Fr. Michael's Sunday Homilies

March 18, 2018

John 11:1-45

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “IF” is a powerful word.

January of 1997 was a difficult month for me.  My family and I, while at the VA hospital in St. Cloud, MN, received the news that my dad (61 at the time) had cancer -- and had it bad.  So bad, in fact, that the doctor said dad had only 6 months to live without treatment.  With treatment, he might have a year or more.  Dad started chemo and radiation right away. I stayed with him in the hospital for the first few days sharing a room with him.

During those days, I remember praying to God,

"Remember all those healings you did in the Bible?  I believe you can do the same again – so, do it!"

"You made galaxies.  Healing my dad would be much easier – so, do it!"

Thing is, my dad didn't get better, he got worse, and even though my family prayed and prayed, did all the medical things we could, dad died only 3 months later.  I was pretty angry at God. 

Not only because dad was only 61; but he worked hard all his life and was to retire in just a few months.  My sister had three young kids – dad was a great grandpa.                                      

Praying to God is a mysterious thing.  We pray for something that is good, and because God is God, we believe God could do it…yet nothing happens.  Like Martha, faith is difficult when we feel God could have done something but God didn't.

We aren't very good with things not happening the way we think they should…. 

We're people who, if I do A then B should happen.  If I flip the light switch, then the light should come on.

If I have question to a problem, well, I can just Google it and I should find the answer. 

Even though my prayer for dad's healing didn't get answered the way I thought it should, it was only after some time had passed after my dad's death that I could see how God was indeed gracing and being life-giving to my family.            

Something was happening to my dad and my family.  In the pain, fear and struggle we learned to love and respect each other more and more.  Whereas our relationship was just ok before, those three months made us very close.  And for my dad, even though he was dying physically, he let himself be healed of many old, hurtful memories in his life that he never dealt with before.

Of course, I wish my dad was still alive, but rather than demanding what God should do in your life, simply have faith that God is good.  God’s goodness and grace are always with you. Even if your prayers are not being answered the way you think they should be, there are often deeper messages in your life to learn from.

Saint Augustine, “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”

March 11, 2018

John 9:1-41

There was a story recently about people who wear headphones with music turned on so loud that they can’t hear the things going around them. Like a person not hearing the back-up alarms (beep, beep, beep) and getting hit and injured.

Which brings us to today’s gospel…

The gospel describes a back and forth argument over a sheer matter of a stunning fact - "I was blind, but now I see" - and the implications of the man's healing.  The healed man was dragged before the religious leaders, the Pharisees.  These were the people who were supposed to have all the God answers.  But, the Pharisees were listening only to what they wanted to hear. Their own “music,” so to speak, was way too loud to hear anyone else. They were stuck on “Jesus broke the Sabbath,” but totally oblivious to the miracle which proved Jesus was of God.

Like the Pharisees, is our music, our own stubbornness, turned up too loud that we’re not able to hear the wisdom and insights of other people? Are we blocking out something essential?

Of course, there is room to argue and debate.  We do need to stick up for what we believe in.  Take the man born blind.  What great courage it took for him to stand before the religious leaders of his day and testify to Jesus. It got him kicked out of the synagogue.

We can sometimes think that an argument is not a Christian thing to do - aren't we supposed to turn the other cheek?  Yes, at times, but there are times when we are to speak out. 

Fear and timidity are not Christian virtues. Fr. Michael Casey writes, "There is no value in becoming quiet, little, mousy people, afraid and unobtrusive to the point of invisibility.  There is much room in the Christian personality for prophets, creative troublemakers, and those who are tireless in clamoring for [what is right]."

But, we live in a world that thinks winning an argument is all about talking louder and more than anyone else. It drives me crazy when I hear people arguing and they’re all talking at the same time – “I’m right, you’re wrong, shut up!”

How to argue and debate civilly? Saint Benedict’s first word in his Rule is “listen.” That’s the default attitude. Listen. Benedict also says that when something important is to be decided, “the whole community should come together…The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger. Each person in the community, for their part, are to express their opinions with all humility, and not presume to defend their own views obstinately.”      

Nor are we to keep anger and resentment inside us if we don’t get our way. Once, an old monk said to some younger monks: “You know, you fellows worry me.  In the old days we used to shout at each other, but we got over it and moved on to more important things.  You smolder like a bunch of Siamese cats.”

So, a few words today. Turn down your own volume and listen. When necessary, speak the truth with humility. If you don’t get your way, don’t be a Siamese cat – let it go.

