22nd S. 2021: With You!

Today’s homily is for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary time, August 29, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

When I was growing up, I remember my mom telling me she wanted me to hear her, understand her, and then do what was asked of me–without complaint, without defiance, and without lip service. Lip service…isn’t that a funny phrase? I rarely, if ever, hear it anymore but it is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel today, which is interesting because Webster’s dictionary said the term was first used in 1590, but Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah (742bc) when he admonished the Pharisees saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Isaiah might as well have said, “This people honors me with lip service.” 

Merriam Webster defines lip service as, “an avowal of advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds.” To give lip service is to betray another. To say, “I’m with you, but not go.”

In the Marines, I was a shooter who did hostage rescue. When we entered a crisis site, the first man would stop at the door and yell, “Support!” When the second man arrived he would bump the first with his knee and say, “With you!” And we would together enter the crisis site. You never enter a room alone. You always wait for support. You wait for the bump and the “With you!” In the hundreds and hundreds of times that I received support, there was never a time when someone bumped me but did not enter into the crisis site with me. It was serious, and we lived that way.

Jesus is clearly frustrated with the religious leaders of his day, as Isaiah had been 800 years earlier. It had become far too common for people to pay lip service to God, that is, when God stood at the threshold of a crisis site, and called for support, they would give God the bump and say, “With you!” but fail to go in. I wonder if that still happens today. I wonder if I am guilty of lip service toward God. The issue that Jesus was dealing with was whether someone washed their hands before eating. Of course, this is very important, you should always wash your hands…but what if they’re not dirty…do you still have to wash them? Jesus and his disciples say no. 

We might call what Jesus did observing the intent of the law, though maybe not following the letter of the law. Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees is not that they love the law and seek to observe it–that’s a good thing! It was that they loved the law more than the law-giver and His intent. They loved the words, “With you!” but they refused to go in. Washing hands wasn’t about washing their hands, it was about food safety and not getting sick! But they missed the whole point. 

I think COVID has really challenged people, tested them maybe, in many ways to be people of real character. Government programs that were put in place to support sick people and families, and to help ensure public health are being abused. Many people don’t want to work! Employees who are not sick are pretending to be sick so they can get days off with pay. That’s lying. That is a sin. That leaves employers and customers, in my case children, without support. I fear that the Puritan work ethic, or what Catholic social justice refers to as the dignity of work, is all but gone, and a lot of people who say, “I love this country,” are sinfully taking advantage of its resources and support at the expense of others. That’s lip service not love. 

Many people are not wearing their mask properly, if at all, are not staying home when they don’t feel well, sending their kids to school sick, not taking other quite normal precautions to mitigate the spread of disease, and not following guidelines from the pope, the local bishop, nor his pastors. We cannot both say, “With you!” to our bishop and the pope, but then disregard their directives. And we cannot say, “With you!” to our country and not go to work. And we cannot say, “With you!” to our God and not go to church without grave cause. Too many are missing the point–filled with “evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly,” are defiled by human sin, and pay lip service to love of God and country. We can do better, and we must. As St. James said, “We must be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

21st S. 2021: To Whom Shall We Go?

Today’s homily is for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary time, August 22, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

O.L.A.’s Knights of Columbus, of which I am a proud member, celebrated their 20th year anniversary yesterday. We had a nice picnic, new officers were installed, lots of food was brought, and of course, someone had cards. It really was a very nice time. If you’re a man, and you’re not yet a member of the Knights of Columbus, I want to encourage you to join. The knights do A LOT for our parish and for many charitable causes; good men doing good things for our parish and the community. 

After eating I was talking to a parishioner about a time I offered a retreat for catechists at a parish in Stockton some years ago. One of the catechists admitted that many young people today are turned off by the Church’s teachings on abortion or gay marriage, or even divorce. He was concerned that by teaching them what the church teaches, they might leave the Church. He asked me what I thought he should do. 

I told him that our job as catechists is to teach what the church teaches. What an honor and calling it is to form minds and help young and old alike understand, apply, and live up to the Church’s teaching. I told him that I was not hired by that Church to teach the Theology of Stephen. There’s no Catechism of the Catholic Stephen. That parish hired me to teach what the Church teaches. And parents who love this Church do not send their children to Catechism to be taught some watered down, speculative theology, that may be pleasing to the ears, but is not grounded in the solid foundation of the Catholic Church’s teaching. 

