Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hard of Hearing

Hard of Hearing
September 9, 2018    23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Do you know someone that is deaf?  We all know someone. Oh, I don’t mean someone who is hard of hearing, although we all know people like that, too.  I’m referring to those who haven’t heard or understood the Word of God and who either don’t think they need God or are afraid to admit that they do.  It may be a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend or the parent of one of your children’s friends.  It may even be your own child.  Your spouse.  Maybe it is – you.

I think that we all are hard of hearing at times.  There are even times that we could hear if we wanted to, but we choose not to listen.  I like to tell the story of my dad, who punctured an ear drum when he was young. As he grew older he had more and more trouble hearing what people were saying unless they were directly in front of him, and it led to an increasing tendency to argue with others – or to shut them out.  Especially my mom.

I remember once when Rene’ and I were visiting my parents.  They were having a fairly heated argument over something that had happened years earlier and I realized that they were arguing about two entirely different things – my dad misunderstood what my mom was saying and she in turn thought he was talking about something entirely different.  It was a weird conversation.

So my siblings and I tried to get him to try hearing aids, but we were unsuccessful until my mom had a stroke.  After that, my dad became her round-the-clock caregiver and I guess it made him reconsider and get a set.  To my surprise, the arguments decreased dramatically.  One day I asked him if he liked his hearing aids and he said, “Oh yes, they’re a big help.  Now, when I don’t want to listen to someone, I just smile at them and turn them off.”

I think we’re like that with our faith sometimes.  When someone says something to us that we don’t want to hear, we just turn them off or tune them out.  Maybe it’s because we’re comfortable where we are and don’t want to change.  Maybe it’s because what we’re hearing challenges our status quo.  Maybe it’s because that, despite our knowing that our lives would be better in the long run, we’re afraid to face the unknown that change would bring.  So, what do we do when we or those we love are afraid to come to Jesus?

In today’s Gospel, once again we see that it is a person’s friends who bring him to Jesus. Just like the paralytic that was lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus was staying.  Just like the blind man at Bethsaida. Why?

They recognize that Jesus has the power to perform miracles.  The poetic language used in the first reading from Isaiah – how the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be cleared; the tongue of the mute will sing – is a recurring theme used in the Old Testament to describe the power of God and how He will always have mercy on those who seek Him.  Jesus’ actions with the deaf-mute confirms that He indeed has the power and authority of God, that He possesses the attributes of God as described in the Old Testament of He who will come to save His people.

So if the man’s friends recognize who Jesus is, why doesn’t the man come by himself?

•    Maybe it’s because they know something he doesn’t – they’ve heard about Jesus or heard Him themselves and believe in Him.
•    Maybe it’s because he’s embarrassed by his speech impediment and didn’t want to be ridiculed.  Think of how many times people have made fun of those who spoke funny.
•    Maybe it’s because he’s afraid to come forward since deafness was thought to be a punishment from God for sin.

In any case, he needs to be persuaded to come to Jesus.  Unlike the blind man or the paralytic, the deaf-mute can see Jesus – he can see the way to come to him, but still he won’t come by himself.  He needs help, and the help comes from his friends.  The man doesn’t ask for help; again, it is his friends that begged Jesus to heal him.  They obviously see past whatever faults he might have and think that he is important enough to help.

Which brings us to the Letter of St. James.  Do you want to go to heaven?  James is cautioning his community to be careful when choosing who we help, who we show preference to.  I think it becomes a question of priorities.  It isn’t that we shouldn’t have friends, for as we just heard it is their friends that brought those in need to Jesus.  But we must be seeking those who are in need of Jesus and then work at bringing them to Him, even when they are reluctant to come themselves.  I don’t mean to force them, but we must be persuasive enough to convince them how much they need Jesus in their lives.  James points out that God chooses those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to all of us who love Him.  Shouldn’t we be looking for those who are the ones we will be spending eternity with?

