Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Community of Believers

A Community of Believers
Homily for April 8, 2018    2nd Sunday Easter - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi    Divine Mercy Sunday

Happy Easter! As we conclude the Octave of Easter and our celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, for the rest of the Easter Season we shift our focus to living as a community of believers in the Resurrected Christ.

The first reading for Mass almost every day from now until Pentecost will come from the Acts of the Apostles, and will be about the development of the early Church and the continuation of Jesus’ ministry on earth by his disciples.  Today’s first reading focuses on what the first Christian communities looked like and how they acted.

It begins with: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Earlier in Acts, chapter 2, we hear the same thing:  “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts chapter 2, verse 44.

 “(H)ad everything in common.”  Sounds a bit unrealistic for us today, doesn’t it.  I’m not expected to share my house or car or my other expensive toys with others, am I?  And I certainly don’t have to sell them and give the proceeds away to those who didn’t work for them or who don’t have the ambition to make it on their own, do I?  After all, I EARNED them, right?

The opening line from today’s first reading brings back memories of my teen years in the late sixties and early seventies – the age of Communism and hippie communes. 

It was a time when the word “communal” didn’t carry a positive connotation, with images of forced labor farms in Russia or drug-crazed drop-outs from society running around in the woods.  Surely that wasn’t what the early Christian communities looked like, did they?

Yes and no.

If we look at true Christian communities today, we see that they have some of the same characteristics as the early Christian communities did back then, as revealed in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, starting with verse 42: 

•     “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles – that would be religious study of scripture and of the leaders of the Church, like our bible study programs and other spiritual reading;

•    To the communal life – that would be the loving care of each other through self-sacrifice, constantly thinking of the other person first, like our volunteer efforts and our charitable giving programs;

•    To the breaking of the bread – that would be specifically the Eucharist, not just sharing a meal; and

•    To the prayers – that’s not private prayer but the shared liturgical experience, what we would call “Mass” today, and other Sacramental activities.

So what’s the difference between the early communities and our communities today?  I think that it can be found in the three words that begin verse 42: “They devoted themselves”.  Devotion signifies priority, what is most important. They were Christ-centered, not life-centered (at least, not earthly life.)  And, because they were Christ-centered, wonderful things happened: 
“Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the Apostles” and “Great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them”.

Can we say that today?  Have we eliminated the needy among us?  Are we devoted to our faith in a way that fills us with awe at the mere thought of Jesus?

If not, then one way we can work on that devotion to our faith is through the new initiative that was introduced by our Bishop Burns on Friday called the “Be Golden Campaign."  The campaign is based upon the Golden Rule and focuses on those who are marginalized in our society, especially the immigrant.  The primary goal is to change our mindset, our attitude, to be more Christ-like.

And, to be more Christ-like it demands that we show mercy to those who we have the ability to show mercy, especially if we are to expect mercy in return.  Jesus’ command to us in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6:

 “Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. … But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Lk 6: 31-36)

Be merciful. This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Mercy is not forgiveness; forgiveness can only be extended by the person who was harmed.  Mercy is the ability to prevent or alleviate the suffering of another by someone who has the power to do so, whether it is justified or not.  God extends mercy to us out of His love for us, even when we do not deserve or have not “earned” that mercy; we are called to do the same.  Members of the early Church communities extended mercy to one another when they used their own resources to make sure that “There was no needy person among them”.

God has granted all of us an ability to show mercy to others.  We too are in need of mercy – from others in our lives and especially from God.  It’s what we celebrated last Sunday – the ultimate sign of God’s love and mercy – the Passion of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel concludes with, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in His name.”

Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Are you truly devoted to Him?  Does your life reflect that devotion?  If not, then during this Easter Season, you have some work to do. 

Frankly, so do I.

Death and Taxes Revisited

Death and Taxes Revisited
Homily for March 18, 2018    5th Sunday Lent – A (Scrutinies)
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

For the last two weeks our RCIA candidates have listened to passages from St. John’s Gospel known as the Scrutinies – the first was the story of the Woman at the Well and her conversion experience and that of the others of her village through listening to Jesus, the Word of God and the second was the story of the Man Born Blind and how his eyes were opened both figuratively and spiritually.  Today we just heard the 3rd Scrutiny – the Death of Lazarus.

