Tuesday, December 25, 2012

You Gotta See the Baby - Christmas 2012

My guess is everyone has had some experience of babies.  As parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family members or friends.  We all have some knowledge of babies, particularly new born ones.  I think it is probably safe to say that none of our experiences of babies are anything like the Christ child we see in our manager or other similar scenes.  The newborn babies we know sleep a lot, cry when they are not sleeping and in the moments when they are not doing either, they look totally confused about their surroundings.  The child in the manger is alert, wide eyed, reaching out, ready to go and self-aware.  

The newborn Jesus was certainly more like the babies we know and less like the images we see in nativity scenes.  But artists have rendered the Jesus not simply as a helpless newborn but as the Christ child, alert and self-aware, so that the story could be told in the image, that this was not an ordinary child but a savior.   

The alert and self-aware Christ child is also what we want.  We want a savior, not a baby.  We are eager for him to be what he came to be.  This is true for the babies and the children of our lives, as much as we tell them not to grow up too fast, we are eager to see their growth.  We wait her to crawl and walk.  We are excited by his first words and his budding talents.  We even ask children at a very young age what they want to be when they grow-up.  We eager to see them become the people God created them to be.  In the case of the baby Jesus we are eager to see him grow because we need him to be the person the Father sent him to be.  We are in need of a savior now.

I doubt there will be a Christmas homily offered here on Long Island that does not make some reference to our experience of the Super storm Sandy or the horror and sadness we feel after the tragedy in Newtown CT.  We long to be saved from these universally painful experiences and we have our own particular trials and tribulations that cause us to want this savior to move quicker.

The Christ Child in the manger is an image of potential and we long to see its fulfillment.  At the same time it is also a moment of perfection.  When a child is born we marvel at the perfection of human creation.  Even in this defenseless and dependent life we see the perfection of God’s design and we know the Lord’s nearness to us at the same time we are eager for a child’s growth we also know that we are in the presence of God’s perfection.  

The savior comes then in potential and perfection.  That potential and protection is also an accurate understanding of our faith.  It is always in potential, never fully what we or God want.  Doubt, temptation, anger and pain are stumbling blocks to our faith reaching its potential.  Our faith is also perfect – not because of us, but because it too is a creation of God.  The gift of faith is given to us through our baptism.  Our faith is potential, like children we are eager to believe and know God, and we spend our lives maturing in that process, but it is always perfect because of his abiding presence.

Beyond the realities of potential and perfection, God comes to us a new born child because of a more important reality – love.  We cannot but help to fall in love with a newborn baby.  Our relationship begins again or is renewed at Christmas because we can fall in love with God who is new born child.  

We may desire a relationship with the Lord but we don’t know where to begin because of doubt, temptation, anger and pain.  God is too big, we are too distance and life has become too complicated.  And so we are given this baby once again, too fall in love with.  To let our faith and relationship with him grow and mature over time and not all at once.  Today we are not eager for baby Jesus to grow up, but eager for our relationship with God and our faith to grow and mature.  We are here to fall in love with God again or for the first time.  After I prepared this homily and actually offered it Mass at 4:00 p.m., I read the words of the Pope’s homily and he too said something very similar about love and the Christ child.
God makes himself a child so that we may love him…It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

And so the Holy Father challenges us to make room for this child, for God in our lives.  If we are to truly be blessed by the baby Jesus, we must make room for him as we must for any child in our very busy and cluttered lives.

May our celebration of our savior’s birth make us eager for the fulfillment of his saving mission by loving him as he loves us so perfectly, while believing in our potential to share in the building of His Kingdom. 


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Marketing Thanksgiving

Food, Folks and Fun.  That was the tagline of a 1990's McDonalds's marketing campaign and for some reason while preparing for the parish Thanksgiving Day Mass, the slogan popped into my head.  As much as I would not want to reduce the meaning of Thanksgiving to a fast food catch phrase, it works.  A successful ad campaign is one that effectively causes the consumer to remember the product as one that is familiar, trustworthy and satisfies one's need.  (At least that is what I learned from my ad executive cousin.  See A Gentleman's Musings)In simple terms, "food, folks and fun," not only articulates the basic truth of Thanksgiving, it speaks to the truth of every celebration of the Eucharist; which is the Greek word for thanksgiving.
The food of the celebration of the Eucharist is the sacred body and blood of our Lord.  It is our food for the journey of life.  It sustains and nourishes our souls and our faith as we face the challenges of life.  The bountiful food that we eat at our tables today, represents that which sustains and nourishes our bodies.  We give thanks today to God who gives us this spiritual and physical food.  Without either we can not live.  
The "folks" of our lives are our families, the communities we create and the Church.  Our communal life reminds us that we are not alone, we are one with the Body of Christ and we are sons and daughters of God.  We give thanks for the community of faith and family without which we would not only be alone and unloved, we would not have the means to fulfill our mission of service.  These communities of ours are broken, our time with family today may be tense and even hurtful, but it is into this brokenness that we live our lives as disciples. We give thanks for the community of family, friends and church, who serve us and give us the opportunity to serve.
The word, "fun" be better expressed as joy.  In his final commandment, Jesus tells his disciples to "love one another as I have loved you."  He ask that this commandment my be filled so his joy may be complete.  In coming together as family, friends and community of faith we practice the great commandment of The Lord and complete his joy.  It is often easy to miss the joys of life, essepecialy after the sorrowful weeks we have endured.  But did we not find joy in the simple acts of love that were manifested during these days?  We give thanks for the joy that comes from loving and being loved by God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son.  We are grateful for this we love and have loved us.  And we rejoice in the knowledge that our acts of love, complete the joy of Christ himself.
It is more than a slogan, it is the truth of this day for we truly give thanks for the food, folks and joyful fun of this life bountifully bestowed upon us by God whose blessings endure forever.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reelection and Religious Liberty

