Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joy, Mercy and Love

Joy, Mercy and Love
Homily for December 18, 2016    Fourth Sunday of Advent - A
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 there be enough food?
Dad, too, was cranky, showing ill-will,
    Worried about paying those after-Christmas bills.
And the children were impatient – the girls and the boys,
    As they thought only of presents: the gifts, the toys.
But then, what to my blood-shot eyes should appear,
    But a choir of angels, with good tidings to share.
“A child will be born in just a few days,
    That, if you will let him, can change all your ways.”
“The gifts He will bring are joy, mercy and love,
    Sent by the King of Kings from above.”

A week to go to Christmas.  Are you ready?  Despite some people starting their Christmas shopping as early as September and the big rush to spend money on Black Friday, it is said that this year the busiest shopping days for Christmas are still ahead for us, with next Friday expected to be the busiest of the year.  And I wonder – how will all of this last-minute shopping lead us to joy, mercy and love?

In all three readings, we hear about the great Gift that God gave to us at the first Christmas – the gift of His Son, Jesus.  It’s a gift that was planned for us from the beginning of time, prophesied by Isaiah, acknowledged by St. Paul confirmed by the angel to Joseph, and the gift does indeed lead us to joy, mercy and love – far more than any present that can be wrapped up and placed under a tree. For the Gift of Jesus not only leads us to joy, mercy and love – Jesus IS Joy, Mercy and Love Incarnate.

But like so many gifts that we receive, this gift comes with Some Assembly Required.  And, as with any gift that is of significant value, we must follow the instructions on how to get the most enjoyment out of it, and a commitment to maintain it if it is to remain of value to us. 

Commitment.  Why is it that we’re willing to commit to large payments for a house or car or other toys, but are afraid to commit where it really counts – the maintenance of the gift of our faith?  Is it that we want to keep our options open?  If we do commit, is it conditional?  What are our priorities?  Is our faith more important than any other commitment that we make?

With the beginning of a new year around the corner, now is the time we should be thinking about those New Year’s Resolutions that we hope to begin, and let us start with resolving to cherish the Gift of Jesus in our lives.  Make it the priority of your life.

Then, decide what you are going to do to maintain it.  Commit to setting aside time every day to read something to grow your faith – not less than 15 minutes, or the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.  If you haven’t already, complete a pledge card and commit to supporting your parish financially, every week. Commit to becoming involved in some sort of volunteer organization or project every month, even if it only one day each month.  And, an excellent way to jump-start your faith or give it a boost for the new year is by attending the upcoming Men’s or Women’s ACTS retreat. 

Make your commitments NOW, before the beginning of the year, so that you’re ready when the time comes.  It is the fastest, surest way to Joy, Mercy and Love – the way to Jesus.

Finally, the Gift of Jesus is a gift meant to be shared with others.  If we do – if we help others to encounter Jesus through our words and actions – then they too will be filled with the Holy Spirit and the gift of His Joy, Mercy and Love.

If the challenge seems daunting, remember what the angel said to Joseph, “Do not be afraid.”

Will you encounter Jesus at Christmas?  Will you commit to assembling and maintaining your relationship with Jesus?  Will you bring Jesus to others?  I hope so.

And so let us exclaim, as we prepare for this week,
Merry Christmas to all; Jesus comes, whom we seek
– and who indeed seeks us.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ransomed and Waiting

Ransomed and Waiting
Homily for December 13, 2016    Third Sunday of Advent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

“Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”

These words from the prophet Isaiah are words of anticipation and hope.  In the earlier chapters from Isaiah, the prophet warned what was going to happen to Judah because of their infidelity to God; now, after they have been oppressed by the Assyrians, Isaiah offers words of hope and encouragement to remind Judah that God is with them, despite what they’ve experienced.  God will free them from Assyria’s rule and they will be able to rejoice once again. They have been ransomed; now they need only wait for their freedom.

So, this may be a good time to ask ourselves – are we still excited about the coming of Christmas?  Are we preparing ourselves joyfully for Jesus in our lives?  Or are we being worn down by the minutiae of our preparations and the false messages of depression and despair that seem to come to us from every direction? 

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing about our need to prepare ourselves, not only for Jesus’ birthday, but for the second coming of Christ and the consequences of not being ready.  Last week we heard John’s call to repentance and a warning of the impending doom for those who failed to repent; the week before that we heard Jesus’ warning about we don’t know when we will be called before God and so to be ready. 

But if all we do is focus on the impending doom that we may face if we are not ready; if we allow our worries and troubles to overshadow the hope and promises of God,  then we might lose the joy of what we should be anticipating.  We can miss the true presence of Christ already in our lives today and the joy that He can bring to us. 

After all, we are surrounded by evil in the news – so why should we rejoice?  We know of friends and family members who have died and we miss those who cannot share the holidays with us – so why should we rejoice?  We cannot afford to celebrate the holidays in a matter that is being emphasized in the commercials we see and hear – so why should we rejoice?  We have so many things that are pressing in upon us – challenges to our health, our families, our well-being – so why rejoice?

In today’s Gospel, John has been imprisoned and now he sends messengers to Jesus to ask Him if He’s the one that everyone is waiting for. 

Jesus’ response echoes what we heard in our first reading from Isaiah – look for yourselves: the blind can see; the dead are raised; the poor have good news proclaimed to them.  Good News.  Joyful news.  The wait is over.

Because God IS with us. 

Today we celebrate Gau-de-tay’ Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent.  Gaudete means “Rejoice!”, and so we should, as we have passed the half-way mark of our journey toward Christmas.  We pause in our Advent preparations to remind ourselves of the promise of joy that is to come. We light the rose-colored candle in our Advent wreath, and sometimes we don festive rose-colored vestments.  (Yes, they are ROSE, not pink. Like in that old 80’s movie, girls may be “Pretty in Pink”, but not clergy, as I’ve been told many times by priest-friends.)

This Sunday, the midway point of Advent, makes me think about one of the many funny dog-videos I saw last week.  I’m blessed with several friends on Facebook that are dog lovers, and whenever I need cheering up all I have to do is watch a couple of the videos that they post showing dog antics.  This one particular video was of a little dachshund playing in the snow.  It started with a field of snow, and the top of the snow was moving a little as something burrowed beneath it.  All of a sudden, a little black head popped up from under the snow to look around for a minute, then back down he went under the snow to madly tunneling about, popping back up a couple of minutes later to get his bearings, then back down he went.  He was obviously having a ball playing in the snow, even if he wasn’t sure where he was going.

So it is with us.  The Church gives us this Sunday in the middle of our Advent preparations to allow us to pop up and get our bearings, and to remind us that our joy shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas.  It can be in the preparations themselves that we have our encounter with Jesus.

And that’s the reason for the season – the coming of Emmanuel, God with Us.  God is coming to us to be WITH us.  He has already ransomed us through His death and resurrection. His presence in our life will bring us joy, if we let Him into our hearts. That’s His perennial Christmas gift to us – His presence in our lives.

In return, the greatest gift we can give to one another is the gift of OUR presence to others.  Not “presents” with a “T-S”, but “presence” with a “C-E”. 

As we wait for the coming of Christmas in two weeks, as we finish our last-minute preparations and gift-buying, we should ask ourselves: Do we have that most important gift ready – the gift of presence - for those we love? After all, the gift of our presence to others IS the gift of love. And God’s love is already here, ready for us. 

The wait is almost over.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Promises, Instructions and Warnings

Promises, Instructions and Warnings
Homily for November 27, 2016    First Sunday of Advent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Happy New Year!  For us Catholics, today, the First Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of a New Liturgical Year.  But it would be a little strange to run around and wish people a “Happy New Liturgical Year”, so I’m sticking with just “Happy New Year”.  Try it – it might make people think you’re crazy but it will also give you an opportunity to talk about the Real Meaning of Christmas.

And despite what you are seeing on TV and in the stores, this isn’t the beginning of the Christmas season, but of the season of Advent.  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin 'Adventus,' which means 'coming', and it is a preparatory season – a season of looking forward and waiting in anticipation for something great to happen.  And as Catholics we use this period of Advent to prepare for two distinctly different events – the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus the historical figure, and, more importantly, for the time when Jesus the Christ will come again.

