Living for Eternity

Homily, Funeral

On behalf of the other priests and the rest of the parish, I’d like to extend our condolences to the family and friends of N.. Be assured of our prayers for you and for the repose of her soul. One of the great consolations of our Catholic faith is to know that N. and all our deceased loved ones can still benefit from our prayers. Our relationship with them continues in a very important way. I wear violet vestments today, the same color that we use during the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent, as a reminder that we are called to offer prayers, fasting, and penance on behalf of N., as an expression of love and gratitude to her and to God, so that any imperfections, any sin that still clings to her, would be wiped away and healed. During this past year, I’ve very frequently seen the name of N.’s sister in our bulletin, having Masses offered for the repose of her soul. What a great practice. There’s nothing more powerful than the perfect Sacrifice of Christ Himself, offered at each and every Mass. I hope that you’ll continue to pray for N. and have Masses offered for her in the weeks and months ahead.

One thing I definitely have in common with N. is her love for words. Now, I don’t play Scrabble very much, I’ve played a bit more Bananagrams, but I’ve always loved words, word puzzles, and languages. And I’ve always found it interesting that one of main titles or names that we use for Jesus is the Word of God, the Eternal Word that became Flesh, the One who gives visible expression and perfect revelation of the invisible God. In life, and at the end of our lives, its our relationship with this One Word of God that’s going to matter most. Whether we were materially rich or poor, successful or largely failures, our relationship with Christ will be the one thing that matters in the end. Jesus tells us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus lays down His life for us on the Cross, so that we can live, no longer for ourselves but for Him.

One of the considerations in my own vocation to the priesthood, ever since I was a kid (and most of you probably still think I look like a kid), but for a long time I kind of surveyed different things I could do. Did I just want to get a good job to make money, to buy stuff, and live a comfortable life? Was that the best I could hope for? The most that the world had to offer me? Or could I work for something else, something greater? Not just for food that passes away but for the Food that lasts to eternal life? Not just for words that could ring in people’s ears for a time, but for the Eternal Word that could live in their hearts forever?

A lot of people today tend to think and talk about heaven as if it is just some generic form of happiness, some comfortable country club in the sky, but it’s not. Heaven is seeing God Himself face to face. And there’s nothing that could ever be boring about that. There’s nothing more beautiful, more infinitely and inexhaustibly interesting than God Himself. That’s what heaven is. There isn’t a separate heaven for people who just aren’t really into all that God stuff. Now the question for us, and for every human person, the question of every human life, is how are we preparing ourselves today and every day of our lives for where we want to be spending eternity? I’m convinced that God will give us what we truly desire at the end of our lives. He will give drink to the thirsty. But do we thirst for Him? If we can’t bother to pray every day, to talk with God and try to listen to Him, if we don’t give much effort to going to church on Sundays, to witness the one perfect Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, if we don’t bother to spend much time with God during this life, what makes us think that we’ll actually desire to spend an eternity with God at the end of our lives?

Life is short. 88 years is short, in view of eternity. We thank God for the life and blessings that He gave to N., for her great smile and kindness that she shared with so many. We continue to pray that she’ll soon be enjoying the fullness of God’s heavenly kingdom. And we pray that God gives each of us the grace to use well the time entrusted to us. That God would help us all to desire more than just the passing things that the world offers us. We pray that even today, we can start to live for eternity.

In the Darkness of a Tomb

Homily, Easter Sunday

One of the great privileges I experience being a priest is that people are very willing to talk to me about their spiritual lives. Even someone I’m meeting for the very first time will often ask me about prayer, about faith, the Church’s sacraments, and our relationship with God. And a lot of the time, I hear very similar things from a wide variety of people. Things like: “Father, I pray, but I don’t feel anything. It doesn’t seem like anything’s happening or that it does any good. I’ve gone on retreats and mission trips, I’ve tried using the Scriptures to pray, but still, I don’t feel anything. I try to follow God’s commandments and the Church’s teachings, but I’m not sure if it’s making any real difference.” On this Easter morning, it’s good for us to recall that the most significant event in the history of the universe was felt by no one. The moment that changed the world for all time and finally revealed that in Jesus Christ, we can live forever, the event of the Resurrection was seen and witnessed by no one. It happened in the darkness of a tomb. Jesus alone. None of the disciples, none of the women who followed Jesus from Galilee, were there to see it. When the first Man rose from the dead never to die again, it was felt by no one else. Everyone missed it. So what do we do?