There’s an old saying that there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes.  And while if you’re poor enough or clever enough you might be able to avoid some taxes, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re rich or poor, you’re going to die someday.  And sadly, the ones we love will die too.

But while death and the pain caused by it are inevitable, with faith we can find strength to continue on with our life.  And today’s Gospel gives us some pointers on the reality of our future, if we trust in God.

The story begins simply enough.  Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that his good friend, their brother Lazarus, is seriously ill.   They know about Jesus; more importantly, they KNOW him and WHO he is – the Son of God.  So they reach out to him to intercede on behalf of their brother.

Don’t we do the same thing whenever a family member or one of our dear friends is sick and in need of healing?  Reach out to our prayer groups and prayer warriors and ask them to storm heaven to intercede for us? 

But instead of going immediately to see Lazarus, Jesus stays on the other side of the Jordan.  His statement that Lazarus wasn’t going to die, that there was a purpose to his illness, may have seemed a little strange to his disciples but, as he had cured many people, maybe they thought he’d do the same thing remotely like the centurion’s slave or Jairus’ daughter.  After all, Lazarus lived near Jerusalem and the Jews there wanted to stone him.  Who’d blame him for staying where he was?

And then Lazarus died. 

It can be hard to imagine the pain and grief that Mary and Martha were going through unless you have experienced that kind of loss yourself – and most of us have.  Not just death of a loved one, although that is the ultimate loss, but it could have been the loss of a job; the loss of house and home through a natural disaster or other catastrophic event; or maybe a break-up in our relationship with another.  We pray and pray and may even experience a glimmer of hope:  interviews for a better job; insurance payments or help from friends and family to compensate for our losses; the discovery of a miraculous cure or the word that the cancer is in remission. And then the other shoe drops.

Mary and Martha probably felt that glimmer of hope as they sent word to Jesus, hoping that he would get there in time to heal Lazarus.  And when he didn’t; when their brother died and still Jesus didn’t show up right away, their grief must have been tremendous – along with feelings of frustration, despair and maybe even anger. 

We see that in the responses from Mary, Martha and their friends:
"Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died."
"Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"
"Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days."

Their sobbing reflects their grief and mourning.

And Jesus wept.

Why did Jesus cry?  After all, Jesus knew that Lazarus wasn’t going to remain in the tomb.  He knew that, despite being buried for 4 days, Lazarus was going to rise and be with his family and friends, and that there would be great joy and celebration.  So why did Jesus weep?

Empathy.  Empathy is more than just witnessing another’s pain or joy; it is the ability to understand and SHARE the feelings of another, especially their feelings of sorrow and pain.  Jesus FELT their grief; their pain was real and no amount of knowledge that “everything will be all right” can take that pain away from them. It was more than Jesus “knowing” that they were in pain; he FELT a pain that was so intense it made people cry.  And He Wept.

In his book, “A Grief Observed”, well-known author C.S. Lewis records his own personal observations on how he dealt with the many issues associated with the sudden death of his wife to cancer: his grief, including the pain; the depression; the awkwardness of dealing with well-meaning friends who didn’t always know the right words to say; the loneliness; the anger he had towards God; and his ultimate return to faith.  I recommend the book to anyone who has experienced a sudden loss of a loved one or to those who know someone who has.
Now, if all this Gospel was about was Jesus performing a miraculous cure for Mary and Martha because Lazarus was a friend, then it would be a wonderful story but it wouldn’t tell us much about God the Father or Jesus his Son.  After all, Lazarus eventually died again and that time wasn’t raised from the dead.  So what is Jesus telling us?

1.    God loves us and understands our pain in loss.
2.    Grief is natural and expected.
3.    There’s a purpose to our life – and death – which we may never fully understand.
4.    Even in death, there’s hope for those of faith.
5.    Jesus is calling us to come to him, even if we’re bound up in sin.
6.    No matter how tightly our sins bind us, they are not enough to keep God from freeing us. 
7.    Death is not the end of life – merely a prelude to something better.

As we approach Easter, we will witness Jesus’ Passion and Death next Sunday and throughout Holy Week.  As we reflect on what we hear and see, let us remember that all of the scriptures which we heard today: Ezekial with God’s promise that the people will be raised from the grave of their exile and returned to the promised land; St. Paul’s letter to the Romans that “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies”; and this story of Lazarus, are meant to remind us of God’s love for us and His promise that death isn’t an end for us.   Despite whatever deaths or losses we will experience in or lives, there’s going to be an Easter morning for us too.

