Palm Sunday 2021: Three Points

Today’s homily is for Palm Sunday, March 28 , 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

Today we witness the tragedy and consequence of human selfishness. We witness the tragedy and consequence of human cowardice. We witness the tragedy and consequences of poor leadership. But most of all, we are confronted with the truth of human weakness and sin, and a God that loves us to death in spite of it. Make no mistake, God became one of us and freely died both because of us and for us. That’s amazing love. 

In this love story, I want to point out three examples by which I think we should live. 1. Give and don’t count the cost. 2. Love everyone greatly, and 3. Be bold and courageous. 

In the house of Simon the leper a woman came with an incredibly expensive jar of perfumed oil. Can you imagine a bottle of cologne or a bottle of perfume that was worth your total salary for a year? Without a second thought, she broke it and lavishly poured it upon our Lord–not for a second counting the cost. A fraction of this sort of generosity is still scoffed at in our day. 10% of your wages for the Church! The Bishop’s Ministry Appeal? The Turlock Pregnancy and Health Center? Too often in this life we are no better than Judas and the others who scoff at generosity to the Lord and to His missions. Too often we hold tightly and want to keep for ourselves what we should offer to the work of the Lord in our midst. Lesson 1: Give and don’t count the cost. She did a good thing for Him, and so can we by serving our brothers and sisters in need, and financially supports those that do. 

Lesson 2. Love everyone greatly.  Jesus chose twelve disciples–one who he knew very well would betray him someday. He chose to teach and to love Judas in spite of his many flaws and failings. And eventually, in Judas’ weakness he betrayed our Lord, but still Jesus loved him. I think sometimes we seek only to surround ourselves with people of good moral character, of good standing, with members of the church, Bible study groups, and fraternal organizations. I call this the Christian huddle. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, and there is little risk of betrayal there. But Jesus loved everyone, even at personal risk. He saw the good in sinners. He loved others in spite of their weaknesses. If we only spend time with good, like minded people, how will our world ever become a better place? We are called to be lights in a world of darkness. Lesson 2: Love everyone greatly, both saints and sinners alike. You could be hurt. You might be betrayed, but in doing so, you walk in the footsteps of the Lord. 

Finally, Lesson 3. Be bold. Be courageous. Peter said to the Lord, “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” Jesus says, “You will deny me three times by morning.” Peter says, “I’ll go to my death for you! I will not deny you.” But he did. And we do too. If your Lenten journey has been anything like mine, I started like Peter and ended up the same way. I love Peter’s enthusiasm for the Lord. This is the same courageousness to which God calls us. 

It’s an attitude that says, “I’ll go to my death for you!” But like Peter, we will stumble and fall. Sometimes our fear will get the best of us. We will sometimes crumble because of human weakness and sin. But get back up, dust yourself off, and be courageous and be bold. Say, “I may have failed last time, but I won’t fail again.” Peter proved himself weak at our Lord’s Passion, unable to stand the test, but as we know, he returned, led the Church, and went to his death boldly proclaiming salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. His courageousness did not come overnight or all at once, but even in his weakness he was courageous and bold. The Lord rewards perseverance. Lesson 3. Be courageous. Be bold. 

God took on human flesh. God became one of us. Vatican II documents Joy and Hope reads, “He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart, he loved.” He gave us each an example to follow. So, give and don’t count the cost–be generous in supporting missions, ministries, and our Bishop. Love everyone greatly–even sinners, backsliders, the helpless, and the hopeless. And always be bold and courageous. We will fall and we will fail, but if we are faithful, we will rise to new life with him.

5th S. of Lent 2021: A Grain of Wheat

Today’s homily is for the 5th Sunday of Lent, March 21 , 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here soon.

Jesus teaches his disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit,” referring of course to His death, but also to ours. St. John Paul II, in his Exhortation, Chrisifideles Laici said, “It must be remembered that Christian witness is to be considered a fundamental obligation that can even lead to the sacrificing of one’s life, to martyrdom, in the name of love.” He said that “The history of the past twenty centuries, as well as that of the last century, is filled with martyrs for Christian truth, witnesses to the faith, hope, and love that is founded on the Gospel.” 

Estimates suggest that 100,000 Christians lose their life each year because of their faith in Jesus Christ. On Jan. 13, this year, Vatican News reported, “Every day, 13 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith, 12 churches or Christian buildings are attacked and 12 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned, while another 5 are abducted. 1 in 8 Christians worldwide are facing persecution.” Can you believe it? 

I go to work Monday to Friday…the week flies by, I say, “Where did it go?” One month turns to another and just like that a whole year has gone. I lament Mondays, love taco Tuesdays, and look forward to Fri-yeah! while 13 people are martyred each day, 91 this week, almost 400 this month–all the while I seem only to want to escape even the slightest discomfort. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Many Christians in developed nations have all but removed themselves from the scourging at the pillar, the discomfort of the cross, the humiliation of Calvary, and in doing so have denied themselves the glory of the resurrection. 

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” I am not without reproach in my desire to seek comfort. I mean, I am a man! I don’t mind carrying my cross, as long as it’s not too heavy, and the trip is short, and the cross has some padding, and maybe if it’s kinda small. 

