Nativity of John the Baptist, June 23-24, 2012

posted Jun 24, 2012, 2:08 PM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            Today, we celebrate the feast of the "Nativity" of St. John the Baptist.

... which means that today we celebrate the birth ... the "birthday" ... of St. John the Baptist.

And so, we are reminded in today's Gospel of the miraculous events surrounding the Baptizer's birth: the promise of an angel that his parents—really, too old to have children—the promise that they would have a son ... the father struck dumb (unable to speak) because of his disbelief ... the miraculous opening of his mouth ...  the wonder and fear of their neighbors.


            All of these details, of course, make for an interesting story ... but they have a purpose.

The miraculous events around the birth of the Baptist tells us that he was a person "set apart."

The story of the "nativity" of John the Baptist is really a story about a man with a mission ... a man with a task ... a man with a God-given task.

John the Baptist was a man born with a mission – and that mission was to point to Jesus.

In early Christian art, John the Baptist is often shown next to Jesus, pointing to Jesus.

Years after his birth, John would be baptizing in the Jordan River ... and from among the crowds of people who were flocking around  him, John would recognize Jesus: "Behold the Lamb of God."

"Behold the Savior."

And this was the mission for which John was born: to point to Jesus ... to pick Jesus out of the crowds and to make him known to the people around him.


            But John the Baptist is not the only "man with a mission" that we meet today.

He's not the only one who, from his birth, was set apart by God for a special task.


            In the first reading, we hear the great Old Testament prophet Isaiah say:

"The Lord called me from birth ...before I was even born ... while I was still in my mother's womb, he gave me my name."

"God made me a polished arrow" – which means that God made him to head straight for the target.

The prophet Isaiah was a man born "with a mission" .... mission to call the people of Israel back to the Lord.

The people had all but forgotten the Lord ... they were worshipping false gods ... and the True God called Isaiah to call them back to him.

He was a man with a purpose.


            And in the second reading, yet a third person called by God for a mission ...:

The Acts of the Apostles reminds us of King David, the young shepherd boy called by God from the pastures to become the great king of Israel.

One day, young David was a simple shepherd boy, out in the fields... and the next day, God sent the prophet Samuel to appoint him King of Israel ... because God wanted David to defeat the giant Goliath, the enemy of the people of God and gather the people of Israel so that they could leave aside pagan gods and worship the one true God in Jerusalem, the Holy City.


            In fact, the Bible is one long story of men and women called by God for mission.

The history of the Church ... and the lives of saints ... the story of God calling ordinary men and women to carry out his purposes in the world.


            And, now, to this list of people called by God for a mission ... is added your name ... and my name ... each of us called from birth for a mission.

No, for us, there were probably no miraculous events associated with our births ...

Maybe our mission is not so great that people will remember us centuries from now ...

But we can be sure that, created by God ... given the precious gift of faith ... baptized into the life of the Church ... most of us, filled with the Holy Spirit at Confirmation ... and here taught by God's Word ... and nourished his Body and Blood ...

Make no mistake: You and I are people with a God-given mission in this world around us today.


            Because today ... as much as ever ... the people around us need help to see Jesus in the midst of their busy and cluttered and distracted lives.

Today, as much as ever, people need help to see the false values of the world around us – the false "gods" of money and "success" and selfish pleasure.

Today, people still need to be defended from people who would mistreat them, abuse them, disrespect them.


            OK, you and I aren't John the Baptist.

We aren't the prophet Isaiah ... or King David ... or any of the great saints ...

But the important difference between us isn't when or where or how we were born ...

The important question for us is:

Will we accept our mission ... as they accepted theirs?

Will we be God's agents and instruments and heralds in our world today ... as those great saints were in their place and time?

11th Sunday of the Year, June 16-17, 2012

posted Jun 17, 2012, 4:00 PM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            "Home ...  sweet home."

"Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."

These very well known words come from an early 19th century poem ... but they have become part of our collective language ... probably because they express a fundamental emotion in all of us ... the deep attachment, memory, and warmth so often associated with the word "home."

"There's no place like home."

But, for most of us, at least, saying things like "going home" ... "getting home" ... "feeling at home" are all things that give us a sense of belonging ... a sense of safety ... and comfort.

Ah ... "home ... sweet home."


            In our second reading today, St. Paul makes a rather unlikely statement about "home."

He says:

"... we know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord ...

... and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord."

And so, according to St. Paul, we have a "home" in the body ... a home in this life ... a home that includes our "normal" lives ...

And we also have a "home" with the Lord ... a "home" in heaven ... a home in the heart of God ... a home in the life to come ...


            Now, one home ... our "home" in the body ... we see ...

The other, our life with Christ ... we can't see ... at least not the in same way ... but, as St. Paul says:

"We walk by faith, not by sight" ...

Although we see one home with our physical eyes ... it is also possible to "see" the other "home" in faith ...

We know that it exists, in faith.

Although we can't see it physically ... faith allows us to "see" that the life-to-come is really "home" ...


            But which is it—really?

I'm guessing that most of us would have a hard time really agreeing with St. Paul, at a felt level, that we would rather "leave the body" and "go home to the Lord" ... at least any time soon ...

But that's clearly what St. Paul is assuming:  yes, we have a "home" in the body ... but it's our home with the Lord that should be our real focus ... our true desire ... or life's goal.


