Friday, December 26, 2014

'Twas the Week Before Christmas

Homily for Sunday, December 21, 2014
Fourth Sunday of Advent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the land,
    People were worried, wringing their hands.
“What should I buy, what should I get?”
    Will my expectations of Christmas be met?
Mom in her apron, in a very foul mood,
    Worried about cooking, would be enough food?
Dad, too, was cranky, showing ill-will,
    Worried about paying after-Christmas bills.
And the children were impatient – the girls and the boys,
    As they thought only of the presents, the gifts, the toys.
But then what to my blood-shot eyes should appear,
    But an angel of God, with good tidings to share.
“A child will be born in just a few days,
    That if you will let him, will change all your ways.”
“The gifts he will bring, are of joy, mercy and love,
    Sent by the King of Kings from above.”

    What if today you received news that would change your life forever?  I know some of you have received just that kind of news within the last several weeks – you or someone you love has lost a job, or has been diagnosed with cancer.  Maybe you have suddenly lost someone you loved.
    It might not have been bad news – maybe you have just started a new job.  Anyone win the lottery?  Or maybe you just found out – you are going to have a baby!
    In today’s Gospel, Mary receives just that sort of life-changing news.  She is going to have a baby!  And not just any baby – but a boy!  (And she didn’t even need a sonogram to prove it!)  And not just any boy, but the Son of God!  Wow!  Talk about life-changing news!
    And I think Mary’s reactions are normal for anyone receiving life-changing news:  Surprise and fear, Doubt and the struggle to understand, and then Acceptance.
    Isn’t that how we react?  First, surprise, or shock? Maybe even fear, as we try to understand what we have just heard. “Mary was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered it …”  What’s that song by Faith Hill?  “A Baby Changes Everything”.  Things are going to change for her, and we should get ready for changes in our lives, too.
    Then, comes the doubt – “How can this be?”  Why me?  What have I done to deserve this?  How can I deal with it? I didn’t plan on this.  What am I going to do?  Where is God in all of this? 
    Even with good news we tend to forget that God is part of what happened; it can be especially hard to see God when we are in pain or shock.
    But, IF WE ARE TO COPE, then comes the acceptance – whether the new be good or bad. “May it be done TO me according to Your Word.”  Something happens TO us. Somehow, it will affect us personally.  In the case of especially bad news, acceptance doesn’t make the shock or the pain go away – not initially. But it is in acceptance that we are reminded that there is indeed something – SOMEONE – greater at work in our lives.  As we hear Nathan tells David in our first reading, “I have been with you wherever you went…”  Mary’s life didn’t get easier with her acceptance of the child that will be born to her; in fact it became more difficult.  But her “Yes” serves to remind us that God is indeed with us – through the Bad, and the Good.
    Finally, do we truly believe that nothing is impossible for God?  This year I, too, struggle to cope with the loss of someone who was very close, and I will not be celebrating another Christmas with several others I know.  And the headlines in the news for the last few days have left me in shock and in tears – feelings of intense sadness, of helplessness – yes, even anger.  It would be easy to become depressed, and question whether or not God is truly with us.  But then I see the miracles that occur all around me, and the Good News of the Gospel being lived out by so many – brightly lit stars in the darkness of the night around us, and I know – God IS with us – Emmanuel.
    So as I draw nearer to Christmas this week, I will not let the bad news in the world color my acceptance of God’s Will.  I will celebrate that those who are no longer with me have gone Home for Christmas – and are celebrating in heaven, waiting for me.  I will increase my prayers for those who are persecuted or who suffer – and I will continue to shed tears for them. But I will continue to look forward in anticipation to the Good News of the coming of Jesus – next week, next year, indeed every day of my life.  And I will try to share with others the Love and the Joy that God shares with me through the Gift of His Son, Jesus.

    And so let us exclaim, as we prepare all this week,
    Merry Christmas to all; Christ comes, whom we seek.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The End-of-Year Final Test

