Sunday, July 23, 2017

What's In Your Hotdog?

What's In Your Hotdog?
Homily for July 23, 2017    16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s Gospel got me to thinking: what might Jesus liken the Kingdom of Heaven to today?  More specifically, what kind of food?  After all, Jesus often talked about food and eating in his parables.

I’ve decided that if Jesus was talking to us today, he might compare the Kingdom of Heaven to a – hotdog.  Seriously!  Just look at the three different metaphors he used to describe members of the Kingdom in today’s Gospel: as seeds of wheat, as mustard seeds, and as yeast.  All of them are ingredients in a good hotdog.

But before I go into details about a “good” hotdog, let’s look a little closer as to why Jesus used these three metaphors for members of the Kingdom.   And to do that, we need to understand a little about St. Matthew’s Gospel and the people that he was writing it for.  Many scholars believe that it was written sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and it was probably written in Antioch where the Church, initially strongly Jewish Christian, had become one in which Gentile Christians were predominant.  The persecutions they suffered for their faith were beginning to get serious, challenging their faith.  So Matthew reminds them that their persecutions should not be unexpected, and in fact he writes to strengthen them – to let them know not only what it meant to be a Christian but to give them hope.

Let’s begin with the wheat.  As wheat begins to grow, it is often hard to differentiate between it and the weeds that would grow up beside it.  Further, the plants could be so closely intertwined that if you tried to remove the weeds, you could end up hurting or destroying the wheat.  While it would have been common practice to “weed” the garden as the plants grew, it was better to nurture the wheat and then deal with the weeds at harvest time than risk losing the very crops you were trying to protect. 

So it was in the early Church.  The familiar relationships that the disciples had were changing, and they would be facing opposition from those closest to them – their business associates, their friends and even family members.  And they would have to make a choice – listen to those who would lead them astray, or to follow Jesus. 

But Jesus emphasized how valuable every person was to God his Father.  The first parable, then, is not only about the challenge of following Jesus in a society of conflicting values, but it is a lesson in tolerance of those who disagree with us and a warning about being judgmental, for it is for God to decide what are weeds as only He knows the true potential of every one of His children.

Next, we have the mustard seed.  According to early Roman scholars, it was estimated that Jerusalem had a population of between 600,000 and 1.1 million – roughly the size the of Dallas.  At Pentecost we hear about how a few thousand people joined the movement, but compared to the overall population it would be a drop in the bucket.  But Jesus was pointing out that even from such a small beginning, the Kingdom would continue to grow and expand until people from all parts of the world and from every walk of life – Jews and Gentiles – would find it desirable and seek it.  It was a promise that despite the smallness of their movement, if they persevered in faith the Kingdom would continue to grow and draw others to its shelter and comfort.

Finally, the yeast and the flour.  Three measures of flour is a LOT – according to the Bread Monk, it would make about 75 pounds of bread, or 52 standard loaves.  But bread, without yeast, is flat and relatively hard, and it is in the action of the yeast which causes it to rise and have the texture that we bread lovers come to appreciate. 

So it is in the Kingdom.  Just as yeast works to enlarge the dough, we too have a responsibility to work to expand the Kingdom – and even our smallest efforts can be used by God.  It is the 30, 60 or a hundredfold yield that we heard of in last week’s Gospel.

And so, the wheat, the yeast, and even the mustard all contribute to the nature of the hotdog.  But, to echo an old, old Wendy’s advertisement:  Where’s the Beef? After all, we all know that you cannot have a hotdog without meat, and the best hotdogs are made with beef.  So, what is at the heart of our hotdog?

It is Jesus himself.  For, just as you cannot have a hotdog without the meat, you cannot have the Kingdom of Heaven without Jesus.  Without Jesus, we’re just a hollow bun.

So, we need to ask ourselves – am I everything I need to be to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Am I Wheat, growing in my faith beside the weeds of the world, reaching up for the Son? Can others recognize that I am different than the weeds of the world?

