3.5.23 2nd S. Lent: He Makes Us Great

Today’s homily is for 2nd Sunday of Lent, March 5, 2023, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

When I served as the Dean at Turlock Junior High, I remember a student writing in a brand new text book. Of course the student was sent to me. The boy had written his Instagram username in the margin and wrote “follow me.” He tried to say he had not written it…I said, “It’s your username.” Ugh. He admitted to writing and when I asked him why, he said, “Mr. Valgos, I just want to be somebody.” Isn’t that amazing…and sad? Having followers on Instagram that you don’t even know holds the promise of making us somebody. 

The passage from our first reading today is what is commonly referred to as “the call of Abraham.” It begins chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis. The first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis set the stage for chapter 12. Chapters one and two deal with creation, chapter three they get kicked out of the garden…one rule…just the one! Chapter four Cain kills his brother, Abel. Chapter five is a genealogy that gets us from Adam and Eve to Noah, chapter six to ten is the great flood, and then chapter eleven is the tower of babel. Adam and Eve can’t follow one simple rule. Cain uses violence and kills his own brother. By the time of Noah, the whole world was filled with wickedness. And the people of Shinar had discovered the most amazing technology…kiln-fired bricks and mortar. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves.” Disobedience, violence, wickedness, and arrogant independence that says, “God, I don’t need you anymore.” 

These are the characteristics of humanity in the first eleven chapters of Genesis; are we any different today? And the answer is, “yes!” we are different today, or can be. Chapter twelve introduces a man of great faith, Abraham. Abraham believed God, trusted God, and did God’s will. We heard, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” 

Abraham’s greatness did not come from his own effort. His greatness came from making God number one in his life. Abraham had faith, he nurtured his faith, and leaned on his faith. He did what he was told to do. He trusted God, and God made him great. The whole Old Testament is the story of Abraham’s heritage! And the whole New Testament is the continuation of that story through Jesus, as Matthew says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The blessing of a hundred generations because Abraham allowed God to make his name great. 

Young people, you want to be great? Have faith in God and follow him. Make God first place in your life. Instagram doesn’t make you great–God does. “Followers” don’t make you great–following Jesus does. Church events, LifeTeen, holy and wholesome youth retreats, prayer, Mass, the sacraments–these are the things that make us great, those things that bring us closer to God.

Adults in the room, education, career, wealth, property, possessions–they don’t make us great either–God does. We need to make God first place in our life too with the first fruits of our income, with supporting and participating in the life of the Church community, by being a catechism teacher, a lector or communion minister. We need to seriously consider whether God is calling us to the ordained life, as a priest or a deacon, or in service as a missionary or religious. In all these ways we follow God’s very clear instruction to Peter, James, and John. “This is my beloved son. Listen to him. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood, the Tower of Babel–all because they would not listen to him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Twelve tribes of Israel, Mary, Jesus, and the Apostles–all because they did. Which team do you want to be on? Follow Him. He’s the one who makes us great–following, not followers.

2.12.23 6th S.: One Bite At A Time

The video of this homily can be seen by clicking HERE.

In the Gospel today Jesus is trying to get us to wake up and be honest with ourselves. You’re not right with your neighbor just because you’re not killing him! And you’re not right with God just because you’re not using his holy name in vain. You’re right with your neighbor when there is peace and goodwill, and you’re right with God when you praise, worship, and adore. 

So often we’re like children always looking for the line. I remember doing this as a kid in the backseat of the car. My mom would yell, “Stop touching your sister!” To that rule I was faithful. I would put my finger right in front of her eye. Yes, I wasn’t touching her, but I was still in her face and bothering her. What my mom wanted had nothing to do with touching–my mom wanted me to respect her and give her space. She wanted me to stop being annoying!

