Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Future of Hope

A Future of Hope 
by Deacon Bob Bonomi
September 12, 2021   24th Sunday of OT - B

Today’s Gospel presents us with the paradoxical reality of our Christian faith:  Save our earthly life and risk losing eternity; or risk our earthly life and save our souls for all eternity.  And there may be no better Gospel for us to reflect on today as this weekend we remember the tragic events that occurred 20 years ago, on September 11th, 2001.  

Sadly, I’m a member of a generation that has seen the end of two major conflicts for our country – Vietnam and Afghanistan - neither with a great sense of victory.  And while there are those who claim that the Afghanistan conflict was the longest war in our country’s history, it is not. There are still those alive who remember the Korean War, which started over 70 years ago and which, technically, has never ended as it remains under a truce - no peace treaty was ever signed.

But for us Christians, that is merely a drop in the bucket of time, for we have been at war for over 2000 years. In fact, as children of God we have been at war even longer than that - since beginning of creation. It is a spiritual war, not just physical.  St. Paul points out in his letter to the Ephesians:  “(O)ur struggle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”  (Eph 6:12)

THAT’S the real war.

Spiritual warfare is a different kind of battle, to be sure.  And we are all engaged in it, whether we realize it or not.  Pope St. John Paul II once said that “The only war that we must all fight is the one against evil.”    We enlisted in that war when we first professed our discipleship to Christ and were baptized into our faith. 
How we fight that war is our real challenge.  And the cost is steep – no less than our lives.

St. Mark reminds us of that in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus teaches us about the cost of discipleship and the price that we pay for our faith.  He will be put to death for teaching love and peace; we too face threats to our earthly lives if we are to seek peace in our world.  Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” The price of victory is earthly death - and the reward is eternal life.

Wars always end in destruction and death – by their very nature they are contrary to nourishing life.  And despite what people may say, no armed conflict has a “winner” – inevitably there are innocent lives lost on either side.  

So what are we to do?  Choose not fight?  No, but we pick our battles, and we pray for God’s guidance in our decisions and actions, and strength to overcome the challenges we face.

And after the fight is over, we remember.  

We remember what we were fighting for, whatever the battle.  We remember those who we have lost, so that their sacrifice will not have been in vain. We remember that God is with us, so that we can hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Most importantly, we remember that Christ has already won the war.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples after they have promised their loyalty to him:  “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

- He tells them that they are not alone.
- He tells them that tragic events are unfolding, but they should be at peace.
- He tells them that they will face tribulation and hardships, but they should be of good cheer.
- He tells them that he will die, but that he has overcome the world.

Shortly after it was declared that the war in Afghanistan was "officially" over and that all Americans were leaving that country, someone came up to me and expressed the opinion that all we did in Afghanistan was fruitless.  I disagree.  During the last twenty years, through the efforts of individuals – soldiers, aid workers, local caring citizens – the lives of many have been given a taste of hope, the promise of a future, an education – an opportunity to know Jesus and the Good News.  It has not been perfect, but seeds were planted.  And a world was made aware of the plights of the people who might otherwise be forgotten.

Did the world listen?  Some did.  The efforts of those helping those who are refugees fleeing from their homeland are true reflections of Christian faith. And as St. James points out, it is through our efforts, our works that others – and ourselves – are saved.  “Faith, of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  It is not an “either / or” decision, as some would have us believe.  It is a “both / and” one.  We are called to both faith and works together, according to God’s will.

Pope St. John Paul II said it well: “It is not enough to say we are Christians. We must live the faith, not only with our words, but with our actions.”  If we have faith in God – if we trust Him – then it will show through our efforts to help and serve others.  In times of conflict, in times of tribulation, in times of adversity, we must work for peace.

And God offers us hope and the promise of a better future, as seen in one of my favorite scripture passages by the prophet Jeremiah:  “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—says the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.  When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

That’s what God offers us – a future of hope.  A future of joy.  A future of peace.

Let me conclude with Pope Francis’ prayer from his 2015 visit to ground zero in New York, in memory of those who lost their lives in those tragic events 20 years ago in New York, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon – as well as those who have lived with the impact of those events even up to today.  The prayer is appropriate also for those facing tragedy from natural disasters or other catastrophic events today as well:

   “God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth.
   Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred, and who justify killing in the name of religion.
   God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.
   Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost may not have been lost in vain.
   Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.”


