given to each other, enables us to see the love that is present in our relationships. Faith illuminates the presence of God who is love. It sheds a bright light on the presence of God in our marriages and families and parishes. Faith allows us to see God’s presence and action in our lives. Oh, how much we need to increase our faith in each other because the world so desperately needs to see genuine love.

Do we realize, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the love we have for our husbands and wives, for our children and grandchildren, for our parish and community, if it is to endure, requires faith and fidelity? Do we see how love within marriage between a man and a woman raises marriage up to such a dignity in God’s eyes that it becomes a sacrament, which means God reveals himself and gives abundant grace through the love of marriage? Mutual love, grounded in faith and fidelity, becomes the way God reveals loves his people. This is what happened at the wedding feast of Cana; he revealed himself and his love through a marriage celebration, and gave abundant, overflowing grace to all the people. Jesus does the same each time a couple enters into a sacramental marriage. Jesus does the same in this parish when we gather with a shared faith, by giving us abundant grace in the Eucharist.

Only love will long unite us, not mere usefulness to each other, not simply meeting each others’ needs. We must come to Eucharist, not simply to get our needs met or to meet the needs of others, but rather to express our faith with each other so that we may see the love of God among us and especially in the Eucharist. To come to only get our needs met or to meet someone else’s needs would be the mentality of the world. The mentality of Christ is of love and fidelity. Faith in each other and in God allows love to endure.

If we remain faithful to each other our love will be pure and maintain its integrity and it will become a bright light shining in our world today, a world desperately needing to see the real meaning of love.

Yes, God love us as a bridegroom loves his new bride. Jesus revealed himself as the Son of God at a wedding. God abundantly blesses the love we have for one another, as husbands and wives, as neighbors and friends, as fellow parishioners. Our love must endure. It will if we maintain faith and fidelity to each other and to God. Our love, grounded in faith, will become a bright light that reveals to the whole world the love of God for his people.

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Holy Father’s Letter to the US Bishops on Retreat

The Holy Father has issued a letter to the US bishops on retreat at Mundelein near Chicago. It is worth all our time to read. Here is the link:

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20190101_lettera-vescovi-usa.html

Here is the text:

LETTER SENT BY THE HOLY FATHER
TO THE BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES CONFERENCE
OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS

 

Dear Brothers,

During my meeting on 13 September last with the officers of your Conference of Bishops, I suggested that together you make a retreat, a time of seclusion, prayer and discernment, as a necessary step toward responding in the spirit of the Gospel to the crisis of credibility that you are experiencing as a Church. We see this in the Gospel: at critical moments in his mission, the Lord withdrew and spent the whole night in prayer, inviting his disciples to do the same (cf. Mk 14:38). We know that, given the seriousness of the situation, no response or approach seems adequate; nonetheless, we as pastors must have the ability, and above all the wisdom, to speak a word born of heartfelt, prayerful and collective listening to the Word of God and to the pain of our people. A word born of the prayer of shepherds who, like Moses, fight and intercede for their people (cf. Ex 32:30-32).

In that meeting, I told Cardinal DiNardo and the other bishops present of my desire to accompany you personally for several days on that retreat, and this offer was met with joy and anticipation. As the Successor of Peter, I wanted to join all of you in imploring the Lord to send forth his Spirit who “makes all things new” (cf. Rev 21:5) and to point out the paths of life that, as Church, we are called to follow for the good of all those entrusted to our care. Despite my best efforts, I will not be able, for logistical reasons, to be physically present with you. This letter is meant in some way to make up for that journey which could not take place. I am also pleased that you have accepted my offer to have the Preacher of the Papal Household direct this retreat and to share his deep spiritual wisdom.

With these few lines, I would like to draw near to you as a brother and to reflect with you on some aspects that I consider important, while at the same time encouraging your prayer and the steps you are taking to combat the “culture of abuse” and to deal with the crisis of credibility.

“It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” (Mk 10:43-45). With these words, Jesus intervenes and acknowledges the indignation felt by the disciples who heard James and John asking to sit at the right and left of the Master (cf. Mk 10:37). His words will help guide us in our shared reflection.