            In this regard, I suspect that many of us would like to be like people who have two homes – you know, one here and a second, "retirement" home elsewhere ... one that we don't intend to need any time soon ...

... a home in this life ... and a home in heaven (eventually .... but not too soon)   ... both/and ... not either/or ...


            But that's not really what St. Paul is suggesting ... yes, a temporary home here ... but a real home that we should be longing for, even now, elsewhere ...


            So, are we people without faith ... if we love our earthly homes ... ?

Are we bad Christians if we love our spouses and our children and grandchildren, our families, our neighbors and friends, the good things that we have in life?

Are we really supposed to wish that at this moment we could be separated from them and "at home with the Lord"?

Ought we really to try to forget about all of this that we can see ... and look to God instead?

Surely, that can't be the case ... since God put us in this world ... and God created those we love ... and brought us together ... and blessed us the good things that we have in life ... and challenges us to find him in this life ... God gave us our earthly home ...


            The problem is that sometimes we act as this is the only life ... that what's really real and really important and really worth pursuing ... and worth our time, our energy, and our effort ... is what we can get in this life ...

The problem is that we don't look beyond this life.

We just want to hold on to what we have in this our earthly home ...

We want what we see with our physical eyes ... and don't give much real thought to what the eyes of faith would reveal  to us ...


            I think what St. Paul is suggesting to us that we can't focus all of our attention on our earthly home ... with the our heavenly home as kind of an afterthought ... or an "addition" ... or something  "over-and-above" ...

 ... and we have to begin with an eye on our true, lasting, heavenly home ... and see our earthly home from the perspective of our heavenly home  ... and not the other way around ...


            We have to look at the life of our true home with God ... an eternal life of love ... an eternal giving and receiving ... and brotherhood and community and communion  of heaven ... a life of praise and worship and thanksgiving to God ... and blessed communion with him ...

... we have to look at our true and lasting and heavenly home .. and we have to live in our earthly home with that vision in mind ... with that loving ... and with that giving and receiving ... and with the spirit of brotherhood and community and communion ... and praise and worship and thanksgiving to God ...  here in this home.

We have to look to the eternal happiness in heaven ... to the life with the saints and the angels ... the life that we are ultimately meant to live ... we have to realize that it is that life that we must,  first and foremost, desire and work for and promote for our loved ones in this life ...

We can wish and work for and promote nothing better for those we love than eternal life ...

This is what Christian spouses must want for each other ... what Christian parents should most want for their children ... what friends should want for one another ...

We have to look to our heavenly home ... and assess the things and the priorities and the actions of this life from that perspective ... and not the other way around.


            It is a wonderful, natural and human thing that one spouse wants to hold to another forever ... that children want to hold on to their aging parents and grandparents ... that parents want to hold on to their children ... of course they do! ... but we must strive to walk by faith and not by sight ... and see that their ultimate, true, and lasting good is their eternal home ... a home where we can be together and love and be loved as we can't possibly even imagine in this life.

It is a wonderful, natural, human thing for parents to want the best for their children in this, their earthly home ... but we must walk by faith and not by sight ... with that sight fixed on our true home, and not just on our earthly home  ... and see how wrong-headed it is for parents to want their children to get a good education so that they can get ahead ...to have success in athletics ... to be popular ... and then add religious education or attendance at Mass or faith-formation as an optional "add-on" ... as they can fit it in ... as long as it's not tournament time ... unless they really don't want to ...

It is a natural thing to want the good things of this life ... but not to the neglect ... not over-and-above ... not instead of ... the good things of the life to come.


            We have another saying about "home" that goes:

"Home is where the heart is"

Our real home is where what and whom  we love most can be found ...

In a way, this is also the message of Jesus when he says in the Gospel of Matthew:  "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Today, St. Paul challenges us to ask ourselves:

"Where is your heart?'

"Where is your treasure?"

"Where is y our true home?"
And ... if we have faith to see what must be answer to those questions ...we will know how to live as we ought in this, our earthly home.

Corpus Christi, June 9-10, 2012

posted Jun 11, 2012, 1:30 PM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            There are 150 psalms in the Old Testament Book of Psalms.

Although the ancient Jews believed that all 150 of them were written by King David himself, they are probably a broad collection of hymns used in ancient worship, poetry, and prayers ... brought together through inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The psalms run the whole gamut of human emotions.

There are praise-psalms ... and psalms of repentance ... joyful psalms ... doom-and-gloom psalms ...

... which is why the Church is able to choose from among them each Sunday for the weekly response at Mass.

Each week, at Mass, the psalm is chosen as a response to the first reading ... and as something that, in some way, points to the "themes" in that week's readings.


            Now, since the psalm at Mass is used a response to the first reading, it's not usually the focus of a homily.

But the psalm too is as much the inspired Word of God as the other Scripture readings ... and so, today, I'd like to reflect on today's psalm: Psalm 116.


            The selection of Psalm 116 that the Church chooses for today begins with a question:

"How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?"

How shall I respond to all the good things that God has showered on me?

How can I, in some small way, try to repay the Lord for his blessings to me?


            The psalmist's question, of course, challenges us to look at the blessings that you and I have received in life.

It challenges us to look at the good things that we have in life precisely as blessings ... not just as good things that we ourselves made happen ... or that just happened to" fall into our laps" ...

