January 15, 2019

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2019, Year C

The wedding feast at Cana

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Here we are at the beginning of a new year with high hopes that this year will be better than 2015. We have our hopes even though we know that there is much in our world that is wrong. Without going into a long dismal list of the many things that are wrong let me point out just a few of them. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening, not closing. Political corruption and the politics of gridlock darken our perceptions of those we have elected to office. Terrorism and abortion along with ISIS murders cause us to realize that in the minds of many, human life is cheap and regarded as disposable. We face much that is sinful, evil, and criminal in our world. All of these things we know quite well are exceptions to the way things ought to be; they are out of the general order of what should present in our relations with others.

How do we know that? What gives us this perspective and recognition of what is good, what is just, what is fair, and what ought to be? Today’s Gospel gives us the point of reference. It takes us back to the very beginning of the Christian movement, the movement of God into our humanity in Jesus Christ. The story is so familiar, so simple, that we easily lose sight of its overwhelming importance. The jingle bells of Christmas divert our attention to the magnificent truth that God has entered into our humanity and has thereby blessed with His holy presence in all that it means to be human. In Jesus Christ God brings His Light to what it means to be human and how we should live with each other.

John the Baptist initiates this coming of God to us by introducing two of his own disciples to Jesus, Andrew being the key player. John points Jesus out to them by exclaiming: “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” It’s sort of like being at a social function when a very significant person enters the room and a friend says to you: “Well, look who’s here!”

A conversation then develops between Andrew and Jesus, a conversation sprinkled with seeking words like, “What do you want?” “Where do you live?” “Come and see,” and “Come with me,” all of them filled with the relational words of friendship. Let me emphasize here that these are the inviting words of friendship, not the commanding words of submission and obedience. These are words that invite us to live closely with Jesus and then with Him come to know how we should live with others.

My point is that our religion in its most distilled form is a friendship between ourselves and God in Jesus Christ. It is the one operative principle throughout Christ’s entire life. Even at the end of His life during the Last Supper, Jesus gets down on His knees, washes the feet of His disciples, stands up and looking each one in the eye says: “I no longer call you slaves … I call you friends.”

Jesus had no army. He neither needed one nor wanted one. He had the only one power with which to conquer the human spirit, the power of loving friendship. That is the only thing that can invade and conquer the human heart. Brute force always fails; love always wins.

Our Catholic Faith is one of the largest and most influential in the world and its membership is presently over one billion souls. It has built thousands of churches, hospitals, children’s homes, nursing homes, schools, and even universities. It has rites, rituals, ceremonies, and above all the holy Sacraments of Jesus Christ. It has theologies, philosophies, systems of ethics, moral codes and spiritualities. It is vast; it is intricate; and it is complex. But it is built on one thing and one thing alone, namely a personal, warm, intimate, and loving friendship with Jesus Christ. From that flows all of Christianity’s hope, power, and vision of the truth about who we are.

Jesus was tempted to be a military leader, a dazzling magician, a revolutionary who would construct a new social order, and a universal healer and provider for us in all of our hurts, wants, and needs. But He resisted all of those temptations and asked for only one thing from us – friendship! He loved us, and still does, even when we don’t deserve it. He forgives us even when we can’t forgive ourselves. He gives us far more than we ask for or even expect. He gives us a loveliness that is not pretty but is powerful. He asks us to be more than nice; He asks of us everything. And in the midst of war, famine, despair, and powerlessness He gives us His friendship bringing with it the one gift our humanity needs more than anything else, namely hope.

Whenever we feel lost in a religious life that seems too complicated, or whenever we feel lost in a world that seems to be unmanageable and out of control, and whenever we’re tempted to give up on ourselves, remember that our faith in its purest form is the personal friendship we can have with Jesus. That is how it began with Andrew and his brother Peter. And that is the solid rock upon which our relationship with Jesus is grounded. He offers you His personal love.

For no matter what happens in our world, or in our spiritual lives, or in our relationships with others, we can always find our way once again with those seeking and questing words we heard in today’s Gospel message to you and to me. “What do you want?” “Come and see!”

Listening to God’s voice is of the essence of religion, it is the nourishment of our spiritual lives. When we come to celebrate the Mass the first thing the Church does is to offer us God’s word. Then having received His word for our hearts and minds we receive His Word made flesh for our human bodies in Holy Communion.

There are those who defend themselves from intimacy; there are those who are afraid to love. Because of their fear of losing their own independent autonomy they either flee from religion or turn it into something ridiculous. Some seek to turn religion into a series of laws, rules and regulations that must be followed. That approach, however, requires only mindless obedience and thus misses the whole point about our personal friendship with Jesus.

The truth is that God has a word for you, personally. He has something He wants to say to you.

The story of Samuel we heard in the first reading today is a story that we should make our own. The story in today’s Gospel account is a story we should likewise make our own. For God is calling you and inviting you to come and stay with Him, to come and be close to Him.

I don’t know how you pray your morning prayers but I would suggest that a good way to start your day is to repeat Samuel’s words each morning. When you begin the day with your first morning thoughts about God say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And then at the close of each day when you interpret the events of the day and try to make some sense out of them, repeat Samuel’s words: “Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening.” Each time you pray, after having told God about all that’s happening in your life and about all that you need from Him, say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

God has a word for you. He has something to say to you in words of friendship and love. For the sake of your own soul, let Him!

