Sunday, June 10, 2012

Corpus Christi 2012

Recently Queen Elizabeth II of England celebrated her diamond jubilee. That’s over 60 years as the Queen of England. She is one of the longest running British Monarchs in history. So it was a big deal in England. There were all kinds of events to mark the celebration. Maybe you saw some of it on TV or read about it in the paper? There was a giant procession down the Thames River with the Queen joined by over a thousand boats. Millions of people gathered on the riverbank to cheer for her. In the evening there was even a concert which included performances by Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John, as well as Stevie Wonder, and an appearance by the pop musician Will.I.Am who is a member of the band the Black Eyed Peas. Will.I.Am., who is famous for tweeting during important events, almost made a huge mistake by appearing with his cell phone before the Queen. This is a breech of protocol and etiquette. It is a major faux paux. And it got me to thinking, “What if I ever had the chance to meet the Queen? What would I need to know so that I wouldn’t offend Her Majesty?”
So I looked it up on the internet, and here’s what I found:

  1. Don’t speak unless spoken to.
  2. When addressing the Queen, say “Your Majesty”.
  3. Women should curtsey; Men should bow their heads.
  4. If the Queen offers you her hand, a slight touch is sufficient, you don’t need to squeeze her hand or shake it profusely.
  5. Allow the Queen to leave the room first.
  6. Never turn your back on the Queen.
  7. During meals, the Queen eats first and everyone stops eating when she stops.
  8. Eat what is served and do not request any more or less.
  9. Do not get up from the table, unless it is to go to the bathroom, and even then it is better to cross your legs and wait.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. As Catholics we believe that the bread and wine offered at Mass, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We say that it has been transubstantiated. That means that the substance of the bread and wine has been changed even through the accidents, or the appearances, of bread and wine remain. This is technical language. But what it means for us as Catholics is that Holy Communion is not ordinary bread and wine, nor is it merely a symbolic offering, but it actually, really and truly is the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Now whereas we may never meet Queen Elizabeth II, As Catholics we believe that every Sunday, we receive the Lord Jesus Christ himself in Holy Communion. And so that makes me think, “What kind of protocols should we follow? How should we come to Mass? What should we do when we receive Communion, so as not to offend the Lord, or look foolish, or cause scandal?”
For me, there are two fundamental principles we should keep in mind. They are the same principles that govern how we should act around Queen Elizabeth II or any royalty for that matter. The first is that we should recognize and respect the dignity of the one we are encountering. Going to Mass is not like going over to a friend’s house to watch a football game. Nor is it is like going grocery shopping, or running an errand. When we come to Mass we should be prepared to encounter Jesus, King of King, Lord of Lord, Maker of the Universe, God of all. And we ought to behave in a manner that reflects this reality.
Second, in this country we tend to act as if we are entitled to things. But think of Queen Elizabeth II, no one places demands on her. She is sovereign. If you were to meet her, it would be a gift. Same with Our Lord. He is Sovereign. He is the Creator of the Universe. What claim do we have on Him? Of what can we say we are “entitled”? If He should come to us, even under the appearance of Bread and Wine, then it is a gift. Never think for a moment that you are entitled or deserving of Communion. You are not. But because the Lord gives us His Body and Blood, the proper attitude therefore should be humility and thankfulness.
So just as there are protocols for meeting the Queen of England, here are some practical guidelines for receiving Christ, Our King, in Holy Communion:

You should prepare yourself for Mass: What you wear is important. You wouldn’t meet the Queen of England wearing street clothes or dressed for the beach. The ancient Church saw the Mass as the “Wedding Feast of the Lamb”. A bride wouldn’t go to a wedding dressed in sweatpants.

You should prepare yourself for Mass: Not just on the outside but also on the inside. If you are aware of any serious sins, go to confession.