The psalmist's question challenges us to look at how God has blessed us in so many ways.

And, I suspect, for most of us—despite our problems, our headaches, or our heartaches—all of us could come up with a very long list of blessings ...

... and, not just material, physical blessings ... but the blessings of people and relationships, family and friends ... the blessings of faith and mercy and God's infinite, tender, compassionate love for each of us.


            Today, of course, on the Feast of Corpus Christi—the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ—the Church uses this psalm to invite us to ponder in a special way, the blessing that you and I have in the Eucharist ... in the Mass ... in Holy Communion ...

... the awesome blessing that you and I have to receive—sinners though we are ... the blessing of receiving the precious Body and Blood of Our Savior ...to be united with Him ... to share his very life ...

... not just "spiritually" ... not just "symbolically" ... but really ... truly ... literally ... the Flesh and the Blood of the Son of God in the form of bread and wine ...


            "How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?" the psalmist ponders ...

"How is it that I should respond to all of these wonderful gifts showered on me by the Lord ... so abundantly ... so undeservedly ... ?

And in the rest of the verses of today's psalm, the psalmist sets out to answer that question.


            "How shall I make a return for all the good that the Lord has done for me?"

"The cup of salvation I will take up."

The cup of salvation, I will take up.

In the context of this Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi ... I will make a return by actually celebrating the gift of this Sacrament ... actually eating the flesh and drinking the blood ... reverently ... attentively ... faithfully ...

... not just when it is convenient to me ... not just if nothing interferes ... not just when I feel like it.

I will recognize how blessed I am, and I will "take up the cup of salvation" ... the cup of thanksgiving ... the cup of blessing ... at the Church's Eucharist each and every Sunday.


            "How shall I make a return to the Lord for his goodness to me?

The cup of salvation I will take up ... and I will call on the name of the Lord.

I will call on the name of the Lord!

In my need, I will call upon his help.

In my joys, I will call upon him in thanksgiving.

In my sin, I will call upon his mercy.

In my lowliness, I will call upon him in worship.

In my faith ... in my membership in the Body of Christ ... in my baptismal commitment ... I will gather with God's Holy People ... and I will call upon the name of the Lord.


            "How shall I make a return to the Lord for his goodness to me?

The cup of salvation I will take up... and I will call on the name of the Lord.

My vows to the Lord I will fulfill in the presence of all his people."

My vows to the Lord I will fulfill.

How shall I make a return to the Lord?

I will live my baptismal commitment.

I will claim the power of the Spirit of God, given to me in Confirmation.

I will live each day as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I will be a Christian in my daily life for all the world to see.

Strengthened by the Eucharist, I will make a return to the Lord by living what I claim to be.


            Today,  we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.

We thank the Lord, in a special way, for the gift of His Body and Blood given to us in the Eucharist.

But each and every time that we gather for the Eucharist, we gather to give thanks for all of our blessings.

We recall how mightily blessed we are ... in so many ways ... at so many levels.
And so today, again, in a special way, let's make the Psalmist's question our own:

How can I make a return to the Lord for all the good things that he has done for me?

Holy Trinity, June 2-3, 2012

posted Jun 4, 2012, 4:36 AM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            Every human being lives by faith.

Every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth lives by faith.

Sadly, they don't necessarily live by Christian faith, but every human being lives by a kind of "natural" faith ... in the sense that we all depend for a lot of what we know (or what we think we know) ... we depend on what we've read in books or on the word ... the testimony ... of others.

A lot of the things we know, we have no personal experience, physical evidence, or empirical data for.

I have a friend who used to say that he didn't believe that there was really a state of Idaho.

And when asked about it, he would counter:

"Well, have you ever been Idaho?" ... "Well, no ..."

"Have you ever met anyone from Idaho?" ... Well, (at that point), no ..."

"Then, how do you know that there is a such a place as so-called Idaho?"

Well, it really is a matter of a kind of "natural" faith ... I believe that there is an Idaho because the government and teachers and maps and textbooks tell me that there is an Idaho ... so I "know" that there is an Idaho, really by a kind of "natural faith."

I know that there is a planet called Jupiter ... though I've never seen it.

I know that my body is made up of atoms and sub-atomic particles ... though I can't see them.

But I know those things by "faith" ... because others have told me so ... and I believe them.


            Christian faith, in that sense,  is not unlike "natural" faith.

Of course, we know that Christian faith is ultimately a gift ... God gives us the gift of faith which, if and when we accept it, we come to see things in a different way.

But a lot of what we know about our faith really is exactly that: a matter of faith ... taking the word of others ... without empirical data.

And so, for example, with today's feast: the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity ... in which we celebrate our belief that God is One in Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Now, at some level, with the gift of faith, we may have had some personal, spiritual experience of encounter with Jesus ... or the presence of his Spirit ... but we don't have any real empirical data ... any more than I have empirical data that there is such a thing as an atom.

But we believe in the Trinity ... and so many other mysteries of our faith ... because we have the gift of faith ... and based on the word, the testimony, the reflection of others.


            All of this means that faith depends on our trust in the reliability of the person who teaches us something of which we have no personal evidence.

We believed all (or at least most) of what our teachers taught us in school ... because we trusted our teachers ... or they seemed knowledgeable ... or we assumed that they wouldn't have been hired if they didn't know what they were talking about.

