Homilies and Poems

I am a Catholic Deacon and a Professor of English at Oregon State University. I've created this BLOG as a way of sharing my Sunday homilies, for anyone who would like copies, as well as some of my poetry. I'm also very glad to continue the conversation, over email or in person. Just click on "profile" and then onto my email address. Peace be with you and the Lord be with you. Also visit me at my website.

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Location: Corvallis, Oregon

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Three Passages about the Eucharist (short homily)

As always Jesus is telling us today not be holier than thou, not to get all caught up in words, not to think we own the truth. As always the distinction is between arrogance and humility, appearance and reality. As always the call is to act, with justice and forgiveness.

The Our Father in its simplicity and directness contains all the truth and all the doctrine we ever need, and it’s about the moment, and it’s about surrender, and it’s about forgiveness.


A friend gave me a list of really powerful passages about the Eucharist and the meaning of the Eucharist and I think two of them relate to this today. The Our Father is at the center of the Eucharist for us. We pray it immediately before we receive. In a sense when we receive the Body of Christ we also eating the Our Father. We are swallowing it.


The first quote is from Father Edward Hays, and it’s a good one. It’s exactly parallel to what Jesus is saying in the Gospel:


The invitation of Jesus is to “take and eat,” not bow before and adore. A true adoration of Christ present in the Eucharist leads to seeing Christ present in the Living Eucharist of humanity and creation. If adoration before Christ in the Host is an eye-opener to Christ in the poor and homeless, in prostitutes and convicts, then it is a devotion of value. If not, it, like many devotions, borders on idolatry. Those who promote this devotion would be well served to begin their hour of adoration with this prayer by Henri de Lubac: “If I lack love and justice, I separate myself completely from you, God, and my adoration is nothing more than idolatry. To believe in you, I must believe in love and justice, and such belief is wroth a thousand times more than saying your name.”


The second quote is very much the same, but it’s from one of the early Church fathers, St. John Chryostom:


Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said. “This is my Body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,” and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also for me.” What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with gold chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.


It’s the same. It’s the pattern. It’s the central insight of scripture and tradition, over and over again.

A final passage, from maybe the greatest of the Fathers, St. Augustine:


The bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood. If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your Amen may ring true! Be what you see; receive what you are. All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.


These are wonderful passages, I think, all three of them, and I’ll leave them on my blog if anybody wants to have them for prayer and for reflection. I feel really inspired by them and reassured by them. I feel really called by them, and I hope you do, too.

Oh Lord, we praise you for the Eucharist, we praise you for your body, and we praise you for the great and simple prayer you left us. May we pray it with complete humility and complete faith. May we receive in you who we really are. May we celebrate in the Eucharist the mystery of our own lives. May we celebrate our own lives. May we celebrate the lives of our others and serve others. May we serve. May we act. May we live.

Sun and Rain (homily)

I think a lot of people assume that in Christianity God is the great punisher. If you do bad things, God punishes you. If you do good things, He rewards you. This is the God we fear and this is the God we long for in a way and this is a God we can easily reject. Because bad things happen to good people all the time. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to things, and so the rhyme and reason God can just be dismissed. This is the God the atheists and agnostics have in mind and they’re right. That God doesn’t make sense. That God is dead.

But in the gospel today Jesus says something really astonishing, something I think we miss. He says that God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and he causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He’s saying to all of us, you’re right. The Big Daddy God doesn’t deserve our worship. He can’t be sustained. You’re right, life is way more complicated than that, way more apparently random, way more incomprehensible, and I am, too.

Or not random. Profligate. Abundant. Random in the sense of God showering down grace all the time, showering down reality. All we have to do is see it. Pick it up. Take it. All of us. It is like the sun and it is like the rain, that wild and generous and unpredictable. Even Ahab can take it, if he wants, if he turns just a little bit. Just a little.

No one is better than anyone else. No one is more deserving than anyone else. If we have good things, it’s not because we’re so great, spiritually or any other way. If we’re suffering, it’s not because we deserve it and it’s not because God doesn’t exist.

