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 by 8 AM on the following Tuesday. 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 by 8 AM on the following Tuesday. Click on the links below to take you to a specific homily.
second sunday of lent-announcement weekend
Second Sunday of Lent
February 28, 2021
“In the land of the deaf you have to shout.” (Flannery O’Conner)
Sometimes that shout is an unprecedented crisis, sometimes an unprecedented blessing. Sometimes we don’t know the difference, at least not right away. It’s just a shout.
An unexpected pregnancy, losing your job, a pandemic. Crisis or blessing? What if that unexpected pregnancy begins an extraordinary life journey, or losing a job opens a door to far more fulfilling vocation, or a pandemic strengthens family bonds in ways that you couldn’t have imagined.
Winning the lottery, being chosen as team captain, falling in love. Blessing or crisis? What if winning the lottery messes up a delicate balance of family dynamics; being chosen as team captain reveals a long-standing jealousy that ends a friendship; you fall in love but the one you love doesn’t love you in return.
Just in the last couple of weeks I’ve heard the stories: an inmate in prison expressing gratitude that he is there because if not, he’d surely be dead from an overdoes by now; a fender-bender accident (no one, thankfully was hurt) that led a woman to admit she shouldn’t be driving anymore; an unrelated medical crisis that revealed an unknown and likely fatal heart defect; a broken water pipe that exposed mold hidden deeply in the wall.
In the land of the deaf you have to shout! Abraham was asked to sacrifice his long-awaited son and in doing so revealed a foundation of faith upon which an entire nation of believers was formed. An amazing mountain-top transfiguration revealed an awaiting crucifixion that set in place a resurrection that would alter time itself.
Our lives are filled with crisis and filled with blessings; that will never change. They are shouts from God to us who have become deaf to God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s power, to the life to which we are called by God, the opportunities God offers for our conversion, the doors God opens to give birth to hope.
But God is for us -as St. Paul so eloquently establishes- so every challenge and crisis, every blessing and gift ultimately holds the potential to lead us to God. It all depends if we are listening. In the land of the deaf, God sometimes has to shout.
First sunday of lent-announcement weekend
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT-ANNOUNCEMENT WEEKEND
February 21, 2021
“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” I have to admit that when I hear those words proclaimed it sends a chill up my spine. Every time. I try to imagine those faithful people of God who had been waiting for so long, anticipating what must have seemed like forever, talked about and prayed about for generations. And now, Jesus says, it’s time.
I feel a little bit that way today as I address you, the faithful congregation of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, as well, as I announce a capital campaign that will allow us to renovate our parish church, a church that has been virtually untouched for a half a century, a church whose footprint has not changed for almost three times that long. This is Our Church, our Future. And the time is at hand.
Over five years ago we initiated a planning process that involved many of your fellow parishioners who gave countless volunteer hours, professional direction from architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors. Just over a year ago I described that plan to you in detail, the needs we addressed and the multiple plans we considered to meet those needs - and at the same time, the desire to preserve the integrity of the church as we have come to know it and love it. We were set to begin a campaign to raise the necessary funds to complete that work last winter, and then COVID hit, disrupting the campaign and all of our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine.
The Scriptures this weekend set the stage to look forward. They don’t focus on the flood but, rather, on the promise of God. They don’t focus on the suffering of Christ but, rather, on the salvation Christ won for us. Jesus didn’t tell the people to look back, but, rather, to look forward to the Kingdom of God and the Good News.
But, after careful consideration and consultation with parish leadership, it has been decided that we must look forward; now is the time. I am confident that, with the deep desire and commitment of each and every one of you, we can finally make this happen. But we will not be able to do it without each and every one of you, from the youngest to the oldest, the wealthiest to the poorest – not only in your financial support, but also with your prayers, your willingness to volunteer in some way in the effort and in your “can do” spirit that I have come to know over the past seven-plus years I have been your pastor.
The needs of the building are many and obvious: space to gather before and after Masses, accessibility for the disabled, more accessible parking, repairs to the roof and steeple, a parish hall and kitchen for larger gatherings, air-conditioning and heating systems that actually heat and cool. All of these and more are outlined in the materials that you already have received (and included in today’s bulletin) - and that you will receive in the future. I am confident that we will be able to reach our goal because I’ve witnessed your willingness to sacrifice in past campaigns, and I know that your pride and commitment to the parish runs deep.
We need to raise $3.5M to begin the project. My hope is that we can raise more than that, $5M, so that we don’t have to incur any long-term debt in the process. $5M is a lot of money, far more money than in most of our bank accounts! But I’ve seen what you can do when we pull together, and I am confident that together we will be able to get this done. If the campaign over the next few months is successful, we are anticipating starting the project sometime this summer.