Sunday, August 22, 2021

You Only Have to Believe

You Only Have to Believe
by Deacon Bob Bonomi
August 22, 2021 - 21st Sunday of OT

With today’s Gospel we hear the conclusion of St. John’s sixth chapter, which we have been reflecting on for the last several weeks.  While the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke give us an understanding of the institution of the Eucharist through their accounts of the Last Supper, John gives us the spiritual insight to truly understand the meaning of the Eucharist itself, presented in Jesus’ own words.

First, a quick recap. Our Sunday Gospel readings began 5 weeks ago with Jesus feeding over 5,000 people with a few simple barley loaves of bread and a couple of fish. They continued the next week with Jesus walking on water, joining his disciples in the boat as they battled a stormy sea in the night. Then, three weeks ago, John introduced Jesus’ “Bread of Life” Discourse. Last week, since we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we missed the middle of the Jews’ confrontation with Jesus over his command to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood”, but today, we hear the end of the exchange – resulting in many of Jesus’ disciples abandoning him.

Suppose you were alive at the time of Jesus, had seen many of his miraculous signs and heard his preaching.  Then, all of a sudden you hear his insistence on having to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” in order to have eternal life.  How would you react?  Would you believe him?  Would you understand what he meant? 

In today’s Gospel, many didn’t understand nor believe.  So why did the Apostles remain?  Did they understand what Jesus was saying any better than any of the other disciples?  I don’t think so.

So why didn’t they leave too?  Simon Peter sums it up: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

According to a 2019 Pew research report that is often quoted by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, only 31% of Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Less than a third of all Catholics today believe in what the Church professes as the “source and summit” of our faith.

But there is a difference in believing and understanding.

The early Church Fathers had no problem believing in the Eucharist.  St. Ignatius of Antioch, at the end of the 1st century, less than 100 years after Jesus’ resurrection, stated in a letter to the Romans, “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, Which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I Desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible.

St. Justin the Martyr, describing the Eucharist in his First Apology about the same time, said: “For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that Incarnated Jesus.”

St. Irenaeus of Lyons just a few years later, stated in his letter Against Heresies: “For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two elements, earthly and heavenly.”

These are but a few examples by those early founders of the Church – and each died a martyr’s death because of their belief.  Their belief in Jesus Christ – and their belief in the Eucharist. 

Does that mean that they understood the spiritual mechanics of Transubstantiation? I don’t know, but I doubt it.  Frankly, I’m the first to admit that I certainly cannot understand the power of God.  But I’ve personally experienced miracles that have defied explanations and I have seen the power of God in action, so I don’t have to understand how or why God does what He does – but I believe.

Now I’m a scientist and an engineer at heart and while I can peer into the depths of the universe and see God’s infinite power at work, I cannot explain the mechanics of some of His simplest creations.  But I’m fond of using analogies to explain to myself things I cannot understand, and I use a simple one for the Eucharist.  Once upon a time I worked in the uranium mines in New Mexico, and there really wasn’t a lot of difference between uranium ore and the surrounding rock which contained it, at least visually.  You could tell if you had a Geiger counter, but otherwise, they looked the same.  But, if you take a piece of radioactive ore and place it beside something that isn’t, pretty soon the non-radioactive piece would become radioactive.  It wouldn’t change visually, but it has changed nevertheless.

The bread and wine may not look or taste different, but infused by the Holy Spirit called down by the priest, they have changed.  It’s a poor analogy, to be sure, but it works for me.

So we can choose to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, even if we don’t understand how it happens.  And if we believe, then our actions should reflect that belief.  But do they?  Sadly, often they don’t. 

I would like to say that I’m amazed at how some people approach the Eucharist in Communion, but I’m not.  I’ve been there myself.  I’m actually more amazed by the respect shown by some who come forward to receive than by those who don’t.  You see it in their eyes. There is a joy – a grace – that shines on their face, and there’s a sense of reverence in their presence. I see Jesus reflected through them.  I want that for me.

But it sometimes seems that as soon as I leave the building, I lose that – presence – of Christ in me.  I can lose it once I get into my truck and have to wait for parking lot traffic to clear.  I can lose it when I change the focus of my thoughts on what I think I need to do immediately after Mass.  And, if I’m not serving on the altar, I can lose it in the short time it takes me to return to my pew. 

It’s tough, isn’t it?  But we should strive to remember that, if we choose to believe, then we should act like we believe.  And maybe the easiest way to do that is to pretend that we are carrying Jesus on our shoulders after we have received him. (Actually, it isn’t pretending, except that instead of on our shoulders close to our heads, we have him inside us, close to our hearts.)  And if the thought of Jesus sitting on your shoulders isn’t enough to help you focus on his presence, then talk to him about it.  Say to him, “Jesus, help me to overcome whatever it is that is distracting me from you.”