 

February 25, 2018

Mark 9:2-10

“This is my beloved Son.”

Transitions: Baptism (starting his ministry); Transfiguration (he was speaking about his death.)

Jesus needed to hear the Father’s love, and so do we. Especially when we are going through a transition and a tough time. When we claim these words in our heart as true, “You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son” we can get through it. All will be well.

Life is all about, “I love you.” What a great practice for Lent. We don’t have to limit saying that to family or those we have romantic love. What about your friends? My brother monks, “I love you, bro!”

Hearing “I love you” saying “I love you” is a bit of a transfiguration for us too, right!  That light, which encompassed Jesus in his transfiguration (the love of the trinity) that light, we feel emerge and grow from within us too.

“You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son.” As our student reflector offered us last Sunday, God’s love for us doesn’t go up and down like a degree on a measuring line. God doesn’t say, “Hey, you’ve been good today. My love for you is an 8 out of 10.” Nor, “You really messed up today. My love for you is a 3.” God’s love for us is always a 10.

 

February 18, 2018

Genesis 9:8-15

“When I bring clouds over the earth, and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living creatures.”

As we observe Sustainability Sunday, it’s appropriate to recall the first reading from Genesis. God makes a covenant with humanity and creation. “Covenant” is a powerful word. Covenant not only implies a strong relationship, it evokes an eternal promise that God will care for, and will love, all that exists in the world. We’re not separate from creation, we are creation also – that’s beautiful!

As the CSB sustainability website states, “As a Catholic, Benedictine institution, the College of Saint Benedict accepts that all creation is a gift. In exchange, we are to care for creation and provide stewardship for the entire community of life on Earth.”

Lent is a great time to renew wise living. Lent is all about reestablishing healthy relationships – with God, with ourselves, with one another, and with creation.

As we heard on Ash Wednesday, simply, you are dust and to dust you shall return. Everything that is, every atom in your body, is a gift from God. We are dust, and that’s very good. We are born from creation, we are creation right now, and we shall return to creation. In God’s covenant, we are beautifully and radically interconnected with all that is.

Pope Francis, Laudato Si, “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning…Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

 

February 11, 2018

Mark 1:40-45

February 10th, just yesterday, was the feast day of Saint Scholastica. Scholastica was the sister of Saint Benedict. Here’s her story: Benedict and Scholastica had the custom of meeting once a year in a house between their respective monasteries to spend the day talking of spiritual matters. One year, as dusk began to fall, Scholastica begged Benedict to spend the night that they might continue to share their stories. Benedict refused, citing the monastic rules – it was inappropriate for them to be away from their own monasteries at night. Scholastica then began to pray, and suddenly the sky erupted in a thunderous downpour that made travel impossible. “What have you done,” Benedict asked in alarm? Scholastica answered, “I asked you, but you would not listen to me. I asked God and God listened to me. Leave now, brother, if you can.” He couldn’t! So, Benedict stayed with her and they shared happy conversation together…The moral of the story: Scholastica was heard by God, because she loved more, for God is love. It’s a humorous story, but it also offers us good wisdom!

Benedict knew the rules, but his lack of love prohibited him from breaking the lesser rules to live the greater rule of love. I mean, Benedict, she’s your sister! She needed you! Come on! Sometimes you have to break the less important rules.

And then there’s Jesus -- our Master, our Teacher. We hear in the gospel today, “The man (the leper) went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. Jesus remained outside in deserted places.”

Why was Jesus not able to enter the towns openly? Was it because becoming more and more popular, he would have been overwhelmed by the crowds needing him, needing his healing? Sure, perhaps.

But, what if it was because Jesus broke the rules? What rules? If Jesus would have followed the rules, like in today’s first reading, Jesus would have rejected the leper – “Go away! You’re not allowed to come near!” But, because Jesus touched an unclean leper. Jesus himself became unclean by contact. In that world which was spiritually logical and ordered, the clean here and unclean far away over there, Jesus made the clean people nervous. Jesus crossed those rule barriers. The constant complaint of the religious leaders was, “Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus would answer, “Rules will not love you. Love is greater than your rules.”

You know, it’s not automatic that those who frequent God’s house, know how to love their neighbor. It’s not automatic! You can know the entire Bible, you can know all the right prayers, you can know the whole of theology, but to know isn’t automatically to love. Love has a better road. It requires something riskier.  Let’s not forget: In front of the suffering and discrimination of so many, we cannot remain spectators. To ignore the suffering of people -- what does it mean? It means to ignore God! But, if I do get close to that man, that woman, that person who seems “unclean” to me, I get close to God. Beautiful! Powerful!