January 9, 2019

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2019, Year C

Baptism of the Lord

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

When did Jesus know who He really was? We can reasonably assume that as a little boy He grew into knowledge of who He was. Somewhere (and I am speaking here of Jesus in his human nature) He moved from being a little boy to being a young man and along the way He became aware of the fact that He had a unique relationship with our Father in heaven. In His maturation he came to know who He really was and that would determine His destiny in life.

We cannot possibly pinpoint when that realization came to full flower. But certainly at His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer He had in full measure that realization. Certainly at that moment, the one we just heard about in today’s Gospel account, He was committing Himself to the destiny that lay in front of Him. A booming voice from heaven proclaimed: “You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.” Jesus knew that our heavenly Father had special plans for Him. But in His human nature He could not know all of the details of precisely how that would be worked out. Nevertheless, He made His commitment.

Making a commitment is the most important part of any great task that we undertake. But it’s not the only thing. We need to acquire education and knowledge. We need to practice and develop our skills. The highly challenging task of being a mother or a father draws up from deep within us everything we have. We don’t enter parenthood with an Operators Manual given us when a child is born. We get an Operators Manual when we buy a VCR but we certainly don’t get one with the birth of a child. And getting married and having a family is an adventure in which we are trained on the job. We can never adequately know ahead of time all what we’ll need to know in order to be good husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Certainly in the seminary I didn’t receive all that I needed in order to develop into being a reasonably decent priest. I’ve had to learn that while on the job (something that many people had to suffer!).

But in spite of all that we may have or not have, the one thing that is absolutely essential is commitment. Nothing at all of lasting value happens without commitment. It may not be everything that’s needed, but it is the key element. Nothing else will work without it. And there’s nothing easy about commitment. The culture that surrounds us sends us many messages that work against the keeping of our commitments. I’m not saying that all movies and all TV shows are bad. There are really good movies about commitment and keeping one’s promises. But clearly our surrounding culture promotes self-interest, not self-sacrifice.

Thankfully we do, from time to time, come upon stories and accounts of heroic and noble men and women who honor their commitments no matter what it costs them. We hear of mothers and fathers who stay with their children through horrible sicknesses and terrible misfortunes, giving them their message of faithful and steadfast caring love. And we hear stories and accounts of men and women of great nobility and great character who, who at terrible costs to themselves, maintain their commitments to loved ones, to friends and to noble causes, all in great self-sacrifice.

Commitment is the key element of all noble adventures, wonderful discoveries, and heroic human deeds. Jesus started with it. So did Mary, His mother. Likewise St. Joseph remained faithful to his commitments. And we know that our children are better off in the caring love of committed amateurs than they would be with professionals, however skilled, who must only regard them as clients. But when you find a skilled professional who is at the same time give committed love… well, then you’ve really hit gold.

Casual friendships can be fun like we see on television. But they can, at the same time, be deadly. Think of how young men and women have been ravaged by superficial promises. Look at what happens to people who treat sexual intimacy as something that is merely casual and fun. The excitement of a casual and superficial life-style quickly leads to depression, a sense of emptiness, loss, degradation, and loss of the ability to trust and believe. Compare that sort of living with living in the joy of a genuine and loving true friendship, one filled with commitment. After all, when you stop and think about it, commitment and faith go together. Each builds up the other.

I’ve heard the life-stories of lots of people, true-life stories that make fictional novels pale by comparison. Running through those accounts are stories involving deep, loving commitment, stories that can make you cry. Usually these stories involve treatment by others who have a lot of misunderstanding, who are downright abusive, nasty, and even disgusting. In their stories there are heroes and heroines who suffer from the hostility and misunderstanding of others, who suffer abuse, rejection and terrible pain at the hands of others, and who nevertheless maintain their commitment to “be there” and to love in the face of terrible, heartbreaking rejection. In the end we find in some of these stories (far too few of them in my opinion) the question is put to the one who is heroically committed: “Why did you put up with what you suffered? Where did you get this commitment?” And then comes the quiet, tear-choked reply: “Because I loved… and hoped back then that eventually people would realize just how much I loved.”

Is there anyone here thinking of becoming a husband or a wife? Anyone here thinking of becoming a stepfather or a stepmother to another person’s child? Anyone here thinking of marriage? Anyone here thinking of becoming a priest? If you are, then begin with commitment. And if you’re talking with someone who is thinking about any noble endeavor tell him or her to start with commitment. Commitment isn’t everything. A lot of other things are needed in any success story. But commitment is the key element. Nothing else will work without it.

That’s why we have the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Confirmation. And that is also why Matrimony and Ordination are also sacraments. All of them are sacraments of commitment. They are holy moments, holy moments that fill us with the Spirit that anointed Jesus Christ who, in His commitment, saw the heavens open and heard a voice thundering: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests.”

Journey now back to your baptism. Open your ears once again. Hopefully you will hear the voice of God saying to you: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests. You are my beloved daughter and I will love you no matter what.” It is because of God’s commitment to us that we in turn can give committed love to others.

Baptism calls us to live lives like that.

January 2, 2019

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Adoration of the Magi(Click here for today’s readings)

From Advent until now the readings and themes of our liturgies have all centered on God’s coming to us. The underlying movement has been God seeking us out and offering Himself to us in His Son, in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah first promised to the descendants of Adam and Eve after their Fall.

In today’s Liturgy the basic movement shifts. Now it’s all about our seeking, specifically our seeking out God in His Christ, and by the word “our” I mean all of humanity. The Magi we need to note were not Jews. They were the representatives of the gentile nations and peoples. They were kings who were sages, wise men, visionaries, men who searched beyond what is obvious; searching into the mysterious non-scientific world in which we exist as distinguished from what is merely technical and material.