One last comment on today’s readings.  While there’s often a direct link between the 1st reading and the Gospel on most Sundays, today I think there’s an even greater link between the 2nd reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and today’s Gospel from St. John:  they can both be hard to understand.  But rather than try to explain what Paul was trying to say, I’m just going to refer you to a podcast by Fr. John Riccardo called “God’s Love Made Visible” – you can find it for free just by googling it.  I encourage all married couples – and especially those planning on getting married – to listen to it.  I’ve never heard this particular passage explained better. Ever. 

And remember.  When you come forward for Communion, you are coming forward to place Jesus next to your heart and to take him into the world with you.  You don’t have to understand Transubstantiation to be a good Catholic.  You only have to have faith – and believe.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Overcoming The World

Overcoming The World
Feb. 28, 2021    Second Sunday of Lent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Do you remember those adages, those little sayings, that your mom would say to you over and over?  Things like: “Don’t leave the door open – this isn’t a barn”; or "Don't run with scissors - you might fall and poke an eye out"; or "You have to wait at least an hour before you can swim"; or “You keep making that face and it’ll freeze like that.” 
(Well, with the incredible ice storm last week, she could have been right on that one.)

But one of my mom’s favorite, which used to bug the heck out of me, was, “Don’t worry. All things work out for the best.”  Bad grade? Pfft. Study harder.  Inability to play sports?  No biggie, you’ll just be better at something else.  Lost a girlfriend? Meh (Yeah, okay, she was right about that one.)  

But what she said kind of paraphrases St. Paul’s message to the Romans in the verse which immediately precedes the verses from today’s 2nd reading: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God”.  And given all that we have gone through this last year (and last week), I’d like to focus on the expanded message from St. Paul’s letter which includes today’s 2nd reading.  The section is entitled “God’s Indomitable Love in Christ.”, and it begins like this:

28 "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to this?"

See, St. Paul is talking to the Roman Christian community, which is struggling to embrace this new Christian faith in the middle of a multi-god, pagan world.  Kind of like our world today.  Then next comes this from today’s reading:

"If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. 34 Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus] who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us." 

So, despite the Roman community's persecution by friends and fellow citizens, God, through Christ, was at the forefront of their persecution and led the way for them, as he does for all of us.  And then, finally this concludes that section:

35 "What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I know that, with everything that the world has experienced this last year – the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the devastating fires on the west coast last summer, the huge number of hurricanes last fall, the massive ice and snow storm which struck the heartland of the South and East last week, just to name a few – it can seem like God has abandoned us, or that we are separated from His protection.  And I would be truly hard-pressed to find how any of this could be considered “for the best” as my mom would say, especially for those of us who love God.

And maybe that’s the point.  
In our first reading, I would be the first to say that at first glance, the “test” that God put before Abraham appears to be cruel or evil.  If that happened today, if someone took one of their children to offer him or her as a sacrifice to God, we would rightfully conclude that that person was insane.  But then again, we don’t live in that same world, that same time, that same society today.  (Or sadly, maybe we do, given the number of babies that are butchered each year through abortion, sacrificed to the god of personal choice).  But the most important part of the story, though, is God’s staying of the slaughter.  You see, the true gift that God gave Abraham wasn’t his son, Isaac; it was “faith”.  
And whether we like it or not, God will allow our faith to be challenged in order for us to confirm our faith in Him, and those tests for us may come through any one (or all) of those trials listed above.  The reality is that we WILL face one or more of those challenges in our lives – or, possibly the hardest challenge of all – a life in which there is NO challenge to test our faith, which, when we see what others are suffering through, can be daunting as we struggle to help those around us and question “why them, not me?”

Which leads us back to St. Paul.  The challenges he lists – the anguish of sickness, the distress of the loss of a loved one, the unfair persecution at work, the famine or nakedness of exposure to financial trials through loss of a job, the peril of natural disasters or the threat of death through criminal actions – these are very real to each of us, especially during this last year.  But they do NOT separate us from Christ, and we shouldn't let them – they should only draw us closer to Him.

Ultimately, what if any of these challenges does overwhelm us?  Today’s Gospel holds the answer.  During the transfiguration, Jesus converses with living beings including Moses and Elijah – who had obviously ended their mere earthly existence.  And Abraham, the main actor in today’s first reading (other than God, of course), well, in John's Gospel Jesus states that “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad”, and it would be pretty hard for Abraham to rejoice if he was dead and gone.