Are we?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Real Presence Within Us

The Real Presence Within Us
August 19, 2018    20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

“Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” 

These opening words from today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are as true today as they were almost 2,000 years ago.  And they are a common theme in Paul’s letters as seen in his words to the Colossians: 

 “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” (Col 4:5)

While the world of today is no more evil than during the time of Jesus, it isn’t any less evil, either.  And with 2,000 years of Christianity under our belt, you’d think that we would be wiser today than those first Christians in the early days of the Church, but we’re not.  Not really.  We fail to take advantage of the opportunities to live our faith for bettering the world around us.  I don’t mean that we aren’t charitable to those causes that we deem worthy of our resources, but we are often arrogant, disrespectful, judgmental, hostile, antagonistic, vengeful and insensitive toward others, especially with those we disagree with or find fault with.  In other words, we are human.  We are sinners.

And we cannot overcome our shortcomings without the Wisdom of God through His Holy Spirit.

All three of today’s readings points to man’s need for Wisdom, and equates it to the most fundamental of human needs – food and drink.  Just as the human body cannot function unless it receives nourishment and will eventually die without it, our souls need spiritual nourishment in order to survive.  That spiritual nourishment is personified in the form of Wisdom.  We often call her the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom isn’t Knowledge.  We can study and learn all the secrets of the universe from a scientific perspective, but do any of them help us in making the most of the opportunities that God presents us for the salvation of souls, especially our own?  With all of our science and technology, are we any “wiser” in how we should behave when dealing with others? 

If not, then what is this Wisdom that Scriptures are speaking to us about, and where does it come from? 

I recommend that when you go home tonight that you take a couple of minutes to read Proverbs Chapter 8, which is the Discourse on Wisdom.  In it you will see how the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are reflected in and flow from Wisdom – such as Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Strength, and Prudence.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel passage from St. John’s Bread of Life discourse.  The Jews have been given an opportunity to dine on the feast of Wisdom shared by Jesus but they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts toward Him and so, upon hearing Jesus speak of being the living bread come down from heaven, cannot understand the significance of what he is telling them.  Next week we will hear the conclusion of the Bread of Life discourse and how even many of those who followed Jesus, who saw His wondrous signs and fed upon His life-sustaining words, rejected them and so they too turn their back on Wisdom.  Sadly, we too often reject God’s Wisdom.

Proverbs 8 ends with this promise and warning:

Now, children, listen to me; happy are they who keep my ways.  Listen to instruction and grow wise, do not reject it!  Happy the one who listens to me, attending daily at my gates, keeping watch at my doorposts; for whoever finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD; but those who pass me by do violence to themselves; all who hate me love death.” (Prov 8:32-36)

Therein lies the challenge for our lives today.  As Paul warns us, “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Are we making the most of the opportunities present to us?   When we receive the Eucharist, are we then taking that presence of Jesus into the world according to His Will in a manner that combats the evil that exists around us? 

When we receive the Holy Spirit present to us in the Eucharist, it needs to change our attitudes, our behaviors, and our very presence to all those we encounter. We must be willing to bless the LORD at all times with His praise always in our mouths and on our lips, and we should let our souls glory in the Lord so that those who are marginalized, who are suffering, who are blind or deaf to God can see and hear our joy and rejoice with us.

We seek eternal life.  To get it, we must live in a manner that shows, as St. Paul tells us, that it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us.

And every Sunday, when we receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, we renew Christ’s presence in our body. So as we go forth from Mass and encounter the evil of the world, let us be wise and make use of every opportunity God has presented us with to share His love, knowing that He is in us and we in Him.

The Song of Mary

The Song of Mary
August 15, 2018  Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – (ABC)
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Each year for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary we listen to this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel which contains the prayer known as Mary’s Magnificat.   Latin for "[My soul] magnifies [the Lord]"), it is a canticle, or a hymn or other song of praise taken from scriptures or other holy texts.  It is also known as the Song of Mary, the Canticle of Mary or the Ode of the Theotokos – the Mother of God.  It is recited daily by all who pray Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, especially by clergy and religious. 

