The Old Switcheroo

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 26C

If you’ve ever spent much time in a larger city, you’ve probably seen people begging on the streets. Very often for people visiting Rome, seeing beggars on a regular basis is a new experience. But even here in Sioux Falls, I’ve heard that the Bishop Dudley House and St. Vincent de Paul Society have revealed a level of poverty that many of us are unaware of, so close to home. For most of us who have a roof over our heads, food to eat every day, more than one set of clothing, and access to medical care, it’s easy to see that we have much more in common with the unnamed rich man in today’s Gospel rather than with the poor man Lazarus. It might be that the Gospel doesn’t give a name to the rich man precisely because it could be any one of us. If you aren’t challenged by today’s Gospel, then you probably weren’t listening very closely. 

When both Lazarus and the rich man die, they essentially trade places, receiving in the afterlife the opposite of what they had received during their life on earth. And it doesn’t say that Lazarus did anything really great to deserve this or that the rich man did anything extraordinarily bad. After they die, Abraham simply says to the rich man, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.” This reversal is a common theme in the Scriptures. God comforts the afflicted but afflicts those who are comfortable and complacent. St. Luke includes with the Beatitudes of Christ the Woes that He pronounces as well, among them, “Woe to you who are rich now, for you have received your consolation.” If God gave us the same offer of reversal at the end of our lives, where do you think most of us would end up? In this life, are we among those who enjoy their wealth, who dine sumptuously and have lots of expensive clothing, and all the latest gadgets and toys? Or are we among the poor and afflicted ones of the earth, waiting for the salvation of our God?

How do we live differently as Christians in today’s world? Do we live differently? If someone from the outside would look at what we own, how we spend our money, the vacations we take, the things that we throw away, would they be able to tell that we are followers of the poor man, Jesus of Nazareth? What difference, concretely, does the Gospel make in our lives, in our desires for the latest and greatest, in our frenzy to keep up appearances, or in our efforts at self-denial? Do we include God in the conversation about what we really need and what we want, about our next purchase and whether God might be aware of more pressing needs at our doorstep that we have overlooked? 

During Lent, most of us practice self-denial to some extent, but during the rest of the year, what are we doing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Christ? Many are not aware of this, but every Friday, throughout the year, Catholics are still required to practice some sort of self-denial or penance, to offer some sacrifice in honor of Christ, who suffered and died on a Friday. It doesn’t have to be abstaining from meat anymore, as it still is during Lent, but each and every Friday we should be doing something to conform our lives to the Cross of Christ. Just as every Sunday throughout the year is a little Easter as we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, so also every Friday is to be a little Lent as we unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ. 

So what is God calling us to do, to simplify our lives, to rid ourselves of the excess so that we can more readily help those in genuine need, to be less indulgent when it comes to our food, drink, wardrobe, recreation and technology, to conform ourselves to the mystery of the Cross and the poor man from Nazareth? May God do whatever it takes to shake us from our complacency before we face Him in judgment, and give us the grace to deny ourselves so that we will be able to indulge our brothers and sisters in need, that when God casts down the mighty and lifts up the lowly at the end of time, we may be among those He raises on high.  

Our Unshakable Refuge

Bulletin Article, Ordinary Time Sunday 26C

When all your plans are falling apart and nothing in life seems to be going your way, what is your unshakable foundation? When all the world around you is spinning out of control and acts of terror and senseless violence surround us on every side, where can we find peace? As I was growing up, I found the answer to these questions in a small chapel in my hometown of Elk Point. I was kind of amazed one day to discover that no matter what was going on in my life, no matter what changes or challenges or tragedies, one thing always remained the same through it all. One Person was always there for me, in exactly the same place, waiting for me. 

Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” stood out to me as a Beacon of hope in every tabernacle of every church throughout the world (Hebrews 13:8). The faint red glow of every sanctuary lamp stood out as the solitary light in the midst of this world of darkness. And as long as there would be priests to offer the one sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus would be there, waiting for each one of us, wanting to be our peace and our hope in the midst of a troubled world. I’m not sure if this realization is a part of every vocation to the priesthood, but as I knelt in that small chapel in Elk Point, I knew that there would be nothing else more worthwhile than for my life to become another link in that chain, “so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered” and another generation of the Church may enjoy the light of His Eucharistic Presence (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer III). 

Here at Holy Spirit, we have the great privilege of a chapel dedicated to Eucharistic exposition, so that at any time, day or night, we can meet with the One who awaits us and look upon the Host offered for our salvation. With this privilege comes a responsibility. The instinct in the Church has always been that we should never leave unattended Jesus exposed in the Blessed Sacrament, even briefly, that there should always be in the Adoration Chapel at least one person watching, adoring, and guarding this most valuable Treasure. This weekend, we will be giving thanks for the great gift of our Adoration Chapel and making an appeal for a more generous response to be good stewards of this gift, to fill the hours that are still unattended (especially the daytime hours when the door of the chapel is unlocked) and to hold each other accountable, to be there when we say we’ll be there or to find someone to fill in for us. 

Val Whitney would like to remind us that the chapel is big enough for several people, so we can sign up for an hour even if there are already others signed up for the same hour. Even if you can’t commit to a weekly time, please stop in and make visits when you can, writing your name in the book at the back of the chapel so that we can track how many are there for each hour. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, 11). May we always find refuge in the Presence of our Savior. 

