Category Archives: Homily

Resurrection Preview: the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time

jesus-raises-the-widow-of-nains-son-iconThere was a tradition at my grade school that, on the last day of school, students would visit the next grade up, in order to meet their teachers.

It was a preview of sorts. A mean teacher, a quiet teacher, a funny teacher: in just twenty minutes we would all get a taste of just what was in store for us after a glorious summer vacation

This Gospel – the story of the widow of Nain – is no different.

We cannot simply read this story as if it were a miracle, some type of good action: a fortuitous meeting in which Jesus, seeing a need, responds in the most extraordinary of ways. If we do, if we let this be a simply miracle, we create a God filled with caprice, a God who only intervenes in some places and for some people.

But, there is something much greater going on here: this story of resuscitation (because remember, the son would die again) is a preview of the truly momentous event in Jesus’ life, the resurrection.

It will only be two short years until another son of a widow is carried out from a city – this time Jerusalem, not from Nain. There won’t be a crowd, but there will be tears. No one will meet this widow – there won’t be mourners, nor a prophet available to great the broken and crucified body of her only son.

And yet, something will happen three days later: no one will tell his arise; no one, that is, other than the voice of his Heavenly Father who will bid him to rise.

This is, in fact, the challenge of this morning’s Gospel – to leave this place with the knowledge that Christ bids each one of us to rise – and to rise in a way more deeply felt that a simple chance encounter. Christ, indeed, does not meet us with a one-time fix. Those are only a preview to what is really coming.

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The “Gift” of Pentecost

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

So often we hear Pentecost referred to as the birthday of the Church: associated with birthdays, of course, are celebrations, cake, candles, wishes and most especially, gifts.

Indeed, the Church receives a gift on Pentecost: it receives the gift of its own divine life, the Gift of the Holy Spirit that binds the entire community, as Saint Paul says, into a single body.

Yet the very existence of the Church is not a celebration in and of itself: the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church is not a present to be hoarded. We cannot sit within the walls of this church, enjoying the Holy Spirit any more than the Apostles could on the day of their Pentecost.  The very nature of a gift is that it is not earned, nor is their expectation of repayment. And so, the Holy Spirit’s descent on the Apostles in the upper room is not simply a gift, not another present to be opened and then put on a shelf.

The Holy Spirit is not a birthday present, but rather a birthday mission.

We are sent forth from this place, just as the Apostles were sent from their places, into a world equally as challenging, equally as dark, but equally as desperate for the message of Jesus the Christ.

As Saint Irenaeus wrote, the Holy Spirit has given the image and inscription of the Father and Son to us, and it is our mission to make a profit. Irenaeus actually refers to this gift as “two coins,” which need to be invested in others.

The ways in which we leave this place on mission are as different as each person: yet perhaps it is most important to remember that we are all sent, we all have a part to play, we all have the currency of Christ in our hearts: spend this birthday well!!!

 

 

Home By Another Way: An Epiphany Homily

As I was driving through my hometown after New Years’ Day, I noted that in the town circle, maintenance crews were already in a cherry picker taking the Christmas lights off the giant evergreen that had been decorated.   Throughout Yonkers, we will be beginning to see Christmas trees at the curbs; post-Christmas sales are already in full swing. School starts again on Monday (congratulations parents, you made it!)

And well, for the religious minded among us, mark your calendars: just a month and a half to Ash Wednesday!

Yet in this place – right here – our crèche still adorns the altar. The baby still rests in the manger, Mary and Joseph still keep watch, and the wise men arrive today as we celebrate the Epiphany.

And the Epiphany – the manifestation of Jesus – brings the Good News that though the trappings of Christmas have fallen away, the Father is only getting started with his Son. The arrival of the Magi only signals the next step in the story of God’s love for the world. Indeed, today’s Feast signals that God’s love for the world is even greater than the prophets could have imagined. Jesus the Christ comes not just for the chosen people but for the Gentiles too (that’s you and me!).

If the Father, however, is only getting started from the Son, that begs an interesting question. What will God be up to with us as we walk away from the manger today?

If the Magi went home by another way to avoid Herod, having been changed by their encounter with Christ, how will we, leaving here, go home by another way?

The prophet Isaiah gives us some clear ideas: now that the glory of God has shined upon us, we are called to let the nations “walk by [our] light.” Yes, the prophet realizes that there are many places in which “darkness covers the earth” and “thick clouds cover the peoples” but God’s glory shines on us through his Christ.

Indeed, as we depart here we are called to let the light that has shined on us now shine through us to other people. After encountering Christ, we are called to lead others to encounter.

The “other way” is not something complicated. It may be as simple as:

(1) Inviting someone to church who hasn’t been in a while;

(2) Seeking out someone in our family or community who has been or feels forgotten; or

(3) Considering what gifts we have to bring to others – perhaps it is volunteering, perhaps it is committing to our food pantry, or something completely different.

