Friday, January 29, 2010

Can You Go Home Again? (2010 Jan 31)

This is my homily for 31 January 2010. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “January 31” in the calendar.

References: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 | 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 | Luke 4:21-30

[__01.] “Faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

The enduring nature of love – of charity – is what Paul is communicating. We remember those who love us; and, we love those who remember us.

Love, however, is not meant to be only a memory of the past but a motivation for the present. As John Lennon and Paul McCartney summarized it, “all you need is love.”

The greatest of these three is love. Right now, in the present.

[__02.] It is appropriate to remember that love – and charity – that love does not exist as an object to be acquired. We might love objects or– or even money. (And, there is something else in the Bible about this).

We know that objects and money do not love you in return. Love exists only within relationships.

Love does not exist out there in the abstract or any shelf or warehouse. Love exists here in our hearts. God is love, first of all.

God made you and me; thus, you were made in love.

[__03.] This is what the anxious prophet Jeremiah is told in the reading from the Book of Jeremiah. Love means relationship and knowledge. The Lord speaks to Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Then, Jeremiah protests this appointment, this assignment, knowing his own inexperience and youth.

Jeremiah responds: "Ah, Lord God! I know not how to speak; I am too young." (Jeremiah 1:6)

But the Lord answers Jeremiah saying, “Say not, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8)

[__04.] The Lord encourages Jeremiah to go out into the world – now - because he knows him and loves him. This is what mothers and fathers do for their children. What you are doing for your children. What teachers do for students.

You say, “I know the world is dangerous, complicated. But I love you and I encourage you.” Such a loving relationship reminds us that someone is on our side. The Lord is also on our side. This is love.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7) Love believes in you.

[__05.] Love brings us into relationships of marriage, family, friendship, at work, at home. These relationships are, at times, complicated.

We don’t always have everyone on our side. Sometimes, it seems we have no one on our side. We don’t always get what we want. We’d rather have a filibuster proof majority.

We wonder why. I thought love was patient, kind. Why don’t I get my way?

[__06.] In the Gospel, we witness Jesus attempting to go home again.

And, Jesus is not going to get his way either. Maybe, you can’t go home again.

This famous phrase comes from the title of the novel by Thomas Wolfe “You can’t go home again”. And, as one reviewer commented, this phrase is now part of our language and viewpoint.

“ ‘You can’t go home again’ has entered American speech to mean that after you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis, you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life …. the phrase is sometimes spoken to mean that you can’t return to your place of origin without being deemed a failure. In this regard, the phrase is used as a self-admonition or warning. You can’t go home again ambitious Americans tell themselves. They say it as a warning to stick it out, to not dare go home and subject themselves to the prospect of being a failure in the eyes of their family and the friends of their youth. ”(Susan Matt, Journal of American History, September 2007)

Or, as the Gospel reads, “No prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:24)

This is the experience (or frustration) of, for example, the young person who comes home from college. It is the experience of adults everywhere who may go to visit their families. We may be frustrated – even in the good we do – when we cross the street or cross the country to visit our families.

These attempts to “look homeward, angel” and to “go home again” are often experiences of friction. We may feel rejected, at times, among the very people whom we thought would understand us.

When this happens, remember you are in Christ’s company who was also rejected in his own country. This is not mean to discourage you from visiting Nazareth or River Edge or Mom’s or Dad’s house. It only means that these returns home are all part of a lifetime of returning home, of caring for our families, until we are all returning home to God in eternal life.

Until then, be patient, be kind. Love never fails. [_end_]

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Gifted Program (2010-01-24)

This is my homily for 24 January 2010. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “January 24” in the calendar.

[__01.] Paul, in our second reading today, writes about gifts. The gift of being the hand as part of the body, the gift of being the eye as part of the body, the gift of being the ear as part of the body.

And, also, Paul writes about the gift of carrying out certain responsibilites, such as the gift of being an administrator, a prophet, or an apostle, or a teacher.

