Fr. Gary's Homilies
Did you hear something that resonated with you? Are you looking to reflect on the weekend homily?
No need to worry! The homily will be made available here in both written and audio form some time the week following. Click on the links below to take you to a specific homily.
No need to worry! The homily will be made available here in both written and audio form some time the week following. Click on the links below to take you to a specific homily.
fIFTH sunday of easter
Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 25, 2021
A great music conductor was asked to teach a two-semester course in musical performance at a renowned university. After only a few classes, the conductor realized that the students, both instrumentalists and vocalists, were in such a chronic state of anxiety over the measurement of their performance that they were reluctant to take risks with their music. They were so focused on the grade they would receive that they would never truly find the potential of their music.
So, when the second semester rolled around in January, the professor made this announcement: “Each student in this class will get an A for the course. However, you must write me a letter, now, which begins with the words ‘I got my A because...’ And in this letter, tell me, in as much detail as you can, the story of what will have happened to you by next May, what you will do to earn this extraordinary grade.”
The conductor wanted the student musicians to place themselves in the future, to anticipate what it would look like in the past, to report of all the insights they acquired and milestones they attained during the year - as if those accomplishments were already past. No phrases like “I hope” or “I intend” or “I will”. He wanted them, in effect, to play and sing their story as if it was already done. He was interested in how they saw themselves becoming the musician they wanted to be.
In the Easter mystery, my friends, God gives us all an ‘A’, not as a measurement of how we are performing in life, but as an awareness of who we have already become: a beloved child of God. In the raising of His Son, God raises us up, as well, above and beyond the fears and cynicism and dark hopelessness that so often prevents us from living the life that God created us to live. We don’t have to earn that place in God’s heart; we are already beloved.
We are already assured that this kind and gentle shepherd will never abandon us. We are already assured that this shepherd, while gentle, is strong and brave and so in love with us that he will protect us from any danger that we face. We are assured that we will never be outside of his care and concern. We are already promised forgiveness whenever we seek it. We already have the end of the story, the “grade;” we call it salvation. What is left for us is to unfold that story in our lives. Not looking back but looking ahead.
What will we do with the power given to us in the name of Jesus Christ? What will we do with the gifts and talents and strengths and wisdom that God has already given us? How will we learn from our mistakes and failings to become a better person, a stronger community of faith, a healthier world of peace? What will our forgiveness of others reflect the forgiveness we have been offered. What will the music of our life sound like?
I am convinced, my friends, that if we stopped worrying about whether or not we will be saved, but rather lived our lives as if we were absolutely assured of that gift that awaits us, we’d live a holier and happier world, a healthier and more peaceful life.
Easter is the great “Congratulations, you have the ‘A’” moment of our Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our resurrection. We have salvation. Now, write your story with that conviction. Make your music with that score ever before you. Let’s show God what we can really do when we’re no longer simply trying to earn the “A” at the end of the semester, but more concerned if our music deserves that “A.”
fourth sunday of easter
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 2, 2021
There was a one-line homily in that Opening Prayer for Mass today. Did you catch it? (NO?) Fine…I guess I’ll have to give you the four-minute version.
But here’s the line: “Almighty, ever-living God, (you) constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us.” It goes on from there but that’s it. What an amazing statement of our faith! God is constantly accomplishing something within us, and that something is the greatest Mystery that exists: God turns death to life, leads us from sin to salvation; despair becomes hope, darkness turns to light, the broken are healed.
It’s the Paschal Mystery and it is what Christ accomplishes in us and among us and with us. And that, my friends, is the identifying character that makes Christians, Christian. Or at least it should. Because we are not just disciples who follow a great teacher. There have been countless teachers with disciples, and not all of them virtuous. In fact, there have been many times when masters have led their disciples in very evil ways; history has written that and continues to write that script.
From the earliest church it became clear that there was so much more going on here. This was clearly not disciples following a master; the Master was alive in them. The Word was living within them!
As Christians, we do not simply live out of a relationship of student to teacher. We live in Christ and Christ lives in us. He remains in us and us in him. We are inseparable, like a vine to its branches; our life comes from his life. We exist in this world so that he may exist in this world.
