More than We Could Ever Need

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 2C

Anyone who has been involved in a wedding can start to appreciate just how much work and planning goes into an event that lasts only a few hours. Arrangements need to be made for the church, the reception hall, the invitations, RSVPs, the photographer, the music, the suits and dresses, the flowers, table arrangements, and the rings, just to name a few things. Now weddings in the time of Jesus were a little different from what they are today. For one thing, instead of lasting a few hours, the wedding reception would typically last for seven days. Now think of the planning and preparation that would be involved in throwing a party that would last a week. I, for one, would not want to be in charge. Still, those were probably simpler times in other ways. At least there were no photographers or rings.

And in today’s Gospel, Mary and Jesus point out what was thought to make for a great wedding feast in their day, namely, lots and lots of good wine. If you do the math of the wine that Jesus makes after the original supply runs out, Jesus gives them between 120 and 180 gallons of wine. Now that’s quite the open bar. Jesus makes sure that they would not run out again. But the abundance of wine at the wedding feast was not just for the guests to have a good time. The wine is symbolic, as John the Evangelist tells us, the first of the signs that Jesus performed, a sign of the abundance of all God’s blessings, that God doesn’t just give us enough to get by, but if we’re really willing to turn to Him and follow His ways, He gives us more than we would ever need. The first of the miracles of Jesus shows us that even when our human limitations result in failure and embarrassment, God’s abundance can transform us and open us up to new possibilities.

One of my favorite class sessions of all time was in my course in Rome on Social Justice. We had a guest speaker one day to talk about economics. Most striking to me was a consideration of our starting point and perspective. Too often we start from a perspective of scarcity, that resources are limited, and therefore, we need to stake our claim and carve out our own share of the world’s wealth if we want to be successful in today’s economy. Competition becomes the driving force, and eliminating the competition ensures our continued survival and success. But this is not really the Christian perspective.

As Christians, we begin from the perspective, not of scarcity, but of abundance, the abundance of God’s gift of creation and how it is able to be renewed. How new life can spring up even from the ashes of what seemed lost to us, like new saplings sprouting after a forest fire. And beyond the merely material, the Spirit of God moves in various ways, to open up new possibilities, as we heard in our second reading, from first Corinthians. Since we start from this perspective of the abundance of God’s gifts, competition serves a secondary role. Cooperation and mutual understanding are more important than competition. Instead of manipulating the consumer to desire and to purchase something he doesn’t really need, the best businesses strive to actually understand and think creatively about how to provide for the genuine needs and desires of the people they are called to serve in today’s economy.

In our relationship with God, and with family members, friends, and those we meet every day, what is our starting point? What sort of economics of relationship do we have? Do we begin from the perspective of scarcity and competition, envious and possessive of time and attention? Or are we really able to give of ourselves with generosity and cooperation, the way that God gives? Not giving just enough to get by, not rationing our love by weight and measure, but giving freely from an abundance? Do we have confidence that God has ways of supplying what we truly need so that the wine will not run short?

If we are willing, like our Mother Mary, to be attentive to the needs of those around us, if we are willing with her to bring our petitions to Jesus, to think creatively and cooperatively with Jesus and with one another about the problems that we face, if we are willing, as Mary instructs the servants at the wedding feast, to actually “do whatever he tells” us, then Jesus is still willing and able to bring new wine from our dirty water, to bring God’s abundance out of our human limitations, to bring life even out of death and love even out of hatred and terror. May the Lord who transformed water into wine, and who continues to transform bread and wine into his own Body and Blood, transform our hearts into His own, so that we will have all confidence to give of ourselves freely, back to God and to all who are in need.

Catholic Calisthenics

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 2C

One thing that tends to be rather noticeable to non-Catholic visitors at Mass is just how often we stand, sit, kneel, and stand. But this really should not be surprising to anyone who reads the Gospel carefully. Hearing of Jesus approaching, people frequently stand up and prepare themselves to meet the Lord. After healing the lame or the sick, Jesus often tells them to stand. It’s not surprising, then, that we stand at various parts of the Mass. We stand to greet the Lord who speaks and draws near to us through the words of His Gospel, through the prayers of His Church, and in the ministry of His deacons and priests.

One time that Jesus has the crowds sit is when He feeds them by multiplying the loaves and fish. But “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Besides the Gospel, God feeds us with the other words of Scripture, from the Old Testament, with Psalms, and from the rest of the New Testament. We sit during these first readings at Mass and during the homily to be receptive to the words that come from our heavenly Father. Even as He fed His people in the wilderness with bread from heaven, He still seeks to nourish and free us with His truth.