Am I the Mustard which, through the color and aroma of my life, makes the Kingdom appear desirable to others? Or am I like salt that has lost its taste?

And, am I the Yeast, working to expand the Kingdom for others? Am I active in my faith every day and not just a spectator on weekends?

I’ve been called a “hotdog” before, but I’m not, not really.  There’s only one hotdog in my life.  It’s Jesus.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fear No One

Fear No One
Homily for June 25, 2017    12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks to his disciples about fear.  What are YOU afraid of?

I’m afraid of heights – and cruise ships.  When it comes to heights, I’ll do things to face the fear and overcome it – I’ll go up in tall buildings and lean over rails to look down, as long as I have something I can hold onto.  I know that some of the most spectacular views of God’s creation can only be seen from great heights.

But I don’t think you’ll ever get me on a cruise ship.  I remember being in Hawaii and walking along the shore with Rene’ and saw two of those monster ships docked side-by-side.  Just looking at them almost gave me a full-blown anxiety attack.  I can get sea-sick just watching a travelogue of a cruise – seriously.  And I know that it is all in my head.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is an “irrational and excessive fear” of an object or situation. In most cases, phobias involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm.  And depending on where you look on the Internet, 8 of the top 10 most common phobias include the fear of: Spiders, Snakes, Heights, Dogs, Thunderstorms, Flying, Germs, and Open Spaces which, ironically to me, includes Crowds. The remaining phobias would include either the fear of Small Spaces and of Holes, or the fear of needles or injections (which some would say is the same as “holes”), and social phobia, which includes the fear of public speaking.  (That’s not one of my phobias, by the way.)

My fear of cruise ships, however, didn’t make the top ten of either of the lists I checked. I wonder why?

In any case, the thing about phobias is not that someone is afraid of something, but that the fear becomes “excessive or irrational”.  So, is fear healthy for us?  What makes it irrational? 

Everyone is afraid of something – if you say you’re not afraid of anything, then you are either deluding yourself, or you are not living life rationally.  Fear is, or can be, a healthy emotion. We need to have fear in order to survive.  It is in how we face our fears that is important. If we allow them to paralyze us, to keep us from doing what is right, then they become irrational.

And there are two components to fear: being “scared” and being “afraid”.  I know it may seem like I may be splitting hairs, but in my mind there’s a difference between being “afraid”, and being “scared”. 

Being scared is the direct, involuntary emotional response to an unexpected event or situation that is imminent or has just occurred.  It triggers a rush of adrenalin resulting in physiological responses like a quickened heartbeat and rapid breathing, and which wears off once the situation has passed and the adrenalin has worn off.  We cannot directly control being scared.

Being afraid, on the other hand, usually concerns the anticipation of a known event or situation that is yet to come.  We know – or think we know – that something is coming, and we don’t want to deal with it when it does.  But we don’t know for sure.  Where there is an immediacy associated with being scared, being afraid often begins long before anything has happened. 

And the biggest component of fear is being afraid.  But unlike being scared, we can manage and control how we handle being afraid.  How?

H.P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”  The secret to controlling fear then is to control the unknown.  Or, at least to know and understand what it is about it that causes us to fear. 

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  It’s not about “what” we fear, but “who” we fear.  And that reaches beyond our earthly fears and phobias.

Jesus said, “Fear No One.” … “(D)o not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”  Today’s Gospel is about fulfilling the mission of the Church – our Mission – to proclaim the Good News to all, despite whatever dangers may make us afraid.   In a sense, we could say that today’s Gospel is about overcoming our “social phobia”, our fear of speaking out in public about our faith.

Are you afraid of proclaiming the Good News?  Jesus said to “speak in the light; proclaim on the housetops.” If you’re looking for a way to start, there’s a national group on Facebook called the “St. Paul Street Evangelization” – no relation our parish or our wonderful St. Paul Evangelists ministry – that goes out in various cities, including Dallas, and who proclaim the Gospel message in a non-confrontational way every week.  If they can do it, why not you?