This truth is the basis of our sacramental theology. It is why we celebrate Baptism and Confirmation, why couples sacramentalize their marriages and why I was ordained. Sacraments are the means by which we are grafted to Christ, how we can literally participate in the life of Christ. Our Sacraments are the life stream of God’s grace that keeps us alive, that form us as a community, that shape our thoughts and decisions and values and priorities.
Today we celebrate First Eucharist for these young kids. It is so much more than a rite of passage. For the first time, Christ will come to dwell in them in a way he ever has before. The Mystery of his death and resurrection comes alive in them in a way that has never happened before.
Through this Sacrament the Church shouts out to them -and to all of us: Jesus wants to live his life in you!” He literally lives his life on this earth through us. We are how Christ’s death and resurrection remains active in this world.
As Jesus was the friend of sinners, so must we be. He did not stand in moral judgement over them but, rather invited them to his table and ate at theirs, and welcomed them into a better life with him. Jesus was a healer; so must we be. To bring comfort to the broken, peace to those who live in chaos. To be a catalyst of healing rather than division.
Jesus was a preacher. Like with St. Paul and so many others of the early church, the Word is alive in us, so that we might proclaim the Kingdom of God, the love of God, the power of God’s re-creation every day.
Today, these kids receive Eucharist for the first time. It sets the course of a lifetime; it opens the path by which Christ will accomplish what needs to be accomplished on earth. It feeds us to be the presence of Christ on this earth, in our time. We need this Sacrament, not only the first time, not once in a while, but every week, so that we may truly go forth and bear much fruit.
third sunday of easter
Third Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2021
A little scripture basics to get us started: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Familiar names, right? The four evangelists; the four writers of the Gospel. They aren’t the only ones who attempted to capture the amazing story of our faith, but they are the Final Four, the ones that endured. Mark wrote first; Matthew and Luke followed a decade or two later, using Mark’s words but they also added their own experience of Jesus Christ. And, they were writing for a church that was already feeling growing pains: confusion and division and persecution. Finally, John. He was a little deeper in his imagery, offering a view that was to a very specific group within the church. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
A common mistake is that we sometimes refer to what they wrote as “Matthew’s Gospel,” or we say, “In Luke’s Gospel we see...” But that’s really bad teaching. There is only one Gospel…according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is the same Gospel, the Gospel of the Lord - no one else. The liturgy teaches us that every weekend when we introduce the proclamation with “A reading from the Gospel according to Luke.” And close the Gospel reading with “The Gospel of the Lord.”
Why is that so important? Because the Gospel, the Good News, was written by Jesus Christ. It was written not in words but by his love and forgiveness and healing; by his suffering and death and resurrection. It was, in every way, written in flesh and blood. That is important for us to sink because if not, we lose sight of its origin: but Jesus Christ.
But like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and like others who lived at their time and other believers that followed, we are also called to write our version of the gospel, too. Certainly not to compete with the Final Four! But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is written in the life of every Christian who bears his name. In our time, with the audience that God has given us, we write it every day for our families and our friends and for our communities. We write it in the stories of our lives, the decisions we make, the priorities we set. We write our version of the gospel with the calendar we keep and how we live our relationships and in judgments we make.
So, we should ask ourselves, if others followed my version of the Gospel, where will it lead them? If they used us for a guide through the maze of life, where would they end up? If others used our Google search history, our checkbooks, our TV guides to indicate a path of life, would they be led to Christ?
What is the moral code we are leaving behind by our lives? Do others see a code based on kindness and forgiveness and compassion? A reverence for every life, of all of creation? Is love the anchor of our moral code, or has some other anchor taken its place? Is forgiveness the message we are preaching in Jesus’ name?
Our faith teaches us that God continues to speak to us today, just as God did to and through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all their descendants; as he did through the Evangelists and the other disciples; as God did through the early church and the spiritual leaders throughout time. So, yes, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did a fine job, and we don’t have to compete with them. But we do have our version of the Gospel to tell, too. Valid and important. What will this generation and the next learn from the version of the gospel we have lived?
second sunday of easter
Second Sunday of Easter
April 11, 2021 - Witness Weekend - Portage
This past year has been a challenge to many people in so many different ways, but none that has universally affected us as much not being able to gather. Graduations and weddings, family reunions and Fourth of July; this fall, many school classrooms were vacant; Thanksgiving and Christmas were just not the same.