The Journey’s End Revisited

The Journey’s End Revisited
Homily for March 18, 2018    Fifth Sunday of Lent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Have you ever gone somewhere that took a long time to get there?  Maybe it seemed like a long time, but with travel today it doesn’t usually take too long to get somewhere – a few hours by plane, maybe a couple of days by car.  Not like in the days of Columbus, where it took two months to cross the Atlantic for the first time.  Even Lent is only 40 days.

But maybe you went on a vacation, or maybe you had to make an important business trip. If it was somewhere you wanted to go and you had the time, you probably did a lot of planning beforehand - what to take, what NOT to take, how you were going to get there, where to stay once you arrived, what to say and do while you were there.  The planning and preparation may have taken longer than the trip itself.

Or maybe you had to make a trip on short notice. Maybe it was to see someone who was seriously ill or because someone had died.  It’s hard to plan for that kind of trip, and you know there will be many unknowns once you arrive.

And as you approached your destination, you probably experienced a change in your emotions.  If you were traveling for pleasure, you might have experienced an increase in the sense of anticipation or excitement – maybe even impatience? How many of us who have traveled with children have had to deal with “Are We There Yet?”

For a business trip you might have reviewed what all you needed to do and what you wanted to accomplish once you arrived. You might even feel a little anxious or uncertain, especially if the purpose of the trip was important to your business.

And if the trip was to deal with a serious problem or a death in your family, you might have even had a feeling of dread, or the desire to be anywhere else but there.

In today's Gospel we see that Jesus and his disciples are coming to the end of a long journey. They are approaching the end of three years of Jesus' ministry, and during this journey He has tried to prepare his followers for what was coming next - His Hour, as He calls it. And it would not be what they expected.

In a way, today's Gospel sort of jumps the gun for us, as this passage actually comes AFTER Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem for Passover, which we will hear next week for Palm Sunday, the start of the Passion of Our Lord. The journey is over; the action is about to begin.  Jesus’ Hour has Come.

Now, throughout the past few Sundays, we’ve heard Jesus say that His Hour has NOT yet come.  We’ve heard it when the authorities have repeatedly tried to arrest him or stone him.  We’ve heard him tell his disciples how they must work in the light – his light – while there was still time, for darkness was coming.

Now, he talks about how His Hour has come, and how it troubles him. He KNOWS what is about to happen to him and what he will face. But although it troubles him, he knows that what he faces is the will of his Father and that it will bring glory to God. It is why he came.  Through his death, he will bring eternal life back to us.

We, too, have been on the journey with Jesus for the last 32 days or so of Lent. We started our journey on that 1st Sunday of Lent with Jesus in the desert facing the temptations of the devil; then journeyed with him as he revealed himself to us as The Son of God through his lessons and miraculous signs; and finally as we witnessed the conflict between him and the Jewish authorities develop. Has it felt like a long time?

Do you feel any different now as we approach the end? You should. Throughout this time we should have been mentally preparing ourselves (well, hopefully) for the most sacred time of our Liturgical Year - Holy Week and the Passion of Our Lord. Of course we already know the outcome - Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord - but because of that we might forget about the importance of this portion of the journey. WE ARE NOT THERE YET.

And for some of you, your journey to Calvary is more than a religious exercise.  You may be feeling the rejection of those closest to you.  You may be persecuted or abandoned; you or someone near to you may be suffering from illness or economic distress.  You may want to scream out the same thing that Jesus will from the cross, “God, why have you abandoned me?”

We may struggle to understand why we suffer the things we do, but as painful as they may be, God doesn't abandon us. And while we may not know how to deal with them, we can use them to give glory to God. For, after our own journey is complete, we too will experience our own resurrection and a share in Jesus' victory over death.