This is a God the atheists and agnostics cannot dismiss. This is a God who is not simplistic and easy. This is a wonderful, radical theology.

And there’s more. More that I think people don’t get. We don’t get. Because there are consequences to this theology. If God is like that, if he loves without reason, if he just loves, if he loves in some mysterious sense that at the same time doesn’t deny suffering and loss but is somehow present in it—if God is like that—then we have to be like that, too. That’s what Jesus is saying. Love like that. Be like the sun. Be like the rain. Love everybody, even if they don’t deserve it. Throw out love the way the sower broadcasts seed. Be that inefficient. Be that spontaneous. That unthinking. That inclusive. Exceed all the categories like that. No smugness and no self pity and no moral outrage either. No. Humility. And spontaneity. And joy. Wild abandon. Total acceptance: of everything, of everyone. Everything that happens. Everyone we see.

It’s wild. It’s amazing.

Dancing with the Stars (homily)

May 30, 2010
Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

First comes the Father, and then comes the Son, and then comes the Spirit, flowing out of them both, playing between them.

With the Spirit we have the Trinity, and with the Trinity everything changes. All bets are off.

With the Trinity God isn’t remote. He isn’t distant. He isn’t always somewhere else. He is here, with us, in nature, in the very fabric of things--in “the face of the deep,” Proverbs says, and “in the sky above” and in the very “foundations of the earth.”

With the Trinity God isn’t static. He isn’t fixed. He is always moving and flowing. He is always changing.

I have been talking with a farmer, a handsome young man in his late twenties, sunburned and clear-eyed, who has lately felt the Spirit moving inside of him and moving in his work as he plows the fields and plants the fields in radishes and lettuce, hundreds of acres. I really admire this man, because he works hard and because he works with the earth, and because as he works he prays. He prays the rosary on his tractor. He opens the scriptures before he goes to bed at night. He’s reading Augustine on the Trinity.

When you talk with him you can feel his energy and his excitement.

We have to make our appointments tentative. They depend on whether the sun is shining that day—if he can work or not—he’s always looking at the weather report on the internet, always looking at the skies—and this seems profound to me, so different from the lives that most of us live, locked in our cubicles. We don’t pay attention like that.

I really like how this man talks about his wife. His love for his children. His humility. I really like how he respects all the people around him and doesn’t force his faith on them, doesn’t judge, doesn’t preach.

This is what the Trinity is about. It’s about life. It’s about the earth. It’s about all the things that grow and change and ebb and flow.

With the Trinity God isn’t trapped inside a Church. He isn’t owned. He’s present within all of us, “poured out in our hearts,” as Paul says in Romans. With the Trinity God isn’t outside, he’s inside, and so we have to trust ourselves and believe in ourselves, in our deepest hopes, our truest desires. This is what the Trinity means. It means that to discern the will of God we have to study our own patterns and study our own thoughts and moods the way this young farmer studies the weather. We have to look within. Because what moves within us is the Spirit, and it’s always moving.

My mother-in-law, at her eightieth birthday party. It’s a surprise. We’re waiting behind the door in a banquet room, thirty of us, children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, and when she opens the door and sees us, she staggers, she literally staggers, she is so surprised and overwhelmed, and then, smiling as we sing to her, she starts going around the room, talking to each of us. It takes several hours for her to hear the stories. There are so many of us, touched by her and changed by her.

This is what the Trinity means. It means that all of us make a difference and all of us matter. It means that the moment matters. Every moment. It means we are always opening a door and there is always a room. Always a surprise.

It’s staggering.

A dog has been coming to one of my classes the last few weeks, a beautiful collie. His name is Indy, after Indiana Jones. He’s a service dog in training. He wears a harness with a large handle sticking out, and the trainer is training him as a kind of living crutch for people with problems keeping their balance. The trainer is disabled herself and I love watching her work this dog and how the dog responds, so patiently, slowly walking down the stairs.