Those who draw closest to Jesus in the Gospel are frequently found kneeling before Him, begging forgiveness and healing, giving thanks to Him with grateful hearts, and worshipping Him as their Lord and God. We kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer and during Holy Communion when Jesus draws closest, in the very substance of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Not everyone has full use of all their joints, so it’s not always possible for everyone to adopt the same posture at Mass. More important than an external uniformity is that we are united in the internal dispositions of gratitude, adoration, and openness to God. When receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion, we may do so while standing or kneeling.

People often ask about what posture we should adopt after receiving Communion. During the period of silence, the Missal says that we may sit or kneel, but a posture is not specified for the post-Communion hymn. I have taken to remain standing to sing, since this is the usual posture for singing hymns in other parts of the liturgy, and because we will soon be standing for the closing prayer and blessing anyway. If the choir alone is singing something, I’m more likely to sit, but Rome gave a ruling back in 2003 that the mind of the Church in these instructions “is intended, on the one hand, to ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of Holy Mass, and on the other, to not regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free.” So be free. You may sit or kneel after Communion, or even stand for the hymn, as there shouldn’t be much concern for blocking anyone’s view at that point.

As spiritual and physical beings, our posture can be a helpful reminder to focus and offer even our bodies in worship of God. “Stand and raise your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).

Comfortable in Our Skin

Homily, Baptism of the Lord C

There is nothing in the life and experience of Jesus that was for His own sake, but, as we profess in the Creed every Sunday, “for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven… and became man.” It’s similar to the fact that no one becomes a priest for his own sake. A priest can’t anoint himself when he’s in danger of death, not just because he might not be healthy enough to do so, but because he can’t be both the giver and the receiver of the sacrament. And he still has to go to another priest to have his Confession heard and to be absolved from his sins. A priest is a priest for others.

Even more so, the Son of God received no benefit for Himself in taking flesh and becoming man. It was all to fulfill our need, to make up for what is lacking in us. His life in the home of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth teaches us the importance of our own families and becomes a source of blessing for every household. His work in the carpenter’s shop shows us the great dignity of human labor in having the Son of God Himself as our coworker. And today, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, being without any sin, Jesus definitely didn’t have any need for a baptism of repentance. He is baptized for our sake, as a sign and reminder of the graces of our own baptism.

The One who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the immaculate womb of the Virgin Mary was obviously never without the Holy Spirit at any moment of His life, but here at Jesus’ Baptism, the Holy Spirit comes down in bodily form to dwell in power in the humanity of Christ so that the power of God might be manifested even through the touch of His hands, through the spit of His mouth which Jesus will also use to heal, even through the hem or tassel of His garment. This is the same Holy Spirit that comes to sanctify and to dwell within us at our baptism, in all the reality and earthiness of our humanity, in our flesh, in our spit, in our existence as bodily creatures.

Lots of people are kind of weirded out by a lot of really Catholic stuff, relics and statues and holy images, genuflections, holy water and the sign of the cross, incense, bells, etc. The sacraments and liturgy of the Church often appeal to our bodily senses because we’re not just immaterial minds trapped in the prison of the body. We are a union of body and soul. Our very flesh is meant to help us on the road to salvation. When we genuflect or kneel or stand, these are bodily reminders that say, “Hey, there’s something important going on here. There’s Someone important who is making Himself present to me, so I need to be present to Him.” When our eyes start to wander and see the beauty of this Cathedral or the images of the holy men and women depicted in our stained-glass windows, these are visual reminders that direct our focus back to God, the One to whom the Saints dedicated their lives.

God is not afraid of our flesh. He came to redeem it. And the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. And Jesus Christ continues to give His own Flesh and Blood as the nourishment that leads us to everlasting life. The mystery of the Lord’s Baptism is the mystery that God embraces all that it means to be truly human. He wants to be with us, in our very flesh. Even from our earliest days, before we’re able to do anything in response, God says to us at our baptism, You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. “With you I am well pleased.” Do we still believe that God says that to each of us today? Do we still believe that God has power to wash, cleanse, heal, and free us from anything that is unworthy of Him? He does have the power to sanctify us completely, and He desires our holiness more than we ever could, not for any advantage of His own, but all for your sake, all for your salvation in Christ.

Waste Your Life on Jesus

Homily, Epiphany

As we begin the new year 2019, many of us take the opportunity to look ahead and to mark on our calendars the significant events and celebrations of friends and family, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, but how often do we look forward to the celebrations we will share together as the family of God? Today, the light of God’s glory has been revealed to the nations, as the three magi arrive to adore the Christ Child and to see His Mother. That light and revelation of God will only increase throughout the year, as we celebrate the mystery of the Cross, the saving death of Christ, foreshadowed even today in the gift of myrrh, and as the overwhelming light of the Resurrection dawns upon us, to scatter all darkness and to destroy sin and death forever.

