Tag Archives: love

PENTECOST 2018

God doesn’t deal with us in some magical way from afar; rather, God works from within us and is limited by what we are willing to do. So, if someone who has offended someone else refuses to accept unconditional forgiveness, that person just doesn’t get it! He/she remains unhealed, unhappy, and sick in spirit. God in me can reach you only so far as I make that possible.

However, if we are willing to be generous life-givers to each other, we find that we have far more to offer than merely our own human resources: we recognize that we are also instruments of God’s own power of love and wisdom – love that soothes and heals, wisdom that guides and directs. We are channels of God’s power, which far exceeds our human limitations.

The people of Jesus’ day understood what was behind the description of fire and wind and clouds and angels and supernatural appearances that we just heard in the gospel for today. It all added up to an exciting and colorful way of celebrating unforgettably the fact that we are creatures of God, who lives with and in us always but who will force on us nothing, whether good or bad.

A spiritual person is one who lives his or her life always conscious of that divine presence, constantly trying to yield to its power and direction.

Our traditional devotion to the Holy Spirit and our one-time reception of the sacrament of Confirmation can imply that we Christians have been given by God an exclusive privilege denied to most of the other people of the world. That cannot be so. We are all creatures of the same loving God, whose Spirit acts in all who invite her to. From religion to religion we name that God differently, but, as the Scripture readings for today emphasize, it is the same Spirit in each and all of us.

It has been said that more wars have been fought over religion than over all other causes. We have seen many religious wars in our own lifetime, and we are tracking them daily right now. When will they stop once and for all? Not until we recognize that Pentecost is the Christian name for a phenomenon that is as old as creation itself: God acting everywhere in God’s beloved universe and in everyone who is willing.

Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the church. In some ways, our church has been a shocking disappointment to us in the last 20 or so years. The crisis is not over yet, we can be sure. What feelings toward the church do we harbor today?

Carlo Carretto, whose works some of you have read, was a mid-20th century spiritual guide and mystic, something of a “diamond in the rough”. More than 50 years ago, he addressed the following message to the church. It is blunt, yet tender. It may well express some of your own sentiments. Listen carefully.

How much I criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you!
You have made me suffer more than anyone,
and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.
I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.
You have given me much scandal,
and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false,
And yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.
Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face
And yet, every night I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms.
No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.
Then, too – where would I go? To build another church?
But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects.
And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church.
No, I am old enough. I know better.

Happy Pentecost to all!

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6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2018

When I began working on today’s homily last week, wondering first of all how this time I should approach the simple topic of Jesus’ central theme — love, I looked back over hundreds of my saved homilies and came across one that I thought would again be appropriate. It was based on something that had happened only the day before the Sunday on which I first preached it.

What happened was that a Sister friend of mine borrowed my car to visit her family in south Jersey. As she was returning on the Parkway, the car’s engine stopped completely. Sister Kathleen coasted off the shoulder of the road, tried without success to start the motor, and then, without success, to flag down someone who would help her. Frustrated and frightened, she got back in the car and simply wept.

On the seventh floor of an apartment building nearby, a young man was watching out his living room window. He quickly left his apartment and went to fetch his own car and drove to where Sister was marooned. He walked up to her open window and said, “What’s the trouble, Ma’am? No one would stop to help you? I figured you went back to your car for a good cry.”

The good man opened her hood, guessed correctly that the problem was a clogged fuel filter and went to a local auto parts store for a new one. When he returned and attempted to install it, he discovered that his wrenches were the wrong size and therefore useless. He said, “I think we can get it running at least for a few miles. So, if you drive slowly on the shoulder, I’ll follow you just in case there’s more trouble.”

And so he did, all the way to my home in Clifton, where I met this person, shook his hand and thanked him. He refused to accept the money I offered him, even for what he had spent. He would not give me his address, wanting nothing in return for his kindness. All he said was, “My mother and six sisters all drive. When they are on the road alone, I have no peace until they’re home. I always hope that if they ever have car trouble someone will help them. So I was glad today to be of help to someone else.”

It is especially interesting and inspiring to know that Sister was not wearing a religious habit and was, therefore, in no way identified as a nun. He wasn’t doing this extraordinarily good deed for a “special” person. Interesting and inspiring also to know that Sister was white and this man was black.

I had the feeling that I had met the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ immortal story. Change a few details and all the essential elements were the same.

There are many kinds of love. I can’t help but think that the kind this gentle man had in his heart was one of the rarest. All these past many years, especially as I have passed that building hundreds and hundreds of times, I recall the incident with fondness and gratitude and hope. I also feel the expectation that in the end love will win out.