When today’s Mass is ended, we leave this church and depart. Depart into what? Into the real and messy world. In the gospel, Jesus was not afraid to minister to, to touch, to encounter the mess of this world. Jesus became unclean. And us? Who is outside, in the lonely places? Who is the rejected?

Pope Francis, in his encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel, encourages us, “Let us not be robbed of the joy of going out! I invite you to immerse yourself in the joy of the Gospel and nurture a love that can light up your vocation and your mission…The Lord’s disciples persevere in joy when they sense his presence, do his will and share with others their faith, hope and evangelical love.”

February 4, 2018

Mark 1:29-39

 “Is not our life on earth a drudgery. Remember that my life is like the wind. I shall not see happiness again.” 

That’s from today’s 1st reading from the book of Job. Wow, couldn’t we pick a happier, more upbeat reading?! I mean, Job is the epitome of “my life sucks.” But perhaps we’ve all been like Job, we’ve been there, perhaps we’re there right now – we can’t sleep, everything we do is hard, we’re unhappy.

Job’s words, though, are honest words. He was going through a really tough time – he lost his children, he lost his home.  Job’s words came from the depths of a broken heart. I believe that when we’re going through a rough time in life, we need to be open about it and not hide behind fake smiles, a facade. There are many, many people who go through hard times, and it’s ok, it’s really ok, to express honestly, how bad we feel, and just as important, seek to get help. Don’t be afraid of not looking perfect. The stigma of depression and mental illness needs to end.

I wonder about Jesus sometimes. How did he handle all the stress and demands in his life? In today’s gospel, the disciples tell Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you!” I bet he heard that every day. If I were Jesus, sometimes I would also want to run away and hide.

In college, there are many demands made of you – everything needs your attention. When is it going to stop? Restless nights anyone? Turn to Jesus. Turn to Jesus. Jesus made time to be with his Father.

We hear, “Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” I would say, find that time of peace and friendship with God also. Not out of duty, but out of love and friendship. Friendship is beautiful when it is cultivated. I’m convinced that for all the demands in our life, everything is secondary to meaningful relationships.

I really admire my abbot at St. John’s Abbey. He has lots of demands, but he stays energetic and quick to good laughter. I asked him once, “How do you do it all?” He said, “I exercise, and I pray.” Simple.

Through good times and in bad times, for everything in between, draw close to those who love you and to those you love. Draw close to God your creator.

Saint Augustine once famously wrote of his accepting God in his life, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me. I drew in breath and now I long for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace….Our hearts our restless, O God, until it rests in you.”

January 14, 2018

"Here I am, Lord."

Have you ever been to a store and have seen “Dummies” books? There’s lots of them: Cooking for Dummies, Plumbing for Dummies, Computers for Dummies, even Catholicism for Dummies.  I could have a whole library! I heard of a guy who wanted to learn to dance, so he bought, Dancing for Dummies. He was engaged to be married, and his fiancé was a dance instructor. He was worried that at the wedding reception, at the first dance between he and his new bride, that he’d look like a klutz. So, he got the book out and read it. He even made paper footprints, taping them to the floor and numbered them. 1,2,3 & 1,2,3. After some practice, and feeling pretty confident as men are prone to do, he showed his moves to his fiancé’s friend. She saw him dance and thought, “He’s sweet, but he’s kind of a dummy!” How come? He didn’t take out the music CD in the back of the book to practice with actual music playing. She said, “You can’t dance without music!” So, he started dancing to music and did a fine job dancing with his new bride.

That’s not so unusual. We Christians too, are prone to follow the book, follow the rules and follow the obligations of our faith while forgetting the music!  We go to Mass, do our daily prayers, read our Bible, and we put on a friendly, Christian smile, yet stiffly walk on to the dance floor of the Christian life with no music in our hearts. Life without music is boring!

The power of God, the experience of God, is the Holy Spirit humming in our heart. The Christian life without the Spirit living in us, making music in us, is lifeless — just 1,2,3 & 1,2,3. The Spirit is difficult to describe. Perhaps the most common mistake made regarding the Spirit is reducing the Spirit to just a power, an energy, or a force, like Star Wars.

