Homilies

by Deacon Gene

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Love needs to rule our behavior
God took her home
Trust in God's love
The Last beginning for Uncle Noel
Good Shepherd Sunday
Homily on Good Friday
The woman at the well


Love needs to rule our behavior:


We live in an age of swift communication. When someone does something, right or wrong, it might not meet with the approval of others, even if it's not a sin. What happens then is unique to our time. Almost immediately cellphones light up, emails and texts are sent out, and internet blogs and web sites broadcast the "news."
One of the most difficult parts of what Jesus tells us in the gospel today has to do with how we react when we think that something is wrong. We are told, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone."
That reminded me of something my father told me many years ago, he said:
"When you intend to praise someone, do it in public so that others may be able to join you in honoring them. When you correct someone, do it in private so that you don't just embarrass the person you are trying to help."
The various means and speed of sending messages that we have today leads to a tendency to broadcast first, and then maybe check out the truth or value of the message. It would be good for us to take seriously the instruction of Jesus and begin by discussing with a person one-on-one, then possibly with two or three others, and finally with the wider faith community. While this instruction of Jesus is directed at dealing with sinners, it might be enlightening, helpful and charitable to apply it to those with whom we disagree in any situation.
There is a contrasting response that occurs in many similar situations.
How often in our lifetime have we seen or experienced someone doing wrong and the first thing that comes to mind is, "How will he or she feel if I say something?"
We may not want to hurt someone's feelings.
Remember what God told Ezekiel would result if he failed to correct someone he saw doing wrong. He told him that, in God's eyes, it becomes his problem as well.
Likewise he was assured that if he tried to help a brother or sister who had gone astray and they refused his help; they had a problem but he didn't.
Saint Paul reaffirms for us that love needs to rule our behavior even when we get into a situation like Jesus describes in the gospel passage we just heard.
If you love someone, you cannot kill them; steal from them or even covet what is theirs. But, you also cannot allow them to continue doing something that is wrong.
Of course that brings up another question which is common in our world today.
Who decides what is actually right or wrong.
The rule of thumb today seems to be "if enough people consent to a behavior, it must be right or if enough people believe an idea it must be true." We even have lawmakers and justices in our court system who seem to think that if enough people agree with them, it must be the right thing to do.
The problem is that we all have blind spots.
We don't see things as they really are - especially ourselves.
Just look in a mirror, then, look at a picture of yourself. In the mirror what you see is a reverse reflection of who you are. So, when you look at a picture of yourself, the first reaction is usually, that's not really me. The fact is a picture is a more accurate representation of who you are than what you see in a mirror.
The same is true of our speaking and our thinking. Have you ever heard a recording of yourself and said, "That doesn't sound like me."
Likewise, we all have prejudices, opinions and ideas based on our conditioning over the years that cause us to think and react in certain ways.
Another principle that my father taught me says that "Right is right even if nobody is right and wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong."
Saint Paul reassures us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. What God considered wrong a hundred or a thousand years ago is still wrong today and what was right a hundred or a thousand years ago is still right today.
As we heard in our first reading, the Lord reminds Ezekiel, and us, that it is our responsibility to warn a brother or sister we see doing something wrong. It may be our duty out of love to inform someone of the consequences of their actions.
Saint Augustine in a homily made a comment which I consider a favorite:
"Love and do what you will." He continued to explain by saying:
"Let love be at the root of whatever you do and what springs from it will be good."
That simply means, if we're going to try to help other people we need to make sure we are seeing clearly. In chapter 7 of Matthew's gospel Jesus said: "take care of the beam in your eye before you try to help your brother with the splinter in his."
Reading Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out a good way to deal with being judgmental. It tells is to remember that we are all sinners in need of grace and guidance. So the teachings and direction of the Church and an informed conscience should be the final arbiter of what is right and what is wrong.
The Catechism also reminds us that we often pray at Mass as we did today:
"I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault..."
With a healthy dose of humility and self-knowledge, we may be ready to help our brothers and sisters with love and compassion.
Remember that love must be at the source of whatever we do
because TRUE LOVE always seeks the good
of THE ONE WHO IS LOVED.

