Sunday, April 23, 2017

Faith and Mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, I Trust in You.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Uncertainty of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Lazarus died. 

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

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

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

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

Their sobbing reflects the intensity of their grief and mourning.

And Jesus wept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Eyes of our Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Witness of the Transfiguration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Slaves of Christ

Slaves of Christ
Homily for February 26, 2017    8th Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Do you consider yourself a servant of Christ?  Or more importantly, do others see you as a servant of Christ and, as St. Paul put it in his first letter to the Corinthians, “stewards of the mysteries of God”?

When we think of servants today, we often think of the “hired help” – employees who work for pay and whose service is often limited by a    job description and a set number of hours worked per week, controlled by labor laws.  But the image of servitude during the time of Jesus was quite different – servitude was more of a master / slave relationship – a 24-hour a day, 7 days a week thing – a total commitment to your master.  Often you see the word “servant” and “slave” used interchangeably in scriptures.

So, if being a servant was more akin to being a slave, what’s a “slave”, and why would anyone want to be one for Jesus Christ?  Today, if we hear the word “slave”, we might think of:

•    a person held in servitude as the property of another
•    one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence, or
•    someone who works long and hard at something that has little or no meaning to them.

We have a very negative image of this type of servitude, and rightfully so, since it represented an involuntary condition imposed on people that deprived them of their human rights and which was used to oppress people in the past, and sadly still exists today and continues to oppress people around the world – even here. 

And yet, throughout the New Testament we hear the followers of Jesus calling themselves slaves:

•    In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
•    From Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”
•    From his letter to the Galatians: “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.”
•    From his letter to Titus: “Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition of religious truth”

And not just St. Paul.  St. James begins his epistle with, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.”  Even St. Peter, in his 2nd letter begins with “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ”

So why did the early disciples consider themselves “slaves” of Christ? 

To understand, we need to differentiate between “voluntary servitude” and “involuntary” servitude.  If our master is someone or something we really love, we are happy to do whatever we can to nurture our relationship with that master – we voluntarily serve that love. But, if it is something that we think we need or must have and it becomes a burden that we resent, our service becomes involuntary. 

In this country, the freedoms we have allow us to choose whether or not we will be in service to another – sometimes. And God has given us the gift of free will, so that we can make choices within our hearts.  But whether in our mind or our heart, we must make a choice on who or what we are to serve.

For the followers of Christ, there was nothing more important than Jesus.  They wanted to serve Him because they loved Him – and they knew that He loved them too.  Being a slave of Christ wasn’t a burden – it was a JOY. And in allowing Christ to be their master allowed them to deal with everything else that they faced in their lives with the strength and wisdom that comes from God alone.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all slaves to someone or something – by our own choosing.  We fool ourselves into believing that we are our own “master”; that we own things in our lives and can control how we deal with them.  But a quick look at just some of the things we own or control shows us just how much of a lie that can be:

•    If we own a house or car or other expensive item, we are required to maintain it, pay taxes on it, and care for it if we want it to remain of value to us.
•    If we are part of a family, we have a responsibility to serve and support that family to the best of our abilities.
•    Even our pets can be very needy and demanding – how many times have you heard that dogs (and especially cats) own their humans?

In fact, we have many, many masters in our lives, and we spend much of our time in prioritizing which one will get our attention today.  But ultimately, in case of a conflict between choices, we can only pick one.  That one becomes our true “Master” – it controls how we manage our relationship with the other things in our life.  And our lives become full of conflict and worry and anxiety if we choose the wrong master.  We can only be fully at peace if we have Christ as our Lord and master.

We have a choice to make.  St. Catherine of Siena said: “For our soul cannot be clothed in two different loves at the same time.  If our soul is clothed in the world, it cannot be clothed in God; the two are quite opposed to one another.” We must choose either God or the world to be our master.  With one comes the peace and joy that knows no end; with the other comes the worries and anxieties of the world.  As for me, I choose God, for “Only in God is my soul at rest . . . from Him comes my salvation.”

Are you a Slave of Christ Jesus?  Would others say you are?

You have a choice. Choose well.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hatred and Revenge

Hatred and Revenge
Homily for February 19, 2017    7th Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from last week discussing six commands taken from the Mosaic Law which were examples of the conduct Jesus demanded from his disciples.  If you remember, last week Jesus began by addressing those who thought that, because of his actions and teachings, he was going to abolish the Mosaic Law and the teachings of the prophets.  He stated that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law and the prophecies made about Him. 