Which brings us back to St. Paul. He is convinced that death, life, angels, principalities, present things, future things, powers, heights, depths, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, if we have faith.

If our goal in life is to finish it so that we spend an eternity with God, then it can be just as important in how we “fail” in overcoming these challenges as it is in if we overcome them.  Ultimately, if we can face every challenge with faith – with love – focused on Jesus and what he did for us through his life, death AND resurrection, then we too WILL be united with Christ Jesus our Lord.  For all eternity.

And in that, we will have overcome the world.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Is That You, God?

Is That You, God?
January 17, 2021 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

I’m sure we all have our pet peeves - those things that we find particularly annoying.  My pet peeve is – robocalls.  You know the ones; the prerecorded messages trying to sell you something.  Even though I am on every “do not call” list available, inevitably I will get a few of them every week.  The worst? The ones that begin with “we have an important message for the owner of…”, or the ones which are in some sort of Asian dialect I can’t understand.  Of course there are also the ones which threaten to arrest me if I don’t pay my fine with an Amazon gift card within the next 24 hours.

It is so bad that if I don’t recognize a phone number, I usually won’t answer the call and will let it go to voicemail. Unfortunately, every now and then I miss an important call where they do NOT leave a message. Especially if it is from some customer service department that I really need to speak with.  And they rarely leave a call-back number; which leads us to today’s readings – answering God’s call.

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

How often have we used those words in our prayers?  I mean, they are the words that are used most often to show a response to the call to discipleship – “Speak Lord, for your servant is LISTENING.”  

But it can be really hard to hear God.  God doesn’t shout at us, but He speaks to us in whispers.  It’s not like we get a phone call or text message; and the last time I checked, Jesus hadn’t “friended” me on Facebook. I’m sure He doesn’t have a Twitter account, and I know He doesn’t follow me – I know all eight of those who do.  Even if he did call, I’d probably not recognize the number and so would let it go directly to voicemail - and God is one of those I wouldn’t expect to leave a recorded message.  (I saw the movie “Oh God” with George Burns and John Denver and nothing God said in court was on the recorder.) If he doesn’t reach out and touch me using the latest technology, how do I know He’s calling me?

Even if we think God is calling to us, those closest to us might not understand and misdirect us.  In today’s first reading, Samuel hears God’s call but doesn’t know what it is so he turns to Eli, his boss – his mentor – thinking that it must be Eli who is calling to him in the middle of the night.  Eli, a man of God whose life is focused on serving God, at first tells him to “go back to sleep”.  I can understand.  If my kid woke me up in the middle of the night saying, “Here I am, you called me”, I would respond in the same way, “You’re dreaming.  Go back to sleep – and leave me alone.”  (I still say that to my dogs when they wake me up, but then again I’m sure it’s Mother Nature and not Father God calling them).

But God is calling us.  Every day.  If we listen, we can hear Him in the stories we read, in the people we meet, in the things that we see.  

Sure, there are lots of distractions in our lives that keep us from recognizing God’s call to us.  Even in church:  noisy distractions from children; cell phones that haven’t been turned off, and especially the noise in our heads from all those thoughts about what we need to do after Mass.  We become impatient and our mind gets so busy that we forget that we are supposed to be listening for God - listening TO God.

In fact, do we even listen to ourselves when we pray?  Sometimes we rattle off a Rosary like a machine gun: HailMaryFullOfGraceTheLordIsWithYou.  A priest friend of mine tells a story about a man who wanted to buy a horse.  He asks the owner if he would sell the horse and the owner says, “I’ll GIVE you the horse if you can say the Lord’s Prayer without interruption.  The man replies, “OurFatherWhoArtInHeavenDoesTheSaddleComeWithTheHorse…

Let’s face it.  We live in a world today that is so full of distractions and noise and busy-ness that it takes an extra effort to hear God’s call.  But if we just listen, we will.

So, how do we prepare ourselves to hear God’s Call?

By setting aside time to listen. Making time for spiritual reading.  Meditating on Scriptures. Prayer.  When we do these, we invite God to speak.

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

So we’ve invited God to speak to us, but do we really mean it?  Are we really listening?   Sometimes I think when we ask God that, we really don’t expect, or even want, an answer.  I mean, it’s kind of like meeting a person and saying, “Hi, how are you?”  If we’re even listening for a response – and frankly, most of the time I don’t think we do – we expect to hear, “Fine” or “OK”, or something equally quick and positive.  But we’re uncomfortable hearing, “Terrible” or “Not so good.”   We dread having someone launch into a long litany of complaints that hold us hostage, or that drag us down.  Even worse than that is when we are asked to do something that makes us uncomfortable – to go somewhere, to give something, to help someone – to Make A Commitment.