God has big plans for us this year, if we are willing to spend it with Him, if we strive to place Jesus at the center of our families, at the center of marriages, at the center of all that we do in school, at work, in our free time. Jesus is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and He wants to be with us always. Do we welcome Him? Or does Jesus take a back seat to so many other things in our lives? Do we fill our schedules only to give God what is left over, if there is anything left? At the bidding of a star, the three magi uprooted their entire lives. They put all their other plans on hold, to walk hundreds of miles just for a chance to search for the newborn King of the Jews. How many miles would we be willing to walk for God? How many months or years of our lives would we be willing to give in search of Jesus?

In my own life, whether I realized it or not, I was always searching for Jesus. I had lots of interests. I was always an excellent student. I could have pursued pretty much any field of study or career, but I ultimately decided to waste my life on Jesus. Do you know why? It’s not because I thought it would be an easy life. It’s not even that I thought I could make much of a difference as a priest, although I probably thought so at one time. As the culture continues to shift away from God and as different scandals continue to break in parts of the Church, I fully expect to receive the hatred of the world in return for my service. So why am I still here? Why are you still sitting here on a Sunday morning? Why am I willing, even to waste my life in the priesthood? Only because Jesus Christ deserves it.

Jesus deserves everything. The One who gave everything on the Cross for our salvation, for my salvation, He deserves everything in return, whatever smallest good that I am able to accomplish by His grace, whatever small tribute we are able to lay at the feet of Him and His Mother. The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh over many miles to waste them on a Child too small to make any use of them. And Jesus still deserves more. How much are we willing to give Him? How much are we willing to waste on Jesus? He deserves more than just some time on Sunday. He deserves more than what is left over in our schedules and in our energies and resources. In 2019, how much more are you willing to waste on Jesus Christ?

Vader, Father of a Jedi; Mary, Mother of God

Homily, Mary, Mother of God

When I was in school, math always came easily to me. I come from a family of engineers. To give you some idea, all six of my brothers studied engineering of one kind or another, and my oldest sister is a high school math teacher, so I think it was something genetic that allowed us all to excel in mathematics. And I believe it was in Math class that I first heard about the transitive property or transitive relations. Now I realize that many people struggle with math, and hearing something like ‘transitive property’ might drudge up painful memories or just a general sense of confusion or hopelessness, and it’s probably still a little early after a late night of New Year’s parties to be talking about logic, but stay with me, and I’ll try to illustrate what I’m saying with simple examples.

Let’s use Star Wars as our first example. In one of the movies, we find out that Darth Vader is the father of Luke Skywalker. We also know that Luke Skywalker is a jedi. Therefore, Darth Vader is the father of a jedi. Now for those who aren’t as familiar with Star Wars, let’s take another example. As I mentioned before, my brothers are engineers, and my mother is also the mother of my brothers. Therefore, my mother is the mother of engineers. Make sense? That’s the transitive property at work. We use it all the time, without even thinking about it. We substitute ‘engineers’ in one sentence for ‘brothers’ in another statement, because we know that these two terms refer to the same individuals, that the brothers are engineers, so the mother has the same relationship to both.

Now the Solemnity that we celebrate today honors Mary with the title ‘Mother of God,’ but it also safeguards what we believe about Jesus Christ. This is why it’s always been difficult for me to understand why so many non-Catholics have a problem with this title of the Blessed Mother. If we believe Jesus is God, the Son of God, with the same divinity as God the Father or the Holy Spirit, if we believe that Jesus was truly God even at the time of his birth, and if Mary is the Mother of Jesus, then, quite logically, Mary is the Mother of God. Of course, we know that the divinity of Christ does not originate in Mary the way that His humanity does. As God, He has His origin from the Father from all eternity, before time began and before Mary even existed. But the Incarnation is real. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was really born from a human Mother. The eternal Son of God joined together in his one Divine Person His divinity and our humanity. The Incarnation is so real that whatever can be said of Jesus in His humanity can also be said of the Son of God, because ‘Jesus’ and ‘Son of God’ refer to the very same Person. So Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is also called Mother of God because Jesus is God.

This title is also Scriptural, because we find in Luke 1:43, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mother of my Lord. Who is Elizabeth calling “my Lord” if not the Lord of all, the God of Israel, believing that the Messiah would somehow be identical with God Himself, as we hear from St. Paul in the second reading, that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” of God. As we confess in the Creed, Jesus was true God and true man. That is why we honor Mary with the title Mother of God. That’s why we have confidence that God is so close to us, that he really shares in our humanity and raises it up in His divinity. In this Eucharist, He really feeds us with His Body and Blood so that He can also feed us from the fullness of His divine nature.

As we begin the year 2019, we pray for the resolution to recommit our lives to Christ, to share patiently even in the sufferings of His Cross so that we can share in the joy and fullness of his Resurrection. We pray for the logic of recognizing Christ for who He really is, Christ our Life and our Light, our Lord and our God, and the confidence to know that staying close to Mary, the Mother of God, will help us stay focused on Christ during this new year and to follow Him wherever He leads us. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.