Not a bad description, but more personal is that the Spirit is a person. The Spirit is a person, empower us to say, as in today’s readings, “Here I am, Lord.” “Here I am” is the most courageous and joyful thing we will ever say. It begins the great adventure!

A few years ago, I saw a friend of mine sitting by Lake Sagatagan, and to my
surprise she was drinking straight from a bottle of whiskey. She looked agitated, to say the least. I asked her, “What’s wrong?” She said, ”I’m giving God one last chance to change his mind.” She was debating a call to ministry and the Spirit was speaking to her powerfully. Even though she was honest in her struggle owning up to her, “Here I am,” the Spirit was making music, urging her to be brave, to seek deeper meaning in her life, to take a risk with her life. And she did!

What I want to point out today is that it’s essential that we know, we know, we know, the music, the Spirit, is in us and is for us. God, in the Spirit is making music all around us. Pray to God to move in your life and then listen. Listen to the Real Music!

For those of us who’ve spent too much time trying to do God’s job, instead of letting God be God of our life, it’s like learning to dance only to a book.  We think we know what we’re doing, we got everything together, all the moves, 1,2,3; 1,2,3, and we even fool ourselves, but surprise, something’s missing — the music!

St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Just these two words God spoke changed my life, ‘Enjoy Me!’  What a burden I thought I was to carry -- my pitiable life. But God once said to me, ‘I know a song, would you like to hear it?’ And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. In my prayers, God changed my life when God said, "Enjoy Me!" “Enjoy Me!”

December 10, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

In the Gospel, John the Baptist appears to us in the desert. The desert is silent, completely passive. The desert is there like the bare skeleton of being: spare, sparse, austere, utterly tough, testing us to invite prayer and reverence. John, like Israel being freed from their slavery in Egypt, had to learn to be dependent and intimate with God in the barrenness of the desert.  God became for John, the one thing necessary.  The prophet Hosea spoke of God, “I am going to allure her, Israel, I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.”                                                                                                                    

December, for many of us, can be a time of busyness. Advent invites us to a bit of desert time. John the Baptist time. Stillness. Where we ask ourselves, “What is really necessary in my life?” But in the clamor of the holiday season (and it starts before Thanksgiving now), I’m convinced that there is something decidedly un-Christian about the hustle and bustle, and the great noise of materialism — call me a Scrooge.  Listen to the earth. Creation is telling us something. The snows blanketing the land, the dormancy of the trees, and the stillness and silence of the animals, is telling us to quiet down. Winter is a desert time. Stop. Listen. Listen to your heart. What does your heart need?             

Satisfying the heart takes a big thing!  Bigger than a 75 inch, big-screen TV! Even bigger than the next “big deal.”

Isn’t it strange that our desire for material things is stirred up by a lot of noisy commercials in our face and our desire for God is stirred up when we are most quiet and still?

At some point, all the noise must come to a rest. God makes most sense when, at times, we allow ourselves to be grounded in stillness. In an age of speed, I think that nothing could be more invigorating than slowing down. In an age of distraction, nothing could feel more luxurious than simply paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than just be-ing. We’re not just human do-ings, we’re also human be-ings, right?

This Advent, I offer three words — FIND YOUR DESERT. Find your desert. If we allow ourselves to remain in these quiet, desert spaces what do we begin to hear?  Actually, something totally necessary.                         

We hear the John’s strong, clear voice, “Prepare a way…make a road for God…make your paths straight.” A straight road is the quickest way to get somewhere.  And where does straight road go? I believe from our heart to the heart of God!                                           

God’s road is a good road! It's ok. It’s ok. Life is really ok, when we are on God’s road. Because the words of the prophet Isaiah are hopeful words, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”

This Advent, even in the middle of Christmas planning, shopping and traveling, find your desert. Give to your heart that which satisfies your heart.

December 3, 2017

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Tonight, during this Eucharist, as we also celebrate the anointing of confirmation, let’s be encouraged by St. Paul words in the second reading.  “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

So much of what we do in life and in college is about self-effort, right? If I study hard enough, I’ll learn more and get good grades. If I exercise enough, I’ll be stronger and quicker. If I practice more, I’ll become more talented. A lot of what we do is about self-effort.  But what about gift? A gift, by definition, is something we receive. A gift, well, is a gift. St. Paul says, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”

How does that happen? It’s all about the Holy Spirit! During tonight’s Eucharist, as an assembly, we call upon that gift of the Holy Spirit three times.

1) We call upon the Spirit to, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Gift!