And all three of today’s readings help us to begin our preparations for this second event, the return of Christ: the first is a promise; then a series of instructions; and finally - a warning.

First, the promise.  Isaiah talks about the future Kingdom of God that is to come, and he gives us a vision of hope.  He describes the coming Kingdom as one of worldly peace; that there will be a day when people “from all nations” will come and seek the Kingdom.  There will be no more wars, nor a need for them.  The day of our salvation is coming. 

But we are not there yet.  And so, St. Paul gives us instructions in his Letter to the Romans on how we should be preparing ourselves for that day of salvation.  His instructions sound almost the opposite of some of our Christmas preparations, doesn’t it?  How many times have we heard about Christmas office parties which get out of hand?  Did you know that there is more alcohol consumed for Christmas than any other time of the year except for New Year’s Eve?  As for rivalry and jealousy, all we have to do is look to how people respond to Black Friday sales to see just how bad people can act. 

And while that sense that the world will end tomorrow has diminished over the last two thousand years, our own need for a sense of urgency in our lives has not diminished, for we do not know the time and the place of our own departure and, sooner than later, we will be facing God, at least individually.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  It seems to be a bit of a downer to begin a season marked with preparations for Christmas with such dire predictions.  In his warning to His disciples, Jesus gives a harsh, apocalyptic view of the future – two men are working in the field: one is taken: one is left behind.  Two women grinding in the mill: one taken; one left behind.  The book series, “Left Behind” by Jenkens and LaHaye, was based on a literal interpretation of this passage – all of the faithful have been taken away by Christ, leaving the rest of humanity to face the upcoming apocalyptic battle between good and evil.

And yet, although we normally think of it as referring to some sort of cataclysmic event, the word Apocalypse comes from a Greek word which means literally "unveiling," or a revelation of something unknown.  The second coming of Christ isn’t a time of depression; it is a time of joy for those who are ready.  What if this passage means that the bad guys are taken away, leaving the rest of us to enjoy a new world with Jesus, free from tribulation?  After all, Jesus has told us that He is coming back TO us, that the world will be renewed.  Wherever we are in life, there is a better future in store for us.  We wait in anticipation for His second coming to us.

Unfortunately, for many people the days leading up to Christmas ARE depressing.  There are those who will be facing the holidays for the first time without a loved one who may have died or is gone; there are those who see all of the celebrations and feel the pressures of not having enough to celebrate with them; there are those who may be experiencing family problems and may be estranged from those they should be loving.  They cannot see that the focus of this season is not about parties and presents, but about the gift that God already gave us - the gift of Jesus and the promise of a better future in His Kingdom, where we will be reunited with loved ones and experience the joy of being in the presence of God.

So let’s not get lost in doom and gloom.  Advent isn’t a season of worry and despair; it is a season of hope and anticipation.  I read somewhere, from a Catholic source no less, that since the Christmas season doesn’t begin until December 25th, that we shouldn’t be singing Christmas carols or turning on Christmas lights or even sending out Christmas cards before that day.   I’ve never understood that.  Think about the time just before a baby is born.  What do you do?  You clean and decorate the baby’s nursery; you hold baby showers and prepare gifts for the newborn; and if you’re GOOD friends of the mother-to-be, you might even prepare food for the family, knowing that once the child is born these will be the things which the family will need for the new addition to the family.

And so it is with us.  Advent is a season of preparation, of anticipation.  Let us take these next four weeks to prepare for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birthday, allowing the Spirit of Christmas enter into our lives and sharing with each other the joys we have received because Jesus is in our lives.  Sing songs; share food and fellowship.  But don’t let the frenetic activities of preparing for celebrating a historical event overshadow the true meaning of Christmas.  Let us also prepare ourselves for His second coming into our lives.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Of Kings and Men

Of Kings and Men
Homily for November 20, 2016    Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

This weekend we celebrate the end of our Liturgical Year, with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  We commonly call this “Christ the King Sunday”, although I’ve recently met people who thought that it meant that they should attend Mass at Christ the King Church off of Northwest Highway this weekend. 

Why do we celebrate this feast, especially at the end of our liturgical year? It reminds us that Jesus is more than a teacher, He is Our King.  The Universe was created by and belongs to Him.  Next week we begin a new cycle of teachings, beginning with celebrating His birth and preparing for his Second Coming.  And today, we are reminded that He will come as our Lord and King.

This feast is a relatively new addition to our liturgical calendar, Church-speaking, since it was only added in 1925.  In his encyclical establishing this feast day, Pope Pius XI (the eleventh) said:  "If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all (people), purchased by His precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; (and) if this power embraces all (people), it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from His empire. He must reign in our minds, … . He must reign in our wills,  … . He must reign in our hearts, … and (we must) love God above all things, and cleave to Him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God."  We are Instruments of justice.

In a sense, then, this feast is really less about Christ as King as it is a reminder that WE are members of His Kingdom, and that we, too, have responsibilities to that Kingdom.  When we are baptized, during our anointing with chrism we are told that we have been anointed as “priests, prophets and kings”. So, as Catholics, through our baptisms we are called not only to follow Christ as our King, but that WE are called to be kings as well.

Bishop Robert Barron summed our role as “kings” with this:

Finally, what does it mean for the ordinary Catholic to be a king? In the theological sense, a king is someone who orders the charisms within a community so as to direct that community toward God. In this way, he is like the general of an army or the conductor of an orchestra: he coordinates the efforts and talents of a conglomeration of people in order to help them achieve a common purpose. … How does one grow in the capacity to exercise kingly leadership? … On the Catholic reading, religious people—the baptized—come forth boldly and publicly and are more than willing to govern, to be kings, out of religious conviction. If you are looking for examples of what I’m describing here, look no further than William Lloyd Garrison, Fulton Sheen, Martin Luther King, or Dorothy Day. Baptized kings who refuse to reign are like a hilltop city covered in clouds.

So, we too are called to be Kings, and Christ taught us how to rule. Our Church continues to teach us how to rule.  Pope Francis is a living example on how to rule.  And if there’s a mission statement for our kingship, it is the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

We’ve studied and prayed and reflected on the Works of Mercy during the Jubilee of Mercy, which along with our Liturgical Year closes this weekend.  The Holy Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s Basilica, which was opened on Dec. 8th last year, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, will be closed and sealed with brick and mortar this weekend signaling the end of this extraordinary event, and the doors will remain closed until another Jubilee event is declared.

But although Pope Francis will be closing the Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s, our call – our Mission – to show mercy continues.  We, as subjects in Christ’s Kingdom, must now continue living and practicing the Works of Mercy, not just occasionally or when convenient, but as a life-style. 

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  First, a bit of trivia.  Who was the first saint to enter heaven?  I’d say it was St. Dismas – the Good Thief from today’s Gospel.  Although scriptures doesn’t reveal the names of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus, other writings identifies the Good Thief with the name of Dismas, and Jesus tells him that “today you will be with me in paradise.”  Can you imagine what all of the other saintly people waiting their turn to enter Heaven must have thought when Dismas strolled through the gates with Jesus? “Hey, no cutting in line?!”

It’s a trick question:  they were HAPPY!  Remember, there is great rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner.

Dismas recognized Jesus as King.  Not an earthly king but the King of Heaven.  He didn’t expect Jesus to come down from the cross; he didn’t expect Jesus to save his earthly life.  Despite the pain and suffering he experienced, Dismas recognized Jesus for who He was, and believed with the hope that comes with faith.  And Dismas’ plea to be remembered by Jesus when Jesus assumed His reign was a plea for mercy.  His plea is our plea. And Jesus will respond to us just as He did to Dismas – with God’s infinite mercy.

It is our mission, then, it to carry that mercy to all those we meet.

Would you recognize Jesus today? It would be tough, if your only contact with Him is as a spectator at a Sunday Mass.  It would be like meeting someone in passing at the airport or on a commuter train.  If you saw them enough times you might get to a point that you recognized a face, but unless you sat with them and talked with them you’d never know them.