If not on the streets, do you at least proclaim your faith to those closest to you?  No?  Who are you afraid of?  A co-worker?  A neighbor?  A member of your family?

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”.  If we are truly Christians; if we truly trust in God and the promises that His Son, Jesus, made to us, then why should we be afraid?

FDR said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." 

Do not be afraid.  Trust in God, and share His Good News.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Believe in One God...

I Believe in One God...
Homily for June 11, 2017   The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Every religion has difficult theological concepts associated with them, and that can be especially true for us Catholics.  At least we usually identify them with often large and cryptic words – like “consubstantial” and “trans-substantiation”, – to show that we know that they are hard to understand.  But we also use simple words sometimes to describe difficult or complex concepts.  Take the word: TRINITY.

Trinity seems like a simple word – by definition it’s a group of three closely-related things.  And yet, when we use it in reference to God, it becomes – mysterious.  We use the word TRINITY to show that we believe in a Triune God – One God, Three Persons.  Most non-Christian religions say that we are either poly-theistic – we believe in multiple gods – or that we’re a bit schizophrenic and out of touch with reality.  It can be a hard concept to fully grasp.

So let’s see how many of you remember your Baltimore Catechism?

Q: What do you mean by the Blessed Trinity? 
A: By the Blessed Trinity we mean One (1) God in Three (3) Divine Persons.

Q: Are the Three Divine Persons equal in all things? 
A: The Three (3) Divine Persons are equal in all things.

Q: Can we fully understand how the Three Divine Persons are One and the Same God?
A: We CANNOT fully understand how the Three Divine Persons are One and the Same God, because this is a Mystery. 

It reminds me of the story of the Bishop who was questioning a bunch of kids for confirmation. He kept asking the class, “What is the Trinity? Does anyone here know what the Trinity is?”  Finally, a little girl went over to him and whispered in his ear, “It’s OK, Bishop, if you don’t know.  It’s supposed to be a mystery.”

So, let’s see how others have tried to explain this “mystery”. 

Let’s start with Athanasius of Alexandria in the 4th century.  He said, “And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. … And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite.”  This was part of his “Creed”, which was later used to fight the 6th century heresy of Arianism.  Clear? No?

Then how about St. Augustine?  He spent over 30 years around the beginning of the 5th century working his treatise, De Trinitate, about the Holy Trinity. (I’m afraid I don’t have that much time today.)  There’s a story told about his encounter with boy on a beach: He was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.  Augustine approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”  “I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.  “But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water,” said Augustine. The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”

Then there’s St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of all time.  He wrote the “Summa Theologica”, better known as simply, “The Summa”, which is still one of the most important theological texts in use today.  He held that the truths of the Trinity cannot be demonstrated by any means in metaphysics as they are purely truth of God’s revelations.  It is said that just before the end of his life, while he was celebrating Mass, he received a revelation from God that caused him to quit working on the Summa.  When asked why, he simply stated that, what he had seen in the revelation made his “writings like so much straw.”

I understand his feelings.  Reading his stuff makes my head hurt, too.

But just as Jesus used parables to explain difficult ideas, I like to use analogies.

In his book “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis devotes a complete section to the Trinity.  In it he uses geometry as a model for understanding, comparing how a three-dimensional object, with sides that are distinct from each other, are still one object.

St. John Maria Vianney used to explain Holy Trinity using lighted candles and roses on the altar and water in the cruets. “The flame has color, warmth and shape. But these are expressions of one flame. Similarly, the rose has color, fragrance and shape. But these are expressions of one reality, namely, rose. Water, steam and ice are three distinct expressions of one reality. In the same way one God revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”

I personally like the analogy of the water, ice and steam – even if some apologists on Catholic Radio tend to look upon it with disdain.