We believe all sorts of scientific facts because we're told by people with advanced degrees, who work in fancy labs, in top-notch universities ... and so we accept what they tell us because we believe their credentials.

Or, at a sillier level, we're told on TV that if we hook up these electrodes to our bellies, our fat will just melt away ... and then the commercial trots out these "scientists" in their white coats in what looks like a sports lab ... with charts and graphs and "scientific" evidence ... and, again maybe with a little skepticism, at least some people will fork out the money and buy the product ... because they have "scientists" who are telling us we should believe this stuff.


            Well, Christian faith ... while most basically a gift ... depends too on our trust in the reliability of those who teach us the basic beliefs of our faith.

The gift of faith allows us to believe what Jesus tells us.

But we also believe in doctrines like the Trinity ... or the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist ... or the reality of Heaven and Hell ... because countless intelligent, good people have believed this stuff—and staked their lives on it—for more than 2,000 years ...

We believe these doctrines because special people we call "saints" have taught them ...

... because learned theologians and bishops and popes have taught us ...

... because our parents have taught us.

... because a global, 2,000-year-old faith community believes it.

And we believe based on the reliability of those who we trust ... because of who they are to us ... or the credentials they have ...


            But faith isn't only about facts that we can know.

We don't just believe facts based on "natural" faith.

The young father says to his little son: "Jump, and I'll catch you."

Well, the little boy doesn't have proof that his father will, in fact, catch him if he jumps ... but based on their relationship, the child "has faith" in his father ... he believes him ... he trusts him ... and so the kid jumps ...

... and if his father does, in fact, catch him ... well, then ... the next time, that child will have even more reason to have faith in his father.

On their wedding day ... a man says to a woman: "I love you. I commit myself to you. I will be true to you for a lifetime ..."

Well, yes, she has a history of data on which to base her trust in what he's saying ... but, in the end, it's her belief in him ... in their relationship ... that allows her to have faith ... to believe ... and to commit herself to him.

An elderly man lies sick in a hospital ... and his wife of many, many years, says: "Honey, go to sleep. I'll stay here with you."

Well, he has no way of proving that she will, in fact, stay at his side if he sleeps ... but he really knows it ... and so he closes his eyes, knowing that she is keeping watch ... because he believes in her ... he has faith because of their relationship ...


            Christian faith too is dependent on a Person that we have come trust ...

Christian faith is dependent on the strength of a relationship that we have developed over time ....

Not too long ago, I had a woman in my office—a parishioner who comes to church, from time to time—and she was going through a very difficult time in her life ... and she told me that she was struggling with her faith ...

I didn't say it to her directly, but I thought: "Well, of course, you're struggling with your faith now. You don't really know the Person that you need to trust. You don't really have a relationship with Him. How could you possibly have faith in him now?"

Sadly, I see this all of the time in hospital rooms and funeral homes ... people struggling to hold on to—or to re-discover—their  faith in the hardest moments of human life ... because they have don't really know the one whom they really need to have faith in now .. they have no real relationship with the one whom they need most to believe in at that difficult moment ...

Christian faith is built on knowing God ... built on a relationship with him.

Faith doesn't magically appear when we need it.

We ought not to be surprised that we lack faith when we need it most ... if we haven't worked at when it seemed like we didn't need it at all.


            Today, in our first reading, St. Paul is telling us that God is inviting us into the deepest possible relationship with him.

He is saying that God wants us to see ourselves ... and act ... and relate to God ... as his very own beloved sons and daughters.
St. Paul is telling us that Almighty God in heaven wants to be a loving, caring, compassionate, generous Father to us.

God wants to call him—All Powerful Lord of heaven and earth—He wants us to call him "abba" .. "daddy" '...  "Papa" ...

And today, this feast of the Most Holy Trinity is telling us too that God is inviting us into his inner life ... into the love that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit ...


            And so, today, God is inviting us ... you and me .. into faith ... into the deepest possible faith ... based on the deepest, most intimate, most personal relationship with him.

This is the path to really believe all that the Church teaches us.

This is the path to really have faith when we need it most.

Relationship with God ... conversation with God ... friendship with God ... communion with God ... time spent with God ... praying to God ...

With it, we can have faith "to move mountains". .. without it, we won't have the faith to see us through the difficulties that we must all inevitably face in life ...

Pentecost, May 26-27, 2012

posted May 28, 2012, 12:06 PM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            I have a priest friend who, whenever he's out and sees young parents struggling with crying, unruly, or generally wild kids, this priest friend likes to say:

“Celibacy is its own reward.”

If that’s what parenting is about, then “celibacy is its own reward.”


            My priest friend is kidding, of course.

And personally, though I think that his comment is kind of funny …  I’d rather say that … “with each vocation that God gives, comes the grace to live it.”

Personally, as  a priest and a celibate, I marvel at the challenge of being a good parent.

Parents have to be so adaptive, so prudent, so discerning as to what their child needs at any particular moment.

Sometimes, a parent must be firm or challenging or even stern …

At other times, the parent has to be encouraging, supportive, tender …

At still other times … patient or teasing or playful …

Parenting requires a lot of adaptability … a willingness to use different skills at different times … knowing when to pull out which tool out of that parental “bag of tricks” …


            And so, God is with us.

