Rejoice and be glad, the priest is wearing pink this weekend!

Okay, so technically we don’t rejoice because the priest wears pink, the priest wears pink because we’re rejoicing, but depending on your priest and how uncomfortable he feels looking like a bottle of Pepto Bismol… there can at least be some laughs.

This weekend is Gaudete Sunday, the time of the season when we take a momentary break from our penitential longing to remember that Jesus has already come, that there is already such great news all around us. Sure, he may not have arrived from his cloud to restore all that has been broken and we may not find ourselves yet in the perfect Kingdom, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a second to be happy with what we have now. Our God has given us so much and loves us unconditionally. How could we do anything but rejoice‽

But that’s the easy part. Of course there is reason to rejoice, and for most of us, we can find many reasons to be thankful. God has blessed our lives with abundance. No, the question that I want to ponder, and what our Gospel suggests this week, is, how do we respond to God’s great love and mercy?

I want to contend that once we have found reason for rejoicing, once we have seen the amazing work that God has done in us and in the world, we can’t go back to who we were before we rejoiced; we can’t be the same person. Rather, we must live as people knowing the glory of God. This means sharing what we’ve found, changing our lives to better reflect the kingdom, and doing everything we can to make sure everyone rejoices with us.

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This weekend I’m in Bayside, NY giving a day of reflection on our universal call to holiness and preaching at all of the Sunday masses. While it’s impossible to capture the energy of speaking in front of people  just sitting in an empty room in front of a camera, I thought I’d give it a try. Here’s the gist of my homily for this weekend, the 30th week of Ordinary time year B.

Also, forgive the voice… I’ve been sick for the past few days and have been rallying through!

The following is my homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary time, year B.

Jealousy is an interesting thing. Anyone here ever been jealous of someone or something? Felt that burning inside you? Anyone ever do something reckless because of it…? Maybe I should stop asking questions.

To me, jealousy is an interesting thing because at the heart of every jealous person, every jealous act, is not over-active passion, but actually fear. You see, when most people say that they’re jealous what they mean is that someone else has something that they really want. “Ooo, you have the new iPhone… you’ve got tickets to the concert… I’m so jealous!” And while we all know what we mean when we say something like this, what we’re actually saying is that we’re envious, that there is something that someone else has that we really want. Jealousy, technically speaking, is somewhat the opposite: to be jealous is to already have something, but feel threatened that someone will take it, to be afraid to lose it. At the heart of the matter is not coveting, not immense desire or passion for something more… it’s fear of losing what we already have.

We see this sometimes in children, don’t we, in our sort of primal emotions? When one sibling gets attention from mom or dad, gets a compliment or gift, they throw a fit, not necessarily because they’re desperate for attention, not because they actually want that gift, but because there is something inside them that says that mom or dad doesn’t love them as much. “That’s not so special. Look what I’m doing!” If their brother or sister gets affection, they think, they’ll be left behind and not loved. They become jealous.

Of course, we can see this sometimes in adults, too. When a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife spends times with their friends, maybe someone of the opposite sex, we see people getting very upset, very defensive. “No, you can’t spend time with that person,” some will even say. Why do they do this? More times than not it is not envy, it’s not a passionate feeling of wanting to spend more time with the other, it’s driven by a fear a losing the person, that by them sharing their love with another person, there won’t be enough love for them. They become jealous.

This is precisely what we see in our first reading and our Gospel today. Fear has overcome our biblical figures. In the first reading, those who were left back at the camp when God blessed the prophets are still able to prophesy. They speak for God and they speak with authority, two very good things. Things that the whole community should be proud of. Moses even says that he wishes the whole nation were given the gift of prophecy, that every single person spoke for God. But the others don’t feel this way. They see it as a threat. For them, if others can prophesy, then what they do will not be special, it won’t be unique. If others are able to do what they can do, then they won’t be as important. They become jealous.

Fast forward a thousand years and we see the same situation playing out once again in our Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are passing along, they find that there are people that “don’t go with us,” they say, that are prophesying in Jesus’ name, performing miracles and speaking for God. Surprise surprise, the disciples don’t like this. “They’re not one of us. We have to put a stop to this,” they say. But Jesus is not threatened, he’s not afraid: “No one can perform mighty deeds apart from me,” he says. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

And it is with those words that we see how irrational jealousy is. We see how selfish, how narrow minded it is at its core.