God took her home:


My homily for the funeral of a friend
Gospel of John 14:1-6 --- In my Father's house there are many dwellings

A young girl and her family were trying to study the Bible and she came across a passage in the book of Genesis that caught her attention. In it she read that the Patriarch Enoch, who became the father of Methuselah, "walked with God;" and then she read: "and he was no longer here, for God took him."
Biblical experts have disagreed over the exact meaning of those words: "God took him . . ." But, that young girl put her own interpretation on it. She said: "God and Enoch were good friends. They were such good friends that they used to take long walks together. One day they were walking and talking. They walked so far that, finally, when they stopped and looked around, they realized that they were closer to God's house than they were to Enoch's house. So God asked Enoch:
'Why don't you just come home with me?' And Enoch did."
Then, the girl asked her mother, "Is that what happened to Grandpa?"
That is a very simplistic, almost childlike explanation of death. But, wasn't it Jesus who asked us to become like little children when it comes to matters of faith?
And, didn't we just hear in the gospel that Jesus said,
"I am going to prepare a place for you, and I will come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be."
If we can accept that simple faith, something like that happened to Mary this week. She and God were good friends. They walked together for 85 years and over many miles. On Tuesday, it was God who decided that Mary was closer to His house than to hers and God invited her home; home to be with Him and with her husband and all the members of her family who have gone before her.
When we are called home, we have the reassurance that we read when we do a Vigil for the Deceased; it reads: "We believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us together throughout our lives do not unravel with death."
The first thing that we need to realize is that over time Mary had to let go of all the things she was attached to during her life here with us. That included her home, dancing to her favorite music, her spot behind the deli counter at our supermarket where she met many friends, her ability to travel the country to see the sights and having opportunities to attend the special events with her grandchildren.
She eventually even had to give up her special spot in our church here and finally she had to give up the time she was able to spend with each of you.
But, the one thing that she didn't give up and will be with her for all eternity, is the love that she has for you and the love that you have for her.
Because of the merciful love of God we can hold onto that.
The second point that I would like to make revolves around the fact that down through the years as I encounter people throughout their life, the main focus of conversations with loved ones seems to be about beginnings.
Each new day, the birth of each child, that child's first step, the child's first day of school, beginning high school, beginning college, the first day on a new job and the wedding day for a young couple are all beginnings that we want to share.
And, the cycle starts all over again when another child is born.
In the midst of this series of beginnings, when we come to a time like this, we may hear people speaking of the END of life. However, we have been assured since childhood that we were born for eternal life. Because of what Jesus did on Good Friday and because of His resurrection on Easter Sunday, we, who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death and have hope of eternal life.
That is life without end. How then, can we in faith, speak of the end of life?
It seems like a contradiction and it is!
As we heard in the gospel reading, Jesus, Himself, reassures us that He is the Way, the Truth and the life. If that is true, then we must realize that the death we speak about, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, is really the last beginning to be anticipated.
It is the last time we have to start all over.
It is the last time we will encounter something that we don't understand.
It is the last time we will open a door and be surprised.
When we realize that God is love and that He created us to share His love for all eternity, then we get a better vision of the life we are called to live.
And remember that Jesus died so that WE who are born into this world, can return to the place prepared for us; not as one destroyed when no longer useful, but as one come home after a brief journey to a distant land.
Mary was away from her eternal home for 85 years, but it is not just the amount of time we spend on this earth that matters. It is the quality of life which determines how well prepared we are to approach our last beginning.
I hope all of you will join me in acknowledging Mary's life with us by saying: "Thank you, Mary, for being part of my life and allowing me to be part of yours."
We will continue to pray that Mary may receive her eternal reward.
Let us also continue to pray that we will be able to respond to the grace of each moment, as we are given it, so that we are prepared to go through the door of our last beginning when God calls us home.
There we can anticipate Mary's greeting us with the same love that we knew with her and more because we will share in the love of God for all eternity.


Trust is God's love:

After a long day at work in his cubicle, a young man was ready to go home. As he made his way to the elevator, he heard screaming and began to see billowing smoke coming down the hallway. Panic gripped him as he realized that he was on the sixth floor. He couldn't use the elevator and since the fire and the smoke were coming from the direction of the stairs, he couldn't go that way either. How could he get out? Soon the hallway filled with smoke and he retreated to the offices which had tall windows all across one wall. He heard the fire engines below as the smoke began to get to him. A crowd had gathered and along with the firemen were yelling, "Jump, jump." The young man felt a fear he had never known. Again he heard the voice of what he assumed was a fireman. "You have to jump to survive. We have a net. You'll be perfectly safe." But he couldn't see the net and his feet seemed cemented to the floor.
Then over the loudspeaker came a voice he could trust. His dad called out, "It's okay son, you can jump." As that voice reached his ears, the love for and trust he had in his dad gave him courage to jump to the safety of the net.
TRUST is one of the most important words in our life. Most of us may think that the trust we have in others is not as critical as it was for that young man, but, we place our trust in many people and things every day of our lives. When we get into a car, we trust that the manufacturer made a vehicle we can depend on. When we drive on the highway, we trust that other people will stay in their lane. When we get on an airplane, we trust that the pilot will get us safely to our destination. When we arrive at church we walk right into the building, trusting that the builders made it a sound structure. Even our money in inscribed, "In God we trust." But, is it really that we trust God, or do we really trust the money. Think about it. Isn't it a matter of, the more money we have, the more secure we feel? When we begin to run low on funds, don't we have a tendency to become anxious? As we just heard in the gospel, Jesus said, "Do not be afraid, you are WORTH MORE than many sparrows, yet, not one of them falls from the sky without your Father knowing it." In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in chapter 6 of Matthew's gospel, Jesus said, ". . . do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' The Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But, SEEK FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." Then, He follows that up by saying "Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."
For the last 25 years I have been using a paraphrase of that line to help people understand the need for TRUST and the need to accept that God's love gives us reason for that trust. My way of saying it is: "focus on the moment and TRUST in GOD'S LOVE."
From the time I was a small boy I was told, "God loves you." But, one of the most dramatic changes in my life occurred, at age 44, when I realized that GOD LOVES ME!
Trust in God's love starts with the realization that the God of the universe, the God who made us, who sent His Son to redeem us and sends the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, LOVE US.
Ask yourself: "What would happen if I really put my trust in the God who created the universe, holds the world in His hands, and cares for the birds of the sky and the beasts in the field? Would I have the same fear and anxiety constantly bogging me down? When was the last time you allowed a little child to fall asleep in your arms? Didn't you feel a real sense of joy and that the child was content in your arms? When was the last time you trusted your heavenly Father enough to place yourself, your cares, concerns and anxieties into His loving arms? If you develop a loving relationship with your heavenly Father and trust Him even as the young man trusted his dad, maybe you will have the courage to do that. If you're wondering how you can tell if you've really done it, ask yourself, "When was the last time I had relief from my fears and experienced true peace?"
If we truly believe that God loves us. If we are willing to TRUST Him with everything we have and everything we are, THEN and ONLY THEN, can we respond to the grace of each moment, do our best and TRUST that GOD WILL DO THE REST. THEN and ONLY THEN, will we be able to Trust that God's love is the net that will save us for eternal life.
"focus
on the moment and TRUST in GOD'S LOVE."

The Last beginning for Uncle Noel

There is a word of reassurance that we read at the beginning of a vigil service for the deceased. It says, "All the ties of love and affection which knit us together throughout our lives do not unravel with death."
The first thing that we need to realize is that Noel had to let go of all the things he accumulated during his life, including his home and his accounting firm, but especially he had to let go of the time he spent with each of you and us when we gathered for those reunions which he worked so diligently to prepare.
But, the one thing that he didn't give up and will be with him for all eternity, is the love that he has for you and me and the love that we have for him.
That is what we can hold onto.
The second point that I would like to make revolves around the fact that down through the years as we gathered as individual families or for a family reunion, a good part of the focus of our conversations with loved ones seemed to revolve around beginnings.
Each new day is a new beginning, the birth of each child, the first step, the first day of school, beginning high school, beginning college, the start of a first job, even the first drive behind the wheel of a car and getting married, are all beginnings; and the cycle starts over again when another child is born.
In the midst of this series of beginnings, we come to a time like this, and some have a tendency to begin speaking of the END of life. However, we have been assured since childhood that we were born for eternal life.
Because of what Jesus did on Good Friday and because of His resurrection on Easter Sunday, we, who are baptized into Christ, have hope of eternal life, which is life without end. How can we then, in faith, speak of the end of life?
It seems like a contradiction and it is! As the gospels tell us, Jesus Himself, reassures us that it is the will of the Father that we have eternal life.
If that is true, then we must realize that the death we speak of, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, is just another beginning to be anticipated. It is the last time we have to start all over. It is the last time we will encounter something that we don't understand. It is the last time we will open a door that will reveal a surprise.
When we realize that God is love and that He created us to share His love for all eternity, then we get a better vision of the life we are called to live.
And remember that Jesus died so that WE, who are born into this world, can return to the place from which we came. Not as one destroyed when no longer useful, but as one come home after a brief journey to a distant land.
Noel was away from his eternal home for over 83 years, but it is not just the amount of time we spend on this earth that matters. It is the quality of life which determines how well prepared we are to approach our last beginning.
I hope all of you can join me in saying to Noel,
"Thank you for being part of my life and allowing me to be part of yours." As we continue to pray that Noel may receive his eternal reward, let us continue to prepare, that we may be ready when God calls us home.
Then when we go through the door of our last beginning, we can anticipate that Noel will be there to greet us with that same love and affection that we knew here and we will be able to share that love with him for all eternity.