So too is our Heavenly Father with us, his children.

God has his own “bag of tricks” to deal with us … according to our need in whatever situation, wherever we might find ourselves …

And nowhere is this more clear than in his gift of his Holy Spirit


            In the Gospel, today we find the disciples hiding in Upper Room ... fearful, unsure, anxious …

Jesus has been crucified. They don’t know what to do. They’re confused about what his life and teaching meant after all.  They’re afraid of the Jews.

And so, when the risen Jesus appears to them for the first time as a group … the Lord, like a good parent, sees exactly what they need at that moment, and he says to them:

“Peace be with you.”

And he breathes on them a Spirit of peace.

The Lord gives them a Spirit of peace, because he sees that peace is precisely what they need at that moment.


            And so he is with us.

When we feel fearful, unsure, anxious … he sends a Spirit of peace to us as well.

“Peace be with you,” he says to us … as he breathes on us that unseen Spirit of Peace.


            Then, in the first reading ... (a scene which actually takes place after the story in today's Gospel) … well, those disciples are still up there in that Upper Room.

They haven’t moved.

They haven’t taken up the mission.

They haven’t gotten the message.
And so, the Lord sees that what those disciples need now is a good swift kick in the pants … a jump start … some fire in their bellies … or maybe  a flame in the seat of their pants.

And so, at that moment, the Lord sends the Spirit on the them in the form of fire … a Spirit of excitement, a Spirit of enthusiasm, a Spirit of empowerment … and so those timid disciples jump up, throw open those shutters,  and they start hootin’ and a hollerin’ and preaching the Good News and speaking in languages they didn’t even know 

… because that’s the Spirit as they needed him at that moment.


            And maybe, at this moment, that's what you and I need for the Lord to do for us

Surely, all of us need a little “faith-fire” in our bellies from time to time.

The life of faith can become so "hum drum" ... so "ho-hum" … so routine ...

And it ought not to be.

Maybe you and I need today, as we celebrate Pentecost, what those disciples got in that Upper Room two thousand years ago … a good swift spiritual kick in our “faith-pants” ... with the outpouring of a Spirit of fire.


            But in whatever circumstance ... our Lord is like a good parent … and he gives what we need when we need it.

Now, a Spirit of peace … when we are fearful, unsure, anxious …

A Spirit of empowerment … when faith has become too routine

A Spirit of consolation when we’re down

A Spirit of discernment … when we’re in need of guidance

A Spirit of truth … when we’re, in fact, ignorant (without even knowing it)...

A Spirit of his simple presence … when we feel alone

Like a good parent, the Lord gives us the Spirit as we personally need it at any particular moment.


            But, as any parent can tell us …

Children aren’t always open to what the parent wants to give …

Sometimes kids don’t want the sound guidance that they need 

They don’t want the prudent advice being offered …

Sometimes, children don’t want the challenge which, in fact, they need

Sometimes, kids don’t want the support, the encouragement, the tenderness of the person who most wants to give it.


            And so, you and I are with God.

At every moment … at each and every moment … God is offering the Spirit that we need … the Spirit exactly as we need him at that very moment …

But so often we are distracted … inattentive … resistive …

We are unwelcoming … closed … ungrateful for what God is offering … even though it is what we most need.


            But today is different …

Or at least today could be different .

Because today is Pentecost … today is the day that we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit … today is the Spirit’s Day 

Whether it’s a Spirit of peace … or a spiritual kick in the pants … whatever we need at this moment … let’s open our hearts … our minds … or souls … because whatever it is that we need at this moment … at this moment, the Lord desperately … lovingly … wants to give it.

Ascension of the Lord, May 19-20, 2012

posted May 20, 2012, 6:10 AM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            Today, we have two accounts of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven ... how, after his death and resurrection from the dead, he was lifted up into heaven.

In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives us one version.

And in the Gospel, we hear the same story from the perspective of St. Mark.

In both, we learn that, before ascending into heaven, the Risen Jesus gathered his disciples together, and told them that it was time for them to take up his mission.

And, in the Acts of the Apostles, he says that the disciples will receive the Holy Spirit in order to be his "witnesses" to the "ends of the earth."

The disciples must be his "witnesses."


            Now, the word "witness" is certainly familiar to all of us.

We've all seen the crime dramas on television where the detectives are looking for "witnesses" ... someone who "witnessed" the crime ... "witnesses" who will testify in court.

These "witnesses" have seen the crime with their own eyes  ... and they're going to report on exactly what they've seen.

As Detective Joe Friday used to say with that deadpan face on that classic TV show, "Dragnet," from the 50s and 60s: "Just the facts, m'am .... just the facts."

That's what TV detectives want from their witnesses: "Just the facts."


            But that's not exactly the kind of "witnesses" that Jesus is talking about.

The "witnesses" of Jesus aren't necessarily people who've seen all the things that Jesus did with their own eyes.

Jesus isn't interested in witnesses who can simply report the facts: ... "yeah, Jesus lived two thousand years ago; he died on a Cross; and his disciples claimed that he rose from the dead and was lifted up into heaven. "

Jesus isn't asking for "disinterested" bystanders or "objective" bystanders who happened to see something that they can take or leave.

The witnesses that Jesus wants are witnesses to something that they really ... truly ... personally ... believe ...