When we’re jealous, we convince ourselves that the success of another is somehow to our detriment. We convince ourselves that someone else getting something good, receiving acclaim, or being loved by others means that we somehow are not good, that we can’t receive acclaim, that we are less loved. If our parents love our brother or sister, it means they can’t love us as well; that if our significant other spends time with someone else, it means that we are less special; that if someone else does something good, our life is going to get worse; and that if God is glorified through another, God can’t be glorified in us.

And we see it all around us, don’t we? We fear that if another religion is given praise, that something is found to be true in it, it somehow undermines Christianity, and so we try to put them down. We fear that if our political adversaries, those people from the other party, do something good then our side will be hurt, and so we try to put them down.

But how absolutely irrational each of these things are! Out of our fear (and it is most certainly fear!) we convince ourselves that there is only so much goodness to go around and so we must be in competition with everyone else. Out of our fear, we forget that all of us are on the same team, that all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ, that all of us are to be seeking truth and building up the kingdom together, and when something good happens to or through another, when God is glorified through another, all of us are glorified!

Being jealous, as our biblical characters are today, being led by fear, is completely irrational because another person’s gain is not our loss if we’re in this together.

But ultimately, I think there’s something more to this, something even more contrary to what it means to be Christian. If jealousy is a result of fear, a fear of losing something, why would we as Christians every have something to be jealous of? What could we possibly fear losing? As followers of Christ, we are a people who claims to give up all that we have, willingly—to leave everything behind, die to ourselves, and follow Christ from death to life. We are a people that follows a man who lost everything—his reputation, dignity, authority to teach, and even his life—and who calls us to do the same for his sake. The central teaching of our faith is that in losing all that we have, including our lives, we actually gain more than we can ever imagine. The very essence of Christianity is about giving up, about losing what we we have.

And so I ask again: what could there ever be to make us jealous? There is no reason to fear losing what we have, of letting fear weigh us down or cause us to do something reckless. These are the worries of the world, the worries of those who want to hold on to what they have rather than give it up to follow Christ. If Jesus Christ is truly who he says he is, then losing everything we have is actually the best thing that could ever happen to us.

Do not fear what others may take away from you. Focus on what Christ gives you in return for not caring when it’s gone.

The following is my homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

I’ll never forget the first time I held a sparkler. While they don’t interest me much now, they were so amazing when I was little. To see the bright light, the sparks going everywhere, the crackling sound; you could write your name or just stare at the light show right in front of you. I’ll never forget the first time I held a sparkler… because it did not go very well. You see, I was little, five or six, I don’t know, and when I saw all the older kids playing with one I begged my parents to hold it myself. Knowing it was dangerous, my mom made me promise that I would not touch the end. “You need to be very careful. Hold it like this,” she said. She must have told me three times. “Sure, sure, uh huh, I’ll be careful I promise. Can I have one, please please please??”

I’m sure you can see where this is going…

To be fair, I was very careful…. while it was lit. I didn’t touch the sparks, I didn’t put it in my pocket, didn’t attack anyone with it. In fact, I waited until it was completely out… to get distracted and grab the hot end with my other hand.

Yeah… not the greatest childhood memory.

But really, how many times did we do things like that when we were kids? We were told over and over to be careful—not to run in the house, not to drink juice in the living room, to be gentle with our younger siblings—only to have it end in an unfortunate way. How many times did we hear our parents say, “how many times have I told you?” As children, sometimes, we can be a bit foolish.

And now, I find that to be an interesting world, “foolish.” We hear it proclaimed today in both the first and second readings, a call not to be foolish but to be wise. I find it interesting because it says nothing about how smart we are, doesn’t imply malicious intent; it’s the sort of word that we use when someone knows the right thing to do, is able to do it, but gets so distracted by something unimportant that they end up doing something careless. Being foolish is being told over and over not to touch the end of a sparkler, not to run in the house, to be gentle… knowing that bad things can happen, and yet still getting get burned, knocking something over, or hurting someone.

Of course… being foolish is not limited to being a child, is it? Adults, sadly, can be just as foolish, and this is the danger that the people of the Gospel face today. You can almost hear Jesus’ frustration growing. Here he has been preaching all day about how he is the bread of life come down from heaven. Over and over he has said this—he even performed a miracle and fed five thousand people—and the people still do not believe. “How many times do I have to tell you? I am the bread of life. Unless you come to me, you will have no life within you.” I do not suspect that these were bad people; I don’t think that they were intentionally denying the divinity of Christ, the power of the Eucharist, the life-giving nature of the resurrection. No… they were just being foolish. The answer was right in front of them, but they were too focused on the wrong things—just too distracted—to accept what Jesus was saying and to do something about it.