So, as we continue forward to our own Jerusalem, let us remember that Jesus suffered as one of us and that his Resurrection at Easter is a promise to us, too.  Renew your efforts during this last week of Lent.  Listen closely next Sunday as the Passion is proclaimed.  Participate in the various Holy Week liturgies that follow it – if you can, go to the Chrism Mass on Tuesday; come experience the Lord’s Supper and the Washing of Feet on Holy Thursday; come venerate the Cross on Good Friday.  Fast and abstain when you can, and ponder the sacrifice that Jesus willingly took upon himself for us.  And when Easter morning comes, embrace the victory of Jesus over death and the Cross.  For at the end of our own journey, that victory is for us too.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Witnessing Something Majestic

Witnessing Something Majestic
Homily for February 25, 2018    2nd Sunday in Lent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Whenever I hear one of the passages on the Transfiguration, I have an immediate image of standing on Sunset Peak back in Idaho on a cool fall day.  On a clear day, you can see for hundreds of miles from its summit, including into Canada to the north and to Montana and Washington State to the east and west, respectively.  It’s a truly breath-taking view, but more on that in a minute.

The Transfiguration story is in all three of the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and we hear one or another of the versions at least 3 times a year, including this second Sunday of Lent and on the Feast of the Transfiguration in August.

Today’s version is fairly brief compared to the other two, but all three contain the basics – Jesus, Peter, James and John all climb a high mountain; the three disciples witness as Jesus changes in appearance before them and has an encounter with Moses and Elijah; they hear God the Father speak; and then it’s over and down the mountain they come.  In all three Gospels the event occurs about a week after Jesus first tells his disciples that he will go to Jerusalem to die.

What makes the Transfiguration so important to us today?  Especially during the Lenten season, what is God trying to tell us?

Often we think this passage is about how we need to transfigure ourselves. Especially during Lent, we work on efforts to become a better person, and so we use the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – to try and improve ourselves. Through our efforts we hope to become more Christ-like.

But that’s really not what the Transfiguration is about.  It’s not about US being transfigured; it’s about witnessing something that gives us hope.

I want to focus on 3 points of the story:

1.    The four CLIMBED to the top of the mountain.  Jesus might have led them, but they all had to make a considerable effort to get to the top. No ski lifts or gondola rides.  The disciples didn’t know what they were going to encounter once they reached the top, but they knew that Jesus was with them and they trusted that it was worth the effort.

2.    Once they reached the summit, they WITNESSED something so extraordinary that it left them in awe.  Jesus changed before them.  Or, more accurately, was TRANSFIGURED.  Jesus was still Jesus, but in that intimate encounter at the top, Peter, James and John experienced an aspect of Jesus that they hadn’t really experienced before, despite all of the miraculous signs he performed – an overwhelming sense of his divinity.

3.    Once the moment had passed, they still had to come down the mountain and RETURN to their day-to-day lives.  They themselves didn’t change and they didn’t know what they were going to face once they returned.  They weren’t even to share the experience with others until the right time - after the Resurrection.

Let’s go back to my mountaintop in Idaho for a minute. Sunset Peak is one of the highest mountains in the area, and it is home for radio repeater towers for all sorts of communications.  As such, there is sort of a road that leads up to the top, if you want to call it a road.  You don’t need a 4-wheel drive to get there, but you won’t be racing up it in your family Chevy, either.  The road drops off steeply on one side and goes straight up on the other.  If by chance you should meet a car coming from the other direction, well, better be ready to back up a way.  A long way.  The point is, it takes a fair amount of time to reach the summit, even in a vehicle, and it takes concentration and a desire to get to the top. 

Climb. The same is true of our spiritual journey in life.  Living our faith is often like climbing a steep mountain without really knowing what to expect at the end.  But the story of the Transfiguration reminds us that the higher we climb, the more the view is revealed to us.  And so we climb.

Once on top, the view is spectacular.  As I said, on a clear day you can see for hundreds of miles in all directions.  This particular fall morning was no exception.  It was a beautiful day, the cold air crystal clear in the early morning sun.  Standing on top like that helps you feel close to God, and the view is majestic.  In the movie “The Bucket List”, Morgan Freeman has as his #1 goal in life is to “Witness Something Truly Majestic”.  In his case, it was the Himalayas. Mine is Sunset Peak.

Witness.  In our spiritual journey we are often called not to do anything, but to be a witness to something truly majestic – the presence of Christ still alive in the world today.  And once we do, we are then called to share that witness when the time is right. Like my sharing my mountaintop experience with you today. Like my sharing my faith with you every Sunday.