And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name…”

Why would Mary respond to Elizabeth’s greeting with this song?  I think the answer in part lies in the question that Elizabeth asked her: And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

There is so much that comes to us through Elizabeth’s one simple question which can be summed up as “why me?”  Elizabeth knows that something extraordinary is happening to her again – the first time was when she conceived her son, St. John the future Baptist, and the prophecies that were associated with his conception.  This time she recognizes that through Mary, her cousin, God is once again at work in her – Elizabeth’s – life.  She feels the movement of the child within her womb in response to the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.

And the song which Mary sings in response to that question is an explosion of joy which comes from the glory and grace which fills her womb.  Mary isn’t bragging about the fact she was chosen from all possible mothers for Jesus; rather, she is excited that God is fulfilling the promises made to ALL of Israel throughout the generations by God through the prophets.  Just like Hannah when she prayed with Eli after the birth of Samuel, both mothers know that God is alive and active in the world by what He will do through them, not just for them. 

The Magnificat is more than just a prayer by a blessed and holy young mother-to-be.  We too are called to proclaim this prayer every day of our lives.  Each line reminds us that we are also blessed by God beyond all measure.  As we look at each line, we should substitute ourselves as the proclaimer:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

We are all lowly servants for God.  While Mary is, as stated by St. Augustine, the first disciple and a model for us all, we too are His disciples and should rejoice that He favors us with His love and mercy.

From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name.

We recognize in the lives of all the holy men and women we call “saints” that we too have the opportunity to be a blessing to those around us.  From the moment of our birth we have been blessed with the gift of life and the freedom to choose to serve Him in glory.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

While we may face trials and tribulations in this short span of our earthly existence, we know that His Mercy is there to support us and strengthen us if we just call upon Him.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever."

His Mercy is not just for a select few.  It is for all of us, for those who came before us, and for our children and those who come after us.  God is alive and active in the world even today, and for all eternity.

The Assumption, which we celebrate today, confirms this pledge to us. As Mary, through the Assumption, gives us a glimpse of our own future of hope, her continued presence in the world today also shows us that we too can expect wonderful things from God when the time comes for us to join Mary in Heaven.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

When God Says "No."

When God Says "No."
Homily for July 8, 2018    14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Last Sunday’s Gospel recounted a couple of extraordinary healings, and Fr. Szatkowski asked us the question: how strong is your faith?  In fact, in almost all of the healings recorded in the Gospels, Jesus states that it is because of the faith of the person or those with them that not only were they healed, but that they were saved.  The power of God is revealed through our faith.

But, how’s your faith when things don't go as desired or prayed for?

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is one of my favorite passages of the New Testament, for I too have my personal demons and trials that I continue to struggle against..  By now in his ministry, Paul has been around for quite a while and he has witnessed many, many wondrous signs that God has worked through him, and yet he is still suffering from something serious enough that he has asked God three times to take it away.  Not just asked; he begged for it to leave him. He even equates his problems as coming straight from Satan himself.

And God said, “No.”

It reminds me of the story in the Bible about King David.  After he was been told by the prophet Nathan that his first son by Bathsheba was going to die, David pleaded with God to spare the child. He fasted and slept in sack cloth for seven days, but still the child died.  His servants were afraid to tell him, but after hearing the news David cleaned up and went to worship God.  When his servants asked him about the change, he replied, “While the child was living, I fasted and wept, thinking, ‘Who knows? The LORD may grant me the child’s life.’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  Even when faced with the death of his son, David had faith that the boy was with God and that he would see the boy again.

Isn’t that the real challenge to our faith?  Remaining faithful even when things don’t go as we hope, despite our storming the heavens with our prayers?  Especially when we’ve bathed the earth with our tears, when our hearts are shredded with grief, and it seems that God either doesn’t hear us or, worse, tells us “No”?  It’s enough to rock anyone’s faith, especially when we see in Jesus’ own words to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Mt 7: 7).  How are we to respond when Jesus says “all that you ask for in prayer; believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours” (Mark 11:24) and then it doesn’t happen?

