Sunday, August 19, 2018

Homily for August 19, 2018 (20th Sunday B)

Listen to the Homily here

I may have mentioned, once or twice, my goddaughter. She is a little more than three and a half. A few weeks ago, when the calendars of a busy three-and-a-half-year-old child and a busy parish priest aligned, I met Madeline and her family at one of the newly constructed eateries near Charlotte. The family arrived first; they were seated and beginning to eat when I walked through the door of the restaurant. My goddaughter immediately got up from her chair, ran toward me cheerfully saying the closest and cutest approximation of Father Benjamin that she can muster, and jumped into my open arms. The joy in her eyes and the smile on her face were sharp contrasts to the angry and concerned eyes and disapproving looks of the other people seated in the restaurant. I saw their faces and I knew why they looked the way that they did: they were horrified and concerned to see a priest holding a child. I imagine that it will be that way for the rest of my life.

If there was any trust left after the scandals revealed in 2002, and if any trust had been rebuilt in the sixteen years since then, it is now gone. I am utterly horrified. I am ashamed. I am broken hearted. I am angry. I am disappointed. I am furious that consecrated men abused children and young people, that they abused their authority and the trust of their sacred office. I am horrified that predators were promoted rather than being punished. It’s tough to preach, and to pray.

But let us be clear: I and other faithful priests are not the victims here. We are, at best, collateral damage. The victims are the young people and children that were violated by those who should have protected them. The victims are those who were rejected and neglected by Church and legal systems. They are the ones who need our prayers and support. They are the ones who deserve our compassion, our consolation, and our care. Our eyes can never look away from those who are suffering, because to do so would be to take our eyes off of the Suffering Savior.

This is not a time of persecution: it is a season of purification. We as a Church must face the examination of conscience and the examination of conduct. This will not be pretty. The depths of depravity and dishonesty must be brought to the light. It will be painful. It will be disappointing and disheartening. But we pray that it will also be purifying and healing.

Knowledge and admission of sin and a desire to reform are the first steps on the path to holiness . . . and holiness is our only option. There is no path forward that does not involve a deeper commitment and a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We need an investigation and a review board and screenings and policies. Those must be part of the process, and they will be. But there is no abiding change, no change of heart or change of practice or change of behavior without a change of direction from the ways of the world to the way of the Lord Jesus. Holiness is our only answer. Holiness is our only path. Holiness is the only credible witness that can testify before the victims of abuse and the world. We have no choice. We must seek to be holy.

There is a great consolation in our long history. In the times of greatest disobedience and debauchery, in the days when faithfulness is cast aside, and sin is set up as the ideal, it is in those times when God raises up his greatest saints. I am consoled that in the face of these scandals the purifying fire of God’s justice will make way for the glorifying power of God’s holiness. God will raise up his saints. God will raise up his witnesses. The ever-faithful God remains ever faithful and ever merciful. That is our consolation and our challenge.

You see, it is from this room and from this community that God will raise up his saints. We will support each other on the way of holiness. As a priest, I cannot become holy without you. I am not a hermit, nor a monk. My path to holiness is not a cave in the desert nor a cell in a monastery; it is here, with you and for you. We walk the road to the Kingdom together. We struggle to be holy together. And together, with the trust and joy and expectation of a child of God, we run to the open arms of Jesus.

Preached at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Monroe, NC

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Homily for August 12, 2018 (19th Sunday B)

The women in my family bake things. They do many other things too, but they bake things. They bake many things. Recipes for cookies and pies and pound cakes are treasured and they are handed on as reservedly and reverently as bishops lay on hands. Actually, my grandmother protected the recipes a little more. I have been ordained twice and I never got the pound cake recipe!

Whenever I was getting ready to go back to school after a break, my grandmother would always make sure that I had plenty of food in the car for the ten hour drive to Philadelphia. There were homemade biscuits and sausage, wrapped in aluminum foil, in packs of two, so that I could easily eat them along the way. There were packs of crackers, water, and soda. There was a pound cake and sometimes two, baked in the shape of a loaf so it was easy for me to pack and easy to carry. It was a ten hour trip; I had enough food for ten days. My grandmother made sure that I had an abundance of food for the trip back. There was plenty of food for the journey.

It was different for Elijah, he was on the run from the queen and king who wanted to have him killed. Nobody packed a snack for Elijah. After a day on the journey he was tired, his was disheartened, he was hopeless and he was ready to give up. And he laid down and fell asleep beneath the shade of a tree. It was an angel that woke him up, with a hearth cake and a jug of water. The angel told him to eat, and Elijah ate, and then he went back to sleep. The angel woke him again and said, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you.” Elijah needed food for the journey and Lord provided through the voice of an angel.