I told him that people trust ministers and catechists to teach what the church teaches. Period. Not more, not less. It’s called orthodox teaching. No conservative, not liberal, orthodox; right beliefs. Catechists do not remain silent in the face of uncomfortable truths. We don’t skip pages in the workbook because it is difficult and people might not like to hear it. The art of the catechist is to teach truths difficult to understand in a way that children and adults alike might be able to grab hold. With a story or an analogy, we raise them to a new level of understanding, and if they still do not get it, we love them and pray for them, and tell them what my mother told me, “You’ll understand someday when you get older.” And that is the truth. It might not make sense now, but if we are obedient, we will know someday. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus’ hearers have a hard time with what he has just said. He said his body is food and his blood drink. He said they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they are to have life. And the men grumbled and said, “This is a hard saying, who can accept it?” They didn’t get it. They just couldn’t see it. How could they? It sounded absurd. Difficult to understand. But Jesus does not back away from teaching the truth. He doubles down, in fact. He says, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the son of man ascending to where he was before?” I love it! He says, you think this is difficult? Wait until I rise from the dead and ascend into heaven! It’s always surprising to me that so many Christians believe in the resurrection, but not the Eucharist. 

Jesus says Eucharist is nothing compared to resurrection…but they couldn’t see it. And in John 6:66, we read, “As a result of this, many returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” Jesus didn’t chase them down, say he was just kidding, or that it was only a symbol. He let them walk. And he turns to the twelves and asks, “You want to leave too?” So bold. So courageous. Peter’s response is perfect, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 

Jesus doesn’t ask us to completely understand, or even to understand at all. He asks us to stay, trust, and believe. The disciples would not know the truth of his words until after the resurrection at Emmaus in the breaking of the bread when their eyes were opened to His presence in the Eucharist. 

When we have a difficult time with the teachings of the Church, we don’t leave we pray and ask God to open our eyes. And when we teach, we pray that the Spirit open the hearts of the faithful that they might receive the wisdom that is beyond understanding. And even then, if we find ourselves totally confuzzled, in a place of invincible ignorance, when the saying is hard and we cannot understand it, we speak Peter’s words, “To whom shall we go, Master, you have the words of eternal life.”

The Assumption 2021: Say “Yes!”

Today’s homily is for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

Today the Church celebrates our God who keeps his promises, our God who never forgets, our God who sees every act of love, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, our God who rewards his faithful with rest and peace and exaltation when the course of our earthly life is over. Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII dogmatically defined, “that the Virgin Mary having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

What a fitting end to her difficult life, a life with moments of joy, for sure, but also a life filled with struggles and suffering, with much confusion, and many questions unanswered. But even with the confusion, even amidst her sadness and pain, the Blessed Virgin Mary, again and again, gave her “yes” to God—even while so many in her day said “no.” But today is not about them who say no, it is about her, and those like her, who say “yes.” Yes! to life and love. Yes! to prayer and holiness. And an unequivocal, unwavering yes! to God. In the words of her cousin, Elizabeth, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

God did not promise Mary a life free of suffering and pain. God promised that she would be pierced by many pains, but that all generations would call her blessed because God had done great things for her. And so we do. We stand alongside countless generations who call her our Blessed Mother—The Blessed Virgin Mary.

Isn’t that interesting that Mary was able to say, “all generations will call me blessed because God has done great things for me and holy is His name?” From the moment she became pregnant outside of her marriage to Joseph her life was filled with struggle. From the moment she said yes to God it was nothing but sorrow, but yet she saw nothing but blessing and glorified the Lord her God. How could that be? How could it be that Herod tried to have her killed, and her nephew was beheaded, and her son was wrongfully accused, tortured and beaten, and finally crucified, that she could proclaim the greatness of the Lord and rejoice in God her savior? I’ll tell you how, she was humble of heart, and she had as her motto for life, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” The Blessed Virgin allowed God to lead her in life. She let His plan be her plan. She let his will be her will. She knew that her role was but that of a servant in God’s unfolding plan of salvation. She said “yes,” and gave the world it’s savior. And God wants our “yes” too. What will God do with our yes? How many souls would be saved if His plan were our plan?

And so we celebrate her because she did what so few of us are ready to do. I was just talking with a man I had gone to school with at Mt. View and Chatom, and we agreed that whenever we try to have it our way it’s never as sweet and when we do it God’s way. There may be fruit sometimes, but it’s like the nectarine you get at Walmart—out of season! Sure, it’s a nectarine, but it’s not very sweet. Go to a Cipponeri’s fruit stand, on Geer road, and it’s like sugar in your mouth—sweet and delicious. That’s God’s desire for us.

We celebrate the Assumption because it’s not about going through the motions of life and always having it my way. The Assumption is the celebration of the truth that doing things God’s way will be not be easy, but the end brings with it rest and satisfaction of a life well-lived for the glory of God. That’s the Assumption: God’s promise of rest from our labor and exaltation among the saints.

The Assumption of Mary isn’t primarily about Mary at all—it’s about you and me, and about a God who sees every act of love done at the service of him and his Kingdom. It’s about the promise of God that he will raise us up on the last day—that his faithful will not see corruption when our earthly life comes to an end. It’s about the dragon never having the last word. It’s about hearing those sweet words, “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One,” and knowing that we played a part.

St. John Damascene (675-749) said, “It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles…it was fitting that God’s mother should possess what belongs to her Son and that she be honored by every creature as the Mother and the Handmaid of God.”