Good Friday

This was my Good Friday homily.  I hope you like it.  [mb]

Most of you know I was raised Baptist. Not much of a Baptist, but technically that’s what I was. At least, that’s what my mom was. In the Baptist church, you weren’t baptized until you were old enough to decide for yourself, usually in your teens. We went to church once in a while and I went to Vacation Bible School, every summer. But as a kid, my knowledge of religion was pretty meager.

 

What I knew about Good Friday in those days was that it was the day Jesus died….and that we got the day off from school.   That was in the days before political correctness, so even the public schools called it Good Friday. We also got the day after Easter off, which the kids called Good Monday.

 

We had a small family, just my mom and dad and me, and an aunt and uncle, Aunt Mary and Uncle Elmer. Aunt Mary’s mother lived with them. Her name was Aunt Fern. My mom worked, so I spent a lot of time at Aunt Mary and Uncle Elmer’s house.

 

The only time I remember seeing Aunt Fern in church, was at her funeral. I don’t even know for sure what church she belonged to. She was buried from the South Side Christian Church in Hannibal, MO, so maybe she belong to that one. That would explain why she never went to church. It was more than 100 miles away! Which is a long way of getting to the other thing I knew about Good Friday.

 

 

There were two things about Aunt Fern that would make you think she was a religious woman. One was a beautiful picture of Jesus that she had in her bedroom. It was the one where Jesus is standing outside the closed door with no door knob. I loved that picture even though I didn’t understand what it meant; that Jesus can’t come in unless you open the door for him. I used to lay on my Aunt’s bed and just stare at it.

 

The other thing was that Aunt Fern thought you would go straight to hell if you ate meat on Good Friday. She would have rather been tied to the railroad track in front of an oncoming train, than to eat meat on that one day of the year.

 

So, you can imagine that as a kid without much religious background, I knew that this was a very special day. What I never understood was why they called it GOOD Friday. If it was the day they killed Jesus, what could possibly be good about it. Even getting the day off school didn’t seem like enough to make it a good day. I thought it was a terrible day. It was the day of the worst crime in history; the day they murdered God.

 

That idea didn’t leave me until I was much older when I read this quote from someone names Sister Melanie:

What a paradox! We call good the day we commemorate Jesus’ passion and death. Why? Certainly Jesus’ death was anything but good. It was a terrible event–an awful evil, a loathsome crime. But we call today good because it revealed once and for all just how much Jesus really loves us–so much so that he could embrace such a horrible death for us. As we meditate on Jesus’ terrible sufferings, let us also ponder his tremendous love.

 

“Think of those who love you most. Now multiply those loves by a million, a billion, infinitely. That’s how much Jesus loves you. That’s how much God loves you.

 

“If we could really believe we are the apple of God’s eye, what a difference it would make in our attitude, our outlook our choices. How eager we would be to love someone else in the same way. Yes, there is much suffering in the Passion of Jesus–repeated beatings, the crowning of thorns, the carrying of the cross, the pounding of the nails in his flesh, the hanging on the cross. But most of all there is much love. Instead of merely feeling sorry for Jesus, let us accept the challenge to follow his way of loving–a way that inevitably includes the cross. Then we will have another reason to call today Good Friday.”

 

So, it is a good day after all. It’s the day Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for you, and for me, by shedding His blood on the cross.

 

In a moment, we’ll venerate this cross, as a sign of our love for Him. But let’s not end it there. Let’s live our lives as a sign of how much we love and appreciate the Lord for making such a sacrifice for us.

 

 

30 pieces of silver

I don’t do this often, but on this Good Friday I’ve decided to repost something I wrote back in 2011.  One thing has changed in three years.  Today the price of silver is about $20.00 an ounce.  That makes to price Judas was paid, in 2014 dollars about $600.00, a pathetically small amount for the life of the son of God. [mb]

30 pieces of silver; that’s what they thought Jesus was worth.  It’s the price that the Jewish leaders paid Judas to betray our Savior.  Silver is worth about $45.00 an ounce as of today, so if the pieces used to buy Jesus were about an ounce each, then Judas got a whopping $1,350.00 for turning Jesus in.  Seems like a bargain to me, especially when Judas gave the silver back when he realized what he’d done.

