Each year, the children present us with this very beautiful reenactment of the Christmas story, and they do that with great enthusiasm and excitement. Witness the dedication to detail – the preciseness of their costumes, as well as the way they make the whole scene flow. So they remind us that this is a very special time of the year.
But I think, unfortunately, in the midst of the world in which we live, much gets lost of the symbolism, the meaning and significance of this special time. So when the children present the beautiful scene, I ask you to take a moment to reflect, to reflect on the scene, for Luke and Matthew – that’s where the gospel today came from: a combination of Luke and Matthew who the record for us the infancy story – they did that with great deliberation and they wanted in a sense in the scene that they were portraying capture the universality of this event, for it was an event that brought together of the mystery of God’s creation.
Good morning everyone, and happy New Year!
Today’s the first Sunday of Advent and we begin a new Liturgical cycle, and the course of the liturgical cycle is also very much connected to the natural cycle of what we experienced in the seasons. As we all know, our days are much shorter now, right? At times, it can be kind of depressing – it’s like 4 o’clock and it looks like 10, right? But we know that the liturgical season kind of reflects our awakening to the light of the world – coming into Christmas, our days are the shortest and our days are the longest as we continue through this liturgical season, right through Pentecost, where the fullness of who God is is revealed to us.
So today at this first Sunday of Advent, we sit in darkness, if you will, but with this great sense of anticipation knowing that as we look upon around us in our world, and how the light will continually get stronger and brighter and longer, so too our journey with the Lord becomes stronger and brighter and more enlightening. Continue reading “1st Sunday of Advent – Fr. Gribowich homily”→
Good morning everyone, and happy feast day of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, and that means that next Sunday we begin a brand new liturgical season, a new liturgical year I should say, and that is the first Sunday of Advent.
And of course it’s also kind of providential that we have this secular feast of Thanksgiving which happens this week, because in a certain sense we’re able to look at Thanksgiving as a way for us to think about our blessings, about those things that we are thankful for over the course of this past year.
So as this liturgical year ends, it’s a time for us to reflect upon God’s goodness to us, even through our sufferings and wounds. God is ever faithful to bring us here to this day, so let’s look upon this great feast that we have today. And celebrating Christ the King in the end of the liturgical year as a way to kind of get us ready for how to bring a more of a religious sense, if you will, to the secular celebration of Thanksgiving. This is always a very interesting Feast because it’s quite new when it comes to the ecclesial calendar. It’s only been around since the 1920s and it was put into place by the pope at the time because while the world was leaving away or moving away from kingdoms – kings and queens – and moving to other forms of government, the Church wanted to remind us that there’s something very, very important about the notion of king, of kingship. Now this is most clearly understood because Jesus spoke very often about the kingdom of God. So to help us be grounded in the importance of kingship, we have this Feast of Christ the King.
Yet perhaps as Americans, we may find this to be a little bit foreign to us because we seem to have a love-hate relationship with monarchy. Clearly, we know from our history we broke away from a monarchy: the king of England. Yet, we also seem to be still fascinated by monarchs, by the Royal Family.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I was driving. I saw there was an advertisement for this Netflix series called “The Crown”, which documents the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. And of course, we also know we’re very fascinated by royal weddings, royal births, royal scandals. All these things seem to have us very intrigued by royalty, monarchy. Yeah, of course we’re also very suspicious of monarchies, and of course this is very much embedded in our history because we tend to think that monarchs can often become dictators. Meaning that, here, they did nothing to earn their position – it was just a birthright, and then they somehow lord off their power to people in a very, let’s just say, unjust manner at times. Which is of course whynmany countries around the world, especially at the turn of the century, start to move away from monarchies.
Yeah, but when we call Christ the King, we have to really think about what is the kingship of Jesus Christ. We think about kingship in a worldly sense and it would be hard for us to understand the kingship of Jesus Christ. Just as if we have a very bad relationship with, say, our own biological father, and may be difficult for us to understand the fatherhood of God.