Today I want to talk about three important points for keeping the faith when God says, “No”:  Purpose, Prayer and Play.  To do that, let me introduce you to three of my favorite writers whose lives have given me insight into these points:  Dr. Viktor Frankl, Jennifer Hubbard and Mattie Stepanek.

First, Viktor Frankl.  Born in 1905, Frankl was a noted Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist before being imprisoned by the Germans and sent to the concentration camps during World War II.  He survived four separate camps before he was freed at the end of the war, but endured almost every atrocity imaginable in the camps short of execution.  He lost his wife and daughter to the Holocaust along with most of his extended family except for one sister.  But he did survive, and his book, “Man's Search for Meaning” originally published in 1946 in German as: “Nevertheless, Say "Yes" to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp” chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living.  He developed a form of therapy called “Logotherapy”, often referred to as the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy".  It can be used to restore meaning to one’s life after suffering a tragic event.

His book is still popular (I just finished reading it – it only took about 3 days and I could hardly put it down.)  In his review of the book, Benjamin McEvoy stated that he learned 7 key lessons on life. My understanding of them are:

1.    He who has a “why” to live for - a reason - can bear almost any “how” that happens.
2.    The salvation of man is through love and in love, and God is Love.
3.    You can get used to anything - I've seen what people endure in 3rd world countries..

4.    You can resist your environment’s influence. Your environment doesn't define YOU.
5.    There is meaning in suffering - Catholics call it "redemptive suffering".
6.    Without hope, meaning, and a future, death will come soon. One needs a purpose.
7.    Logotherapy - the construction of a future for oneself – can be used to restore one’s sense of purpose in life.

It is all about choice – you cannot choose the conditions you are presented with, but you can choose on how you respond to them.  That is one of God’s greatest gifts and a measure of our humanity – the freedom to choose to live life oriented toward a higher goal despite the evil which surrounds us.  Man is the only creature so gifted by God that is able to do so.

The second person I would refer you to is Jennifer Hubbard.  I frequently mention her when I talk with groups about faith because I find her so inspiring in the face of what she has gone through.  The younger of her two children, Catherine Violet, was 6 years old when she was murdered during the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, 2012.

Hubbard is a frequent contributor to “Magnificat”, a pocket-sized missalette with daily readings, reflections, and other spiritual writings that is published monthly.  There is usually an article from her each month and I find her brief spiritual writings inspirational and thought-provoking.  She once said to the Catholic News Agency during an interview in 2016 on the power of prayer that, “We’re all going to face trials; we’re all going to face tragedies. My tragedy was my daughter being murdered. Someone else’s tragedy could be the doctor who says the cancer is no longer treatable.” … “When you are intimate with that darkness, prayer turns your attention to God in allowing this peace to settle on your soul, despite whatever chaos is circling around you.”  Her faith remains steadfast to this day.

But the most inspiring person for me is a young boy named Mattie J. Stepanek.  Mattie died in 2004 at the age of 13, shortly before his 14th birthday, of dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, a form of muscular dystrophy.  His three older siblings died from the same genetic disease.  He began writing poetry at the age of four and published seven best-selling books of poetry and peace essays, most popular being his “Heartsong” series. Before his death he had become known as a peace advocate and motivational speaker and was friends with the likes of former president Jimmy Carter and Oprah Winfrey.

Despite having seen what his older brother suffered before he died and having to experience the progressive deterioration of his own health at such a young age, Mattie was a playful, joyous young man with an impish smile and prone to pulling practical jokes.  He fully believed that God spoke to him and that his mission in life was to be an ambassador of peace to the world.  There are many, many thought-provoking quotes which come from his writings, but for me the most powerful one is the tagline that you see on many of my emails:  “Play after every storm.”  It was his motto for life: “Play after every storm! The storms do not last forever. The sun does come out, even if it is for a brief moment.”

Purpose, Prayer, Play.