That raises a question.  I wonder what Judas thought they were going to do to Jesus?  Surely he didn’t think they were going to throw him a party?  Or maybe ask Him to join their little club?  Jesus had been telling the twelve that bad things were coming, did Judas not listen?  I guess we’ll never know.

But, back to the 30 pieces of silver.  It seems like small change to betray the son of God.  But, at what price do we betray Jesus today?  Will we give Him up in exchange for a night of drinking and hitting on the neighbors’ wives?  Will we give Him up for a couple of hours looking at a porn movie?  Maybe we give Him up for a few office supplies?  Or, maybe we give Him up for the pleasure of talking about our friends behind their backs?  Maybe Judas’ $1,350.00 wasn’t such a cheap price after all.

I know people who give Jesus up so they can sleep in on Sunday morning.  I also know people who give up Jesus so they can play golf on Sunday.  Maybe a good parking spot for the Cardinal’s game is enough to tempt some people to pass by church on their way downtown.

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we remember the Lord’s Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal.  Many of us will go to mass (some of us will go three times, but that’s another story) but most of us won’t.  It’s Thursday night.  Some folks are willing to trade an hour with Jesus for an hour of CSI.  That’s too bad.

Living in a very secular world, where devout Christians are looked on with scorn by many of our brothers and sisters, we need to be reminded once in a while of what Jesus did for us.  The holy trifecta of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday is just the place for us.  An annual reminder of what actually happened twenty centuries ago doesn’t hurt.  In fact it’s good for us.  Yes, I know these liturgies can get a little long some times.  So what!  Three or four hours, once a year is a small price to pay.  Trust me.  You’ll get more than thirty pieces of silver worth of peace and blessings in return.

 

5th Sunday of Lent

For the third weekend in a row we have a fairly long Gospel. Even the short version is longer than we’re used to. But these three Gospels, according to John, are a set. In this “A” year we get to read some of John’s best work. Hopefully you remember that two weeks ago we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. He said to the woman, “I am living water.”

 

Then last week Jesus healed the blind man. Jesus declared “I am the light.” Today we hear the familiar story of Jesus raising his friend Lazurus from the dead. You may wonder, as the people did, why didn’t Jesus rush back to save Lazurus while he was still alive. When He heard about His friend’s illness, he “remained for two days in the place where He was.” He also said, “This illness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” He could have rushed back and healed Lazurus. He could have even healed Lazurus “long distance”. He’s God. He can do that.

 

Remember that the people of Bethany, where Martha, Mary, and Lazurus lived weren’t exactly waiting to give Jesus the key to the city. They had tried to stone Him to death, so there was a certain amount of risk in going back there. But after two days, He did go back.

 

When He got there, Martha ran out to meet Him. She says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Imagine having that much faith! Lazurus has been in the tomb for four days. When they rolled back the stone the stench must have been overwhelming. But Jesus said, “Lazurus, come out!” And out he came. Jesus defeated death! That’s why Jesus had said “it is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.”

Jesus makes His third “I am” statement. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Three Gospels—three “I ams”. I am the living water. I am the Light. I am the resurrection and the life.” Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, when we’ll all participate in the reading of His passion, Jesus will be asked twice if He’s the Messiah and both times He’ll answer, “You say that I am.” That’s a critical point. In this case it doesn’t matter what He says. It’s what we believe that’s important.

 

As Catholics, we’re supposed to look at the big picture. We don’t teach our kids individual Scripture passages. We tell them stories. On this fifth Sunday of Lent we’re near the end of a six-week experience. It’s “the greatest story ever told.” In just two weeks we’ll celebrate His glorious resurrection. Today He said that Lazurus must die “for the glory of God.” It’s a precursor to His own death which would also be for the glory of God.

 

So, what can we take home from today’s Gospel? I’d say that with God, anything is possible. We just have to have faith. There was no reason for Martha and Mary to believe that Jesus could raise their brother from the dead after he’d been in the tomb for four days. If anything, you’d think that they would be angry and disappointed that Jesus hadn’t been there to save His friend. But their faith was strong enough that they believed that Jesus could bring him back. And, so He did.

 

But what about us? When we ask Jesus for something do we really believe He’ll come through for us? Or do we have doubts? Think about the people who built this church. Nobody, and I mean nobody in Saint Louis in 1870 thought Bohemian immigrants could build such a beautiful house of God. Everybody expected them to fail. But they had faith. They didn’t think; they didn’t suspect; they didn’t hope; they knew that their prayers would be answered. And when they were finished, people came from all over to celebrate their accomplishment with them.