Because you are to receive heavenly food, you should fast for at least 1 hour from regular food and drink before receiving Communion. Now, we don’t want people dying before Mass, so of course, you are allowed to take medication and drink water. But you shouldn’t stop by Dunkin Donuts on the way to Sunday Mass.

When you receive Communion, you are receiving the Lord Jesus himself. Therefore when you first approach the host or the cup, you should make a slight bow of the head.

When you receive Communion, you do not take the host; you do not grab the host; you humbly receive the host: either in the hand or on the tongue. If you are going to receive on the tongue, open your mouth and present your tongue, so that the priest knows you wish to receive that way, and so that he can easily give you communion. If you are going to receive communion in the hand, do it reverently, and with care so as not to drop the host. Use both hands. One hand placed under the other. St. Cyril of Jerusalem spoke of making a throne with your hands to receive the Lord. If you cannot use both hands, because you are carrying something, or someone, then receive on the tongue.

If you receive communion in the hand, consume the host immediately. Do not walk away with it. Do not take it back to your seat. Carefully and reverently place the host in your mouth.

If you have children, or are a guardian or caretaker, or you brought someone to Mass as a guest, then you are responsible for them at Communion time. It is your duty to prepare them and make sure they know what they are doing. It is the custom in our parish that people should cross their arms to signify they are not intending to receive communion. Parents, it is your responsibility to teach this to your children before Mass and to supervise them during Communion.

Finally, since we RECEIVE and not TAKE Communion, since we should receive Communion, not with a sense of entitlement, but in a spirit of humility and thankfulness, then it is appropriate after Communion to make an act of thanksgiving. If you just received the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, you SHOULD be in a hurry In hurry to get to the Chickadee? To the all you can eat Asian buffet? No. You should be in a hurry to either get down on your knees in thanksgiving for the gift you have received, or you should be in a hurry to fulfill your mission as Christians by following the Lord Jesus is selfless love. If these aren’t your aims, and it isn’t a medical emergency, then don’t be in such a hurry to leave Mass before the closing prayer.

So these are just a few thoughts on the Feast of Corpus Christi about receiving Holy Communion. One final thought, if I met Queen Elizabeth II, I think it would be a significant moment in my life. I think I’d want to tell other people about it. I think it would change my life. How much more so should the encounter with Jesus, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, change our lives? The Eucharist is often called the Sacrament of Charity. If you have received Communion in the past, has it changed you? Are you more charitable? Are you more faithful? My brothers and sisters, let us recommit ourselves this day to receiving the gift of Holy Communion reverently and fruitfully.  May our lives be changed, may our lives bear fruit, and may our lives bear witnesses to the greatness of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.

