by Deacon Gene

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Trust in God's love
Love needs to rule our behavior
God will take us home
The woman at the well
Homily on The Solemnity of Christ the King
Homily on 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time B
Homily on Good Friday
Homily on Holy Thursday
Good Shepherd Sunday
Homily on Good Friday

Feast of ALL SAINTS:

In the Apostles’s Creed, which we say every time we begin to pray the Rosary, we say that we believe in "the holy catholic Church," we add "the communion of saints."

That article of our faith explains the preceding phrase, that the Church is actually the assembly of all the saints. In other words, "the communion of saints is the Church."
Due to the fact that, in the Catholic Church, we have developed the habit of referring to those individuals who have been canonized as saints, it is easy for us to lose track of the fact that we, as part of the Body of Christ, the Church, are really saints in the truest sense of the word.

We see an example of this in the letter to the Romans; who is Paul referring to when he says, "But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints"?
He was not going to Heaven.

The fact is, that, many of us who are order, may have forgotten what we learned in grade school and neglected to teach our children, that being a member of the Communion of Saints, comes in stages.

Actually, the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates that there are three states of the Church.
It reads: "When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more, and all things will be subject to him.

But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as He is.”

As I thought about that, it brought me back to a homily I gave quite a few years ago on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which occurs on February 2nd.

The reading was from the book of the prophet Malachi, it says, "He will sit refining and purifying silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi."

That caught my attention and reminded me of a story that I heard years before that.

It was about a man who visited a silversmith with the idea of learning about the process of refining silver.

Upon entering the smithy's shop, he asked if he could watch. When the silversmith agreed, he watched closely as the smithy held a piece of silver over the fire to heat it up.

The silversmith explained that you need to hold the silver right in the middle of the fire where the flame is white hot to burn away ALL the impurities in the silver.

The silversmith sat right in front of the fire the whole time. When asked why he had to sit so close and how he knew when the silver was properly refined, he said, "You have to keep your eyes on the silver all the while it is in the fire, so you can pull it out just at the right moment.

If the silver is left in the flames too long, it will be destroyed.

AND I know that the silver is properly refined when I can see my reflection in it like a mirror. ."

When we give that some more thought, we may come to realize that God is watching over us at every moment, being sure that we are not exposed to more than we can endure.

While we are in the First State of the Church, during our lifetime, He allows us to be exposed to the fire of His love. That may mean trials and tribulations that we encounter, and the beneficial corrections we receive from parents, teachers, supervisors and friends.

And if necessary, God will take us to the Second State of the Church and expose us to the intense fire of Purgatory to be sure that our soul is properly purified.

Then immediately, when He can see His reflection in our soul, He will allow us to enter His Heavenly Kingdom for all eternity.

That takes us to the Third State of the Church; the remembrance of those who are in glory, who see the face of God, exactly as He is.”

The Abbott, St. Bernard, once asked in a homily: "Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints?" Meaning canonized saints. "What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of His Son?"

Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. He encourages us to realize that calling the saints to mind should "inspire us, should create in us a longing to enjoy their company, to share in the citizenship of heaven."

He continues: "Let us long for those who are longing for us and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. As evidence of our hope and striving for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints."

He concluded with this word of encouragement: "If we do that, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession."

Let us continue to pray for each other, remembering that we are the Body of Christ, the Church, and because we all make up the Communion of Saints.

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 32 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.

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. 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, a normal reaction is, 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. The Lord reminds Ezekiel, and us, that it is our responsibility to warn a brother or sister we see doing something wrong. It may also 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 pray at Mass: "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 will take us home:

A homily for a funeral.
Based on the 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, don't we read 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 with a simple faith, something like that happens to each of us. If we and God are good friends. We may walk together for many years and over many miles, or just a short time. Then one day God will decide that we are closer to His house than to our own and God will invite us home; home to be with Him and all the members of our family who have gone before us.

When we read from the Vigil for the Deceased, we are reassured by what it says: "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 we have to let go of all the things we have become attached to during our life time. That includes our home, our favorite activities, our favorite music, and the many friends we have encountered over our lifetime. We even have to give up the special time that we spend with our children and our grandchildren. But, the one thing that we don't give up and will be with us for all eternity, is the love that we have for one another.

