Archive for the ‘Cycle B’ Category

Be Opened 9-9-2018

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

The Gospel of Mark is the oldest Gospel we have. There are many special things about it. One of the most special things is that it contains several original words of Jesus. Words in Jesus own language – Aramaic – that he must have spoken himself.
We have one of these words today, a very powerful word: Ephatha, which means “Be Opened.” Say it with me: EPHATHA!
Being opened is the opposite of being shut, of being clenched.
Do me a favor, will you. Clench your hands. Clench your hands as hard as you can and make fists. Keep it like that for just a few minutes, until I tell you.
A clenched fist gives a person a sense of power. We clench our fists when we get really mad, really frustrated, really full of hate.
A clenched fist is an ugly thing.
But not nearly as ugly as a clenched face. We clench our faces when we criticize too harshly, when we judge harshly, when we look down on someone or put out an arrogant attitude.
A clenched face is an ugly thing … but not nearly as ugly as a clenched heart. Our hearts get clenched when we are full of hatred and vengeance. Other things that can clench the heart are greed, envy, jealousy, or rage when we don’t get our own way.
(Keep your fist clenched a little bit longer)
Sometimes whole families can be clenched, whole parishes, whole communities.
And to the clenched community, the clenched family, the clenched heart, the clenched face, the clenched hand, the clenched ears, the clenched tongue, Jesus comes and says EPHATHA! BE OPENED!
I hope those of you who have clenched your hands are getting really tired. You should be. Now I’ll ask you to slowly, slowly unclench your hands: EPHATHA! BE OPENED!
Isn’t that better?
One day you will be completely unclenched. On the day when we rise to glory, it will be wonderful. We will be holding on to God completely and fully … because we won’t be holding anything else.
In the meantime, we Christians try to let go, little by little, of pains and wounds and regrets and resentment and anger. And Jesus is here helping us.
I close with this:
Jesus came to me. He saw that my mind was clenched. I can’t stand them. Those groups. Those people. That person. EPHATHA, he said BE OPENED! But I replied, Lord they hurt me. They threaten me. They violate me.
“I know, he said. Like the people who were cruel to me on Good Friday. My mind wanted to clench shut. The thought of them was like a crown of thorns tightening around my temples. But I opened myself up and God raised me, making me the Savior.”
Jesus came. He saw my hands were clenched. I’m not going to help another person. I’m not going to help the church anymore. I’m not going to reach out to my neighbor again. No one appreciates it.
“I know, Jesus said. Like the people who didn’t appreciate me. Sometimes when I opened my hands it felt like they were hammering nails through it. But I opened myself, and God raised me, making me the Savior of the world.”
Jesus came. He saw that my heart was clenched. So full of anger, so bitter, so jealous. Ephatha, he said. Be opened! I’m so tired of loving people. Often they don’t love me back. And when I opened my heart it feels sometimes like a great spear pierces me to my very soul.
“I know, said Jesus. Believe me, I understand. But when the spear pierced my heart, I opened myself to it, to the world, to the father … and God has raised me up.”
Ephatha! Be Opened! God will raise you up also!
Close your eyes; clench your fists – what else in your life is clenched?
EPHATHA! I am going to help you, says Jesus!

A 30-Second Homily 9-2-2018

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

An elderly priest made a retreat. In the course of it he was struck deeply by three things that he’d always been aware of but never had really taken to heart.
First, there are millions of people in the world who are hungry and homeless. Second, he had spent his entire priestly life preaching comfortable sermons to comfortable people. Third, he had bent over backwards to avoid disturbing or alienating people.
In other words, the priest found himself to be much like the priest played by Jack Lemmon in the film Mass Appeal. He preached only about those things that didn’t disturb his parishioners and made them feel good.
And now, like the priest in Mass Appeal, the old priest suddenly realized that he had been more worried about pleasing his people than about preaching the Gospel. He had been more worried about rocking the boat than about challenging his parishioners to look into their hearts to see if they were satisfied with what they saw there.
The week following his eye-opening retreat, the old priest looked up the Scripture readings to prepare his Sunday homily.
As he read the Gospel, these words of Jesus leaped right off the page: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
The priest resolved, then and there, that he was going to share his soul-searching with his parishioners. So he began his homily by saying:
“My homily this morning will be exactly 30 seconds long. That’s the shortest homily that I’ve ever preached in my life, but it’s also the most important homily I’ve ever preached.”
With that attention-grabbing introduction, the priest gave his 30-second homily. He said:
“I want to make just three points. First, millions of people in the world are hungry and homeless. Second, most people in the world don’t give a damn about that. Third, many of you are more disturbed by the fact that I just said damn in the pulpit than by the fact that I said there are millions of hungry and homeless people in the world.”

With that the elderly priest made the sign of the cross and sat down.

That homily did three things that many homilies don’t do.
First, it caught the attention of the people.
Second, it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the gospel.
Third, hopefully it made the people look into their hearts.