The reelection of President Obama has brought an end to a terribly long and antagonistic campaign.  With it comes some serious challenges for the Church.  What many continue to misunderstand about the Church’s opposition to the HHS mandate to fund contraception is that it was always more than a moral opposition to artificial contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs The greater issue is the philosophy that is behind it’s implementation.  
In order to mandate this coverage, the President’s administration has used an extremely narrow definition of what constitutes a religious institution and therefore employer.  A religious institution, in their mind, is one that  (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets .  In an effort to care for those who still bear the pains of last week's storm many Catholic parishes and other Catholic institutions have acted in violation of the third point of this definition.  In addition we may also be in violation of the first as well, since it was not our intention to inculcate religious values but simply provide shelter.    All people of faith as well as those who value our civil liberties ought to be greatly concerned with our future.  Because this definition has been codified in the mandate and the overall act, a precedent has now been set, which can now be applied more broadly.  Once we accept this definition as a valid and legal descriptor of religious institutions there are no limitations.  Anything outside of worship is therefore subject to this definition and whatever mandate the government may place upon us.  
Our nation does not need this fight.  This week has once again shown the value of the Church and its institutions.  Our society and our people are better off because of the faithful service of the people of God who are the Church.  Let us pray that given the opportunity to serve another term, the President will rethink this position and the courts will recognize its unconstitutionality so that we can continue to be a Church in service to all God’s people.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homily for 
September 11, 2012
Mass for Rescue 2
Brooklyn, NY

On Sunday afternoon, I made my second visit to the 9-11 Memorial because I recently became aware of what is known as the “Survivor Tree,” and I wanted to see it myself.

The Survivor Tree is a pear tree that was planted around the time of the original construction of the World Trade Center towers.  It survived some 30 years in that spot, in the harsh environment of downtown Manhattan and our Northeastern U.S. weather. It survived the attacks of eleven years ago and was found one month later, still alive under the rubble.  It was taken to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to recover; there it survived a windstorm that uprooted it.  Soon after it was replanted at its spot on the grounds of the 9-11 Memorial, it survived Hurricane Irene.  Today it stands, in full bloom, over thirty feet tall.  Its first eight feet are covered in thick aged, gnarled, dark bark.  The rest of its 22 feet is covered in lighter, younger bark, with gentle branches that bloom pear blossoms in the Spring and rich green leaves in the summer.  The first eight feet is the tree as it was on the day of the attacks the 22 feet and counting above is the new life of the last eleven years.

That tree in the memorial park, almost directly across from the names of Rescue 2 at the South Tower pool is to me a profound symbol of you.  Like the tree which on that day was already made strong by years in downtown Manhattan, you too were already strong people.  You were strong because you already knew the risks and dangers of a firefighter’s life.  Like the tree, you too were buried in the rubble of horror, fear, anger and inconsolable mourning.  And like the survivor tree, over these years you discovered yourself still alive and have sought and found healing, growth and new life.  You too have survived storms that have threatened your healing.  There have been ups and downs in your healing process, but you stand here today bearing eleven years of new life.  Like the Survivor Tree, your dark, gnarled and burnt trunk will never go away, but like the tree - most of you is new life.

You are not like the tree you are the tree.  United together bearing the branches of new life, your solid trunk is your faith, your care for one another and the undying love of the heroes we honor today.  Your love for them, their love for you and your love for each other, continues to nourish this survivor tree that you are.  Yesterday a friend that I have come to know over the last few years posted an old picture of the lobby of one of the towers.  Thinking he had worked there, I asked if he was a survivor.  He replied that he did not, but that we are all survivors.  The true survivor tree is very large.  There are hundreds of thousands of branches that have sprouted from that damaged trunk.  There is life today, eleven years later, beyond our imagination.

For eleven years now we have come together to remember what we could not possibly forget.  We remember that the souls of these just are in the hands of the Lord.  We remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God or those we have loved.  We remember to love one another as Christ has commanded, as our brothers did in laying down their lives for friend and stranger.  For eleven years you have remained in Christ’s love and you remained in love with these men.  You have loved and been loved through your support and care for each other.

The tree was a Survivor Tree the day it was found eleven years ago.  Today it is more than a survivor; it is a tree of new life.  You too are more than survivors, despite a terror beyond imagination you are people of new life.  Your families have lived and continue to be bearers of new life.You have grown and are bigger and more powerful then the forces that brought this terror and sadness into our lives.

