Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Believe in One God...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Look Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(based on a homily published May 2015)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Miracle-Worker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Healing Miracles
    Restoration Miracles
    Nature Miracles
    Exorcisms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faith and Mercy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a lie.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jesus, I Trust in You.






Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Uncertainty of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Lazarus died. 

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

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

We see that in the responses from Mary, Martha and their friends:

"Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died."
"Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?"

Their sobbing reflects the intensity of their grief and mourning.

And Jesus wept.

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

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

In his book, “A Grief Observed”, well-known author C.S. Lewis records his personal observations on how he dealt with the many issues associated with the sudden death of his wife to cancer: his grief, including the pain; the depression; the awkwardness of dealing with well-meaning friends who didn’t always know the right words to say; the loneliness; the anger he had towards God; and how he ultimately returned to his faith.  I recommend the book to anyone who has experienced a sudden loss of a loved one or to those who know someone who has.

Now, if all that this Gospel was about was Jesus performing a miraculous cure for Mary and Martha because Lazarus was a friend, then it would be a wonderful story but it wouldn’t tell us much about God the Father or Jesus his Son.  After all, Lazarus eventually died again and that time wasn’t raised from the dead.  So what is Jesus telling us?

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

As we approach Easter, we will witness Jesus’ Passion and Death next Sunday and throughout Holy Week.  As we reflect on what we hear and see, let us remember that all of the scriptures which we heard today are meant to remind us of God’s love for us and His promise that death isn’t an end for us.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Eyes of our Heart

The Eyes of our Heart
Homily for March 26, 2017    4th Sunday Lent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Today’s Gospel, the 2nd Scrutiny for catechumens seeking entry into the Church through Baptism at Easter, is the familiar story of Jesus healing the man born blind.  Physically, we are all born blind, at least in the legal sense.  It takes time for our vision to develop.  At first, everything is blurry, like a camera that’s out of focus.  It takes about a week before a baby begins to learn how to see, and then it’s only objects within a foot or so of its face – which just so happens to be about the distance between a mother and her nursing child.  And while the infant’s visual abilities continue to improve, it takes about 4 months for the child to start developing hand-eye coordination and to understand depth perception.  After about 6 months a child should see with 20/20 vision. 

Understanding what they see, however, takes a lifetime.  It is said that we are born with only two innate fears – the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.  The rest are learned responses.  Various tests like those using the “Visual Cliff” experiment with infants have shown that a child who instinctively hesitates to cross a solid glass floor when it looks like there’s a drop under it, will look to a trusted adult for reassurance in attempting something new and will act somewhat fearlessly “going over the cliff” if given positive encouragement by them. 

(By the way, it’s not until they’re about 2 years old before they begin to do dangerous things without encouragement, especially when they’re told not to.)

Now, a person who becomes blind at some point in their life can remember what it was like to see, and so they can create images in their mind from their memories of what they can no longer witness.  But what about a person who was born blind? 

While they can use their other senses – touch, sound, smell, taste – to build an “image” of the world around them, they have no way to recognize something that’s “beyond their senses” without the help of someone who can help them understand what they cannot see.  How do you describe “blue” to someone who has never seen color?  Or “clouds” to someone who cannot see the shadows cast by a blocked sun? 

And so, I wonder what the man born blind thought when his eyes were opened by Jesus for the first time? 

For Jews, blindness was more than just a physical ailment – it was a sign that God was displeased with you.  They believed that physical infirmities were linked to sin and if you suffered from some sort of illness or calamity it must be because you or your parents had sinned. This comes from the 10 Commandments:

…For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.  (Exodus 20:4)

So it would seem obvious that the man’s parents must have done something particularly wicked for him to have been born blind, since it would be pretty difficult for him to have done something BEFORE he was born.  And I wonder, did he accuse his parents of doing something evil that caused him to be born blind? Or was it his grandparents?  Or did he think there was something “wrong” with him spiritually, since he must have been rejected by God because he was born blind? 

Just as we are born physically blind, we are also born spiritually blind.  While we “see” physically through the eyes in our head; we “see” spiritually through the eyes of our heart. 
And just as we are born with an innate sense of fear for falling and loud noises, we are born with an innate spiritual longing for God.  But just like learning to see with our eyes, it takes time for us to open the eyes of our hearts to God. 

We begin like infants, by listening from those we trust most – our parents and godparents.  The Second Vatican Council’s document, “Lumen Gentium”, states that “In what might be regarded as the domestic Church, the parents, by word and example are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.”  It is this initial exposure to faith by our parents that helps us to understand what it is that we “see” – and to help us avoid spiritual dangers through experience and teachings.

But often our blindness remains – and not just because our parents were evil or we are evil.  God doesn’t work that way.  He wants us to see, to be able to draw close to Him.  And so in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us to see spiritually with our hearts through the healing of a man born blind. 

He begins simple enough – he points out to his disciples that the evils that we experience in life are not because we are evil, but often it is in how we deal with the evils we encounter that we can make the works of God visible to others.  Physical blindness is temporary and limited to the short time we are on Earth; but we must overcome our spiritual blindness if we are to be able to “see” the Glory of God.  In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul is commissioned by Jesus to remove the spiritual blindness of others when Jesus tells him:

I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.’  (Acts 26:17)

So Jesus begins with “healing” the physical blindness of the man born blind.  Note that the man doesn’t ask to be healed.  Why? Maybe it was because he didn’t think he was worthy to be healed; after all, he was born blind and like most Jews he probably believed that he didn’t deserve to be healed. 

But he must have had some hope – some spiritual desire – in his heart since he followed Jesus’ directions and allowed mud made from spit to be put upon his eyes, and then allowed himself to be led – remember, as yet he still couldn’t see – to the Pool of Siloam to wash.  He had some faith, without even fully understanding what he believed.  He washes at the Pool of Siloam, and the Church sees that washing as a symbol of the waters of Baptism and the beginning of his faith journey, just as our baptism is a beginning step in ours.  And he experiences God’s mercy through both a physical and a spiritual healing.