The Gospel is not afraid to mention certain tensions, conflicts and disputes present in the life of the first community of disciples; it would even appear to want to do so. It speaks of seeking places of honor, and of jealousy, envy and machinations. To say nothing of the intrigues and the plots that, whether secretly or openly, were hatched around the message and person of Jesus by the political and religious leaders and the merchants of the time (cf. Mk 11:15-18). These conflicts increased with the approach of the hour of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, as the prince of this world, and sin and corruption, appeared to have the last word, poisoning everything with bitterness, mistrust and resentment.

As the elderly Simeon had prophesied, difficult and critical moments can bring to light the deepest thoughts, tensions and contradictions present in the disciples individually and as a group (cf. Lk 2:35). No one can consider himself exempt from this; we are asked as a community to take care that at those times our decisions, choices, actions and intentions are not tainted by these inner conflicts and tensions, but are instead a response to the Lord who is life for the world. At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission he has given us. Many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the “flavour” of the Gospel. To put it colloquially, we have to be careful that “the cure does not become worse than the disease”. And this requires of us wisdom, prayer, much listening and fraternal communion.

1. “It cannot be like that with you”

In recent years, the Church in the United States has been shaken by various scandals that have gravely affected its credibility. These have been times of turbulence in the lives of all those victims who suffered in their flesh the abuse of power and conscience and sexual abuse on the part of ordained ministers, male and female religious and lay faithful. But times of turbulence and suffering also for their families and for the entire People of God.

The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them. This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful. As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.

We know that the sins and crimes that were committed, and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful. They have caused great perplexity, upset and confusion; and this can often serve as an excuse for some to discredit and call into question the selfless lives of all those many Christians who show “an immense love for humanity inspired by the God who became man”.[1] Whenever the Gospel message proves inconvenient or disturbing, many voices are raised in an attempt to silence that message by pointing to the sins and inconsistencies of the members of the Church and, even more, of her pastors.

The hurt caused by these sins and crimes has also deeply affected the communion of bishops, and generated not the sort of healthy and necessary disagreements and tensions found in any living body, but rather division and dispersion (cf. Mt 26:31). The latter are certainly not fruits and promptings of the Holy Spirit, but rather of “the enemy of human nature”,[2] who takes greater advantage of division and dispersion than of the tensions and disagreements reasonably to be expected in the lives of Christ’s disciples.

Combatting the culture of abuse, the loss of credibility, the resulting bewilderment and confusion, and the discrediting of our mission urgently demands of us a renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts. Jesus would tell us: “You know how among the Gentiles those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you” (Mk 10:42-43). Loss of credibility calls for a specific approach, since it cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts, as if we were in charge of a department of human resources. That kind of vision ends up reducing the mission of the bishop and that of the Church to a mere administrative or organizational function in the “evangelization business”. Let us be clear: many of those things are necessary yet insufficient, since they cannot grasp and deal with reality in its complexity; ultimately, they risk reducing everything to an organizational problem.

The loss of credibility also raises painful questions about the way we relate to one another. Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it. This involves our ability, or inability, as a community to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person. It involves our ability to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent. This requires not only a new approach to management, but also a change in our mind-set (metanoia), our way of praying, our handling of power and money, our exercise of authority and our way of relating to one another and to the world around us. Changes in the Church are always aimed at encouraging a constant state of missionary and pastoral conversion capable of opening up new ecclesial paths ever more in keeping with the Gospel and, as such, respectful of human dignity. The programmatic aspect of our activity should be joined to a paradigmatic aspect that brings out its underlying spirit and meaning. The two are necessarily linked. Without this clear and decisive focus, everything we do risks being tainted by self-referentiality, self-preservation and defensiveness, and thus doomed from the start. Our efforts may be well-structured and organized, but will lack evangelical power, for they will not help us to be a Church that bears credible witness, but instead “a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

In a word, a new ecclesial season needs bishops who can teach others how to discern God’s presence in the history of his people, and not mere administrators. Ideas can be discussed but vital situations have to be discerned. Consequently, amid the upset and confusion experienced by our communities, our primary duty is to foster a shared spirit of discernment, rather than to seek the relative calm resulting from compromise or from a democratic vote where some emerge as “winners” and others not. No! It is about finding a collegial and paternal way of embracing the present situation, one that, most importantly, can protect those in our care from losing hope and feeling spiritually abandoned.[3] This will enable us to be fully immersed in reality, seeking to appreciate and hear it from within, without being held hostage to it.