We still mourn today because, on that day, our brothers were not among the survivors.  Our confident prayer today, however, is that though they were not survivors, they are in fact among the living, rewarded for their goodness.  May the new life that we see in a tree and in you, be an ever present reminder of the new and eternal life that the Lord prepared for these just men and that which awaits all of us.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Palm Sunday on Telecare

Do not be frightened by the scary picture.  Its a video of my Palm Sunday homily


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The "Season" of Saint Patrick

Christ shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me. “The Breastplate of St. Patrick.”  
At the beginning of this month, while watching the news, I saw a reporter in Hoboken, New Jersey reporting, as the caption on the screen said, on the beginning of the “St. Patrick’s Day Season.”  I had no idea that it was now a “season.”  And what were the signs of this now budding season?  Obviously inebriated twenty-something year-olds with their drinking glasses raised behind her.  We talk about passing on our faith tradition to our young people, is this the only result of our efforts?  I hope not .
While the celebration of Saint Patrick and Irish heritage is a noble and important cultural and faith tradition, we don’t truly honor Saint Patrick, or the faith tradition passed on by our Irish ancestors, if our celebration is an excuse to  drink ourselves silly.  I like the idea of a St. Patrick’s Day season, but it ought to fully reflect  what has been passed on to us by this great saint.  And that is that Jesus Christ is truly around us in all that we do.  Our actions, our decisions and the way we conduct ourselves ought to be Christ centered.  We use the season of Lent to contemplate when and how we have not lived with the recognition that Christ is around us in all things and we conclude the season, celebrating the Resurrection, acknowledging that he dies to transform a sinfulness that does not always acknowledge his presence.
Over ten years ago, I made my first and only trip to Ireland.  A priest friend suggested on our first day we climb a mountain known as Croagh Patrick, also nicknamed, The Reek.  I imagined us meandering up an emerald green hillside and agreed to the hike.  My presumption was wrong, because climbing The Reek, is a traditional penitential experience.  People climb this steep rocky hill, often bear foot, to the traditional spot of Saint Patrick’s calling, as an atonement of sins.  And so jet-lagged, we climbed that horribly difficult mountain in mist and rain, and the walk back down was not any easier.  I believe we made it only with God’s help!  What greeted us at the bottom of this hill was a traditional Irish pub, where we rewarded ourselves with a pint (or two) of Guinness.  For me that experience encapsulates a true celebration of Saint Patrick.  A difficult struggle with human weakness and meeting the challenge only because Christ is truly around me, followed by a celebration of the victory the Christ has one for and through us.  May we all celebrate this “season” of Lent and St. Patrick with hard work and joy for the good that God does for and with us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Relgious Freedom - The President and His Court Today

English history always intrigues me so after catching some repeats of the Showtime series, "The Tudors," on BBC America, my interest in English was peaked again and I was prompted to do some more reading on the history of King Henry VIII and his court.  In addition to being remembered for the renaissance he brought to the monarchy, his multiple wives and executions of his enemies, his legacy also includes his suppression of the Roman Catholic faith in England.  The more I read and watch the series I can't but help to find it hard to believe that one man and his court had such power to destroy the religious freedom of his people, raze its monasteries and suppress its clergy.  We might think to ourselves that this is an experience of the past or if it happens today it happens in other countries that do not enjoy the liberty that our nation does.  We would be wrong to assume this, however, because recent actions of our federal government make evident how much religious freedom is threatened in our country today.

When the federal health care reform law was passed it included a provision that all employers who provide health care benefits, must provide coverage for contraception (including abortion inducing drugs and sterilization) at no cost (no-copay) to its employees.  When religious employers raised concern about being made to pay for products and procedures they considered morally objectionable, a very narrow religious exemption was proposed.  The exemption would only be granted to religious institutions that engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion.  As many pointed out at the time, even Jesus and the disciples would not qualify for such an exemption because of their commitment to people of all faiths.  For the last several months Catholic and other religious institutions  have lobbied to have our religious freedom respected.   This week, however, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good—including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals—from the mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.   Instead they have given us one year delay to comply with the directive to violate our conscience.

This action of the President’s administration is an unprecedented act against the freedom of conscience.  Furthermore this is the second such attempt by the administration to define parameters for religious institutions.  Two weeks ago  in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the administration dismissing as an “extreme position” the plea of EEOC to limit any “ministerial exception” solely to workers who perform “exclusively religious functions.  In this case the government was arguing it was within their purview to define who qualified as a minster and not the Lutheran Church.  This ruling did not seem to stop the administration in their pursuit of governing religious entities as it pushed forward an exemption to only those who serve and employ people of their own faith exclusively.  This unjust action will force us to violate our conscience or stop serving people of all faiths in our ministries or stop providing health-care coverage to our own employees.   Are any of these choices just?  Are any of these choices reflective of the religious  freedom and the right to conscientious objection that Americans have fought and died for?   

These actions of President Obama and his administration ought to concern all Americans, not just those with a religious affiliation.  It seems hard to believe that one man and his administration have such power to destroy the religious freedom of we the people.