Trinity Sunday 2012

There’s a common motif in movies of the crazy old person who lives in the scary house at the edge of town. Maybe you can picture it in your mind: the old dilapidated house in need of a few coats of paint, the yard overrun with weeds, skeletons of old tools and appliances littering the front porch, maybe there’s a sign that reads “NO TRESSPASSING” or “STAY OUT”. In stories, neighborhood kids dare each other to ring the doorbell. Adults hold their breath when they drive past. Moms with strollers cross over to the other side of the road. And animals, rubber balls and model airplanes that go over the fence never return. Can you picture it in your mind? Well, there’s another part to these stories. It’s the kid who goes searching for the ball that went over the fence, or who, selling candy for school, or fulfilling a dare, actually rings the doorbell. What he discovers is that the old person isn’t scary, he’s just different, in fact he’s amazing, maybe brilliant, perhaps a genius or a great artist. In the stories the brave kid not only learns about the old person in the house but he usually becomes like family and usually receives some form of an inheritance at the end of the story: sometimes he gets the house, or maybe a small fortune, or the mastery of a skill or art.
My brothers and sisters, today we celebrate “Trinity Sunday”. This is the basic teaching about the Trinity: who-God-is in His innermost being is a communion of persons. God is a Trinity. He is a family. Furthermore, from Jesus Christ, the Second Person of this family, we learn that we, though creatures, have been invited into His family. That’s who-God-is. He is a family that invites others in.
Now, the Bible also tells us that human beings have been created in the image and likeness of our Creator who is Trinity. Thus, we image God best, not as isolated individuals, but as communities and families that are open to others. For instance, in Christian Marriage, if a husband and wife are united in love and their union is open to new life- to children- then it images the Trinity. On the other hand, if a marriage celebrates the union of love, but is not open to new life, it is not. You see, contraception disfigures the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God in marriage. Likewise, a Christian Community is a contradiction if it worships the Trinitarian God on Sunday, but then does not welcome and invite others in to the community.
For many people today, their image of the Church is like the scary old house at the edge of town with the crazy old man living in it. We fool ourselves if we think that everyday, neighborhood kids aren’t daring each other to run up and touch the door of our Church. There are people who even hold their breath when they drive by. And I’ve seen some people walking on the sidewalk cross to the other side of the street. Now maybe they have good reason to act this way. Ask yourself, what do outsiders see when they look at our Church? Do they see signs that communicate “NO TRESSPASSING” or “STAY OUT”? And if they have the courage to come in, what do they experience? Do they get mean looks? Do they hear “Welcome” or do they hear, “You’re sitting in my seat?” As an insider, I know there is a wonderful community here. And I think if people got to know us, they’d discover we are not so scary. Maybe we’re different. But there’s something amazing here. There’s a family. More than that, in this house we call our Church, at the head of our family, there is a “crazy old man”, the Trinitarian God, who longs to share his inheritance with us. And it would be wonderful if other people were given the opportunity to get to know Him.
Ok, so here’s an idea. Community is not a club, because a club is exclusive. Rather, community is inclusive. Community is defined by it’s openness to others. The mystery of the Trinity is that The Trinity is not a exclusive club, instead, a community that invites others in. The Good News of the Gospel is that God longs to share His divine life with us. And so our church community, modeled on the Trinity, needs to be the same. Not a club. Nor a self-enclosed or self-focused family. But a true family. A community of love and life that is open to children. A family that welcomes others in to become part of the family.