And there is always St. Patrick and the legends of his use of the Shamrock to explain the Trinity to pagan warlords of Ireland.

The Trinity IS a mystery.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith".

I think that the doctrine of the Trinity can be summed up in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus instructs the apostles to: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Not in the name of the Father and in the name of the Son and the name of the Holy Spirit.  Not three gods.  One God, Three Persons.

And this was so important to the Early Church that it was the core of the Sacrament of Baptism as described in the Didache, one of the earliest known liturgical documents, written some 30 years after the Resurrection: "After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. . . . If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

The mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of Community, as we heard Father David tell us last week.  “Then God said: Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness.” 

C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity”, states:  “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that "God is love," But they seem not to notice that the words "God is love" have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love. Of course, what these people mean when they say that God is love is often something quite different: they really mean "Love is God."

Today’s Gospel begins with what may be the most-quoted verse from the Bible – John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  God gave Himself to us as the Son, and continues to give us Himself as the Holy Spirit.

I will end with this final quote of C.S. Lewis:  “If you think of the Father as something "out there," in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you.”

The Trinity IS a mystery.  But it is also a REALITY.  Don’t hurt your head trying to fully understand it – have faith.  Last week, we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit into us.  God is present to us today – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Come, let us adore HIM.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Look Up!

Look Up!
Homily for May 28, 2017    The Ascension of the Lord - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Ever try standing in the street or a public place and just stare up into the sky or at the ceiling while people walked by?  Maybe shade your eyes with your hands?  Sooner or later you’ll get others to stop and look up, trying to see what it is that you find so interesting.  That’s when as kids we’d laugh and say, “Ha, ha – made you look.”

I bet that even now, if I just stopped and stared hard at the ceiling and said nothing, some of you would get the irresistible urge to look.  In fact, I mentioned this during Mass a couple of years ago and shortly after Mass I received a photo from a family showing their three kids staring at the ceiling in a restaurant.  They were surprised at the number of people who would stop and stare with the kids.  The kids thought it hilarious.

Why do we do that? We can’t help it - we are curious creatures.  We are just dying to see what others see – we don’t want to be left out.  In fact, we can get so caught up in trying to see something that we miss what else is going on around us.

That’s the image I get of the Ascension from our first reading from Acts – all of the disciples are standing around, staring at the sky, and they don’t even notice when two men dressed in white come up to them. “Uh, whatcha staring at?  There’s nothing there anymore.”

But have you noticed that although we as Church celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, the Gospels themselves say very little about the event itself.  Take today’s Gospel from Matthew.  It doesn’t say that Jesus ascended; it only says that the disciples go to the mountain to which Jesus ordered them to go, and he gives them their marching orders to continue his work. 

St. Mark mentions the Ascension almost as an afterthought: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.” 

St. John’s Gospel doesn’t even include the Ascension directly, although he refers to it in depth:  first in his Bread of Life discourse, when he tells his disciples that, if they have trouble accepting that one has to eat of the flesh of the Son of Man for eternal life, then “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”.  And later, during his Last Supper Discourse, he talks about having to leave them in order to send the Advocate to be with them:  “it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you”, which sets the stage for Pentecost next week.

And although we get the most detail about the Ascension from St. Luke’s description in the Acts of the Apostles, his Gospel account makes it sound as if Jesus ascended shortly after his Resurrection. 

So why don’t we hear more about the Ascension in the Gospels?  Because the Early Church didn’t need it – they already knew it.  It was part of the fundamental teaching to those being introduced to Jesus and it was never a question in their minds.  We see that in St. Paul’s letters, like the one from Ephesians that we just heard:  “[I]n accord with the exercise of [God’s] great might, which He worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens” It was then, and still is, integral to our profession of faith in the Apostles’ Creed:  “He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”.  It has always been core to our beliefs.