We will, of course, need your financial support. A handful of people have already been visited and are on board, making their pledge of support. Over the next several weeks each one of you will be given the same opportunity.
We will also need your prayers. Pray for generous hearts, commitment, vision, trust. As you leave the church today we will be offering you a prayer card; I ask that you pray it every day.
We will also need your willingness to volunteer. For that, we have in each pew, cards and pens. If you would be willing to volunteer – to bake, to set up tables, to visit your friends and fellow parishioners and promote the project, please take the time to fill out one of those cards. Volunteering is an act of stewardship as much as writing a check. If you would, please pass those cards and pens down the pew now, and before you leave today you can, hopefully, fill out one of those cards. You can leave them, as you do your weekly envelopes, in the baskets at the exits of the church. And as a small bonus- you can keep the pen.
In the northeast corner of the church we have cleared a space that will become the hub for information during this campaign. For those of you that are joining us on livestream or the recorded Mass, please stop by over the next few days and join your fellow parishioners in this effort, literally, from the ground up. The volunteer cards and all the information will be available there.
Next weekend we will officially kick off the campaign at each Mass; we will watch a video and hear from our Campaign Chairpersons.
I can’t imagine the vision and the courage and the sacrifice that it took for our ancestors of faith when they built this church in the mid-1800’s. But I do trust that they are praying for us, interceding for us, rejoicing for us as we do our part in the long history of this parish, not just for ourselves, but as they did, for the generations to come.
It is Our Church; it is Our Future. And I could not be more proud to be a part of this congregation and what we are set to accomplish. May God bless us abundantly in that effort.
Sixth sunday in ordinary time
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 14, 2021
In some ways this past year has brought its own leprosy of our time in the form of COVID-19. Anyone who has been quarantined because of it knows, in a small and temporary way, what the lepers of old knew, to make their “abode outside the camp.” They were not welcomed in the public, compelled by law to be separated from others, restricted in their movements, held captive in their homes.
And even if we have escaped that experience (so far), we know the fear that one day, it could easily be us held in that quarantine, somehow shamed and shunned because of a virus from which we could not escape.
But fortunately, over these past weeks we also know the glimmer of hope that comes with the vaccine, when we will once again be able to live without that constant fear and have the freedom, to breathe without a mask, gather with our friends without anxiety, to go where we want when we want with whom we want and not have to worry. We can at least begin to anticipate the day when we can sing in church and sit next to one another, go to school every day face-to-face, attend sporting events and concerts and festivals.
That hope is but a small taste of what Jesus was able to offer the leper that day. A small taste of the freedom that awaited him. After living a life apart, he would know what it is to live a normal life again.
Lent begins in a few days. These days help us to accept, appreciate and prepare to live fully another freedom that Jesus offers us, a freedom that is far more lasting, far more important – to be freed from our sins, ultimately to be freed from death.
When the leper knelt before Jesus he begged for a cure from leprosy. When you kneel before Jesus in these days ahead, what will you ask for?
4th Sunday in ordinary time
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 31, 2021
We need to talk about the devil! I know, that’s a rather a strange and dark thing to say to open up a homily but…we do.
Sometimes we use the term almost jokingly: “You little devil, you,” or, “You sacred the devil out of me!” As if it’s not real, not anything to fear. And sometimes, just the opposite. We glamorize the devil. We give the devil star-power and lead roles in movies and TV shows and video games.
The gospels, when speaking about evil, sometimes use the word diapolus, devil, and at other times with the word, satonus, satan. And those words are telling of the power of evil in our lives. Diabolus means to divide, to tear apart; whereas satanus implies a kind-of frenzied, group-thinking that unites people, like an angry mob. In essence what the gospels tell us is that the powers of evil work in two ways: sometimes they work divide us from God, each other and from what is best within us; and sometimes they work in just the opposite way, uniting us but through the grip of mob-hysteria or envy, the kind of unity that makes for destructive and violent protests. So, in some ways the devil causes us to be distant and distrustful of each other, whereas in others, satan causes us to be caught up in a sick unity. The devil works to divide the house; satan gears the whole house up for a crucifixion.
In Jesus, the Incarnate God, we see the opposite. From the very beginning, the kingdom Jesus preaches is about, the kingdom to which we are invited and commanded to uphold, is about coming together, gathering, uniting in virtue and peace. It is about mercy instead of condemnation, healing instead of tearing apart.
In that, Jesus was the fulfillment of work of Mosses and the prophecy of Moses -called to gather God’s people and lead them into a new and better world.