The word "question" has the word "quest" tucked inside it, an idea that’s presented to us in today’s gospel account given to us by St. Matthew. Epiphany invites us to join in the quest of the Wise Men as well as the quest of all Christian believers seeking to enter into the mystery of God, particularly the mystery of God become incarnate in our humanness.

We live in a world of problems to be solved. A mystery, however, is not a problem to be solved, it is a quest to be lived. A well-known sports figure was asked what his chief ambition in life was. He replied, “My chief ambition is to go to heaven.” The sports writer who was interviewing him thought it was a joke. The ball player responded: “My friend, I don’t think that’s funny. I know you don’t mean to be a smart aleck, but there’s something wrong with a person’s attitude when he’s flippant about the great mysteries of the universe.” And the man who spoke these words was a professional baseball player.

We, too, can be superficial when we miss the point in the account we’ve just heard in today’s gospel. We can get all wrapped up in solving the problem about where the star came from, where it was located in heaven, who the Wise Men really were and where they came from, and exactly how a heavenly star could guide them. So, too, when people try to analyze Christ’s miracles, attempting to explain them away by finding natural causes, completely missing God’s revelation that is made evident to us in them.

The gifts of the Magi are meant to express our human awe and reverence at the true inner nature of the Christ child. Worldly powers, represented by the Three Kings, along with their powers of government over peoples, are placed at His feet. Gold, the currency of kings, is given to Him. Frankincense is the gift given to priests, bringing us into contact with the world of mystery and transcendence. Myrrh is an ointment used in the preparation of a body for burial; it’s significance being quite obvious in terms of this child’s destiny, as well as our own human destiny. Death is a mystery we all enter into as equals, regardless of how important or significant our lives have been during our time here on earth. Death is a mystery to be lived. It not just another problem to be solved.

Mysteries lead to discovery, or more accurately to revelation. When you encounter paradox and mystery, you are close to the gospels. For quite obviously God is bigger, more powerful, and infinitely more than anything we are. Mere data, mere information cannot possibly carry the weight or bear the load of the enormity of Mystery, particularly theological mysteries. The only thing that’s strong enough to bear the full weight of revelation is mystery, along with poetic and symbolic language. Science and technology collapse under the weight of all we must face, and face daily.

There is a motto that tells us: “knowledge is power.” Quite so. But wisdom is superior, deeper, and a far more profound reality than knowledge or understanding. Wisdom is found in the realms of mystery; it’s the only true path to revelation.

We should not let our modern technological world and culture rob us of our innate sense of mystery. We should not let our children be deprived of having a childhood. We should not deprive ourselves of something that children can point to, namely the world of awe, reverence, and mystery. To enter into those realms we must, as Jesus told us, become as little children.

Children, as we all know, love stories. So do we. The infancy narratives surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ are filled with wondrous stories. The legendary story of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar, the three Wise Men, is a story that invites us to be as little children once again and with awe, reverence, and wonder to enter into the world of Mystery, there to receive God’s revelation.

Is it a story that we regard with distant and unemotional objectivity? Is it merely the subject of cool intellectual curiosity? Or is it a wondrous, mystical story that invites us to embark upon a quest, a journey that was there in the beginning at the birth of our Savior, and a journey or a pilgrimage that Christians have been embarked upon for 2,000 years now?

God has a Word for you. He has something He wants to say to you. God has a vision for you, a revelation to give you. Are you willing to be a seeker and to journey with those Wise Men from the East? The wise still seek Him.

Epiphany is not a one-time event, it is a context in which we live. How, then, can we seek the Lord in these days, in these times of ours?

The one necessary thing is to give God time, quiet and alone time in which to reflect and meditate. I have talked with some very busy and highly successful people who actually take time out away from their many concerns to reflect. They give their attention to God’s still, inner voice deep within them. They have come to know that they are more effective if they reflect on what they are doing, reflect on their goals and how they are achieving them. A by-product found in such times is a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness. These are all things that can be done in the presence of God, all things that are ultimately directed at seeking God’s purposes for our lives. They are far more important to attend to than the problems that beset us.

If Christmas is all about God coming to us to seek us out, then Epiphany is all about our seeking out the God who has come among us. The Wise Men offer us great wisdom. They give us a gift that is priceless. After finding Christ they went home by another route. We should too.

With the Wise Men, may you and I make that journey

December 24, 2018

Homily for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, [Christmas Day] December 25, 2018, Year C

Nativity of Jesus Christ

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

All of the shopping, all of the rushing about, all of the busy-ness of Christmas is now over. Today the streets are deserted. A quiet and peaceful stillness lays over all. Now the religious meaning of Christmas is allowed to emerge from beneath all of the mall music, the shopping, and the frantic preparations for this day.

But to what do we turn our attention? To peace on earth toward men of good will? Yes, and something more.  To the sharing of love with family? Yes, and something more. To joining together with the ones we love? Yes, but more. Christmas is more than having a lovely time, more than family sharing, more than the so-called “happy holidays.”

We celebrate today what so many are looking for. We focus our attention today on that which will give peace to many who are lonely, uneasy with themselves, and who are searching for meaning in their lives.

The centerpiece of the Mass, the essence of Catholicism, and the core of our belief is what we consider today. The only essential and ultimately important reality is the joining of humanity with divinity. This joinder is the genius of Christianity and the core of Catholic devotion. It is that which unites liberal and conservative, saint and sinner, European and American, black and white. God and man at table are sat down.