2) We call upon the Spirit to, “that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” Gift! 

3) For those being confirmed today, as an assembly we pray, “to our Father that he will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his daughters with his gifts and to anoint them to be more like Christ the Son of God.” Gift!

In our life, there is self-effort -- what we do. There is also gift -- what we receive. Tonight, let’s be reminded by St. Paul. We have received the Holy Spirit.

So, there is for us a great strength and support to know that you and I are already gifted. What a great way to be you; what a great way to be me, if you and I were to believe, “I am a gifted person. I am not lacking in any spiritual gift.”

November 26, 2017 (Christ the King)

Matthew 25:31-46

Just a couple months ago, I walked into the chemotherapy infusion area at the Coborn’s Cancer Center in St. Cloud. My sister was having her first chemo treatment. I walked past room after room of those receiving chemo treatment. I remember thinking, “Where is God in all this?” When I got to my sister’s room and as we were talking for a while, a Eucharistic Minister stopped in and asked, “Would you like to receive communion and may I pray for you?” How beautiful! I realized, Christ just entered the chemo room. But even more than that, the Eucharistic Minister was Christ also. And even more, Christ was in my sister. So, Christ came into the room carrying the Body of Christ to be given to Christ.

It is with the awareness of the strong feelings of this experience, that I approach the gospel lesson for Christ the King.  Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

I believe that today we’re at the very mystery of God, the mystery of the universe, the way of the mystery of love.  God chose to experience those places in our lives that are often the most difficult.  In Jesus, the heart of God with a human face, we are meeting with the very mystery of God. God chose not to avoid the suffering of this world.  We hear the statement, “Where suffering is, love is. And where love is, God is.”

We are at the very heart of the incomprehensible mystery of God whose kingship is not only as Lord of all Creation, but who is surprisingly experienced in those who are lonely, suffering, and whose lives, for whatever reason, is just not working.

Jesus Christ is the one who suffers — the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, the stranger, the one who mourns.  Jesus is not saying that you are to treat that person like you would treat Jesus, Jesus is saying, “I am that person.”

It needs to be clearly said that the nature of God is not to avoid suffering; that the nature of love is not to avoid pain or the places of pain.  That’s the way love is. That’s the way God is. We all hope that. Intuitively, we trust that of God.  People who love, do not use their resources and connections to avoid the pain of their loved ones. If we love someone, we’ll do anything for that person.  And God?  Christ the King says to you and to me. “I love you. I am with you. I am your Shepherd. I will strengthen you. No matter what your situation, I will be with you in the middle of your pain. I am you!” No separation. As J.R.R. Tolkien has written, “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”

Christ the King.  Is today’s celebration about Christ being a King who is robed in glory?  I suppose in a certain sense, yes. Living in a rural area we look up in the stars and marvel at God’s creation and even marvel more so of the Creator. There is so much that is more wonderful and wild than we could possibly imagine.  But Christ is nearer than the stars, Christ is nearer than the sky.  “Where is God in all this?” Christ is each one of us.  Christ is you.  Christ is me.

November 19, 2017

Proverbs 31, Matthew 25:14-30

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s nice to hear! Recently, one of my brother monks said to me, “Michael. Thank you! Thank you for all you do here. Thank you for just being you!” I deflected the compliment saying, “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I…I don’t need your…” My brother interjected, “Michael, you shush. Thank you!”

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” What a happy thing to hear from those around us – a friend, our family, a roommate, from God. What a happy thing to be acknowledged by another, to be given an authentic word of gratitude for what we do.

In the first reading from Proverbs we hear, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting.” So often we look for validation from others from just our surface level -- how I look, what I wear, my body type. But Proverbs offers us the wisdom of what is of greater value. We hear, “she brings about good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.”

A person is praised not just because of surface appearance, but what they are able to do generously for the good of others. God praises the work of our hands. There’s our surface appearance, which is fleeting, and there is something deeper and more lasting -- unselfish, generous love. As Proverbs puts it, “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”

In the gospel, Jesus praises those who are able to be generative, making ten talents from five. In our American culture, we do praise productivity, hyper-activity, doing lots of things. However, we often can believe that quantity of activity is more important than quality of activity.