Yet today’s readings and particularly the Gospel get us to the heart of the type of King that Jesus is and what characterizes the kingship of Jesus Christ. And it boils down to one word. It’s a word that you hear often today. The kingship of Jesus Christ is simply a kingship of vulnerability, a kingship of vulnerability. And I think that would be the last word that we would associate with a king in a worldly sense . A king or queen that is surrounded by the security of their palace and with their subjects serving them almost, we would not look at them as being Kings or Queens, monarchs of vulnerability.
Yet rather than Jesus being mindful of the multitude of his subjects. The kingship of Jesus is one of subjecting himself, in a certain sense, to us, to the world, more specifically subjecting Himself to sin, the effect of sin, the consequence of sin, which is ultimately death, and that is what we hear today in the Gospel when we hear Jesus on the cross, about to die.
Yet when we look at the entire earthly life of Jesus, when we look at the Incarnation in its fullness, every aspect of the Incarnation is an exhibition, a manifestation of vulnerability. What would be reminded of that once again at the end of this year when we celebrate Christmas: the vulnerability of the Christ-child being born and laid in the manger. The vulnerability of having to leave and run off to Egypt with his parents when he’s just a child. The vulnerability of working and living in a very, very poor area of Nazareth. The vulnerability of always healing and giving words of hope and always being rejected through his public ministry. The vulnerability of going to the Cross, suffering and hanging on the cross naked. And yet that vulnerability even continues in the way that Jesus comes to us today. The vulnerability of the Eucharist, perhaps, is the most profound exhibit of the vulnerability of Christ. Kingship in that the host which is breakable and the chalice which is spillable is what comes to us as God’s full presence.
I was reminded of this in a very, very profound way this past week. It’s not very often anymore that I’m able to concelebrate Mass. Mostly I have to do public Mass where I’m saying the Mass myself or I’m saying that by myself, privately, but this past week I was on a retreat at a monastery in New Mexico, and each day I was concelebating the Mass and what are the beauties of concelebrating Mass is the fact that when it comes time for communion, all the priests are given a part of the Host and they’re able to hold the Host for quite a longer time than when you’re saying Mass. And there’s something very profound in holding the Host, because you hold it between these two fingers, and if you hold your two fingers together and focus on that, you can feel a pulse. And to have that little Host between your two fingers and feel your pulse pulsing through the body of Christ, you’re struck in awe that the one who’s actually allowing my pulse to beat is right here between my two little fingers. That is profound vulnerability on the part of our Lord.
There was the hymn that came out during the Eucharistic Congress back in 1976, “Gift of Finest Wheat”, and it said to what the world could not contain comes in our hearts to dwell. The God of the universe. This small, in between my fingers, to come into my heart, to dwell. Yet what are we doing when we receive, that Lord enters into ourselves. What are we communicating with, what are we striving to become, if you will, vulnerable.
One thing our communion with Jesus, and Eucharist, is a way for us to actually become vulnerable as He is vulnerable. It’s not necessarily meant for us to kind of have some type of power trip, or once again to feel like now we can put ourselves together, or now we have the willpower to live a holier life, or that somehow our lives have been now perfected in a certain way. It’s not some type of vitamin: it’s a medicine that actually makes us weak.
And why do we need to become weak? Why do we need to be vulnerable? There’s only one reason: because vulnerability allows us to truly grow in harmony with each other. Vulnerability is the way that allows us to be mindful that we’re not the only person in the world. That there’s countless souls around us, that there’s countless souls that not only meet us, but we need that.
I’m often struck by how vulnerability can allow us to grow in profound places of compassion and empathy. I was just watching last night this TV show that I watch off and on, called “This Is Us” on NBC, and there was this really interesting scene last night where this family – I don’t need to go to the whole details – but this family moves into a new house and the neighbor is all mad that the car is parked in front of the sidewalk, and so he kind of really gives his person attitude to the new occupant of this house, saying if your husband keeps on parking their car there, I’m going to have it towed.
And of course this woman’s completely just taken aback, like what’s this guy’s problem, and then you find out later on in the series, in the show, how once again, she has an encounter with this guy, and of course she has her guard up because you know she doesn’t like the way his attitude is, and then he’s somehow explains that he recently had a stroke, and that he can’t walk very well, and the only thing he’s striving to do is to walk around the block one time a week, and this car makes it impossible for him to actually do that. It takes a person who is vulnerable to admit that and it takes a person who’s vulnerable to accept that . And what do you bring there: you then have harmony.