Homily for Good Shepherd Sunday - May 7, 2017

The Gospel today is about the Good Shepherd, but, I want to first focus on the sheep Jesus is trying to get to follow Him. There were many shepherds and sheep in Israel at the time of Jesus, so He was very familiar with their activity and their behavior.
Notice that we read that, "The sheep hear the shepherd's voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice."
My father once said that sheep are the dumbest animals. My father was a steel worker and a part-time farmer. He raised chickens, rabbits and pigs, had a cow and a pony and had a short-lived experience with sheep. But, one of the things he noticed was that, even though there was a little stream running through the pasture that we had for the sheep, they would not drink from it.
But, if you understand sheep, you know that instinctively they do not go near moving water for fear of being swept away by it. Sheep can swim and will do so in an emergency, like a flood. But, they sense that, if they get into moving water and get too wet, especially if they have a good coat of wool, they will drown. That is why we read in the Psalm 23, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul." Sheep will only drink from a still water pond.
OK, what does that have to do with us?
Well, Jesus is using the image of sheep to teach us a lesson about how docile sheep are and how some of their behavior would be good for us to imitate.
For instance, so many people these days just don't know how to deal with quiet. We are surrounded by noise and movement of every kind. If we are not listening to the radio, we may be watching TV or searching out things on our computers. If none of that is appropriate at the time, we may be talking on a cell phone or texting someone.
One of the things we hear from God in Scripture is, "Be still and know that I am God." Jesus wants us to stop and listen to Him. But, that means we have to be quiet, and take time to be present to Him. If we are continually absorbed in the sights and sounds of a noisy world, God can't get through to us.
It is something like that moving stream that the sheep fear. The problem is, most of us are not afraid of the moving stream. We don't recognize the world for what it is. Therefore, we jump in with both feet thinking that we know how to swim. But, before we know it, we are caught up in the raging river and, even though we know how to swim, we are not equipped to handle that current.
The Scriptures tell us that "your opponent, the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." If we just change the wording a little we could really say that he is like a raging river which gathers in its path whoever is not securely docked to the Lord. Jesus knows about the raging river. He weathered the storm of persecution and death. He fought against all the forces of evil and HE WON.
But, if you read the gospels further, you also know that many times, it is recorded, that He went off, by Himself to pray and to be alone with His Heavenly Father.
We have to spend time alone with Jesus. We have to learn to listen to His voice, so that like the sheep we can follow him, because we recognize his voice.
A sheep has no greater friend than a good shepherd, and we have no greater friend than Jesus. He came that we might have life and have it "more abundantly". Jesus does not claim to be one of the good shepherds, He says: "I AM the good shepherd". Others may have tried to better this world, but simply didn't have sufficient wisdom or power to provide us with the kind of hope and support we long for and need.
Jesus, on the other hand, not only wants to lead us to a more abundant life; He can. He combines boundless merciful love with infinite wisdom and unlimited power. The problem, with His flock, is not the shepherd's limitations. It is our lack of willingness to give Him the time to show us His way. It is also our pride in thinking we can handle the raging river without Him.
As Catholic Christians, we actually don't have just a good shepherd, we have the perfect shepherd. All we need is to be responsive sheep.
We need to take time to be quiet and listen to the voice of the one we say we know.
P.S. to my homily.
An amazing thing happened to me about a half hour after Mass as I went to participate in an adult education session before the next Mass. I usually make a cup of tea before we start, so, I picked up a cup from an assortment of about twenty that had come to us from various sources. My cup was from Contemplative Outreach of St. Louis. When I turned the cup around, I almost dropped it, because it read: "Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46
You can make of that whatever you want. For me that was God's way of telling me that my homily what right on. That was supposed to be the thought for today.