So it is with Jesus.  We encounter Him through His Word, His Liturgy, and His people.  And shortly, you will hear about a way to encounter Jesus through an upcoming ACTS retreat.  But it is through prayer that we talk with Him.  We must pray, and we must listen.

Finally, we’re reminded from the Second Vatican Council’s document, “Lumen Gentium” or “Light of the People”, that “as His disciples, WE are named as His kings so that we too ‘might be constituted in royal freedom, and that by true penance and a holy life we might conquer the reign of sin in ourselves’”.

We are called to be Kings.  We are also God’s Stewards of the many blessings He has given to us.  Let us prepare ourselves and act like it.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Attitude in Prayer

Attitude in Prayer
Homily for October 23, 2016    Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

    In today’s Gospel, did you notice that the tax collector stood in the back of the temple area to pray?  I wonder – was he Catholic …?
    In any case, what’s prayer?  If you looked it up, you’d probably find that prayer generally can be grouped as prayers of adoration and worship, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of petition for ourselves or intercession on someone else’s behalf.  It seems that while we sometimes give thanks for what we have – like when we rattle through “grace” before a meal, mostly we believe that what we have, we earned ourselves and so don’t give thanks often enough.  And while we praise God at Mass or when some miraculous event occurs, when was the last time you saw someone jump up in a crowd of people at your office or social event and shouted, “Praise Jesus!”?
    It seems that the greatest majority of our prayers focus on intercession and petitions.  We want something from God.  And that's OK, as long as we don't forget the rest.
    All of today’s readings – including the responsorial psalm – are about asking God for something.  Mercy.  And as we approach the close of the Jubilee of Mercy, I think it is helpful for us to think about what our priorities are in our prayers, our attitude in our prayers, and what we really want from God from our prayers.
    Why do we pray?  How many of us have the attitude of the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, “Hey, God, I’ve got a great life.  I’ve got a new car, a big house, and I have enough money that can go and do just about anything I want.  I’m a good guy, and I’m so glad I don’t have to struggle like some of those poor schmucks.  Well, I gotta run or I’ll miss the Cowboy’s football game.” 
    But often we’re on the other side of the fence.  There’s been many times when I’ve had someone say to me, “Why should I bother to pray?  It doesn’t seem to do any good.”  Or, “Why does God seem to answer everyone else’s prayers but mine?” Maybe we’re fighting just to survive and we’re desperately seeking a way out of our troubles.  Especially during this election year, where there’s been such hatred and viciousness surrounding us, we cry out, “Where’s God when we need Him?”
    We are living in troubling times, but are they worse that when Jesus walked the Earth?  Israel was an occupied country under Roman rule; almost all of the Apostles were martyred for their faith.  In our second reading, St. Paul is in prison as he writes to Timothy, and he knows that in a short while he too will be executed.  There were diseases and natural disasters and war and violence, just like today. 
    (OK, maybe they didn’t have to deal with people dressing up in scary clown costumes accosting them, or with listening to the clowns currently running for political office.  But they did have to deal with the Pilates and Herods and Caesars of their time, not to mention their chosen leaders in the synagogues and the Temple.)
    And if you were to measure the success of our prayers of petition and intercession during the last 2000 years by their earthly effectiveness, then it would seem that it is a waste of time to pray.
    But prayer is much more than just getting God to give us something or fix something for us.  Our prayers are our conversations with God.  Conversations.  They are meant to be two-way – speaking AND listening.  And listening can be tough, since God doesn’t normally respond in a manner we are used to – no phone calls or emails, no text messages or even a Facebook post.  We must learn to LISTEN to God, to hear His voice – with our hearts.  And we cannot do that unless we make time for God, to be alone with Him. 
    God DOES hear our prayers.  And, like in the first reading from Sirach, we don’t have to be poor to be heard; rich or poor, God listens to all of us equally, especially when we turn to Him with a contrite spirit.
    But if all we do is pray to get something, whether for ourselves or someone else, without being poor in spirit – an attitude of respect for God because He is God –  then we’ve made God nothing more than a genie in a bottle, like Barbara Eden in the old TV series “I Dream of Genie”.  Pop the cork and ask away, and maybe your wish will come true.
    Like Paul, we must focus on our true future – eternity.  And IF, in our prayers of petition, we recognize our own shortcomings and ask for God’s mercy, He will hear us.  Then, like Paul, we will be able say, no matter our current sufferings, that “the Lord will rescue us from every evil threat and will bring us safely to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lost and Found

Lost and Found
Homily for September 11, 2016    Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Have you ever been lost?  I don’t mean the kind where you weren’t given good directions to go somewhere.  In that case it’s usually your destination that’s lost. You’re not lost – not really.  You know where you are, even if you don’t know where you are going.  It’s kind of like the signs you see in the mall with the red “X’s” that say, “You are here.” You know where you need to go, and while you may need to look up your destination, at least you know where you’re at.

I’m talking about the kind of “being lost” that comes when you don’t know where you are or which way to go; the kind of “lost” that leaves you with a feeling of total helplessness. It’s the kind of “lost” that causes you to be afraid, or worse, panicked to the point of despair.  The kind of “lost” where you don’t know what to do or where to turn.  The kind of “lost” where you feel all alone.

I think we’ve all experienced that feeling at times during our lives.  Maybe we’ve been traveling someplace where we’ve never been before, like a foreign country, and lost our way.  Or maybe our car has broken down and we’re miles from help.  It’s not so bad if someone’s with us, but if we’re alone, then the fear – even panic – can set in.  I’ve been there.

And I don’t mean just physically lost.  There are times in our lives where something happens that we aren’t prepared for: the loss of a job; a serious illness; a sudden death.  Something goes terribly wrong – at work, at home, at school, or even in the world at large – and we don’t know where to turn for help.  That’s the sense of being lost because we don’t know where to go or what to do.  And that sense of “being lost” is magnified when we believe we have to face it all alone.

Many of you may have felt that way 15 years ago this weekend.  On September 11th, 2001, our lives were forever changed when a small group of people, guided by hatred, stole the lives of almost 3000 people and left tens of thousands of others “lost”.  Many still carry the scars, even if they don’t necessarily feel “lost” anymore. 

Now, there’s a whole new generation that only know of 9/11 through the stories they’ve heard, movies on TV and pictures in their history books.  I can understand what that’s like, as that’s how I remember Pearl Harbor from 50 years before. But the wars and prejudices, the hatreds and the … evil … still exist in our world today and, while the immediate sense of being lost from those earlier events may have faded, there will always be those times when something happens, dividing us and leaving us once again feeling lost and abandoned.

And when we have nowhere else to turn, when we think we’ve been abandoned, it is then that we ask ourselves, “Where is God?”  And God answers us, “I am here.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us three examples of how God responds to our being lost:  the first is about a lost sheep, the second is about a lost coin, and finally the one about a lost child.  Each story tells us of how God is there for us. 

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus tells us that God is searching for those who may not even know they are lost – the lost sheep has wandered away from the safety of the flock and may not even know it’s in danger.  Through His Church, God reaches out to those lost souls, first taking to them His Love and His Mercy, and in turn bringing them back to eternal life.

The second story tells us that even the least of us is valuable to God.  No matter how small and insignificant we may think we are or that, since God has all the rest of the world who are better than we are, why would He need us?  He still searches for us because we are VALUABLE to Him.  We are a product of His love and He doesn’t want even one of us to become “lost”.

Finally, we have the story of the prodigal son.  We’re all very familiar with this parable and the story is rich in many metaphors of our lives, but today I want to stress that for those of us who KNOW that God is out there, those of us who have deliberately turned our back on His love, He is STILL waiting for us.  And we don’t have to come all the way, or grovel, or beg for His Love.  His Love is there, it has always been there, it will always be there.  He is telling us, “You are NOT Alone.”

And while it sometimes appears that we are lost, it only appears that way to us.  God ALWAYS knows where we are, and He gives us so many ways to find our way home to Him.  One of the best is the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – Confession.  All we have to do is turn to Him and He will come running for us.