The birth of Jesus Christ is not the birth of one religious prophet among many, one founder of a religion among many, the birth of one good man among many others. It is rather the stupendous joining of humanity with divinity.

In a few short moments we will make it all happen again. All over the world, in the Vatican as well as in Baghdad, in Jerusalem as well as in Cairo, Catholics celebrate the Incarnation… God becoming human flesh. We don’t say that our humanity is perfect. It certainly is not. We do say, however, that we are loved so much by God that He has become one of us. We are loved and being redeemed sinners. In every Mass, God in His mercy becomes one with us.

The long tradition of a sinners’ church is perhaps the most commanding reason for the survival of Catholicism. Catholic theology is by no means a theology of the elite and the elect. Nor is our theology one of predestination. However much our understanding of hell may be dim, we all recognize that it is still quite possible for one to lose his or her soul… or to save it.

The salvation of a sinful humanity, a sinful humanity that constitutes the Church, is the saving grace of our Church. Today a savior has been born for us, Christ the Lord. He was born, lived, and died as one of us. He is Emmanuel – God with us – in every aspect of human living.

He was born in very humble circumstances. He lived a modest life. Thirty years of His life were lived in hidden obscurity and in the ordinary daily life we all live as members of a family. He never stormed the palaces of power. He ran for no political office. He refused riches, and more importantly He refused to succumb to the temptation of His own popularity. He lived with ordinary people and He chose very ordinary men to be His apostles. His proclamation was uttered in simple words, in parables of universal appeal in their simply clarity. Finally He died a shameful death, the death of a crucified criminal, alone, quite helpless, and apparently defeated.

What, then, do we celebrate? After all, He did not give us a free ticket through life, a life free of loss, pain, and suffering. We still have to rise each morning and face days loaded with pain, loneliness, and self-doubt. We worry, we fear, and we are uncertain.

What we celebrate is the fact that God has become very much a part of His creation. God has entered the process of creation with us. He is not simply alongside of us, He is part of us as we struggle to bring order out of chaos, as we suffer in world straining to be born anew, living in a frenzied drive to bring perfection to a world that is far from perfect.

God and man are now conjoined. God is not dead nor doth He sleep. His is not aloof. He is not "out there in the cosmos" living in grand and disinterested isolation from us. What we celebrate is that God is living out, with us, through us, and within us, the full measure of human suffering. He is saving us within all that we face. Unto us a savoir is born. He is Christ, the Lord!

This is the cup of my blood, He tells us. Take it and drink it. Take my life and mingle it with yours. Take and drink the life-supporting and live-giving blood that is mine. It is now yours… and your blood is now mine. Sinful blood, human blood, sinful flesh, human flesh, your flesh and mine are now joined in God’s. God and man at table are sat down.

And so today we celebrate the centerpiece of all Catholic theology… the foundation of the Eucharist and it’s core meaning… the central dogma of all who call themselves Catholic.

It is the one thing that gives me hope in world filled with destruction, desolation, and terror. It is the one shining brilliant star shining above a world that seems terribly dark. It is the one tongue of fire, light, and warmth blazing in a world that otherwise seems to have gone cold in its darkness. It is the most tremendous source of hope I have, it is that which is the keystone of my faith and which I share with you today… HOPE! Hope because of Jesus Christ.

Back in 1970 a Belgian Cardinal by the name of Suenens was asked the question: "Why are you a man of hope even in these days?" He answered:

“Because I believe that God is new every morning, I believe that God is creating the world today, at this very moment. He did not just create it in the long ago and then forget about it. That means that we have to expect the unexpected as the normal way of God’s providence at work.

I am hopeful, not for human reasons or because I am optimistic by nature, but because I believe in the Holy Spirit present in His Church and in the world – even if people don’t know His name. I am hopeful because I believe that the Holy Spirit is still the Creating Spirit, and that He will give us every morning fresh freedom, joy, and a new provision of hope, if we open our soul to Him.”

And so we celebrate today the fact that just as God came to the Garden of Eden to search out Adam and Eve, so also did He come to us in Jesus Christ to search us out and fill us with God’s Holy Spirit. And we celebrate the stupendous reality that He comes to us in every Holy Communion to be made flesh in your flesh, and so mingle His blood with yours and thus to search out and enter into your heart.

This is God’s Christmas gift to you. What will you give to Him? Hopefully we will give Him the gift of ourselves and our love.

December 19, 2018

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Advent, December 23, 2018, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

The Visitation
(Click here for today’s readings)

The Gospel account for this 4th Sunday of Advent is about two pregnant women, one of whom, Elizabeth, was already in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Mary had only recently received the news that she was pregnant. It was a life-changing announcement and she probably needed some time to herself, time to prepare, time to reflect, time to get herself together. But she didn’t think of her own needs. Instead she set out on an arduous journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant and to care for her. That’s not something most women would do. But these were two remarkable women, remarkable in the sense that under ordinary circumstances they would not be pregnant. One was a virgin; the other was beyond, way beyond, childbearing age. Both were not supposed to be pregnant. But God was at work within them. To add to the unexplainable mystery, they both bore within their wombs mysterious babies. One bore the Christ, God’s only begotten Son; the other bore John the Baptist.

What does that have to do with us? What does this entire interchange have to do with how we live our lives?