From a homily on Good Friday - April 14, 2017

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy. And next Sunday we will have the Feast of Divine Mercy, but, we all experience God's Mercy in so many ways that we have a tendency to take it for granted.
I recently discovered again that one of the ways God extends His mercy to us is by not telling us what is in store for us on any given day or in any particular situation. I went into the hospital for what I thought was going to be a one day operation and ended up with a three day stay and six weeks of recuperation.
God gives us one moment at a time and that is one of the ways in which He shows us His mercy. I have often said that if God told us, before we got out of bed in the morning, what we would be experiencing that day, many of us would either have a panic attack or just stay in bed. Someone also said that God only gives us one moment at a time, because He knows that's all we can handle. That is a gift of God's Merciful Love.
Praying the Stations throughout Lent and reading the Passion of our Lord these past couple weeks should have helped to bring home the reality of that gift for us. One of the first things that you might notice is the fact that, in the garden of Gethsemane, as we read in John's gospel, "Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to Him, went out to them." He was more concerned with doing the will of His Father.
When we read further we see that when Jesus went out to them and said, "I AM", "they fell to the ground." Jesus could have stopped it right there, but, He didn't. In the gospel of Matthew that we read on Sunday, we heard Jesus say to Peter, "Don't you think that I can call upon my Father at this moment and He will provide me more than twelve legions of angels?" But, Jesus didn't ask.
Another consideration that stuck with me these last couple months is the fact that, when we are feeling bad and need a break from the pain or the stress of a situation, we can just say, "I had enough and we sit or rest a while.
Once Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, He gave up control of the situation and allowed things to proceed according to the demands of others.
The Jewish leaders and the soldiers were relentless in their interrogation and eventual punishment. Jesus could have stopped them at any moment. But, He chose to allow them to have their way because He knew it was the will of His Father for the salvation of our souls.
The next time you encounter a situation in your life that seems to be out of your control, maybe you could ask Jesus to give you the grace of that moment, to accept what God is asking of you and TRUST that HE IS in control.
Then you could offer up, with Jesus, whatever it is that you are experiencing as a way of saying to your Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of this moment and "Thy will be done."

The woman at the well

Some years ago, as I was preparing to preach on this third week of Lent, I came across an article, I think it was in the Deacon Digest, that spurred me to think about this gospel story in a little different light. I think it might be worth sharing again.
The story was about a deacon and some missionaries going on a five week mission to Tanzania in Africa. The deacon was especially overwhelmed by their visit to an area where they ministered to the poorest of the poor.
In spite of the fact that so many of the people were blind, lame, sick with all sorts of diseases and had nothing of their own, they were extremely grateful for the least blessing offered to them, especially clean drinking water. Do you think the Samaritan woman was grateful that she could quench her thirst with clean drinking water from the well? Of course she was! Do you think she enjoyed carrying water from that well every day? Listen to how she answered Jesus. "Give me some of your water, so I don't have to keep coming here to draw water."
However, Jesus knew she needed more than water. She was thirsting for peace in her heart and soul. As we heard, Jesus knew that the woman had five husbands, and they evidently weren't providing the happiness she really wanted. She was searching for something from them that they could not provide. Jesus knew that to come right out and tell her what He knew would be too much for her to grasp, especially coming from a stranger and a Jew.
So, He had to get her attention first. Once He had her attention, He was able to touch her heart in a way that gave her the opportunity to respond with sincerity and even enthusiasm. When she realized who was talking with her and what He was telling her, she dropped her water jar and ran to the village to tell everyone. Didn't she still need the water from the well? Of course, but her priority suddenly changed. She experienced, what we might call, a mountain top moment in her life. She encountered a moment of grace and the experience changed her life.
What made the difference was that Jesus, got her attention, prepared her heart for the encounter and then gave her an opportunity to respond. Each year the Church uses the Lenten Season to get our attention, prepare our hearts for an encounter with Jesus and then gives us an opportunity to respond in a special way especially during the Holy Week Triduum. Just ask yourself: "Does God have my attention yet? Am I paying attention to the words Jesus is using to prepare my heart for His gift of life giving water? How often do I go to Jesus, who alone can satisfy my need. Do I keep looking for other ways to quench my thirst and satisfy the longings in my heart?"
If we truly prepare and really encounter Jesus during this Lenten season, then we will be able to truly appreciate His gift of life giving water, and our experience of the Holy three days may change our life. As the deacon's story ended, he wrote, "Encounters with Catholic missionaries over the years has changed and is changing the lives of many people in Africa." One of the most interesting people they met was an 83 year old man from one of the native tribes. He spoke to them about traditional tribal life and shared with them a Swahili saying that sums up the faith of the people: "Mtu ni watu!" "I AM because we are."
Then he explained the meaning: "I am Christian because we are baptized into Christ. I am a child of God because we are the Body of Christ. I am Catholic, because we are the Church."
The faith of the people was verified at Sunday Mass when their church overflowed and they sang, danced and participated fully in the liturgy. They wanted everyone to know how much they treasure their faith. They are drinking from the life giving water that Jesus offers us all.
If only we would drink fully of His life giving water and learn to live by that motto also; maybe there would be standing room only in our churches as well.

© 2004-2017 Gene P. Neral