So, whenever we feel lost, especially to the point of despair, and we are overwhelmed with the evils of the world around us and don’t know where to turn or what to do, we need to remember that God is with us.  And when we don’t think that we’re going in the right direction, if we just follow Jesus, He will lead us to our final destination.

One final thought.  There is a song that is popular right now called, “Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle.  The lyrics go something like this:

When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move /
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through /
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You /
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!…

When you think you are lost, turn to Jesus.  It doesn’t matter if it is over something as small as failing a test in school or something as large as facing the loss of health or even life.  God will not abandon us. 
Sister Faustina said, “Jesus, I Trust in You.”  And so we sing, as we face the unknown evils of our current world:

Jesus, I will Trust in You.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble

Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble
Homily for August 28, 2016    Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s readings are about humility, and they make me think about a somewhat spiritual country and western song that was popular when I was in college.  I’m sure many of you remember it, even if it was written before your time. I’ll bet you could even finish the chorus:  “Oh Lord it's hard to be humble / When you're perfect in every way.”  (I can't wait to look in the mirror. / Cause I get better-looking each day.)  Yep, Mac Davis’ little ditty actually made it into the top 10 in 1980.

I know it seems silly, but there’s a lot of spiritual truth in this song.  Oh, I don’t mean the part about getting better-looking each time we look into a mirror – we all know better than that.  But the part about it being hard to be humble – we might as well say it’s almost impossible to be humble all the time.  Or, even most of the time.  Why is that?

Well, we don’t see very many examples of humility in our world today – it’s very pride-oriented.  All we have to do is look at the egos of those running for political office, or the actions of many of the people in professional sports or the entertainment industry to see powerful egos at work.  (Not everyone – there are a FEW humble sports figures.) And we want to share in their glory – we say that we are PROUD to be Americans or we seek to join groups or organization that we think are important to others.

And we are proud of the accomplishments of our children, or even of our friends and co-workers; and we often equate pride with that good feeling we get whenever we do something good for someone else.  Is that so bad?  Can we be humble while still feeling pride in ourselves or those around us?  Yes, if we recognize the source as coming from God.

In his book, “How to be Somebody”, Mark Mendes points out that the virtue of humility can be especially difficult to develop since it requires us to overcome the vice of pride, the deadliest of the seven deadly sins.  And Mendes’ book is full of examples of how the saints and others lived humble lives and it has many prayers and quotes from them on how they worked be humble before God.  If humility is the opposite of pride, then we must find ways to become humble.  Jesus points out over and over again that humility is the key to get into heaven.   

But most of us want to be a SOMEBODY.  And while I’m sure we’ve all done things we are NOT proud of, each of us usually has at least one thing in our life that we brag about, whether it is something to do with what we have or what we’ve done.  And we often depend on recognition of our accomplishments to get ahead and “succeed” in the world.  Often our sense of self-worth comes from whatever it is that we are “proud” of.

It IS hard to be humble.  But, we are NOT perfect.  And we need to work at overcoming our pride. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us two lessons in humility that we can learn from – one has to do with who we think we ARE and how we think we should be treated, and one about rewards for what we DO and how we should treat others. 

The first, the example of the seating at a banquet, is a warning about having a false sense of self-worth, of thinking too much of ourselves in comparison with others.  When we go out somewhere, don’t we position ourselves in relation to others, especially as a group – maybe because we want to sit beside someone? Or, do we become indignant when someone cuts in front of us in line at a store, or cuts us off driving? How often do we resent how we are treated by others because it isn’t FAIR or they don’t understand “our” rights?  If things don’t go our way do we become embarrassed or angry? When we judge ourselves in relationship to others and how they treat us and we don’t recognize that our true value in life comes from being a child of God, then we risk becoming angry or resentful; or worse, we risk entering into a state of depression or despair whenever our false sense of self-worth fails us.

The second example is one of earning rewards. When we do something good for someone else, don’t we want someone to say “thank you” or make some other kind of acknowledgment of our actions?  Jesus is warning us about becoming part of a “mutual admiration society” where we exchange “gifts” with those who really don’t benefit from them while those who are in need go without.  While we are created equal in the eyes of God, we are not created equal in our earthly situations.  God expects us whom He has blessed to help others in need, and if we focus on gaining earthly rewards, then we risk losing our heavenly ones.

I wonder – are the saints horrified when we name something after them?  How many buildings should be named, “Anonymous”?  In one of the many biographies of Mother Teresa, who will be canonized next Sunday, she said that she was always worried that people would think too highly of her and her accomplishments.  She always said that it wasn’t her; that it was God who accomplished everything and she just happened to be the poor instrument that He used at times. Do we have that same attitude of acknowledgment to God whenever we do something that deserves recognition?

There is prayer called The Litany of Humility.  It is divided into three parts: in the first we pray for Jesus’ help to overcome our desires; in the second we for Jesus’ help to overcome our fears; and in the third we pray for grace to desire actions of humility.  I hate the prayer because it makes me very uncomfortable, but maybe that’s the first step for me to become more humble.  Maybe it can help you, too.  “The Litany of Humility.”

Mac Davis’ song ends with, “But I’m doing the best that I can.” That is our challenge; that is the question we must ask ourselves: Are we doing the best that we can? With God’s help and Mercy, we can.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Religious War

A Religious War
Homily for August 14, 2016    Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s Gospel is short and - maybe – not so sweet.  Jesus is saying that there will be division in the world for those who follow Him.  And we only have to turn to the news to see that even today, he’s STILL right. 

Pope Francis said two weeks ago that the world IS at war, but not a religious war.  ISIS disagreed, responding to the pope’s comments that he is naïve and that from their perspective, it IS a religious war. Which is right?

Maybe both.

Pope Francis is right when he says that wars, despite what a person may claim, are usually about someone (or a group of someones) that want something that someone else has – whether it is money or resources, or power – and are willing to resort to violence to obtain it.  And ISIS is only the most recent group in our long history that has used religion as an excuse to obtain what they want – their own way.

But in reality, for true Christians there is only one true “religious” war, and it is fought daily by individuals against themselves.  It is the ages-old battle that we often refer to as being between Good and Evil – and I don’t mean between Jesus and the Devil.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the Devil does exist, and when he takes sides, he isn’t on the side of Good.  But for each of us the true religious war lies in deciding which of two gods we will follow – the One True God, or a false god.  And there is only one false god, and it's not Satan.  It’s the god that we see whenever we look in a mirror.  It is either God’s way or our way, and we try to make ourselves into gods when we decide not to follow God's Will.  All of the wars and divisions and hatred and greed and pride and any of the other deadly forces we face are the result of wanting things our own way.

That’s the division Jesus is speaking of today.  And if everyone truly followed the teachings of Jesus - of love, of obedience, of mercy - then there would be no wars – there would be no need for them.

But we refuse to follow Jesus, and so, we are at war.  As Christians we must be defenders of our faith when attacked, whether that be from terrorists from half-way around the world with warped ideologies, or from those closest to us in our families and workplaces.  As Christians versus the rest of the world, however, there has to be a difference in our approach to the battle – like the original old hippies’ 1960’s anti-war slogan: Love not war.  (It wasn’t “make love not war”, despite what some might think.) To be a Christian, our approach to battle has to be one of love and mercy.  One of peace and not violence.  One of sacrifice.

But not everyone believes as Christians should, and so we are a house divided.  That's how Jesus describes it: A House Divided.  And then Jesus makes it even more personal: it's father against son; mother against daughter.  (In-laws against out-laws? – uh, nevermind.)

For those of us who have children who have left the Church, or family members or friends who have left the faith, this Gospel passage strikes at our hearts.  We love and care for our children, our family, our friends, and yet they won’t listen to us!  They have NO respect!

I mean, just look at the kids today.  They almost all have cell phones and, if they still watch TV, it’s probably because they have one in their bedroom.  We blame their bad manners and lack of respect for us and other authoritarian figures like teachers and police officers on the media and we claim that they are tuned out because of computer games and texting and social media.  Reminds me of a quote I once heard:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

(By the way, for those of you who didn’t figure it out, that quote comes from Socrates, approximately 400 years before Christ walked the earth.) Nothing new here - some things never change.