 The bottom line is this: having met Christ, the Magi went home by another way; let’s do the same. However, it’s not just another way we’re going, it’s Christ’s Way. Let’s get moving.

God Looking Like Us: A Christmas Homily

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Just a few hours before Mass, two friends from college texted me a picture of their first child, born on Christmas Eve. Who does she look like? they asked. How in the world should I know? (I’m a thirty year old priest and don’t have much expertise in these things.)

But, this is an experience we all have: do you have your mother’s ears or your father’s nose?  We always seem to ask or are asked questions like these.  When I was younger and threw a temper tantrum, my parents would ask each other (quite seriously it seemed): where did he learn this?

We can ask ourselves the same question after hearing the Gospel. On this Christmas, who have we looked like over the past year?

Do we look like the Joseph and Mary, nervous about the future, unsure about the next step to take in their lives?

Do we look like the great Caesar Augustus, trumpeting his gains, counting all the successes of our lives?

Do we feel like the shepherd, haggard by life’s circumstances, overwhelmed by the demands of our responsibilities?

Are we like the other travelers streaming into Bethlehem, unsure about our place in the world and in our circumstances?

Or, perhaps, we sing about the last year’s successes like angels.

Maybe we even feel like the inn owner, out of room and resources, wondering how both others and we will make ends meet.

Chances are, if we really stop to think about it, we have looked like a combination of all of these people over the past year.

But Christmas isn’t about who we have been in the last year – we don’t walk in here as if we’re baseball cards, statistics regarding goodness, income, or forgiveness written over us (and thank God for that!)

Rather, we come here not because of our past, but because of what God is doing right in our present!

Christmas is, more than anything else, a celebration that God is in our midst, not dependent on what we’ve done, but rather as a statement of his own goodness!

God’s involvement in our lives as the Word made Flesh, as Christ the Lord, as a real human being means that there is nothing in our lives that God cannot understand from personal experience.

Family troubles? In just a few weeks, we’ll hear the Gospel of Luke  asking Jesus what had happened when he wandered away in Jerusalem.

Grieving? Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.

Frustrated with the state of the world? It was Jesus who cried for the Holy City, Jerusalem.

Feeling burdened by a lack of resources? Christ multiples loaves and fish.

Know an experience of betrayal? Peter and Judas – enough said.

And yes, even in death, Jesus knows. It is no accident that just above the wood of the manger hangs the wood of the Cross!

In all these things, the reality of God become a human being, the Word jumping down from heaven into our world, we are reminded that God has come to dwell in the world, no more to depart from us.

And so on this Christmas, after we’ve become frustrated with our families (and think, well I don’t look like him!), we can recall that Christmas really isn’t about who we look like in any event. Rather, it’s about who God looks like: you and me.

And that, brothers and sisters, is quite a present from the Lord indeed.

Of Lost Voicemails and Sainthood

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

When my father first purchased a cell phone, he wasn’t quite sure how to work it. He got through the basics: calling people and entering contacts. The real problem, however, was the voicemail. For some reason no matter how hard he tried,  (and no matter how hard his three technological-attuned sons tried) he couldn’t get it to receive messages all the time.

As a result, one of my younger brothers decided to take matters in his own hands and recorded this greeting:

Hi, you’ve reached Mark’s cell phone: maybe he’ll get your message, maybe he won’t.

So much for technology; so much for our lives being made easier. Instead of help, we just walked away frustrated.

We may experience a similar problem this All Saints’ Day: the “technology” of saints seems rather complicated. We find them painted on church walls, staring dispassionately at us from stained glass windows, and offering cold sympathy from the front of holy cards. Maybe we have our favorite saint: one whose intercession we seek on a regular basis. But we do so precisely because he or she is in heaven (far away from us) and able to do something that we cannot.

In reality, however, sainthood – holiness – isn’t something complicated. It’s not a technology beyond us. To be a saint –  to be one who is celebrated on this day – is not the result of some special knowledge, or even some heroic action.

Rather, it is Christ – and our relationship with him – that makes us saints. To be a saint is to be in relationship: relationship with Christ, and then, relationship with each other.

To know Jesus the Christ, to the know the faithful one – the one who was faithful to his Father in heaven despite betrayal, anger, gossip, foolishness, injustice, and even death – that is what makes us a saint

We know this Christ first of all through our baptism; we meet this Christ in the face of the poor; we consume – and are consumed – by this Christ in the Eucharist.

Because of this, we are the children of God of which John wrote in today’s second reading: we are God’s children right now. What Christ will make us in the future, we do not know.

What we do know, however, is that Christ calls us, greets us, and invites us to be saints.

Indeed, when we know Christ, there are no lost voicemails, no lost lives: rather, we know exactly where we’re going. When we know Christ, we’re going to be saints too.