Jesus wants witnesses who have come to know why he—his life, his teaching, his death, and resurrection—are Good News!

He wants witnesses who will testify that Jesus—his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection—are the true measure of what is truly important, real, and right.


            In fact, when the Acts of the Apostles reports Jesus calls on his disciples to be his "witnesses" ... the Greek word used is the word "martyr."

The word "martyr" means "witness."

Jesus wants his disciples to be martyrs ... not necessarily martyrs who literally give their lives for the faith ... but also not disinterested bystanders ...

Jesus wants his disciples to be martyrs in the sense of people who give testimony to what they believe ... what they are prepared to stake their lives on.


            Christian martyrs from the beginning to today are not literally witnesses to facts.

They probably haven't seen anything new with their physical eyes.

Christian martyrs—witnesses—are people who have come to know the Risen Jesus himself ... people who have come to realize the truth that Jesus taught and lived and demonstrated ...

... that love of others, rather than love of self, is really what fulfills us

... that things like service and forgiveness and compassion and kindness make us better human beings

... that the things of heaven matter far more than the merely things of earth ...

... that trust in God, whatever might come, is the true source of peace ... whatever might come.


            "Be my witnesses," Jesus says to you and me today.

Don't just learn the facts about the faith.

Don't just go through the motions.

But come to believe the truth ... come to believe ... and then give testimony ... witness ... evidence of your belief ... to the ends of the earth ... or at least in the little corner of the earth in which you live.


            St. Francis of Assisi famously told his friars that they should "preach always "... that is, spread the Good News always ... and "sometimes use words."

You and I must be witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ ... and sometimes we must use words.

The rest of the time, we have to give witness by how we live our lives ... by the example that we give.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 12-13, 2012

posted May 13, 2012, 9:22 AM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            "You are my friends, " Jesus says to his disciples – and to us – today.

"You are my friends."

"I have called you friends, because I have told you everything that I have heard from my father."


            Friendship is one of the most fundamental of human values—one of the things that makes human life truly human.

"A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, " says the Old Testament Book of Sirach, "he who finds one finds a treasure."

And again in the same Book: "Faithful friends are beyond price: No amount can balance their worth."

True friends share our joys and our sorrows; they support us and challenge us and help us to attain the good things of truly goo human life.


            Now, friendship, of course, is not a biblical discovery.

The great Greek philosopher, Plato, some 2500 years ago, wrote a famous treatise on the value of true friendship ...

... followed by a yet more famous treatise on friendship by his student, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle ...

200 year later, the famous Roman statesman, Cicero, added his own great essay on the value of friendship.

And, their works, translated and taken up and dressed in Christian faith by some of the greatest minds in the Christian tradition: St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, St. Aelred ...

            And one of the aspects of true friendship about which all of these authors, pagan and Christian, agree is that there can't be friendship without equality.

There has to be equality between two people in order for there to be true friendship between them.

A slave can't really be a friend with a king ... a foot soldier with his general

Even the great Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote: "Have no friends who are not your equal."


            Now, to modern ears that sounds a little strange – "have no friends who are not your equal" ...  "there can't be true friendship unless there's equality ..."

But, in fact, it would be difficult for an employee to be a friend of her boss (at least in a big organization) ... oh, they can be friends of sorts but the employee always really knows that the boss can fire her ... and so she isn't really free to say anything to her boss ... and, in reverse, it would be inappropriate for the boss to share her feelings about other employees or the workplace or all of her plans or appear to show favoritism ...

Likewise, there really can't be friendship between a teacher and a student (at least in a formal teaching arrangement) because the teacher has power over the student .

We call this a "power differential" between them.

No equality ... no friendship ... at least not completely.


            And so, friendship is one of the most basic human values on which the happiness of human life depends ... but there can't be friendship between people who are not equals.


            Which is why the very simple words of Jesus for us today are so completely amazing ... so incredible ... so  awesome:

"I call you friends ..."


            The Master calls his disciples his friends ... the teacher his students ... the leader, his followers.

But, more, the Son of Almighty God calls his creatures ... he calls sinners his "friends"!


            This is what amazed the Christian authors who reflected on the meaning of true friendship.

Almighty God in heaven ... who is completely sufficient in himself ... complete in himself ... who needs nothing and no one outside of himself ... Almighty God deigns to invite his creatures into friendship with himself!

And, precisely because there has to be equality between friends ... Almighty God lowers himself ... lowers himself infinitely beneath himself ... to become a mere human being ... Almighty God becomes one of us so that he can invite sinners into friendship with his Divinity.

And ... through baptism into Christ ... baptism, by which we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection . .. through baptism, God raises us ... elevates us ... lifts us to be his sons and daughters by adoption ... precisely so that ...

... sinful creatures can become friends of God in Christ Jesus, our Savior.


            And so, those simple words of Jesus today are really amazing words ... incredible words ... awesome Good News:

The Son of Almighty God calls us friends.

And he shows us what his friendship means when he says "No one has greater love ... than to lay down one's life for one's friends."

And, on his Cross, that's exactly what our friend Jesus did for us: he "laid down his life" for us ... to free us, his friends, from the power of evil and sin and error and falsehood and death.

And, now, at every moment, he is present to support us and guide us and heal us and help us.

Jesus Christ ... our truest friend.