We know that times of trial and tribulation can threaten our fraternal communion. Yet we also know that they can become times of grace sustaining our commitment to Christ and making it credible. This credibility will not be grounded in ourselves, our statements, our merits or our personal or collective good name. All these are signs of our attempt – nearly always subconscious – to justify ourselves on the basis of our own strengths and abilities (or of someone else’s misfortune). Credibility will be the fruit of a united body that, while acknowledging its sinfulness and limitations, is at the same time capable of preaching the need for conversion. For we do not want to preach ourselves but rather Christ who died for us (cf. 2 Cor 4:5). We want to testify that at the darkest moments of our history the Lord makes himself present, opens new paths and anoints our faltering faith, our wavering hope and our tepid charity.

A personal and collective awareness of our limitations reminds us, as Saint John XXIII said, that “it must not be imagined that authority knows no bounds”.[4] It cannot be aloof in its discernment and in its efforts to pursue the common good. A faith and consciousness lacking reference to the community would be like a “Kantian transcendental”: it will end up proclaiming “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without its people”. It will set up a false and dangerous opposition between personal and ecclesial life, between a God of pure love and the suffering flesh of Christ. Worse, it could risk turning God into an “idol” for one particular group. Constant reference to universal communion, as also to the magisterium and age-old tradition of the Church, saves believers from absolutizing any one group, historical period or culture within the Church. Our catholicity is at stake also in our ability as pastors to learn how to listen to one another, to give and receive help from one another, to work together and to receive the enrichment that other churches can contribute to our following of Christ. The catholicity of the Church cannot be reduced merely to a question of doctrine or law; rather, it reminds us that we are not solitary pilgrims: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

This collegial awareness of our being sinners in need of constant conversion, albeit deeply distressed and pained by all that that has happened, allows us to enter into affective communion with our people. It will liberate us from the quest of false, facile and futile forms of triumphalism that would defend spaces rather than initiate processes. It will keep us from turning to reassuring certainties that keep us from approaching and appreciating the extent and implications of what has happened. It will also aid in the search for suitable measures free of false premises or rigid formulations no longer capable of speaking to or stirring the hearts of men and women in our time.[5]

Affective communion with the feelings of our people, with their disheartenment, urges us to exercise a collegial spiritual fatherhood that does not offer banal responses or act defensively, but instead seeks to learn – like the prophet Elijah amid his own troubles – to listen to the voice of the Lord. That voice is not to be found in the tempest or the earthquake, but in the calm born of acknowledging our hurt before the present situation and letting ourselves together be summoned anew by God’s word (cf. 1 Kg 19:9-18).

This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer. Let us not forget that “the collegial lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”.[6] Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins, and the promotion of dialogue, discussion and discernment. This will dispose us to finding evangelical paths that can awaken and encourage the reconciliation and credibility that our people and our mission require of us. We will do this if we can stop projecting onto others our own confusion and discontent, which are obstacles to unity,[7] and dare to come together, on our knees, before the Lord and let ourselves be challenged by his wounds, in which we will be able to see the wounds of the world. Jesus tells us: “You know how among the Gentiles those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you”.