Jesus promised food for the journey. The five thousand who were fed on the mountain side when the little boy shared his lunch with Jesus were given food for the journey. They had followed Jesus to that hillside and he fed them so that they could make the journey home. It was food for a day and the twelve wicker baskets were probably enough for the next day. It was abundant and sufficient; it was food for the journey. But now Jesus promised something more. On the side of the mountain, Jesus gave them food for the journey to Cana and Nazareth and Capernaum and Jerusalem. But now Jesus promises food for the journey to the house of his Father. I am the bread of life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven and whoever eats this bread will live forever. He promised to those who had eaten with him on the side of the mountain that he would give them more than simply the daily bread, but the bread of eternal life. Jesus promised them food for the journey to heaven.

And he promises it to you and to me.

Most of us remember with great joy and power the day of our first Communion. There might have been a white dress or a white suit. Maybe some family members made a journey to celebrate this part of your journey. You had prepared. You had learned your prayers. You had made the journey to meet Jesus in the bread of life. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, you were meeting Jesus in the breaking of the bread. As Jesus once did for his disciples on the side of the mountain and in the upper room, Jesus was breaking the bread for you.

And now months and years and decades have passed, and maybe the journey has been long, but Jesus still comes to feed you and me. As once we prepared to receive the Bread of Life, so now every time we receive the Bread of Life, we are being prepared to be received by the Lord Jesus on the day that the Father calls us unto himself.

Jesus is our food for the journey and he will lead us to that kingdom where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Homily for July 29, 2018 (17th Sunday B)

On most Sundays there is a woman I see walking into the Church. It always surprises me a little. A few years ago the hospital chaplain called me and said, “Father, come quickly, we are certain the end is near.” And on that day a few years ago I gave the anointing of the sick, the apostolic pardon at the hour of death, and prayed the prayers for the dying over the same woman. I left the hospital and waited for a call about a funeral. A few weeks later she walked into the Church. It was a miracle and I got to be part of it.

There’s a baby I see on Sundays. He, like all babies, makes me smile. Some months ago, only hours after he was born, I baptized and later confirmed him in the NIC-U. They didn’t think he would survive. I left the hospital and waited for the dreaded phone call. That phone call never came and the baby comes to Church each week. It was a miracle and I got to be part of it.

Some of those miracles are dramatic and some are more private, like the person in the narthex who says, “I’ve been away from the Church and today I decided to come back.” It is a miracle and I got to be part of it.

It was a miracle and I got to be part of it. I wonder if that is what the young boy who gave his five loaves and two fish away told his mother at the end of the day. “Mom, it was amazing. There were five thousand people and there was no food and I shared my lunch with a man named Jesus and we had so much food left over. It was a miracle and I got to be part of it.”

When you think about it, the little boy was more than just part of that miracle. If the little boy does not share his lunch with Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand does not happen. If Andrew does not notice the little boy who offers to share his five loaves and two fish, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand does not happen. If Philip does not recognize the need for so much food on the side of the mountain, then the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand does not happen. And if the crowd had not followed Jesus across the Sea of Galilee, then the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand does not happen. It was a miracle. And the little boy and Andrew and Philip and the other disciples and each of the people in the crowd were part of it.

They each got to be part of one of the miracles of Jesus. They each got to see the Lord Jesus take the bread and give thanks and give it to those who were hungry. They each got to hear the words, “Gather the fragments, so that none will be wasted.” They each got to see the twelve wicker baskets filled with the abundance of bread from the five loaves that were placed in the hands of Jesus. They each got to be part of the miracle. Jesus wanted each of them to have a part in his miracle. The little boy and Philip and Andrew and the disciples and each person in the crowd were part of the miracle of Jesus.

And so are we. 

Jesus wants you and Jesus wants me to be part of the miracles that he is doing. Jesus invites you and Jesus invites me to be part of the miracles that he is doing. You might be like Philip and you recognize what the need is and what will be needed. You might be like Andrew and have the eyes to see the gifts in the life of child and bring that child in prayer to the Lord Jesus. You might be like the little boy who was willing to share the food that he had with those who had no food. You might make the wicker baskets and gather the fragments. And we each are part of the crowd as we are fed by the hand of the Lord Jesus.

And now, as he once did for his disciples and for the little boy and for the five thousand on the hillside, Jesus Christ feeds you and me.