            "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, " says the Old Testament Book of Sirach, "he who finds one finds a treasure."

You and I have found just such a friend in Jesus ... a sturdy shelter ... and our truest  treasure.


            But could he say the same of us?

Has the Lord found a "sturdy shelter" in you and me?

The Lord is a friend to us ... are we a friend to him?

He has lowered himself ... He has raised us up ... He has laid down his life for us, his friends ...

What have you and I done for him?

What do we do for him?

What inconvenience do we endure?

What sacrifice do we make?

In what way do we "lay down our lives" for our truest friend?


            There's a famous old Protestant hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

everything to God in prayer!


               "What a friend we have in Jesus!

Could the Lord sing of us: "What a friend he has in us?"

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 5-6, 2012

posted May 9, 2012, 10:52 AM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            "Remain in me, as I remain in you" ... so Jesus says in today's Gospel.
"Remain in me as I remain in you."


            When we are parted ... separated ... from someone important to us ... from someone we love ... by distance ... or by death ...

... we can say that the person remains "in our thoughts and prayers."

We could say that the person remains "in our hearts."

That person remains in our cherished memories.

Our parted loved ones are not with us physically, of course, ... not bodily ... not, in that sense, "really" ... but they are with us in some important way.


            "Remain in me, as I remain in you," says Jesus today.

Here, Jesus is saying a lot more than that he will remain in our thoughts or in our hearts or in our memories.

Jesus saying that he himself will remain with us ... he himself ...

... and not only "with" us ... but "in" us ... really, personally, completely ... in us ... within us ... united with us.

            Before we receive communion at Mass, we say (in the new translation):
"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof ..."

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof ..."

Receiving our Lord in holy communion is receiving him—the Lord Jesus himself---really, personally, completely—into  our souls, into our bodies, into our lives ... and, in that sense, into our "homes" ("under our roofs," as we say) ...

In holy communion, Our Lord comes to "commune" with us ... to be with us ... and, really, to be  in us ... one with us.


            There's a story about St. Philip Neri that, when he was celebrating Mass in his parish, he noticed that there was a man who always left right after receiving communion without taking any apparent time to make a thanksgiving for receiving this incredible gift of the Eucharistic presence of Jesus.

So, one Sunday, when the man left right away without any apparent thanksgiving as usual, St. Philip sent two servers after him with lighted candles to walk beside him down the street ...

Of course, people began to gawk at the fellow rather quickly ... and so the man went back to the saint to ask what was up with that ...

And the Saint said: The Lord Jesus dwells within you ... lives in you ... in holy communion ... and if you won't take time to acknowledge that awesome fact, the presence of those two servers will.


            "Remain in me as I remain in you."

We can think about this saying of Jesus especially at Mass, but Jesus isn't just talking about his Eucharistic presence at Mass.

Through baptism, Jesus unites himself to each one of us.

If we are "in a state of grace"—that is, if we haven't separated ourselves from him .... closed the door to him ... through serious sin, he truly dwells in each one of us ... not physically but in His Holy Spirit—which is nothing less than he himself.


            The Lord remains in us precisely to help us.

The Lord remains in us to guide us to what is good.

He remains in us to strengthen us in the face of temptation.

He remains in us to support us in times of trial ... to comfort us in times of grief ... to heal us when we feel wounded ... to prop us up when we feel weak ... to hold us when we are afraid.


            But the Lord doesn't remain in us ... just for us.

"Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit ..."

He wants us to bear fruit.

He wants to remain active and present in the world in us and through us and with us.

If the Lord remains in us ... we will be better Christians ... better spouses ... better parents .... better children ... better neighbors ... better co-workers ... better friends to our friends.

The Lord will accomplish in us ... and with us ... and through us ... what He wills for our world.


            Today, then, at this Eucharist, as we receive his Sacred Life ... His Eucharistic Presence ... in Holy Communion ... let's fling open the doors of our hearts, our souls, our lives to him ...

Let's remain in him.

And let's bear fruit by making his presence known in our daily lives.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 28-29, 2012

posted Apr 29, 2012, 11:06 AM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            "Love is a many splendored thing ... " recorded in 1955 as the theme for the movie of the same name.

"Love me tender, love me true, never let me go ..." Elvis Presley ("The King"), 1956

"Love look at the two of us, strangers in many ways ..." The Carpenters, 1970.

Don't worry. I'm going to stop there.

But all of us ... we could all go on naming and humming and singing one schmaltzy love song after another.

The English language is full of them ... as, I assume, is every language known to the human race.

And when we had sung them all, we 'd be left with the sense that this "love" is all about the warm and fuzzy and sentimental feelings that these songs are meant to evoke ...


            But, really, when all of the singing is done ... and all of the poetry has been read ... and all the fluttery hearts stilled ... it is today's Gospel that tells us the true meaning of love.

"I am the Good Shepherd," says Jesus.

"I know mine, and mine know me ... and I lay down my life for the sheep."

A hired man will run at the first sign of danger ...

But the good shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep.


            And this is the real meaning of love ... the willingness to lay down one's life for another.

This is the  true meaning of love ... and so, it is the Cross of Jesus that is the love's truest symbol.

The Cross where Jesus laid down his life for sinners is the true symbol of love – not pretty little hearts ... or cute, little kissing turtledoves ...  or a fat kid with little wings and a bow and arrow.