Friday I had a little girl in class, too, about three, with lovely blonde hair. Her mother had to bring her, balancing her on her hip.

She looked at me so solemnly, that little girl. She was holding a yellow balloon.

What the Trinity means is that we are always in relation. What the Trinity means is that we are never alone. What the Trinity means is that the Lord has sent the “Spirit of Truth” to guide us, and the Spirit is always guiding us. We have only to follow what is right and healthy and good. We have only to pay attention.

My five year old grandson when he comes to dinner. He loves to say grace before we eat. He insists on it. He loves to make the sign of the cross, though he doesn’t exactly make the up and down motions yet, the straight lines. He just touches his fingers to his forehead and then sort of makes a circle in front of his face. A quick, circular motion.

But I really like that. I think there’s tremendous theology in that.

The Trinity doesn’t dribble. The Trinity doesn’t come out in little pieces. It “pours,” the readings say. Proverbs says that: that wisdom “pours.” Paul says that: that the love of God has been “poured out.” And that implies abundance, and that implies smoothness and fullness and ease, and that implies play, too. Maybe play most of all.

Wisdom “plays,” Proverbs says. It “delights” in the Lord and it “delights” in his creation, it “delights day by day,” and it “plays before him all the while.” It “plays on the surface of the earth.”

This is what the Trinity means. It means that God isn’t grim. It means that religion isn’t grim. It means that faith isn’t about judgment and it isn’t about rules.

This is what’s so profound about the doctrine of the Trinity: that faith isn’t finally about doctrines at all.

It’s not a system. It’s not a ledger. It’s not a museum.

It’s a celebration. It’s a dance. A wonderful, never-ending dance.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Parishioner and the Homeless Man (homily)

June 9th
Matthew 5:17-19


For a long time I’ve been wanting to share this little story.

One Monday morning as I was walking back from OSU to St. Mary’s I happened to see a parishioner on the other side of the parking lot. I was coming around a corner, so I could see him but he couldn’t see me. There was no one else around, except for a homeless man, a big, shaggy man with a shopping cart, there on the sidewalk. It was just the two of them, and what the parishioner did was say good morning. He said good morning and he talked to the man for a minute, like he was anyone else, a quick, friendly hi-how-are-you. He didn’t have to. He could have easily walked by. But he didn’t. He was kind. He was Christian.

When no one was looking.

And this is only one example. I can think of so many people in the parish working at St. Vincent’s or serving at Stone Soup or being foster parents or visiting the sick, all in private, all when no one is looking, day after day.

It’s important for us to be Christians in public, to let people know that we’re Christian, to profess our faith and to evangelize for our faith and sometimes even to be apologists for our faith. But the danger here is that we might turn the Church into still another way of building an identity and getting attention. The biggest problem we all of us have is caring too much about what other people think, and this creeps into our faith life, too, before we know it. Hey, look at me being holy. Look at me being spiritual.

That’s why it’s important for us to go into our inner room and to pray, because there it’s only God who is looking at us, it’s only God who is loving us.

And not just that. Then we have to leave our rooms and go out into the world and when we see a homeless man on the sidewalk say good morning. We have to act on our faith. “The Eucharist commits us to the poor,” the Catechism says. “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brothers and sisters.”

I recently read a long article about Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, a book that’s made hundreds of millions of dollars. As I read along I was thinking what a hypocrite this guy was. I was judging him because he’s made so much money from that book and is so famous. And then at the end it turns out that Warren has given most of that money away, 90% of it, to help with AIDS and other diseases in Africa. 90%.

Well, that’s it. That’s all that matters.

Sure that work is public and sure Warren is maybe doing it in part so that other people will admire him. But 90%.

Finally what it means to be a Christian is to be a Christian. Not to talk about it. To do it. First to pray, always to pray. Then to act. Always to act.

This is the law and this is the prophets. This is the smallest letter and the smallest part of the letter.

And for all of you who do pray and who do act, who quietly and selflessly serve others, all praise. You humble us. You teach us. You show us the way.