There will be storms in every one of our lives.  Sometimes the evil which will engulf us will be so disheartening that we will be sure that we will not survive; in fact, we will not want to survive.  We will want to give up.  We will look at the lives of the saints who have experienced tragedies which will match, if not surpass, those we face and we will say, “they were holier than I; they were stronger or tougher than I; it was different for them back then.”  We will focus our attention on the past and the immediacy of our suffering and we will fail to hear God’s voice speaking to us to look forward.  We will fail to seek the purpose of our suffering.

And yet, most of us are here today because we have survived the storms of the past, even the recent ones.  As long as we live, we have the freedom to find purpose in our lives and to choose how to face our challenges. And with faith in God, we know our future.

When I was little (actually, most of my young life), my mom used to say that “everything happens for the best.”  I still have trouble believing that, sometimes, because “the best” used to always mean “the best for ME”.  But when I listen to God as He speaks through Viktor Frankl, Jennifer Hubbard, and Mattie Stepanek, I realize that “the best” is and must be His Will, and that my challenge is to discover that purpose through prayer and with the joy of loving others as He loves me. 

And I DO have hope.  I can see that, despite any suffering I have experienced over the years and the many "NO"s that I've received, when I look back with 20-20 hindsight and the grace of God, I can catch a glimpse of God in what has happened. 

And that gives me the faith to continue to pray to God and, as Mattie would say, to “play after every storm.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day
Homily for June 17, 2018    12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Happy Father’s Day weekend.  I hope that those of you who are fathers are having a blessed weekend, and that those of you who have fathers (by the way, that would be all of us) – I hope you all take some time this weekend to pray for their souls, whether they are still living or have already passed on, and whether they were good fathers or not.  Especially if they were not, for they are probably more in need of prayers and God’s mercy than a “good” father is.

In any case, at first glance, you might not think that today’s Gospel has much in common with Father’s Day.  But if we take a closer look at the two parables that Jesus shares with the crowds, I think we can see that they contain a very important message for all of us, especially for fathers. (Before I go on, this message applies more or less equally to mothers, too, but they’ve already celebrated their day in the sun.  Today it is us dads’ turn.)

First, we have the parable of the sower and the seed.  Who is the man that scatters seed in today’s Gospel?  Often in the Bible whenever we see a reference to seed being scattered, the sower is usually assumed to be God the Father or Jesus.  And while the references to the sower not knowing how the seed grows, and that the seed yields fruit “of its own accord” seem contradictory to the wisdom and power of God, it would be easier to understand it in the context that the average person would not know or understand how the seeds of faith scattered by God grow and bear fruit.

But what if the sower Jesus refers to is us?  In that sense, the “sower” can be thought of as a father and the “seed” being sown as his children.  He might provide nourishment and tender guidance for his child, but he doesn’t know how that child will grow in faith.

And it’s not just his children.  After all, we are all called to evangelize our brothers and sisters by spreading – sowing – the Good News which is found in the person of Jesus Christ Himself.  He is the faith that lives in every fruitful seed.  This parable would actually make more sense that way, as we often do not know what impact our lives have on those around us.  We do not know what causes another person to grow in faith, as faith is a gift – a grace – which comes only from God.  And only God knows when a seed that is a person is ready to come to judgment.

And then we have the mustard seed.  This too seems a little odd to be a comparison for God as, despite the image given here, mustard plants are not majestic cedars like we hear in our first reading, but instead are hardy, scruffy bushes that spread widely from a tiny seed.  But that too can be a good analogy for fathers as most of us probably didn’t have any idea of what was really going to be asked of us as fathers when our first child came along, and despite the scruffiness of our faith we’ve slowly grown and matured, and hopefully through our faith we have become a spiritual shelter to our family and those who are close to us.

For those of us who are fathers responsible for our children, or father-figures like Fr. Szatkowski and Fr. Benito, who are responsible for their family of parishioners, we know that it’s tough being a father.  The role of a father has changed in recent years from being the head of the household and the primary breadwinner to one of shared responsibility and mutual cooperation – and this is a good thing. 