Homily for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Dcn. Bob Bonomi

     Well, here it is the last Sunday of our Liturgical Year, and today we celebrate the Kingship of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not OF this world.”  Yet, we also hear Jesus say that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  So, which is it?  Is Jesus trying to confuse us?
     No.  The Kingdom is here.  It’s now.  It resides in our hearts.  It is a Kingdom that coexists for us, something like a person who carries two passports.  It is not OF this world, as it doesn’t come from the material powers of this world, but it certainly exists, through the grace and mercy of a Loving God who created it and who still guides it and protects it.
     But it can be hard for us living in what is supposed to be a democratic society to envision a “kingdom” with a King, no matter how benevolent He may seem to be.  After all, we believe we are governed in the material world by those WE elect.  We have “power” over our representatives, at least in theory.
     It’s not so with God.  We can choose to reject Him and the earthly representative of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t change the fact that God created the Universe and He is the ONLY one who can control it.  We, as Christians, know this and acknowledge His sovereignty over us through Jesus, His son.  And although these two kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the man-made societies in which we live – coexist in a conflict of wills, we pray for the unity of the two every time we say the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done”.
     So how do we bring about the Kingdom of God in our lives today?
     The Church shows us how, through the Seasons which we celebrate throughout our Liturgical Year.  And since this is the last week of our “classes” before we break and begin anew with Advent, let’s review our Liturgical Year.  (I warn you now, there will be a test when I am done.)
     First, we began our year with the Season of Advent – a time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of the promised Messiah, Jesus.  Like in school, we began with a review what we have learned in the past and we prepared for the new year.
     Then came the Christmas Season – a time of joy, of promises fulfilled. It’s a short break before the real studies begin.
     After the Christmas season, we began the real work of our studies as we entered in the Ordinary Times of the Church year.  During this period we learned from Jesus how we might be called, and what we must do, in order to bring about the Kingdom of God.  This period continued throughout the rest of the Liturgical Year, although just like in school we had “mid-term exams” with Lent – a period of study and reflection – and then “Spring Break” with the celebration of the Easter Season (without beach parties, of course), which also gave us a glimpse of our future after “graduation.”
     Then, back to the studies.  For the rest of the year until now, with the exception of a few holidays – “Holy Days” – we continued to learn to live as Jesus did, preparing us for God’s Kingdom and giving us opportunities to practice what we learned.
     So now we are at the end of the school year.  Are you ready for the test?
     It will be only One Question.
     The good news – it’s an open book test.
     The bad news – well, I had a college professor who always gave open-book tests and he warned us, “if you don’t know where to look for the answer, you won’t have time to find it.” I dreaded open book tests.
     But I have more good news for you – you can find the answer to the question in the blue Gather books right in front of you.
     Ready? Here’s the Question:
     What do we need to do to receive eternal life?  Hint: the answer is in today’s Gospel, Matthew 25:31-46.  But I hope you don’t need to look up the answer.
     Jesus said, Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’”
     Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But what does it mean, to be hungry, or thirsty, a stranger, or naked, or ill or in prison?  When was the last time you saw someone naked on the street?  Don’t we have welfare systems to address these other needs?  So, how are these words relevant today?
     I can’t say it any better than Fr. Flor McCarthy, a Salesian priest and author from Dublin, Ireland.  To paraphrase his thoughts on this Gospel: when the final test comes at the end of our lives the King will say to those on His left,  "Depart from me.
·   I was hungry for a smile – but you gave me sour looks
·   I was hungry for a word of encouragement - but you criticized me.
·   I was thirsty for friendship, a little companionship – but you ignored me and left me alone.
·   I was a stranger – and you refused to have anything to do with me.
·   I was a child – and you wouldn’t play with me.
·   I was a neighbor, a coworker – but you wouldn’t associate with me because we come from different walks of life.
·   I was naked, stripped of self-confidence – and you refuse to affirm me.
·   I was exposed by rumors and false accusations – and you refused to defend me.
·   I was sick from doubt and worry – and you didn’t notice.
·   I was wounded by failure and disappointment – and you showed no concern.
·   I was depressed, desperately seeking hope – and all you did was blame me.
·   I was imprisoned by nerves, of loneliness – and you shunned me, gave me the cold shoulder.
·   I was a prisoner of guilt – and you refused to forgive me, just to punish me.
·   I was homeless by lack of affection, of acceptance, of love – and you locked me out of your heart."
     But the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who have been blessed by my Father.
·   I was hungry for a smile, and you gave it to me.
·   I was hungry for a word of encouragement and you praised me.
·   I was hungry for a word of appreciation, and you thanked me.
·   I was thirsty for a word of recognition, and you noticed me.
·   I was thirsty for a sign of friendship, a little companionship, and you talked with me.
·   I was a stranger, and you made me feel welcome.
·   I was a young person from a bad area, and you gave me a job.
·   I was socially inferior to you, but by your acceptance you built me up.
·   I was naked for the lack of self-esteem, and you covered me with self-worth.
·   I was stripped of self-confidence, and you dressed me in the cloak of confidence.
·   I was naked from the loss of my good name through a story that wasn’t true, and you clothed me in the garment of truth.
·   I was sick with doubt and worry, and with your cheerful attitude you lightened my burden.
·   I was wounded by failure and disappointment, and by your supportive attitude you healed me.
·   I was in a pit of depression, and by your patient attitude you gave me hope.
·   I was a prisoner of nerves, and through your attitude of calm you set me free.
·   I was a prisoner of loneliness, and through your friendship you released me.
·   I was a prisoner of guilt, and through your forgiveness you broke the chains of my guilt.
·   I was homeless for lack of tenderness and affection, and you embraced me.
·   I was homeless for lack of sympathy and understanding, and you listened to me.
·   I was homeless from lack of love and acceptance, and you took me into your heart."
     Easy test, simple answers, yet as in school it may be easy to learn the theory, but hard to put it into practice.  How about you?