And what is harmony ultimately revealing to us? Harmony simply reveals to us that we desire heaven. I spoke about this a couple weeks ago, and that many times we’ve only reduce heaven to being a place where there’s lots of really nice stuff, almost like going to this world-class resort. Yet, but what’s the most fundamental about heaven is the fact that we are in perfect relationship with our brothers and sisters. There’s no more war. There’s no more violence. There’s no more jealousy. There’s no more pride. There’s no more friction between spouses, siblings, friends, neighbors.
And every time we struggle with why things are not right between us and our brothers and sisters, between the people around us when we had that struggle and we had that yearning for things to be right and perfected, it is a yearning for heaven.
I’m often taken by how the kingship of Jesus is revealed to us, through the priesthood of Jesus Christ,. I was commenting before mass today – I think this is the first time I’ve ever wore gold vestments at a Mass. Father Kenneth does a really good job with having like all the colors of the liturgical spectrum in the closet, and it’s very rare that we wear gold vestments, but of course in the sight of the world it’s looked upon as, well there you go – the priest looking like a king or exhibiting something of great worldly value. But yet, when the priest puts on the gold vestments it’s actually a sign of mockery of the world, because the priest – dressed up really nice – is only dressed up so they can get down on his knees to serve. What king in the world sense does that? We come to Mass and we see all of the great art, and the gold, and the smells, and the bells, and the priest dressed up. All these things, which on our eyes may appear to be just like the worldly kings that existed throughout history. We are brought to remind ourselves that it’s all done to actually be a mockery to what the world values, because all of these things only exist to allow us to be vulnerable.
With each other today as we celebrate the kingship of Jesus Christ, let us ask ourselves: are we open to becoming as vulnerable as Jesus? Do we desire the harmony which only Jesus in his vulnerability can enable us to experience? And most importantly, do we desire the kingdom of God, not just in heaven, but here. Because the more we’re able to desire in here, the more we are ready for heaven.
It would be difficult for us to understand the effect the Temple in Jerusalem had on Jesus’ contemporaries. It was the only “high rise” building in Jerusalem and could be seen to the horizon. Some of its exterior was covered in gold and when it reflected the midday sun, even visitors from Rome were amazed. When Jesus predicted that it will be completely destroyed, he is saying that the world as they knew it will end.
Indeed, those who first encountered Luke’s Gospel knew that this had occurred. They knew the Roman interpretation of the event: that the gods of Rome were stronger than the Lord of Israel,as well as the Jewish interpretation: that as in its previous destruction, they themselves had sinned and needed to repent. (Jeremiah 17:20-21). Did Christianity have anything different to offer?
St. Luke does, and being Luke, we must look at not only what he says but how he says it.
He first connects the destruction of the temple to other terrifying, disturbing and potentially lifechanging events. Wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines and plagues: these are all mighty signs, but of what? Although they may totally disrupt people’s lives, they are then, as now, the background noise of earthly existence. Because of their powerful effects we may think that literally the world is coming to an end and believe that prophets must come in Jesus’ name. This denies God’s freedom, for only He decides when the end truly comes. Jesus alone provides the punctuation to history.
It is important to note that Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles: his second decision was to connect the two works. The Gospel tells us what to expect and Acts shows what has occurred. If you check even one of the selections from the Acts of the Apostles below, you can see what Luke is doing.
They will seize and persecute you. This happened to Peter and the other apostles almost immediately after the Ascension, (Act 4 1-4)
hand you over in synagogues (Acts 22:19) and prisons. Both Peter (Act 12:5) and Paul (Acts 16: 16-40) spent their time in jail and both were arranged by religious authorities (Acts 4:1-22, 18:12-17). Paul was tried by kings (Acts 25:23) and governors. (Act 23:33)
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speakingthat all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.Although Paul was a highly educated man,Peter and Stephen were not. (Act 4:13)Yet, they spoke with an eloquence that was truly divine (Acts 4:8-10 and 6:10)
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.Jesus has already told his disciples, and they would no doubt have already seen, that even family members would cast them out. (Luke 12:51-53) Stephen was the first Martyr. (Acts 7:54-60)
You will be hated by all because of my name,but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.Predicting the future was considered a prophetic act taken seriously by both Jew and Gentile. Luke would expect that this would predispose his audience to accept his conclusions: followers of Jesus will be hated by the world, but they are beloved by God andwill be saved and restored in the resurrection of the Body. Literallynot a hair of their heads would be destroyed.(See last week’s reading from Second Maccabees.)