From the start of his ministry, Jesus spoke and acted against anything that divided a person (like we saw in the gospel today) or that which a community (like when his disciples argued about who was most important, or when sinners or lepers or the poor were shunned). He avoided firing up the crowd with his fame, often retreating to a quiet place of prayer or just being with his disciples.
But no matter what word we use, it is clear that evil is still at work in our world today - still trying to divide; still turning legitimate resistance into riot; still using prejudice and fear to justify violence; still enlisting envy and jealousy to bring out the worst of humanity.
Alone we are helpless against that power of evil, but by the authority of Christ, the power of love, we calm the riots and resist the hype that accompanies the fame over-exults someone. By the power of Christ we are able to unite the divided and heal the broken and lift the outcast. He drew his vision and energy from the deeper source of his Father’s will – love. So can we.
By any word: evil or devil or satan – the power is real. We should not be naive about this. But the real danger is not the Hollywood depictions of possession of people or of even voting machines; the real danger is simply those every-day things that tear us apart from each other, that separates us from the love of God, that causes disunion. That’s what we need to be afraid of.
So, yes, sometimes we do need to talk about the devil so that someday, united with Christ and one another, we can truly scare the devil right out of our world.
3RD Sunday in ordinary time
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 24, 2021
Two decades ago, I was meeting with two priests from the neighboring parishes. As we were wrapping up, we pulled out our calendars to set up the time for our next meeting. Fr. Bill made the comment that maybe if we had the meeting at my parish that I would be there on time. (ouch!) So, I said, “Am I getting a reputation for being late?” And Fr. Tom chimes in: “No, Gary; you’re not getting that reputation; you have that reputation. (double-ouch!)
Obviously, I’ve remembered that for a long time and, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, have been able to rid myself of that not-so-complimentary status. I can make all kinds of excuses, and some of them are even legitimate, but the bottom line is that being late for a meeting is just rude and inconsiderate of others who are just as busy as I am.
When it comes to procrastination, some of us are professionals. We can put things off without any effort; it comes to us naturally. Others of us have to work at it a bit, we have to work to come up with legitimate excuses. Others are seasonal, using expressions like I’ll get to that “next spring” or “after the football season.” Others are more age oriented, “when the kids are out of the house” or “when I retire.” No matter what we admit to, each of us can periodically find ourselves in that category of “never do today what you can put off until tomorrow”.
I suppose there is some comfort to know that we are not alone and that procrastination has been a part of our human nature for centuries - and that God has been calling us out on that for just as long. God has been proclaiming a sense of urgency or immediacy long before any of us were on this earth. But the fact remains that the Word of God is not meant just for the people of Nineveh calling them to turn from their evil ways, or the people of Galilee calling them to repentance, or the people of Corinth calling them to prepare for the end of time. The Word of God is for us, today. And the message is the same: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”
The Word of God plants in all of our lives a sense of urgency, to look within our personal lives and our relationships with spouse and family and friends, within our community of God’s people and in our nation, and say: I need to do it - and I need to do it now. St. Paul may have misinterpreted the timeline, but the truth is still there: the world in its present form is passing away. And as I have learned over the past two decades, many things that can start very easily without us - but there are things that we simply have start.
Maybe it is breathing new life into a relationship that has been taken for granted, or truly committing to a task that has been set before us or searching for a path of forgiveness that has eluded us. Maybe it is finding a way to spend less time at work and more with family; to set aside the fear and do what your heart knows needs to happen. Maybe it is being honest with ourselves about habits that have become destructive to body or spirit, or recommitting ourselves to prayer or service to the Church. Maybe it is to become better at prioritizing the time that God has granted us, or to be better stewards of the treasures we could well share.
We can make excuses in our tardiness, a practice I apparently at one time perfected. We can be very creative in making excuses to initiate God-inspired changes in our lives. But this is not the time for excuses, this is not the time for exceptions or procrastination. Now, rather, is the time to join Simon and Andrew and James and John, to abandon what needs to be abandoned, and follow him. Just follow Christ in everything.
2nd Sunday in ordinary time
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 17, 2021
Our bodies are an amazing creation, aren’t they? They are wired to survive. We hunger, we thirst, we desire. Our hearts beat and lungs breathe and the liver cleanses without our even giving it a thought. They respond instinctively to pain and touch; hormones flow throughout our bodies keeping things alive and in-check and balanced. Cells die and replicated by the millions every day; immune systems kick-in when trouble is sensed; our brain are astoundingly complex and reflexively respond at an amazing speed.