But we really do want them to save them, right?  And as good Catholics, we see in our faith the way to salvation.  And so we must be strong in our faith.  And if we are to be strong in our faith, we must be on FIRE for our faith.

Do you consider yourself on fire for your faith?  If not, why?  What would it take to light a fire within you?  To make you STRONG in your faith?

Many of you have been watching the Olympics in Rio, and you know that in order to compete at that level, there is one thing they must do – PRACTICE.  They practice in their field because they believe in their ability to compete.  And so it should be with us.  We must PRACTICE our faith in order to compete well against the challenges that we face.

As we begin a new school year, St. Paul’s has many, many opportunities for you to grow stronger in your faith, but it will take more than just the one hour at Mass on Sunday.  Become a member in one of the many organizations here like Catholic Daughters, the Men’s Club, Knights of Columbus, the Women’s Guild, and VOLUNTEER whenever the opportunity arises.  Spend at least one additional hour each week participating in something beyond the hour you spend at Mass.  And if you REALLY want to help set the world on fire for Christ, set YOURSELF on fire through participating in our upcoming ACTS retreat.

But for next week, I want you to put your faith to work and try something.  Invite a family member or friend who has fallen away from the Church to come to Mass with you.  Invite your children – those older ones you can’t force to come with you – and bribe them with lunch or dinner or SOMETHING if you have to.  They may say, "no", but you can and must keep trying.  It may be the spark they need to start a fire in their soul.

And it may help enkindle that fire within you, too.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Asking for the Holy Spirit

Asking for the Holy Spirit
Homily for July 24, 2016    Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

What would you do if you won the lottery?  A BIG one – like the 1.6 billion dollar Powerball last January.  OK, so that one was split three ways but still, half a billion dollars is a LOT of money, and if you had all that money, what is the first thing that you’d want for yourself?  (I mean, after paying off your bills, of course, And giving St. Paul’s ten percent of your winnings – after taxes.)  In other words, if money was no object, what’s the ONE thing that you want most of all?  A new car?  A new house?  Some other expensive toy?

But, maybe what you want can’t be bought with any amount of money.  Maybe you’re fighting health issues, and you just want them to go away – an end to the suffering or to get healing for an illness that others have said is incurable?

Or maybe what you really want is something that you don’t think you could ever get, or that you even deserve.  Maybe it’s just something as simple as having someone to love, or someone to love you?

I really want you to think seriously about this for a moment - if you asked God for ONE thing for yourself today, what would it be? 

Now – I want you to ask yourself another question:  “WHY”?  Why do I want a new car or a new house or for the pain to go away or to live longer – or whatever it is that you want?  I’m sure that whatever it is, you have a good reason for wanting it, but since you want it, you obviously don’t have it.  So, ask yourself, why do I want this one thing over anything else?

Now, hold onto that thought for a few minutes.

Today’s Gospel from Luke is one that’s often quoted by those who proclaim the “Gospel of Prosperity”.  Others passages include:
  • Matthew, chapter 7, verse 11: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him”  and Matthew, chapter 21, verse 22: “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
  • Or, Mark, chapter 11, verse 24: “Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.”
  • Or in the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 14: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it”; and John, chapter 15, verse 7:  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
And there are many others.

According to these scripture passages, if you pray hard enough, you should get what you ask for, right?  Maybe not.  I didn’t win that big Lottery jackpot in January, and I even bought a ticket and prayed about it.  So I guess I didn’t pray hard enough? Or maybe God knew it wouldn't be good for me.

In any case, let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel reading.  It begins with Jesus’ disciples asking him how to pray, and Jesus teaching them a shortened form of the Lord’s Prayer.  (The “Our Father that we usually pray comes from Matthew’s Gospel).  But look at how today’s Gospel ends:  “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” 

The answer to everything we need or want lies in the precious gift that God wants to give us:  the gift of His Holy Spirit – the gift of Himself.  And if we look at what Jesus is telling His disciples from that perspective, we see that the other gifts that God offers us through His Holy Spirit are far greater than mere cars or houses or money or even health.

Do you remember the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit from your CCD or faith formation classes?  I’m embarrassed to say that I have to usually look them up.  The 7 gifts are:   Knowledge.   Understanding.    Wisdom.    Counsel.    Courage.    Piety.   Awe and Wonder of the Lord.  And the 12 fruits are:  Peace,   Joy,   Love,   Patience,   Kindness,   Goodness,   Generosity,   Gentleness,   Faithfulness,   Modesty,   Chastity, and Self-control.  These are the Good Gifts that God has in store for us, available to us if we just ask.

Why are these gifts so valuable?  Why should we want them instead of wealth, health or power?  How do they answer the question of “what’s the one thing I want most?”

Because if you think about the question I asked you earlier, “Why do I want what I want?”, we find that it is because we are lacking in one or more of these Gifts.  We want what we want because we don’t have what we need – peace, joy, love, courage, wisdom – and so on.  We mistakenly think that more money, or better health, or earthly hookups will satisfy us, and they don’t.

But, God knows what we need, and He wants to give it all to us.  Like we hear in the classic Rolling Stone’s song, “You can't always get what you want / But if you try sometimes you might find / You get what you need."  If we pray for the Holy Spirit, then we'll get what we need, for all we really need is the Holy Spirit, and with it comes an inner peace and joy which fills our longings and leads to a holiness that bring us closer to God.

One final thought.  In order for our prayers to be answered we need to pray with persistence.  Persistence in prayer isn’t just us knocking on God’s door with a list of our earthly wants, but it is about helping us come to a better understanding of what we need.  And, with that understanding – that wisdom – we also come to recognize that God indeed answers our prayers.  We only have to accept those gifts that He offers us so that we can also experience the one Gift we need most: His Love.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Litany For Our Nation

A Litany For Our Nation - the rest of the story...

I came across this prayer the other day as I was mucking out my garage. Thirty minutes after I found and read it, I heard the report of the shooting in Louisiana where three more police officers were gunned down.  Now, more than ever, we need to pray for our country.

I don't know where I originally got this, but a search of the Internet provided the following:

"Below is an adaptation of the litany used at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (National Cathedral) in Washington, D.C. at the celebration of Independence Day on Sunday, July 2, 1995. The litany itself is based on the Common Book of Prayer's Thanksgiving for the Nation and Prayer for Sound Government."

The prayer card itself is of my own design.  Please consider praying the litany daily for at least the next 9 days. I've created the prayer "card" below in case you would like to print it out for any group that you belong to.
A Litany For The Nation


Almighty God, giver of all good things:  We thank You for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.  They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.

We thank You for the great resources of this nation.  They make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.

We thank You for the men and women who have made this country strong.  They are models for us, though we often fall short of them.
Inspire us.

We thank You for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land.  It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.

We thank You for the men and women who serve us as first responders – police officers, fire fighters and emergency response personnel – and for the service personnel in the various branches of our military.  They offer their lives for our protection, though we are often ungrateful and disrespectful.
Protect us.

We thank You for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety.  It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.
Renew us.

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
Lord, keep this nation under Your care.

Teach our people to rely on Your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve You faithfully in our generation and honor Your Holy Name.   For Yours is the kingdom, O Lord.
And You are exalted as head above all.

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.  Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime.  And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify Your Holy Name.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Who's My Neighbor?

Who's My Neighbor?
Homily for July 10, 2016    Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

If someone asked you, “Who’s your neighbor?” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?  (Besides someone being mugged and left for dead?)  Is it the person who lives next door to you or on the same street?  How about your co-workers?  Or, for those of you who have children, how about the parents of a child that shares a class with yours?

Or, how about the person that share’s your faith? Look around – go ahead – would you consider the person who is sitting close to you to be your neighbor?

I think you get the idea.  Our word “neighbor” comes from the Old English word “nēah-gebūr”  - nēah, or near, and gebūr, or dweller, and so we might consider those who live or work or close to us as neighbors.  We might also consider people that we associate with, or those that we at least share a common interest with, as neighbors.  And that was exactly the perspective of Jews at the time of Jesus.  Neighbors were those closest to them.