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.As he told us with the faithful steward it is in following Jesus by living good and holy lives,each day, here and now that will always and everywhere connect us to him. (Luke 12:42-48)
Let us remember the Beatitudes:
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man(Luke 6:22)
It is one of the great paradoxes of our faith that the seemingly indestructible temples of stone and gold protected by kings and armies will dissolve but the community of faith, the church of God in flesh and blood, will last as long as we are formed by the Spirit of God.
In the end, what prevails is neither power, nor even penance, but blessing.
Good morning, everyone! It’s always great to be back home. My name if you don’t know who I am, is Father John Gribowich, which I recognize some faces here. I taught Central Catholic for about 10 years before I was a priest. Always great to be back home. It’s always the danger that, as Jesus said, that no prophet is never accepted in his native land, so I don’t know where my words will land with you today, but I’ll try my best to share with you what I feel the Lord’s put in my heart.
You know what, this past week up in Brooklyn, where I’m a priest, I participate in something called Dial-A-Priest, and this was a way to kind of interact with 4th and 5th graders at different schools. We would do this all through video conferencing, through a Skype session. And the children are all ready for the priest to show up, and they had all these questions. And of course, like when this happens, you very quickly get humbled, because children ask the darndest questions, right? And the first question that came out to me was, “so if God created the whole world and God created everything, then who created God?”
My gosh, you need like a PhD in Theology to answer some of these questions. And I’m like, “well, no one made God. Next question!”
And of course another question question I got was, “when we die and we go to Heaven, what’s Heaven going to be?” And I’m like, that’s a good question, because when you think about it all of us in some way shape or form ought to ask ourselves the question what is heaven going to be like. And for many of us I think we may just reduce it to being something – well it sounds like a better place than hell, so I guess I want to go to heaven.
But I think that a lot of us will lead to places of thinking of Heaven as some type of place that’s almost akin to like a resort, maybe, and we kind of look at it from a very material way.
Now, that is totally fine, because I think I do the same. In fact, if you ask me what do I expect heaven to be, like I said well you know I think I really expect heaven for me to be like, walking into like a really nice old-fashioned Irish pub, having Guinness after Guinness, and in the corner will be Bob Dylan and his band playing for all of eternity and I’ll be sitting next to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley and I’ll be pretty content. As you can tell, I love Guinness and I love Bob Dylan and I love Irish Pubs, so that’s kind of what I want heaven to look like for the rest of the rest of my eternal life.
But the fact of the matter is that no matter how grandiose of an idea we could place in our minds of what looks like, the reality is that heaven is not a place as much as it is a relationship. Heaven in itself is a relationship.
Now of course the question is its relationship with who and I think probably would think well I guess the default answer is God. It is a relationship with God, and of course that’s true, but I think that what heaven is, it is a place where we are able to be in a perfected state of relationships with each other.
And when we think about it, what we really desire in this world are perfected relationships. We desire us to get along with people, right? If we look at it on a grand scale, then we would love it if we live in a world where there was no war, wherenNations got along, right? And there was no Injustice, that there was no poor people, or are there people suffering from other types of inequalities. We would love it if there was this great harmonious type of existence, and of course we thow up our hands saying it will never happen, but of course there are many people working for justice and in our own local world in our own global families, we realize how painful it is when children don’t talk to their parents, or when there’s alienation between siblings, or when just our neighbor just treats us in a way that just we can’t figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing.
All of us struggle with the relationships in our lives and we wish that somehow everything was right, but there was a genuine harmony and basically what we’re desiring what we were desiring that harmony, we’re getting along perfectly and enjoying each other’s company and loving each other and receiving the fullness of love. When we are desiring those things in our world, that’s simply proof that we are desiring heaven, we are desiring a place where are we are in harmony with our brothers and sisters. Because the proof of heaven is revealed through our desires. Why would we have desires that cannot be fulfilled?