The Cross is love's symbol ... and the Cross is love's measure.


            Now, of course, you parents all know that to really love your kids involves lots of sacrifices: time,  money, energy ... a lot of "laying down your life" in many seemingly ordinary ways.

But if the Cross is the measure of love ... and if love's truest meaning is to lay down your life for another ... surely, even the best of parents could always ask themselves:

Am I really giving myself to and for my children as generously as I could?

Do I really love them as I ought?

Do I really lay down my life for them?

Do they get, just for example—do they get: ... quality time? ... real attention?  ... patient listening ... even at a cost to myself?


            If the Cross is the measure of love ...

If laying down one's life for another is love's truest meaning ...

Then spouses would know the measure of their real love for one another by the sacrifices that they were willing to make for one another ... again: things as ordinary as quality time ... real attention ... patient listening ...

... giving ... as well as taking ...

... what the other one wants ... and not just what I want ...

... what the other one needs ... over and above what I might want ...


            If the Cross is the measure of love ...

If laying down one's life for another is love's truest meaning ...

Then we would know if we really love God ... if we are willing to give him things, again  as ordinary as quality time ... real attention ... patient listening.

Is the practical extent of our love for God ... the 46 minutes we manage to give him on most Saturday nights (42 minutes if we're one of those who leave after communion ...) ... or do we really give ourselves to him ... "lay down our lives" for him in other ways ?


            You and I are gathered here at this Mass to celebrate God's love for us in Jesus Christ.

For, as St. John tells us,  God so loved the world that he gave his only Begotten Son.

Jesus loved the world ... and each one of us so much ... that he laid down his life for us.

Today, as we celebrate that divine love ... as we "commune " with that love ... as we eat and drink of that love in the Body of Christ ... let's commit ourselves to learn to love according to the measure of the Cross.

Second Sunday of Easter, April 14-15, 2012

posted Apr 15, 2012, 1:42 PM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            "Peace be with you, " the risen Jesus says to his disciples.

"Peace be with you."

And, immediately, he showed them the wounds in his hands and in his side ... the wounds in his hands that the nails had made ... the wound in his side, made by the lance that had pierced him.

It's an odd connection: "Peace be with you" ... and immediately, the wounds.

It's an odd thing, really, that Jesus still carries his wounds on his risen and glorified body.


            Now, ol' doubting Thomas wasn't there.

He didn't see Jesus ... and he wouldn't believe until he could see and touch.

So Jesus  appears next to doubting Thomas, and the Lord says again what he had said to the others:
"Peace be with you."

And then, Jesus immediately says to Thomas:

"Put your finger in the nail marks ... put your hand in my side ..."

"Touch the wounds," says Jesus.

Again, "Peace be with you" ... and the wounds.

Again, Jesus still carries the wounds on his risen body.


            Peace be with you ... and ... the wounds.

A deep ...  a true ...  an abiding peace ... and  ... the holy wounds of Jesus.

Peace in the wounds.

There is peace in the wounds.

There is peace in the wounds of Jesus.


            The holy wounds of Jesus are a reminder, of course, of his sufferings.

They remind us that the Only Begotten Son of God suffered and was wounded and died.

And so, yet more deeply, the wounds of Jesus are a reminder of the love that led the Lord of Life to suffer for sinful men and women ... to suffer out of love for you and me.

The wounds are a reminder of a love that is greater than our sin.

The Risen Jesus wears his wounds has a sign, a symbol, a banner that proclaims: this is what I endured out of love for sinners ... what I endured for all sinners ... for each and every sinner.

And so, if you and I are sinners ... if we can recognize ourselves as sinners ... then, there is a mighty peace in the wounds of Jesus ... Jesus wounded out of love for sinners ...


            The holy wounds of Jesus are a reminder of his sufferings.

And those same wounds are a reminder that the Lords himself knows what it means to suffer.

Have you suffered?  ....  The wounds remind us that he has too.

Have you ever felt abandoned ... or betrayed ... or  humiliated ... have you ever suffered an injury that you know that you didn't deserve  ... The wounds tell us: so has he.

Have you ever been down ... or defeated ... or afraid ... or alone ... ?

Have you ever feared death ... well, so has he.

And so, the wounds are a testimony:

The Lord knows.

The Lord understands.

The Lord is with us.

And so, whatever the difficulty we face ... whatever the pain... whatever the loss ... there is a mighty peace in the wounds of Jesus.

There is comfort and healing and peace in the wounds of Jesus.


            Remember at the Crucifixion that the Roman soldier thrust a spear into the side of Jesus ... and the Gospel tells us that immediately "blood and water flowed out."

Blood and water flowed from the wounded side of our crucified Lord.

And since the earliest Church, the water has been seen as a symbol of the waters of baptism ... the blood , a symbol of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus.

And so, there is life in the wounds of Jesus.

There is the new life of baptism.

There is the renewed life of holy communion.

There is life in the wounds of Jesus ... and so there is peace in the wounds of Jesus.


            "Peace be with you," Jesus says today to us who are sinners.

"Peace be with you," he says today to those who suffer in any way.

"Peace be with you," to those who are baptized ...

"Peace be with you," to those who are privileged to share in his Sacred Body and Blood.

Peace ... peace in the holy wounds of our Most Holy Savior.

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