In a sense, I come to you today as your new neighbor.  My name is Bob Bonomi and I will be serving you as one of your deacons.  I’m originally from northern Idaho, and growing up I was typical of many cradle Catholics – I’d go to church for Christmas and Easter sometimes but I wandered away from my faith – so those of you whose children have wandered from the Church, there is still hope for them.  Remember, God works miracles every day.  I didn’t come back to the Church in earnest until about 1990, after a particular difficult period in my life.

I moved to Texas the first time in the summer of 1980 as an engineer and computer specialist – in the middle of the 100-year heat wave – and I discovered that Texans don’t outright lie, they just don’t tell all of the truth.  When I interviewed for the job that February I was told that the “mean temperature of Dallas was 75 degrees”.  Yep – 75 is half-way between 125 (which it was in Wichita Falls when I came through on the 4th of July weekend), and  25 (which it was during the ice storm that rolled through later that fall.)  But nobody told me that there were only three seasons in Texas: almost hot, hotter than Hell, and don’t worry, it will be hot again soon. 

I will have been married to my wife, Rene’, for 35 years this December, and we live in Plano.  We have two grown children, and two small dogs.  I was ordained on Groundhog’s Day, 3½ years ago, and prior to coming here I served as a deacon at St. Francis of Assisi in Frisco.  I currently work in the business office of St. Patrick’s just down the road from here and have been there for almost 9 years.  Prior to that I was a computer specialist and have had my own computer consulting company now for over 25 years.  I know some of you from my old days with the Knights of Columbus at Prince of Peace, and I’ve already met several of you during the last couple of weeks.  I’m looking forward to being a good neighbor.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  The scholar answers his own question to Jesus about what it takes to obtain eternal life with the two greatest commandments which comes from the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, the foundation for Jewish law.  The first, “Love God” comes from Deuteronomy, chapter 6, beginning with verse 4 and is part of the Shema, or the main Jewish prayer which they are to recite three times a day:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, The Lord is One. / Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom / Forever and ever. / And you shall love the Lord your God, / With all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions."

The second, “Love your neighbor”, comes from the book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18:

“Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now, the scholar could have stopped there, but he wanted to put Jesus on the spot by challenging him about who should be considered a neighbor.  See, In Jesus’ time it was the Jewish custom to live a life of what might be considered “national isolationism” – after all, Jews were the “chosen people” of God and deserved special treatment or consideration, while anyone who wasn’t a Jew was considered an inferior.  Even though there were many laws specifically about caring for all those who were marginalized, including not just the poor, widows and orphans, but aliens, laborers, the deaf and blind, even lepers and sinners, those outsiders were obviously not in God’s favor and so were treated as inferiors.

It was one of the reasons why the Jewish leadership distrusted Jesus and had such a problem with him – his “signs”, his miracles, aided those who were outsiders, not the elite or even the “chosen”.

There were two primary reasons for their distrust. The first had to do with pride.  Jewish leadership didn’t believe that the marginalized deserved to be considered worthy of the earthly gifts that God should give to those who “earned” them by being a “good” Jew.  They allowed their ego, their arrogance, their pride, to color their thinking and their behavior toward others.  Jesus’ actions were not consistent with living “the good life” as they saw it.

But the second reason was far more insidious – fear.  They were afraid that the status quo of their lives, the comfort of their own existence and the known way of their lives would be threatened and they would lose the power and control they exercised over others.  Jesus treated outsiders not only as equals, but often in a preferential manner.  With his question, the scholar wanted to show others just what kind of threat Jesus posed to all Jews.

In answering the scholar’s second question about “who is my neighbor?”, Jesus changed the focus from a “who” – who is a neighbor to me – to a “what” – what makes me a neighbor to others.  His parable struck right at the heart of their fear of losing the status quo. 
In the parable, why did the Levite or the priest fail to help the injured man?  Scripture scholars suggest several possible reasons:
  • Perhaps they are on their way to perform religious services and if the victim was dead and they touched him, they would become “unclean” and would not be able to perform their duties.
  • Perhaps they are overwhelmed at the prospect of transporting an injured man through the mountains and finding assistance for him in the next town
  • Perhaps they are afraid, fearing that the man has been placed there to lure them into an ambush.
  • Perhaps they are disgusted by the gore and prefer not to dirty their hands and clothes.
But aren’t these our fears, too?

In any case, the Good Samaritan doesn’t let any of these things interfere with his helping someone who was in grave need.  He was obviously a businessman who traveled that stretch of road often and had business to attend to, yet he still took time and his resources to help without measuring the cost.  He did what he could do for the injured person, and then went back about his business.  But he did not forget about the injured person, for he said that if more was needed, he’d give it.

So, who is our neighbor today?  Or, rather, who is it that we are called to be a neighbor to?  We are over half-way through Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy, and when I see people who are in need of God’s mercy, I wonder if we’re getting the message that Jesus is telling us in the Gospel today.  That WE are our brother’s keeper.  That WE are the source of God’s Mercy to others.  That WE are called to be a neighbor to one and all.

Who is the neighbor that we see laying on the side of the road today?
Are we afraid to help them?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hasta La Vista!

Hasta La Vista!
Homily for June 26, 2016    13th Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

At first glance, it might appear that today’s first reading and the Gospel passage from St. Luke contradict each other.  After all, when Elisha asks Elijah if he could kiss his family goodbye, Elijah tells him to go ahead and “go back” to them.  Yet Jesus, when asked what seems to be a similar question, admonishes the person with what seems to be a harsh judgment about not be fit for the kingdom of God. What gives?

Let’s start with our first reading.  It begins with God telling Elijah on Mount Horeb to anoint Elisha as his successor as prophet to the Israelites. If we go back and look at the previous chapters in first Kings, we read about Elijah’s contest with the 400 prophets of Baal, and how, after winning, he had them executed.  Because of that Queen Jezebel wanted him dead, so he fled to Mount Horeb in fear of his life.

But God had other plans for him.  God revealed Himself to Elijah on the mountain – not in a mighty wind, or an earthquake, or in fire, but in a whispering, soft sound. He ordered Elijah to go back to continue his mission, and gave him three things to do, one of which was to anoint his successor, Elisha, which is where we pick up today.

Now, Elisha appears to be a fairly well-to-do person, as he has 12 yoke of oxen at his disposal for plowing, and most scripture scholars agree that that would be considerable for the times. To follow Elijah is going to call for a significant sacrifice on Elisha’s part.

And yet, having been called by God to replace Elijah, Elisha doesn’t really hesitate when Elijah places his mantle over his shoulders.  In requesting to kiss his parents goodbye, Elisha honors them in accord with the 4th Commandment, but he’s truly saying goodbye – by burning his farming equipment and feeding the oxen to his people he is severing all his ties and there will be no going back.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is beginning His final journey to Jerusalem and His Passion.  There is a sense of immediacy – of urgency – in his journey now.  His admonitions reflect that sense of urgency.   Notice that in all of his admonitions, Jesus doesn’t tell any of his potential disciples to NOT do what they’ve asked, but he’s pointing out that if they truly want to follow Him, they must be aware of the consequences.  He needs committed followers, and He knows that when the time comes for His Passion, almost everyone who says they will follow him will abandon him.  He’s telling them – AND US – that the price of following Jesus is our total commitment to Him.

It is ironic that these readings are for this weekend – the last one I will be celebrating with you as your deacon here at St. Francis.  I think God has a sense of humor, since these readings were set long before I found out I was leaving. But while it is true that I will have new priorities in my life as a deacon, it doesn’t mean that the gift that each one of you has been to me will ever be forgotten.

As I look back over the years of the journey which led me first to St. Francis and now to St. Paul’s in Richardson, I can understand something about the beauty, the joy, of following God’s Will instead of my own. 