But when we extend our invitation to God to speak, we are asking God exactly that, and God wants us to act like we mean it.  Look at today’s Gospel.  Jesus says, “Come and you will see” and they drop everything and go with Jesus.  Jesus says, “Follow me”, and away they go.

How about you?  Would you drop everything and walk away from it?  Job, car, family – leave it all behind and head off with just the clothes on your back, to follow a charismatic preacher?  

Maybe a more important question should be, “Does God require you to abandon everything in your life to follow Jesus?”

The answer is, “NO”.  God has a plan for each of us.  He has provided us with the gifts and the graces that He knows we need to accomplish that purpose, and He has placed us right where He wants us.  But that doesn't mean that God isn’t calling to us to follow Him.

Pope Francis once said, to the effect, that being called doesn’t mean we have to change “who” we are, but how we use who we are to respond to God’s call.

And We MUST respond to that call.

Opportunities abound for us to respond.  There are many opportunities  through St. Paul’s various ministries to serve God, even during these trying times.  There are stories in the news every day calling to us.  But in order to know how to respond, we must first listen to God.

You know, being “Called” doesn’t just mean that God is telling us to do something. Think about when we “call” someone.  It isn’t just to tell them to do something;  we call them to see how they are doing; we call them to share something good that has happened to us or to someone we know; we call to ask them a question or for guidance.  Maybe we call just to tell them we love them.  God’s call to us is all of these – and more.

And one of God’s most important calls is the Mass.  It is a celebration of God’s Love for us, and it is an opportunity for us to share His stories and to listen for God’s personal messages to us.  While right now it is difficult to gather as a family, we must fight the tendency to think of the Church as a place that we are obligated to go to instead of a family that we belong to.   Even during the trials of social distancing and live-streamed services, we can still share God’s love.  Like a family, our church communities can be messy, demanding – sometimes boring – but we should never forget that we are bound together with Love – God’s love.  

But what if you are alone?  You are still part of the body of Christ, and maybe the call you receive from God will be to reach out to others who are lonely too.  You’d visit a family member who was sick, wouldn’t you?  Even if you cannot be there physically because of social distancing, you can still "reach out and touch someone," like the old AT&T commercials used to say.  The number one illness in our country today is not the coronavirus, but loneliness, and with the isolation imposed upon us by the pandemic, it is worse than ever.  Do not be afraid to answer the call to love.  Share your love with your family, your friends, even strangers.

God often calls at what appears to be an inconvenient time, but He always calls us out of Love, and His call is always important.  If we are preoccupied, if we are not listening, we may miss His call, His message.  So take time to LISTEN.

And then be ready and say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Forgiveness Sets You Free

Forgiveness Sets You Free
Sep. 13, 2020     24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus instruct us on how to offer fraternal correction with love – first privately, then with only those who are close, and then through the church.  Finally, if all else fails, treat the person as Jesus would a tax collector or an outsider (Gentile).  In other words, with love.  And that is hard, especially in light of the mandate from Ezekiel about our responsibility to help others to return to God and Jesus’ mandate on doing it with love.  And if it is hard to provide fraternal correction in a loving manner; how much more difficult is it when you are called to forgive someone who has injured you? 

When you think about it, there are 3 types, or levels, of forgiveness, and they are (in order of increasing difficulty).

First is the forgiveness of those you love, those closest to you, or those that you can relate to. 

There’s a story told by Archbishop Fulton Sheen about a married couple that gets into a large fight.  Finally the husband says to his wife, “I’m sorry dear, please forgive me.”  She replies, “I forgive you, let’s just forget about it.”  Sometime later they get into another argument and she brings up the first incident.  This happens several times and finally the man says, “Honey, I thought you said that you believed in forgive and forget.”  “Oh I do”, she replied, “I just don’t want YOU to forget that I forgave you.”

We see this this kind of forgiveness when something happens and our anger flares up – then we see that it was caused by someone we know and we automatically shrug it off.  We might even joke about it.  Laughter often releases the tension of the situation, and forgiveness becomes almost automatic.  It is easy to resent someone who cuts you off in traffic or who steals that parking spot in front of you; but when the little old lady gets out of the car and smiles at you, you can usually feel the anger melt away and forgiveness comes naturally.

But then there's the second level:  Forgiveness of your enemies or those you hate.  This is a much greater challenge. 