As a church, as a community of faith, it is in our very nature to gather. We cannot be church, we cannot exist or be sustained as the Body of Christ if we don’t gather. Remember that it was upon the disciples, as they gathered in the Upper Room, when Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, commissioning them to be missionaries of his mercy, bearers of his Peace. It was not given to individuals; it was given to the gathered.
It is a mark, a quality unique to Christianity. Christian faith is not a spiritual quest of individuals; it is a gift to a gathered people. We are individual believers, that is true, and we come to know God in very personal ways. But we are not church unless we gather.
That is why I am so dedicated and committed to the project that lies before us. While I am entrusted with the role as your pastor, the task before us is not my task, it is ours. It cannot happen without our prayer, our vision and the financial support of each and every one of us.
What gives me hope in the success of our capital campaign and the successful completion of our project is that I know I am not alone.
My commitment to you, to the ancestors of this faith community and to the future generations of this faith community, is to provide a place to gather that both reflects the commitment of this parish and gives honor and praise to God; a church that remains a home for us, and a church to which we are proud to welcome others.
Next weekend is Commitment Weekend. It is your chance, if you have not done so already, to be a part of this endeavor. I ask you to please pray this week, talk with your family and decide what you are willing to sacrifice for our Church, for our future, and then to make that commitment.
If it might help, Klay Verhring will hold a special session for creative giving on Monday, to which I welcome you. We have received donations of pigs and a Corvette; we also welcome estates and dividends, donations that could benefit you from a tax perspective at the same time they benefit your community of faith.
Before the Commitment Weekend begins, at 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, we will blitz the heavens with our prayers at a special prayer vigil. We welcome you to be a part of that and, if you wish, stay for Mass at 4:00. After all the Mass, we will ask you to come to the gym to make your personal commitment. If you have already done so, stop by for some treats and refreshments and encourage others as they make their commitment.
A special reach-out to those of you at home watching on livestream. Please join us. You can avoid the after-Mass rush and stop between Masses, as well. Watch for a letter this week with more details.
My hope is that our legacy to the next generation is that we sacrificed for them. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will help us, as a family of faith, to build a place worthy of the faith we have been given.
April 4, 2021
After such a remarkable beginning to this Easter Sunday morning. This is the day the Lord has made! After we hear the bold testimony of St. Peter and the eloquent wisdom of St. Paul to the early church; after the Easter Alleluia! rings out and the story of the resurrection is proclaimed. It’s not an easy transition to go back to the story of the naked guy. But I promised. (For the sake of those who missed the teaser last weekend, let me set up the story.)
We have to back up a couple pages in the story: Jesus was in the garden and being arrested and, as St. Mark tells the story, “A young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”
Picking it up there: We know that Renaissance artists often included a mysterious figure in their paintings, kind of an in-the-background figure as if watching the scene unfold. They aren’t the focus, but rather observers and, often, the artist will paint themselves as that person.
Scripture scholars smarter than me suggest that’s what Mark was doing when he painted the gospel in his words; he could be him. And that could be. But what most have come to realize is that this mysterious figure in the scene is us. He is a kind-of “every man/every woman” character in the Good News that St. Mark left us.
By the time Mark was writing his gospel, the earliest of the Christian church was forming. People who chose to risk following the resurrected Christ were left behind their old ways, their former way of life, to live a new way, the Way of Christ. Symbolically, they would had to leave naked, and start a new life.
All of this was symbolized at the Baptismal font. The catechumens stripped down, walked into the waters naked, completely disappearing under water and then arose a new creation. Emerging from that tomb of water, they were then clothed with a white garment, a symbol of the new life they would now begin.
So, back to the guy - He appears as Jesus was being arrested and he runs away, afraid, of course, for they were trying to arrest him, too. He leaves behind the linen cloth, a burial cloth, marking the end of his old life. But -and here’s where the story comes around -he reappears this morning at the tomb. This time, clothed in white. “On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed.”