But the Ascension is more than just an event where Jesus sails away from us into the clouds.  The Ascension is a turning point for our lives today, just as it was for Jesus’ disciples 2000 years ago.  It was the signal to prepare for action.  For three years prior to His death and Resurrection, Jesus did the heavy lifting of proclaiming the Good News; with the Ascension it became time for his disciples to take over.  In today’s readings we just heard St. Mark say that the disciples went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them; St. Paul talked about the different roles that were assigned to the disciples by the Lord; and St. Luke told them that they would be witnesses to the ends of the earth.  Marching orders for His disciples.

That’s US.  WE’RE His disciples today.  It is up to us, as the master composer Puccini said to his students as he was dying, to “complete the opera” that he was working on.  We must pick up where Jesus left off, for it is in us and through us that Jesus continues to live.

Now, next week we will celebrate Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit.  We each have received the Holy Spirit through our baptisms and in Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit continues to work through us.  We will be reminded of that next week, as will all those who, in the various parishes around the world, receive the sacrament of Confirmation.  We have received our marching orders, now we must act.

One final thought.  When Jesus “left” the disciples the first time at his crucifixion, they were left afraid and sad, uncertain about their future.  But when Jesus “left” the second time through his Ascension, they were no longer afraid or sad, but joyous and celebratory, even though they had not received the Holy Spirit at that point and, as we hear today, still had their doubts, just like many of us. 

The difference?  With the Resurrection, they saw that they did not need to fear death, they knew the love of Jesus and it was through that love that their joy was complete.  At Pentecost, they were ready for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit then gave them the tools, the skills – the graces – they needed to proclaim the Gospel.

So between now and next Sunday, I encourage you to pray to the Holy Spirit for the gifts and graces that the Spirit, dwelling in you, has already given to you, and for the strength to allow the Spirit to work through you, drawing others to God.

And remember: The secret of evangelization isn’t to tell others that they need to change; it is in living a life that gets them to “look up”.

(based on a homily published May 2015)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Miracle-Worker

The Miracle-Worker
Homily for May 14, 2017    5th Sunday Easter - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

First, Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Mothers, Grandmothers, Great-Grandmothers, Soon-To-Be Mothers, Single Mothers, Mother Figures who care for the children of others, and Mother Surrogates – that’s single men who are both Father and Mother to their children.

And let’s not forget to include our Heavenly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We often hear that Jesus gave his mother to us when he said to John as he stood at the foot of the cross, “Here is your mother”, but Jesus also made his mother responsible for us, when he told Mary, “Woman, behold, your son.” 

The various Marian apparitions which have occurred over the centuries show us a mother’s love and care for her children.  She comes, not because she was invited by us to come, but because as our mother she is watching over us and she comes to us, uninvited, out of love; to instruct us, to guide us – to warn us – as only a mother can.

This weekend marks the 100th Anniversary of the first appearance of our Heavenly Mother to three children at Fatima: LĂșcia Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto.  In his homily for the canonization of Jacinta and Francisco, Pope Francis said, “Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures.  Such a life – frequently proposed and imposed – risks leading to hell.” 

How many times have we heard our earthly mothers warn us of the consequences of bad choices in our own lives?

So this Mother’s Day, let us all say a Rosary to the Blessed Virgin for her intercession on behalf of all the mothers in our lives.  And, remember, Our Lady of Fatima asked for daily recitation of the rosary for peace and the conversion of the godless.  Saying the Rosary has brought about miracles in the past; Our Lady’s message was a call to action then and is still a call to action now.  Which brings us to today’s Gospel.

It ends with Jesus telling his disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these..."

Jesus’ works – what made them “great”?  Jesus said we’d do greater things than he did - what could be “greater” than the miracles he did?

The Gospels list 35 specific miracles, or “great works” of Jesus, and they indirectly refer to others.  These “works” can be divided into 4 main categories:

    Healing Miracles
    Restoration Miracles
    Nature Miracles

There are also many instances of “miracles” performed by his disciples.