Last Friday we remembered the tragic events that occurred 19 years ago on September 11, 2001.  There are those who still carry the scars of that day, if not physically, emotionally.  When the harm done by another results in the loss of life or is of such a horrifying nature that it is impossible to forget - how do we forgive?  When the harm we have received is so painful, so irreparable, so - unforgiveable?  We can’t – not on our own.  Only God can.  We need Jesus to show us how and to help carry the burden, the pain with and for us.  And he does, when he forgives from the cross the very ones who tortured, humiliated and crucified him.

But the third level, the most difficult act of forgiveness, may be the one in which you have to forgive yourself.  So many of the problems that we face in life are a result of our own weaknesses and failures and we allow them to drag us down, destroy our own sense of self-respect. The shame of our past life, the overwhelming burden of our current addictions, often bring with them an insurmountable sense of depression and despair. It is hard to respect others if you cannot respect yourself.

So how do we forgive the unforgiveable?

We tend to forget that while we are called to forgive the injury inflicted upon us, whether it be from someone we love, someone we hate, or ourselves, it is only God who can forgive the sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that in paragraph 1441.  But how can that be? Don’t we go to reconciliation in order to receive forgiveness?  We tend to forget that, in confession, it isn’t the priest who forgives; it is God acting through the priest that forgives.  Because while only God can forgive sins, we see throughout the Gospels that Jesus exercised this divine power and he shared that authority with and through his apostles: those he chose to shepherd his Church. It has been passed down through the centuries by apostolic succession to our priests even to this day.  We need someone to acknowledge our repentance; God knows that and gave us the priesthood.

And why do we forgive?  We see part of the answer in today’s Gospel. The servant was granted mercy but in refusing to accept it, to recognize the obligation that went with it, he sent himself to prison by his own choice.  We too imprison ourselves when we cannot or do not forgive.  And we need to forgive in order to experience mercy.

Mercy is not forgiveness.  Mercy goes a step further.  When an injury occurs, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, we look to earthly justice to “right the wrong”, to make reparation.  But when we forgive, we experience spiritual mercy and grant ourselves the freedom to let go of the hurt that we carry.  Mercy then results when one has the power to mitigate the consequences, or the “just punishment” as we sometimes say in our Act of Contrition after Reconciliation.  God grants us mercy; we must do so for others.  And God’s mercy leads us to forgive others.

Think about how many times during Mass that we ask for mercy:

•    During the opening penitential right: the priest absolves us when he prays, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.”
•    We beg for mercy through the Kyrie: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”
•    During the Gloria we beg: “Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.”
•    In the various Eucharistic prayers, we acknowledge our sinfulness and express hope in God’s abundant mercy
•    In the doxology after the Lord’s Prayer the priest says: “by the help of your mercy”
•    In the Agnus Dei we again ask: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

We want to be freed of our sins.  We NEED to be freed from our sins.  In the Gospel of John (8:32), Jesus said: “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  And later, Jesus tells Thomas “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“ (John 14:6)  And all through both the Old and New Testaments we hear that God is a God of Mercy.  So if God is Truth, then the truth is: God is Mercy.

And if truth will set you free; how much more so will mercy?  That is our lesson for today.  “Be Merciful, just as your heavenly Father is Merciful.”  For if you show mercy and forgive others, then God will show you mercy and forgive you too.  And God’s forgiveness will set you free.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Perfection in the Eyes of God

Perfection in the Eyes of God
Feb. 23, 2020     7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

What does it mean, to be perfect?

In today’s Gospel taken from near the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the people to “be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  What does that mean? Isn't it impossible to be perfect?

When you think about it, it seems that as a society we are obsessed with perfection, aren’t we?  Just look at the self- improvement infomercials on TV.  Learn a new language.  Get rich selling real estate.  You can become a younger, more beautiful version of you by following these fitness tips.

Or how about those commercials which try to convince you that you’re missing out on perfection that only their products can provide?  Are you seeking adventure and want to be one with nature?  Buy our new SUV.  Want to fit in?  Try our stylish clothes.  There are even those weird commercials for perfume that you need because you must smell bad and you  won't ever get a date if you don’t use it. 

And if you're getting older or aren’t feeling perfect?  Take this new drug and you'll feel years younger or prettier or healthier or more virile.  Warning - the side effects may kill you.  But that’s OK because you’ll be a better- a more perfect - you.

But I think the most damaging influences we face are often those people, even our friends, who try to convince us that we can’t possibly be happy as God made us because we’re not perfect.  And after all, we want to be happy, don’t we?