Remember how to eat an elephant? If you want to get to heaven, start doing kind things one act at a time. As Mother Theresa said, do small actions done with great love. And stop doing, albeit small, hurtful things to your neighbor. Jesus never said, “Don’t kill your neighbor.” Jesus said to love your neighbor. Our question should not be, “Is this harm venial or mortal?” but instead, “Is this action loving?” 

St. Augustine makes the point that venial sin, although small, begins to take on great weight when there are many. He said to consider how small and of what little consequence a grain of sand appears to be, but when combined with others it makes up the entire sea shore. Like the kingdom of God that begins as a seed and grows, so too do our wrongful actions. Small incidents, hurtful words or actions, taking something from work for personal use…all of these are small but they begin to form our character. They are steps in the wrong direction.

Like the long journey that begins with a single step, the road to hell starts the same way, namely, unloving actions. As we journey toward the beginning of lent, we need to begin thinking about the quality of our life, and ask God to show us those small things that are keeping us from him. As him for the courage and fortitude to live well. To live right. To value prudence, justice, and temperance. I’ll leave you with this favorite saying of mine:

Be careful what you watch and listen to, it becomes you think about. Be careful what you think about, it becomes your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny for the whole of eternity.

2.5.23 5th S. Homily: Salt & Light

Today’s homily is for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 5, 2023, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

One of my favorite church songs growing up was This Little Light of Mine. You remember it. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Jesus is the light of the world. A light that no darkness can overcome. When a person is baptized into Christ Jesus, they become a child of the light. The parents and godparents light a candle and that symbolizes what the child has become and they promise to keep that flame burning brightly. 

Jesus tells his disciples today that they are the light of the world. Christians are called to be light in a world of darkness. In a world filled with darkness and sin, Christians bring light and goodness and truth. A campfire brings warmth and security and s’mores! We are called to be warm, and strong, and generous with the sweet things in life. 

When a bedroom or house is filled with darkness we turn on the lights! You bump into fewer things that way! The light brings certainty, and safety. Christians too should know what they’re about, speak words of bring stability and constancy, and provide a safe haven for others who too often do not find themselves on solid ground. 

And what I love the most is that when two flames come together, the new flame is greater than the two individual flames. And when hundreds of flames come together you’ve got a bon fire! The first is marriage and Christian fellowship. The second is the church gathered together–a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. It is a beacon of light shining out for others who are lost and afraid to find welcome and rest. Are we those people? Are we that church? 

Jesus tells his disciples they are the salt of the earth. We use salt to bring out the flavor in foods, and we also use it to preserve meat and fish. The Portuguese love their salted cod, and you’ve heard of salted pork, or beef jerky. Before refrigeration, salt was how you kept meat from turning. It is a preservative. That’s what Christians are called to be. We hold onto what is good in a world that wants to throw the baby out with the bath water! A world that wants change for the sake of change. We exercise the virtue of prudence and pump the brakes a little bit. We say slow down young buck, there is a lot that’s good here–let’s not move forward so fast. We are naturally conservative in our approach to institutions, to government, and to our Church. We hold on. 

Salt isn’t just a preservative, however, have you ever put salt on your fruit? A bit of salt on melon is delicious. When I cook good steak, salt is the only seasoning I use. Salt brings out the flavor in what we eat. Salt makes things amazing. That’s what Christians do. We bring out the goodness at work. We make our schools more fun. With goodness and truth we make everywhere we are healthy and wholesome, filled with spirit and life.

Wherever Jesus went he brought people joy. We should be that way too. We make our schools better, our city better, and our world better. When Jesus called his disciples salt and light he was giving them their mission in the world. He wanted them to go out and bring security, stability, hope, peace, and rest for the weary. He also wanted his disciples to preserve the good in the world. To hold fast and stand firm against a rapidly changing world. And finally, Jesus wants us to be awesome. To make every place we go more awesome, more inviting, more delicious. That’s what we are called to be, salt and light. We should never cover our light–or hide it under a bushel basket. We should let this little light shine, let it shine, let it shine.