 

Then just 26 years later they had to do it all again when the tornado destroyed what they had built. And again, they KNEW they could do it. That’s the kind of faith that built this place and filled the pews several times each Sunday.

 

Now, if I were to look you in the eye and say to you that we can restore Saint John Nepomuk to that former glory, how would you respond? Would you think I’m crazy? Would you say it’s impossible? Or would you say, “Yes! With God anything is possible. If Jesus could raise Lazurus from the dead and then raise Himself from the dead, then He can certainly make this church come alive again.”

 

As we prepare to celebrate our 160th anniversary this year, I want you to think about what you can personally do to ensure that we have a 170th and 180th and beyond. I suggest we all start with prayer. Ask God for the faith necessary to move mountains. Because it’s faith that will attract more people. They may come the first time to see the statues, or the stained glass windows, but it’s our faith that will bring them back again.

 

That means working together and loving one another. There’s no room for negativity in God’s Church. A house divided against itself cannot stand. If we want to do more than just keep the doors open, we all have to be on board.

 

Our Church, both this chapel and the Catholic Church in general is in a crisis. That empty seat next to you used to have someone sitting in it. I believe that, like Lazurus’ death, this crisis is “is for the glory of God that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” One thing that impresses people is when someone or some thing rises from the dead. Pope Francis seems to be the right man to lead this revival of the Church. I believe we can do our part right here in South Saint Louis.

 

Pray every day for our historic church. Tell anyone you can get to listen that we have something special here. Most important of all, love one another. That’s what Jesus asked us to do. In fact he called it the most important commandment. We’re living in a very impersonal world. Facebook and twitter have taken the place of face-to-face communications. Don’t get me wrong. I have almost 200 Facebook “friends”. We use social media to promote our chapel. But people are desparate for human contact.

 

If you and I go out of our way to make people feel welcome, to make them feel loved, we won’t be able to keep them away.

 

The shortest verse in the Bible is part of toay’s Gospel. “And Jesus wept.” Jesus, the Son of God, knew what He was going to do. He knew He would raise Lazurus from the dead. But the human Jesus, the man Jesus, had lost a good friend. He couldn’t help it. He cried. He became man so He could feel what we feel. And the loss of a friend, a human contact, filled Him with tears. He may have been constantly surrounded with His apostles, but Lazurus was His friend; His buddy. Even Jesus needed to feel the love of another human being.

 

Today’s Gospel is telling us to have faith, but it’s also telling us to have love. Love one another. Welcome visitors. Most of all, love God. He loves us and will do whatever we ask of Him as long as we have faith; faith as strong as Martha and Mary who believed in Jesus, even when He had disappointed them.

 

 

4th Sunday of Lent

Well, that’s a nice, long Gospel.  So, I’m going to give you a break and be very brief.  Obviously, the Gospel is about sight. Jesus gives the blind man the gift of sight.  It’s a great story and I encourage you to reread it at home, looking for all the literary devices that John uses to bring the story to life.  But I want to look at the broader message of the set of readings today.

 

In it’s own way, the first reading, from the Book of Samuel is also about sight.  The Lord sends Samuel to the house of Jesse to chose His king.  Samuel makes the trip to Bethlehem and Jesse brings his sons in for Samuel to make his choice.  But something’s wrong!  None of the seven sons that Jesse introduces to Samuel is the right one! Samuel asks Jesse, “Is this it?  Are these all your sons?”

 

Well,” Jesse says. “There is another one.  But it’s just David.  He’s out tending the sheep.”  Samuel wants to meet him. So, they go get David, and we already know how it’s going to turn out.  David’s the one.  Samuel anoints him with oil and from that day on he’s filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

Jesse has been suffering from a different kind of blindness. He’s failed to see the potential for greatness in his youngest son.  And, aren’t we all guilty of that kind of blindness? How many times have we been in the presence of greatness and not recognized it?  Maybe the person is the wrong color, or the wrong nationality, or maybe he (or she) doesn’t dress the way we think they should dress.  So we write them off because they don’t fit ­our ideal of how greatness looks. That’s a different kind of blindness.