We have lots of very easy desires, right? I’m hungry – I go open up the fridge, I eat something: fulfilled, right? I want a beer, I go to the pub, I get a Guinness: fulfilled.
The reality is that the desires in our hearts push us to seek higher things, to seek things that do not actually end – to seek a perfected state. We’re hardwired to not want to die, which is why we fight against death.
Now at the school that I go to, there’s signs around like, kind of talking about the different accomplishments that the university has been able to do over the last few years, and one of the signs, banners said, “Living to 125: a Reality.” I sit there thinking about that, like, do I want to live to 125? I don’t know why in the world anyone would want to live to 125, but you can tell that the reason why that’s such a great accomplishment is because we don’t want to die.
We fear death and the reality is that none of us can escape it, even if we had all the science in the world that makes us live to another 50, 60 years. Death is always around the corner, because we know of how many times a very tragic thing happens. As I always say, we can walk out the church today and be hit by a bus, right?
Life is very fragile, but yet we desire to live, and the Lord today in the Gospel is really showing to us something about that desire. The whole teaching of this Gospel is all contingent upon who Jesus is speaking to, just like those 4th and 5th graders were trying to get me with their questions. Well, the people who are trying to get Jesus in this Gospel are this group of Jews known as the Sadducees. And the Sadducees, well they didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they were sad, you see?
[pause] Oh, that didn’t go over too well – it’s too early. [groans]
Anyway, they were always looking at the things of this world as being an end in themselves and the Sadducees were very comfortable people. They were the ones who have a lot of well in a lot of position in society, so in their minds the way that God would reveal His blessings was by them having a lot of things in the world – a lot of material stuff, a lot of status. That was a sign of God’s blessing. This idea of heaven was like that was like, not necessary in their theological worldview because they had heaven on Earth if you will.
So of course they are trying to trap Jesus and saying, all right, so if we get married here and you have a situation where people are married five, six, seven, times, who were they married to in heaven? Jesus reveals that is, like, marriage doesn’t exist in heaven – it’s something that exists here.
And I think that we have to ask ourselves the question, what is the vocation of marriage ultimately doing for us. In a very real localized way it’s helping us to perfect a relationship with another. Which is why we are married for life, we enter a commitment, and we also believe that somehow God blesses and graces that commitment. Because what that is, is a preparation for eternity, and then in eternity we’re no longer have to be working at our relationships and perfecting them, but they are perfected in God’s eyes. The same God who wills each and everyone of us into existence in the first place. The same God who provides for us each and every day. The same God who helps us through the ups and downs of our married lives. That same God is who is waiting for us in heaven to allow us to experience that which is in the deepest desires of our heart, which is harmony with our Brothers and sisters
So, today at this Mass as we receive Jesus, maybe we recognize that we are not just given the strength and the grace to be in communion with God but we’re given the strength in the grace to be in communion with each of our brothers and sisters. The body of Christ at the altar strengthens the body of Christ that we all are. That is one in the same.
May we pray for each other – not so much to think that we need more things, or we need to acquire even the perfect state of heaven where we have everything the way we wanted.
Let us pray today to empty ourselves to be the person God wants us to be, for our brothers and sisters.
Good evening, everyone, and happy All Saints. Glad that you are able to come here to rejoice, and all of those of us who have gone before us who are gazing upon God for all eternity in Heaven, and I’m glad that you got here to Mass at the last minute here, too. This is a holy day. So very blessed that we’re all here together, and also that you’ve had a very nice Halloween yesterday as well, and that you’re enjoying all your candy.
One thing I have to say is that every All Saints Day, it’s hard for me not to think about a very, very interesting conversation that took place between Thomas Merton, the famous Catholic monk of the 20th Century, and his professor in college named Robert Lax.
Robert Lax was himself a convert to the Faith, just as Thomas Merton was, and Lax played a very instrumental role in helping Merton discover his faith in Jesus and eventually becoming a Catholic. And after Merton became a Catholic, he and Lax were talking, and Robert Lax asked him saying, “Well now that you’re a Catholic, what do you hope to do?”