He then clarified the six commands, beginning each of them with “You have heard that it was said…” and then stating the law.  Then, with a “But I say to you…”  he proceeded to either expand or deepen the command to make it even more all-encompassing, or replaced it with something more important as a standard of conduct that his disciples were to follow.  These six commands are all relational, dealing with how we are to treat each other – commands about anger, desire, divorce, honesty, revenge and hatred. 

Today’s Gospel addresses the last two commands, which address very common but deadly attitudes for today’s Christians: Revenge and Hatred.  I think Jesus is very clear about God’s position on these two points, and I’m not sure I like what He had to say. Of the six commands that he taught about, these two are the hardest for me personally to deal with. Sure, anger is tough and often leads to revenge and hatred, but it is these last two which can be the hardest for people to overcome, since their emotional intensity can totally blind us to the need for God’s mercy.  I used to tell people when I was pranked in my younger days, “I don’t get angry, I get even.  And I hold a grudge until I do”.  And I was ruthless.

Take Revenge.  Despite all of our talk about mercy, how often do we want “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” when dealing with someone who has wronged us personally or has done something that offends our sense of right and wrong?  Do we really believe in the value of reconciliation and rehabilitation?  How often do we see or hear in the news about the protests and riots which demand action against someone even before they’ve received a fair trial?  And if it something that is or seems to be terribly evil, we really want to punish them – hurt them – beyond just an “eye for an eye”.  

And Hatred of Enemies.  How can I not hate my enemy?  I’m assuming that there must be some reason that I call them “my enemy” – usually it is because they are some sort of threat to me or to those I love.  Embracing someone who has expressed a desire to harm me in some way just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do, does it?

I don’t think so.  Yet that is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do.

So what motivates us to hatred and revenge?  While anger probably and usually plays a significant part, I think it is mostly fear that causes us to hate others, or to seek retribution from another so that we don’t have to face the situation that harmed us again.  Fear does more harm to us than any other emotion, which is why Jesus so often said, “Do not be afraid.” 

We can become impulsive or irrational when we are afraid, and the evil that results from our failure to recognize Jesus’ wisdom in teaching about these two commands challenges our Christian faith more than anything else we face.  Fear blinds us to the command to “Love God and Love our Neighbor”, and we risk losing our eternal soul if we allow our fear to prevent us doing as Jesus commanded, especially seen through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy which are demanded of us for those who we fear or hate.

And yet, as a people, a nation, we are responding to the events around us in fear, and that fear has led us to anger, hatred and revenge.  All we have to do is look at the current headlines in the news and how we respond to any of the many issues facing our country today to see the hatred and the anger that permeates our society.  We say we seek “justice”, but that’s just another word for revenge. We are about as far from the model of discipleship outlined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as the pagans were from the first Christians.

St. Paul said to the Romans, “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”

Can you respond in love to the neighbor you struggle with? Are you caring for those that you hate?  Do you pray for those you are afraid of?  Really pray for them and not against them?  Are you allowing the good in your life to conquer the evil that you face?

You must, if you are a Christian.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Who Do You Follow?

Who Do You Follow?
Homily for January 22, 2017    3rd Sunday Ordinary - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

500 Years ago this year, in 1517, the Reverend Martin Luther published his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” more commonly known as “The 95 Theses”.  Most historians consider this the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.  They were most likely not NAILED to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church as an act of radical defiance, but were hung on the door of the church to encourage debate on what Luther considered abuses in indulgences and related issues within the Church.  In fact, much of what he included were abuses within the Church associated with indulgences and which were already being discussed as problems within the Church hierarchy.  Unfortunately, some of the issues were divisive and, after several attempts at reconciliation, when Luther refused to recant his position on these issues, in 1521 he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X.  The subsequent division and scandal caused to the Church has continued ever since.

But it does not have to be so. 

In John’s Gospel, chapter 17, verses 20 to 21, Jesus prays, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me.”  One in God.  One in Life.  One in Faith.

This week, from January 18th through the 25th, we celebrate the “International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”.  During this week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (the USCCB) asks that all Catholics join with those of other Christian denominations to pray for Christian Unity. This “week of prayer for unity” isn’t anything new, but is part of a effort that is over 100 years old, when the first Octave of Prayer was celebrated in 1908.  Pope Benedict the 15th extended its observance to the universal Church in 1916.  It has been celebrated during this week in January ever since.

In 1964, the Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio was proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council, which included in its opening remarks that “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only; division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalises the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel”. “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Sacred Ecumenical Second Vatican Council.”

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity continues to work with representatives of the World Council of Churches and other Christian communities to resolve our differences so that we all may be one in the eyes of God.  This week of prayer and ecumenical activities are meant to help heal the divisions which keep us apart.