We do the same as those first disciples. We encounter the Risen Christ in mystery, seemingly in disguise, like the Gardener that Mary Magdalene meets, like the Stranger walking the road to Emmaus, like the Man on the seashore of Galilee. We encounter the Risen Christ upon this altar, in this tabernacle, in the Sacrament that He Himself entrusted to us at the Last Supper as His abiding Presence, under the humble appearances of bread and wine. It takes real faith, not just a fascination with signs and wonders. We are called to encounter the Risen Christ on the streets of this city, disguised as a poor man asking for our help. We are to learn to see the Risen Christ in our neighbors and family members, especially those whom we find the most difficult for us to love. And we discover the Risen Christ in ourselves, when we find ourselves able to love in the way that Jesus loves us: to forgive and to do good, even to love those who hate us, to have patience with those who annoy us to no end, to give, without wanting anything for ourselves in return.

And as we encounter the Risen Christ in the silence of prayer, in the sacraments, the sacred mysteries of His Church, in the works of mercy done for those in need, we too become witnesses to His Resurrection for the rest of the world today, even as his first disciples carried His Name to all the ends of the earth. The precise beginning of the Resurrection of Christ was experienced by Jesus alone in the darkness of the tomb, felt by no one else, but the power of His Resurrection and His Presence has continued down to our very own day. In faith, we need to keep our eyes wide open, to the realities and opportunities that we encounter each and every day, to the Risen Christ revealing Himself in our midst. “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). In baptism, we have been enlightened by Christ. Jesus gives us eyes for seeing and ears for hearing, what we might otherwise gloss over and miss out on. We are to walk always as children of the light, whether we feel like it on any given day, or not. Jesus offers us meaning, purpose, fulfillment, eternal life. How much longer shall we continue to wander in the darkness, looking for life apart from Him? Jesus is the only Way.

Missing Jesus

Homily, Good Friday

I’ve mentioned before that I come from a big family. I’m the youngest of nine kids. And as you might imagine, things weren’t always neat and tidy. But that’s also one of the great joys of having so many siblings. They definitely keep life interesting and help each other to grow in many ways. But with so many, it’s not always noticeable right away when one of them is missing. One brother in particular was left behind at Grandma’s house on more than one occasion. I’m sure he didn’t mind too much. Grandma probably just fed him cookies until we came looking for him. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but that’s only true when that absence is noticed and felt. There’s nothing worse than getting back from a long trip and asking someone, “Well, did you miss me?” only to hear the reply, “What, were you gone?”

When I was in seminary, one of the priests on staff would always say something that at first I thought was kind of strange, but I’ve learned to appreciate it more and more over the years. He told us to make sure that during these days of the Easter Triduum, we take some time to pray in the church in front of the bare altar, and the empty tabernacle. To notice that absence and allow ourselves to feel it. When we came into the Cathedral today, did we notice these things? Or did we just genuflect, like we always do, and go into our pew?

Do we take these things for granted? Well, we’ll always have priests to say Mass for us. Will we? Jesus will always be there in the tabernacle waiting for us. We like to believe that, but the reality is that to continue having priests, to continue having the sacraments available, especially to continue having Jesus in His Body and Blood upon our altars and in our tabernacles, someone—not just someone else—someone needs to answer that call from God to follow Jesus in that way.

As we continue to contemplate the Lord’s Passion, His death, His burial, don’t let the anticipation of Easter cause you to miss out on these graces of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, when we notice it, when we allow ourselves to feel it. Experiencing absence helps us to not take for granted or just gloss over the immeasurable, constant blessings that God bestows on us. As we pray at this bare altar, in front of this empty tabernacle, let’s pray for vocations, for many holy priests. Let’s no longer take for granted the greatest Gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. The Blessed Mother and the disciples were overwhelmed with sorrow as the Body of Jesus was sealed in the tomb. Many of them wondered, would they ever hear His voice again? Would they ever see His Face, just one more time? Let their sorrow touch our hardened hearts. Let their love for Jesus move us to always live for Him.