And Merton very much admired Lax, and he wants to impress him with some type of really sophisticated answer, now that he was a Catholic. So he kind of just thought it over and then he just kind of resort to saying,”well I hope to be a very, very devout Catholic and learn more and more about the Faith”. And Robert Lax looked at him with almost disappointment in his eyes, and he said, “You know, there’s only one thing you should hope to do now that you’re a Catholic, and that is to become a saint.” To become a saint – that it’s not necessarily about becoming part of a tribe and finding joy in becoming just Catholic for the sake of finding some sense of truth and meaning and what it means to be Catholic, but to look beyond what this world is and offers to where we are bound to go, and that is Heaven, right? That is what the Saints desire. Saints desire Heaven.
You know, it’s always profound for me thinking about that, because I have to ask myself the question: you know here as a Catholic priest; you know being in the world of Catholicism, so to speak: do I ever really think about the fact that fundamentally why I do all these things? Why I participate in the sacramental life of the Church? It is for the reason that I desire union with God: intimate union with God, and not just because I think that’s a nice thing, but because to be with He who has created and willed me into existence from the very beginning knows exactly what I need, how I need it, and desires me to want to be with him for all eternity. That is ultimately what a relationship with God looks like, right?
So this very famous encounter between Thomas Merton and Robert Lax is something that we can kind of take away and ask ourselves, “what is it that we really desire?”
Everyday or every year on All Saints Day, we hear the Beatitudes, and of course the Beatitudes we hear very often. We all know that in some way that this is the new teaching of Jesus, in a way to augment the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament that were given to Moses. And just on the surface level, we can always say that the Beatitudes always seem to have this, more of this positive tone, because it’s talking about blessed are you when you do these things, because then you receive these things as a result. Whereas the Ten Commandments are all about not doing certain things – prohibitions.
In our spiritual journey, we kind of need both. There are times where we need to really have a clear understanding what not to do. There’s going to be times for us know exactly what to do. We understand that just by the basic nature – for who we are are human beings, right? – I mean when you’re young, you’re a child, it’s better to be told what not to do than what to do, because when you’re told what to do, you end up doing the opposite.
So perhaps it is better as a rule to just understand what I should not do, because that is ultimately going to be at the problems if I do end up touching the burner when it’s hot, so to speak, right?
Yet I often find it that as well, as positive as the Beatitudes may sound, they can also have a tinge of legalism intertwined – the same type of legalism which is all too often associated with the Ten Commandments. What I mean by that is that there’s this understanding that could arrive that the Beatitudes are all about us, and our activity, and how we do things, and so we can go through them. If you just think, well okay, if I’m poor, if I try to detach myself more from the things of the world, I’m going to be blessed. Or if I really work for peace and I really try my best to mitigate peace in different relationships within my life, in the monks, the people I know, then I will be blessed, I will be a child of God.
And even the Beatitudes then become a source of obligation, a source of measuring ourselves up to see how well we’re doing. Going through them can often make us feel almost guilty because we’re not working hard enough at being detached from things. We’re not working hard enough at being humble, or we’re not working hard enough being a peacemaker. We’re not working hard enough and just allowing persecutions to hit us and being okay with that.
Yet, the Gospel of Jesus is not about us working harder in order to earn something. The Gospel – the good news of Jesus – is all about revealing the profound love that God has for us, despite our failures, despite our sin.
So just as Robert Lax challenges Merton to desire to become a saint, perhaps the best way for us to engage the Beatitudes is not thinking about what we need to do, but what we need to desire. And the way to know what we need to desire is to always go to the latter portion of the answer: if we desire the Kingdom of Heaven, the result will be for us to naturally want to be detached from the things of the world. If we desire to be confident, you’ll be okay when we mourn, because we know that God is with us. If we desire to inherit the land, you will know that God will give us everything that we need in order to not just survive, but to thrive and find a joyful life.
The Beatitudes aren’t caught up in us trying to live a more virtuous, moral life. They get to the very heart of speaking to our desires. What do we desire? I think in one word you could say that we all desire happiness, who desire a life – whether we are free of suffering, of pain, of anxiety – we desire a world where there’s justice. We desire a world where there’s peace. Because we know that these things resonate with how we are hardwired, because we’re hardwired not to live in a broken existence, but a whole existence.