There are those who believe that life is all about having fun. Eat, drink, and have fun is their motto. They live for weekends when they don’t have to be on the job, times when they can get away from making a living and really live (they mistakenly think) in their weekends. There are others who don’t want to pay attention to what’s inside themselves, who divert their attention from anything and everything that is spiritual. Their focus is on their bodies; they don’t want to admit that they have souls. The spiritual, they ask? Who cares! John the Baptist? He was some kind of a nut! Jesus Christ? Who’s he? is their response.

At another level, all of us must eventually face the fact that we are persons and that we are destined to live in interpersonal relationships. All of us feel the call to love. Some of us are, however, afraid to love because love demands setting one’s self aside. Love demands that we be open, sensitive and vulnerable to others. Those who cannot love don’t stay married for very long. Those who cannot love don’t have any good friends, and if they do their friendships are superficial at best. Those who cannot love, or those who choose not to love, are doomed to live only for themselves, doomed to love only their own selves.

As persons do we think we are bodies that happen to have souls, or are we souls clothed with bodies? How you answer that question determines how you will live out your life. So, because the question is so crucial, I’ll ask it again: Are we bodies that maybe have souls, or are we souls clothed with bodies?

It’s what’s inside us that matters, not how we look, not how beautifully our bodies may be shaped, not how many possessions we have, not how much money we have, not what kind of jobs we have, or the professions we live in. It’s what’s inside us that matters; it’s the spiritual part of us that allows us to love, to have friendship, and to truly relate to others.

So what does the story of Mary and Elizabeth have to do with us? Well, Mary was carrying within her the Christ child. We, too, carry within us the presence of Christ. That’s why we pay such attention to Mary. She models who we are and what God is doing inside us. The Church is pregnant with the presence of Christ, something that we are about to celebrate in Holy Communion. And since the Church is not simply a building or an institution, since the Church is the Body of Christ and you and I constitute together the Mystical Body of Christ, we, like Mary, carry within us the presence of Christ. Not only that, but we carry within us the presence of Christ not just for our own sake, but in order to share Him with others. We bear Christ within us that we may bring Him to others in the world around us.

So now we see the importance of the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Now, perhaps, those two pregnant women are not so mysterious after all. If we see ourselves in them and understand ourselves to be just like them, then we see that we are to go out to others both when convenient and inconvenient… we are to carry the presence of Christ to all those who labor under heavy burdens, to all those who are frightened, who have been intimidated by life, and who need our help. They are our cousins, just as Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin. They may not be old and infirm; they may be young and lost. They are anyone and everyone who needs our loving attention, our caring for them, our love.

Our Catholic faith is not simply about saving ourselves and getting ourselves into heaven. God made us who we are for the life of the world. Saving our souls is a part of why we come to Mass, but it’s only half an answer to why God made us in the first place. The other half is equally important, namely bringing the care, love, compassion, concern, and presence of the Christ within us to those around us. God calls us to reveal His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

We may be tempted to feel we are too small and too insignificant to matter much. If you hear that voice whispering within you then you must recognize that it is the devil who is speaking, the devil who wants you to ignore the call of love, to ignore God’s love, and do nothing. Listen again to what the prophet Micah is saying to you and me in today’s first reading: Thus says the Lord: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.

How you live your life can have a tremendous influence on others around you. You have the power to bring Christ’s love, compassion, mercy, and friendship to those around you, particularly to those who are close to you. John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb recognized Jesus in Mary’s womb and was filled with joy. Others around you can recognize the presence of Christ within you and also be filled with joy. You can bring to them what their hearts are searching for. Yes, it may be hidden; the bond of friendship and love may be hidden from the eyes of others, but it will be no less real.

Elizabeth blessed Mary, crying out: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” May others who know you, others who have received your loving care and friendship, likewise bless you.

And so what does the story of Mary and Elizabeth have to do with us? The answer is: Everything!

December 13, 2018

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, December 16, 2018, Year C

John the Baptist preaching
The Sermon of St John the Baptist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1566.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

As we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord the issues that surround us this Advent season are enormous. Once more this year we struggle to find peace – peace among the nations and among ethnic groups, peace in our own homeland, and peace between two civilizations, Muslim and Western.

The now forty year old drug problem still plagues us here in our country. On the one side there are those who grow drugs along with those who market them for vast sums of money, and on the other hand there are those who buy and use drugs. How can we put an end to the mutual addiction, this gigantic co-dependency, involving both greed for money and need for drugs?

There are other problems too – the decline of the nuclear family, lack of housing for many, abuse of children, dysfunctional families, the control of gun sales, and on, and on, and on. These problems are many and are seemingly so intractable that we’re tempted to throw up our hands and declare that there’s nothing we can do to overcome them. The issues are too big, and we feel we are too small.

Today’s Gospel presents us with John the Baptist, the last and the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. He was issuing a call for national repentance, proclaiming the advent of the Kingdom of God with the coming of the Messiah, and the need to repent and change our own individual ways of human living. His audience must have wondered how all of their national problems were connected with their own personal lives. If God’s Kingdom was about to be established, how could any one individual hasten or hinder its arrival? If the entire Jewish people needed to repent and convert, of what consequence was the conversion of any one individual?  “What ought we do?” was their critical question. It is likewise our own critical question. Their society was like our society. God’s answer to their question and ours was and is: Everything depends upon YOU!

The society surrounding John the Baptist had poverty problems just as ours does. What could they do about it? Well, said John the Baptist, they could share their resources. The person who had two coats could give one of them to the person who had no coat at all. Those who enjoyed surpluses could share of their abundance with those who had nothing. Would it solve their national poverty problem? Well, yes, if enough people would change their lifestyles. Each and every individual’s effort alone would not suffice, but all individuals summed together would make a huge difference in our world.