Finally, there’s the journey down the mountain. As spectacular as the view was, I had to return to normal life.  This particular day the peak was above the fog bank that encircled the valleys below – you could not see anything at the bottom.  Mountain peaks poked out of the clouds like little islands in the middle of a frothy, foamy sea, and the road down led through it.  And so I had to focus on the road ahead as I came down, making sure that I didn’t lose my way.

Return.  Despite the closeness we feel to God at times when we are at Mass or in Adoration or even in our rooms in prayer, we still have to re-enter the secular world with all of its distractions and obstacles and temptations.  Even after witnessing the Transfiguration, the disciples still returned to arguing about who was the greatest and worrying about their day-to-day journey.  We, too, often fall back into our daily routines, forgetting those moments where we have witnessed the majestic presence of Christ in our lives.

Still, we should crave those AHA! moments where we can encounter Christ, even if they require extra effort on our parts to experience them.  That is why we resort to fasting and almsgiving and additional prayer during Lent – to prepare ourselves for that very special encounter, the witness of the Resurrection of Christ at Easter.

One final thought.  If you would really like to experience a Transfiguration moment – one where you can see the Divinity of Christ at work - I urge you to consider attending the upcoming men’s or women’s ACTS retreat.  The word “retreat” is sort of misleading, as ACTS is really more of an encounter with the living Christ present in the hearts and spirits of all who put on the retreat AND in those who attend it.  During your time there you will witness how God works in the lives of others and it will open your heart to His presence within you.  It is a truly transforming event.  Does it require you to “climb”? Certainly!  You have to be willing to take the time to attend.  If you think you are too busy and cannot take the time, then you’re one who needs it the most. 

Witnessing Jesus’ Divinity in the Transfiguration was a truly awesome experience for Peter, James and John.  As we progress through Lent, I pray that you too will have an awesome personal encounter with the Divinity of Christ.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Fishers or Sinners

Fishers or Sinners
Homily for January 21, 2018    3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

The calling of the first disciples is one of the few stories that can be found in one form or another in all four Gospels.  Last week we heard John’s version where Andrew and John were followers of St. John the Baptist and he pointed Jesus out to them, which led Andrew to bring  his brother Simon Peter to Jesus;  in Luke’s version there is a detailed interaction between Simon Peter and Jesus, with Jesus getting into Peter’s boat with him and Peter experiencing the miraculous catch of fish.  Both Matthew’s version and today’s version from Mark are briefer;  Jesus merely says to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” and they immediately drop everything and follow him.

Why is this calling so important that all four Gospels include a version of it?  Last week Fr. Szatkowski talked about the call to religious vocations, and indeed, with the call of our first Pope, St. Peter, that indeed is a significant message to us all, especially to the young men and women who are considering life as a priest or a member of a religious community.  But Jesus’ call is more than just a summons to future clergy and religious.  He is summoning each of us to become “fishers of men.”

I want to tell you a little story.  Fifteen years ago this month I made my first mission trip to Honduras and the Sunday Gospel was about this call.  Three years later, I went back and again, the Sunday Gospel was a version of this story.  Who knows?  Maybe that’s why I became a deacon?

In any case, on the first trip I was traveling with a priest friend of mine who, fortunately, spoke better Spanish than I did.  Better, but not perfect.  You see, he presided at the Mass and proclaimed the Gospel, and when he got to the part where Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men", which in Spanish is "Síganme y haré de ustedes pescadores de hombres" (forgive my Spanish), he said, "Síganme y haré de ustedes pecadores de hombres", which in English would be "Come after me, and I will make you sinners of men." 

Instead of Pescadores, or fishermen, he referred to the first Apostles as Pecadores, or sinners.

The local priest who concelebrated the Mass with him loved the slip of the tongue, and he used it all week long in his homilies to make a very important theological point – Jesus calls US – sinners – to become fishers of men.  Every one of us.

What would it take for you to abandon your livelihood and follow Jesus?  What was it about Jesus that drew people to Him?  This was at the beginning of his ministry – while in Luke’s version we see the “miracle” catch of fish, really at this point in Jesus’ ministry there are no real “signs” and wonders yet – none of the big stuff.  Yet in all four instances, those first called left everything to follow him.  In today’s Gospel, Peter and Andrew “abandoned” their nets and followed him.  James and John left behind parents and coworkers and followed him.