So, what is perfect?

I asked some friends what perfect meant to them and one replied that perfection is something that fits us well. It’s different for different people, and it’s a temporary or passing state of mind.

But … I don’t think that is true.

Perfection is a goal that we seek because, as St. Augustine says, we have a hole in our hearts that needs to be filled, and it cannot be filled until it is filled by God.  It’s as if we’re a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing some pieces.  Those missing pieces are shaped like God, and when we don’t look for Him to fill those holes, we’ll look for something that we think looks like that hole and try to force it to fit.  It won’t, of course, and the picture that results will always be a little – off.

Yet still we allow others to tell us that it is OK to reject the person God made us to be and to make ourselves into someone that they(or we) think is perfect .  Why do we allow others to sell us a bill of goods like that?  It seems like we don’t even know who God made us to be anymore; that we need someone to tell us what we should already know.

First and foremost, we are children of God.

And as a child of God, we are given instructions, self-help advice if you will, on how to find the happiness we seek and to become what God wants us to be.  Perfect in His eyes.  And God does not see as man sees.

Think about this.  We love the imperfect artistic efforts of our children and delight in them as "perfect", whether they’re stick figures of ourselves with long curved fingers and weird-looking eyes or scribbled multi-colored landscapes of confusion.  Children may not be pro-athletes but we’re proud whenever they make the effort to compete, and if their efforts fall short of perfection, we console them and praise the effort which they’ve made while encouraging them to try harder. They may not be perfect by worldly standards, but they are (or should be) perfect in our eyes.

And God sees us as His children, no matter how old we get, and He responds the same way.  Despite our grown-up mentality, we’re still children in His sight and as long as we’re striving to please Him, then as Thomas Merton said, our efforts indeed do please him.  God will keep us on the path to perfection.

Yet, instead of accepting that God loves us for who we are, we think that our imperfections can somehow be “fixed” and we go to extreme efforts to "fix" ourselves.  We are convinced by others that we can be whoever WE want to be and we try to change ourselves into something we are not, and we do it for the worst of reasons – opinions or pressure by others. We try to please others, instead of God.

So how do we become “perfect” in God’s eyes?

Well, we’ve all heard the story about the rich man who comes to Jesus and asks him what he needs to do to get to heaven.  After Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and such and the man says that he does all that, then Jesus says to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  The young man leaves because he is owned by the many possessions he has.  Yet, despite that, the Gospel says that Jesus still loves him.

And Luke’s version of today’s Gospel gives us a little different twist.  It has the “love your enemies and do good to them" stuff, and to "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" like Matthew.  But in Luke, Jesus says, "Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.

So in God’s eyes, it appears that Mercy can be thought of as perfection.  And we add still another dimension from today’s 1st Reading from Leviticus:  “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

Be Perfect. Be Merciful. Be Holy.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which we have been listening to for the last few Sundays, gives us the directions to follow in order to be all three.

They are tough directions.  Love your enemies. Offer no resistance to one who is evil.  If someone hits you, let him do so again.  (I have a real problem with that one). 

But if we want to be perfect – to be HOLY, then that’s the advice we should be listening to, not what we’re told by the media or by those who do not know God.  Not trying to change what God made us to be, but to embrace it with the desire that a child has to please a parent.

And beginning this week we have a great opportunity to work on our perfection.  Lent begin this week with Ash Wednesday – the one day of the year that more non-Catholics and former Catholics come to Mass than any other time of the year.  We can make Lent our time to seek perfection, to seek holiness, through action:  Attend your parish mission nights. Participate in a day of reflection. Go on a retreat.  Jump-start your spiritual growth.

So, what does it take to be perfect?  St. Paul tells us, “You are the temple of God, You are Holy.”  If we are followers of Christ, then we are Holy.  If we are Holy, we must be Merciful.

And if we are Holy and Merciful, then in God’s eyes, we are Perfect.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Jesus Christ is Coming to Town

Jesus Christ is Coming to Town
Dec. 22, 2019     4th Sunday in Advent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

As most of you know, whenever we reach this point in Advent I usually start out my homily with my rendition of “Twas the Week Before Christmas”, but this year, with just 3 more days before Christmas arrives – two if you begin your celebration on Tuesday night – I thought I would begin with a variation of another popular song:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Jesus Christ is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
And he knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake …

It’s funny how we often take Bible stories, those lessons that come to us from Scriptures, and use them in a secular manner, like this song.  For although the story of Santa Claus in one of its various forms has come to be part and parcel of our holiday tradition, the real Christmas story is that God so Loved the World that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our salvation history as a baby, and we celebrate it not because it is a birthday party (well, maybe a little) but because it represents the wonderful gift that we have received from God of Himself, becoming Man to be with us and to save us.  And we celebrate to remind ourselves that Jesus not only became one of us in history, but He will come again in Glory.