 

Borrowing a pencil, or being a neighbor? A Kids Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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By Ellen Romer

*For my preaching course, the assignment was to preach the week’s readings as if we were at a family Mass and/or talking to young people. This is what I came up with.

I hate borrowing things from people. I really do. It makes me feel so weird inside. When I was growing up I was always the kid who forget their pencil. Or their homework (even though I had done it!). Or their lunch money. I even forgot to brush my hair a lot. Were you that kid in school, like me? Or were you like some of my friends, who always had their hair neatly pulled back into a ponytail with the ribbon, who had very neatly organized pencil box? I found pencil boxes to be a bit of a waste for me, because everything ended up in the bottom of my bag or under my bed or somewhere and then I had no pencil. I didn’t mean to be careless I just am not the person who remember pencils. Even now, I have to keep a secret stash of pens in my desk at work. Being the forgetful one, it was always the worst to have to ask for a pencil. Or to go get something out of my locker. Or to scour in the bottom of my bag for loose change so I could get some lunch. Continue reading Borrowing a pencil, or being a neighbor? A Kids Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Christian Witness in a Toxic Political Climate: A Homily for the 29th Sunday

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By Mary Kate Holman

I have heard this week’s Gospel reading invoked by so many people to support so many different, often opposed agendas. Usually it goes something like this: “Jesus said it’s good to pay taxes!” “No, Jesus died so that we wouldn’t have to pay taxes!”*** “This means the Church shouldn’t interfere with politics!” “No, it means that the state shouldn’t interfere with the Church!” There’s nothing worse than hearing people appropriate Jesus for their own personal political message, particularly because the upshot of this reading is, I believe, fundamentally non-partisan.

The central moment of this passage is a trick question. The Pharisees have “plotted…to entrap” Jesus. They don’t ask the question sincerely as an opportunity to learn. They ask it to bait their opponent. How often do we hear politicians, pundits, even our own acquaintances in the vitriolic comment boxes of social media, do the very same thing? They debate, seize upon, and exploit their opponent’s misstatements, and take their words out of context, but they never truly listen to those whose opinions differ from their own.

Interestingly, it is not just the Pharisees who are testing Jesus here. They approach him “with the Herodians.” As Jesuit Scripture scholar (and my dear former boss), the late Dan Harrington notes, the Pharisees and Herodians would most likely have had very different ideological motivations: the Pharisees would have opposed Roman rule, and therefore the system of taxation, while the Herodians allied themselves with Rome, and would perceive a defiance of the tax system as rebellious. The only thing these two groups have in common is their insincere approach to conversation: they want to trick Jesus, not to learn from him. Continue reading Christian Witness in a Toxic Political Climate: A Homily for the 29th Sunday

The Sinners Know Jesus: A Homily for the 26th Sunday

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By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

When I was in high school, I happened to join a retreat team: the setup was simple, high school students giving Catholic retreats to other students, both in our school and to other surrounding grammar schools and high schools.

I don’t remember much of what we did, but there is one lesson in particular that stands out to me. I remember the leader of the retreat team, Gloria, saying over and over again: “Knowing the right thing to do and doing it are two totally different things.”

Ah yes, we know this well, don’t we?

When we get right down it, today’s Gospel hits close to home. We can, if we’re honest, identify ourselves as the son in either of the scenarios Jesus lays out. (We could identify ourselves as the daughter too.)

All of us know the feeling of doing the right thing despite the consequences; all of us too know about doing the wrong thing and feeling the effects. Even in those situations where we’ve gotten “away” with something, there always seems to be that feeling of regret: did anyone know? Or, as I say so often in the confessional, “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but did it anyway.”

Is this parable from Jesus, then, simply a morality play: do what God tells you and all will be well?   If we take things here at face value, we’re missing the point. Christian life isn’t about doing things and staying away from the wrong in order to avoid a punishment or to feel better about ourselves (Indeed, if we keep a tally, we’ll likely feel rather poorly.)

The key to this parable isn’t what the sons do: no, it’s how Jesus uses it to describe the Kingdom of God. We hear a rather stark challenge: tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before the religious experts.

The reason is simple: the sinners know Jesus.