Saint Benedict, in addressing work, ministry, or service, is more concerned about how the work is done rather than what is done. To illustrate this, I recently heard a story told by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. He was participating in an extended period of living at the Zen Mountain Center in California. All the participants were assigned work during this time, which included dish washing. At the end of this Zen experience, the participants were asked to leave written instructions for the successor on that job. Brother David dutifully wrote the instructions and added, “According to Saint Benedict, ‘the pots and pans are to be treated as reverently as the sacred vessels of the altar.’” Months later, he visited another Zen community in New York and was surprised by being asked, "Are you Brother David, the Dishwasher? We have your quotation from the Rule of Benedict above our sink...very practical advice."

So, the surface level of our appearance versus the deeper level of our good works. The surface level of quantity versus the deeper level of quality. The surface level of dishes in the sink versus the opportunity to reverence the ordinary.

Here at this Eucharist, God, like the Husband in Proverbs, “entrusts His heart to us.” Jesus gives his whole self to us in this Eucharist. On the surface level, we are given bread and wine -- the good work of God, the awesome generosity of God. In a profoundly deeper level, the bread and wine are truly his body and blood. “This is my body and blood given to you.” Eat and drink. Love others as I have loved you, so that when you see me face to face, I will take delight in saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.”

October 1, 2017

Matthew 21:28-32

How unexpected is God? How unexpected is God!                   

Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you!”      

Who was Jesus speaking to?  Chief priests and elders of the people. These were people who studied scripture all their lives and who went to the Temple regularly (faithful church goers). How then could they not be entering the Kingdom before sinners?

I wonder if they just stopped growing? I wonder if they stopped being surprised by God? I wonder if they thought that they had God and religion all figured out? Were the chief priests and elders bad people? Perhaps not in the eyes of conventional religion, but the opposite of good is not necessarily evil, the opposite of good is often indifference. How unexpected is God?

Let’s come back to the tax collectors and prostitutes. These were shunned people -- the so called, sinners who were outside of proper, religious society. Righteous people kept away from them.  Why would sinners enter the Kingdom before the righteous?

Is it because they studied the scriptures more than the experts? No.

Is it because they went to church more?  Nope.  What was it?

I think it’s because of one simple word.  Need.  Need! They knew their need for God.

Pope Benedict, commenting on this very gospel has said, “Translated into the language of the present day, this statement might sound something like this: agnostics, who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart…are closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is routine and who regard the Church merely as an institution, without letting it touch their hearts, or letting the faith touch their hearts.”

I love to go for walks. One of the places I love to walk is the Saint John’s monastic cemetery – it’s a beautiful and peaceful place.  The graves of the brother monks who have passed on are there.  And you know what’s also there?  Wisdom.  That place reminds me that if I ever think I have this God-stuff all figured out, then I’m sunk. I see the example of my brothers who went before me - those who were still in need of their God until the day they died.  I know my journey isn’t over yet! And if I have a lot more of God’s surprises in store for my life, then than makes life happier! I’m a person in need. And so, I ask their prayers for me. “Brothers, you graduated. Pray for me. I’m still in the school of the Lord’s service.”

The school of life can be frustrating! If you’re ever frustrated, then come back to the fact that each day is a new day, a day created and gifted by God. Each day is a new day. Each day is an opportunity to be compassionate. Compassionate to yourself, and to those you meet.

When you lose compassion for humanity, to be a person of need among others in who are in need, and when you lose the ability to love and honor and fully receive people as they are -- flawed, broken, evolving, all of us clawing our way to something we hope is better -- you have lost sight of why people seek spirituality and religion in the first place.

Jesus Christ, the human face of God, loves us. Each one of us. Everything about us, you and I, everything about us – our laughter, our dreams, our fears, our heart and mind – is eternally significant to God.  Few people have ever needed our heart…and God?!  The thought that God wants my heart seems too good to be true.  Yet, to discover that the needs of my heart does indeed matter to God, that it’s central really. God loves us. 

As were the prostitutes and sinners in today’s Gospel, are you in need? Then give to your heart that which satisfies the heart. And what will you find?  The Kingdom of God. How unexpected is God? Quite unexpected. And that’s wonderful!

September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

 A man came across three stone-masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed irritated at her job, chipping away and frequently looking at her watch. When the man asked what she was doing, she responded, rather sharply, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til five o’clock when I can go home.”

The second stone-mason, seemingly more interested in her work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that she was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used to construct a wall. It’s ok work, but other people have better jobs than I do.”

The third stone-mason was hammering at her block happily, taking time to stand back and admire her work. She chipped off small pieces until she was satisfied that it was the best she could do. When she was questioned about her work she stopped, looked skyward and proudly proclaimed, “I’m building a cathedral!”