Political corruption? People abusing their privileges as holders of the public trust? Certainly there was a lot of such abuse back when John the Baptist was calling for a national house cleaning. Likewise we, too, in our times, know of political corruption, those using their offices of public service for their own private and personal gain. What could individuals do about it? Probably not much. But nothing would change unless individuals changed. Individuals could do something rather than simply do nothing. John seemed to think it would make a difference if even one governmental official cleaned up his way of conduct and started running a honest operation.

Violence? Abuse of power? Abuse of others? The people in John’s society certainly suffered those things. So do we. And to the extent that we refrain from using our positions of privilege in order to abuse, humiliate and demean others, to that extent the boundaries of violence and abuse of others will be pushed away from us as a people.

The sad state of our world can be traced back to our own arrogance – both individual and partisan. Intellectual superiority deployed upon others, military dominance, and our own economic prosperity improperly imposed on others whom we judge to be lesser persons leads to resentment, bitterness, and eventually anger and hatred. Violence is the inevitable result.

It’s too easy to superficially blame our own moral failures on the moral failures of our society as a whole. We’ve heard too much of such weak excuses, rationalizations claiming that we are dishonest because society is dishonest, we are ruthless in our business practices because “it’s a jungle out there,” we are promiscuous because so many others, especially our media stars, are promiscuous, we are selfish and acquisitive because our culture is selfish and acquisitive.

Society will become more honest when individuals become more honest, because every society is simply the sum of its individual parts. Wars and violence will subside when we refrain from our own forms of violence toward each other. Poverty will begin to disappear when we are less self-centered and acquisitive. Sexual abuse will subside when we become more pure and liberate our youngsters from the imprisoning lie that they are simply the helpless victims of their inner sexual drives..

We must see again that morality is not simply a private matter. We must challenge the nonsense that seduces us with the myth of free market morals. Morality is a public matter that involves us in sharing our common weal, a common good into which we contribute our individual and personal lives.

John the Baptist’s voice still heralds the coming of God’s Kingdom amongst us. His call for repentance and conversion remains just as valid today as it was back then. Everything depends upon what each and every individual does in his or her own personal life. Salvation will not be assured and society will not be changed, unless each individual recognizes the absolute necessity for personal conversion and change. That is why the Founding Fathers of our nation, men like Jefferson, Madison, and Adams repeatedly stated that it was absolutely necessary for the general populace to be moral, for without a moral electorate our newly founded Democratic Republic would fall. Do you need proof of their predictions? Take a look at what is happening to our nation today! Educators need to realize that morality is something far greater than mere political correctness.

The Northwest Ordinance, adopted July 13, 1787, by the Second Continental Congress, the U. S. Constitution was ratified two years later in 1789. Thomas Jefferson’s ideas about the importance of morality were of enormous influence in both documents. One of Jefferson’s greatest contributions was contained in Article III of the Northwest Ordinance which stated that “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” The point not to be missed is that morality is quite necessary for good government and our happiness in living together is a peaceful society.

Advent is a time for you and for me to clean up our acts. It’s all a matter of getting down to the task of doing it first, instead of waiting for everybody else to first change their acts. Advent is a time for you and for me – personally. For if I am obsessed by what others are doing, thus diverting the moral spotlight from shining upon my own soul, then nothing will change.

John the Baptist’s “voice crying in the wilderness” has remarkable relevance for us in our lives today. For if we lose our moral sense of what is right and what is wrong we risk losing not only our souls but our country as well.

August 21, 2018

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior
The La Salette Missionaries of North America

"They walked with him no longer." John. 6:66
(Click here for today’s readings)

"Many of his disciples no longer accompanied him." I prefer the classic translation, "They walked with him no longer," as presenting a more forceful image.

Not his enemies, but Jesus’ own disciples were falling away from him. They didn’t like what he was saying, and that was that. To be fair, let it be noted that what Jesus was saying was exactly what they called it, "a hard saying." So they applied what we might call "the logic of dislike."

We have all seen it. We have all done it. The logic is very simple. It goes a little like this: 1) I try something; 2) I don’t like it; 3) I will never try it again.

In the case of today’s Gospel: 1) This Jesus is fascinating; 2) I don’t like this business of eating flesh and drinking blood; 3) Goodbye, Jesus.

There are some situations, indeed many, where the logic of dislike is perfectly legitimate. People don’t usually prepare a meal they know they won’t enjoy. Hard rock fans (or opera lovers) won’t normally subject themselves to hours of opera (or hard rock). Ultimately these are matters of no special importance beyond personal taste.

But this is different. "They walked with him no longer" — true then, true today. It is no secret that Churches of most denominations are experiencing a great decline in attendance and membership. There are many reasons, ranging from a deeply painful personal loss of faith, to a gradual drifting away. Not rarely, however, the logic of dislike enters in. If we don’t like the pastor or minister, or the preaching, or some of the church members ("those hypocrites!"), etc., we look elsewhere, we go to a different parish or denomination, or we may dispense ourselves from joining any worshiping community.

Joshua tried to anticipate this kind of situation. In the face of whatever challenges his people would encounter, he proclaimed: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." The representatives of the Twelve Tribes echoed his determination, but their descendants did not carry out that promise. They failed to "walk humbly with their God" (See Micah 6:8).