The story of this priest and the gospel reading make the same point.
Religion is not something we do on Sunday. It’s not primarily, observing certain laws, saying certain prayers, or performing certain rituals.
That’s what many people in Jesus’ time had turned religion into. To observe these rituals was to please God. Not to observe them was to sin. In short, observing rituals became identified with being religious.

To illustrate the hypocrisy of such legalism, William Barclay tells this story – about a Muslim pursing an enemy to kill him.
In the midst of the chase, the Azan, or public call to prayer sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down, and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his enemy in order to kill him.
It was precisely this kind of legalism that Jesus opposed so vigorously in his time.
Jesus made it clear that religion isn’t something you do at certain times on certain days. It’s not saying certain prayers or performing certain rituals. It’s a thing of the heart. It’s a thing of the heart called love – love of God and love of neighbor. Love in action.

Today’s Scripture reading invites us to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading apply to us: “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The Scriptures also invite us to look into our own hearts and ask ourselves to what extent the words of James in today’s second reading apply to us:
Act on (God’s) word.
If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.”

I hope this homily today did 3 things:
First – it caught your attention.
Second – it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the Gospel.
Third – it makes all of us look into our hearts!

Yes we should be talking about Sex Abuse in Church 8-26-2018

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

When I was pastor in a parish called Madonna del Sasso, I was involved in the building of a wonderful parish hall. It was very exciting for me to see this building come up and how it met the needs of the community as your parish hall has done for you. It was very interesting for me to see the foundation being prepared. I learned a lot about all the ingredients and exacting preparation that goes into making a solid foundation….a foundation that will be strong and secure enough to withstand all the various storms that will come its way.

We are often reminded that the Church, the Catholic Church to be specific, needs a solid and secure foundation…and that foundation is JESUS CHRIST. If you flip through the pages of history you see that the Catholic Church has endured many serious storms. I believe this to be true only because of its foundation…JESUS CHRIST.

The Catholic Church today is going through some serious storms. I honestly feel one of the most serious is the sexual misconduct of priests and all the hurt, pain and mistrust that goes along with that unhealthy behavior. As a Catholic priest for 46 years I would like to share with you some personal reflections about this “storm”.

I think some are quick to say that we shouldn’t be talking about this topic in church…I believe we should. It is going on in our Church family and as disgusting and repulsive as it may be, it needs to be faced and named. Along with that, we need to constructively and honestly deal with it… so real healing can take place and trust can be slowly restored.

As a human being, as a lifelong Catholic, and as a priest, I am very embarrassed, discouraged, hurt and angered by what I see on TV and Internet, read in newspapers and magazines, and hear people talking about it wherever I go…. about how some priests have sexually used and abused people of various ages….how some church leadership has covered things up, moved priest from place to place and pretended that nothing was wrong. As hard as it is to hear these things…they are true….and we must deal with them.

As a human being, as a lifelong Catholic, and as a priest who is committed to helping the Church grow, heal and deal more openly with its problems and weaknesses and not just point a critical and negative finger of judgment at “those people”
-I apologize for the devastating damage that some priests have inflicted on innocent people…on any of you.
-I apologize to any of the victims and their families and I promise that I will keep them in my daily prayers
-I apologize to the parishioners who sit in the pews, Sunday after Sunday and repeatedly have to hear the statement, “What is wrong with your Church?”
I want to assure you that my apologies are not made simply to be politically correct, rather they are sincere.

I assure you, that in our Diocese under Bishops Ryan, Garcia and Wilkerson’s leadership, there is an open, honest, fair process that has been established to face such issues and not cover them up. I offer an open invitation from myself and from our Bishop, to you and anyone else, to help heal any damage….whatever it takes.

So consequently, how do you or I keep this storm in perspective, not be overwhelmed by it and not mistrust every priest brother and sister we meet? For me, I recall all the priests, sisters, and brothers who have impacted my life in a positive way with love, sensitivity, care and concern over the years. I try to keep in mind that it is a small percentage of all priests who have done these awful deeds. I am saddened when I hear priests say things like, “I’ll never be seen around kids” or “you’ll never find me over at the school or at the CCD classes.”

Because, I love these young people and realize what a great gift they are to our Church, I will not let the sins of a few or the somewhat understandable mistrusting looks of others, keep me from ministering to young people and kids in the Church as I have done for the past 46 years.

I pray that our Church will learn some great lessons from this storm and that some things that need to change will change. During this time we need to constantly ask ourselves: What can we learn from this? How can we grow from this to fully become the Church of Jesus Christ?

We need to remind ourselves often, that we cannot make the foundation of our faith or the foundation of the church, a particular priest, sister or brother. It is unfair and unrealistic for everyone concerned. Signs of earned respect and affirmation are necessary but putting anyone on a pedestal is a very unhealthy posture.

In closing, I pray that we have the heart of Jesus Christ…a heart that is filled with compassion for those that are hurt and abused… a heart of forgiveness for those who inflict abuse, even if they are not on my list of those who deserve forgiveness… a heart that is not quick to judge and condemn those accused… a heart that is committed to building the church that is always in need of healing and growth…and a heart that is not afraid to ask and answer the HARD questions.