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, when we gather 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 the funeral of a loved one, 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 read in the gospel, 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.

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 thanking God for all that we have received and all those with whom we have shared our life. Continue to pray for each other, and let us also continue to pray that we will be able to respond to the grace of each moment, as we receive it, so that we are prepared to go through the door of our last beginning when God calls us home. There we can anticipate our loved ones greeting us with the same love that we knew with them, and more, because we will share in the love of God for all eternity.

The woman at the well

Some years ago, as I was preparing to preach on the third week of Lent, I came across an article, I think it was in the Deacon Digest, that spurred me to think about the gospel story of the woman at the well in a little different light. I think it might be worth sharing.

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 responded to Jesus. "Give me some of your water, so I don't have to keep coming here to draw water."

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 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 we would drink fully of His life giving water and learn to live by that motto also; "Mtu ni watu!," "I AM because WE ARE," maybe there would be standing room only in our churches as well.

The Solemnity of Christ the King :

Today we celebrate a feast which very few of us truly understand. In the opening prayer for this Mass we pray: "Almighty and merciful God, you make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe." In the preface of this Mass we pray: "As king He claims dominion over all creation, That He may present to you, His almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace."
We live in a country which takes pride in a democratic way of life. We vote for our president and our governor, or at least we try to. We vote on whether or not things should be allowed in our society. In some families, a vote is taken on where they should go on vacation or where they will go to dinner. We talk about states rights, human rights, the right to choose and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One of the first things we have to come to grips with in our faith is that God never intended His Kingdom to be a democracy. When God gave Moses the tablets of the law, He didn't ask the people to vote on whether or not to accept them? When Jesus commanded His disciples to obey the law of love and when He said to Simon, "You are Peter & on this rock I will build MY Church." Jesus did not then turn to His disciples and ask them if they approved of His ideas.
Did Jesus ask His disciples if they wanted to vote on whether or not to go out and spread the good news? No, He said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria & even to the ends of the earth." Today, Jesus tells us through the church, "You DID receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon you in your Baptism and you ARE to be My witnesses in Lakemont, in Blair County, in Pennsylvania and even to the ends of the earth."
From the beginning of time God has made it clear that His Kingdom is without end and His plan for our salvation is not negotiable. When Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, God the Father gave Him the throne of the Kingdom...FOREVER. He is King of Kings.
But, we have such a difficult time realizing what that means. Maybe that's because the nearest most of us have come to a king in our lifetime is our exposure to the Burger King.
That thought reminded me of an experienced I had years ago. One evening after work I was on my way to Bishop Carroll High School for a special Mass. As I passed what is now the Wal-Mart Plaza in Ebensburg I noticed a tremendous number of cars in the parking lot and a real crowd of people around a fast food place. Then I looked up at the sign and saw the reason for all the commotion.
The sign read, "Come, meet the Burger King."
The significance of the crowd went away until I reached the High School. When I saw only about a dozen cars in the lot, it struck me, that people almost mobbed the place to see the Burger King, but, we were invited to be with the King of Kings, and almost nobody showed up. On day in an interview on the radio a man spoke about the fact that as he left church on Sunday, one of his friends was complaining about the length of the service. However, by the time they got to the car his friend was telling him how he waited in line for three days to get a Play Station 3.
Remember Jesus saying, "Where your treasure is, there heart will be."
If Jesus is the King of kings, where is His kingdom? In the Office of Reading for the Liturgy of the Hours for this feast, the priest, Origen, who lived in the late Fifth Century, reminds us that Jesus told us, "The kingdom of God is within you." Since Jesus said: "The Kingdom of God is within you", we can't make the Kingdom of God a reality in the world until it is a reality in our own lives.
Therefore, when we pray in the Our Father in the Mass, "thy kingdom come," it should be clear that we are praying for the coming of His kingdom within us, that there it may grow, make us perfect and bear fruit. May we learn more and more each day what it means to be part of the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God on earth and ask ourselves: Am I really willing to risk everything to serve the King of Kings and to be part of the kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace?