 

Jumping back to the Gospel, we see that the Pharasees are afflicted with another kind of blindness.    They said, speaking of Jesus, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Seriously?  Jesus has just performed a miracle. He’s made a blind man see. People will be talking about it for thousands of years.  But all the Pharisees see is that Jesus has broken one of their rules. They fail to see what’s right in front of their noses because, as leaders of the religious community, they’re threatened by the Son of God who makes them look bad by performing such a great act on the Sabbath, breaking one of the rules they’re supposed to enforce.

 

I think the message God’s giving us today is that we have to learn to see as God sees.  He doesn’t care what we look like or how we dress.  He doesn’t care if we’re black or white, American or Irish or Czech, beautiful or plain.  He cares about what’s inside each of us and He loves us because He created us.

 

The worse case of this particular kind of blindness happens when we look in the mirror.  So often we don’t see ourselves as God’s children.  We hope to see the kind of perfection that society tells us we should see. But what we really see is a creature created by the Almighty God, put on earth for a reason with any number of physical flaws.  We all have our jobs to do, our roles to fill, whether we see it or not.

 

There has never been anyone in the entire history of the world exactly like each of us and there will never be again.  Our calling is to figure out what He wants us to do and then to do it.  When we fail to see the saint looking back at us from the mirror, we’re suffering from a kind of spiritual blindness.  But like Jesus restored the physical sight to the blind man, He can restore our spiritual sight if we just believe in Him.

1st Sunday of Lent

I think we can all agree that it’s been a long, hard winter.  Sometimes I wonder if it’s ever going to end.  It’s been cold, and dark, and windy.  I think even people who like winter have had enough.  But, at last, we’re into a new season.  It’s a time for hope, and enthusiasm, and preparation.  Spring training is here!

 

You’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, deacon.  Aren’t you supposed to be talking about Lent?”  Yes, I am.  But isn’t spring training a lot like Lent?  It’s a time to get ready.  It’s a time to prepare.  It’s a time think about all the good things to come.

 

For example, our Cardinals came within a whisker of being World Champions last year.  They were the best team in the National League and the second best team in all of baseball.  But they want to get better.  They want to win it all.  If you follow sports at all you probably know that a lot of the Cardinals actually showed up in Florida early!  Most of them are multi-millionaires. But they wanted to get to work. They don’t want to rest on their laurels.  They want to be the best.  They want another shot at baseball “heaven”, a World Series win.

 

So, how do they start spring training?  Do they jump right into exhibition games?  No.  They start by working on fundamentals.  They do calisthenics.  They take batting practice.  They do fielding and throwing drills.  The pitchers work on getting back into game-shape.  They go back to the fundamentals.  They tone up their muscles and strengthen their bodies.  When they’re ready, THEN they start to play actual games.

 

That’s what Lent is all about.  We go back to the fundamentals.  We pray.  We fast.  We read Scripture.  We go to confession.  We give things up or do extra things to get ready for the glorious season of Easter.  It’s our spiritual Spring training.

 

Look at today’s readings.  Our first reading takes us back to the very beginning; Adam and Eve.  Original sin.  Our fall from grace.  God has given them everything they could possibly want.  They’re living in paradise.  But there’s a catch.  There’s one tree in the Garden that they’re supposed to stay away from.  But the devil tempts Eve.  “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the Garden?”

 

Eve tells the serpent that they may eat from all the trees except one.  She says that if they eat from that one tree, or even touch it, they will die.  But the serpent says, “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”  Of course we know the rest of the story.  They ate from the tree and got thrown out of the Garden.

 

And, isn’t that where we are today?  Three fourths of Americans who call themselves Catholics don’t go to mass.  Sin is everywhere.  We’ve all eaten of the tree and we think we’re gods.  We think it’s up to us to decide what’s good and what’s evil; what’s sin and what isn’t.

 

When we sin, we’re usually not intending to be evil.  We’re not consciously sinners.  Our real sin is pretending that we have the right to decide what’s sin and what’s not.  When we sin, we’re setting ourselves up as gods.  We know what the Scriptures say, but we decide that it doesn’t apply to us. We’ve eaten from the tree and it tastes good.

