Do We Believe?

Homily, Easter Sunday

Good morning and Happy Easter! This has already been a very special Easter for me and I’ve felt particularly close to Jesus this year. I wish I could say that it’s because this is the first Easter that I’ve celebrated as a priest, but I think it has more to do with this being my first Easter having a beard like Jesus. Whatever the case may be, whether because of the snow or anything else, I hope that this is a memorable Easter for all of us, and that we are able to feel close to Jesus and to hear him calling our name with great love.

At Easter, we go back to the basics. We renew our baptismal promises. We profess our faith in the Good News that the first Apostles proclaimed, that Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, never to die again but to live forever the new life offered to each one of us through baptism. We recommit ourselves as Christians, as followers of Christ, as believers in the power of God to bring life out of death, light out of darkness, to bring holiness and justice out of our sins and disorders and tragedies of this earthly life. Do we believe? Do we believe and rely on the power of God? Does the faith we profess make a difference in our lives? Do we live differently as Catholic Christians in the world? 

I know for me, even as a priest, I often find myself just trying to do everything on my own strength, according to my will and my limited understanding. I find myself trying to solve people’s problems and my own problems through my own ingenuity or hard work, instead of really believing in the power of God to transform hearts and minds, to work miracles in people’s lives and in my life. May God grant us the grace today to respond with true and living faith to the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, that even as Peter and John “saw and believed” at the empty tomb, even though they did not yet fully understand, may we persevere in knowing God’s unending love for us even when we don’t understand the difficulties that we face. In good times and in bad, may Christ and his Resurrection be our one true hope. The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. 

The Father’s Love

Homily, Lenten Sunday 4C

As I’ve mentioned before, my family and I have always thought of ourselves as being very German. And for the most part, we like to be on time, we like to be organized, and we like to work. Now I’ve always loved my family very much, and I’m very proud to be among them, but it wasn’t always easy. Being very German, we don’t necessarily like to talk very much, especially about our feelings. And my dad, in particular, can be a very quiet man. He wouldn’t necessarily say the words, “I love you,” very often because that just wasn’t his way. I think there were times when I was younger that he seemed distant to me. But as I grew up, I started to understand and notice how my dad really expressed his love for us in his actions. 

There were nine of us kids at home, and I’m the youngest, and I’m sure my parents had to work very hard to keep us well-fed, and dressed, and to buy us plenty of Christmas and birthday presents. They also taught us the value of hard work with paper routes, mowing lawns, and shoveling snow, which I’m more grateful for now than I was at the time. And they always encouraged us to do our very best in school and in everything we did. But the most striking memories for me when it comes to my dad, and what I find most expressive of his love for us, were the times when he would get a call from one of us and hear that we were in trouble, that the car had broken down, or that we’d been in an accident. He would drop everything and drive any distance to make sure that we were safe, and to bring us home. When I would see my dad go to such great lengths for us in these and in many other situations, I couldn’t doubt that my dad loved us very much and that he loved me.

Jesus became man to reveal God to us as our loving Father. Are we able to experience the love and protection of our heavenly Father, or does he still seem distant to us? How often do we pray to God the Father in our personal prayer? None of our human fathers are perfect, so it can be a real challenge for many of us to experience how God is our Father and how infinitely he loves us. My experience of my dad’s love for me does give me a starting point for experiencing the love of God the Father, and the parable in today’s Gospel is meant to lead us all into the Father’s love.

We often call this the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the purpose of the parable is more to reveal the mercy and love of the father of the two sons, the father who spends every spare moment watching the horizon for any sign of his younger son’s return, so that “while he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion” and “ran to his son.” The father who “must celebrate and rejoice” now that he has his son back home, safe and sound. The same father who comes out to plead with his elder son to enter the feast, and who tells him with great love, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” These images and expressions are only the faintest glimpse of God the Father’s incomprehensible love and infinite desire for each one of us. 

You see, it makes very little difference to God how we ended up in the mess that we’re in, how we came to be lost or in trouble, whether we decided to jump in the mud ourselves or whether we just slipped and fell. Like the best of parents, his only concern is to get us cleaned up, and when we are ill, to get us healthy again. So whether we’ve sinned against him or simply hold onto our pride, or whatever has befallen us, his one concern is to bring us home to himself, safe and sound, and he will not rest until he has done so. He will stop at nothing to rescue us even from death itself.

This is the love that God the Father has for each and every one of us, a love that will not rest until we are reunited with him in his unending life. When we start to really experience this love and to desire it, that’s what changes our hearts. That’s what makes sin lose its power over us. We should remind ourselves often, that before God asks anything from us, he desires to give of himself and say to us, “You are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” What is our response to his invitation? Will we return to the Father’s house? Will we enter finally into the feast? 

Expanding Our Viewpoint

Bulletin Letter, Lenten Sunday 4C

One thing that all my classmates in Rome noticed about going to Mass in Italy is that the Italians don’t go up for Communion the same way as Americans. I don’t think it even occurred to most of us that there could be any other way but to proceed up, row by row, in an orderly fashion. With the pew arrangements we have now at Holy Spirit, it has been interesting for me to try to figure out how the ushers have been directing traffic, and the auditorium in Harrisburg has definitely presented some challenges of its own, but Mass in Italy tends to be on a whole ’nother level.

In many parts of Italy, as the priest consumes the host, people start to make their way to the front from any and all parts of the church. So whether the person was seated in the front, back, somewhere in between, or if they had just been walking around in the church until Communion time, everyone proceeds up for Communion pretty much whenever they feel like it, and if you’re not proactive, you might be the last one to receive even though you sat in the front row. Some people are more critical of this method, but I appreciate that it makes it less obvious for those who choose to abstain from Holy Communion, and it doesn’t pressure people into going forward when they would rather stay in their seat. I don’t think this method would work very well here at Holy Spirit with our floor plan and long pews, but I have at least come to appreciate that the way we’ve always done things is not necessarily the only way possible, or the best possible in every respect.

But we don’t even have to visit another country to have our own way of doing things challenged. Most of us need look no farther than the next person that we see. How do we react when we meet someone who has viewpoints or ways different from our own? I’m often tempted to think, “If only everyone were as intelligent, efficient, and reasonable as I am, the world would be so much better; and no one would ever disagree with me, because I’m right after all.” But each of us has a limited vision of things, and we can benefit greatly by keeping an open mind and actually learning from the viewpoint of our neighbor. Kathy T. has often said, after it becomes apparent just how ‘different’ the members of our Holy Spirit staff are, “Isn’t it great that the good Lord made us all different? Just think how boring the world would be if everyone were exactly the same.” And the Lord himself reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

If we are to grow, if our vision of reality is to expand, and if we are to come closer to the Lord’s perspective on things, we need to have our own views and ways of doing things challenged from time to time. May God give each one of us the patience and docility to truly learn from one another and to let our differences be opportunities for growth and mutual help.