Homily From Easter Sunday 2012

He was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, but moved to Wildwood, Missouri when he was young and grew up there.  He played baseball for Lafayette High School as a shortstop but gave up the sport after graduation and worked maintenance for Rockwood School District.  Eventually though, he returned and played for St. Louis Community College at Meremac, and then for the University of South Alabama.  It was there as a senior that he his .414, with a .503 on-base percentage, with 73 runs and 73 RBI’s in only 60 games.  Those numbers hearned him a place as a NCAA All American, and he was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2006, where he played in the minor leagues until he was traded to the St. Louis Cadinals in 2008 for outfielder Jim Edmonds.  Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past several months, you know who I’m talking about: Cardinals third baseman, David Freese.  Freese was always a good player, but there was one event (really one game) that changed him forever – Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.  Since then, he’s become a celebrity, appearing on shows like Leno and Letterman, and even the Country Music Awards show.  With one game, his life was changed.

Ok, so I’m a bit excited about the Cardinals season getting started, but David Freese isn’t the only person whose life was changed like that.  Lets think about St. Peter.  He was always a pretty faithful guy in the gospels.  He made those professions of faith, saying that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  When others couldn’t take Jesus’ teaching and left, Peter turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”  But he had failed.  The last we heard of him, he was hiding in shame after denying to know Jesus three times during his suffering and death.  But then we meet up with him again today.  And by the time we hear him in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, he is a totally different man!  One moment he’s hiding in fear of persecution, and the next he’s fearlessly preaching in the streets of Jerusalem, proclaiming that Jesus is raised from the dead!  This guy is a fisherman!  How many of us could get up and say something like that!  Like our favorite third baseman, one event changed his life – his encounter with the Empty Tomb.  It had changed everything.

And of course it had!  Sure, Jesus had taught some pretty extreme and groundbreaking stuff: his call to extraordinary mercy and forgiveness for those who sin against us, his promise to give grace through a Church that would endure forever, his invitation to an intimate relationship with God as our Father, and most of all, his claim to be the Son of God, forgiving sin and reestablishing that communion between us and God.

But then, evil had it’s way with God’s Son.  It had done all it could to break down the courage of Jesus.  It had torn his friends from his side, including Peter, and left him alone and broken, both in body and spirit in public execution.  It had exhausted its arsenal of hate, injustice, humiliation, and pain.  But if that was the end, none of us would be here this morning.  I wouldn’t be up here preaching.  You wouldn’t be sitting there in those pews.  None of the things Jesus had taught would be worth listening to.  He would have been another nice guy, a good teacher, who finished last, again.  He would have been one more paragraph in a history textbook, or one more lecture in a philosophy class.  He would have been one more dreamer whose claims were crushed by the reality of life.

But for Peter, when he peered into that tomb and found it empty, when he saw the burial shroud cast away, when he saw the cloth that had once covered Jesus’ broken and beaten head rolled up and neatly placed aside, he knew that Jesus was risen.  He knew that all Jesus had taught was true.  He knew that the power of sin and death was beaten, and that God was triumphant.  He knew that his life was changed.

Today, we’re invited to ask ourselves how it has changed us.  How do we let this great event, this great celebration affect our lives.  Today, we are called to be transformed.  Probably each of us are going to rejoice in some way today, taking time to celebrate the victory that Christ shares with us – whether it be through meals with the family, taking time to rejoice together here at Mass, having the day off from work (maybe), or rotting your teeth with jellybeans or my favorite, Cadberry cream eggs.  But let’s not stop it there.  Let us let this great mystery of the resurrection change our lives, like it did Peter’s.  Probably most of us tried to make an effort to live in a special way during Lent.  Some of us probably gave something up for Lent, or didn’t eat meat on Fridays.  And we did those things to try to make ourselves better followers of Christ.  So why not try to allow the power of the resurrection to continue that within us, to permeate our lives and help us to continue to live the joy of Easter.  Easter will last for 8 more weeks, so maybe rather than giving something up out of penance, we can do something extra to rejoice for those 8 weeks, but for the same purpose as Lent – to make ourselves better followers of Christ, as much in the joyful moments of our lives as when we need him the most.

2000 years after Jesus’ resurrection, we are reminded today of that mystery.  It can be easy for us to see it as one event in history that we sort of recall for a day each year.  But today is about more than remembering.  Today is our encounter with the empty tomb, with the risen Christ.  As we approach his glorified and risen body now in the Eucharist, let us open our hearts to him, so that he might transform us as he did those first witnesses of his resurrection.  And let us pray together today with the whole Church in saying, “Christ is truly risen, Alleluia!”