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time B:

Throughout the history of Christianity, some have even broken away from the Church precisely because they were impatient with our Lord's refusal to give more details about the end of time. They wanted to be able to determine the exact time and place of Christ's second coming and the end of history. Some modern scholars and critics even try to argue that passages like this were later additions to the Gospels, because Jesus was too gentle and forgiving to say such harsh things.
But in fact, Jesus did say these things, and He said them precisely because of His deep love for us. He knows that the battle between good and evil will continue throughout human history.
Jesus tells us that the end of history will come, but he doesn't tell us when, because he wants us, with the help of His grace, to live each moment He gives us, to the best of our ability. He also knows that the ongoing battle between good and evil will provide the opportunity for His grace to spread throughout the world.
Once that grace has reached its fulfillment in our world, He will come again to establish His everlasting Kingdom. That is God's plan.
We profess our belief in this Plan of Salvation every Sunday, when we say: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end." Since this is the way things are, it would have been cruel and heartless for Jesus not to tell us like it is.
Remember, that Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
By not allowing us to see the full picture of His plan for our salvation, Jesus gives us two gifts; the gift of HOPE for our eternal salvation and the gift of the PRESENT MOMENT.
Jesus doesn't speak about these events in order to scare us, but in order to motivate us. It is so easy to fall into a purely natural outlook on life, getting so wrapped up in our daily to-do lists, that we forget the big picture and neglect our relationship with Jesus. Our relationship with Him is what gives us HOPE for our eternal salvation and our happiness, now and forever.
We know how to prepare ourselves for the seasons, for work, for school and some of us even know how to prepare for retirement. However, what we need to recognize is that this gospel is not just about the end of the world or our own death. It is about living; LIVING in such a way that we are prepared when Jesus comes or our Father calls us home.
Telling us about God's plan, Jesus gives us a chance to organize our lives accordingly, and to build our lives on the foundation of His love and mercy. Even his predictions of the end of the world or the end of our lives, then, are a reminder of his endless love and the gift of the PRESENT MOMENT.
That thought was emphasized for me when I read the readings for the liturgy on Friday. To paraphrase the 17th chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that "When the Son of Man comes" one of the things that will happen is that "there will be two people in a bed, one will be taken, the other left."
That specific thing was brought home to a lot of us who live at the Graystone Villa in Altoona on Thursday. One of our very good friends woke up in bed next to her husband, but before she could get out of bed, she died.
We need to live each moment of our life in a way that shows that we trust in God's love and are doing our best with the time we are given. I believe our friend was ready for God's call because she prayed with, worked with and helped so many people in her life. She helped me to promote Devotion to the Divine Mercy and the Consecration to our Blessed Mother as well as helping a number of people in going through the Arise together in Christ program at the Graystone.
A request that has become part of my daily prayer is that God would give me the grace to respond to the gift of each moment as He gives it to me. When I attend Mass in the morning or on the weekend, my prayer is that our Lord gives me the grace to be attentive to His Word and fully participate in the Eucharist which is being celebrated. I want to be open to each of the many graces available at that time.
It takes such a burden off our life if we are willing to let the past be a memory and can anticipate with joy what God has in store for our future. Asking God to give us the grace to live each moment, as He gives it to us, helps us to come to grips with the fact that we can even become a saint one moment at a time. You and I can start RIGHT NOW to become a saint. You and I can begin RIGHT NOW to respond with thanksgiving to the gift of each moment as we receive it.
We can't store up the graces we received yesterday and we can't borrow from what we will receive tomorrow. But we can take full advantage of the grace of the present. The benefit we receive from the present grace prepares us to do our best with the next moment, if God is willing to give us one.
Who knows, any moment may be that last one that He will give us. But if we use each of these graces to the best of our ability, we will be better prepared for when the Lord Jesus comes in all His glory or when our Father calls us home.

Homily on Good Friday :