I wish I could have told my nameless friend that he would be the Christ figure in my homily way back then and now again. But maybe it’s better that I couldn’t, because the very suggestion of reward or honor seemed to displease him.

“What I command you is this:” Jesus said, “that you love each other as I have loved you.”

HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY, 2017

I was born and raised as the first of four children in a typical American home in North Jersey. We don’t know much at all about the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What we say about them is largely drawn from the little that we know about them from their later years. But I do know a lot from the home of my origin. What I learned and experienced there, as you have learned from your own background, has given me insight into what Jesus and Mary and Joseph very likely were to each other.

The one incident that always comes first to my mind occurred when I was 16 years old, a car-crazy kid who couldn’t wait to drive. On one Sunday afternoon, I took my father’s car on a brief jaunt, no matter that I was unlicensed. I struck another vehicle, badly injuring the elderly woman in the front passenger seat. We drove our cars to my home, no police having been around to take over. With the very kind Jewish stranger whose car I had damaged, my father quietly settled the financial issues involved, saying not a word to me – right through to the day he died 23 years later.

My now-deceased sister said to me a few years ago, “When you consider all the pain we endured with Dad’s disease and Mother’s reaction to it, don’t you think that it was love that saved us?” She said, “I mean the love they had for one another, the love they had for each of us children, despite the hell that we were all going though.”

Of course she was right. What else could it have been?

Who knows what personal problems the Holy Family might have struggled with? We have at least a couple of hints in the Gospels that there were times of crisis, worry, confusion. One was when Jesus as a pre-teenager was lost for three days in Jerusalem, where his parents feared he may have been kidnapped and sold into slavery. I know that my mother could never have survived those days had that happened to her child. The panic would have killed her or driven her mad. And then there was the advice given to Mary and Joseph later on when Jesus was becoming known as an increasingly popular and challenging, though unorthodox, preacher: “Why don’t you consider putting him away? Don’t you realize that he’s out of his mind?”

What was conversation like at their table? It could not have been all pious sweetness and light. There was too much going on in their lives that could not be ignored.

I cannot imagine that his boyhood indiscretion was the subject of parental nagging for the rest of his life, or even that it was ever mentioned except possibly in the context of love. They might have said now & then, for example, how his reunion with them that day was one of the greatest joys of their lives. However Mary and Joseph handled the incident, and perhaps a few others like it, they must have done it in such a way that Jesus was encouraged to think over the decisions of his young life and to develop gradually into the secure, self-possessed, clear thinking, highly motivated human being that he became.

We all need such compassionate acceptance, and we are all capable of giving it. Now that our Christmas gifts have been unwrapped, and some of them successfully exchanged for the right size and color, let’s resolve to give one more: the gift of allowing everyone in our lives to be the best they can be, to accept their flaws as fully as we welcome their virtues, to hope that we’ll get the same charity from others (especially from those persons who know us best!), and to enjoy the greater peace that this will bring to all.

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2017

In Francis’ first homily as pope four years ago, he said, “Don’t be afraid to love. Don’t be afraid to be tender.” Can you imagine a simpler, more basic message than that? And from one of the world’s greatest leaders, whose Jesuit education alone marks him as an intellectual of high standing?

But the counsel he gave us in that short homily encourages us to believe that the power to transform our dangerously troubled world lies, not with the leaders of states and kingdoms, but with us. The world will change for the better, not by command of a president, a prince, or a parliament, but by the little acts and the little words of love and tenderness that we, the people, are capable of giving to others all day long, every day. Sounds too basic to be true, I know, but it is true. Jesus said so, Pope Francis said so.

It’s a cellular process – person to person — that Jesus himself very much believed in and practiced. I recall in that connection a funeral I presided over several years ago. It was for two sisters, Eileen and Jayne, siblings and also members of the same religious community, the Sisters of the Presentation. They had died together in a car crash. The younger one, Jayne, had sent me her written reflections on life, love, God, the Church – some of which I used at her funeral Mass. One of her ideas was that Jesus never intended to establish a new religion, a “church”, according to our understanding of the word. No, she wrote, Jesus simply started a person-to-person movement – one person influencing, touching, another with a word or a gesture of love – even a thought or a prayer. I quote from her now. She wrote —

Jesus began his mission with friendship, not only because it is powerful but also because it is hopeful. It is the key, the only key, that can unlock the door to a worthwhile future in love. Jesus saw the truth of that twenty centuries ago. Instead of organizing institutions, he started a movement based on friendship, on love. That is the only solution to the problems of the human heart. People can live together under almost any conditions if they are friends, if they are in love.