But overcoming division isn’t easy.  We are a very competitive people, whether it be in sports, politics or faith.  And while competition in itself isn’t bad, for it helps us strive to be better than we are; we only have to look around us to see how we allow our competitive nature to become destructive: we use antagonistic or insulting language to put others down; we exercise prejudicial judgment against some and preferential treatment for others; we even justify violence as a statement against those we disagree with.  Just look at the recent news of the protests and riots this last week. 

It must stop.

In his letter to the Corinthians today, St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians over the divisions in their fledgling community.  He points out to them that they are losing their focus on the only one they were to follow – Christ.  Not Peter; not Apollos;,not even Paul himself. No matter who they “liked” or “disliked”, they had only one purpose – to witness to Christ, to follow the command of Christ to Love God and to Love their Neighbor.  The same is true for us today - it isn't our political leaders, our sports favorites, or even our friends that we are called to follow, but Christ.

Where are we as a community, as Christians?  Are we divisive, finding fault with those we disagree with? We're called to remain firm and strong in our faith and not compromise our values, but can we do so without hatred?  Can we say that we love each other, and treat each other with respect, even if we disagree with them?  Or do we harbor hatred in our hearts for those that we disagree with – whether it be because of their faith, their politics, or even their sports affiliation?  (OK, maybe we don’t HATE them because of their favorite teams.)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him.  They leave everything behind to follow Him.  We’re called to do the same thing – leave all our hatred and animosity behind and follow Him.  We are called to be one in Christ.

I follow Christ.  I belong to Him.

Who do you belong to?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Following Our Star

Following Our Star
Homily for January 8, 2017    The Epiphany of the Lord - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

 “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we have observed his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt 2:2). 

With these words from today’s Gospel, Pope Francis opened his homily last Friday for the Feast of the Epiphany, during which he spoke of a holy longing which all true believers have and how that longing should guide us in where and how we choose to seek and follow Jesus.  

First, a little background.  Although it may not get as much attention as Christmas, did you know that the Feast of the Epiphany is actually one of the oldest of our Christian feasts, being celebrated by the Church since the end of the second century? The date for celebrating Christmas wouldn’t even be established for another 200 years.  And like other Christian celebrations, the Church appropriated Epiphany from an old pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice.  Back then, the shortest day of the year fell on January 6th, before various calendar revisions over the centuries resulted in the solstice now occurring on December 21st. 

And although most of the world still celebrates the Epiphany on January 6th, here in the US the bishops have chosen to celebrate it on the Sunday that falls between January 2nd and 8th. I personally think that this was to ensure that people celebrated it liturgically, I guess.

So what is an “Epiphany”?

Well, it is a Greek word that one dictionary describes as:
(1)    The manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something;
(2)    An intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking; or
(3)    An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure. 

I’d prefer to say that the word itself usually means the moment when a sudden and clear understanding of something comes through intuition or insight, or which is revealed through some event that makes understanding clear.  I like to think of it as an “AHA!” moment.

For the Greeks, it came to be used to refer to an appearance or manifestation of a divine being, and so, for Christians, the Epiphany is the revelation and recognition the divinity of Jesus as God. 

Now there are many instances in the Gospel where Jesus reveals His divinity such as through the many signs He worked and through the witness of others of His interactions with His Father – at His Baptism and at the Transfiguration, for example. But the two primary biblical events that are referred to as the first time that Gentiles were made aware of the divinity of Jesus, His Epiphany, are the visit by the Magi described in today’s Gospel and Jesus’ baptism by John. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant church communities usually use the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany, while the Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism.

Do we recognize the divinity of Jesus today?  More importantly, have we had our own moment of Epiphany with Him?  Our faith tells us that He is present in His Word and in the Eucharist, but do we see Him at other times in our daily lives?  Where do we look for Him?  More importantly, do we know what is leading us to Him?

In today’s Gospel, the Magi followed a star which led them to Jesus.  They were learned men, most likely astrologers, and they knew that what they saw was a sign of something great was about to happen – even though they were not Jews. It signified the birth of a King, and they had come to see for themselves this newborn King and to worship Him.  The star was for them the guiding light that beckoned to them. The Magi came because the light offered them HOPE.

What is the “star” – the light – which beckons to us?  Again, in his homily on Friday, Pope Francis said: “In our life, there are several stars, and it’s up to us to choose which to follow. There are many “flashing lights” in our lives, like success and money, which come and go, which may be good, but are not enough, because they do not give lasting peace.”

Do we see the star – the guiding light – which leads us to Jesus? If not, are we looking in the right place?  Do we see the light as a sign of hope, like the Magi?