I’ve been here 3 ½ years – how quickly they’ve passed.  That’s roughly the same amount of time that Jesus served in His ministry.  I’ve been blessed to have St. Francis as my first assignment as a deacon.  I’ve been blessed with serving with Fr. Larry and all of the other priests and deacons here, and I’ve been blessed with serving with some of the best altar servers I’ve ever seen anywhere. (Don’t let that go to your heads, guys.) And best of all, I’ve been blessed to have developed friendships with so many of you.  You’re like family to me – you ARE family.

When other deacons from the class before mine were reassigned last year, many of them said they felt like they were losing their friends.  I told them that you really never lose true friends, but that they were merely expanding the boundaries of their faith “family”.  It reminds me of a passage from 1st Chronicles, chapter 4, verses 9 and10 – better known to many of you as “The Prayer of Jabez”, from the book by Bruce Wilkinson.  It goes like this:

“Jabez was the most distinguished of his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I bore him with pain.” Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: “Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries!  May your hand be with me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!” And God granted his prayer.’

I’ve always wanted to serve others even before I became a deacon, and I’ve had the joy of serving in many different ministries of my own choosing.  I knew that once I was ordained, however, that it would be God guiding my choices and that He would steer me toward wherever He wanted me to serve.  Now, I see he’s merely expanding my boundaries again.

So, my final words to you are these: have faith in God’s call, and do not be afraid to answer it, whatever it may be.  St. Francis has many, many wonderful opportunities to serve and I’ve been blessed to have been part of several different ministries here, like the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus, and the 8th grade Confirmation class.  But you don’t have to be a deacon to be part of these wonderful ministries. Pick one and get involved, and you too will be blessed.  Don’t be afraid.

Like a first love, St. Francis – YOU – will always have a special place in my heart.  But love for God HAS to be greater than personal wants, and that means I go where I am called.  And my trust in God is great.  I have been amazed by the actions of God in my life.  Maybe I shouldn’t be – after all, He IS God and I’m just a deacon – but His love for me and His presence with me have been amazing, even in the trials and changes that have periodically arisen in my life – just as He is present in the trials and changes you face, too.

And so, to paraphrase the classic rock song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds (actually, the song comes from Ecclesiastes):

To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
“A time to laugh, and a time to cry;
a time to say hello, and a time to say goodbye. “

Yet, it’s really not goodbye, for goodbye and farewell have a sense of finality about them.  I prefer to say, “Hasta la vista".  May God bless you all.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Gift of the Eucharist

The Gift of the Eucharist
Homily for May 29, 2016  
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) – C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

    Try to imagine what it must have been like to be an Apostle the day that Jesus fed the 5,000.  I mean, things had been going so well for you.  According to Luke, you had just returned yesterday from your successful mission trip of preaching and healing, and you’re probably looking forward to a well-earned rest – a day off. (Maybe like what some of us are looking forward to tomorrow?)
    But wait! - here come the people. Jesus takes over, speaking to the crowds and doing the healing.  So, what are you going to do?  Provide crowd control, maybe?  Hey! You’ve just returned from doing missionary work – maybe you can help heal some of the sick?  By the end of the day, over 5,000 men had gathered around you, not to mention the number of women and children who have tagged along, drawn by the presence of Jesus.  He has touched them all, with your help, of course.
    The end of another successful day.
    You’re ready for a little down time, maybe a glass of wine and something to eat.  You might even feel a little smug that everything went so well.  But there are still over 5,000 people out there, and most of them have been there all day.  Some have come from quite a distance, and it is a bit isolated where you’re at.  No fast-food joints nearby.  And you do have compassion for them – after all, you are an Apostle.  It’s time to send everyone home so they can take care of themselves.  You tell Jesus to send them away – they might not listen to you, but surely they’ll listen to him.
    Then Jesus says to you, “You’re not done yet – you feed them.
    With what?!
    If I was one of the Twelve, I’d be in panic-mode.  There’s nothing quite as scary as planning a party and not knowing if you’ll have enough food for those who show up.  It reminds me of all of the requests I see for food for ACTS receptions.  And the Apostles didn’t have the Internet or Sign-up Genius to beg for help.
    You don’t have that much for your own dinner – some bread and fish.  And it’s your dinner.  You and the others are willing to share, but with so many in need out there, you worry if there will there be anything left for you?  A little reluctantly, you give Jesus what you have.
    But then again, we forget that it is Jesus who feeds us.  He takes what you have, says the blessing and – voila’!  When the crowds finish eating, there’s enough left over for a BASKET of food for each of you!  More than enough.
    Isn’t that one of our greatest fears?  That what we have won’t be enough for us if we have to share what we have?
    Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  The Body of Christ is more than the precious Eucharist which we are about to receive, for we become what we eat – we become – we are – the Body of Christ.  And today’s Gospel should remind us that no matter how little we think we have, it all comes from God and with God it is sufficient for His needs – and ours.
    But we tend to be selfish with what God has given us, don’t we?  I mean, it’s OK to share with others, as long as I keep enough for myself?  I thought about this the other day as I was driving into work.  I like to keep a gap between me and the car in front of me – those of you who’ve been rear-ended in an accident know what I mean – and another car slid into the gap and took it from me.
    Now, you might be thinking, “what’s that got to do with food?”  But if we think about it, everything we have is from God – our food, our money, our time – even our gaps.  And we are called to share everything we have with the rest of the body – our body – in Christ.  After all, it isn’t really ours, is it?
    On my way to Mass today I turned on the Catholic radio channel and picked up in the middle of an interview with an author who had just written a book on sports and faith.  He was talking about a certain baseball player who even thanked God whenever he dropped a fly ball.  His reasoning was that even in those times when something happens to us that we consider bad, we should look to God for the blessings it may contain for us.  He said that attitude allowed him to feel blessed and to experience joy even in times of adversity.
    “Taking the loaves and fish, Jesus said THE blessing over them…”  Not “A” blessing, but “the” blessing.  I wondered what kind of blessing Jesus would say.  So, I turned once again to the trusty Internet. Did you know that there are specific Jewish blessing prayers for each different kind of food?  In the case of bread, for example, Jesus would have prayed something like, “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”  He would then have offered the fish, saying, “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, by Whose word all things came to be.” In fact, there are Jewish blessing prayers for just about everything we have or do.
    We too, pray before a meal, although we probably, blast through the traditional, “Bless us O Lord and these, thy gifts…” without much thought about what we’re blessing.  But do we offer a blessing before we receive or use any of the other gifts that God has given us?  Again, Jewish teaching holds that "one should not derive benefit from this world without first reciting a blessing." Making a blessing before using any gift is tantamount to "asking permission" from G-d, acknowledging that "the world, and everything in it, is G-d's (Psalms 24:1) and G-d is the true source of all the gifts of life. In the case of food, it imbues the mundane act of eating with a spiritual awareness – awareness of the true Source of our sustenance, and of the purpose of eating.”  And we need to realize that there is a spiritual dimension to every gift that we have.
    Which brings us back to our celebration today.  Not just the feast of Corpus Christi, but the heart of our weekly celebration – the Eucharist itself.  St. Paul in our second reading reminds us that in celebrating the Eucharist we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes, and we do so with the very body and blood of Christ present in the bread and wine we consume. 
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the Eucharist "the source and summit of the Christian life.” (1324)  It represents not only the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, but the very act of receiving it is “an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words eucharistein [139] and eulogein [140] recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim - especially during a meal - God's works: creation, redemption, and sanctification." (1328)
    In the Lord’s Prayer, which we say (or should say) every day, we ask the Lord to “give us each day, our Daily Bread.”  Daily.  Bread.  We shouldn’t be thinking that what we are asking for is just another meal.  We should be asking for the presence of Christ within us.  In the Gospel of St. John, chapter 6, verse 57 Jesus tells us, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood/ remains in me and I in him, says the Lord.” It is that real presence that makes us holy and part of the Body of Christ.
    One final thought.  Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation on the family, The Joy of Love, said that “…the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”.  Here we are, in our heads, worrying about having enough food or money or time to do things we enjoy.  Why don’t we worry about getting enough of Jesus?  He’s the medicine we need to face the illnesses of society.  He’s the strength we need to face the daily challenges of our life.
    Today, as you approach the altar to receive Jesus, thank Him for all you do have.  And then thank God every day, every time you use any of the gifts He’s given you.  Then you will be Eucharist to all that you meet.“

Monday, May 2, 2016

You Also Testify to Me ... (StVdP)

You Also Testify to Me ...
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul Meeting, May 2, 2016
Dcn. Bob Bonomi

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” In today’s Gospel passage Jesus continues: … “When the Advocate comes … he will testify to me. And you also testify …

You also testify…”  Think about that.  Whether we realize it or not, because we profess to be Christians, others will come to know Jesus through us.  Everything we do during our life testifies to our relationship with Jesus.  It is in how we handle the successes and failures of the challenges we face that we testify to others our belief or lack of belief in Jesus and the love and mercy of God acting in our own lives.