One thing is certain.  The early Christians believed Jesus when he said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel."  Gospel.  The Good News.  The GOOD news.

Good?  Jesus said this just after John the Baptist had been arrested and thrown into prison. Although Mark’s Gospel is considered the first of the four to be written down, remember that all of the Gospels were written after Jesus had been crucified, died, and had risen from the dead so the early Church had a pretty good idea of what would happen to them if they followed Jesus, and they did anyway.

Do you believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand today?  In our first reading, we hear how a pagan city – Ninevah – believed in a messenger from God – Jonah – that their “world”, their city would be destroyed in 40 days and, without even an “or else” to offer them hope, abandoned the status quo of their lives in the unspoken hope that God would save them.  Jonah didn’t even want to tell them – in a way we might think of the whale that swallowed Jonah as a “fish FOR men”?

The Kingdom of God IS at hand.  We are ALL called to be fishers of those people who are in need of the Good News.  We do not need to walk away from our families or livelihoods to proclaim the Good News – we can do it right where we are: to our children (or parents); to our friends; to our co-workers; to our neighbors.  Will it take sacrifice?  OF COURSE! While St. Paul may have seemed a little extreme in his letter to the Corinthians today, he is correct in that we must learn to place Jesus and his Good News as the priority of our lives.

One final thought.  Bishop Robert Barron, in a homily on John’s version of today’s message, said that it “offers a compelling meditation about the importance of Christ for the activities of the Church. Christians are meant to be fishers of men, but when we operate according to our own agendas and efforts we will catch nothing. We must act under the Lord's direction. If we follow Christ we will do great good indeed.”

Whether we are Pescadores or Pecadores, God has need of us.  And as pecadores, we have need of Him.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas
Homily for December 24, 2017    Fourth Sunday of Advent - B 
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the land,    People were worried, wringing their hands.
“What should I buy? What should I get?”
    Will my expectations of Christmas be met?
Mom in her apron, in a very foul mood,
    Worried about cooking: would there be enough food?
Dad, too, was cranky, showing ill-will,
    Worried about paying those big Christmas bills.
And the children were impatient – the girls and the boys,
    As they thought only of presents: the gifts and the toys.
But then what to my blood-shot eyes should appear,
    But an angel of God, with good tidings to share.
“A child will be born – he’s on his way,
    That if you will let Him, will change all your ways.”
“The gifts He brings are Joy, Mercy and Love,
    Sent by the King of Kings from above.”

Are you ready for Christmas?  Do you feel that Christmas came a little quick this year?  If so, maybe it’s because we were a bit short-changed this Advent.  A quick trivia question:  how long is Advent?  It’s a trick question, since it depends on the year.  While there are always 4 Sundays in Advent, this year, because Christmas falls on a Monday, we lose all of the week days that normally follow the 4th Sunday of Advent.  So we had only 22 days to prepare.  No wonder we might feel a bit rushed – do you think maybe Mary felt a little rushed when Jesus decided to be born while she and Joseph were traveling?

Today’s Gospel is about CHOICES – making decisions.  We heard this same passage a couple of days ago – the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to have a child.  We ponder it every time we say the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

It sounds like it was a command, but was it?  Did Mary have a choice?  Of course she did!  God has given all of us the gift of free will and Mary was no exception.  She could have said, “NO”.   But she didn’t, and her “FIAT” – her “YES” – started in motion a series of events which would forever change the world.  And although Gabriel told her about Jesus’ future kingship and his greatness, I’m sure that she had no idea of what her choice was going to mean to her or to the world.

When was the last time you made a decision that changed your life forever?  God presents us with choices both big and small every day.  We’ve all had to make them, and we do – sometimes we make good choices and sometimes, not so good.  Most of the time we do not know the impact of our decision until much later.  And even if we make the “right” choice, there can be consequences that, at least initially, we wish that we didn’t have to deal with.  But first and foremost, do we pray over our choices to seek and understand God’s will?  Are we willing, like Mary, to say, “May it be done to me according to your word.”?

Look at King David in the first reading.  David was a warrior; in his battles against the Philistines and others God was certainly with him and blessed him with his victories.  His kingdom was at peace and he himself was living a pretty good life.  And yet, his desire to build a house for the Lord was not what God had in mind.  God wanted David to understand that there was a bigger picture than what David could see, extending through future generations, and that there would be others who would also need to choose to follow God. 