"They walked with him no longer." At a personal level, the experience is, I suspect, not unfamiliar to most of us. The loss of friendship, companionship, admiration, or respect is always painful. It can undermine our self-confidence. It seems to have had a similar effect on Jesus. His question to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" is one of the most poignant moments of the Gospel.

Peter cannot be supposed to have liked the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood any more than those who were now leaving Jesus behind. This was a hard saying for him, too, and he didn’t pretend otherwise. But he looked beyond what he didn’t understand, to what he knew from experience. "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." His reply had nothing to do with likes or dislikes, but rather anticipates what St. Paul would later write: "Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). His faith was in the person of Jesus. The mere failure to understand was nothing by comparison.

There are many things in the Scriptures, or in Church teaching, that remain hard sayings to this day. Even "Live in love, as Christ loved us" (in today’s alternate second reading) may present more of a challenge that we are ready to accept. It is very sad when the logic of dislike causes people to reject them rather than make the effort to understand them. This sometimes turns people away from Christianity, or from religion altogether.

Sure, there are plenty of non-religious groups and movements that we can "go" to, to satisfy our likes. But how many of them have the words of eternal life?

March 11, 2018

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, March 18, 2018, Year B

Christ the Bridegroom

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

When you encounter paradox, you’re close to the heart of the Gospel, a message in which we are presented with two statements that seemingly contradict each other.

So here, today, we find Jesus speaking about His cross, His path to glory through humiliation, life through death, good through evil. Nothing in human history is so totally paradoxical as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. About to be displayed in degradation, He speaks of His glory being revealed.

In Roman times a crucifixion was supposed to be a public spectacle. Yet it is at the same time a personal matter for you and for me. Your salvation and mine are found in it. Yes, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Calvary was a spectacular event. The characters were momentous. Rome was there in her imperial power. One of the world’s great religions was there in an hour of critical decision. Yet it is also true that this historical and monumental spectacle of nearly two thousand years ago personally includes you and me. Sins of the flesh, sins of pride, sins of omission, sins such as yours and such as mine nailed Christ to His Cross. And they still do. All of those sins were there then as they are now. We were and are now personally involved, much as we’d like to deny it.

The Cross reveals the worst that’s within us; it reveals what evil we’re capable of doing to each other – battering, abusing, using, hurting, and killing human life in its beginning, in the living of it, and at its end… in a Holocaust that seems never to cease.

The Cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ likewise illumines and reveals the best that’s within us. It’s message is that our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, your Father and mine, thinks we are worth, individually worth, what happened on that Cross. Our finite humanity, yours individually as well as mine, has been because of Christ’s Cross invested with infinite value, worth and dignity. The worst in our humanity in all of its stupidity and cruelty succeeded in crucifying the best that God could possibly give us, the most beautiful human being that ever existed. And in that monumental act of cruelty and evil, God brought out the best that’s within us – for which we are here to aspire in prayer and petition to God in Christ.

For the stupendous truth is that in dying for you, Christ died for something of infinite value within you – your immortal soul that now can never die.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a crushing defeat for righteousness and out of it came the greatest victory that righteousness has ever won. “Except”, said Jesus, “a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” And the same is true for your life joined into His.

Each Sunday when we celebrate Mass here together we jointly and sacramentally enter into the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, celebrating a colossal failure that gives us infinite victory. Next week we celebrate Palm Sunday, that moment when Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem amidst shouted blessings and hosannas of the crowd, the same crowd which a few short days later would shout: Crucify him! Crucify him!… and then did so.

And He died a failure. One of His most trusted apostles, Judas, sold Him out for money. His prime apostle, Peter, sold Him out in three moments of swearing. The others had all fled. No one was there except a pagan military officer and his troops, Mary, His mother – along with Mary Magdalene, and a young teenage boy by the name of John. His own people, fearing God’s wrath for breaking rules of religious ritual conspired with a weak Roman governor who thereupon buckled under fear of not being liked, wanting to please the crowd as well as wanting to please Caesar. As evening fell, all of Christ’s enemies felt that they had finished Him off and that they were rid of Him forever.

Little did they then realize that those hands they had nailed to the Cross were lifting the whole world up before the eyes of His Father. Little did they realize that the heart they had pierced and emptied of blood was filled with a precious love that would save each and every human being given His Body and Blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

There is perhaps much in your life and mine that is failure, loss and pain. And no doubt there will be more. Life is not fair; it never has been, and it never will be. Furthermore, the fickle human heart will believe any lie and follow any fable. Without faith in Jesus Christ we will believe anything and do anything.

But with belief in Jesus Christ and in Him crucified, all in life that is upside down can be turned right side up. All that is inside out can be pulled out into the open for all to see and share. The glory of the divinity that is the Living God present within us can now, in the broken Body of Jesus Christ and in the crushed grapes of His humanity, be shared by all of us in a Holy Communion in which God comes to us in the fullness of His Presence, His Power, and His Love.

The great paradox of your life along with the great paradox of mine finds meaning, purpose and fulfillment in the momentous paradox of Christ’s suffering, passion and death. For with it now, God our Father, in your life and in mine, brings good out of evil, meaning out of absurdity, order out of chaos, glory out of humiliation, holiness out of sin, and life out of death.

And because of what we as a Church are about to share in common celebration over these few weeks, all of it is yours, O Christian.

God Speaks to the Sinner: A Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Christ the Bridegroom

By Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America

(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33)

My child, you have no idea how important it is to me that you allow me to forgive you. Please don’t put it off. Now is the acceptable time.

Is there something from the distant past that you have never been able to confess? Now is the acceptable time.