Do we believe that we too can perform miracles?  Why not?  Do we think that those who followed Jesus back then were somehow “better” than us in some way?  Maybe we just need to change our focus a little.  In order to be a “miracle-worker”, we need to have faith.  And if we have faith, then we should make serving God a priority in our life.

Our first reading shows that things today aren’t really so different than the very beginnings of the Church.  They had issues in caring for one another.  “As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”

The Church’s response?  “Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men.

How often do we joke and say that we are not reputable people, therefore it can’t be us that are being called.  When Stephen and the others were selected, do you think any of them said, “I’m too busy right now, pick someone else”?

How do I know what God is calling me to do?  By listening with your heart to those who call upon you – beginning with your Church community.  The Church cannot do it alone – and neither can you.  Last week, Arnold Schwarzenegger said while delivering a commencement speech at the University of Houston:

“This is so important for you to understand. I didn’t make it that far on my own. I mean, to accept that credit or that mantle would discount every single person that has helped me to get here today — that gave me advice, that made an effort, that gave me time, that lifted me when I fell. It gives the wrong impression that we can do it alone. None of us can. The whole concept of self-made man, or woman, is a myth.” … “You’ve got to help others. Don’t just think about yourself.”

The last several Sundays we have been short ushers, EM’s, even altar servers.  And within the last couple of weeks, you should have received a list of other volunteer opportunities at St. Paul’s and a request for participation in our upcoming stewardship drive.  These are not low-priority might-do’s – these are "must-do's" - the things that are necessary from you in order that we, as Church, can continue to bring God’s message of love and mercy to the world – and especially to each other.

And, when you tell yourself that you are too busy or too poor or too overwhelmed to give any more of yourself, remember that God can work miracles through you.  In the words of the Reverend Phillips Brooks (and quoted by both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Donald J. Trump):

“O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.”

You can be a miracle-worker. Be one!  Do not be afraid.  Ask God for Strength, for Courage, for Wisdom.  And let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Mother – Pray for Us.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faith and Mercy

Faith and Mercy
Homily for April 23, 2017    Sunday of Divine Mercy Sunday / 2nd Sunday Easter - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Would those of you who are NOT sinners, please stand up?  I’d sit down but there isn’t a chair up here.  Just as I thought.

I don’t think that any of us got up this morning thinking, “I think I’ll go out and sin today – I wonder which one I should pick?”  And those of you who have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s video series on the Seven Deadly Sins  knows there’s plenty to choose from.

But I think we can agree that, even if we’ve been to Confession recently, it doesn’t change the fact that sooner or later, we’ll find ourselves at the wrong end of the spectrum of holiness.  Jesus warned of this, as we heard last week when he told Peter in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest:  “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Mt 26:41)

It’s not that we don’t want to be good; even those of us who battle addictions or other compulsive behaviors don’t want to sin, per se, but we know it is a daily battle to resist temptations and we will often fail.  St. Paul, the patron of our parish, tells us in his letter to the Romans:  “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. ... The willingness is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."  (Rom 7:17-20)

So, what are we to do?  If Jesus says that by my nature I’m weak in the face of temptation and Paul tells me that I’m prone to sin even when I don’t want to, then am I doomed?  It seems that every time I fail to overcome the temptations I face, I crawl deeper and deeper into a hole of depression and despair – that sense that nobody loves me, even God.  Especially God.

I hear that cynical little inner voice of Satan say to me: “You’re hopeless.  You’re worthless.  Why bother?  God won’t forgive you this time.”

It’s a lie.