There he is. That same young man that was present at the end of Jesus life is now painted into the story of the resurrection, now clothed in the garment of a new believer! St. Mark so wonderfully, but not so subtly, brings back the Gospel streaker. Now, no longer afraid, he becomes the first to declare the resurrection. “Do not be amazed!” he said to them. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. (But) He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.”
My friends, this is us. We are that man, that everyman/everywoman. We are the ones that have come to realize that if we are to follow Christ, there is much we must leave behind.
Every day, we are called to trust that God is enough. Our lives are filled with challenges and obstacles that earthly wisdom cannot solve. But we have the power of Christ. Our lives are riddled at times with grief and sadness and disappointments that darken our souls. But we have the light of Christ that breaks through any darkness. Our lives are filled with wonderful things - great loves, phenomenal joys and pleasures. But none of them compare to or endure more than the love and joy and pleasure we find in Christ.
And every Easter, in the wisdom of the Church, we declare that truth, that faith, when we renew our baptismal promises. We declare to God, to one another and to ourselves, that we will not run away when our faith is challenged. We will not put our trust in worldly promises. No. We will join with our fellow believers and declare, once again, that our hope, our trust, our future rests in the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The last we hear of the young man is when he tells the women at the tomb to go and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’”
Now is the time for us to tell that story, as well – whether we are a young child with all our life ahead of us or old man or woman whose life is nearing the end; whether we are a teenager all kinds of questions and all kinds of energy, or on old priest who must dig deep into the storehouse of his faith to proclaim yet another Easter. Whether we are in love or in grief, we tell the same story of Easter to a world that often forgets.
My friends, we have been baptized into this life. We have been entrusted with this message. By that, we are obligated to offer this message to others who only see what this world has to offer and fail to see the hope and promise that Christ has to offer. And the good news is that we don’t have to go all the way to Galilee to do that, my friends. We do it right here, right now, every day.
April 1, 2021
“He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”
That simple statement, as recorded in John’s version of the Gospel, is all we need tonight. It’s all any of us ever need, isn’t it? Jesus, the Son of God, claims us as his own. Be belong to him. And he loves us. To the end.
From the beginning, God has tried, gently and at times not so gently, to instill this truth. We belong to God. We did not choose to be God’s people; God chose us. The Passover meal was, for the Jewish people, about remembering who they were and where they had come from. In the Jewish tradition of a memorial, however, it was more than simply remembering. It was about becoming that people again. It was about renewing a covenant and in so doing, becoming once again, that night, the chosen people of God.
But, if that’s true, (and it is) from that truth flows the truth that we don’t get to choose who else belongs. It is not ours to draw any line of demarcation of who is “in” and who is not. We don’t get to decide who belongs to God and who does not.
This truth is what we declare when we gather at this altar week after week to celebrate the Eucharist. We literally leave this world and all its divisions and all its boundaries behind. We transcend all languages and all cultures and all ages. In these mystical moments we unite with Christ so that we may carry out what Christ began so many years ago in his uncompromising love and without-exception forgiveness. We become one body, one spirit in Christ. We take on his mission to bring about a kingdom that cannot be destroyed. And we do this together, not as individuals, but as one Body.
In the same remarkable and memorable simplicity, we remember how Jesus proclaims all of this – our identity and his love for us, and our call to love one another, in the simple act of washing feet his disciple’s feet. He gets on his knees and pours the water to wash the dust feet of his disciples. And then commands them (and us) to do the same.
My friends, on this holy night of remembrance, may we become that people again. May we remember it is not this world that forms our identity, not our title or role, not our money or power, not the trophies on our shelves or the awards hanging on our walls. No, our identity, who we are, is God’s claim to us. We could never earn such an esteemed place. It can only be given.
And let us remember that we are loved. To the end. And that we can never earn or deserve that love. It can only be given.
What we can do, however, is love as God loves us, serve as God has served us, forgive as God has forgiven us, lift others up as God has lifted us up, embrace others in mercy as we have been embraced by God, welcome others to the Body of Christ as we have been welcomed. What we can do is, quite literally, look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters with love, kneel before them and wash their feet.