God didn’t want David to build a house of wood to enclosed God; God Himself would build a house of faith to enclose David and his descendants.   David’s kingdom was only a prelude to something far greater to come.  As St. Paul said, it’s an ancient mystery to be revealed through Jesus Christ.  We must show through our actions – our choices – that we want to be part of God’s Kingdom.

That must be the goal of ALL of our choices today.  Choosing to follow God’s will is never easy.  One of the things that Advent is meant to do is to prepare us for making those choices in the future by reflecting on and seeking God’s will in the choices we have to make. 

As we prepare to celebrate the historical birth of Jesus, we must also prepare ourselves to be part of that greater Kingdom of Faith that Jesus proclaimed with his life.  Have you used Advent for that, or have you spent you Advent becoming frazzled in the preparations for the party instead of the guest of honor?

We will receive many gifts from God this Christmas, the most precious being the gift of Jesus still present today in the Eucharist.  And among the other gifts that we will receive this Christmas and throughout our lives are those that God has sent us through his Son – the gifts of Joy, Mercy and Love.

And so the Angel exclaimed, as he faded from view:
“Merry Christmas to all – to me and to You!”

I’ll see you all for Christmas.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What's Your Talent?

What's Your Talent?
Homily for November 19, 2017                                    33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

What’s a talent?  Today, when we hear the word “talent” we often think about exceptional artistic skills like painting or singing or playing the piano (none of which I possess), or physical skills like playing sports (which I don’t have, either).  And we like to showcase those abilities that we consider exceptional in shows or competitions.  For example, I’m sure many of you have seen or at least heard of the TV show “America’s Got Talent.”   I personally don’t watch it but go check out the YouTube videos of last season’s winner: Darci Lynne Farmer, a 13yr old Oklahoma girl who is a phenomenal singing ventriloquist.  And don’t forget our fascination with football – we’d say some football players have particular talents.  Too bad it doesn’t seem to be the Cowboys…

But as we hear in today’s Gospel in biblical times, a “talent” was a unit of measure usually used to weigh precious metals.  It varied between about 60 and 75 lbs, depending on the culture - Greek, Roman, Egyptian and so on – with Jewish tradition being on the higher end.  It was also the equivalent of about 3000 shekels, and a shekel was what some say was the equivalent of the average daily wage for the common laborer of the time.  So the one who received only one talent still received the equivalent of 10 years wages.  And with gold currently worth about $1300 an ounce, that means your average 10yr old child, who weighs about 70lbs, is worth about $1.5 million dollars today – if he or she was made of gold.

But whether or not we’re talking about talents as precious metals or talents being special skills or abilities, do we recognize that they are gifts from God?  They are.  And whether we have been blessed with financial success or a great voice or ability to play sports, it is up to us to cultivate that talent – for the glory of God.

In today’s Gospel, the Master gives his servants a ridiculously large sum of money to take care of, and then he just – leaves.  No instructions on how to use the talents, no instructions on how to invest them – he simply entrusts his servants with them.  And he leaves.

God has done the same thing with us, with one exception:  God has given us instructions on what needs to be done with the talents that he has entrusted to us, as in the parable of the sheep and the goats about the Works of Mercy and in the Beatitudes, even if he hasn’t given each of us individual instructions on just how to accomplish it.  That challenge has been left up to us.

What are your talents?  Do you have any hobbies?  What are you good at?  Have you ever taken inventory of ALL your skills, your resources – even the personal, fun ones?  These all make up YOUR talents.  We often don’t think that some of the things we are good at are of any value to others, but God has gifted you with all sorts of talents and each one is to be used, first and foremost, for building of the Kingdom of God.  Every one!  Trust me.  When I was being yelled at to be quiet as a kid, I would never have guessed that one of my most precious talents as a deacon would be my big mouth. 

One final thought.  Talents are meant to be nurtured and grown. Today’s Gospel ends with, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Whatever your talents – athletics, money, singing, whatever – if you do not use them FIRST for the Glory of God then no matter how successful you are, how famous you are, how rich you are – you’ve buried your talent in the earth.  And eventually, as all things buried in the earth, they will waste away and soon be of no value to you or anyone else.  Especially for you.