But in so many other ways we are also given the privilege to deliberately act or not, to choose if we will respond or not, whether we protect life or take life; we choose to lift up or to beat down, to listen or to ignore, to follow or to retreat. We call that free will; it sets us apart from all other amazing creation. It is our privilege, of course, but in some ways also our burden.
Free will makes us responsible for each other, to family and friends, to lovers and to enemies, to employers and to employees, to every citizen of the world. In that free will we choose to build up or tear down, to embrace or to strike, to respond or to ignore. Free will, our ability to act or not, what we choose to do and what we choose not to do, defines our moral character- personally and collectively. It creates our personal reputation, and ultimately forms the moral make-up of our communities of family, church, nation and the world.
What is further amazing is that St. Paul saw all of this, not revealed through the eyes of science or medicine or psychology or sociology, but revealed through his Christian faith. Simply this: “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” He teaches us that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; that our body come from God and it is not our own. Taken to heart, my friends, that is one of the most important teachings St. Paul has to offer us. In many ways it defines our calling as God’s children. We are given these bodies of ours, not for our will, but for God’s.
How we listen and respond to the voice of God within us, then, is as important as it was Samuel on that night of restless dreams. That voice was calling him to take his rightful place in the story of salvation history. [Speak, for your servant is listening.] Are we called to anything less? Are we not to respond, soul and body, to God’s urgent calling in our lives?
[John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”] Are we not also called to bring attention to the Lord’s presence in our lives every day and urge others to see what we see, just as John the Baptist called his friends?
[They said to him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?“ He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”] Are not we compelled to follow the Lord just as Andrew and the other disciple were? To walk with Christ throughout our lives?
[Andrew found his own brother and told him, “We have found the Messiah.”] Is not our common and most important vocation in life to encourage others to find the strength and peace in Christ as we have?
Our bodies are an amazing creation, aren’t they? By God the Creator they are wired to survive; by Jesus Christ they meant to be saved; by the Holy Spirit they are ordained to believe. But we are also given the privilege to choose: to deliberately act or not, to follow or to retreat, to listen or to ignore, to do God’s will or simply do our own. [Here I am, Lord, here I am. I come to do your will.”]
THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
The Baptism of the Lord
January 10, 2021
It all started with a dream: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will conceive…and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” And then the birth in Bethlehem of all places, and the star and the wise men from the east; the presentation in the temple, as prescribed by Jewish law; and then another dream, this time to Joseph, and an escape to safety in Egypt; the return to Nazareth where “the child grew and become strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Such is the story of the Incarnation that has been told through this Christmas season. And then today: this odd but simple act that completes that story, that moment in time when heaven and earth were joined as one.
Jesus goes to John, his childhood friend, one might presume; he is the son of his mother’s cousin, and asks to be baptized by him. An odd request from Jesus, in that John’s baptisms were baptisms of repentance from sin in preparation to meet the Messiah of Israel.
Jesus doesn’t need repentance, but he also doesn’t want to be an observer on an earthly journey, but fully immersed in the ordinary delights and extraordinary pains of the human experience. He was not asking for anything special, only to be known as we all are: so very beloved by God.
So, he stood in with the poor and ill and shamed, and then allowed himself to be lowered into the dirty and mucky waters of the Jordan River, as if to say with his actions, “I am one of you; you are my people, and I am your brother.” Jesus reveals himself fully as human, but also begins to reveal a completely new image of God. Not a God of power and war and division, not a conquering and spiteful God who demands sacrifice, but a God we can trust—even more surprising, a God who trusts us. Jesus puts himself into John’s mortal hands, leans back and back and back until he is covered with the same waters of life that cover all of us.
Jesus unites that part of divine and human that is given to each of us, and shows us how to tend and be nurtured into the best we can become and the most we can be in our own human and divine nature. He comes to John to be baptized not to fulfill some ritual of righteousness but to show us what is right to do. Laws can get us to do what is right only by force of the will; the Spirit compels us to do what is right by way of desire and joy.
In the Spirit we hear how tenderly God speaks to each of us: “I want to be one with you. Come to the waters. Fall back into my love. Trust me. When you see how fragile you are, when you see how human you are, when you see how much you need me, together we will be able to do what I’ve always wanted my creation to do.
Time and time again, as we did this past week in our country, we witness what happens when we remain in the mucky waters of sin. We can do so much better. In this grand story of the Incarnation that was foretold in such elegance by the prophets, we were invited to step out of darkness and share the glory of God, to rise out of the mucky waters of humanity and into the divine waters of love. Do it for your sake; do it for the sake of others; do it for the generations to come.
It all started with a dream. God has given us the power to turn the dream into reality.