It’s a miracle and we get to be part of it. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Homily for July 8, 2018 (14th Sunday B)

Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. It is such a sad sentence to conclude the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Couldn’t we hear something more hopeful? Could there be some good news for us on this weekend in early July? I want something more than “Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Maybe Ezekiel can help us. Maybe there is good news from the prophet who lived by the river in Babylon and had visions of the court of heaven. Certainly he can give us a word of hope and a word of grace, but not today. His message is about rejection. His message is about a people who refuse to hear the Word of the Lord. The message of Ezekiel today is about hardness of heart and rebellion. It seems to be a sad message too. It seems like so much bad news.

And we hear enough bad news. We hear bad news about the treatment of children along the border and bad news about the treatment of children in our community. We hear bad news about gang violence and drug violence and school violence and violence against the unborn. There is so much bad news. I almost want to stop listening. I almost want to stop listening to the noise and the conflict and the violence and the hatred. I almost want to stop listening.

But if I stop listening, I might miss something important. I might not hear the story about the great young people who sit in this Church who can see a future better than the present. I might not hear the parents and grandparents who look back with pride and forward in hope. If I stop listening I could not hear the pastor who says, “I am amazed at the abundance of their faith.” If I stop listening, I will not hear the words that Jesus gave to Paul and that Jesus gives to you and to me: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

We are a community of amazing faith. For more than seventy-six years, the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes has kept the faith alive from generation to generation. It has not been easy. We know those stories well. We have our wounds and our scars. We have our regrets and our resentments. We have our disagreements and our divisions. We cannot deny them. They are part of who we are . . . today.

But Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” We have the promise of Jesus that his grace surrounds us and supports us. We have the promise of Jesus that his grace will leads us on our way to the kingdom where communion conquers division, where wounds become trophies of victory, and all resentments are overcome by the resurrection. We have the promise of Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

We have the promise. We have the grace. We have the victory in Christ Jesus. We have the Good News. Amen.

Homily for July 1, 2018 (13th Sunday B)

The vestment that I am wearing was a gift from my parents. A few weeks ago, my mother walked into a store that sold priestly vestments. There were hundreds of vestments in the store. There were also clergy shirts and black suits and collars and rosaries and chalices and basically everything else a priest might want or need. My mother said two things: “I didn’t realize that you priests have your own stores,” and then “I want to give you a new vestment, but it has to be green.” Green is my mother’s favorite color. I am forty-one years old, a priest for nine years and a pastor for almost six, and my mother is still picking out my clothes!

Clothes are interesting, they can tell us things. Sometimes our clothes say where we work. Sometimes our clothes say where we went to school or where we want to go to school. Sometimes our clothes show we are part of group or an organization. Sometimes our clothes show our favorite football or World Cup team. And sometimes our clothes show that we went to Vacation Bible School and learned that Jesus rescues. Clothes are interesting, they can tell us things.

But for the woman who had been sick for twelve years, clothes had power. There are very few people in the Scriptures that I admire more than this woman. Oh I love the praying of Peter and the preaching of Paul and the poetry of John. I love Our Lady and Mary Magdalene and Martha who is always hard at work in Bethany. But this woman whose name we do not know has a trust and a faith and a determination and a confidence in the healing power of Jesus Christ that I hope to have.

She has suffered. She has suffered from illness. She has suffered from doctors. She has suffered from isolation. She has suffered from poverty. And yet, she believes in the healing power of Jesus. She knows that if only she could touch his clothing that she would be healed. She pushes her way through the crowd. Nothing will prevent her from getting to Jesus. The crowds will not prevent her. Her illness will not prevent her. Her shame will not prevent her. She will touch the clothes of Jesus and she will be healed. She is faithful and determined. She is confident and courageous. She reveals her weakness to Jesus and her faith in his power to heal. I want to have that kind of faith and I want to have that kind of courage. I want to touch the clothes of Jesus and be healed in the depths of my soul.

And maybe you do too. Maybe you want to touch the clothes of Christ this morning. Maybe you have been suffering for twelve years or more or less. Maybe a doctor knows your pain. Maybe your family knows your pain. Maybe your pastor knows your pain. Maybe only Jesus knows your pain. And this morning you want to touch the clothes of Jesus Christ and be healed.

But we will do more than that.

With more than his clothing, Jesus comes to meet us. It is not our hand that reaches out to meet him, but his hand that reaches out the meet you and me. Christ comes near to us in the Word proclaimed and in his Body and Blood. We approach him in faith and confidence. We approach him in weakness and suffering. We approach him as he approaches us to find mercy and compassion and healing.

And then we discover that we have been clothed in Christ. The garment we wanted to touch we now wear. The power of mercy and the presence of healing grace that we wanted to receive, we now carry. More than a sign of our job or our team, we wear the cloths of the Savior and we radiate the healing power of the Jesus.