[__02.] And, we are reminded that we need God’s help and the Holy Spirit to discover what our true gifts are. It is written in the Gospel that Jesus returns in the power of the Spirit to Nazareth.

And, Jesus discovers who he truly is by being close to God.

[__03.] Sometimes, we might confuse things about what is “good” or what is “bad.”

What St. Francis de Sales wrote is that sometimes we excuse – confuse – the good and the bad. We mistake one for the other.

For example, “slander” (bad) confused as “free speech”; “arrogance” as “honesty”; “vanity” as “elegance.”

I might be guilty of any one of these things. And, I might do them or confuse them because I want to be acceptable.

The question is – whose acceptance am I really seeking?

[__04.] In the synagogue, Jesus speaks about this being a year acceptable to the Lord.

And, St. Paul is urging us to use our gifts and to pray for guidance of the Holy Spirit. And, by praying, we grow closer to God, so that we do not confuse, for example:

** “slander” & “free speech”;
** “arrogance” & “honesty”;
** “vanity” & “elegance.”

There are many gifts but the same Spirit. We need God’s help in order to use our gifts well.

[__05.] St. Paul writes of the variety of gifts, the diversity of gifts, of the -- “gifts of healing, assistance, administration, varieties of tongues.”

Everything we do is a gift. For example, “administration” does not mean simply you you are the corner-office CEO of Google or Goldman Sachs. Running your household, raising your children, or managing a classroom, you are exercising the gift of “administration”. The annual bonus is a little bit different. Nonetheless, it is the gift of administration.

We need the help of the Holy Spirit to put our gifts at the service of others, to un-wrap our gifts for others.

[__06.] The recent earthquakes in Port-au-Prince and Haiti reveal that many have gifts to share. If you have made a donation, you have made a gift, said a prayer, then you are a gift to the people of Haiti.

Often, we think of those with specific technical expertise as those with gifts.

Paul addresses this in the letter to the Corinthians. He asks, is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? Is everyone doing mighty deeds?

Does everyone have specific technical expertise?

[__07.] Today, we might ask ourselves a similar question as we watch CNN or read the news. Is everyone a doctor trained in emergency medicine? Is everyone a helicopter pilot who can deliver food and water? Is everyone an engineer?

Well, no. However, this is not to discourage us.

As Paul wrote, “If the foot should say ‘because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body’, it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. (1 Corinthians 12:__)

[__08.] So, all parts of the body contribute to the good of the whole.

And, those of us who have given and who are praying for the people of Haiti, we are also contributing to the good of the whole.

A parent who is administering a household is doing a mighty deed at least as great as running an investment bank.

And, all of us – in the Body of Christ – are doing mighty deeds.

And, we do mighty deeds as one body. We do them as a community.

[__09.] We are called to use our gifts. And, sometimes, when we think of the acceptability of our gifts, we are thinking of things which are outwardly attractive.

For example,

• White teeth
• Good looking
• Speaks well, good SAT scores
• the quarterback who can complete passes to his receiver; the relief pitcher who gets his team out of a jam.

These are gifts we often rate very highly.

But, we are also called to ask ourselves today. What is my criteria? What is God’s criteria?

Certainly all of us want to be favored.

But, what Jesus is urging us to do is to come closer to him so that we might open our gifts, so that we might free of selfishness, difficulty, so that we can share our gifts with others.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

From Darkness to Light (2010-01-03, Epiphany)

This is my homily for 3 January 2010, Feast of the Epiphany. Feel free to respond with comments. To view the readings, go to and click “January 3” in the calendar.

[__01.] This time of year, we are moving from darkness to light.

This is true in the sky, in the winter season, and in the Gospel of Christmas and Epiphany.

In the Gospel of last Sunday, we might say that Joseph and Mary were really in the dark as they searched the road and Jerusalem for three days for their son Jesus, a parallel to his three days of darkness in the tomb.

At Christmas, we have a little bit of light. And, the light grows gradually. At Easter, at the resurrection, we have still more.