Is Jesus Christ your Lord and King?
Are you on His left?  Or on His Right?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Are You Tending Your Tree?

( Homily originally given for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14, 2014) 

In honor of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, I will first give you a little history, a little trivia, and then will share with you what the Cross means to me.

First, a little history. 

Theological virtues: Sign of our Faith; the Promise of Hope; a Witness to Love

The first certain evidence we have of the use of this sign is from the ecclesiastical writer Tertullian (230 AD) who tells us that candidates for baptism are marked with a sign of the cross on their foreheads during the course of their catechumenate (formation). …  "In all our travels and movements", says Tertullian (De cor. Mil., iii), "in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross".

Western Church – left to right; Eastern Church right to left.

Some people hold thumb, index and middle fingers together, leaving other two separate – three representing Trinity and other two the human/divine nature.

Before Gospel, three tiny signs of the cross on forehead, lips and chest – praying “May Christ’s Words be in my mind, on my lips and in my heart.”

Difference between a cross and a crucifix?

The representation of the cross in nature; the commonality of crosses seen in disasters (ex: 9/11)

What is a saraph?  Often referred to as a “fiery serpent”, “fiery flying serpent” (Is 30:6)


A long time ago, in a world far away, lived a race of beings called the Woodkies.  The Woodkies lived in a forest and were somewhat like you and I, except that each Woodkie, shortly after birth, was given a tree to tend and nurture and to carry wherever they went.  As the Woodkies grew, so did their trees, until the Woodkies had to carry them strapped to their backs everywhere they went.  They had carried their trees for so long, most had forgotten why they did so – they were told that their tree would protect them – someday.

But not everyone was happy with their tree.  Some thought their tree was particularly ugly; some trees were heavier than others; some were just bigger and bulkier, clumsy to carry.  Some of the Woodkies complained that it wasn’t fair that they had to carry their particular tree.

They began to leave their trees at home.  Some would still try to take care of their trees, but others neglected them or just forgot about them altogether.

One day, there was a great fire in the forest that could not be contained, and it consumed everything in its path.  The Woodkies were in a panic and started to run away from the forest, but they came to a great chasm which separated the forest from a safer area.  There were no bridges across the chasm and so the Woodkies were trapped.

One older Woodkie who had a very large tree strapped to his back called out, “Follow me!” and he raced toward the great chasm.  Some followed; others ran in different directions and were trapped by the fire.  Those who had trees strapped to their backs found that they were protected from the flames (did I mention that the trees that the Woodkies had to carry were fireproof?) but those who had abandoned their trees were consumed by the fire.

Finally, they reached the great divide.  The elder Woodkie then lifted his tree high into the air and laid it across the chasm.  Other Woodkies that had trees did the same, and they created a bridge to safety.  The trees which they had carried for so long, were their saving grace.

What about you?  Are you tending your tree?

Give God All Glory and Honor

(homily originally given on Sunday, October 19, 2014)
There is a common theme to all of the readings that we hear today: Give God all glory and honor. All that we have, all that we are, comes from Him. And we give that glory and honor when we praise God for being God, and by following His will for us. We are called by God – BY NAME - to a purpose – a mission – in our lives and what we receive from God is everything we need to accomplish our mission.

Do you know your Purpose in Life? Do you think it is Impossible to follow Jesus and accomplish that mission?

I’m not sure how many of you remember the original Mission Impossible series on TV – before the Tom Cruise movie franchise. Every episode would begin with Jim Phelps, the leader of a band of special agents tasked with accomplishing impossible tasks, receiving a secret packet of information with a scenario of evil and the admonishment that “Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to (… do something impossibly crazy...) . As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.” Predictably, at the end of an hour the task would be completed and no one was disavowed.

Well, we too are sometimes called to what seems to be impossible missions in our lives. But unlike the TV series, God will not disavow us if we fail in our mission – He is always with us, with His infinite mercy. However, I doubt we can accomplish it in an hour. Most certainly, it won’t be during the hour we spend in church each Sunday. Our mission extends far beyond the four walls here.