The words and actions of Jesus during the three years of His ministry – His compassion toward those who suffered or were rejected, who thought that they were cursed by God – and His admonition to others to care for the least of their neighbors – show just how much God loved us.  For “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

God Loves Us.  All of Us.  Even those of us who fail in our efforts to avoid sin.  God Loves Us.  We celebrated the ultimate proof of that love during Holy Week and Easter, as we were witnesses once again to Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  St. John says that the disciples have locked themselves away out of fear of the world and, I’m sure, because they are ashamed of their lack of faith in Jesus.  They’ve heard that he’s alive.  Mary Magdalene told them.  Cleopas and the other traveler who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus told them. 

It reminds me of the story of what Mary Magdalene said to Peter after the Resurrection:  “I have some good news, and some bad news.  The good news is that Jesus is Alive!  The bad news is – he wants to talk to you.”

Isn’t that how we feel when we’ve done something wrong?  Aren’t we afraid to “face the music”?  We hide and avoid others because, when we meet those we’ve hurt, we have to face our sin; share their pain – the pain which we may have directly or indirectly caused by our own actions or inactions.  We’re afraid because we are human and they are human and we know how we might react when someone hurts us.

But God isn’t like that.  Jesus isn’t like that.  Today we celebrate the Sunday of Divine Mercy, a day to remember that God is Love and God is Infinite Mercy.  By the way, the story of Sr. Faustina and her encounters with Jesus as the source of Divine Mercy is fascinating and I encourage you to explore her story.

For it is through God’s Mercy, promised through Christ’s resurrection, that we can find the strength to start each day in faith, knowing that despite our weaknesses and failings, He is there to forgive us and to give us strength to, as St. Peter said, to suffer through various trials we must endure.  We should not be presumptuous in our expectations; but we should be humbled in knowing that God is there for us. 

And we have been given the ultimate gift of healing for whenever we do fail – the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  For even if we sin seventy times seven times – in other words, almost daily – as long as we strive to follow in faith our Lord Jesus, God will be there to heal us.  He waits for us to overcome our fears and to turn to Him so that He can heal us of the injuries we have caused ourselves. 

Both Peter and Judas showed remorse at what they did to Jesus; Peter’s sin really was no less serious than Judas because Peter SWORE to Jesus that he would always be there for him, and then betrayed him 3 times.  But Judas allowed his fear – his lack of faith – to drive him into despair to the point of suicide. 

Peter, on the other hand, rushed to inspect the empty tomb; although afraid, he waited with his fellow Apostles for Jesus to come to them, and he even jumped out of the boat AGAIN when he heard that it was Jesus on the shore calling to them.

Today’s Gospel ends with Thomas exclaiming, “My Lord and My God!”  Jesus’ reply, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."   All we have to do is to have faith.

And just because we acknowledge that we are sinners doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to be saints.  St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians said, “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.”  God doesn’t ask us to be perfect; only that we be faithful. 

So, if we remember only one thing today, let it be that God’s Mercy is Infinite – that there is no sin too great that God will not forgive, if we will only ask Him in faith.  And whenever we are overcome by fears, doubts, or lack of faith, let us echo the prayer taught to us by Sr. Faustina:

Jesus, I Trust in You.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Uncertainty of Death

The Uncertainty of Death
Homily for April 2, 2017    5th Sunday Lent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

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 paying 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 eventually 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.

It 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 Lazarus.

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 but, as he had cured many people, maybe they thought he’d do the same thing remotely. After all, Lazarus lived near Jerusalem and the Jews there wanted to stone him.  Who’d blame him for staying where he was?

But Lazarus died. 

It can be hard to imagine the pain and grief that Mary and Martha was 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 the loss of a job; the loss of house and home through a natural disaster or other catastrophic event; 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; 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 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?"

Their sobbing reflects the intensity of 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 person's pain or joy; it is the ability to understand and SHARE their feelings, especially the 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 so He Wept.

In his book, “A Grief Observed”, well-known author C.S. Lewis records his 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 how he ultimately returned to his 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 that 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 are meant to remind us of God’s love for us and His promise that death isn’t an end for us.

There will be the dawn of an Easter morning for each of us.