It can be easy to forget that when, in just a few more days, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus.  For many it will be a joyous occasion, with lots of gifts, lots of food, and maybe even a bit of overindulgence.  But for some, it will also be a time of sadness, stress, worry or, frankly, more than a little aggravation. And I’m sure that it wasn’t any better 2,000 years ago.

Today’s Gospel gives us some insight into the worry, the stress, the sadness, of one of the key players in Jesus’ birth – St. Joseph.

Of all of the significant players included in the entire Bible – both Old and New Testament – whose lives played an integral part in salvation history, there are few as enigmatic as St. Joseph.  Considering the role he played as the foster-father of Jesus, when compared to all other characters in the Bible he is, if not the only one, one of the very few who has no lines whatsoever in the story of our faith.  What little we know of him comes from today’s Gospel and a handful of other asides scattered here and there and through tradition:

So what do we know of St. Joseph? Well:

•    According to Matthew’s geneology, Joseph was a son of Jacob (not the same one who became Israel) (Mt 1:16).  But according to Luke, Joseph was the son of Heli (Lk 3:23). And when the Angel in today’s Gospel calls him “son of David”, it of course doesn’t mean literally, but that Joseph is direct descendant of David.  It is that in that relationship that Jesus will fulfill the prophesy and promise of the coming of a savior made by the prophets.
•    And it is through Matthew’s Gospel that we learn that Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus was his son (Mt 13:55).  In Mark’s Gospel, Joseph is never mentioned by name. In fact, Mark only refers to Jesus as the carpenter – and as the son of Mary (Mk 6:3). And while Joseph gets a lot of coverage in the infant narratives of Luke, there’s no mention of either Joseph or Jesus as being carpenters at all.
•    Jesus himself also never refers to Joseph as his father. He only refers to God as being his father, as when his mother Mary asks him: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” and he replies: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:48-49), and again in Matthew’s Gospel when told his family was outside wanting to talk with him: “Who is my (family)? … (W)hoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50).

So, beyond his relationship to Jesus, what else do we know of Joseph as a person? We get most of what we know of him as a person from today’s Gospel.

•    He was to be married to Mary, who was betrothed to him.
•    He was a righteous man.
•    He had a strong faith in God – enough to believe the visions he received in his dreams from God’s angel messengers, and
•    He did as he was told by angels:
     o    When told not to be afraid to Mary as his wife, he obeyed and took her into his home.
     o    When told that the child’s life was in danger and to flee to Egypt, he did.
     o    When told to return from Egypt, he did, and upon returning he was directed to the region of Galilee, where he went.

I don’t know about you, but I personally would find it hard to believe anything I was told to do in a dream – especially if it was as dramatic as what Joseph was commanded to do.

And why do we assume that Joseph was overly poor? After all:

•    He was a craftsman, a necessary trade of the times and his skill was recognized by those in the region.
•    When they traveled to Bethlehem, they had transportation – a donkey – and did not have to travel by foot.  Think of all of the refugees that we see around the world who flee their homes on foot.  That’s poor.
•    There was no room at the Inn – not necessarily because he couldn’t afford it.  They had an expectation that they would be staying at the inn but, probably due to Mary’s condition and the birth of Jesus being imminent, they had to travel slowly and so arrived later than expected.  Knowing that Mary needed shelter, Joseph did the best that he could.

One thing for certain, even without ever recording a word spoken by Joseph, we know that through his actions that he had to have had an impact on Jesus as he grew up.  And like Joseph, good or bad, the presence – or in many cases the absence – of our fathers have shaped us in into the people we are today.

Which brings us back to our Christmas song. This song is especially for us adults.  During these next three days and into the Christmas season, it can be easy for us to get caught up in the stress and worry of this season instead of celebrating the joy that it represents – the gift of God from God to us. We may not feel like celebrating – we might even be angry or scared or worried or just overwhelmed.  But the true gift of Christmas – Jesus – and His peace and joy and strength is for each and every one of us.  Drawing on that gift can help us in how we face our challenges and will affect those we encounter – as parents and co-workers and neighbors and friends.  And we have an opportunity to share the Good News with all who we encounter. Let us embrace the gift of Jesus and proclaim to one and all the great joy of Christmas: Jesus Christ is coming to town.