Come now, let us set things right. Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow. They will be totally washed away in the blood of my only Son, who willingly offered himself up for you. Through his suffering, through his obedience, he has paid the full price of your redemption.

He is like the grain of wheat. When he died, he brought forth abundant fruit, to be shared by all. The free banquet of grace awaits you.

I would like nothing better than to place my Law within you and write it on your heart. Just think! It would then be the most natural thing in the world for you to live in my love and to please me.

With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. With your permission and humble cooperation, I will remove your sins from you as far as the East is from the West.  Or, if you prefer, I will cast them into the depths of the sea. Surely you must understand the delight it gives me to do so.

Remember what my Son said: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” That individual glorious source of joy—that could be you!

Lifted up on the cross, my Son became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. He can sympathize with your weakness, because he has been tested in every way, yet without sin. Let him draw you to himself.

Standing near his cross you will find his Mother, Mary. She is your Mother, too. You might know her as the Beautiful Lady. She will help you see what you must do.

Please, please, my child, hand your sins over to me. Then they will be no longer yours, but mine, and I will throw them away. I will cast them behind my back, and I will never look back at them again. Never.

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), March 11, 2018, Year B

Christ speaking with Nicodemus

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

“A body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” I’m sure many of you have heard that phrase used in an often-repeated TV commercial that has been airing recently. The phrase has caught my attention especially when I have been a couch potato watching more TV than I should. It’s the “staying at rest” that I am talking about because I am so often afflicted with laziness and lethargy. I resist getting in motion.

Well, you may ask, what do those words and that thought have to do with the readings from today’s scripture passages that we just heard?

Today is Laetare Sunday. Joy is its theme, joy because we are halfway through Lent and thus very close to the joy of Easter when our Elect will be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Communion and our Candidates will be received into our Communion of Faith and likewise receive Holy Communion. There is joy, too, because in spite of our sins God in His love has acted to enter our sinful world and redeem our sinful souls. God has not remained passive in the face of our failures and sins. He has taken action, decisive action. He has been in motion… perpetual motion… and we are the recipients of His energy, His energetic love.

In today’s first reading we learn that God inspired a non-Jew, Cyrus, King of Persia, to release the Jews from their captivity in Babylon and allow them to return to their native land. Not only that, but Cyrus was also inspired to rebuild God’s house in Jerusalem! This was quite amazing, even more so when we learn that the Jews had been unfaithful to God. Today’s first reading began with these words:

"In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets…"

The Jews had suffered from their own infidelities because sin brings with it indifference toward God. Sin makes the soul lazy. Sin stops movement toward God. It causes us to wallow in our own darkness of soul. Sin makes us spiritually flabby.

God’s love, however, is a fire that cannot be extinguished and so in our second reading we hear St. Paul exhorting Christians in Ephesus:

"Brothers and sisters: God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved, raised us up with Christ…"

We rejoice because this gift which God has given us, given to us even when we have been sinners, has united us to Christ, and has given us the right to share in His glorious resurrection and inherit heaven with Him and through Him.

All of this brings us now to today’s Gospel account in which we find Jesus speaking to Nicodemus saying:

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

What has been our response to all that God has done for us? That question is the big question of Lent, the question we must all face and answer. If you are anything at all like me, you feel uncomfortable in answering that question. I know I am uncomfortable because I have not been in motion. To paraphrase the quote that began today’s homily: A soul in motion tends to stay in motion, while a soul that is wallowing in indifference tends to continue in simply not caring.

Isn’t that what sin does? Doesn’t sin simply not care about God and the things of God? We know that it does. And so, a sinful attitude continues by using a lot of lies… lies like: “I’m too busy,” or “The Church is filled with hypocrites,” or “there is no life after death,” or “God is going to save me anyway,” or other such seductive lies. The greatest lie of all, the lie that is becoming more popular in our culture each day is: “There is no God anyway.”

This is Laetare Sunday, “Rejoice Sunday.” We have much about which to rejoice. I realize that there are many voices telling us that the world is in a mess, that dreadful things are upon us, that our Church has much within it that is wrong, and that the Second Vatican Council was a bad mistake. Many want to take the Church back to its pre-Vatican II state. I disagree with them. I disagree with them because the voice of Saint John XXIII still speaks to my heart and soul.

Allow me, therefore, to quote Good Pope John’s words that he spoke in his opening address to that great Council held back in the early 1960’s. In his opening talk he declared:

"In the daily exercise of Our pastoral office, it sometimes happens that We hear certain opinions which disturb Us—opinions expressed by people who, though fired with a commendable zeal for religion, are lacking in sufficient prudence and judgment in their evaluation of events. They can see nothing but calamity and disaster in the present state of the world. They say over and over that this modern age of ours, in comparison with past ages, is definitely deteriorating. One would think from their attitude that history, that great teacher of life, had taught them nothing. They seem to imagine that in the days of the earlier councils everything was as it should be so far as doctrine and morality and the Church’s rightful liberty were concerned.

We feel that We must disagree with these prophets of doom, who are always forecasting worse disasters, as though the end of the world were at hand."

Good Pope John’s vision was a vision of hope, a joyful vision of hope, hope for the world and hope for the Church based on his unshakable faith in the love of God and his awareness of God’s active and powerful hand at work in our world.

And so, I repeat the words of the antiphon for beginning today’s Mass: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy…” The Church is God’s New Jerusalem, loved by Him and renewed over and over again in the power of His unconquerable love.

And so, I close using St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:4-8)