But sadly all too often in today’s society and especially in the media, the importance of fatherhood is being belittled and dismissed.  And yet, recent studies have shown just how important it is to be a father.  Statistics quoted at last year’s Texas Fatherhood Summit in Austin were striking – children with actively involved fathers were:

•    39% more likely to earn mostly A’s in school
•    45% less likely to repeat a grade
•    Twice as likely to go to college and find stable employment after high school
•    60% less likely to be suspended or expelled from school
•    75% less likely to have a teen birth
•    80% less likely to spend time in jail

Speaking of jail, when I was in prison ministry during my formation as a deacon, I made the mistake on Father’s Day of asking the inmates to compare God the Father to someone in their lives who they considered a strong, loving father-figure.  The room of about 30 inmates went silent.  They had no good father-figures to draw on – the fathers they knew were either bums or had abandoned them and they had few positive male role models in their lives.

So, if our role as father is so important to those we love and to society as a whole, what must we do to be true sowers of the faith?  A recent article in “Columbia”, the monthly publication by the Knights of Columbus, listed four things Catholic men must do to defend the faith and build a culture of life in our secular society:

1.    We must be men of prayer.
2.    We must never lose hope.
3.    We must show our friends and neighbors a better way.
4.    We must be active and practical.

Whatever our particular vocation in life – whether it be religious, married or single – we are called to be sowers of the seeds of faith and must be followers of the Great Gardener, Jesus.  And may our faith shelter those whom we love and all those we meet. 

Happy Father’s Day.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Happy Re-Birthday!

Happy Re-Birthday!
Homily for May 20, 2018    Pentecost Sunday - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

[Author’s note: the Catholic Church historically and officially recognizes Good Friday as the actual birth of the Church, when Christ’s side was pierced by the centurion’s spear.  But just as the Church also teaches that we are reborn into the Church at our baptism, and as Jesus told Nicodemus that man “must be born from above”, “of water and Spirit” (Jn 3), it is appropriate to celebrate Pentecost as a “baptism” or “rebirth” of the Church.  Just as Jesus told his disciples prior to his Passion that they needed the Holy Spirit to guide them to the truth (Jn 18), and to wait for when they would “be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1), we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit coming with His gifts at Pentecost.]

Today we celebrate what some theologians consider is the birthday of our Church - Pentecost.  Why is that?  Because it was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and gave them the courage to come out from hiding and go into the streets to preach the Good News of God – to evangelize the people.  Actually, it was more than courage, for often we think of courage as facing challenges that we would rather avoid.  Those first disciples – the Apostles and the others from the upper room – were on FIRE with the presence of God in their hearts and were compelled to share that Good News to others.  It wasn’t that they were still afraid and forced themselves to overcome that fear; they were truly FEARLESS because they had no reason to fear.  From that tiny group of now fearless men AND women, the Church sprang into life; the people of God were reborn.  From that moment on, the world would never be the same.  It was a Happy Birthday.

To celebrate this special day, we actually have two completely different sets of readings for this weekend. Normally, the Mass on Saturday evening, although we often call it the “vigil” service, uses all of the same readings, liturgical parts, and so on that we would use on Sunday.  But for certain celebrations – like Easter and Pentecost – the church offers a true “vigil” liturgy with different Mass parts and readings because there is an important before-and-after message contained in the combined celebrations. To get the full “value” of this celebration, you should attend Mass both Saturday night AND Sunday. 

So, if you didn’t come to Mass last night, you might want to note it on your calendar to come to Mass twice on this Sunday next year.

Yeah, I can see your eyes rolling even from here.  I’m just saying, it isn’t a sin to go to Mass more than once a weekend.  And if you didn’t go last night, you have a homework assignment:  look up and read the other set of readings when you get home. 