If we take that one step further, we realize that what we ultimately desire is Heaven. Yet, we often think that Heaven is something that sounds better than Hell, but it’s not necessary something that can bring us happiness.
I was often taken from my first assignment as a priest saying daily masses, and most daily Masses are early in the morning. Especially there’s lots of older people, retired people – and there was someone who I think celebrated like an 86th birthday. I said, “Oh, happy birthday”. I said, “You’re one year now closer to Heaven.” And you think I was sentencing him to prison when I said that.
”Don’t wish on that me now, Father. Don’t talk about that.”
Don’t talk about that?! Why do you show up at Mass if you’re not thinking about Heaven?
We come here today on this holy day of obligation not just so that we can become good Catholics like Thomas Merton and what he thought he was supposed to be. We come here because we are obligated in our very being for complete union with God in Heaven. And in that sense, it’s not a burden, nor is it something that we wish to just kind of push off and one day, we’ll think about it, but it’s something that happens to us now. Because the desire for Heaven means to live life now, in its fullness, so that we can live in Heaven on Earth. And while it’s not Heaven in its fullness, it gets us more and more yearning and desiring what we are ultimately made for.
So today, on this Feast of All Saints, let’s look at our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and have reached the final goal of their life as being an inspiration for all of us who still journey and are distracted by the things of this world, thinking that they can possibly serve us, when we are made to be served by an infinite love that no finite person or thing could ever match.
Good morning! Good morning, everyone! I thought the power outage just happened right then and there.
It’s great to be with you again here on, at 10 o’clock. Haven’t seen you guys in a while, so it’s great to be back at St. Joe’s.
You know, given the state that we’re in right now, with the winds and with the fires, I can’t help but think about what is the Holy Spirit trying to show to us, right? I mean wind and fire are so much a part of the imagery of the Spirit, as through scriptures. And of course we understand that the wind, and the fire, that we are dealing with here is a very destructive wind and fire. But yet, the Spirit may be calling us in this midst of this natural disaster, so to speak, to think about where, maybe, disaster in our own heart, where maybe actually looking at things of this world as being stable, when really nothing in this world is stable. Because we’re made for an eternity that’s yet to happen. when we leave this world to the next.
So even in the midst of this time of great instability, I think the Spirit can be calling us, even in a closer assurance to the home that’s really ultimately being prepared for us.
You know today’s Gospel is very interesting, as it touches on that in a slightly different way. Clearly as is the case with many of Jesus’s Parables, he makes things very, very wide opposites – extreme opposites if you will – so apparently you have this very self-righteous Pharisee and then you have this extremely humble tax collector, right. And it’s important to realize that you know pretty much everyone falls somewhere in the middle, right?
But yet when I think about this tax collector and when he says, “be merciful to me, a sinner”, I’m led to ask myself the question, what was his sin? What was he ashamed of? Why did he identify with being a sinner?
Now just knowing some of the practices of tax collectors during this time, it was very common knowledge that the tax collector, who had a lot of influence in society and worked for the Romans, but were normally Jewish, so they collected taxes for the Romans from fellow Jewish people, they would often collect more than what was required. And of course by doing that, they would hold on to that extra amount of money, almost like a form of extortion.
Now clearly that’s a pretty sinful thing, and I think that maybe we could think that that is exactly what the tax collector is ashamed of, and that’s why he so humbly approached God in the temple. But yet, I think it’s very interesting that the way that Jesus positions this Parable is that he focuses on the actual positions of these guys – what they do for a living, their title: one a Pharisee who is a scholar of the law someone who knows the Scripture well, knows how to interpret it and also knows how to teach it – that’s what this man does. And then the tax collector who like I said works for the Romans and also has a different type of influence in people’s lives.
I think that Jesus looks at the titles here at these positions as really being the source or the root of the sin. And it’s a root sin that the Pharisee, if anything was oblivious to, but yet the tax collector understood.