It’s the little things…

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 25C

During this past week, I registered to vote in the upcoming election. And I know what you’re thinking, it’s not because I just turned 18. Up till now, I was registered to vote in Union County down in Elk Point. Now, I live in a different county, and in many ways, I live in a very different world in these United States than just ten years ago. On the other hand, many things seem to have stayed the same in the world of politics. Confusion, polarization, manipulation and resentment may be more apparent today, but I think these tendencies have always been there, even as we heard about the dishonest steward in today’s Gospel. I wish I could tell you exactly what you should do, politically, as a Catholic in today’s world. Who should you vote for in November? Who should you not vote for? Who can you trust to actually follow through on their promises? These are difficult questions, and as you know, the answers seem to be able to change from day to day. With St. Paul in our second reading, perhaps the only thing I can do with confidence is “ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

In the New Testament, I don’t see St. Peter or St. Paul or the other Apostles, or even Jesus Himself, concerning themselves in their preaching with the politics of their day. And I don’t think it was just to maintain their tax-exempt status, which they didn’t have, or because they didn’t vote. Jesus, knowing even the secrets of all hearts, could definitely have pointed out to the people someone He knew they could trust and follow, but He never presents them with a political candidate. Instead, Jesus continually confronts us with our freedom and our own responsibility.

Jesus concerns Himself with the human heart. He knows that for the big things to be in conformity with His Father’s will, to have the laws and structures of society reflect the truth that sets us free, first, we need to be faithful in the little things. Our own hearts need to be transformed before our culture will follow suit. “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” Our national politics have come to where they are today because, as a nation, we have lost sight of this principle. Where do we look for the solution to the problems in our country? If we wait for the federal government, the great ones, to solve our small matters, I doubt that we’ll see any lasting results.

God is not so concerned with the laws of our country as he is with the decisions that you and I will make today, whether we ourselves will live according to the truth and treat those around us with patience, mercy, and generosity. Even before Roe v. Wade is overturned, we can take actions to foster a culture of life, to support someone who has an unexpected pregnancy, to welcome someone who feels like an outsider, to show unconditional love and concern to someone who sees himself as a burden. We are in desperate need of more Saints today, not more politicians or social engineers.

Now, I’m definitely not suggesting that we give up on the political process. I hope everyone who can, will vote in this year’s election, and I urge you to take seriously this responsibility, to weigh your options and make an informed choice, but I’m not qualified to make that choice for you or to tell you which candidates would have our country’s best interests at heart or the character necessary to bring about the changes we need in our government. Regardless of the results of the election, though, I am more concerned, and I believe God is more concerned, that we, as Catholics, make decisions in our day to day lives that reflect the Truth of Jesus Christ, the truth that still has the power to transform the people and the culture around us every day. The one who is trustworthy in the little things is trustworthy also with greater responsibilities. May God, in this Eucharist, transform the hearts of everyone here, and the hearts of our leaders, that we might, in turn, transform the world around us for the better.

The Difference of One

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 24C

I was going to read the very long version of this Gospel, which includes the Parable of the Prodigal Son, until I realized that we already had that Gospel earlier this year, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent at the beginning of March. I don’t really remember that, but I figured it out after searching my past homilies. Anyway, today we have the lost sheep and the lost coin. Now I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time understanding why a shepherd would leave his 99 good sheep in the wilderness to go looking for one wandering sheep. What difference can one sheep make? Not being a shepherd, every sheep looks the same to me. 

But for the shepherd, who raises and watches each of his sheep from its birth, who constantly lives among them, day and night, cares for them and probably talks to them in the wilderness, he’s not missing just one more sheep. He’s missing Todd or Hank, or whatever name he gave to that sheep. Jesus says that the Good Shepherd knows and calls each of his sheep by name. A shepherd’s sheep are like his own children. Now can you imagine trying to remember the names of all 100 sheep? My parents only had nine children and would mix up our names from time to time. I have a brother next to me in age named Justin, so before I was Father Darin, my mother often called me “Just-Darin.”

In each of our other readings today, we hear about a wandering sheep that God looked for and found. Moses had murdered an Egyptian and fled into the wilderness for many years before hearing God’s voice from the burning bush. Moses was already an old man, almost eighty years old, by the time he really answered God’s call in his life. What difference can one sheep make? In our first reading, Moses, this wandering sheep, ends up saving the entire people of Israel by reminding God of His steadfast mercy and the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God wanted Moses at the head of his people to remind them of who God really is, “The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity” (Exodus 34:6).

In our second reading, St. Paul talks about his wanderings, how he persecuted the Church of God and put to death many Christians, before God was able to reach him on the road to Damascus. St. Paul tells us, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience.” What difference can one sheep make? This one wandering sheep who considered himself the worst of all sinners and undeserving of the title of Apostle, St. Paul becomes the most influential Apostle in the Church, through his missionary journeys and the many letters that become part of the New Testament. The message he bears as the Apostle to the nations changes the world forever.

Even when we wander from the flock, God is calling our name and seeking us out. He wants us to live as his children, and He rejoices to bring us home to live with Him. He has entrusted to each one of us a unique mission and vocation that we can only accomplish by His mercy and grace. So what difference can one sheep make? All the difference in the world if, like Moses and St. Paul, we rely on God’s help. How is God calling us to respond to His mercy? How is God calling you and me today to make a difference in the world?