Just like these stone-masons and the vineyard workers in today’s gospel, we’re all trying to create a living. We need to work and we need to study. That’s what people do. But what’s our perspective towards what we do in life? Is life a hassle or is life about building a cathedral? Attitude is essential.

The workers, in the gospel, who started in the morning, grumbled and murmured after a hard day’s work, “It’s not fair, we endured the labor and the heat of the day.” They endured, rather than simply be happy working in the Master’s vineyard and grateful to have work in the first place.

In our life what does our mind and heart center on? If we focus on the “heat of the day,” that is, just the pain in the butt and burden of our work and study, then we’ll be less happy -- we’ll be unsatisfied in the present moment.

If, like in the gospel, we’re envious of other people (she gets all the breaks; I wish I had money like that person; I wish I had better grades like that person); we’ll be less happy -- we’ll be unsatisfied in the present moment.

Just enduring, just envious, that’s not what working in the vineyard in about. The Vineyard.

Jesus’ own words, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.” In the parables of Jesus, a vineyard is not just the place where people happen to work. Rather, the vineyard is a symbolic place of celebration, of God’s joy, of God’s eternal covenant with us. I mean, a vineyard produces wine!

Whatever vineyard God calls you and I to work in, we must remember what we’re doing – we’re making wine for the world. The “heat of the day” is worth the wine. If we have a vineyard perspective, then we can put up with a lot of difficulties in life.

How to gain a vineyard attitude? Saint Bernard writes, “Widen your hearts. The soul must grow and expand, let it be roomy enough for God.” I love that!

Finding room for God in our busyness is a common challenge.  Sometimes, though, we can start on the wrong foot. What I mean is that often we can obsess with the question, “What’s God’s will for me?”

However, let us seek God in a real relationship first, and the rest will follow more peacefully. In other words, trust the relationship. What comes next will be revealed in its own time and with discernment.  Be in the vineyard right now! “Seek first the Kingdom of God [now] and everything shall be added to you as well,” Jesus promises.

No matter what your work or study, let it be as if it were, in the Vineyard of the Lord. That’s what the Kingdom of God is like – being happy in the Vineyard of the Lord. Wine for the world!

September 17, 2017

Matthew 18:21-35

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.

Johnnie dorm. Angry ‘F’-bomb. I prayed & +, “Lord, give him peace!”

Anger. Is a Christian allowed to get angry?  This comes up now and then in conversations and in confession.  We want to imitate Jesus, who tells us to, “turn the other cheek,” who loves his persecutors, and even excuses them. On the cross Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing." At great cost God has forgiven us our sins through the cross. What others do to us is very small compared to what we have done against God. We receive radical grace and forgiveness. We too, then can be very graceful to others. Anger can transform to mercy and reconciliation.

However, we don’t need to simply suppress our anger. Have I the right to be angry?  Yes, sometimes.  But am I so stuck in my anger, that I become an angry person? Does my anger take away my freedom, my happiness?  Anger is appropriate at times, but anger is also a heavy burden, too heavy to carry all the time.

In the Gospel, the master had a right to be angry with his servant for failing to pay back his loans, but the master completely forgave the debt. The master had mercy. The servant, however, had no right to be angry at his fellow servant’s unpaid loans (he even choked him). He should have been merciful, just as he received mercy.

Dorothy Day. One of my heroes! (Benedictine Oblate) When Dorothy Day died in 1980, many in the Christian world called her, "the most influential and significant figure in the history of American Catholicism.”  An extraordinary statement of someone who held no official position of authority in the Church. The Catholic Worker, a lay movement, she founded in 1933 and oversaw for 50 years, was an effort to show that the radical commandment of love of neighbor could be lived.  The Catholic Worker was thoroughly based on the Benedictine values of: intentional community; radical hospitality; liturgical prayer and social justice.

Dorothy Day understood Christian discipleship is a challenge not just in the personal works of charity, but in a political form as well, confronting and resisting the social forces which gave rise to such a need for charity.  She represented a new type of holiness -- a lay movement serving Jesus Christ not only through deep prayer, but through solidarity with the marginalized and in struggle along the path of peace and justice.  She could have been overcome by frustration and anger at those who opposed her, and at times, imprisoned her. But she was intentionally rooted in personal and communal prayer. She was a free woman, with the love of God and neighbor, shining through her life. Her holiness is relevant to our times.  Day has said, “We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so it’s best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy, and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all.”