 

I doubt that anyone here would ever rob a bank.  After all, “Thou shall not steal” is one of the commandments.  But taking home a few pens from the office?  We might do that and think nothing of it.  We, not God, have decided what’s a sin and what isn’t.  We think, or we hope, that it’s not black and white, but just different shades of gray.

 

A lot of people have been convinced that Satan isn’t real.  That’s his best trick.  How often in our day-to-day lives so we think about the devil?  We push him to the back of our minds.  If we consider him at all, it may be like the old cartoons where Bugs Bunny has a little red guy with horns and a pitchfork on one shoulder and an angel on the other.  We’ve reduced the father of lies, the author of all evil, to a cartoon character.  We have sports teams that call themselves “devils”.  My favorite is Wake Forest University.  They call themselves the “demon deacons”.

 

But, look at Jesus in today’s Gospel.  Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and was severely tempted BY THE DEVIL.  Notice how the reading begins, “At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”  He could have skipped the whole thing, but the Spirit led Him into that desert.  Jesus had to be tempted, not because He was ever going anyplace except back to heaven.  He was tempted to show us that we must resist temptation if we want to be like Him.  Make no mistake, Satan is alive and well.  And he’s constantly after you and me.

 

So, how do we approach our “spiritual spring training”?  The Church gives us guidelines.  They’re in today’s bulletin.  No meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.  On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we’re supposed to fast.  Simple enough.  A lot of us believe that we must make some sort of sacrifice.  “Give something up for Lent.”  That’s a good practice.  By denying ourselves some pleasure we share in Christ’s suffering, even if it’s just a little bit.  On the other hand, most of you know how I feel about Catholic fish frys.  Some sacrifice!

 

Here’s the thing.  Giving something you like up for six weeks is a good thing.  Doing something extra is even better.  What can I do for the next six weeks that will bring me closer to God.  Matthew Kelly, the famous Catholic author and speaker prays daily, “Lord, what can I do today to make me a better version of myself?”  That might be a good Lenten practice.  Ask Him what He wants you to do, then listen for the answer.  Maybe He wants you to pray more.  Maybe He wants you to read the Bible every day.  Maybe He wants you to help the poor.  Maybe He wants you to go out of your way to do something special for someone every day.  I can’t tell you what to do, but He can.  And He will if you ask Him.

 

I’m going to make a suggestion.  To make it easier to remember, I’ve put it in the bulletin.  There is nothing we can do as Christians that’s more important than bringing others to Christ.  Jesus came to this world to save us from our sins and He did it by making disciples.  That was His plan.  He made disciples, and they made more disciples, and from those original twelve, today we have billions of Christians in the world.

 

Sadly, Satan has drawn a lot of those people away.  “Former Catholics” are one of the largest “religious” groups in the world, especially in America.  What if each practicing Catholic could bring one person back to the Church this Lent.  Imagine what an impact that would have on the world, and on our own salvation.  We all know someone who’s drifted away.  Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a friend.  Some of them will probably come to mass on Easter because they’ve gotten the idea that that’s all they have to do.  We call them C & E Catholics; Christmas and Easter.

 

What if we really filled this Church on Easter?  What if people actually had to stand?  More important, what if we could get them to come back the Sunday after Easter; and the Sunday after that?  Our job is to get them here once.  Then it’s up to the Holy Spirit to move them to come back.  But we can help.

 

One important thing we can do is pray.  As part of our daily prayer we can ask God to give us the grace to bring someone “home”.  Notice I didn’t ask God to bring someone home.  I asked God to give ME the grace to bring someone home.  Big difference!  That one simple prayer, repeated for forty days might just work a miracle.  It’s definitely worth a try.

 

Closing Churches

Over at Fr. Z’s blog there an excellent post concerning the closing of churches.  It seems that Saint Ann Church in Buffalo was slated for closing.  The building needed $12 million in repairs and the local bishop made the decision to tear it down.  The parishioners appealed the decision to Rome and the Vatican’s response was “Not so fast.  The needed repairs aren’t enough of a reason to close the place.”  Clearly this decision  to overrule the local ordinary will have an impact on all potential church closings.

I find this decision very interesting because my current assignment, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, currently celebrating our 160th anniversary, was once on the closing list, but was spared, primarily because of its historical significance.  Saint John’s was founded by Bohemian immigrants in 1854.  It was the first Czech Roman Catholic church in the New World.