In our own time we have seen the murderous destruction that fanatical members of other religions have done, claiming that they were carrying out the will of God. But aren’t they doing what George Washington and Abraham Lincoln did — praying and then acting on the direction they feel they have been given?

No, absolutely not. Why? Because Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word.” Jesus situates his teachings about the Spirit in the context of love. In other words, the key — the lens — that reveals the true word of God to anyone is love. It is impossible that those whose hearts are filled with hatred and evil intentions toward others can recognize what God would have them do. Such persons are morally and spiritually blind. It is only when love is the primary driving force that anyone can discern and yield to the “will of God.” And only when love motivates can human beings enter into sincere dialog with one another and together make progress toward better life for all.

Don’t be afraid to love, Pope Francis says. Don’t be afraid to be tender.

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

Getting accustomed to looking beneath and beyond the words of bible readings to find their real meaning, what would you say is the message of the three we just heard – the first from the Hebrew bible, the next from a letter of St. Paul, and the third from the gospel, this particular excerpt from St. Luke’s version?  The word urgency came to my mind from all three: that we resolve now to remain conscious of the presence of the Spirit of God in whatever we are doing, saying or thinking.  That’s a fairly good definition of a spiritual person: not a holier-than-thou fanatic who goes around in a daze of personal devotion that makes everyone uncomfortable, but a person who views life and all its parts through the lens of the Spirit within and around him or her.

I recall in this connection that it was Pope Celestine the First who, in one of the earliest centuries of the church heard that some priests were dressing in distinctive ways to distinguish them from ordinary people.  He wrote to them and said he found this disturbing because priests should be distinguished not by what they wear but by their conversation and their love.

But, we all ask, where is God when a bloody war is raging, as is still happening today all over the globe?  Where is God in the drug-abuse scene?  Where is God when conflict tears a family apart?  Where is God on Death Row?  Where is God in AIDS or cancer?  Countless millions of persons have found reason to say, “I turned to you, Lord, but you did not answer me.”

It’s our concept, our image of God that is the problem.  God is not a person like us, however bigger and better.  God is pure spirit; God is force; God is energy, God is love.  When we deliberately align ourselves with that benign force, with that energy, that love, our own human powers are enhanced, they are magnified.

How God “answers” and when God answers are not for us to say or even to know.  Our part in the pact is to maintain unyielding faith in the goodness and the love of God.

A high school classmate of mine, at the funeral of his young daughter many years ago, said to the overflowing crowd of mourners assembled in the church that day, “My wife and children and I thank you for being here today to celebrate the life and mourn the death of our beautiful daughter.  It must be that God loves her more than we do, because God gave her to us in the first place for these too-short 19 years.  At this time of sorrow, God asks of us only faith and love.  In this tragedy, too, God is only good.”

Who would dare to limit the power of God especially in the troubles of our life?

There may be no time or circumstance in our ordinary lives when we more need that awareness of Jesus’ presence than when things are not going well for us or for those we love.  He says to us, “Come to me, you who are burdened, and I will refresh you.”  The “refreshment,” by that or any other name, may be just the vision of light at the end of the tunnel, and restored confidence because Jesus is leading the way — Jesus, who called himself “the way.”

Faith can falter even in the most convinced and loyal believer.  There’s no shame in that.  We are, after all, only human and very limited.  We live in a kind of darkness, a shadow in which not everything is perfectly clear.  To trust in a Jesus we have never seen is no small challenge at times.  But, if we make the commitment, no matter how feeble it may occasionally be, our faith in him will grow by experience.  We will increasingly sense his real presence in and with us and we will be only the stronger and the more at peace for it.

5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2016

As so many of us do, I occasionally embark on an all-out clean-up campaign at my house.  This year’s event took place this past week with a hired group of three excellent housecleaners.  While they were doing their thing, I was trying to organize and simplify my life by eliminating the clutter that had built up in closets and drawers.  Each time I do this, I get bogged down by my files: I lose myself in nostalgia when even 1975 can seem like ancient history.  I shake my head or laugh at something I wrote back then, hoping that no one else has saved it!

And then my heart pounds and my mouth goes dry as I relive some sensitive conflict graphically recounted in the thrust & parry of exchanged letters.

You know the drill well, I’m sure.