In addition to the gospel of John and some thoughtful prayer, a couple other sources that helped me to put the thoughts of these two days together were two books by Dr. Scott Hahn, an internationally known speaker, writer and Scripture scholar. The two books are "The Lamb's Supper" and his newest one called "The Fourth Cup."
Last evening, as we celebrated the Last Supper of the Lord, I hope you recall that I mentioned that Jesus was expected to complete the Passover liturgy by blessing and drinking a fourth cup of wine. But Jesus skipped the fourth cup; in fact, he told the apostles, "Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
Why did Jesus choose not to drink? It was a very deliberate move on the Lord's part. We might begin to understand more clearly his purpose in skipping that fourth cup when we hear what happened when He got to the Mount of Olives. As we heard in Mark's gospel on Sunday when Jesus reached the Garden of Gethsemane, He took Peter, James and John to a place a little further away from the rest and then He asked them to watch and pray with Him. Jesus went a little further and fell on the ground in prayer saying, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from Me, but not as I will but as You will." Three times Jesus said that prayer and in the process even began to sweat blood.
What did Jesus mean when He said, "take away this cup?" What was it about this cup that would make Jesus want His Father to take it away from Him? Continuing our train of thought we can see a direct connection between Jesus' prayer in the garden and the cup that He chose not to drink in the upper room. However, we now know who Jesus is and we can see that He was making an illusion to the cup of wrath spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. Jesus could foresee the suffering, the torture, the way of the cross and His eventual death on the cross. But we also notice that Jesus completed His prayer by saying, "Father, not My will but Yours be done."
And, if we follow Jesus' footsteps from the Mount of Olives to the trial, the sentencing and to carrying His cross up Calvary, we discover that He followed through on His resolution, "I am not going to drink the fruit of the vine again until my kingdom has come, and My glory is revealed."
In the gospel of Mark we read that on the way up to Golgotha, they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it. Other questions seem to arise; what did Jesus mean when He said He would not drink wine again until He drank it new in His kingdom, and when will we see His glory?
It sounds like that would be a reference to the end of time. But a couple weeks ago we heard in our gospel that when the Greeks came and asked to see Jesus, He said to His disciples, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John then wrote, "He said this to show the kind of death He was to die."
It's easy to assume, and many have, that Jesus' kingdom and glory are primarily physical and visible realities, when, in fact, the glory of Christ's Kingdom is the truth and love that He manifested on the Cross. Actually at that moment of shame and agony and horror, for the first time in history, the greatest expression of God's love and mercy became available to all.
That brings us back to the question of that fourth cup of wine. We look to John's gospel to see the true meaning of Jesus' words. John is very precise in giving many details about the passion and death of our Lord. He tells us that pilot's sentence was given in the sixth hour, the precise hour when the priests were prescribed to begin slaughtering the Passover lamb in the temple. He also mentions that Jesus was wearing a seamless tunic, much like the ones worn by the high priest for the sacrifice as prescribed in Exodus. He is the one who told us of John the Baptist introducing Jesus to the world by saying, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." These were written to verify for us that Jesus is both the priest and victim of the sacrifice. While suffering on the cross Jesus said something profound that John noticed.
He wrote: "After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished said," and John adds, "in order to fulfill the Scripture, He said, 'I thirst.'" Do you think Jesus just happen to realize that He was thirsty? No, He had even turned down a drink of wine mixed with myrrh on His way to Golgotha.
This was a moment that John recognized had to be recorded just as it happened. John wrote that a bowl of sour wine stood there. So they put a sponge filled with the sour wine on a hyssop branch, the same type of branch that was prescribed for sprinkling the blood on the door posts of the Israelites in Egypt before the Passover. Then John records that Jesus drank the wine. Jesus now drank wine that He said He would not drink until He drank it new in The Kingdom. "When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "'It is finished' and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit."
In that three word phrase "It is finished". Jesus not only declared the consummation of the Old Covenant Passover, in Himself, He transformed it into the New Covenant Passover which we celebrate in the Eucharist.
In three different ways Jesus declared that at that moment the Kingdom of God would be established for all eternity. First, He told his disciples: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." Secondly, He said, "I shall not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God." Lastly, He said to the good thief: "This day you will be with Me in paradise."
Even though many can only see the pain, the suffering and the horrible death, at that moment, in His heart, Jesus had to be the happiest man who ever lived, because He was the only man in the history of creation who could honestly say to our Heavenly Father: "Father, it is finished; I did everything You asked me to do. Into YOUR HANDS I commend MY SPIRIT"

Homily on Holy Thursday :

