Sunday, May 27, 2007
Thursday, May 17, 2007
(Ascension Thursday 2007: This homily was given on
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ascension Thursday 2007]
When Jesus Christ—the Word made flesh—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made man—ascended into heaven 40 days after he rose from the dead, he did so with his human body.
That fact is significant, because it means that ever since Ascension Thursday, heaven has been inhabited by a divine person who has a body like ours (although his body is already in a glorified state).
This is a truth of our faith—a truth of our faith that has some very practical implications for our daily lives. It’s not just a tenet of the Creed!
You see, if the Son of God had discarded his human body after his resurrection, and gone to heaven as a pure spirit, it would have sent us a message that our bodies are really not very important; it would have said to us that only our souls and spirits matter.
But that’s not what happened. As I just said, Jesus went to heaven with his body! That means our bodies do matter—they matter a lot!
It’s not a coincidence that the Church says we are to respect the human body always—even in death.
Sometimes when a relative dies, an otherwise good Catholic will ask questions like, “Why can’t I scatter grandma’s ashes to the four winds at the beach? Grandma loved the beach!” “Why can’t I keep grandma’s ashes in the living room on her favorite coffee table? She sat in front of that table for years; it was her favorite place in the house.”
Grandma’s ashes are to be interred in the ground or in a mausoleum, as the proper committal prayers of the Church are prayed, because her ashes are the ashes of a human body that will be raised from the dead at the end of time! They’re the ashes of a body that was redeemed by Jesus Christ; they’re the ashes of a body that was made to live forever in a glorified state in the kingdom of heaven. Hence they’re not to be thrown around like confetti at a wedding; nor are they to be used as a decoration for the living room coffee table!
Human bodies are to be treated with proper respect in death, because that’s the way we’re supposed to treat our bodies in life!
Of course, in treating our bodies with respect in life, we need to avoid two extremes: worship and abuse—both of which are extremely common today.
People who “worship” their bodies are people who value their physical health above everything else—including the health of their souls.
It’s a phenomenon that Pope John Paul II and other popes of the past have referred to as “the cult of the body”.
Now what makes this attitude so difficult for us to resist is the fact that our materialistic and hedonistic culture actively promotes it! For proof of that, just watch one of those cosmetic surgery programs on the Discovery Health Channel; or pick up a bodybuilding magazine or the latest issue of Cosmopolitan; or read the statistics on how many people—men and women alike—suffer from eating disorders.
Now don’t misunderstand me here. As one who loves to work out at the gym, I’m a firm believer that maintaining your physical health is good; I’m a firm believer in the importance of taking proper care of your body. But your body in its present condition is not immortal—so its value is not absolute. You can do 1,000 push ups and sit-ups a day, and have plastic surgery on 90% of your body—the fact is you’re still gonna die!
You may “die at your ideal weight” (as the old saying goes), but you’re still gonna die!
Pope Pius XII said it very simply and very clearly many years ago: “Care for the body, strengthening of the body—yes; but cult of the body, making a god of the body—no.”
It’s a hard balance to achieve—especially nowadays—but we all need to work at it.
Which brings us to the other extreme that must be avoided, namely abuse. Those who worship their bodies care for them too much; those who abuse their bodies care for them too little.
Obviously it’s wrong to abuse your body through drugs or alcohol—that’s a given. But it’s also wrong to abuse your body in other ways: for example, by eating too much—or by not eating enough.
It’s wrong to abuse your body by failing to go to the doctor when you’re sick, or by failing to take the medication you know you need to take for an illness that you have.
And it’s wrong to abuse your body by engaging in immoral sexual behaviors.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ reminds us that our bodies are made for heaven, not just for earth.
Lord Jesus, help us all to remember that, and help us to live our lives accordingly—treating our bodies (and the bodies of others) with the respect they deserve, so that someday our glorified bodies will join yours in the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2007]
It’s the role of a mother to give birth to her children (for further information on that subject, consult a biology textbook!).
It is the role of a mother to nurture her children.
It is the role of a mother to comfort her children.
It’s the role of a mother to discipline her children—even if they respond by whining and stomping their feet and calling her names!
It’s the role of a mother to challenge her children—whether they want to be challenged or not!
It’s the role of a mother to settle arguments that take place between her children. In fact, in most homes it’s the mother who functions as the family’s unpaid referee!