I think this is an excellent tool for evaluating all that we do as a church, or as families, or as individual Christians for that matter. In everything we do, ask yourself, “Are we being a club? Or are we being a community?” When a stranger appears in our midst, do I respond by word or by action, “STAY OUT!” “NO TRESSPASSING” or do I communicate “Welcome!” “Come In!” On this Trinity Sunday, let us ask the Lord to make us more truly a community in the image and likeness of the Triune God who is a family, a community of life and love, open to others, inviting others to discover WHO-GOD-IS.

Monday, October 24, 2011

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time: What God has joined no human being must separate

The Pharisee’s were always trying to trip up Jesus. In the Gospel today, they ask him, “which is the greatest commandment?” Of course at the time of Jesus, there were more than 600 prescriptions of the law including the 10 Commandments. Jesus answered the Pharisees by splicing together two passages from the Torah, the first from Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord you God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind” and the second from Leviticus 19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I’m reminded of another time the Pharisees tried to trick him and Jesus did something similar. Once they asked him if it was lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Jesus answered by quoting from the book of Genesis: from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ But then he added something curious. Jesus said, “What God has joined men must not divide.” Every time I officiate at a wedding, after the couple exchanges vows, I say these very words, “What God has joined men must not divide.”
These words have an immediate context within the debate concerning divorce, but I think they have a deeper, more spiritual meaning. Jesus answered the question about the greatest commandment by joining together two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. What God has joined we must not divide. In other words, you cannot love God if you don’t love your neighbor. St. John says in one of his letters, “the man who says he loves God but despises his neighbor is a liar and does not have the love of God in him.” Likewise, you cannot love your neighbor if you don’t love God.
The problem with the Pharisees was they had separated what God had joined. They tried to love God without loving their neighbor. And because of that, their claim to love God was suspect. By not loving their neighbor, the Pharisees demonstrated that really their observance of the law was not an act of true worship but rather of self-promotion. Instead of leading them to love of neighbor, their observance of the law led them to scorn others who failed to live up to their standards. Because they separated what God had joined, they failed in both.
Now today, there are some people who, like the Pharisees, suffer from self-righteousness and do not love their neighbor as Christ has instructed. But by and large, I don’t think this is the greatest fault. People are generally quite charitable. I see young people involved in many service projects. The Dempsey Challenge raised over 1 million dollars this year. And whether you agree with them or not, the fact that many people are involved in the Occupy Wall Street protest is a sign that people are concerned for justice and equality. It seems to me the problem today isn’t so much love of neighbor as it is love of God. If you separate what God has joined, you fail in both. Even with the best intentions.
Saturday October 22nd is the memorial feast of Blessed Pope John Paul II. I was privileged to attend the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto Canada. The Pope made a comment that I have always remembered. To the youth of the world, He said:

“Dear friends, Christ alone is the cornerstone on which it is possible solidly to build one’s existence. … The twentieth century often tried to do without that cornerstone, and attempted to build the city of man without reference to Him. It ended by actually building that city against man! Christians know that it is not possible to reject or ignore God without demeaning man.
The aspiration that humanity nurtures, amid countless injustices and sufferings, is the hope of a new civilization marked by freedom and peace. But for such an undertaking, a new generation of builders is needed. Moved not by fear or violence but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man.
Allow me, dear young people, to consign this hope of mine to you: you must be those "builders"! You are the men and women of tomorrow. The future is in your hearts and in your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in the building of the civilization of love.”

My brothers and sisters, Pope John Paul II reminded us that the “spirit of the world” offers many false illusions and parodies of happiness and that the greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibilities. Let us not separate what God has joined. Let us neither exclude God or our neighbor from our lives. Let us seek the justice and good we long for by loving the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul and mind and let us love our neighbor as ourselves. Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.

Monday, October 17, 2011

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Give to God what Belongs to God

( Listen to the recorded version. )

 What gives money its value? A $100 bill isn’t printed on a hundred dollars worth of paper. If I went to Home Depot and bought a washer the size of quarter it might cost me more than 25c. So what gives currency it’s value? In the Gospel, Jesus asks “Who’s image is on it?” The value comes from the one who mints it. The value comes from the one who backs it, who guarantees its value. A $100 bill is worth $100 because the State back it, secures it, and guarantees it- not because it is printed on $100 worth of paper.
In the Gospel today, Jesus is approached by the Pharisees and Herodians, the equivalents of the Democratic and Republican parties; Jesus is neither party. Both parties seek to trap him. But Jesus deftly maneuvers the political question of his day: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar?” Jesus’ answer, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; give to God what belongs to God.” He teaches two things. First, that as Christians we must not avoid civic responsibility. We must be involved in society. Second, more importantly, and this is the major point of the Gospel which is often lost, we need to give to God what belongs to God. We can’t avoid our religious obligations either.
So what does this mean for us today? We must give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and to God what belongs to God. I don’t know if you’ve been following a lot of the political goings on recently, if you have been aware of the arguments being heard by the supreme court, or the recent mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services with its extremely narrow religious exemption clause, but let me frame the challenge this way: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God, means don’t give Caesar what doesn’t belong to him. Don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God.
In the book of Genesis, it says God created man and woman in his own image and likeness. At the very beginning, mankind was created, minted, stamped with the very image and likeness of God. Like a quarter or $100, God’s image is stamped on us. And it is God who guarantee’s our value. He says “you are my beloved” and in Jesus, God shows us that he would rather die than risk loosing us for eternity. We are worth a lot to God. It is He who sets our value. God is the foundation of our human rights.
Human rights by nature are universal and eternal. They must be, because they come from God. And we expect them to be. We expect rights to be for everybody, and we expect them not to change or be capable of change, else they are not rights. Rights come from God. They come from our common human nature, created in the image of God. Rights are not the property of the State. The State does not have the “right” to issue rights. Only God can do that. The State’s responsibility is to recognize people’s God given dignity and to protect and promote human rights.
The problem is, if you take God out of the equation, human rights lose their foundation, they lose their guarantee. That’s why in the 20th century we’ve seen some of the greatest abuses occur in secular and atheistic societies. If there is “no God” or people pretend that God doesn’t exist, than its easy for the State to overstep it’s bounds . In Nazi Germany, the State defined an entire class of people “non-human”. It denied the dignity of the Jewish people, failed to recognize the image of God impressed on their souls, and instead stamped their own image on them, tattooed their arms and marched them off to death camps.
The question of give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God is the central issue today. It is what lies behind all the other issues: like health care rights, abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage. For instance, the problem with same-sex marriage isn’t really homosexuality. Our opposition to same-sex marriage has very little to do with homosexuality. It has more to do with marriage and the role of the State. Whereas the Church believes the State has a responsibility to recognize and defend the dignity of all homosexual persons, we do not believe the State has the right to redefine marriage. The right to marriage comes from our human nature, from our being created in the image and likeness of God. Marriage does not belong to the State. And we should not give to Caesar what doesn’t belong to Caesar. Otherwise it is very difficult to get it back. It may seem good now, and some people may benefit from the State’s interference in the short-term, but what’s to stop the State at in the future from asserting the authority we’ve ceded to it to deny people the right to marry because of their race or the color of their skin? What’s to stop the State from dissolving your marriage? Or telling you who you must marry.
Ok. I’m not a politician. I am your pastor. I will not tell you how to vote. But I will tell you what the Gospel says. The Gospel says that you cannot avoid being part of society. That you have a moral obligation to be involved. You must inform your conscience. You must know your faith. And you must participate in our civic society. Not too long ago your parents and grandparents were denied a voice in American society simply because they were Catholic. They worked hard and made many sacrifices to change that. We should not be politically apathetic.
Second, you must give to God what belongs to God. The only reason we are debating things like same-sex marriage and abortion today is because long ago Christians stopped giving to God what belongs to God. And that’s the challenge. The burden is not on others. The burden of responsibility is on us. We have to give to God what belongs to God: Life belongs to God. Marriage belongs to God. The problem is that too many Christians have give life and marriage to other things and embraced a culture of contraception and divorce.
You have a moral obligation to participate in society. For some of you that will mean becoming lawyers and lawmakers. But for most of us, it will mean getting very serious about giving God our life and our marriage. The only way we will be able to defend the right to life and the institution of marriage is if we are living our Catholic faith at work, at home, in the marketplace, in the public square. If you want to make a difference in this world, give God your life, give God your marriage. Give to God what belongs to God.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Pick up your cross and follow me...

Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

I was in Wal-mart the other day and I saw a bunch of families buying back to school supplies. I can't believe it's already back to school! Watching the kids pick out notebooks and lunchboxes I thought about choices, the choices we make, the way that life is full of choices: like the choice of a lunchbox, when I was kid, the choice was clear- Star Wars lunch box. Or the choice of notebooks. Or the choice of whether or not to grow a beard.
Life is full of choices. What choices are your confronted with today? Are they choices associated with going back to school? The choices of who your friends are? The choices of what to wear? The choices of where to sit on the bus or in the cafeteria? Maybe you finished school a while ago, maybe you have different choices to make. Maybe they are big important life choices? Choices about work, career, family. Whatever they are, we all have choices to make, life is full of choices. But the most important choice you will ever make is to choose Jesus Christ, and to pick up your cross and follow Him. But what does it mean to choose Jesus and pick up your cross and follow him?
Does God want us to suffer? I don't think so. Suffering was never his plan for us. It is the result of sin. We suffer because we live in a world that is opposed to God’s love, opposed to goodness and life, opposed to the Truth. It wasn’t because God is mean, but because of sin, that Jesus told his disciples he must suffer. Because he was choosing the Truth, Jesus knew he would be attacked, persecuted, afflicted and murdered. The darkness hates the light.  Jesus accepted the Cross. He accepted it at the consequence of his choice to do the will of God.
To follow Jesus and take up the Cross means to do the same: to put God first, to live for him alone, to not let anything or anyone come between us, to not be conformed to this age but to be transformed. Each day we are given an opportunity to become more and more the person God is calling us to be. And when Jesus says to us that we must daily follow him and take up our Cross he doesn’t mean that we need to go looking for ways to suffer or ways to make our lives more difficult. What he means is that daily we have the choice to be faithful; daily we have the choice to live in the Truth, and to offer our lives as a living sacrifice of praise and worship.
The Cross is the result of doing the will of God in a sinful world. It is the consequence of the choice you make to live the kind of life that God wants you to live, in the Truth, in Love, unreservedly, unconditionally, regardless of the consequences. To accept the Cross means to do what is right, even when it isn’t easy; it is the choice to do what you know in your heart you must, even if it is unpopular, or if it means that others will reject you or even hurt you.
My brothers and sisters, life is full of choices. And the most important choice we will ever make is to choose Jesus Christ and pick up our crosses and follow him. This is not a one-time choice, something we do once, it is the daily choices we make to do what is right, to live in the Truth, to be faithful, regardless of the consequences. Life is full of choices. Will you choose Christ?

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Photos

From WYD Aug 18

WYD Update

Today was a good day. After Catechesis and Mass with Arch. Bishop Timothy Dolan of NY a bunch of us spent the afternoon squating a spot near the stations. Catechesis begin with Jackie Francois and Stephen Curtis. They got the stadium rocking. Jackie is such an impressive woman. Shes talented, energetic, goofy, and absolutely beautiful with a modest yet totally feminine way about herself. Shes such a great role model for women. I wish more young girls had the opportunity to meet her. I think shed inspire them. Arch Bishop Dolan gave an extraordinary catechesis on being a witness for Christ who is Lord "forever and ever". He has such an amazing gift for engaging the audience and making you feel comfortable, like hes family. Yet he doesnt hold back on the content and hes able to challenge you. Im always impressed with A. Bishop Dolan. Hes a priests bishop. Before Mass he personally greeted each and every one of the 350 priests that had gathered for the english catechesis at Palacio de Desportes. Who does that? As we were heading into Mass in procession he stood at the door and slapped each of us on the back, "glad you are here", "thanks for being here" just amazing. And he was equally hospitable with the youth. Some clergy seem to be afraid of young people, but not Dolan. After catechesis we staked our claim near one of the stations and began our 5 hour wait forB16 to arrive. Some passed the time by sleeping in the shade, others by scavenging for food and water, others used the opportunity to meet people from other countries. By the time 7pm rolled around the place was jammed packed. It was hard to move. It was good preparation for tomorrows vigil. The stations were beautiful. This year they used traditional stations from many of the churches across the country. They were amazing. The text for the stations had some really profound reflections. And there was some moving musical movements during the event. But after waiting all day in the sun, wearing clerical attire and pretty much standing I was glad to get back to the hotel, take a shower, and climb in bed. I updated the photos. I added more than 100 new ones. As I write this it is 12:40am and there is a parade outside my hotel window. Bands are playing. They are processing the stations up Calle Alcara to Puerta Del Sol (i think). Some of these station floats require 50-100 men to carry. ... its almost 1am and they are no where near done... tomorrow we have mass with Card. Sean OMalley from Boston and then we hike 5+ miles to the vigil site and try to get some land parcelled out before its too late. Then we bake in the sun and try and stay hydrated until the overnight vigil and Sunday morning Mass. Wish us luck.