2. “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all”

God’s faithful people and the Church’s mission continue to suffer greatly as a result of abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse, and the poor way that they were handled, as well as the pain of seeing an episcopate lacking in unity and concentrated more on pointing fingers than on seeking paths of reconciliation. This situation forces us to look to what is essential and to rid ourselves of all that stands in the way of a clear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is being asked of us today is a new presence in the world, conformed to the cross of Christ, one that takes concrete shape in service to the men and women of our time. I think of the words of Saint Paul VI at the beginning of his pontificate: “If we want to be pastors, fathers and teachers, we must also act as brothers. Dialogue thrives on friendship, and most especially on service. All this we must remember and strive to put into practice on the example and precept of Christ (Jn 13:14-17)”.[8]

This attitude is not concerned with respect or success and garnering applause for our actions; instead, it requires that we as pastors really decide to be a seed that will grow whenever and however the Lord best determines. That decision will save us from falling into the trap of measuring the value of our efforts by the standards of functionalism and efficiency that govern the business world. The path to be taken is rather one of openness to the efficacy and transformative power of God’s Kingdom, which, like a mustard seed, the smallest and most insignificant of seeds, becomes a tree in which the birds of the air make their nests (cf. Mt 13:32-33). Amid the tempest, we must never lose faith in the quiet, daily and effective power of the Holy Spirit at work in human hearts and in all of history.

Credibility is born of trust, and trust is born of sincere, daily, humble and generous service to all, but especially to those dearest to the Lord’s heart (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It will be a service offered not out of concern with marketing or strategizing to reclaim lost prestige or to seek accolades, but rather – as I insisted in the recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate – because it belongs to “the beating heart of the Gospel”.[9]

The call to holiness keeps us from falling into false dichotomies and reductive ways of thinking, and from remaining silent in the face of a climate prone to hatred and rejection, disunity and violence between brothers and sisters. The Church, as the “sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1), bears in her heart and soul the sacred mission of being a place of encounter and welcome not only for her members but for all humanity. It is part of her identity and mission to work tirelessly for all that can contribute to unity between individuals and peoples as a symbol and sacrament of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for all men and women, without distinction. For “there does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This is the greatest service she offers, all the more so today, when we are witnessing a resurgence of inflammatory rhetoric and prejudices old and new. Our communities today must testify in a concrete and creative way that God is the Father of all, and that in his eyes we are all his sons and daughters. Our credibility also depends on the extent to which, side by side with others, we help to strengthen a social and cultural fabric that is not only in danger of unravelling, but also of harboring and facilitating new forms of hatred. As a Church, we cannot be held hostage by this side or that, but must be attentive always to start from those who are most vulnerable. With the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, let us ask the Lord that, “in a world torn by strife, your people may shine forth as a prophetic sign of unity and concord” (Masses for Various Needs, I)

How sublime is the task at hand, brothers; we cannot keep silent about it or downplay it because of our own limitations and faults! I recall the wise words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that we can repeat, both as individuals and together: “Yes, I have many human faults and failures… But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world; he bears our sins, our troubles and our faults. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others”.[10]

Dear brothers, the Lord was well aware that, at the hour of the cross, lack of unity, division and dispersion, as well as attempts to flee from that hour, would be the greatest temptations faced by his disciples – attitudes that would distort and hinder their mission. That is why he asked the Father to watch over them, so that at those times they would be one, even as he and the Father are one, and that none of them would be lost (cf. Jn 17:11-12). Entering with trust into Jesus’ prayer to the Father, we want to learn from him and, with firm resolve, to begin this time of prayer, silence and reflection, of dialogue and communion, of listening and discernment. In this way, we will allow him to conform our hearts to his image and help us discover his will.

On this path we are not alone. From the beginning, Mary accompanied and sustained the community of the disciples. By her maternal presence she helped the community not to lose its bearings by breaking up into closed groups or by thinking that it could save itself. She protected the community of the disciples from the spiritual isolation that leads to self-centeredness. By her faith, she helped them to persevere amid perplexity, trusting that God’s light would come. We ask her to keep us united and persevering as on the day of Pentecost, so that the Spirit will be poured forth into our hearts and help us in every time and place to bear witness to the resurrection.

Dear brothers, with these thoughts I am one with you during these days of spiritual retreat. I am praying for you; please do the same for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady watch over you.

Fraternally,

FRANCIS

Vatican City, 1st January 2019

 

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