Part of our struggle is the conflict we face because our immediate reality is the world within which we live, while our goal – our mission – is to bring about a new world that is at odds with what we know and hear and see. Today’s Gospel reflects this as we hear what we think defines the separation of Church and State – “RENDER THEREFORE UNTO CAESAR THE THINGS WHICH ARE CAESAR’S; AND UNTO GO THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S.” As if they are two separate things.

But are they? If we look at this a little deeper, we see that it isn’t as black and white as it first seems. Remember, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into making a political decision. If he said “YES”, that people should pay tribute to Caesar, they could accuse him of being a collaborator with the enemy that was occupying their land and who were often cruel and unjust, depriving them of their freedom. A Roman sympathizer.

On the other hand, if he said “NO”, then he could be seen as encouraging rebellion against the Romans, promoting violence and maybe even getting the Romans to eliminate him.

But instead of answering YES or No, Jesus forces them to look inside themselves for the answer and then points out the proper orientation – Earthly treasure is meaningless in the Kingdom of God and they still must give to God what belongs to God – their lives, their very being.

Look at the first reading from Isaiah. Cyrus was the powerful King of Persia who came to power during the Babylonian exile of the Jews. Cyrus was not Jewish; not of the “chosen people of God.” Yet in today’s reading which some say written almost 150 years before Cyrus came to power, we see that God indeed calls everyone by name – and he calls us by name, too.

ALL POWER AND AUTHORITY ARE GOD’S. Jesus reminds us of this when he stands before Pilate and tells him that “you would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above”. We are called by God and given certain gifts with which we are to use in building God’s Kingdom; unfortunately we all too often apply those gifts for our personal use.

We do not have to agree with the policies and decisions that are made by those who are in authority. In fact, we may be called to disagree with them. However, we ARE called to look first to God and to follow His will in our life, no matter the consequences.

This is Mission Sunday: where we join with the rest of the Catholic Church at large in offering our support for Catholic parishes and mission churches around the world that are not able to provide worship space or ministry support for their parishioners living in poverty or under persecution.

What is our Mission? We should keep some things in mind as we try to discover our mission and accomplish it.

1. We all serve someone. Whether it is our boss, our spouse, our children – ultimately we serve God in all. We are all called to the mission of service to one another.

2. There is no such thing as impossible odds with God.

3. We must give God glory. Remember in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the people of Who-ville lost everything and could still sing their joy to God? No matter where we are in our lives, praise God.

4. Finally, DO NOT BE AFRAID. There is a lot of unreasonable fear in the world today, and even here in this area we are afraid of exotic illnesses and the acts of violence caused by those who are filled with hate. No reaction to that fear will overcome the problems unless we first bring God’s love into the picture. Remember Father Damian with the lepers; someone must minister to God’s children in spite of the dangers of the world. After all, we fight for souls for heaven, not earthly existence.

The Psalm prayer from this morning’s Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer is a prayer which we should pray each morning: Father, creator of unfailing light, give that same light to those who call to you. May our lips praise you; our lives proclaim your goodness; our work give you honor, and our voices celebrate you forever.

Give the Lord glory and honor. Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Marching Orders

In St. Matthew's Gospel for yesterday, we hear Jesus give his Apostles their marching orders: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.  Pretty fantastic and miraculous actions, by today's standards.  Sure, we have doctors and other medical professionals that can cure the sick and tend to lepers, but raising the dead?  Driving out demons?  Does that apply to us today?

Sure it does, if we see beyond the simple words on the page and listen to what Jesus is telling every one of us.  Who are the sick we are called to cure?  Those sick of heart - through the loss of a loved one, a job gone bad, a broken relationship.  Our loving presence often can be the source of spiritual healing they need.  Can we raise the dead?  Those who have turned their back on God, who do not believe in Jesus, who trust in nothing but themselves - in a sense they've died to God.  Our loving presence may lead them to return to God and to everlasting life.  Who are the lepers of today?  Lepers at the time of Jesus were the outcasts of society, rejected and often abandoned.  Today's lepers are those who are the refugees, the poor and homeless, the abandoned and the rejected.  Our loving presence and acceptance of them cleanses them of the shame and sense of abandonment they feel.  What about demons?  We have all encountered the demons of our society present in the addictions and compulsions that we and others have faced.  Almost all 12-step programs for fighting addictions recognizes the need for a companion to hold one accountable and to rely upon for spiritual and moral support when faced with their demons.

So the marching orders given to the Apostles are the same ones we receive today.  Jesus sent the Apostles out without any materialistic support - no money, no extra clothes, no safety net.  We too must face our challenges with God's help, leaving behind our worldly goods.  It is only in this that we can become true disciples of Jesus.