How do we in this first world comfort enjoy the victory of the cross and the martyrdom that is required? How do we without persecution walk in the footsteps of Christ and lay down our life for others? St. Ignatius, on his own way to martyrdom may offer some helpful insight. He said, “Now is the moment when I begin to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen distract me from making my way to Jesus Christ. Fire, cross, wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of the whole body, cruel tortures inflicted by the devil–let them come, provided that I make my way to Jesus Christ.”

His answer is quite clear, we must remain focused on Jesus. Not on comfort, but on Jesus. Not on the wealth of this world, but on treasure in heaven. Not on politics and pleasure, but on unity and sacrifice. As I speak with kids who have done wrong at school, they often want to avert their eyes to things less uncomfortable. I sternly say, “Look at me,” as I remind them of who they are, where they are, and what is expected of them. They are far less concerned about living right, than who might be watching. I say, “Look at me.” And as the weight of their wrongdoing finally sinks in and they bow their head, and sometimes there are even tears, I say, “Look at me.” I start stern and end in love. I say, “You can do better. I know you can. Show me what you’ve got.

In their willingness to look at me there is death to sin, death to self, and only in that is there hope for resurrection. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. We need to ask ourselves, how often do I divert my eyes? It’s time for the Bishop’s ministry appeal–look away! Oh jeez, here come the Knights of Columbus–another fish fry! Look away! There are the homeless–look away. Here are children without clothes–look away. There are the hungry and in shelters–look away. Here are those who are in prison–look away. 

To seek only comfort and the path of least resistance and to look away from sadness, suffering, helplessness, and hopelessness, is to look away from Jesus. We turn away from our Lord who said that which you did not do for these least brothers of mine, you did not do for me. Pick up our cross? In truth, too often we don’t even want to follow him. We certainly don’t want to run to him.The answer is quite simple, really, when God presents us with the discomfort of sin, brokenness, addiction, homelessness, and a life of irresponsibility, we have a choice to make, we can look away, or we can admit with Jesus, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” And in that moment, we remain fixed on Jesus, pick up our cross, and donate, serve, support, and yes, sacrifice. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat…but we were created for so much more–produce much fruit and be his disciples today.

4th S. Lent 2021 Scrutinies: Whaaat!?

Today’s homily is for the 4th Sunday of Lent, the Scrutinies, March 14 , 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

Every year all the 3rd grade students in the Turlock Unified School District take the G.A.T.E. test. The test has no words to read. It is only a pattern-matching test. No words, no directions, no writing. Of a thousand 3rd graders in the district, only a handful of students qualify. Students who just see the world a little differently. It’s not about wealth, education, language fluency, black, white, rich, poor. It’s just about seeing the pattern. None of the usual test criteria apply (reading, math, writing, etc.), so many of the usual high achieving students, to the surprise of many parents, do not qualify. Even I’m sometimes like, “Whaaat!?”

Similar to the GATE test for 3rd graders, so also it is with God’s call to people in each generation to follow him, and among those people who follow him, to be called to servant-leadership as deacons, priests, and bishops, or as religious, catechists, and lay evangelists. 

When God called Samuel to anoint young David to be King of Israel, the people, David’s brothers–and even his own dad were like, “Whaaat!?” They left David in the field! Why bother to bring him?! Young, skinny, unskilled in combat, and no leadership experience. But the Lord reminds Samuel, “Man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” 

The most unlikely of people, people the world and sometimes even the Church had rejected, were called by God and became great Saints. Not all of them smart. Not all of them wealthy. Not all of them powerful. Not all them courageous. Not all of them short, bald, funny, and shockingly handsome. But all of them called, and all of them faithful to that call. God sees what man is not able to see. God looks into the heart and calls men and women to himself. 

That’s the irony of the Gospel today. The blind man, born totally in sin, is able to see, and the Pharisees who should be able to see the power of God in their midst, were blind. It was the blind sinner who was able to see, and religious people who had become blind. We should be mindful of our biases too, our prejudices, our tendencies to judge by appearance. For lots of good reasons we evaluate and make judgements, but when we stop reflecting, when we fail to do the hard work of getting into the heart, when we don’t seek God’s guidance, then we run the risk of blindly discounting others, rejecting others, even condemning others–not because of what they’ve done, but because of our own blindedness. 

Today we call upon the RCIA candidates to reflect on their blindedness. We ask them to search their motivations, biases, prejudices, generalizations, and judgements. We don’t have a 48 question picture test, and we don’t ask them to be perfect, but we do ask them to answer one question with their whole heart, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” To which they respond in the affirmative, “I do believe.” And then they worship. 

And so it is with us each Sunday. We begin the Mass with a search for our motivations, biases, prejudice and sin. We confess that we have sinned and we seek forgiveness. We learn about the Lord in Scripture where our eyes are opened, and we respond in the affirmative to the Lord when we profess the Creed. Isn’t that beautiful? We repent, seek forgiveness, hear God’s Word, gain sight and as family say, “I believe.” 

I want to hear you say, “I believe” with the fullness of faith today, that we might worship His presence in the Eucharist and be filled with God’s life. Amen? I’ll be listening. As we said in the Marines, “Sound off!”