On one of these assaults a few years ago, I found the deliberately saved letter of a man concerning the very hurtful, unchristian behavior of another in a very serious and consequential matter.  The writer of the letter was deeply offended by the behavior in question, yet he was able to say, with unmistakable sincerity and not a hint of condescension, “I feel sorrow for the terrible thing he has done, because he has wounded himself more than anyone else, and it grieves me to see such needless, self-inflicted pain.  I pray for him, that he’ll recover from this lapse and be his true self once more.”

I thought it was providential, that I should have come upon that letter in time to use it as a way of appreciating more deeply the gospel account proclaimed on this 5th Sunday of Easter.  Jesus knows full well what Judas’s act of betrayal will cost him – his life.  Despite that, we hear from him not a word of anger or vengeance or condemnation, but only love.  This is a perfect example of Jesus showing us how to be human.  Can we imagine a response more godly than this one – to love the one who is facilitating your execution?

Down the ages, fiction has celebrated such heights of unselfish, forgiving love.  In that connection, I always think first of Billy Budd, unjustly condemned and asking God’s blessing on the ship captain who ordered his hanging.  Real life can be every bit as noble and inspiring.  In his book Days of Grace, that great African American, tennis world champion, loving husband and father, Arthur Ashe answered the question about how he felt toward the anonymous person who passed on to him the lethal AIDS virus in a blood transfusion.  He expressed only sentiments of compassion and concern for the person, whoever he or she was, who caused his death.

No matter the crude, rude, vitriolic words we are daily hearing from the presidential election campaigns, it is not true to say that people really don’t act in such decent, heroic ways.  They do.  Many known and unknown heroes do.  The Jesus who forgave Judas continues to forgive in the lives of such good people.  If you look around again, you will see them.  You may even find yourself among them.

We say so often and so glibly, “Forgive us, Father, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  If we gave to that challenge only half what we have given to “being good Catholics,” we’d be so much closer to the Creator’s will for us.  The folk philosopher and wit, Garrison Keeler, says there’s no more chance of our becoming real Christians simply by going to church faithfully than of our becoming a car by sleeping in the garage.  Now there’s something to think about.

With increasing age, I find myself leaning more & more toward the conviction that the ultimate test of our Christian spirituality is our willingness to forgive and to love those who have hurt us.

Let’s keep trying, especially in this time of Easter grace.

2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2016

I expect never to hear of a real-life example of human love more remarkable and inspiring than that of an elderly couple interviewed on TV several years ago.  Their beautiful daughter had been brutally assaulted and then murdered by a young man.  He was arrested and brought to trial.  It was an open & shut case: he was guilty.  The deceased girl’s parents were asked how they felt toward her assailant.  And this gentle, getting-on-in-years couple responded, He is God’s child also, even though what he did to our daughter was horrible beyond words.  We don’t want him to be executed or to suffer the rest of his life. We are praying for him, that he’ll repent of his crime and accept the grace of God in rebuilding his life so that he can help others, no longer hurt them.  (It still gives me a thrill to recall and repeat that.)

If that isn’t a modern version of Jesus’ death on the cross, I don’t know what is.  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  Just imagine what kind of world ours would be if every human being had that generous, loving, forgiving, life-giving attitude toward all others!

But that’s precisely what we said yes to when we decided to become Christians.

It’s possible, you know, that, although we were baptized and well instructed in our faith, some of us, maybe many of us, never did really decide personally to become followers of Jesus.

We learn that we’ve made that decision when we look at someone’s crime or evil act and say, “That’s probably the worst thing this person has ever done; but how much good she must also have accomplished. I pray that she will recover from this terrible decision, make amends for what she has done and move on to a good and unselfishly loving life.”

Against the background of a maze of legal nit-picking, Jesus spoke of only two laws: first, love God, your creator; the second: love everyone else, without exception.  Give extravagantly, he taught us; resolve always to forgive, not merely to punish; reward in excess of merit; let your love go beyond the requirements of justice.

It’s as if God were saying through Jesus, “You are made in my image & likeness.  And I am infinitely more than just; I am loving and merciful.  I am forgetful of your faults and always aware of your marvelous potential.  You are less likely to sense my presence in the good order of a tribunal than you are in the splendid splashes of skies and forests and the bottomless well of a mother’s love!”

The Scriptures tell of signs & wonders the early disciples were performing and observing after Jesus’ resurrection from death.  Among them there surely had to be the “miracles” of persons acting in ways that are certainly not normally human.  They were returning love for hatred, accepting hurts with patience and even cheerfulness, giving without thought to cost, forgiving with no strings attached, and rejoicing in the success of others.

People couldn’t help but notice.

The age of miracles has not passed.

Happy Easter!