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 4.38.09 PMUrban flight and the building of not one, but two interstate highways in the middle of the neighborhood meant that thousands of Czech immigrants moved out of the area.  Our church, which was once one of the largest in the Archdiocese now has just over 100 registered families.  On a good weekend we may have 100 people attending our two masses.

In 2008, rather than close the church,  Saint John’s was downgraded from a parish to a chapel.  We have no geographical boundaries so our membership comes from all over the Saint Louis area.  The pastor at the time became a chaplain and when he retired the decision was made to put a deacon in charge.  I am the second deacon to hold that position.  One important part of my job is to get priests to celebrate the two weekend masses, a task that seems to be getting more difficult every week.

Another part of the job is to find the money to keep things going.  Our current church building was built in 1897 after a tornado destroyed the previous structure.   Our church is one of the most beautiful in the Archdiocese.  Thankfully our current Archbishop, Robert Carlson, recognizes the value of the older churches (of which Saint Louis has many) and doesn’t seem inclined to close any of them.  The model of deacon as director will, no doubt, be adopted at other churches as the number of priests declines.

Father Z ends his post by saying, “

“If you want something to happen, you have to work for it and pay for it.

Free exercise of religion isn’t free.  We have bills to pay.  If YOU want something – A, B, C… whatever – and you are unwilling to pitch in and put sweat or money or both into it, you will lose it.”

Ah, there’s the rub.  Many of our members are seniors living on fixed incomes.  Their ability to supply “sweat or money” ain’t what it Saint John Nepomuk Chapelused to be.  It’s a well-known fact, based on Pereto’s principal, that 20% of the people contribute 80% of the work and 80% of the money.  We rely on existing investments and the revenue from weddings and fund raisers to pick up the slack.  But, as we draw down the investment cash we put a limit on the number of years we can survive.    Plus our small pool of workers can only cook so much goulash before they get worn out.  Its also worth noting that some of our best workers have gone on to their reward in the last few years, a trend that will also continue.

So, the obvious answer is to evangelize–get more members.  But there are some big obstacles to overcome.  Ethnic churches seem to be declining everywhere.  In the early 20th century Saint Louis was made up of large ethnic communities with ethnic churches and schools.  A young Czech girl was likely to marry a Czech young man.  Ditto for the Irish, the Germans, the Italians and other ethnic groups.  Following World War II, when young men returned from the service (God bless them!) they began settling in the suburbs.  While they may have continued to attend their “home” church for a while, they sent their kids to neighborhood schools where they met other young people of other nationalities.  Now a Czech girl was likely to marry an Italian boy.  With each new generation their ethnicity was weakened.  Driving all the way downtown to attend a Czech church wasn’t that important to them.

So why not evangelize in the neighborhood?  That seems like a logical solution.  But again, nothing is ever simple.  Our neighborhood, once known as “Bohemian Hill” is now called Soulard.  It’s an urban area that has been rescued from decline and there are a lot of houses that have been renovated and there are also a number of condos.  There are also a lot of bars and restaurants.  When you mention “Soulard” to most Saint Louisans the first thing they think of is Mardi Gras.  Soulard holds the second biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the country.  Frankly the young people who are moving into the area aren’t coming so they can be close to a church, even though there are five Catholic churches in the area.  The church-going Catholic has a lot of choices.  Meanwhile the neighborhood is crowded most weekend nights with partiers.

So, what’s the answer?  I wish I knew.  If the Vatican is discouraging the closing of churches, more city parishes are going to find themselves in the same situation.  I’m hoping that some readers will have experience with successful turnarounds.  If you have, I’d love to hear from you.  What works?  What doesn’t?  How do we use our resources to spread the faith and to save these beautiful churches?  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Presentation of the Lord

Homily for the weekend of February 1-2

I’d like to start today with a question.  Why are you here?  Why do you come to mass?  What is it that draws you to mass?  I see mostly the same faces every week, so there’s something here that you want; something here that you need.  But, what is it?

 

I also see some new faces.  You’re here looking for something and I pray that you find it today.

 

Hopefully your answer isn’t “it’s my Sunday obligation.”  I really don’t like that phrase.  It implies that coming to mass is something you have to do, like renewing your driver’s license or paying your taxes.  I don’t believe God wants you here because you think you have to be here.  I believe He wants you here because you love Him; because you want to be here.