Now, he probably didn’t know who Jesus was at first.  Oh, he may have known his name, hearing it from those around him, but he didn’t know who Jesus WAS. He testifies before the Pharisees and then questions them about how this man Jesus could do what he did for him, but the Pharisees cannot answer him.  They reject his testimony and throw him out.  But the eyes of his heart have been opened and so, when Jesus seeks him out, he is ready to see Jesus for who he is, the Son of God.

One final thought.  In both this Gospel and last Sunday’s about the woman at the well, after Jesus reveals his divinity through word and action the eyes of their hearts are opened and the people come to believe in him.  The Pharisees however, whose physical eyes are open, refuse to allow the eyes of their hearts to see the wonders of God at work around them.  And so we must ask ourselves – do we close our eyes to God at work in our lives?  Are we blind to God and the wonders of His mercy?

And so we pray:  Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord – we want to see you.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Witness of the Transfiguration

Witness of the Transfiguration
Homily for March 12, 2017    2nd Sunday Lent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Today’s Gospel is about the Transfiguration of Jesus, and it is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels – that’s Matthew, Mark and Luke.  (John’s Gospel doesn’t include it.)  St. Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration seems to me to be rather anti-climactic:

•    Jesus takes three of His disciples up a high mountain.
•    His appearance “changes” and begins to glow before them.
•    Two other people appear and talk with Him.
•    Peter wants to set up three booths.
•    Something scary happens – God the Father speaks.
•    Then it is all over.  Jesus returns to normal and down the mountain they go, with orders not to tell anyone about what happened.

All three Gospels contain the above brief series of events.  It’s only in St. Luke’s version that we get a few more details, such as:

•    Jesus went up the mountain to pray.
•    Peter, James and John fell asleep.  (Ever notice how these same three guys, the leadership of the 12, usually seem to fall asleep just before something significant happens?), and
•    How the discussion between Jesus, Moses and Elijah was about what would happen to Jesus in Jerusalem.

Since, the overall story of the Transfiguration is pretty brief compared to the significance of the event, so let’s look at it a little more closely.

First, what do we mean by “transfiguration”?  A dictionary definition would say that to transfigure something is to “give it a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance”, or to “transform something outwardly and usually for the better”. 

St. Luke doesn’t even use the word “transfigure”.  Instead he only describes what happens to Jesus - His face changes and His clothes glow white. 

But in both  Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels the Greek word that they use is “metamorphoo”, which is where we get the word “metamorphosis”. 

It means a more fundamental change, as in what happens when a caterpillar changes into a beautiful butterfly. It’s still the same creature – but the transformation is more – structural? – as the caterpillar reaches its intended, ultimate destiny – a butterfly.  And although Jesus’ Transfiguration is a temporary change here, it is a prelude to the change He will go through at the Resurrection – and the ultimate destiny we will one day experience. I'll come back to that in a minute.

As Jesus’ appearance changes, two additional people, identified as Moses and Elijah, appear.  How did Peter, James and John know for certain that it was those two?  As one person said to me last week, “It wasn’t as if they could look up their pictures in a high school annual or a picture directory.”  I’d say that Jesus told them.

But, in Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah we see a second “transfiguration” – the metamorphosis of the Old Covenant – the Law, represented by Moses, and Prophetic visions represented by Elijah – into the New Covenant of Grace, Love and Mercy represented by Jesus.  Jesus came to fulfill the law, not eliminate it; it is transfigured from the old into the new through Jesus.

So, if the Transfiguration event here reflected a temporary change in the appearance of Jesus in front of His disciples and the future change in God’s covenant with His people - both historical events from our perspective - why do we reflect on the Transfiguration today?

Because it is through that momentary glimpse of Jesus’ future glory that we see the promise of our own future.  We see this in the letters of the New Testament:

•    In the first letter of St. John: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2)
•    St. Paul to the Philippians: “He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” (Phil 3:21),
•    And to the Corinthians: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.” (1 Cor 15:44) and “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.” (1 Cor 15:49)

We are destined for our own ultimate Transfiguration, the metamorphosis of our earthly bodies into something exalted; something better than we are now – heavenly beings with spiritual bodies.  Oh yes, we are corporal beings and so we will have bodies – just ones that have been through a metamorphosis.

One last thought.  Most of the time, whenever we read about the Transfiguration, we reflect on how we need to change our lives or be transfigured today, especially during this time of Lent.  But do we pay any attention to the transfiguration events of those who are around us?  We witness them through those people who live holy and exemplary lives; we see them in the “aha!” moments of those who experience a sudden encounter with the Risen Christ at a retreat or in the sacraments; and we witness them in the many miracles of life that we encounter daily.  Like Peter, James and John, God allows us to witness these moments of His Glory to prepare ourselves and to help sustain us as we continue on our own road to Jerusalem, for we too have our crosses to bear.  And like the disciples in the Gospel, we should be aware of how quickly the “flash bulb” effect of such an event can wear off, returning us to our daily routine.

The Transfiguration and the other signs Jesus did were meant to help prepare His disciples for the uncertainty they would face during Jesus’ passion and death, and to give them the hope needed to carry them through to His Resurrection, His Ascension, and beyond.  Let Jesus' transfiguration and the transfigurations that we witness in our own lives strengthen us for our own trials, knowing that despite whatever flaws or ills we suffer now, we too will one day, like the caterpillar and the butterfly, experience an ultimate metamorphosis of our own – a Transfiguration to become something spiritually exalted.

That is our hope. That is our faith.  That is God's promise.