Homily From Holy Thursday: The Mass of the Lord’s Supper

So, I don’t know if I’ve reminded you of this lately, but I’m relatively new here.  And I’m pretty new at all this.  So this is my first Holy Thursday as a priest.  And as I was reading and preparing for this homily, I thought to myself: “Self, there is a lot of stuff to talk about!”  You’ve got the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the greatest gift to our faith.  You’ve got the institution of the priesthood, which of course is near and dear to my heart.  You’ve got the washing of feet, a great external sign of what Christ asks of us.  My entire life, I’ve been going to Holy Thursday Mass, soaking it in!  I’ve been studying the mysteries of this day for 8 years in seminary.  I’ve been imagining this for longer than that!  So what should I talk about?  I want to talk about all of them!  So I came to think, well, what is tonight really about?  Ultimately, after a lot of nerves and prayer and procrastination, I think I can sum it all up in one word: Love.

All of us have two essential needs in our lives, needs deeper than any food or drink, deeper even than Cardinal baseball.  Maybe.  Each of us needs, at our very core, to love, and to be loved.  Yes, we need food and water.  Yes, we need shelter.  But if you have that, even in abundance, but you aren’t loved by someone unreservedly, or if you have no one to express love to, your life is nothing but misery.  The love I’m talking about here isn’t feelings or emotions.  It’s not cute butterflies or puppy dogs or fluffy hearts.  That real love is active.  It’s costly.  It’s a gift of self.

Each of us desires in our hearts to be loved, and of all nights, that is offered to us here tonight.  Tonight, we remember the greatest gift of love, the greatest gift of self, that anyone can possibly receive, in the Eucharist.  Take a second and put yourself there at the table during the Last Supper.  Christ knows what’s coming.  He knows that he has to die.  He knows that one of his best friends is about to betray him – with a kiss of all things.  He knows that the rest of his friends, who have travelled with him healing the sick, performing miracles, and listening to his teaching, are about to turn away from him and flee in the end.  And yet, he sits down at supper with them and washes their feet.  Can you imagine how agonizing that must have been?  To look at your friends, enjoying time with them, seeing them laugh and smile, and knowing that in a few hours, they would turn away?  But then, to turn to them, in the midst of suffering, and to say, “This is my body.  This is my blood.”  That is love.  It’s an anticipation and a participation of what would happen in only a few hours with the Cross.  He didn’t pause and clarify, “Well, no, I mean, it’s a symbol of my body.”  It’s not a symbol, it’s not a cute idea, it’s not a commemoration of a time long ago.  If it’s only those things, how do we know it’s real?  Here in the Eucharist, we can see and taste and touch love.  We are assured that it is with us, waiting for us, ready to take us back.  It’s a love that defines us.  And if we’re not centered around this love, if we’re not centered around the Eucharist, then they might as well shut us down and turn us into a community center.  Because that’s the love that makes us Catholics.

Of course, one of the most memorable things of this evening is the washing of the feet.  Now, foot washing in the ancient world was kind of a gross thing.  It was something reserved to slaves, because the feet were so full of grime and dirt from walking those simple roads that it was not a service one looked forward to performing.  But when Christ does this, it’s more than a sign; it’s a commandment – to love others in the same way that Christ has loved us.  What Christ is trying to show us here is that if we really understand what it is that he gives us in the Eucharist, then we are compelled to follow his example.  Our foot washing of others comes in a variety of ways: charity (donating time and energy to those in need), prayer (commending others to the love of God) and maybe even forgiveness.  Remember, Jesus washed Judas’ feet and Peter’s feet, even though he knew what they would do.

It’s easy to give of yourself when things are convenient.  In a few moments, we’ll relive the experience of the washing of the feet at the Last Supper.  But everything is set up so perfectly and comfortably.  The chairs will (hopefully) be set up fine.  They’re even the padded folding chairs, maybe even more comfortable than your pews.  Everyone hopefully knows what to do.  I even paid for each of them to have pedicures before Mass; I guess that’s a business expense.  This foot-washing will be easy.  But it’s when it gets tough when it becomes all the more important.  We know that love is real, and we learn to have it imitate Jesus, but especially when it’s put to the test.

So what is tonight about?  It’s about love.  Self-sacrificing, self-giving, enduring love.  It’s the love that brings together a man and woman who barely know each other at first, and which holds them together for 30, 40, 50, and even 60 years.  It’s the love that embraces new life, sharing and growing to make that child the man or woman God desires them to be.  It’s the love that draws a man to enter the seminary, the love which keeps him there, and the love which empowers him to go before his brothers and sisters in faith and promise to imitate that same love for them.  It’s the love that holds the door for an elderly woman.  It’s the love that helps pick up a bag of groceries spilled on the driveway.  It’s the love that donates time, patience, and energy to the poor.  It’s the love that flows forth from the side of Christ as he gives himself to us as the everlasting covenant of love.  And it’s the love that leads us now to celebrate the Washing of the Feet and the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into Christ’s own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  May we, who desire to follow Christ to Calvary and to the empty tomb, open our hearts to receive that love, and share it with others.  Amen.