 

Maybe a better question might be, “What do you get out of coming to mass?”  Do you leave church feeling better than you did when you came in?  If so, why?  If not, why are you here?

 

I thought about all this as I was praying on today’s Gospel, the story of Simeon.  It’s a short reading, just 18 verses, but there’s a lot there, almost too much to cover in one homily.  There are only five players in the story and one of them is too young to speak, even though He’s the central character in the drama.  In fact, the only one who does speak is Simeon.  Ask yourself, which one of these people do you identify with?

 

This is the only time we hear about Simeon and Anna in the whole New Testament, but it’s a pivotal story.  Mary and Joseph have brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, as Luke says, “just as it is written in the law of the Lord.”  Mary and Joseph were faithful, observant Jews.  They had come to make a sacrifice. In this instance, the Holy Family were fulfilling an “obligation”.

They meet Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man.  “The Holy Spirit was upon him.”  He’s waiting to see the Messiah.  You might say that Simeon was the very first Christian.  He came to the temple to seek Jesus.  No one had ever done that before.

 

Luke doesn’t tell us how Simeon knew that Jesus was the One, but he did know.  He took Jesus in his arms, blessed God, and says his famous prayer;  “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace….”  That’s why Simeon was in the temple.  He was looking for peace.  Maybe that’s why you and I are here.  We’re looking for peace, too.

 

The next part is very interesting.  Luke says that Mary and Joseph were “amazed” at what Simeon said.  A popular phrase in today’s litigious world is “what did he know, and when did he know it?”  It something we ask about politicians all the time.  Obviously, Simeon’s words were a revelation to Jesus’ parents.

 

“You yourself a sword will pierce.”  Moms, you know what he meant.  Seeing your son run through with a sword is just as painful, just as real, as if the cold steel had penetrated your own body.  Imagine if someone said these words to you.  How would you feel?

 

Then we have Anna, an elderly woman who actually lived in the temple.  She worshipped “night and day with fasting and prayer.”  She gave thanks to God and “spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”  Anna was in the temple to worship God.  Maybe that’s why you and I are here.  I hope so.

 

Five people—three pretty good reasons to be in church.  Anna was there to worship and give thanks to God.  Simeon was there to find Jesus and to find peace.  And Mary and Joseph were there to fulfill a religious obligation.  Jesus was there because He’s God.  Where else would He be?

 

While I was preparing these comments for today, I asked my wife why she goes to mass.  She said it gives her hope; another great reason to be here.  We come to worship God, to receive Him in the Word and in the Eucharist.  We’re reminded that anything is possible with God, even turning bread and wine into Jesus Body and Blood.

 

We live in a messed up world.  The time between masses is a time where we’re tempted and pressured to forget about God.  We’re all just so busy.  I became a deacon so I could serve His people.  I was very idealistic.  I thought I would spend a lot of time in prayer and ministry.  It turns out I spend a lot of time pushing paper, filling out forms, going to meetings, dealing with the physical demands of a 160 year old church, and dealing with a thousand things that anyone could do. Do I spend your money to have the parking lot plowed and salted or do I wait and hope that the snow will melt?   It’s all about serving God and you, but sometimes the spiritual side takes second place.

 

Last week I visited Otto Stanovsky at the hospital.  As I was leaving I stopped to visit with a lady whose mother was about to die.  I talked to her and prayed with her and thought to myself, this is why I was ordained and I don’t do nearly enough of it.

 

I know your lives can be the same.  You have good intentions about praying and doing good works.  But somehow the days and weeks go by and you’re pulled in a hundred different ways.  Thanks be to God that we have this hour, this time in God’s house, to get away from all that and do what Christians are called to do.  Whichever character in today’s Gospel we identify with, our time at mass is a time to recharge our spiritual batteries.  This is the time to forget our problems and put them in God’s hands.  This is the time to cleanse our minds and focus on what’s really important.

 

In just a few minutes we’ll have the opportunity to take Jesus into our bodies.  It’s not symbolic.  It’s not a meaningless ritual.  It’s real.  It’s the gift God gives us to fortify ourselves against the bad things in this world.  Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven.  For that we should give Him praise and worship.  In return, He gives us peace, joy, and hope.  That’s why you and I are here.

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