But, how? When a natural storm blows outside, we quickly shut our windows, lest the rain and strong winds comes in our house.  If the electricity goes out, we know to grab our flashlight, or light some candles.  If the weather is cold, we turn up the heat.  We create an area of safety and protection while the storms blow and rage outside.

The strong emotion of anger is very similar to storms.  We need to create a safe area within us that will protect us and others from these destructive powers.  We can’t keep saying, “Here’s that old anger again, I can’t do anything about it. I’ll just let it blaze.” Rather, we need to be more proactive.  We have safety options.

When anger arises, especially when another person or situation triggers my anger, it's best not to react irrationally, saying or doing something we'll later regret – “F” bombing for the world to hear. Nor is it helpful to suppress it, shoving it in some dark place where it will fester. It’s best to give our anger some gentleness.

A simple prayer is helpful here:

          Breathing in, I know I'm angry.

          Breathing out, I smile and I let go of anger’s power. Peace. Peace.

Another practice, ask yourself:

          Getting angry at another person or situation today,

          “What’s the real big deal?!”

           In a year, a month, a day from now?

           Where will that person or situation be? Where will I be?

This is the wisdom that nothing is permanent!  Everything changes.  When we get angry, we often do this to punish another person – “I’m going to get back at you!”  But, if you just take a moment and visualize everything a year, a month, a day, an hour from now, you get an insight that nothing is permanent.  Just one breath in, and one breath out. Smile. Pray for help, "Peace. Peace!"  When you really look at things, things that pass away so quickly, anger is replaced by a deep sense of patience.  Buddhist author, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “This is the only thing worth doing, to cherish the present moment because things change so quickly.”

Every storm will pass. There is no storm that will last forever.  Our anger will pass too if we realize that anger is not worth giving up our happiness, our peace.  We can find safety right in the middle of the storm.  We won’t let the storm harm ourselves or others. 

We all have received the mercy and forgiveness of God. It cost God, God’s blood, on the cross. Let us live as people who have received mercy, people who have been offered peace, from our Master, Jesus Christ.

September 10, 2017

Matthew 18:15-20

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.

When I was received into Solemn Vows (life-long commitment) as a monk, there was the beautiful tradition of exchanging the sign of peace with each member of my community. During the sign of peace, many of my brothers said a word of encouragement. One monk said, “Welcome aboard!” (was I on a cruise liner?!). Then came my spiritual director, Fr. Julius. He got up from his wheelchair, shuffled over to me, embraced me, and said one word, “Persevere!” Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another. I believe loving one another is totally worth it, but as we know, it takes a lot of work. Persevere!

In this homily, I want to talk about commitment — especially in our relationship with God and one another. What does commitment look and feel like? Is it positive or negative?  Is it something we run from, or is it life giving to us?

Pope Francis, speaking to young adults, has said, “Love is a free gift which calls for an open heart. Love is a responsibility, but a noble responsibility which is life-long. It’s a daily task for those who can achieve great dreams! Woe to your people who do not know how to dream, who do not dare to dream! If a person of your age is not able to dream, if they have already gone into retirement -- this is not good. Love is nurtured by trust, respect and forgiveness. Love does not happen because we talk about it, but when we live it. It is not a sweet poem to study and memorize, but is a life choice to put into practice!” 

Real, valuable, human relationships. What could be more important in life! About a month ago, one of my brother monks and I went to visit his mom in New York. We got to swim in the Atlantic, get fed tons of traditional food from his Korean mom, and we just laughed a lot. That was really great!

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another. How is love and friendship real to you? Jesus tells of God’s commitment, of love, to us all the time — especially in stories (people like stories), in his parables -- about a woman who loses a coin and lights a lamp to find it; a shepherd who loses a sheep and roams about the countryside until the shepherd finds it; and a father who loses a son and is always looking down the road for his return. These stories aren’t ultimately about things and people being lost; the stories are about things and people being found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever. God is persevering! God is our Good Teacher.

I believe loving one another is totally worth it, but as we know, it takes a lot of work. Coming to college, you had to leave behind many of those deep connections you once had – parents, siblings, high school friends. Perhaps it can be a bit lonely? You try to maintain those connections by texting, Facebook, or a phone call. That’s good. I would suggest, however, that you learn to love new people here at CSBSJU. Become friends with people here. We need face to face relationships. We need to love people where we are, right here, right now. That will be a happy thing. Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.