The tax collectors and the prostitutes know Jesus because they’re the ones who realize that they need him. And so for us who tell little white lies, who find it hard to forgive, who lose our temper, who struggle with purity of heart: we don’t need to be perfect in order to know Jesus; rather, when we’re struggle, that is the perfect time to know Jesus! Continue reading The Sinners Know Jesus: A Homily for the 26th Sunday

Justice and Mercy: A Homily for the 25th Sunday

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By Brian Niemiec

I write this reflection from the Archdiocese of Chicago, where Bishop Blase Cupich has just been named as Cardinal George’s successor.  As I was reading news articles this morning about the life and ministry of this Bishop from Spokane, I started thinking that this man’s life very much reflects the readings for this Sunday.
In the Gospel parable, we see a balance between justice and mercy. The landowner promises the workers the standard daily wage, but as the day goes on and more filter in to work, they too receive the standard wage.  When the original workers get angry at this arrangement, the landowner rebukes them and reminds them that they are being paid justly according to what was decided in the morning.
Mercy enters the scene when the laborers that arrived later also received the same wage.  They were late to the party, but still received the generosity and hospitality of the host. We see this mercy and compassion in our own Christian communities. The gift of eternal life is offered to all, not just the cradle Catholics who have gone to mass and lived out their faith their entire life. Salvation is also offered to the convert, the estranged family member, the criminal, the outcast, and all the rest that do not fit into our box of what real Catholic should be.
This balance of justice and mercy is crucial to the Christian life because it has the power to both speak truth and do it in a way that invites others into dialogue and conversation, so that healing and reconciliation may occur.  This is the tactic Bishop Cupich has taken on many social issues that challenge the Church today. With healthcare, he rejected the governments mandate for contraception coverage, but called for dialogue and collaboration between church and state rather than advance a nuclear option that would close hospitals and schools leaving many jobless, and countless more without the basic resources of life.
If these two ideas of justice and mercy seem like strange bedfellows, the first reading reminds us that “my thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways, says The Lord.” God sometimes acts strangely to us, but it is a reminder that we are not God. This week, we are challenged to ask ourselves, “what are God’s ways?” How do we act out this balance of justice and mercy in the day to day? How do we walk in God’s footsteps of justice and mercy? With Bishop Cupich now tapped to lead one of the American Church’s most high profile diocese, perhaps his witness could be one example.

 

Kingdom Rules: 25th Sunday Homily

By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

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This weekend’s readings.

Growing up, my family always did the best it could to have dinner together. We’d adjust the time as best we could depending on who had a Little League game, who was doing what after school, and what evening appointments my father had scheduled.

As we got older, however, my brothers and me would have more and more difficulty making it on time to meals. Baseball practice would run late; a study group would me; or, more likely, a girlfriend’s study group would run late.

While we waited for Luke or John (or they waited for me) a familiar debate would play out. We’d fight over the last three meatballs, or the last piece of chicken. We’d plead for a couple extra noodles on our plate.

My mother would remain firm: “No, that’s for [fill in the blank of the missing son].” We’d roll our eyes: “but, Mom, if he wanted the food, he should have been here.

“No: he’s just as much a part of this family as you are. And besides, wouldn’t you want us to save you food? In fact, we do save you food.”

Was my mother being unfair?

Is the landowner in this Gospel unfair?

Is God unfair?

Yes. And no. It depends on if we’re the one late to dinner

According to human standards: this is no way to run a business!

The Good News of today’s Gospel, however, is that the Kingdom of God turns a profit when it’s given away, not when it’s saved. God’s grace isn’t placed in an interest bearing account and saved for a rainy day.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching us about what God’s Kingdom looks like. The words that introduce this Gospel color everything we hear: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner…”

In other words: the Kingdom of God doesn’t run by the rules that we create or think are logically: rather, they are frustratingly, maddeningly, and completely rules that God makes up.

The first rule of this Kingdom, then, is that God is in charge. God determines the membership: and the rules for membership are not based on merit. Rather, God calls when and how and who in a way that only he knows.

The second rule of the Kingdom is that there is nothing we can do to earn a greater place: coming early, coming late, God is in a constant process of calling us to this new way of life.

And the third rule: no one is forced into God’s kingdom. We may come early or come late, but the most important thing we learn from today’s parable is that Jesus calls all of us: but the only way to be a part of the great feast the Lord prepares is to respond.

Put in another way, God will always save us food, but we need to show up at the table. The time at which the workers arrived to help the landowner in the harvest does not matter as much to God as to whether or not they showed up.

And all of us here today: we’re in the process of being called into this relationship with God – this generous landowner.

Being called into this new way of being, however, is not without its risks. To be a member of the Kingdom isn’t a guarantee of an easy pathway: actually, it may be considered a guarantee of quite something else.

It’s like the great Theresa of Avila, who, being deep in prayer and being thrown from a horse, is said to have yelled at the Lord, “And this is why you have so few friends!”

To be called into the Kingdom means to set as our goal the same thing as Saint Paul: “to magnify Christ Jesus.” Indeed, to be laborers, to be freely called and gifted, means that God asks us to magnify the Kingdom: to through our prayer, through our love, through our forgiveness, point out just what God is up to in the world.

Because we have been called, we must magnify God’s unfairness: his overwhelming love, his foolish forgiveness, and his incredible presence among us.

And, in all this, most especially, we are called to invite the ones who are most forgotten into this Kingdom. In other words, let’s not just save some food for them – let’s make sure they know they’re invited to the meal.