It’s the role of a mother to teach the truth to her children. Most of us learned our first—and perhaps most important—lessons in life from our mothers.
Speaking of important lessons, it’s the role of a mother to be a teacher of forgiveness and a facilitator of forgiveness. Think about it: Who was the first person you said “I’m sorry” to in your life? It was probably your mother. And how often did your mother say to you, “Tell that person you’re sorry”?—“Tell your sister you’re sorry for calling her names”; “Tell your brother you’re sorry for taking his toy without his permission and breaking it”.
Obviously I mention all these things today, because it’s Mother’s Day. But I also mention them because they have an application to the spiritual dimension of our lives—specifically to that reality we call “the Church”.
And our readings today confirm this.
Now if you’re one of those people who sees the Church only in institutional terms, what I’ve just said might sound a little crazy to you. You might be thinking, “The Church is an impersonal institution and a big bureaucracy. It’s not anything like my mother!”
Oh yes it is!
As I said at the beginning of my homily, it’s the role of a mother to give birth to her children. That happens for us, spiritually speaking, at the moment we’re baptized. Through a sacramental act of
Sanctifying grace: don’t leave earth without it!
So for that reason alone—for bringing us the grace we need to attain eternal life—we should be grateful to the Church as our spiritual Mother.
But it doesn’t end there.
As I said a few moments ago, it’s the role of a mother to nurture her children. The Church does that for us spiritually every day through the word of God—if we let her. As Jesus said in today’s Gospel text from John 14, “Whoever loves me will keep my word (in other words, whoever loves me will be nurtured by my word—formed in obedience by my word through prayer and the sacraments), and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
But we must allow this nurturing to happen. It’s not automatic! You see, just as we can cut ourselves off from our nurturing earthly mothers, so also we can cut ourselves off from our nurturing spiritual Mother. We can choose not to pray; we can choose not to actively participate at Mass; we can choose to tune-out the truth of Scripture and Church teaching.
But when we do that—when we choose to turn our backs on our spiritual Mother and live by our own rules—we almost always end up angry and unhappy (just as we become angry and unhappy if we cut ourselves off from our earthly mothers).
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I know a woman here in
She has not allowed herself to be nurtured by her spiritual Mother, the Church, for many years. In fact, she would tell you in no uncertain terms that she “hates” her spiritual Mother.
She also has no inner peace; that’s evident from her conversations with her friend here in
To me, that’s not a coincidence! You can’t have peace if you hate your mom.
I said earlier that it’s the role of a mother to comfort her children. As Jesus said in today’s Gospel, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This woman would find comfort, if by the grace of God she let go of her anger and came back home to her spiritual family and her spiritual Mother. She’d find the peace she doesn’t have at the present moment.
And it’s certainly possible. It’s happened to many other people in the past; it can happen to her now. We should pray that it does!
I said earlier that it’s the role of a mother to teach and to challenge and to discipline her children—whether they like it or not.
The story in today’s first reading from Acts 15 is a perfect example of our spiritual Mother, the Church, doing all three of those things: teaching, challenging and disciplining.
Apparently some early Jewish converts to Christianity were telling people that Gentiles were bound to observe the Mosaic Law if they wanted to be Christians. Among other things, this meant that adult, Gentile men would be forced to undergo circumcision.
Under the guidance and anointing of the Holy Spirit, the apostles met and discerned the will of Jesus on the matter. Their final decision was that Gentiles could become Christians without being circumcised and observing all the ritual laws of the Old Testament.
The Gentile men of the time must have been thrilled!
That became the official teaching of
Shouldn’t we expect the very same thing from our spiritual Mother?
Of course, as I said at the beginning of my homily, every good mother also forgives, and is a facilitator of forgiveness when her children fail to live according to her teachings. The same is true of
So today is a day to remember and to thank God for the mother who gave us physical birth—who nurtured us and taught us and challenged us and disciplined us and comforted us when we were in pain, and who forgave us when we hurt her and said we were sorry. Even if she was not the best mother she could possibly be, she did choose life for us, and for that alone we should praise God!
But at the same time we should also thank the Lord for providing us with a Mother who has given us our spiritual re-birth, a Mother who will nurture and teach and challenge and discipline and comfort and forgive us for the rest of our lives, if we let her.
We should thank and praise God, in other words, for giving us
That’s true whether we’re 5 or 105—or 50 (like old Fr. Ray).