[__02.] At this point, in the Christmas and Epiphany Gospel, we might say that we have only a little bit of the light. The Savior of the world has been born, named, and identified by a few people: Joseph and Mary, the shepherds of Jerusalem, the magi of the East.

But, he has yet to set world on fire.

[__03.] The magi from the East bring their gifts through the darkness. We are called to do the same.

This is what the Lord has done for us – he forms us as first as children in the darkness. We are loved and made in darkness even before we are born. (cf. Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139)

We are moving from darkness to light.

[__04. ] In December 1996, a group of armed Marxist rebels stormed the home of the Japanese ambassador to Peru. There was a dinner party going on at the time

The dinner guests become hostages for four months, ultimately being defeated by the government in April 1997. The guests thought that they were safe – perhaps at a Christmas party – at the ambassador’s home. But, they would not be going home until around Easter.

And, in a similar way, we are not really home until around Easter either.

It seems that our Washington DC White House is not the only place there are gate crashers.

A few years, later the American writer Ann Patchett wrote a novel loosely based on the experience of these dinner guests who become hostages and their captors, the armed rebels.

The novel is called “Bel Canto” which means beautiful song or beautiful singing.

One of the hostages – in the story -- is a professional opera singer, another hostage volunteers to be her accompanyist.

In many ways, the novel is a fictional fantasy and a moral fable. It is a story in which the novelist uses the ordeal – the crisis -- of being trapped, of being held hostage, to discover resources (talents / gifts) within each character.

For one, our soprano turns out to have some real leadership ability in addition to perfect pitch.

A second important character in the story is a multilingual translator / interpreter. He can speak Japanese, English, French, Spanish. He a "genius" at languages who "was often at a loss for what to say when left with only his own words."

In the crisis, he brings out his gifts. The opera singer brings out her gifts. All of them bring out their gifts for the sake of survival, for reconciliation, and for peace.

The hostage experience remains, however, a time of darkness and danger. Yet, one message of the novel is that the guests lose track of time during in the darkness.

[__05.] In the Gospel, we encounter the Magi who have a special gift, able to keep time, to follow the Star through the darkness. They know the stars, the moon, the constellations.

In the darkness, the magi discover a new priority. And, in the darkness of their kidnapping the characters trying to survive and to discover a new set of priorities in the process.

Somehow, for example, they seem to forget themselves – to lose themselves to the moment. It helps that they have professional musicians to pass the time under some uncomfortable conditions.

While reading the book, I was both hoping that the hostages would be freed but also hoping it would not end. I was losing track of time in their darkness.

[__06.] In the darkness, we might have trouble finding things. Finding our car keys, finding our eyeglasses, finding the alarm clock.

However, in the darkness, we somehow have less trouble identifying our real and true priorities.

In his Midnight Mass homily , Pope Benedict spoke about Christmas an awakening, an awakening from darkness. He points out that someone in darkness – someone who is asleep – is able to dream, to think, to see things.

The difference is that between the one sleeping and the one awake is that the one awake is connected to the outside world.

The same is true for us when we are shaken from sleep.

Consider what happens when we have an urgent call at night. If were to receive such a call, we would respond.

And, when a mother and father hear their baby in the darkness, they never doubt who is most important or who is calling to them.

The darkness helps us to see what the light cannot reveal.

[__07.] Darkness and silence are important elements of our Catholic faith. This is very true in monasteries and convents where they wake at all hours of the night to pray. But, it is also true for devout believers everywhere.

The morning, the darkness is a special time to rise before God. It reminds us that Jesus himself was born in obscure darkness in Bethlehem. And, his light begins to shine only gradually.

It has always been an important part of the Catholic path to holiness to seek the darkness, even to welcome the darkness.

In the darkness, we meet the light of God.

In the darkness, we discover our true priorities.

In the darkness – perhaps more easily than in the day – we put aside our childish things and come to the aid of those who need us.

And, we come to the light of God’s love both night and day to share that light with each other.