In any case, today we celebrate Pentecost. In Jesus’ time, Pentecost was known as Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks.  Shavuot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals where Jews were required to travel to Jerusalem, and it commemorated the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. It was celebrated seven weeks after Passover – hence our name Pentecost, or 50 days.  Because Jews had to travel to Jerusalem, it explains why there were so many people there who spoke different languages.  But more on that later.

Our readings this weekend then all relate to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.  But in order to fully understand the complete message of Pentecost, we have to look at both sets of readings together.

Saturday’s first reading is the story of the Tower of Babel.  It is a fairly straightforward story – the people, in their arrogance, decide to build a tower that reaches to heaven.  They didn’t want to be “scattered all over the earth”; they preferred to bask in their own glory and abilities rather than God’s, and so the Holy Spirit came upon them and removed their ability to understand each other.

But in the passage from Acts that we heard today, we see how the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the ability to speak to all present in their own language of the Glory of God – it’s the classic story of Pentecost.  The combination of the two readings reminds us that true peace and unity among nations cannot occur without our unity with God first. 

And then Saturday’s brief Gospel from St. John comes from the first time Jesus reveals to his disciples his future passion and death, and alludes to the coming of the Holy Spirit.  It occurs on the last day of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, another one of the three main pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem and it too was a time of joyful celebration, coming just after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.  (By the way, these pilgrim festivals generally lasted all week, from Sabbath to Sabbath.) During this feast, Jesus ticks off the Jewish authorities by his words and deeds to the point that they’ve begun to seek a way to kill him.  The key to this short scripture passage are the last two lines:  “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

This doesn’t mean that there was no Holy Spirit.  As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit has always existed co-eternal with the Father and the Son.  Earlier versions of this passage include the word “given” after “yet”, signifying that the disciples had not received the fullness of the Spirit, which will come to them on that first Pentecost after the Resurrection.

But in Today’s Gospel from John’s Last Supper discourse, Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is coming, and how important the presence of the Advocate will be to his disciples.  They are not ready yet for the total power of the Holy Spirit, but they will need that power in order to continue Jesus’ mission after his physical presence leaves.  After His Resurrection they will receive strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit so that they will be able to give Glory to God and proclaim the Good News.   

So is this Holy Spirit present in our lives today?  Did I miss something at my Confirmation, or have I just lost it?  Why are we still afraid to risk everything proclaim the Good News?  If I’ve received the Holy Spirit, why can’t I speak Spanish?

The Holy Spirit doesn’t come into our lives just once in a spectacular moment and then leave.  The Holy Spirit is with us always, to guide us and bless us.  St. Paul talks to us about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how they are ours forever, if we accept them.  The Seven Gifts are:

1.    Wisdom – the knowledge and awareness of "divine things" and the ability to judge and direct human affairs according to divine truth.
2.    Understanding – the ability to "see" God in creation and the insight into the very heart of things necessary for our eternal salvation.
3.    Knowledge – the ability to judge correctly about matters of faith and right action, so as to never wander from the straight path of justice.
4.    Counsel – allows a man to be directed by God in matters necessary for his salvation.
5.    Fortitude – a firmness of mind in doing good and in avoiding evil, particularly when it is difficult or dangerous to do so, by virtue of the assurance of everlasting life.
6.    Piety – the reverence of God with filial affection, paying worship and duty to God in accordance to Scripture and the Church.
7.    Fear of God – the "filial" or chaste fear whereby we revere God and avoid separating ourselves from him—as opposed to "servile" fear, whereby we fear punishment.

We all received these gifts at our Baptism and had them strengthened at our Confirmation.  We continue to receive guidance on these gifts through the Holy Spirit whenever we actively seek it.  But do we?

I remember a story of a woman who loved to give gifts.  She was always thoughtful in what she gave, and one year she worked especially hard on a gift for a very good friend.  Her friend took the gift and later thanked her for the perfect gift.  One day while the woman was visiting her friend, she saw her gift on a shelf, still wrapped, unopened.

How many gifts do we have, unopened?  For this Pentecost, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage to open and use your gifts.

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.