On this holy night, the beginning of the Holy Three Days, we gather to celebrate the LORD'S SUPPER. The only thing that we ever do in this world that is a real participation in the life we hope to live forever is to worship WITH Christ in this liturgy.
When we gather for this Liturgy of the Mass, Christ is here and mysteriously we are at this moment in the banquet hall of the Eternal Supper of the Lamb.
Pope St. John Paul II called the Mass "Heaven on earth" explaining that "the Liturgy we celebrate on earth is a mysterious participation in the Heavenly Liturgy." Between tonight and tomorrow night we would like to look at these liturgies in the light of how the ancient covenant established by God with the people of Israel was confirmed and more wondrously how God established His New Covenant through the sacrifice of His Son. The link between the Passover feast of the Jews of Jesus' time and the Liturgies we celebrate is profound, just as the link between what we do here tonight and our Liturgy tomorrow evening are inseparable.
When we look at the Passover feast of the Israelites, we see that the feast had a series of four rituals in a specific order. These four rituals were accompanied by the blessing of four cups of wine. Each cup of wine with the prayers and gestures that accompany it were expressions of freedom or deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt and the sealing of the Covenant of God with His people.
The first ritual of the Jewish Passover, called the introductory or remembering, helped the Israelites to recall how Joseph was able to bring his father and brothers to Egypt with their whole family to avoid a famine. They also recalled their slavery in Egypt and how they pleaded with God for their liberation. The first cup of wine was then blessed and consumed.
The second part of the feast included the reading of the Exodus story. They recalled how God led them out of Egypt, through the red sea, through the dessert for forty years and eventually to Mount Sinai. Then Psalm 113 was sung and the second cup of wine was blessed and consumed.
In the third part of the feast they recalled how God fed His people with manna in the dessert and gave them water from the rock to sustain them on their journey. This was followed by the eating of the lamb which had been slain and the blessing of the third cup of wine called the "Cup of Blessing." The CULMINATION of this Passover liturgy occurred with the singing of the "great Hillel" (which could almost be called the Hallelujah chorus) Psalms 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118, followed by the blessing of the "CUP of CONSUMMATION" which was shared with all those in attendance. This was the CLIMAX: it represented the communion of God with His people and among the brothers and sisters who were members of God's family.
This Passover liturgy is assumed in the synoptic gospels as well as in the writings of Saint Paul. In his first letter to the Corinthians he even refers to the "cup of blessing which is a Communion with the Blood of Christ." Those references help us to make the connection to the Liturgy we celebrate today.
The first part of our Liturgy is the introductory rites, in which we recall our sinfulness, ask for God's forgiveness and then sing of His love and mercy.
The second part for us is the Liturgy of the Word in which we hear readings from Sacred Scripture, which include the singing of a Psalm, the Homily, the Profession of our Faith and the Prayer of the Faithful.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the third part for us. It includes the Eucharistic Prayer in which we experience the re-presentation of what Jesus did at the Last Supper when He changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood. Then we are privileged to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, the true Lamb of God, as food for our soul.
Would you notice if, after we prayed the Our Father, exchanged the sign of peace and sang the "Lamb of God", the celebrant walked off the altar?
Of course you would. Well, something similar to that happened at the Last Supper. As they reached the culmination of the Passover Liturgy, as was the custom, they sang those five Psalms, the "great Hillel", and ALL Jews would expect Jesus to bless the fourth cup and share it with the apostles.
But Jesus skipped the fourth cup, in fact, He told the apostles, "Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." So, we are told in the gospel that after singing a hymn (which was the "great Hillel"), they went out to the Mount of Olives.
It seems that Jesus meant not to drink what He was expected to drink. But why would He do that? As we will find out tomorrow night, it was a very deliberate move on our Lord's part.
We will see more clearly WHY He said that and HOW He did it, when we consider His agony in the garden, His passion and His death on the Cross.
If you can possibly work it into your schedule, read through chapters 16 through 19 of the Gospel of John before you come tomorrow evening to be better prepared to hear more about the awesome gift of God's Mercy.
You will notice that this Holy Thursday Liturgy will also close without an ending; all will process to the Reservation Chapel where Jesus, in the Blessed Sacrament will be reserved, as we contemplate what He accomplished for us when He followed through on what He said was the will of His Heavenly Father.
All leave in silence, hopefully pondering the link between this night and the Liturgy we will experience tomorrow evening.

Homily for Good Shepherd Sunday A

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

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy. Next Sunday we will have the Feast of Divine Mercy, but, we all experience God's Mercy in so many ways that we tend 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 once went to the hospital for what I thought was 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."

© 2004- 2024 Gene P. Neral