And it makes me wonder. Here we are, having heard some variation of this Gospel for four straight weeks now, some variation of Jesus proclaiming that he is the bread of life, the life-giving food, the grace of God given to us in bodily form—how many times we have heard this message! And yet, I’m left wondering whether it’s truly sunk in. Having heard these words for four weeks now, I wonder if they have changed our lives… or if they haven’t just become like the words of our parents telling us to be careful, words that go in one ear and out the other without catching our attention or changing our actions, words that we hear but don’t actually lead us to act wisely. “Yeah, sure sure, bread of life, of course, Jesus from heaven.”

Some many find these readings a bit repetitious, maybe even a bit boring, but not me. I have to say… I actually love hearing it over and over again. I’m not sure about you, but I can be a bit hardheaded in my faith. Sometimes, I need to hear something over and over until it clicks, until I actually start to believe what I’m saying, until I actually start to live what I’m believing. Sometimes it takes two, three, even four times or more for me to do what’s right.

I think of how many times I went to mass over the years, heard the word proclaimed, ate the bread of life… but left the same way I came in. It was right in front of me, but I foolishly didn’t even notice it.

I think of how many times I’ve said yes to God, yes to following God’s will, being a good Christian, yes to turning my life around… only to forget the path I was on and fall short. The path was clear and easy to follow, but I foolishly took another path.

I think of how many times we as a Church have asked the world to trust us, proclaimed ourselves to be a people of truth and love… only to have more scandals, more coverups, more revelations of devastating systems of sin be brought to light. We were entrusted with such an amazing responsibility for the sake of the world, but now the world simple sees us as fools.

How frustrating this can be for us, feeling so foolish.

And yet, despite all of this, how many times has God continued to call our name?
How many times has God continued to give us everything we could ever need?
How many times has God continued to wait patiently while we were acting foolishly?

I tell you, I love these readings. I love being reminded over and over and over again of the power of Christ to give new life where there is nothing but death because it shows me how patient God is with us even when we’re foolish. It shows me that when something is important, God isn’t just going to give up on us and let us get away just because we weren’t listening. It gives me hope that even if I have fallen short before, even if I have let my friends, my Church, and even myself down, even if our Church has let the world down over and over again, there is still time to say yes today. There is still time to start again today and make things right. There is still time to accept Jesus as the bread of life come down from heaven and to let him live in and through us in everything that we do.

Because truly, with God, it doesn’t matter how many times we’ve been told not to touch the sparkler but did anyway.
It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard what was true and didn’t listen.
And in a way, it doesn’t even matter how many times we’ve let people down. We can’t change the past.

All that matters is that we have today, this very moment, to finally choose wisdom over foolishness, to begin to right what is wrong, and to say yes to God with all our heart.

The following is a homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary time, year B. The readings for this Sunday can be found here

Does anyone here every get “hangry”? For those who don’t know, hangry is a combination of the words “hungry” and “angry,” and it’s the feeling some people get when they are so hungry they become irritable and impatient and just difficult to be around.

I am one of those people. 

With a full stomach, I’m a normal, polite, functioning human being. But as soon as my stomach begins to rumble… I become completely useless and impossible to be around. All I can focus on is food. I have no motivation, no focus, no patience. Yeah… it’s kind of embarrassing. Maybe you know someone else like that…

What I find really amazing about being “hangry,” though, is not so much how I act or feel when I’m without food, it’s how quickly I can change with it. One minute the world is ending—I’m dying of starvation, my brain doesn’t work, I want to yell at people for nothing and steal food right out of their hands—but get me a turkey sandwich, maybe just a bag of chips or some popcorn, and immediately I go from being the Hulk back to Bruce Banner like nothing happened. All is good now. The phenomenon is so commonly understood, in fact, that Snickers built an entire ad campaign around it: “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

I think it’s because we understand this feeling so well on a visceral level that the experience of Elijah is so easy to relate to. Here you have a man who has been a fugitive on the run, nothing to eat, no snacks with him, and he is just famished. He is weak. So hungry that he’s decided to give up. He just can’t go on any more. The world seems impossible. Even taking another step seems too unbearable. 

