(All-school Mass at Pensacola Catholic High. In the homily I pointed to a banner in the gym that highlights some saints and has the words "The Love of God Makes us do Great Things" over it.)
Do Catholics worship Mary? Of course not. Worship and adoration belong to God alone. When we honor Mary and the saints we do what they did: we glorify God. Mary said herself, "My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit exalts in God my savior!" Since she was so devoted to her Son Jesus Christ on earth, she is forever united to him in heaven. May it be so with us.
What is the Assumption of Mary, and why is it important to us today? Because of Mary's perfect openness and obedience to God here on earth, she was taken up, body and soul, in the heaven at the end of her life. Our Holy Father Francis said that every "Yes" to God is a step toward heaven. Mary's whole life was a "Yes" to God; thus she reigns with Him in eternal life. May it be so with us.
The readings for today's Mass are very challenging. We hear what happened to Jeremiah when he spoke the truth in his day, and Jesus tells us, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. Rather, I have come to bring division..." Whereas when someone wants to convince us to buy something or to join them in some endeavor, they only tell us the positive things that we can obtain; Jesus puts it to us plainly: "Take up your cross, follow me, and you will live." Being a Christian means experiencing hardship, persecutions, divisions in our families (and even in our church), and perhaps even martyrdom. We are able to carry our cross today because we are promised eternal life with Christ in heaven. As the sacred author in the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, "Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ..."
Today's Gospel reading gives us the beloved story of The Good Samaritan. Jesus tells this story as an answer to the scholar's question, "And who is my neighbor?" However, Jesus turns the question around and asks the man, "Which of these was neighbor to the man who was beaten?" The crux of the matter, then, is not that we should try to figure out which person is our neighbor (and which ones are not); rather we should put all of our attention into trying to BE neighbor to everyone.
(Sorry about the misquote in the homily! I said, "Isaiah 55", when it really should be "Matthew 5". Mea culpa.)
Today's readings -- and the presidential prayers for the Mass -- tell us that we should rejoice. Isaiah's imagery is a bit shocking as he refers to Jerusalem (the New Jerusalem) as a Mother who delights in her children and plays with them on her lap. In the Gospel, even as the disciples are reporting to Jesus about their progress following their first missionary activity, Jesus says to them, "Rejoice rather because your names are written in heaven." In the midst of all of that, St. Paul writes to the Galatians that he will boast of nothing except the cross of Christ. It is only by embracing our crosses that we are assured the glory of the Resurrection.
"My sheep know me and I know them." "There is no snatching them from my hand." Today as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, we reflect on what it means to be united with our shepherd, Jesus Christ. Hearing these words in the midst of the Easter Season reminds us that the goal of our lives is -- in the words of the Opening Prayer from today's Mass -- "to follow where our brave shepherd has gone." As the Lord has ascended to heaven, we pray that we may be fully united with him in eternal life one day.
Today we hear about another Resurrection appearance to the disciples. Like the other accounts, this one is not flashy, not dramatic at all. Jesus appears to the disciples in very ordinary ways -- in today's case on the shore, eating breakfast with an incredulous group of disciples.
In the same way, we experience the Risen Lord today in regular, ordinary ways. Through prayer, adoration, the celebration of the Eucharist and other sacraments, a quiet moment shared with a loved one, the experience of forgiving someone or being forgiven, etc., our God comes to us and shares His Presence with us. May we, like the first disciples, recognize His Divine Presence among us and proclaim the Good News to all the world.
The Lord is Risen! We have died with the Lord and have been raised with him. Let us live as people bound for glory.
We have listened to the proclamation of several readings from the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament Epistle and the climactic reading of the Lord's Resurrection in the Gospel. In light of this Good News, may we live always as people of the Resurrection, people of hope and joy.
Why do we venerate the cross of Christ? only because we know that this is not the end. No, we believe that everything -- especially the death of Jesus Christ on the cross -- ends in glory. Knowing how all of this ends gives us the ability to 'celebrate' the death of Christ for our salvation.
Today more than ever, we must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. As we walk with him the Way of the Cross and then celebrate his Resurrection, we must remember that he is always with us. Even when things look bad for us we have to remember: This ends in glory for those who follow the Lord.
As we begin the great liturgy of the Paschal Mystery, we hear a lot of detailed instructions from our God. God commands the Israelites to celebrate the Passover meal in a very specific way. St. Paul teaches us what was handed on to him -- namely, how Jesus Christ celebrated the Last Supper and commanded us to "do this in memory" of him. In the Gospel, St. John relates what happened during that meal, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and said to them, "What I have done for you, you must do for one another." We would all do well to hearken to the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who spoke before Jesus' first miracle at the Wedding at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you."
At this liturgy we ask God to bless the oil that will be used to anoint our brothers and sisters throughout the year. God uses something so ordinary and commonplace -- the fruit of the olive tree -- to do something extraordinary today. In the same way, God takes our ordinary lives and makes them extraordinary. Finally, today we celebrate and honor the priests who serve us; men whom God has set apart to celebrate the sacraments and preach the Word to the assembly. We thank God for the ordinary, commonplace things that are used to help us to experience God's presence and ministry among us.
The Gospel today gives us the account of the adulterous woman and Jesus. Whereas some of the religious leaders were using the woman to test Jesus, Jesus used her to show us God's mercy. Why is this Gospel passage given to us late in Lent? One reason might be that it points us toward the redemption that is ours in Jesus' passion and death. In his encounter with the woman who sinned, Jesus 'suspends her sentence'. He tells her that she is free to go. But who will atone for her sin? Jesus Christ. Next week we will focus especially on the cross of Christ, praising and thanking God for gift of redemption and atonement.
The Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Lent this year gives us the parable of the Prodigal Son. This story, coupled with the words of St. Paul from the second reading: "For our sake God made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor 5:21), teach us God's plan for creation. God wishes that everyone be saved through His son Jesus Christ. Like the father in the parable, God rushes to meet us and heal us and forgive us when we have sinned or wandered away. He comes to us in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, and we receive His gift of salvation through the Church, the Body of Christ.
In the middle of the season of Lent, the Scriptures for this Sunday remind us that we must turn away from sin and be converted. What we began on Ash Wednesday now takes an even more serious turn as we are confronted with the final judgement and our conscience. The disciples ask Jesus (in effect): "Why do bad things happen (to good people)?" Jesus does not answer the question directly; rather he asks us to ask ourselves, "Will I be ready to meet the Lord when my time comes?" St. Paul tells the Corinthians, "Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall." This is the acceptable time -- a privileged time -- to turn back to the Lord.
We were created for eternal Beatitude -- that is, eternal life with God. After spelling out the Beatitudes in the Gospel passage from last week, Jesus tells us how we are to live so as to receive this gift from the Father. In short, we must become more and more like Christ. Specifically, we are called to forgive like Christ, love like Christ, and serve like Christ. Today Jesus calls us to a radical kind of forgiveness: "Love not only your friends; love your enemies as well."
In the Gospel passage today we hear about Jesus' rejection in the synagogue at Nazareth. We may tend to think that it was easy for him to face the anger and consternation of his kinfolk and neighbors, but as a human being I am certain that it affected Jesus. Any of us who have faced slander or gossip or bullying (in person or online) know how hard it is to stand up to such injustices. Jesus was able to endure these and many insults that were hurled at him because he KNEW that he is the Father's beloved Son. I believe that Jesus replayed those words that were spoken at his baptism again and again all his life -- especially in the midst of danger and difficulty. The same is true for us: whether we heard it audibly or not, God spoke to us at our baptism: "You are my beloved child; in you I am well pleased." May these be the words that we hear the loudest -- and not the voices of violence and division around us.
Midnight Christmas Mass has its own unique characteristics and "feel". Of course, we rejoice tonight at the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And the "theme" of every Mass is the death and resurrection of Christ. At the same time, this is a vigil, and thus we gather tonight at this hour of darkness to wait together. We join our ancestors who waited in the darkness, and we join our brothers and sisters today as we wait in joyful hope for Christ's triumphant return. On this night we would do well to reflect on the words of the hymn, "O Holy Night", especially the lines: "Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 'til He appeared and the soul felt its worth". Our life makes complete sense in light of the Incarnation. As we wait, we rejoice tonight!
Even though we are just days away from celebrating Christmas, we still find ourselves in the beautiful season of Advent -- a time of waiting and preparing for the Lord. The scene of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth in the Gospel is one of great joy and wonder, and we would do well to contemplate and imitate the faith and exuberance of these holy women. In the second reading -- from the Letter to the Hebrews -- we are reminded why the Incarnation was necessary. God took flesh and was born of Mary so that he could offer a perfect sacrifice in obedience, which would bring salvation to the world. This eternal gift begins for us at Christmas, the feast we look forward to celebrating very soon.
During Advent we prepare to receive our Lord. God comes to us not "once upon a time", or "in a galaxy far, far away", but in a specific moment in history and in a specific place. St. Luke places his coming within historical events sot that we may know that Jesus Christ really and truly came in the flesh. Imagine: God loves us so much that He opened the heavens and came down to live among us! We celebrate his true and abiding presence even today, in every Mass. God is with us.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We proclaim and believe that God, in His goodness and love, preserved Mary from all stain of sin from the moment of her conception -- thus preparing her to be a worthy vessel for God's Son. In this liturgy we adore our God and thank God for the redemption of the world, wrought by the death and resurrection of His Son. May we, like Mary, strive for holiness and purity, so that we also may constantly say "Yes" to our God.
Today's Gospel gives us the very familiar story of "The Rich Young Man". Especially for those present at this Mass who were about to be confirmed, the young man gives a good example -- and then teaches us what else we must do. First, he runs up to Jesus, does him homage, and asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Undoubtedly, Jesus approved of this question and the desire of the young man to enter eternal life. All of us should be able to express that same desire: What must I do in order to be saved? Jesus answers by saying that keeping God's Commandments is the first step, but it cannot end there. We must continue to follow the Lord by taking up our cross daily. While the young man went away sad, I pray that we may take up that challenge and follow Jesus courageously every day of our lives.
In the Gospel Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" After listening to their responses, Jesus looks at them and asks, "Who do YOU say that I am?" This is THE question that we all must answer. It's not enough to say that we know about the Lord; we hope to be able to answer wholeheartedly that we know the Lord.
In today's readings we hear Moses and Jesus calling the people to fidelity. God gives us the Law in order to lead us to Himself. Whereas we may think that laws exist to hamper our freedom, God's law does just the opposite. Through the Law God gives us the freedom to choose the good. By loving God with all our mind, heart, and soul, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves, we imitate our Lord and thus grow in holiness. This is a message that the people in Moses' day and in Jesus' day needed to hear; a message that we need to hear and follow today. May we recommit ourselves to being faithful to God and to His commandments today and always.
There is a very common -- and extremely relevant -- theme in the readings today. Both Joshua and Jesus ask their contemporaries to make a decision. "Who will you serve?" "Will you leave me, too?" Even (and especially) amidst trials and difficulties of all kinds, we pray for the grace to answer as our ancestors did: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!" And from St. Peter: "Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of everlasting life."