Or, like Herod, do we see the light of Christ but are unwilling to accept it or follow it because we’re afraid of where it will lead us? Even if the status quo of our life isn’t ideal, we may prefer it to the unknown consequences of giving our all to Jesus.  Herod was so afraid that he had all of the baby boys –  the Holy Innocents – murdered to prevent the coming of Jesus, rather than risk the change that Jesus represented. He tried to stop Jesus from coming, and we all know how effective he was at that.  God always prevails.

Are we afraid of following the light of Christ?  Haven’t we acted like Herod, as we approach the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision next weekend that has resulted in the murder of over 55 million babies? Isn’t it fear that prevents us from embracing the demands that the respect for life places on us, and drives us to pass laws in support of abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment?

The Magi came to see and worship this newborn child who would be king, and they willingly left behind the comfort of their lives to seek something that was greater than what they had.  They brought their gifts – more than gifts, their treasures – and laid them at the feet of the newborn child, with no expectation of personal gain.  They chose to follow the guiding light – the Star – which came from God.

As we proceed into this new year, we need to ask ourselves: what is my Star?  Can I see clearly where God is leading me? Am I prepared to have an AHA moment – an Epiphany – where I encounter the risen Christ?  Can I overcome the fear of the change that encounter may require of me?

You can.  Do not be afraid.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions
Homily for January 1, 2017    Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Happy New Year!  This weekend we straddle the line between the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one – the bridge between history lived and a future promised.  Are you looking forward to the New Year with anticipation, or with dread?  Are you thankful for the blessings you have received? Or are you just thankful that the year is over?

You know, each time we celebrate New Year’s Day we are given an opportunity – a milestone if you will – which we can use to measure our lives to date and to prepare for our days going forward.  I prefer the word “prepare” to “plan”, since to paraphrase an old Yiddish proverb, “When Man Plans; God Laughs.”  By the way, that doesn’t mean that God wants to do something to screw up our plans.  But since we don’t know what God has in mind for us or those around us, we should not be surprised or mad when things don’t go like we think they should.  Instead, we should prepare ourselves to encounter God however and wherever He chooses.  And that preparation begins with our accepting that God wants to bless us with His Love and Mercy.

Do you believe that God will bless you in the upcoming year? As we celebrate this feast of Mary as Mother of God – the Theotokos – I wonder if on that fateful night when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she would bear the child of God Most High, if she believed that she was going to be blessed in the upcoming years?  During this last week within the Octave of Christmas, we’ve heard about some of the trials faced by the Holy Family, including Jesus’ birth in a cave, the family being hunted by Herod and becoming refugees in a foreign country, and even Simeon’s prophesy to Mary last Thursday was that her own heart would be pierced with sorrow because of Jesus.

And yet, in today’s Gospel, the shepherds spoke to Mary and Joseph about what they had seen and heard from the angel about her newborn son – the good news and great joy that Jesus would be their Messiah and Lord for the whole world – and how she kept and reflected on their words in her heart.

In her heart.  There is a difference between analyzing something with your mind and embracing something with your heart.  There is an emotional component to the heart that measures things that the mind cannot, because it is in our hearts that we find, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, the spirit of Jesus that God has sent to us; the proof that we are His adopted children and heirs to all of the graces and blessings that God wants to bestow on us.  It is with this perspective that we need to look toward the future.

And while we don’t know what the future holds for us, there are some things we can do to prepare for whatever God may ask of us.  This is where our New Year’s Resolutions should come into play.  Instead of the old stand-bys of dieting and exercise, here are some things you might consider doing in the upcoming year, based on an article from the December 1959 issue of “McCall’s” magazine and with a few of my own added for good measure:

•    Seek out a forgotten friend.
•    Mend a quarrel. Apologize if you were wrong. If not, try to understand. Listen to others.
•    Dismiss suspicion, and replace it with trust.
•    Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Welcome a stranger.
•    Share some of your treasure with those less fortunate.
•    Encourage our youth.
•    Gladden the heart of a child.
•    Laugh a little. Laugh a little more.
•    Show your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise.
•    Find the time for your family, for others, and especially for God.
•    Go to church. Get involved with your church community.
•    Oh, yes – Attend the ACTS retreat.
•    Think of others before yourself. Examine your demands on them.
•    Appreciate what you have. Express your gratitude.
•    Write a love letter.
•    Be kind; be gentle.
•    Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
•    Speak your love. Speak it again. Speak it still once again.
•    Did I mention – laugh a little more?

So, as we begin this new year, ask yourselves – what are your New Year’s Resolutions for the upcoming year?  Will the year be more of the same? Or do you want this year to be different?

What are YOU willing to do to make it different?

Happy New Year!