But Elijah isn’t on this journey alone, is he? No, at his weakest moment, an angel of God comes to him and gives him bread—offers him a snack—provides him with the little bit of nourishment that he needs. And then, all of the sudden, he’s back to his old self and can continue on his journey. Just like us after getting an afternoon cookie.

God knows that without food, our bodies grow weak and eventually break down and so, in Elijah’s time of serious physical need, God provided what he needed to go on.

Of course, we know that we are not simply physical beings with physical needs. Holding us together, animating who we are and what we do are our souls and spirits, and it is because of this that Jesus reminds his people that they cannot live on just bread alone, that bread—or food of any kind—will not fill them. If all they have is physical food, they will be satisfied for a moment, but they will become hungry again. They will eat of it, but still die. No, what they need is spiritual food. What they need is the bread of life, the living bread from heaven. What they need, what we need, more than anything else, is Jesus Christ.

Hopefully this should not come as a new revelation to anyone. Hopefully we all know—hopefully the reason that we are all here—is because we seek the bread of life, the grace of salvation found in the Word spoken and the sacrifice offered on the altar. My guess is that we know that God pours God’s grace out on us in this sacrament and that is why we are here, to be spiritually nourished.

But here’s the million dollar question: Are we? Do we come to church weak and broken but get our turkey sandwich (so to speak) and find ourselves back to normal, ready to take on the world… or do we come to church weak and broken and leave just the same? Are we nourished by what we receive here, or might our lives reveal that in fact, we are quite spiritually “hangry” after all?

Even though this is truly the bread of life, the real presence of Jesus Christ offered to us, simply coming to communion doesn’t mean that we will be spiritually nourished. The reason for this, as far as I see it, comes down to a simple distinction: do we approach the grace we receive a “what” or a “who”?

You see, sometimes we talk about grace as if it were a “what,” a thing, a sort of supernatural substance from God with powerful properties. Maybe it’s the elixir of life, an energy force, a power that works on us, but what we know is that when we take the Eucharist or receive one of the other sacraments, we are given this special power that acts on us—making us stronger and better and holier.

And that’s a good thing, right? We want to be stronger and holier. But there’s also something a bit strange about this way of talking about grace, isn’t there? If grace is simply a “what,” a thing to be collected, we begin to treat it like something that acts upon us without our knowing and without any faith; it is something that “works,” like a magical weight-loss drug or allergy medicine that doesn’t require you to change your diet, you can eat anything you want and still lose weight!

And while this might sound appealing for diets and weight loss, it doesn’t sound too fulfilling for our spiritual lives, does it? In this view, there is no need for conversion, no need for free will, no need for us to do anything. It just “works.”

Instead of a “what,” something to be collected and administered, I want to suggest that we need to begin to see the grace that God gives us as a “who”: Grace is the gift, not of some created substance of God, but of God’s very self. In the Eucharist, in the Word, in the sacraments, in every moment of our lives, God does not give us some supernatural energy separate from God… No, God gives us God’s very self; we receive the real presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

And what a difference this makes on our part! Rather than passively sitting back as a force acts upon us without our knowing, what we receive is an invitation to a relationship, a relationship that calls us to be more like the one we receive, a relationship that gives us a measuring stick for what holiness looks like. When we receive Christ’s very self, living and breathing and radiating in us, we cannot just do nothing and hope things get better in us—we are not just ourselves with supernatural powers— we find ourselves as beacons of the real presence of Christ, called to go out into the world to live and share what we have become. That is spiritual fulfillment.

Unlike with our physical selves—unlike just eating a sandwich—nourishing ourselves spiritually takes more than just showing up and eating a meal, simply coming to mass and taking the Eucharist without any change, any commitment, any desire to be different. This is not going to ultimately satisfy us. We can eat all the Eucharist we want, come to every mass on Sunday, but we’re going to be left as spiritually hangry as when we walked in the door. Coming to the table is only the first part. To really fill ourselves up, to find the comfort and nourishment that we desire, it takes saying yes to God here at this table, but also saying yes every minute of our lives outside of these walls.

Because, ultimately, just like our physical selves, unless we feed our souls, we will have no life within us. Without nourishment, we will find ourselves hangry, like Elijah, ready to give up. And that is just a shame, because God is offering us all we ever need to stay full for the rest of eternity.

Say yes to God. Say yes to letting God grow in you and be known in you, and never be hangry again.