What does our own life teach others about Jesus?  As Vincentians, we minister to the physical needs of the poor as Jesus commanded us, but do we allow the Holy Spirit to minister through us to those who are not materially disadvantaged as well? In our daily conversations, do we spend more time disparaging others than praising them?  In our inevitable discussions about the events in our country and around the world, do we spend more time discussing the evils we see than the joys?  Do others see a loving, merciful God through us, or do they see only judgment and condemnation?

It can be a challenge for us to call upon the Holy Spirit to teach us how to deal with ALL of the situations we face in our daily lives, and not just in our ministry.  In every encounter that we have, we must reflect the love and mercy of Jesus has for others. If we are not sure what to say, or if the conversation is headed in what we think is the wrong direction, we should be ready to say a little prayer for guidance; a prayer from our heart, not just a lengthy formula that we have memorized.

And sometimes the simplest of prayers is the most effective:  “Jesus, I trust in you.”  If we trust in Jesus, if we let the Holy Spirit guide us, then the message that we testify to will become clear to others as well.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Who Is It?

Who Is It?
Homily for April 10, 2016    Third Sunday of Easter - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

“But the disciples did not realize it was Jesus.”

Have you noticed that in almost every post-resurrection account about the encounters between Jesus and his disciples, at first they don’t realize that it’s him?  Even in today's Gospel, as they are sitting around the fire eating breakfast with him, it says that they didn't dare ask him who he was.  They've already encountered him twice before this and still don't see that it is him, even as they realize it IS him.

Think about it.  In the story about the encounter on the road to Emmaus the Gospel says that the two travelers were kept from recognizing Jesus, but in all of their other encounters they just flat out don’t recognize him.  Even Mary of Magdala, when she meets Jesus outside of his tomb, didn’t know it was him until she heard his voice.

I thought about that the other day when I saw an old friend who I hadn’t seen in quite a while.  He’d been suffering from a lingering illness and had easily lost half of his body weight.  The illness had changed his once-robust manner into one of trembling and unsteadiness.  It wasn’t until I heard his voice that I recognized him – that I could “see” that it really was him.

Now, I don’t believe that Jesus looked particularly gruesome or anything like that; in fact, I’ve also had trouble recognizing old friends who have undergone dramatic changes for the better.  And I remember when I shaved my beard off for my 50th birthday.  I’ve had a beard almost my entire adult life, and I was surprised at the number of people who didn’t recognize me.  My own daughter wouldn’t even look at me because, she said, “I recognize the voice but I don’t know who it’s coming from.”  (Yeah, after a week I grew it back.)  So, maybe Jesus shaved?

Anyway there’s something – different – in Jesus’ appearance.  Nothing spectacular; Mary of Magdala thinks he's a gardener, and others on the street don't react as they would to the sight of someone with an angelic appearance.  But it’s the same Jesus. 

Why is that so important?

Because it reminds us that we will encounter Jesus every day of our life, and we will not recognize him if all we do is look at him with our eyes.  We have to listen for him, watch for him with the eyes of our heart.  And when we do encounter him, then we need to be ready, for like Peter, Jesus is going to turn to us and ask us:

“Do You Love Me?”

What goes through your mind when someone asks you that question? I asked my wife that question Friday and I immediately got the “eye-roll” – “Of COURSE I love you.”  (Fortunately, she was in a pretty good mood and smiled at me.)   But when you think about it, when we ask that question of someone, or if someone asks it of us, there's often an underlying sense of doubt or insecurity that triggers the question.  We're seeking reassurance that we are still - special - in the eyes of the other person.

“Do You Love Me?”

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus ask the question of Peter three times.  But it isn't because Jesus is seeking reassurance from Peter.  Most scripture scholars say that Jesus asked the question three times because Peter denied him three times, and they are correct.  But as is often the case with scriptures, there’s more to it than that.  And it has to do with the many meanings of the word, “Love”. 

St. John uses two different Greek verbs for "love" in this encounter between Jesus and Peter – "agape", or self-sacrificing love, and "philia" , or caring, brotherly love.    And I bet the conversation between the two really went something like this:

Jesus:  Simon, do you love me enough to sacrifice everything for me more than for these others here?
Peter:  Yes, Lord, I care for you - you’re
like my brother.
Jesus:   Hmmm… Ok, then - feed my little lambs.
Then again:
Jesus:  Simon,
do you love me enough to sacrifice everything for me?
Peter:  Yes, Lord, I care for you - like you’re my father.
Jesus:   Hmmm… Well, tend my little sheep.
Finally, Jesus changes tactics – instead of asking for the agape’, or sacrificial love, he asks Peter:  Simon, do you love me like a brother?

The third time Jesus asks using the word "philia" for brotherly love instead of "agape" for sacrificial love, and the change to a lesser form of love probably distressed Peter as much as the fact that Jesus questions him three times.  Peter replies that Jesus knows everything – he knows how much Peter loves him – more importantly, how much he WANTS to love him.  Peter speaks from his heart; but he has been humbled by earlier failures.  He’s afraid to say that he can sacrifice everything for Jesus, knowing what happened the last time he said it. 

Jesus knows and accepts this, but he also knows that there will be a time that Peter will be called upon to show his sacrificial love for Jesus.   And Peter will, ultimately dying on a cross himself.  In fact, we see him risking everything to stand up before the Sanhedrin and testify to that love in our first reading.

Each time Peter replies to Jesus, Jesus then gives him a command that reflects the love that will be required from him – not just brotherly love, but sacrificial love.  Peter may not be able to express it, but Jesus knows that, once the Holy Spirit descends on him and the rest, they ALL will indeed love with sacrificial love as they tend to the fledgling Church.

What about us?  We’ve been given the same commands: feed my lambs; tend my sheep.  And during this Year of Mercy, we are constantly reminded that we must fulfill the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and they will require from us a sacrificial love – not just brotherly love.

One final note.  Earlier this week, Pope Francis released his Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” or “The Joy of Love” – his response to the Synod on the Family last fall and the work leading up to it.  It recognizes the many challenges faced by people today and how we, as Church, must respond to them.  He reminds us that for those of us called to married life, our love for each other must reflect the same intensity of love that was asked of Peter by Jesus – more than a deeply personal love toward our spouse but one of true sacrificial love; a true love and call of devotion which demands of us a giving of ourselves to another totally.  And whatever vocation we are called to – marriage, single life or life as a religious or clergy - our vocation not only calls us, but it defines us.  In all cases we are called to show the agape, or sacrificial love asked of us by God. 

“Do you love me more than these?”
Jesus is waiting for an answer. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

May It Be Done (StVdP)

May It Be Done
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul Meeting, April 4, 2016
Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today is the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord  - the celebration was moved from March 25th this year because it fell on Good Friday.  Because of its importance, the feast was abrogated to the first day after Easter and it's octave, which is today - Monday, April 4th.  We read in today's Gospel from Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 to 38:

     The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
     But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
     And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
     Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
     Then the angel departed from her.

We are reminded that when God calls on us, we may not understand why us, or how we can respond, but if we say "yes", great things can happen. Say yes to his call.  Let it be done according to God's will.

For reflection:  Recall when you felt called to do something that you didn't think you could do, but did it anyway, only to discover something wonderful happen?