And what I do I mean by that? Because the sin of the tax collector wasn’t just that he was stealing from his fellow Jewish people. The sin of the tax collector was that knew he identified too much with his position: he identified as being a tax collector, and realized that that was the wrong place to understand his identity.
The Pharisee likewise identified with his position. He identified with it so much, that you listen to what he says he actually excludes himself from the rest of humanity – he says, I’m glad I’m not like the rest of humanity. So his position was so important, so unique that it stood out by itself, so we can say he had a radical dependency on his position and identify with that wholeheartedly.
Yet this tax collector does not identify with his position as a tax collector, and as such says, be merciful on me a sinner, because what is his identity? His identity is simply to be a beloved Son of God the Father, to know that his life is something that has been given to him as a gift, and how he uses the gift of life is ultimately meant to be a continual gift to other people’s lives.
Which is exactly why each of us are given a position in society, given a role, given the title, because the reason why we have these positions in society – whatever it may be – is so that it can be a means of us passing along the gift of our very existence, the gift of our belovedness that we receive from God.
Now, this gets to the very heart of vocation. I remember having a conversation with someone I go to school with who professes to be an atheist, and he asked me, like, what is the most important thing in your life, or what do you identify with the most in your life? I think he was expecting me to say something like a Catholic or priest or Christian. I said you know the most fundamental thing if you will reality identify myself as a beloved Son of God. Because everything else requires me to actually assent to in, a certain sense, I assent to being a Christian, assent to being a Catholic. I had to assent to being a priest. It required me to cooperate with God’s grace.
Yet the one thing that does not require a cooperation, if you will, is the reality that your existence in and of itself is enough, because God willed you into it. And no matter what we do with our lives and no matter how many times we say yes to the Lord, or no matter how many times you say no to the Lord, we can never erase our identity. We just can’t – impossible.
And that’s a very profound fact because that brings us right into the very essence of what humility is all about, because humility is recognizing what we are, and what we’re not. We recognize that we are beloved sons and daughters of God the Father. That’s a humble statement because that’s the reality of who we are. We also recognize the fact that our positions, our vocations, our titles what we do, how we actually find ourselves positioned in society – all of that is also something that is a gift. It is not something that we actually earn.
When I think about the tremendous amount of Mercy that God has personally shown me in my life, they enabled me to become a priest. Sometimes I question if God knows what He’s doing. And I will also continue to say I’m still amazed the amazing amount of mercy that God shows to me as a priest, because there’s absolutely nothing about my priestly vocation that in and of itself has a power that comes from me. At best, I can say my vocation is a conduit of God’s grace, a conduit of Jesus’s presence, which is exactly why I can say: This is My Body. This is My Blood. I absolve you from your sins. I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Absolutely nothing on my end am I actually saying about myself. A conduit of the presence of Jesus, a pure conduit of the grace that I think is what the sinner tax collector came to a realization.
And that’s why he humbly approached God in the Temple. I think that is perhaps the greatest lesson for us to take away from this very, very powerful parable: how much do we identify with what we do? How much do we identify with our position? How much do we identify by how many degrees or how much education? How often do we identify with how much money we have, or what type of knowledge we have.
If you’re like me, I identify with it a lot. I mean it means a lot when I tell people I have a degree from Berkeley. Berkeley. I’m just like, you know, wish I could say I didn’t have that, because all these things are a temptation to take me off of my true identity.
Yet all is not lost when we understand that what we’ve been given as a gift is meant to be given as a continual gift to others, and ultimately a gift for other people’s healing. Yet we ourselves need to approach the source of healing first, and that’s exactly what we do when we come to this building. The broken messes that we are, the pride that we bring with ourselves, our own ego getting in the way, is all laid down at the foot of the altar. And the One who humbles Himself so much to leave the glory of Heaven, to become one of us, humbles Himself even more to become what appears to be bread. Bread that we receive for us to once again affirm our identity in communion with Jesus, the Son of God. Confirm our identity as beloved Sons and Daughters of Jesus Christ, of God the Father, in and through Jesus Christ.
So today let us rejoice in the gift of life. Let us rejoice in how we are called to use our life. But most importantly, let’s rejoice in the gift of humility that we receive through the very Son of God, Jesus Himself. Amen.